Eagleman 70.3 Race Report

Eagleman 70.3 - Race Report

The last few years have been characterized by sporadic success and major setbacks.  Every time I would begin to build momentum and consistency with my training I would inevitably encounter a major roadblock.  One road blood came in the form of a blood disease another came in the form of being struck by a motorist on a training ride.  These setbacks severely handicapped my ability to traverse the path towards figuring out my potential as a multisport athlete.  There is a silver lining attached to the past few years and that has come through reflection.

With a frustrating amount of down time I have had ample time to reflect on how I, as a puzzle piece, fit into the larger picture of triathlon.  I have come to realize what this sport means to me, how I want to be a part of it and how I can be successful at it.

Leading into Eagleman I had entered 3 races (10k, 1/2 Marathon, Olympic Triathlon) and set a PR for each.  My training has been very consistent which I'm very proud about because I'm a firm believer that consistent training is key to success in endurance related sports. Finally I have remained healthy and have not encountered any setbacks since the end of last season.

My best time prior to Eagleman at the 70.3 distance was 5:35 set at Vineman 70.3.  This year my goal was to go 5:15.

I arrived to Eagleman on Friday afternoon which allowed me to check-in and avoid the crowds and lines that Saturday's athlete check-in would surely involve.  Checking in on Friday allowed me to to dedicate Saturday to a quick scouting of the course and to getting my feet up.

Saturday morning I was up at five and pedaling my bike on the course by 5:45.  As the sun rose it was just me on the course, embracing the quiet before the storm or as my wife hash tagged #thequietbeforethesmash.  I knew going into the race that the course was flat so I was more interested in experiencing what the roads felt like underneath my wheels and feet as well as identifying significant landmarks versus scouting out and pre-riding/running hills.  I was done and back in the hotel by 8.  The rest of the day was all about relaxing and visualizing the race.

I got a solid night sleep and was up before my alarm.  I felt rested and ready to celebrate the fitness I had developed over the previous months.  The excitement and adrenaline accompanying race morning always makes eating difficult.  I had a bowl of Kashi Cereal and a Cliff Bar, roughly 375 calories as my pre race meal.  Usually I'll also eat a peanut butter and jelly but I felt content with what I had already put in my body.  My wife and I left the hotel at 5:23, picked up breakfast for her at Dunkin Donuts and then drove the 15 miles down into Cambridge. We decided to utilize the shuttle to avoid the potential nightmare of parking by transition. I hopped on the shuttle and she jumped into the back seat to get a few more minutes of sleep.

Transition was already teaming with nervous excitement as I arrived.  The first announcement I heard was the water temperature then the unpopular remark, wetsuits will not be permitted.  I for one don't care if a swim is wetsuit legal or not. I swim 99.9% of the time in a pool wearing jammers.  Living on Long Island and especially with the winter we had, the water has been too cold to get in any high quality, open water swimming wearing a wetsuit.  The announcement didn't phase me one bit. The remaining time spent in transition was status quo. Now I just needed to wait until my 7:45 wave.

Having a later swim wave I was able to watch the pro men complete their swim and head into transition.  With about 25 minutes until my wave started I decided it was time to warm up.  I entered the water to the left of the pier and joined others that were warming up.  As customary, I splashed water on my face several times before diving in.  I felt really light and smooth during the warm up.  I was ready to have a great swim.

My gameplay for the swim never changes, locate the fish, draft off them for as long as possible, then get into my rhythm, finished with hand-to-sand. As I entered the water there were a few groups of swimmers spread out along the line.  One group was on the inside of the buoy, the other was far to the outside, which group should I chose? Based on where I was lined up and my proximity to the two clusters I decided to not chose either and hold my ground.  The horn sounded and we were off. I was easily inline with the front of the inside group. As we reached the first buoy I glanced over to check the progress of the outside group, they were ahead by about 10-15 yards...that was the group I should have gone with.  I made an attempt to get over to them but for whatever reason that path had become really congested.  The first 1/3 of the swim I swam straight and felt very relaxed despite the typical chaos associated with swim starts.

At the first turn the field started to thin and it was now possible to find some cleaner water. I started to pick up my effort and at least three times during this 1/3 of the swim I found myself drifting right as well as catching up to and passing swimmers from previous waves. As I approached the second and final turn I was ready to raise the effort level another notch and finish the swim strongly.

The final third of the swim was the first time I noticed the water being pretty choppy. Despite increasing my stroke rate I felt like my pace had not increased, this was a bit troubling.  I also noticed that the depth of the water had become really shallow.  To put the depth of the water into perspective, many athletes had started to walk because the water was just above waist deep.  I don't mind swimming in shallow water but I do have an issue with walking during a swim.  I believe that walking during the swim is cheating and there should be a penalty for it. The last 3-400 yards of the swim was spent navigating through everyone walking. I exited the water and looked for a race clock but there wasn't one, just as well.  No matter my time for the swim there was nothing I could do about it and thinking about it would only prevent me from focusing on the task at hand.

With the 70.3 distance being such a long day it's important to stay present, to stay in the now.

It turns out I exited the water in 34 minutes which was two minutes slower than I had planned.

In my opinion I had a great location in transition, I was at the very end of a rack in the extreme,  left-hand corner of transition.  This meant that all I had to do was run the length of transition, grab my bike and  run straight out the exit.  It allowed me to avoid playing a combination of "Where's Waldo" and "Frogger" in T1.  I was in and out of transition in roughly 1:30 passing numerous athletes that I exited the water with.

The Bike
I have worked hard over the winter months on improving my pedaling abilities and now was time to reap the rewards. My game plan for the bike was simple, take it easy for the first 30 minutes and begin taking in nutrition then, hit and maintain race wattage for the remainder of the ride.  If I felt particularly strong around mile 45 then I would raise my wattage and time trial it back home. In the words of the immortal Mike Tyson, " Everyone has a game plan until they are punched in the face." Hopefully I wouldn't get "punched" in the face during this ride.

For the first 30 minutes everything went to plan, my legs felt light, the pedals were turning effortlessly and things were quiet, talk about being focused and in the now! 20 minutes, 22 minutes, 25 minutes. When was my Garmin going to display 30minutes? Stay in the now, focus on being present, this stroke, this breath. 28 minutes, 29 minutes . . . 30.  Time to go to work.

For the remainder of the bike ride I have never had so much fun on a bike.  For the first time I was playing a role in this race rather than merely participating.  I dialed in my race wattage immediately and started flying.  I began passing people at will. I thought about my swim. Be present. I thought about the run. Be here, live in the now. For the first 60 minutes on the bike I had only a couple lapses in focus and had made an abnormal amount of progress.  Then I avoided my first, " punch".

With the bike course being so flat, there is nothing to naturally or geographically separate the riders, there were long lines of athletes.  Yes, there was a ton of drafting and I made sure to avoid it and play by the rules. My decision was reinforced by the Marshall that rode next to the group I was with for 20 minutes handing out penalties like it was candy on Halloween.  I couldn't believe what I was seeing.  Athletes would argue their case, to no avail, and then you would see their demeanor change.  They had been punched right in the face and their game plans had been altered.  Some folded and tossed in the towel, others started to ride fueled by anger.  Both outcomes would more than likely result in a ruined race day.  With the amount of penalties that I witnessed and avoiding that punch to the face something clicked in my head.  I began to treat the ride as a game. I made sure I passed each person by the rules and leave no chance to error.  It was the exact stimulus I needed to enhance my focus, be ever present and dial up my effort.

At the end of the first hour I did a quick "systems check" and everything was right on point from my cadence to my nutrition to what was going on between my ears.  The beginning of the second hour I was passed by a couple of riders who would then fall in line in front of me and immediately slow down thereby impeding on my progress. This annoyed me and I thought that they were also the type of people that when driving  probably move into the left lane and slow down rather than passing the car they were just behind.  As soon as I realized this I said to myself,  "don't let others dictate your race", "you dictate your race", "you are in charge of what happens".  From that point on any person that attempted to pass me I would immediately pass back. I had finally started to reach one of my goals and that was to race the bike.

Despite the plethora of screens and data my Garmin can display I only have 4 things in view, Time, Watts, Average Watts and Cadence. For this race I thought it would be an intelligent decision to also display speed.  My reasoning,  if I was able to reach above average speed at a lower power output, then I would and save my legs for the run.  I didn't believe there would be any benefit to expending energy to produce more power if I already was at or above an acceptable race speed. For the second hour of the ride I kept a vigilant eye on my speed and its correlation to wattage.  A majority of this hour was spent smiling as my speed was up and my power was low. Now my focus was on reaching the 45 mile mark.

I approached the 45 mile marker and greeted it with a smile.  Systems check....everything was still perfect.  Do I start to hammer it or maintain my more than acceptable pace? I decided to keep to my current effort with the idea of setting myself up for as strong a run as possible.

The last 10 miles my mind drifted a couple of times as I thought about the run, where I was in the race, my wife, the swim, crossing the finish line.  Each unfocused thought was put in check immediately by saying out loud, "stay present", "be here", "be in the now".  I dismounted my bike and stopped the clock. I had just completed the 56 miles in 2:30:00. Holy shit, I just completed the bike in 2:30 and had the time of my life.

For the data geeks; I averaged 22.19 mph, average wattage was 207, average cadence was 92 rpm and I consumed 750 liquid calories. My previous PR for the bike was between 2:55-2:57.  My goal split for this race was 2:50.

I had given my wife my projected splits so she could plan her cheering accordingly. I  was hoping to see her when I got off the bike but I had just finished 20 minutes earlier than planned.  I racked my bike, sat down to put on my shoes and socks ( I know, I know, I should just stand or not wear socks. First I don't want blisters and secondly I can put socks on faster when I'm not loosing my balance from standing on one leg). As I stood up I began to hear my wife cheering! This was huge and a great source of positive energy.  We held out our half hearts, she snapped a picture and I was off. Once again transition was roughly 1:30

The Run.
I was fired up for this run. It was time once again to celebrate my fitness.  As I approached mile one I did a quick systems check. Focus? CHECK. Cadence? CHECK. Breathing and Hear Rate? CHECK. Stomach? CHECK. Legs? CHECK. Pace? Pace? PACE!?! My Garmin was frozen. SHIT. Wait, what's that? Why was there pain coming from the right side of my foot? Ok. No big deal. I typically don't run staring at my watch so I'll rely on feeling the pace instead. My foot is annoying at this point but I'll revisit it at 5K.

3.1 miles in, how's the foot? It was getting worse.  Time to make a choice. Call it a day do to the pain ( if I had felt this pain on a training run i would have stopped immediately) or do my best to forget about it and push on? There was never  a second thought, suffer now, celebrate later ( or as a friend so poetically texted me the day before, "PR or ER").

Each aide station was fully stocked  and had amazing volunteers.  In my opinion Eagleman has the best supplied aide stations with the best volunteers.  " Sponges" "Sponges". Why not?  I'm so glad I took those sponges. Besides being ice cold I wedged a couple between my neck and race kit and the amount of coolness that brought was amazing.  I then grabbed cups of water and ice leaving that station.  I repeated this routine at each successive station.  New sponges, water over the head, water in the mouth, ice in my hat and between the sponges and my skin. At the turn around I felt I had kept a very steady and consistent pace. Turns out I ran an 8:11 pace.  I wanted to run between 8:00-8:15 pace.  I was spot on and was managing the pain well. Let your body do what you trained it do.

The second half of the run was more of the same however I was now walking through aide stations in an attempt to alleviate some of the pain.  Despite my foot I felt really good, my legs were strong. A pivotal point for me during the run is the 10 mile mark.  At this point I do my final systems check.  The results of this check usually determines my run. At this 10 mile mark I was ready to push all my chips to the middle of the table however my foot was screaming.  This was very disappointing.

I crossed the finish line with the clock reading 5:56 (the pros started an hour earlier) Did I just break 5 hours? I couldn't believe it. After walking through the finishing chute I looked for my wife.  I must have seemed delirious because the first thing I remembering saying to her was, "what is 5:56 minus one hour". I asked her multiple times. I couldn't believe it. 4:56

* after a few hours of recovery on the long drive home I looked up my splits.  The website said I went 5:02. 4:56 or 5:02 I don't care and couldn't be happier.

My previous best finish, 5:35.  My goal time for this race 5:15.  Despite the discrepancy, I just crushed it. HULK SMASH.

I can't thank my wife, Melissa, my coach, Matt Wontz, and my group of training partners, Ant, Chris, and Dan enough.  My success is rooted in them.


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