Eagleman is one of my favorites. This was my 7th Eagleman in the last 8 years and, except for a little mud, it was absolutely the best weather conditions I’ve experienced in Cambridge.
I missed 2007 in order to do Florida 70.3, and missed absolutely perfect weather as well as seeing Herb Spicer of Frederick race to a 4:12 in setting the 50-54 year AG record.
The roads this year were clean enough to eat off of, the winds (to the extent they existed) were favorable, the humidity and temps were low, and there was a light cloud cover for much of the morning.
I like Eagleman mainly because CTA does a super job organizing and managing the race; and the course is always challenging, particularly when it’s hot. MMTC rocked it this year. The Tent crew did an unbelievable job and MMTC racers turned in great times.
Here’s only a few examples: Steve Levickas smashed the Aquavelo, taking first. Pat Sheridan shaved a mere hour and fifteen minutes off his 70.3 time in posting a 5:00:07. Kim Sheridan, fresh from a 50K, killed it as well. Aleah (breaking 6 easily) and Tim Jardaleeza (5:10) nailed PRs. Mark Oakes made 5:15 look easy. Sergio surged to a dancing finish. And Brian Richards, returning from what appeared to be a season-ending car accident complete with a concussion and more, turned in a 5:06 with almost no training. It was an incredible year.
But I almost didn’t go. After Columbia, I developed plantar fasciitis. A real pain in the foot. I think it came on as a result of speedwork in May. It’s a funny injury. It hurts most when I get up in the morning, but would loosen up when I’d run. It’s a slow healer, like Achilles tendonitis because of the limited blood flow. It takes a lot of icing, rest and rolling out the foot with golf balls and tennis balls. I even wore a sock that keeps your foot arched while you sleep and I had my massage therapist work it over a couple of times between Columbia and Eagleman.
My A race is the Lake Placid Ironman next month, so I wasn’t sure if racing Eagleman was smart. I wasn’t chasing a Vegas slot, because I’m doing the 5150 Champs in Des Moines the week before Vegas. The issue was whether I’d do more damage to the foot and undermine my training for Placid. So, I stopped running on May 31st to give it some time to heal and decided to make it a game day decision.
I don’t want to start a race that I can’t race hard, even if I’m no threat to Herb. (Now that I’ve aged up to the 55-59 year olds, I’m back with Herb, who went 4:42 this year, placing second instead of his usual first). But I knew I had a good running base, and I learned at Placid in 2010 that you can still have a decent run without running for 10 days before a race.
A few days before Eagleman, the foot felt good enough to start and, hopefully, finish with a respectable time. I told Sadj before the race, it’d be interesting. I meant about the foot. And Eagleman this year turned out to be verrry interesting. The foot held up fine, and while I missed my goal time of 4:50, I ended up 9th in the age group with a 5:01. What made it interesting was I had my first brush with the Ironman criminal justice system during the bike leg.
I usually stay at the Hampton Inn in Salisbury to avoid the crowds. It’s also significantly cheaper and you don’t have to wait at the restaurants. This year, we found a new Italian place for dinner: Fratelli’s, across the street from Salisbury University on Route 13. It was fast, good, and we were back at the hotel by 8 p.m. The downside is that you have a 30 minute drive in the morning back to Cambridge, but it’s an early morning anyway since I get up 4 hours before the gun to eat.
Race morning went smoothly, except for the mud. We entered transition at the bike in/bike out area, and as the morning went on, it got sloppier and sloppier. The rain from Saturday and earlier in the week had left Great Marsh Park somewhat marshy. My transition area was relatively dry, but it was crowded this year. Not much room on the racks.
The bike racks seemed lower too. They may have settled in the mud, particularly if there were more bikes than normal. Low racks often lead to difficulties getting the bike out if you have bottles behind your seat and an aerobottle out front. I use an aerobottle, so I normally pull my bike out from the front. To avoid the hang-up, I carried no bottles in back. In addition to an aerodrink bottle filled with EFS at normal concentration, I carried a 24 oz bottle of EFS concentrated 3X on the downtube. I planned to pick up water along the bike course and mix it with the concentrate as the race went on.
It worked well, but I still had to tilt the bike to get it out. (The guy on other side of the bike rack hemmed in my wheels, bringing almost everything he owned to transition. He clearly preferred to prepare for any contingency, ignoring the transition rule of simplicity. Or maybe he just didn’t have a Club Tent to keep his stuff in during the race.)
Swim (38:48, 21/88).
Like Columbia, the swim with the 55+ group was pleasant. I couldn’t catch a good draft, but the water temps were good and the water seemed calm. (Unlike 2006, when we had 2-3+ foot waves to deal with). Sighting seemed to be easy, but I’ve never seen the buoys that close to the docks on the other side. There may have been current too, because the course seemed long. I came out 3-5 minutes slower than I’d expected, but I’ve learned not to stress over swim times at Eagleman. The current is unpredictable and everyone swims the same course. Well, usually.
I ended up where I normally do, just barely in the top 20-25% of the swim. So everyone was slower, except for the guy in our age group who “did it” in 23 minutes (like Andy Potts). He may have cut the course, although I’m not sure how. (His half marathon time was 1:13, also like Andy Potts). For some reason, he was disqualified. I don’t think it was because he crossed the center line or failed to stop at the penalty tent. His overall time was listed as 4:13. I don’t think so.
T1 (2:30, 16/88)
T1 was sloppy, but we knew it would be. I considered putting my shoes on the bike, taking an extra bottle of water and a towel, and washing them off once I cleared the mud pit that had been bike out. I decided not to because of the plantar fasciitis. Everything I read said: don’t go barefoot while plantar fasciitis is healing, wear shoes with orthotics or good support. I decided barefoot was not in my long term interests, even though bike shoes aren’t exactly the type of support the docs would recommend. Regardless, I made my decision before the swim and kept transition simple. I moved slowly through the mud and carried the bike. Fortunately, I was in an early wave and could avoid most of the slop by hugging the fence. When I would return from the bike, the mud was calf deep in the bike chute.
Bike (2:42:29, 33/88)
I still have no bike legs. After a poorly executed bike leg at Columbia, I continued the trend at Eagleman, turning in a time 7-12 minutes slower than I usually expect. My goal speed is 22 mph, but I only held that for the first hour. The legs felt tired early in the bike, and they never came back. I think it was a combination of a poor bike base this year (sacrificed to meet my running goals) and the few hundred bike miles I put on them between Columbia and Eagleman. The power seemed to drain slowly from them over the course of the last 90 minutes. I was constantly getting passed. On Egypt Road, I fully expected the 84 year old Sister Madonna to chick me (”nun me”?). Through 56 miles, I got chicked a lot, but I somehow held off Sister Madonna.
For me, the real drama on the bike came early. On Dailsville Road, I came up suddenly on two slow riders, riding abreast and apparently chatting nonchalantly. I moved left to pass, and the rider on the left moved with me, resulting in my crossing over the centerline. I didn’t think much of it…... until the motorcycle with the referee pulled up next to me a couple of minutes later and flashed me a yellow card. “Really?” I said, “they were blocking me.” “It doesn’t matter,” I think he said. But I know he said: “Stop at the penalty tent at mile 30.”
I was actually looking forward to a 4 minute rest stop by the time I got to the penalty tent (which was pretty crowded, unlike so many other years and so many other races). This was my first penalty ever, and I couldn’t remember much except that red cards are worse than yellow cards and a penalty equals four minutes in the tent. I was right about the colors, wrong about the time.
My back was hurting, my legs were complaining, and the penalty sucked a little of my mojo away. When I arrived at the tent, I told the officials that I crossed the centerline and got a yellow card, and they put the Scarlet Letter “P” on my bib and bike numbers, and then took down my name and number. I asked to hold the stop watch to get the four minutes running. When they said it’s a “no time” penalty, you just have to check in, I had mixed emotions. I was sort of looking forward to the break.
So no rest break, and back on the road with tired legs and looking over my shoulder for Sister Madonna. Instead, the pelotons started coming. And coming. And coming. I saw numerous groups clearly and blatantly working together, some with 10-15 riders. It wasn’t as bad as the 70.3 championships when held in Clearwater, but it was pretty blatant. One peloton arrived so fast (and so silently it seemed), and it took up so much space, that one of the cyclists almost took me out when he went by. Inches.
One of the greatest dangers in a triathlon is our fellow competitors. We need to talk to each other out there. Let people know you are coming. Let them know you are passing. Shout if they’re blocking you.
One of the greatest dangers to Eagleman, in my opinion, is draft packs. Clearwater had a terrible reputation, equivalent with cheating, due to the blatant drafting. I hope CTA puts out more referees on motorcycles to break up those draft packs next year. I hear they handed out a record number of penalties this year and that’s good. Even if I got one for crossing the line…..
Mercifully, the bike came to an end before Sister Madonna caught me, and I waded into the muddy bike chute.
T2 (2:14, 11/88)
This time there was nowhere to hide. Eagleman had become Tough Mudder. I carried the bike and trudged through a stretch of the chute that was calf deep. Anticipating this messy affair, I left a bottle of water and a towel at transition. I wedged the bike in, next to the pile of luggage left by my neighbor. I stripped off my socks and shoes, washed my feet and pulled on wonderful dry socks and shoes. I grabbed a hat and my gel flask, and I was out.
Run (1:35:27, 2/88).
Despite all my worries, the run went fine. I started conservatively, but close to a pace I could maintain the entire 13.1 miles. The legs that felt like rubber bands on the bike, felt strong on the run. Totally bizarrre. I kept my stride short to minimize impact on the plantar fasciitis, and I focused on belly breathing, hydrating and sipping from the gel flask every couple of miles. The run felt as comfortable as the bike felt awful. The run conditions were decent: often cloud cover and a cool breeze. The conditions got much worse later in the day when the sun did its Eagleman torture thing and the breeze stopped, but it was bearable for me. I never bothered to dump ice down my tri suit. That's a first at Eagleman.
A lot of guys came back to me. Not enough for me to run to the podium, but I made up a lot of ground. I was passed by only three or four younger runners, including a good friend in the 50-54 age group who ran a 1:29. While I felt a dull pain most of the run, the foot never really bothered me and it never hindered my run. I think the nine days of run rest made a difference. (I probably would have had a better bike if I hadn’t gone so heavy on the bike miles after Columbia, but Placid is the real goal and I need, I sorely need, those bike miles).
The tent was fantastic and it was wonderful watching people finish with some very good times. Tom Kish and I left early due to family obligations. At then-10th place, I could hardly even see the podium from where I stood, and I wasn’t interested in a roll down slot for Vegas.
The real drama started Monday night when I went to get my splits. I searched for my name, found it and my time, next to a very ugly DQ. “What?!?”
I immediately emailed Columbia, then the calls and emails started rolling in. People wanted to know what I’d done. So did I. I didn’t think one penalty was enough for a DQ. I anguished overnight trying to remember what else I may have done and couldn’t come up with a thing. The next morning a few people I highly respect opined that crossing the center line may be an AUTOMATIC DQ. That actually gave me some peace, I accepted my sin, and I came to grips with my potential fate even though it promised to tank my USAT ranking for the year.
The folks at Columbia Triathlon Association were wonderful. In response to my email to the general email address, I heard almost immediately from Sheila. Keely offered suggestions. Kari Eberling referred me to the head referee, who took my information and my question: “Why?”
She came back with the answer: I was disqualified because I didn’t stop at the penalty tent. But I did. She asked for my number and then investigated it further, going as far to check the actual sheet at the penalty tent. By early Tuesday afternoon, she cleared it up. The DQ was reversed, because I had stopped at the penalty tent. There had been an error in the reporting process.
With some fear and trepidation, I asked whether crossing the line is an automatic DQ. I was back in CTA’s good graces, and I wanted to know, but I sort of feared the answer. The response I got was “you should never cross the center line.” I didn’t push it any further, but my read is that officials have broad discretion. It’s a safety rule and one violation could, under the “wrong” circumstances, lead to immediate disqualification. Don’t go there.
I’ve had my brush with the law. Stay to the left, pass on the left, shout at those blockers, but stay away from that line.
Now on to Placid. But first to the mountains to find my bike legs.
Next, year back to Eagleman 2014. I’m expecting a brutally hot run. And a faster bike leg with no drama.