Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Eagleman Ironman 70.3 2010 Race Report

by Paul Kavitz

This was the second half-ironman distance race of my triathlon career, and my first hosted by an official Ironman™ race franchise. The Eagleman race, held in the coastal flats of Cambridge, MD, is one of the few remaining half-distance courses in which participants can qualify to compete in the renowned Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. This circumstance draws over 1500 strong athletes from throughout the world into an intensely competitive field to pursue a top spot and the dream of Hawaii.

A half-Ironman distance sounds short...only HALF of an Ironman...but the distances are still daunting: a 1.2 mile swim, 56 miles cycling, concluding with a half-marathon 13.1 mile run, for a grand total of 70.3 miles. Perhaps for this reason, the World Triathlon Corporation refers to this formidable distance as Ironman 70.3 and not a half-Ironman.

I was able to register for the sold-out Eagleman Ironman 70.3 at the prompting of my friend Andrew through a charity slot with Team PVA. This group raises funds to equip paralyzed veterans with the support needed to compete in triathlon. Through the generous donations of my friends, family, and co-workers, I was able to raise a substantial amount towards this great cause and join my fellow athletes in Team PVA at Sailwinds Park in Cambridge for packet pickup midday Saturday. After warming up 30min on the bike and familiarizing myself with the transition area, I racked my bike in Row 3, Aisle H, 3rd in from the left - #588.

My alarm at 4:15am Sunday began the day, and my journey to the starting line. Everything was readied the night before, and I lathered on 50+ sunscreen for what promised to be a scorcher. Via car via shuttle I made my way to the transition area to set up my gear. This is an important step for me; knowing everything is ‘just right’ in transition often brings me the confidence I very much need in a race with so much uncertainty. It paid off this race, with a T1 (swim to bike) of 1:54 and a T2 (bike to run) of 2:29, placing me in the top 15% of my division (Male 40-44) in these transition stages known as 'the fourth discipline of triathlon'. Alas, that was the last of my certainties...for the wicked goddess of endurance sport was about to dish out a day of damage on me and my fellow competitors.

The first surprise was the announcement of a substantial increase in water temperature from the day before. 79.6F may sound like it’d make for a more comfortable swim, but it also disqualifies wetsuits according to USAT rules. This means anywhere between a 10-30% slower swim as we lose the streamlining and buoyancy offered by a wetsuit, and a corresponding increase in the internal energy required to get through the stage. Not daunted, I entered the water with 352 other men aged 40-44 for my first large wave mass start. Treading in the choppy Choptank River, I peered to the horizon trying to make out the dim orange dot that marked the first turn buoy of the swim. The starting horn blared and what followed was sustained pandemonium. Clear for the first 10s and then bump, kick, grab, dodge, smash as we each strove to gain a lead on our rivals. It took at least 15 minutes before I escaped regular collisions and regained the technique driven into my muscle memory from 6 months of swim training with Coach Rob over the past winter. I escaped the Choptank River 44 minutes 31 seconds later in the top third of my division, panting and sprinting through transition to mount my bike and begin the second event.

The good news about the Eagleman bike stage is the pancake flat, 56-mile course inland through the scenic Blackwater Sanctuary. The bad news is the seemingly impossible perpetual headwind which seemed to find a way to drag at me always, despite the circuitous course. Again, my training showed an improvement over my last half-Ironman event up to an [I thought respectable] average of 19.3mph and a total time of 2:54:09. Alas, this wasn’t nearly enough against the hyper-fit cycle-monsters of Eagleman. Early and fresh in the ride I sustained a good top speed of 22-23mph and still found myself DROPPED by a power-chick with a Zipp-wheel Cervelo P4 and aero helmet.

Key lessons:
  1. I need more training time on my bike, particularly in the aero position
  2. I am not well fit for my bike...the aero position is still uncomfortable and my seat isn’t high enough or far enough forward causing my thighs to work too hard and my back to ache
  3. I have COMPLETELY outgrown my bike: I must continue to plead my case for this luxury Christmas present before the 2011 season.

As the temperature steadily ticked upward towards the 3rd hour of my race, I couldn’t decide whether to bless or curse the headwind. All said though, I hydrated and fueled very effectively on the ride with Infint Ironman-formula, thanks to the very wise guidance of my coaching team at R2R, and this saved my bacon on the next stage.

After racking my bike back in transition, I loped down the gauntlet of cheering volunteers past the run exit, gathered my bearings, and hardened my focus on the half-marathon ahead. What happened next was one of the highlights of my race. I [actually] recognized six-time world champion Natascha Badmann running back towards the finish on this out-and-back course. I cheered her on and she smiled and waved [at me]! The wonderful thing about triathlon is that the pros still race the same event as amateurs. The Swiss Miss certainly lived up to her friendly reputation.

Having oriented to the run, I took stock of my body’s condition. I was hot, and I had to pee, but otherwise I felt good. I decided to throw away 60s on a stop at a port-a-loo, just so I didn’t have to think about urinating for the next two hours. Inside the port-a-loo was an OVEN which reinforced what a hot run this was going to be. Exiting the toilet back onto the course created the illusion that it was cooler. Only relatively though...the 90F+ temperature and 90%+ humidity conspired for a heat index over 103 degrees. Add to that the heat radiating off the shade-less, blistering pavement and you’ll understand what happened next: runners started ‘blowing up’ all over the place, unable to run.

This caught me off guard at first, since it is rare that I pass people on my [typically] weakest stage. Then I realized I was surviving due to the wisdom dispensed days earlier by my expert coaching team at R2R. Following their advice, I had held back a bit during my bike, restocked water at the bottle exchanges, and was now holding back a bit on the run. At each volunteer station, I gulped water and endurolytes, sometimes with goo, instead of the seductively sweet and cool Gatorade. I dumped ice water on my head and chest, and crushed ice into my hat and back jersey pocket every chance I got. My pace wasn’t fast, but it was surprisingly steady, and I had reminders all around me of the hazards of quickening the pace. Runners sobbed in the medical tent, vomited into the verge, and [literally] cursed the sun...angry with disbelief that their months of training were being thwarted by the evil elements of that day.

Sometime around mile 5, still running, I realized I had poured so much water and sweat down my back, that my socks were saturated. Fortunately I had selected the tech socks from the Eagleman registration swag-bag instead of my cotton sponges from home, so my feet didn't prune too much. I switched to slow-drip ice from then on. I remember looking down at my feet and thanking them (out loud) for continuing to run.

At mile 6.55, I strode over the turn-around timing pad and began my return home.

At mile 9, I couldn’t believe it but some f**ing horse fly decided to wound me further by biting big chunks out of my sun burnt shoulders. I was in Dante’s Inferno, following the poet Virgil through the seventh circle of Hell, fed upon by the Harpies. Swatting my arms about, I picked up the pace briefly to pass some other poor tortured soul in the hopes that the insect would switch targets. I succeeded...sorry #447. The TriColumbia Eagleman event organizers should post upon their registration website, “Abandon Every Hope, Ye Who Enter Here”.

At mile 12, winding my way through twists and turns of the infernal 'ninth circle' along the Choptank shoreline back to the finish line, I heard an angelic voice beckoning me out of my hell. Like the mythic Beatrice, there stood my friend, having finished her own epic Aqua Velo competition, energetically cheering on the Ironman 70.3 competitors and awaiting my passage. This second highlight of my race was EXACTLY the boost I needed when most needed, for which I am eternally appreciative. Thank you so much, Lynne!

At mile 13, with 1/10th of a mile to go, my heart rate monitor beeped. This signaled a spike to 170bpm...higher than my course-steady-range of 158-162bpm, a sign that I too was beginning to blow up. I crossed the finish line strong but spent at 5:58:31, setting a PR under grueling conditions, happy that this race was finally over. Hey, I was only 105 slots away from qualifying for the World Championship in Kona...the closest I’ve ever come.

Now for my Oscar Awards acceptance moment (without the Oscar or any Award)...

I want to thank my coaching team at R2R for their wisdom, science, and experience in helping me achieve my personal best, especially Coach Rob Colburn who transformed my swim over the winter, and regaled me during our post-swim coffees with invaluable Ironman lore. I want to thank my triathlon buddies Ryan and Lynne for their friendship, enthusiasm, and accountability as we each worked together to improve our athletic performance. I want to thank Coach Andy of Team PVA for his event logistics support, for assembling a strong athletic fundraising team, and for his dedicated support for veteran paratriathletes. I want to thank the team at Fitness Intelligence for helping visualize my race performance and goals. Most of all I want to thank my wife Camilla, my kids, and my au pair for supporting the training I needed to get me to the starting line and for managing the weekend while I battled the elements at Eagleman. ALSO and ESPECIALLY for Camilla’s openness towards purchasing a sweet new tri-bike this coming Christmas [wink] [wink] [nudge] [nudge]!

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