I apologize for the length of this race report and it’s lateness. As I told a close friend I publish my race reports in relation to my finish time, but I decided to publish this one a few days early.
If they combined Ironman and a Tough Mudder, what would they call it, One Tough IronMudder? One Tough Mudder Ironer? Like Eagleman would they just put mud runs in transition or would they put obstacles throughout the race like a vortex in the swim, a river jump on the bike and wild hyenas on the run?
Anyway, on a serious note (yeah, right) this was my first Half Iron, my sixth triathlon over all, and the start of my second year as a triathlete. I am a novice swimmer, cyclist and definitely a beginner triathlete, so my only real goal for this race was to finish and hear “David MacGrath, you are an Ironman.” My “would have been nice” goals were a swim in under an hour (check), 3-hour bike (not quite), and a 2:15 half (fell apart on the run), for a 6:30 Half Iron.
So, my race really started to fall apart a few months ago when the pool where I normally swim was shut down due to a faulty pump and still has not re-opened. Then, with all the traveling I do for work and all the kid’s events, training was sporadic at best. I’m not making excuses, just giving perspective. It is still my responsibility to find the time to train and I must do better at this in the future. Needless to say, my fitness was not where I wanted it to be for this race.
I ran the Devilman Half Lite 50 last month as a train-up for Eagleman. Not that I have run many tri’s, but that was by far my worst event ever (and I hope it stays that way). It was freezing cold the morning of the race, the water was utterly disgusting, the ride was windy (I don’t understand how there is a head wind in every direction) and I swear I saw vultures flying overhead during the run. I did not have the proper snivel gear for the ride, so I wore my MMTC sweatshirt and wind pants. I was dizzy and disoriented during the swim, and every time I put something in my stomach throughout the race, I wanted to vomit. But I was able to push through and finish. I didn’t publish a race report because I was VERY disappointed with my results (if not embarrassed), but the title for what I did write up was “The Tortoise is a LIAR.”
Based on my dismal performance at Devilman I was pretty nervous about Eagleman, especially hearing all the horror stories about the heat and the wind. I discovered at Devilman that I would much rather ride hills than into the wind and that weighed heavily on my mind heading into race weekend, especially with the tropical storm bearing down on us. So taking my wind concerns, my open water anxiety, my sporadic training and the stress of my first Half into consideration, I was pretty stressed about the race. Fortunately I had some good support at home from Noel and our friend Jim Varnavas, who came up from Alabama to do the race (he PR’d!). After hearing the racecourse talk at the expo and learning that the swim was very shallow, most likely wetsuit legal and there would not be much wind, I started feeling a little better.
Race morning was great, weather was pleasant and water was calm. It’s been my experience that most tris start by freezing your man parts off, so it was nice to be warm. We showed up with plenty of time to spare for transition set up and then hung out next to the pros waiting to see if they needed any advice. Jim was able to tell one of them where the port-o-potties were, but other than that, surprisingly, no one asked for our advice. Oh well, their loss. After that we participated in the normal pre-tri rituals of hanging out at the best tent known to triathlon and paying homage to the port-o-potty gods.
Just prior to my wave start, 8:00 AM, Noel showed up and started snapping pictures. We had our normal pre race conversation revolving around peeing in your wetsuit and then all us semi old fogies were ushered into the water. The water, 73 degrees, felt great. It was especially warm when I put the topic of our conversation into practice. I then helped Jim with his goggles, which according to his report, didn’t actually help. Lesson here is do not lend your goggles to your kid!
Swim – 54:41
The horn then sounded and we were off. This was my first swim in brackish water and I loved the added buoyancy and honestly it tasted better than Centennial (you would have thought with all the salt water I drank I wouldn’t have had to worry about cramping!). In by previous five races, excluding a super sprint, I have not completed a swim without having to resort to the backstroke. However, I know that after about 800 meters I usually hit my rhythm and the first 800 or so, for me are the hardest. I made a conscious decision to go out slow and to try not to worry about what was going on around me. Knowing the resting rafts were available provided me some psychological relief, but it was purely that, because when I finally saw one, it was so far off the actual course that it would have been a tremendous waste of effort to swim all the way over to it.
As usual, I started to fatigue after the first couple hundred of meters, but I was determined to keep to my game plan and go as far as possible without going to the backstroke. About a third of the way through the swim I started to overheat a little and realized I need to get a sleeveless wetsuit. It would’ve been nice to have a water stop/aid station at the halfway point (which I think Ironman should implement… do they have a suggestion box any where?). Regardless, I kept pushing, trying to ignore the waves behind me who were trying to steal my timing chip and use me as a flotation device. I still don’t sight well and it was difficult at times, especially when I looked up and all I got was a mouthful of salt water. At the final turn buoy, I noticed people standing up and running. I decided to put my feet down for a second and copy everyone else. All in all, no net gain there. I dove back in and kept driving on. As I neared the swim exit I realized I was slow, but it was the first swim I’ve ever completed without resorting to the backstroke (small victories)!
Running up to T1 I stripped the top half of my wetsuit, with a little difficulty. My arms/lats/tris are always smoked after the swim so I sometimes have trouble reaching around back to grab the lanyard. I was also juggling my Garmin, goggles and swim cap. I need to figure out how to best wear my Garmin while swimming with a wetsuit. I might try putting it in my swim cap next time, like DC Rainmaker suggests (primarily for better GPS signal and a more accurate swim track).
T1 – 4:34
I took my time in T1, took in some nutrition and some much needed water (non-brackish). I stripped the rest of my wetsuit, put on my biking shoes, helmet, sunglasses and took about 10 seconds to stretch my legs because at one point during the swim when I ran someone and instinctively pulled back, I felt a twinge in my right hamstring. I grabbed my bike and started running it out. At this point I started to wonder when Ironman and Tough Mudder had teamed up to put on this event. The mud was a couple of inches deep, so halfway through I threw my bike on my shoulder and did my best cyclocross imitation. I finally got the bike mount line and jumped on wondering if the mud was going to affect my shoes/pedals.
Bike – 3:16:08
Fortunately the mud didn’t matter much. I clipped in and I was off. Again, I tried to make a conscious effort to go out slow. I felt good getting out of the swim and had started to settle into a rhythm by the time I got to the Lava Fields. My nutrition plan was to take two chomps every half hour, a salt capsule every hour and drink water/nuun every 15 minutes. Looking back at my plan and reading other’s race reports, I don’t think I drank enough and I am going to start experimenting with CarboPro (maltodextrin).
As stated earlier, I was quite concerned by the wind aspect of the race and I was happy it was virtually non-existent. Over the first 20 miles I was averaging 19-20 mph and my legs felt great. Unfortunately I think some combination of going out too fast, not enough fluids in my nutrition plan, my inability to hold an aero position for very long (only third ride on tri bike), the humidity and my inexperience led to my not being able to hold my speed/power beyond mile 21. At the second water exchange point I didn’t exchange water and was riding to the left to avoid people slowing down for the exchange. Just past the point, a rider who had exchanged water abruptly pulled out in front of me going pretty slow. I slowed down so as not to run up on his tail and in my periphery noticed a cyclist passing me on the left. Naturally the guy on my left momentarily drew my attention and when I looked back to the front, the guy in front of me was going head first over his handlebars. Through a shower of expletives from the other guy and me, I slammed on my brakes and I must have hit my front brakes harder than my rear cause I went up on my front wheel. Somehow, I was able to bring my bike back under control, stay on my bike, avoid hitting him or his bike and keep on going (I didn’t even lose a water bottle).
Once I calmed down from the close call, I settled into a 17 mph-ish pace and watched all the pelotons of 5-10 guys go flying by. I did see one guy get penalized later in the race, which was reassuring, but it did seem like there was a ton of drafting & blocking going on. Through the bike course I started noticing a bunch of dead animals on the side of the road. Hoping that I did not become one of them, I began playing “road kill bingo”. I saw a dead raccoon, a dead turtle, a squirrel in pieces and a couple of other animals I can’t currently recall. As it turns out, I missed at least a deer (how the hell did I miss that?) and a large snake.
By the end of the ride, I realized I had pushed too hard early in the ride (actually before the end… I had lots of time to think). However, the final third of the ride felt better than the middle third, so I have that going for me. Going into T2, the mud pit had only gotten worse and I was looking for those Tough Mudder electrified wires. Fortunately they must have forgot to put them up. As I was carrying my bike and realizing my legs were toast, some smart A$$ in the crowd, said “See you in a couple of hours!” If I’d had any energy, I would’ve come up with a witty remark, but all I could muster was “I hope so.”
T2 – 4:54
Again in T2 I took my time. I racked my bike and thought about changing my socks, which were wet and muddy, but decided against it. Turns out the wet, muddy socks didn’t bother me. I put on my hat, race belt, took some nutrition and started walking towards the run out exit. I grabbed some water/Gatorade and continued walking out the exit. I quickly saw Noel and the kids as soon as I exited transition and I stopped for some high 5’s and some much needed motivation. After my brief respite with the family, I ran out of T2.
Run – 2:37:43
Ok, so, if you ask me what my strongest event is, I would say the run. Even at the aforementioned Devilman, I was able to run a fairly strong 10 K. The last three miles were another story, but at that point, I wasn’t expecting much from myself. All I wanted to do was push myself to the end, one way or another. Well, the run was my downfall at Eagleman. The sun was out in full force and the humidity was, well, still humid. After about the first 2/3 of a mile, I realized it was going to be a LONG 13.1. I quickly resorted to walking and cheering on others. The spectators were great and one guy told me to keep my arms moving and remember that running is always faster than walking. At the time, I didn’t appreciate the advice, but by the end of the run, it had become my mantra. As I made my way through the party neighborhood, I envied those guys out there having a good time, drinking beer and blasting music. They had their mist tent set up and it looked wonderful. One of my favorite party songs from college was blaring; “Love Shack” and they were all dancing and encouraging the racers. Even though it was still early in the “run”, it was a very nice and needed distraction.
By mile four, I had resorted to running “intervals”, depending on how I felt, run a 400 or 800 and then walk a 400. I walked through all the water points, took water/Gatorade at each one and thanked the volunteers. At one of the water points I took some ice and put it under my running hat. It felt great for a few minutes, but then I started getting brain freeze from the top down. If I had a slushy, I could have gotten it from both ends and I wouldn’t have cared about the rest of the run! Unfortunately I didn’t, so I grabbed the ice and stuck it in my tri top. Much better.
At the halfway point, I knew I was going to finish and that gave me a little extra boost, I was able to run for about 3/4 mile. Numerous times, I resorted back to focusing on swinging my arms and running is faster than walking, It gave me something else to think about other than the heat and exhaustion.
At approximately mile 8 I heard some girls behind me talking about putting ice in their bras saying, “finally there is a good use for our boobs.” I couldn’t resist and turned around to tell them “no man had every said that!” We all had a good chuckle and I told them about my Ice Chest idea, a men’s triathlon bra that we can put ice, etc in. They loved it and told me I should pitch it to the Columbia van with the omni freeze fabric. So, look out infomercials and the Home Shopping Network, here I come!
Even though my run was disgustingly slow, I didn’t see the vultures flying above us on the run. I did however see some sort of bird of prey soaring around up there. I’m going with eagle; I don’t care what anyone else says.
I was pretty drained by the time I got to “party neighborhood”. In the past hour and a half or so, they had certainly got their party on and were feeling pretty good. I was no longer jealous of them and just wanted to get to their mist tent. They had formed a chute for all of us and gave us hearty high 5’s heading into the mist tent. I have no idea what song was playing at that point, but they sure loved it. I continued my run/walk until the last mile, making sure I hit every sprinkler, hose and water stop. By the last mile I had enough energy to run in the last half and enjoy the ride.
I finally crossed the finish line and heard those magical words, “David MacGrath, you are an Ironman.” A volunteer threw a cold towel around my neck and someone (maybe Andy Potts… yeah, yeah it was Andy Potts!) put my finisher’s medal over my head. I grabbed some water and made my way down the chute. Noel and my son Davey were waiting for me at the end and pulled me aside for hugs and pictures (my daughter Aidan was sleeping in the MMTC tent). Wow, what a day!
So, what did I learn?
Ironman, any distance, is no joke. This may have been an “easy” Eagleman compared to previous conditions, but it still hurt. Train for your race. We all must deal with distractions and “life”, but find a way to make it work.
Figure out your nutrition plan early and train with it, refine it, re-refine it and race it.
Put sunscreen in your transition.
Don’t go out too hard on anything, it all comes back to haunt you.
Don’t take it too seriously. Have achievable goals and take pride in the small victories. If you’re an age grouper like me, these races are against yourself, no one or anything else.
Thank you to Noel, Davey and Aidan, all the MMTC members/volunteers, tent fairies (I volunteered in the tent at the Columbia Tri and it was awesome) and to Jim for sage advice along the way. I couldn’t have completed my first Half without any of you. YOU ALL ROCK!!!!