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Eagleman 2017 – Race Report

Well, I survived and finished the race! It was quite a day, and definitely the toughest athletic event I have ever done. I’m sorry, this is really long, but I wanted to include a lot of information for anyone new to a 70.3 event or specifically to Eagleman. I found that reading race reports before the event was very helpful. Here are my observations, preparations, race report, and other comments about the entire weekend.

Swag

Travel and Venue

Eagleman is held in the town of Cambridge, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, along the Choptank River which feeds into the Chesapeake Bay. We stayed in St. Michaels, Maryland, simply because the less expensive hotels in Cambridge fill up well in advance of the event. This only meant that we had a bit of a drive to get to the event for Saturday and Sunday.

An Ironman 70.3 event requires that you arrive at least by the day before the race in order to pick up your race packet and set your bike up in transition. The check-in location was at Sailwinds Park, a different place than the race, but it wasn’t far. I had actually arrived very early that morning and spent some time changing out the tires and doing other checks on my bike. The morning was quite serene, and the parking lot was empty. I rode a few miles around town to make sure everything was working properly on the bike.

Athlete Check-In

Soon enough, athlete check-in and the IRONMAN village and store opened, and the crowds arrived. I stowed my bike and ventured inside. Check-in was pretty quick, and took me from one table to the next to receive a packet of race numbers, wristband, bike-check ticket, swag, and timing chip. Oh, and I had to sign a collection of waivers and make sure that my emergency contacts were up to date.

Athlete Check In

I met my family after that and shopped in the IRONMAN store, picking up a visor, a couple t-shirts, a cycling jersey, and a cowbell. Be warned – you will probably want to spend way too much money in this store! I didn’t really need the cycling jersey, but couldn’t help myself. The leftover event-specific items will be for sale online afterwards, but the sizes and colors will be limited.

Outside the IRONMAN store, the rest of the athlete village was filled with other vendors and an open area where race briefings were held. I stayed for a briefing, and thought it was helpful. If you didn’t read the athlete packet, it was essentially a brief version of that information with a few last minute course details thrown in.

Great Marsh Park

Next up was a trip over to the race venue at Great Marsh Park to check my bike into transition. All bikes had to be left there on Saturday, but the rest of my transition gear didn’t need to be ready until Sunday morning. Parking was easy to find on the nearby neighborhood streets, and I found my spot in transition. I ended up very close to the swim-in/run-out gate, and far from the bike-in/bike-out gate. I wandered around to see how transition was organized and then met up with my fellow racers for a practice swim.

Transition Row

The water temperature had been hovering a few degrees below the no wetsuit cut off, so I was pretty sure this would be a wetsuit-legal swim. The practice swim area was off the opposite site of the park from the actual swim course. It consisted of a thin strip of rocky sand, and an extensive shallow bay. The water was pleasant, but some wakes made the swimming a little rough. That was good for me though, and I was able to practice swimming in less calm water than I was used to.

We were done for the day after that, and headed back to the hotel for showers, dinner, packing for the morning, and an early bedtime.

Race Morning

On race morning, transition opened at 4:45 a.m. and we made it there around 5:30 a.m. Street parking was still easy to find, but there was also a shuttle running from a nearby school for those who chose to use it. I set up my equipment beside my bike and filled my water bottles from the cases of gallon jugs provided. Bike maintenance was also available within transition. We had to be out of transition by 6:35 a.m. which was different than what was noted in the event schedule (6:45 a.m.).

Swim Start

I was in one of the later swim waves, which I think helped to keep me calm and gave me plenty of time to organize my swimming stuff and get a quick bathroom break. It was confirmed as a wetsuit-legal swim. The pro men started at 6:45 a.m., and other groups lined up and began the race after that. I found my age group and shuffled forward until I was at the front of the pack, ready to race.

The Swim – 1.2 miles

The swim had an in-water start from a sandy beach on the east side of the park. I was able to stand, and had plenty of room to find an open spot between the two buoys marking the start. The course was rectangular, with two left turns before heading back toward shore. In previous years, the course was reversed, with right turns instead. I started out swimming slowly, focusing on my technique and breathing, and also on not getting kicked. My goal in the swim was just to get through it since I had never done an open-water swim in a wetsuit for such a distance (although I had come close in training).

I believe the buoys were 100 yards or meters apart, but now I can’t find where I had read that. The outbound ones were yellow, the inbound ones orange, and the turn buoys were red. I sighted pretty well to the first turn, but then the water was a bit choppier on the segment parallel to the shore. I thought I was almost to the second turn when a kayaker shouted at me and pointed. I saw then that I had mistaken one of the inbound orange buoys for the red turn buoy. But I wasn’t off course by very much and quickly corrected. The inbound leg felt like it took forever, but I felt fine swimming and just kept going. I did start to feel a little disoriented when I sighted on the inbound leg, and was tired of working to avoid the other swimmers. I did see a few jellyfish float by beneath me, so keep that in mind if you swim this without a wetsuit. My cousin was stung on the foot during our practice swim.

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The swim exit was chaotic, with all the athletes coming up between two piers on the point after a final turn buoy. This effectively squeezed everyone together, and I had to sight frequently to avoid being pushed into the pier on the left. However, I was soon able to stand and ran up the mats and out.

SWIM = 49:27

This was my first time using wetsuit strippers. I only managed to get my Garmin off my wrist before I reached them. They were very efficient and pulled my wetsuit off far faster than I would have been able to do. On the way into transition, I passed an aid station and gulped some water, knowing that I had to stay hydrated.

T1

T1

The swim to bike transition is the most complicated for me, because there is just a lot to do. But I had already decided not to rush myself in transition because I’d rather be a minute slower than forget something I’d really miss. I got myself together and ran my bike to the bike-out gate. There were sunscreen sprayers available near the bike-out portal, and I had them spray the back of my neck. I had already sprayed my legs myself. Everything was clearly marked and I got on and clipped in after the appropriate line.

T1 = 8:44

Bike – 56 miles

The bike course was very flat, traveling 56 miles through Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, through wetlands, swamp, and along rural roads. I started out with a tailwind, so that was nice, and I was often cycling at 20-22 mph. I knew that I had a long way to go, so I tried to hold back. After about 10 miles, my heart rate dropped to where I had wanted it, and I tried to maintain a steady effort. My hydration and nutrition plan was to drink water or Nuun every 5 minutes and eat a Clif block every 15 minutes.

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The aid stations on the bike course were a new experience for me because I had never had to grab anything from a volunteer while riding. I skipped the first aid station, just watching how it all worked. You were supposed to toss your old bottles in a designated area coming in, then grab new ones as you rode by. It looked like there were also bananas and other food items available.

I should have emptied one of my water bottles before the aid station and then exchanged just that one, but since I had two bottles that were a little more than half full, I didn’t swap either one out. The temperature when I started cycling was around 77℉, but quickly rose. The next aid station was around mile 30, but I ran out of water a few miles before that. I managed to toss both of my empties, but decided to come to a stop to make sure I was able to get two new ones. This didn’t take long, and I soon had plenty of water.

I continued on, but around mile 35 my stomach began to feel queasy. I stopped eating Clif blocks at this point and waited a bit longer on the water. I couldn’t tell if I was dehydrated or too sloshy from all the water. I felt a little better after not taking anything in for about 15 minutes and went back to drinking water. I also took a salt tablet every hour on the bike, which was something I had never done in training, simply because I never had a chance to do any long rides in the heat. So much for “nothing new on race day,” hah!

The last 20 miles of the bike were tough, and the cycling is my favorite part of all this. I had only ridden this distance once before (on the actual course, back in May). I think I only had one or two training rides of 3 to 4 hours, and one 50 mile hilly ride last year. I found myself wishing for my nicer, more padded shorts, and kept trying to shift my position on my saddle. However, this saddle was much better than some of the others I had tried this spring. I think my discomfort was mostly due to sitting in one position for over three hours.

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As far as my clip-on tri bars (Redshift), I was very happy with these. I had only ridden a few times with them (although one ride was a 40 miler), so I wasn’t sure how I’d feel for 56 miles. I didn’t have any hand numbness like I would usually experience without them.

On the final segments of the bike course, I ran into a headwind, and found that I was becoming more wobbly on the bike when my attention wandered. I definitely slowed on this portion, and my stomach still didn’t feel right, but I kept drinking water. As I neared the bike finish, I saw other athletes headed out on the run where the courses overlapped. Finally, I rode through the local streets of Cambridge and passed my cheering section. I forced a smile for the photos: I have never been so happy at the prospect of getting off my bike!

Soon I reached the dismount line, and I knew to take it slowly here. I unclipped and got my feet down without incident. It was a bit tough to swing my leg over the seat, but I didn’t fall over. I started to jog into transition and realized that I could barely walk! My legs just weren’t working right. I walked and jogged and made it to my transition spot. I had no idea how I was going to run 13.1 miles at this point.

BIKE = 3:19:29

T2

This was the simpler transition, but I felt a bit dizzy and confused coming off the bike. I drank a total of 3 liters of water on the bike course, but I think I must have been dehydrated. I had no need to urinate during any part of the race (which alleviated the stress of deciding to use a Porta-John or pee on myself – yes, this is apparently a triathlon thing).

I got my running shoes on, grabbed a hat, and clipped on my race belt. I had planned to eat a Honey Stinger gel here, but my stomach still wasn’t right, so just water for me. I smeared some sunscreen on my face because I had forgotten to do that in T1 and sprayed more on my legs.

T2 = 8:51

Run – 13.1 miles

My Garmin recorded a temperature of 86℉ at the start of the run. It was reportedly as hot as the mid-90’s out on the course. Oh, and there was little shade to be found. I could barely jog at the start of the run, and when I did, my stomach quickly began to complain and I had to walk. Oh well, I figured that I could always walk the entire thing.

Running

After the first mile or so, I started to feel better and stretched my running sections out more with shorter walks. Then around mile 2, my toes started to hurt. I must have gotten my feet wet, and I knew I was on my way to blisters. There wasn’t much I could do about it at this point but push through and get it done. My cheering section told me that my brother was only a short distance ahead of me, but I never caught up to him. I did pass my sister-in-law who was on her way back in as part of a relay.

The aid stations were frequent and saved the day! Each one had water, Gatorade, cups of ice, and other happy cooling things. The ice was actually too cold for me, but the wet sponges were the best. I stuck one under my hat and got into a routine of drinking water or Gatorade at each aid station. Then I would pour cold water down my back and arms. I had pulled on cooling sleeves in T1, and these saved me from sunburn on both the bike and the run. I saw a lot of people who would have some nasty sunburn at the end of the day.

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I felt okay as I headed out, sticking with my run-walk strategy. At one point I looked up to see a few birds soaring overhead. Sure enough, one dark brown bird boasted a white head and tail – I found a bald eagle! I kept my eye on it as I continued and pointed out the race mascot to another runner also. Now I had to finish this thing!

The course turned through a short wooded section and back toward town, back in full sun. I started to struggle somewhere between mile 8 and 9. My run sections grew shorter and I was nauseous again. By the time I turned toward mile 10, I could barely run. My legs were actually fine – my stomach and general exhaustion were the limiting factors. When I turned toward the neighborhood streets of Cambridge, I decided that I had to walk the rest of the way. I wasn’t sure that I’d make it otherwise. Even walking became difficult, but I counted down the miles and commiserated with the other athletes.

The last mile of the course passes along the shore and lets you see and hear the finish area ahead. I turned a corner as a volunteer shouted encouragement and made my legs run again. Just a little further! Then I was there at the finish. My husband saw me coming and shouted and I forced a smile with a little less effort this time. The red-lined M-dot chute was all that was left. I was even able to really run at this point and crossed the finish, arms upstretched.

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I received my finisher’s medal, a hat, and was promptly grabbed by a volunteer. She asked if I was okay or needed medical treatment. I thought about it briefly, but figured that if I could still stand and drink water, I’d be okay. She told me I had looked a little wobbly, but I knew I had been wobbly for half the race. Other volunteers poured cool water over me like I had been doing out on the course. My mom was there at the finish also and I took some more photos and stumbled away to recover.

RUN = 3:35:16

TOTAL = 8:01:47

Here are all the official times from Ironman.

And the data from my Garmin.

Recovery

I sat at a picnic table and drank water at first. My brother had finished only a few minutes ahead of me, so we were both in recovery mode. I nibbled at some cookies and ate pretzels, but wasn’t really hungry. I got my shoes off and was surprised to see that nothing was bleeding, although I did have some nasty blisters on my pinky toes. I was actually cold at this point (yeah, I was cold at Eagleman) and went back to sitting in the sun.

Biting Medals

Once I started to feel better, it was time to go. My brother and I shuffled to the practice swim area to rinse off the salt and sweat (although can you really rinse off the salt in brackish water?) and float for a bit. I was able to walk in flip-flops and never threw up, so I figure that that made for a pretty good day!

Overall, my times were about what I thought they would be for the swim and bike. The run was a lot tougher than I had imagined. I think this was due to overall exhaustion after the swim and bike, and mounting dehydration that started on the bike. Oh, and I don’t like to run either!

Next Time?

Will I do this again? I don’t know. Definitely not this year. The training takes up a lot of time, and I need to take a break from that. I do have a sprint and a super-sprint triathlon planned over the summer, but the training volume required for those is simply less. I know that I can finish a 70.3 now, and I did so on a particularly grueling and hot day. I definitely could not have done a full Ironman event in those conditions, so whether I attempt that in the future will have to wait.

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Race Preparation and Predictions – It’s Almost HERE!

I started this triathlon journey almost two years ago when I watched my brother, sister-in-law, and cousin complete the Ironman 70.3 in Racine, Wisconsin. All of the race excitement and their hard work made me wonder if I could ever complete the same feat. In a few days, I’ll find out.

Drake Shorts

My brother in his signature flag shorts in Racine.

When I started trying to dabble in triathlon, I didn’t know if I’d be able to run very far, or for repeated training sessions after my previous ankle injuries and surgeries. I had to take it pretty slow, but I gradually built up the miles and fitness.

From my first triathlon (Rock Hall Sprint) in Maryland to a better effort in the NJ State Triathlon, I feel like I have continued to improve in all parts of the sport. My brother and the rest of my family was there cheering me on, as well. That first day was particularly tough, and their support was very much appreciated.

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Cheering me on in Rock Hall.

And now: Eagleman. In four days I will race my first Ironman 70.3.

Eagleman is a 70.3 mile race on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, along the Chesapeake Bay. That means that I will swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles, and run 13.1 miles back-to-back. I have done each distance individually at different times, but all together? I expect it to be a special type of hell.

Oh, and it’s traditionally hot, sunny, humid, and windy at Eagleman every year. The forecast is currently calling for a high of 87°F, high humidity, and some sun and clouds. The wind will be tougher to forecast.

Why did I pick this race, you may now be asking? Well, it was reasonably close to home and fell on a weekend that I was free. Oh, and my brother needs revenge upon the course. He raced in Eagleman last year and did not finish. Apparently the run is brutal, with full sun and radiating black asphalt. Unless you’re really fast, you will enter the lava fields of Eagleman in the full heat of noon. At least the entire course is flat.

I thought this would be a good time to think about my goals for Sunday. I feel ready for either a wetsuit or non-wetsuit swim (this will depend on the water temperature on race day). There seems to be a good amount of overlap between my fencing leg muscles and cycling muscles, so the bike segment will be the strongest part for me. I have to resist the temptation to push too hard on the bike.

Running is still pretty tough for me, but I have completed two half-marathons (13.1 miles) in preparation for Eagleman. My running goal is to run the entire run, only walking to hydrate at the water stations. If I try to drink while running, I will probably choke or drown. I want to finish strong, and I’m hoping that I don’t puke.

For specific times, here is how I break it down:

  • Swim – under 1:00 hour, ideally 0:45 minutes, but this could change depending on wetsuit vs non-wetsuit swim
  • Bike – 3:00 – 3:30 hours, but this is where I feel like I’m guessing the most. I could probably do it in under three hours, but then will I be able to run?
  • Run – 2:30 – 3:00 hours. My PR for the distance is closer to 2:22. I blame short legs.
  • Transitions (the part where I swap out equipment between each event) – 5 minutes each? depending on whether I need a bathroom break or not.

So on the high end, I should finish in 7:30, but would really like to be done in under 7 hours. If things go surprisingly well, could I be closer to 6 hours? I have no idea.

Oh, and you can track my progress on race day, if you’d like. The main Eagleman site should have live tracking. My bib number is #1362 and my swim wave begins at 7:36 a.m.

I’ll check in again after the race!

Race Report – Big Forest Half Marathon 2017

 

I’ve neglected my poor blog for a while now, so I’m going to post some non-writing, non-fencing stuff here sometimes. This is a race report from my second ever half-marathon!

This past weekend, I participated in the Big Forest Half Marathon in Tuckerton, NJ. I had thought that this was the second time that this race had been held, but it seems like may actually have been the inaugural one.

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T-shirt design (front). The back has sponsors in white.

I wanted to run at least one half marathon before my first 70.3 triathlon (Eagleman), and I chose this race because it was being held on a Saturday so I wouldn’t need to take off work. It was easy to register for the event, and I received an email a few days before the race with updated course information.

I decided to drive down to south Jersey on the morning of the event because it didn’t start until 9 a.m., with packet pickup being held from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. The race was held in Bass River State Forest, which was only a short distance from the Garden State Parkway. It turns out that the same race organizer puts on the Bassman Triathlon, which was being held on Sunday.

When I arrived at the park, it was pretty easy to tell where to go, and there was plenty of parking. I think there were about 120-130 people in the race, so this was a much smaller event than the other half marathon I’ve done. Check in was simple, but did take a little longer than I thought it should because everyone had to sign a waiver and show ID. I’m not sure what else would have slowed down the line, but after a bit, they started passing the waivers out in line so we would have them ready by the time we got to the front. It was a bit chilly standing in line because the wind came right across the lake to hit us there and I wish I had pulled my fleece on beforehand.

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The cold beach next to check-in.

There were a few free samples to grab and a t-shirt. I like the design – see my photo. After checking in, I focused on getting myself ready to run by donning my number, drinking a little more water, and stashing my blocks in my sleeves. The temperature was in the low 60’s with a little breeze. There were a few port-a-potties, but these were adequate. The race announcer even let everyone in line know that they wouldn’t start the race until everyone had made it through the line. The other half-marathon that I ran gave out clear bags for your personal effects to label with your name and leave in bins. This one did not do that, but the parking was so close that it was unnecessary. I’m used to carrying my phone and car keys in a running belt anyways.

Before the start, there were brief announcements, with particular attention given to the course. The original course had changed due to an obstruction, and I had only briefly looked at the new one online before arriving. The race was three loops – one 3.1 mile loop, and then two laps of a 5 mile loop. The announcer made some confusing comments about following the red arrows, but then also sometimes following the yellow ones. I hoped there would be volunteers to direct us (unlike a 5K I did last month where everyone got lost and I was waving runners back onto the course).

And then we were off! I started off slowly and found that it wasn’t hard at all to follow the course. If the volunteers hadn’t been there though, I definitely would have been lost. But they happily pointed out the way, and mile markers also reassured me that I was head the right direction. The 3.1 mile loop overlapped parts of the 5 mile one also, and it might have seemed repetitive for some people. I didn’t mind traversing the same bits of road though, as the forest was pretty. The road surface was pretty smooth to run on with only one particularly bad section of pavement where I had to watch my step more carefully. One stretch on the 5 mile loop also went off the road and through the forest, but despite my bad ankles and reluctance to even consider trail running, this was my favorite part of the course. The trail was very hard packed dirt covered with a tiny bit of pine needles and sand. The only parts of the course that had any more annoying amounts of sand were where I had to turn from the road onto the trail, and then at the finish line (on the beach). There was also a short stretch back at the beach house (where we checked in) between the loops with a little sand. The course was also mostly flat – just a small rolling hill here and there.

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Finish line – from pavement to a short stretch of sand.

I carried my own blocks for nutrition, but the race offered a selection of gels and banana pieces. The aid stations were plentiful, and I even had to skip then a few times to avoid feeling sloshy. They had water and Gatorade.

A few spectators watched at the beach house, but for the most part, it was a lonely race (fine by me). The state forest featured campgrounds, and a good number of them were occupied. Some of the campers cheered at first, but then I think they grew tired of seeing us. The roads were also open to traffic, but with only local campers out and about, there weren’t a lot of cars to worry about.

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Awards presentation finishing up.

I finished in 2:22:36.0, so a PR for me! However, my Garmin only registered it as 12.82 miles. I don’t know who was right. I received an email with my result, but the link to the full race results took me to a different event. The full results can be found here. Awards (plaques) were handed out to the top 3 overall male and female finishers, as well as top 3 in all age groups. All finishers received a medal with glittery trees.

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Glittery trees!

Post-race food included fruit – apples and bananas, I believe – as well as bagels and cream cheese. I grabbed a half a bagel, devoured it, and then headed home.

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