This past weekend, I raced Ironman 70.3 Eagleman in Cambridge, Maryland. For those of you that aren't aware, a 70.3 distance is a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike, and a 13.1 mile run. First of all, I'd like to offer my condolences to anyone that races anything in Kansas. I imagine that racing in Kansas feels exactly the same as racing in eastern Maryland, except for the fact that Maryland has trees, which are frustratingly far away and offer absolutely no shade. Seriously, screw those trees.
For race start, I was in wave six (out of like…. 22), so I started pretty early in the pack. Most of the fast people were behind me, including my fiance, who started almost a full hour behind me. There were strong benefits and drawbacks to this, which I’ll detail some other time. When it came time for our wave, they were running a minute or two behind, so they decided to rush our wave. It was horrendous. To get to the swim start, you walked down this enclosed boat ramp, waded out into the water, and walked another 100 yards or so to the start buoys. When they set off the cannon for our wave, most of us were still on the ramp, in shin deep water. A woman looked at me, panicked, and yelled “WAS THAT FOR US?” and I said, “… I actually think it was”, and we all rushed over each other to try to get into the water enough to swim. It probably added at least 2 or 3 minutes onto my swim time. Oh well. The swim was the most enjoyable portion of the race for me. I took it at an easy and calm pace, and punched a jellyfish half way through for good measure (I’m not kidding on that – I seriously punched a jellyfish by accident. Oops).
The bike course is something that I feel Ironman could probably market to Gitmo as an alternative to unethical torture. It was honestly the most mind numbing bike I have ever done in my life. 56 miles of excruciatingly flat roads and fields… and a swamp. Then more fields again… then hey! Another swamp. No elevation change, just 3.5 hours or so in the hot sun, with the same scenery over, and over, and over. There were no landmarks to gauge yourself off of, no prominences to get any kind of recovery on… if you stopped pedaling, and you stopped moving. Period. It was about 10 miles into this bike that I realized that my watch never started. I have no idea how this happened, since I started it on the swim and watched it start counting. The only thing I can think of is that it somehow got kicked and reset while I was in the water. I don’t know. Around mile 24 of the bike, I passed an aid station and grabbed a bottle of water from them. They were handing out huge Aquafina bottles, with the cap tops, and you would grab one from a volunteer while you road through at a slow enough speed. Their trash drop zones, however, were miniscule. If you were holding a pace that was barely enough to fall over, you could get about two drinks out of these things before you needed to throw them. I didn’t have any other space on my bike to carry them, so I was trying to get it in and chuck them before I passed the sign. The first one, I stopped, used the rest of it to fill up my bottle, and was good. When I hit the stop at mile 24, my bottle was still full. Instead, I was positively baking in the heat, and wanted to dump it over my head to get cool. So I grab this bottle, wrestle the cap open, take a swig, and close my eyes for a second to dump it over my head. It must have been in this three second window of my eyes being closed that I passed the “last chance drop” sign…. Because I opened my eyes, saw a sign about two hundred yards up, assumed it was the drop sign, and tossed my bottle off to the side into an obnoxiously large pile of bottles next to a trash bag. I was maybe 50-100 yards from the aid station, at the very most. The second it leaves my hand, one of the refs (who could probably win an award for meanest ref ever) is literally screaming my number out and flashing a blue card at me. I’m baffled, and asked what in the world I did. She tells me to pull over at the penalty tent ahead and she’d explain it to me. Apparently I must have JUST passed the sign when I tossed my bottle, and she hit me with a littering penalty and lectured me for ‘harming the integrity of the course’. I was livid and kept telling her that I didn’t see the sign, and thought the sign ahead was the ‘last drop sign’ (it wasn’t, it was the penalty tent sign). She sends another guy over and he hands me a stopwatch and tells me to sit for 5 minutes. So, I sat there for my 5 minutes with about 20 other people they’d called for various reasons, all waiting out our 5 minutes or doing our check-ins before we could go. While we’re sitting there, a dude literally cycles by and throws his open bottle AT THE PENALTY TENT. Like… threw it directly at the ref. Water splash at all. My instant reaction was ‘that guy is so screwed’. And… they just let him cycle on by. Cue frustration rise. Just before this happened, I was considering just calling it quits because I wasn’t feeling the race so much. This whole incident didn’t really help, but I was so eager to get away from that woman that I cycled away as soon as my five minutes were up and just kept going. My pace dropped a bit, but oh well. This same ref later called six or seven people in a row for drafting (including my fiance) and sent them all to sit for 5 minutes as well. They got a ton of people on the new drafting rules, since they lengthened the amount of space you’re supposed to leave, and shortened up the time you have to pass. Basically… I have never been so excited to get to the run portion of a race, ever. It’s usually my least favorite part. Not this time! Though it was certainly the most difficult. Last bike tidbit – around mile 40, an older gentleman cycled up along side of me, slowed down to the same pace and said, “Looks like we only have a few miles to go and we’re doing great!”. He looked completely fresh and seemed like he was just out for a Sunday ride, but was probably pulling close to 20-22 miles an hour before he slowed down to match me. After I responded, he picks up speed back up and speeds ahead of me, and I look at the age on his left leg – 85 years old. I was completely in awe.
When I got back into transition, I decided to totally disregard time and sat there for a good, comfy 5 minutes taking my time, stretching, relaxing, and contemplating how ridiculously hot it was. One person’s bike computer registered the temperature high in transition at 106 degrees (and around 80-90% humidity). Once I got up and started to walk (my lack of urgency was at an all time high) I realized that I was having issues in my chest. For those of you that aren’t aware, I am actually medically allergic to exercise. My body is allergic to one of the chemicals your body produces during strenuous physical activity. I take medicine for it that usually blunts my reaction, but – oh joy! – my medicine loses its effectiveness with heat. So by the time I got to the run portion and it was in the mid 90’s with a heat index in the 100’s, my medicine was fairly non-existent, and I was starting to feel the beginnings of an anaphylactic reaction. My chest was extremely tight, I couldn’t get that much air in, and my heart rate was in the 130’s to 140’s just walking at a normal pace. So… I walked. The first three miles were spent calming my heart rate down, trying to stretch my chest and lessen the reaction, and dousing myself with all available ice water to try and cool my core temperature. By mile 4, I was able to jog a bit, but it was a very on/off kind of thing. Much more off than on. My fiance caught me around this time and asked me how I was doing, to which I shrugged. He looked at me and said, “Do you hate this right now?” and I said, “… Yeah, kind of.” and he goes, “Yeah, it’s okay, I hate this too”, and laughed (which was music to my ears – I was worried it was just me). At mile 11, a woman at an aid station offered to dump an entire bucket of ice water over my head. It was an absolute godsend, and shocked my system back to some kind of normal. I spent the last two miles running through every sprinkler and hose I could find, and finished the race running and completely drenched. I was probably more soaked when I finished than when I came out of the swim.
Final thoughts…. I saw so many people taken off the course in ambulances from heat stroke, so I’m just happy I finished. I was way, way slower than my goal time of sub 7 hours, but with the way my run (or lack of run?) went, I knew it wasn’t possible. Similarly, watching 85% of the racers walk the majority of the run course made me feel like I couldn’t really have done any better. I will probably never do this race again, but I’ll give the 70.3 distance a few more shots before I write myself off as a shorter distance triathlete. That heat was just absolutely killer. Next 70.3 up is the exact opposite – cold, mountainous Tahoe in September. And if you hung in this long... I owe you one. Moral of the story is - do a 70.3 race. You might just get to punch a jellyfish.