Saturday, June 20, 2015

It Got Ugly Out There: Eagleman 70.3 Race Report

I didn't really have a goal going into this race.  Especially given the fact that we signed up for it 9 weeks out.  That's not to say that I hadn't been training because I had.  At least swimming and biking.   Running had taken a bit of a back seat in terms of longer distances.  I figured 9 weeks would be enough time to build my mileage up.  Looking at the Eagleman course, it looks deceptively easy because it's pancake flat.   A flat course usually means windy which the course description on verifies.  I had heard from other people that it could also be hot. said that the temps were usually around 75-80 degrees F.  Ok that's a bit warmer than Toronto in June but not by much.  I figured both G and I could potentially have really good races.  I thought I might even be able to break 5 hours.  Until I joined the Eagleman Facebook group and got the inside scoop on exactly what Eagleman could be like.
Joining that group was a blessing and a bit of curse. It was great because you got to interact with people and virtually meet other participants before the race. My Tri Talk Tuesday co-host Cynthia was the mastermind behind it.  It created a wonderful little community and actually made me really excited for the race. There were a lot of locals and past participants that were able to shed some light on the course - most notably the swim and the ever changing weather and water temperatures. Going into this race, I didn't realize that the water was brackish-I thought we were swimming in a river so it had to be fresh water.  WRONG. Had I actually looked at a map I would have realized that the Choptank flows into Chesapeake Bay which then mixes with the Atlantic Ocean. AHHHH.  This was freak out number one for me. People mentioned jellyfish in the swim and I just about had a heart attack.  I had been stung by jellyfish before and it left me with some seriously uncomfortable welts on my arms. That was the last thing I wanted to deal with in a half Ironman. Then there was also mention of sting rays. GEEZ.  I was questioning my sanity in signing up for this race even before toeing the line. Someone in the group had put up a link to a buoy that monitored water temp and as the race got closer, I checked it every day.  A week before the race it was sitting at 69 degrees F which meant it would be wetsuit legal.  But temps were on the rise and people in the group were saying that we should be prepared for a non wetsuit swim.  Every time I thought about that I could feel my anxiety start to rise.  So I chose not to think about it. 
G and I had originally planned on heading out early Friday morning but decided to leave Thursday evening instead to break up the drive. Thankfully we did because the trip down was longer than we expected. We made it to Erie, PA and spent the night there. We hit the road on Friday morning at around 7:30 am. By the time we got through PA, the temps had risen a lot. It was just over 30 degrees Celsius at 10:30 am. I could only imagine what it was going to be like the further south we got. We opted to drive with the top down of course.
By the time we got into DC the temps had become unbearable. We actually pulled over and put the top up because it was so hot. It's not every day that you see 45 degrees Celsius!

By the time we arrived in Cambridge it was about 4:30 pm and it was still scorching out.  I knew that didn't bode well for the water temps being wetsuit legal.  We checked into The Hyatt then went right back out to the race expo to pick up our race kits and do some shopping. I didn't go too crazy this year. I didn't find the gear as nice as what they had in Luxembourg. I still picked up a few things though. I think that swim bike run beer dish towel was made especially for me, haha.
Saturday we did a short run and a short ride.  My knees hurt and my sciatica was still kinda there, although better than it had been.  I felt ok on the bike though so that was a plus. The plan for the rest of the day was to check our bikes in, check out the Choptank to test our swim skins out and then head to the 2:00pm athlete briefing.  After that we were supposed to then meet up with a bunch of the Eagleman facebook group members. We checked our bikes in and headed over to the water. We passed this young guy getting ready and I immediately recognized him. It was Aaron Reilly, the youngest group member - he had just graduated from high school.   I have him to thank for the title of this race report.   One of his favourite hashtags was #LetsGetUglyOutThere.  Of course, I stopped to say hello and we started chatting. He was getting ready to swim so we said we'd join him. I happened to look up and saw another familiar face, who also recognized me - it was Doug, aka Tri Silk.  He came over and said hello and we all chatted for a bit.  He had just finished swimming and was heading off with his buddies. So, G, Aaron and myself suited up and got in the water. It was a little cool at first but once I got going, it was quite nice.  And it was actually somewhat buoyant. I could taste a bit of salt in it but it wasn't bad. Not like the ocean. I was still apprehensive about the non wetsuit swim but there was nothing I could do about that at this point. After the swim we met Aaron's parents, who were absolutely lovely. Of course there was a photo op!

After the swim we went back to the expo for the athletes briefing. There we met up with a few of the folks in the Eagleman group and I finally got to meet Cynthia. Her dad was there as was her daughter. It was awesome to finally meet her in person. After the briefing we stood around chatting about racing and triathlons in general for a bit and then we all parted ways. G and I went back to the hotel and got everything ready for the morning. We headed off for dinner and were back in our room by 7:00pm.  I finished up my last minute packing and snapped this Instagram pic. Now all I had to do was sleep. Which didn't really happen. 
My alarm went off at 4:15 am and I was up and at 'em. G and I got ourselves ready and then drove to the school where they were shuttling people to the start. The race organizers did an awesome job with that. Waiting in line for the shuttle I was already sweating. The air was still and heavy. There was very little wind. We got down to transition and it was chaos. So many people. This was the largest field they'd had in a long time apparently with 2300 participants. I found my bike and laid out my things. G found me shortly there after and we made a beeline for the porta potties. I heard over the loudspeaker that the swim was officially a non wetsuit swim. ahhhhh. I knew it was coming but it still made me nervous. I saw Cythina and Doug again and said hi. We saw Aaron as well. It was his birthday so we wished him happy birthday and gave him a good luck hug. He was super nervous as was I. G and I then went over to the warm up area and got in the water. It felt cooler than the day before. I did a decent warm up and then went to the dock where the start line was to wait with G. I watched a few of the waves go off andi noticed that people were actually walking for the first bit!  So it was shallow which made me feel a bit better. I didn't know how long it was shallow for but even if it was only a couple hundred meters that would be enough for me to calm myself down and get into a groove. 
Before I knew it, it was G's turn to go. That meant I had 8 minutes left. I kissed G goodbye and watched his wave go off. I wandered around looking for other blue cap ladies. I found Cynthia and hung out with her for a bit. Then they called our wave and all 150+ ladies wandered into the water. It was go time. My nerves were starting to subside. The horn went off, I hit start on my Garmin and stood there for a bit until people went. I started walking out and then ducked under and started to swim. It was so crowded I got up and walked again and looked for some open water. I found some and started swimming. There were so many boats and kayaks lining the course, you were never really alone out there. I got caught up in another group and stopped again. It was still shallow so I could walk, which I did for a bit. I didn't care about my time, I just wanted to get through the swim without freaking out. I found some more open space and started swimming. I started catching people. I watched for the buoys and counted strokes between them. I swam at a comfortable pace. It was all about controlling my breath. I didn't want to push myself too hard and start gasping. I felt like I was moving fairly well but it did seem to take a while to get from buoy to buoy. I stopped a few times to make sure I was on track and not swimming off course. I hit the first turnaround buoy without incident. I started to swim a little harder. I got to the second turnaround buoy and felt like I was exerting more effort but not really moving that quick. I sighted and realized that I still had a fair ways to go. For some reason I thought the back half was shorter than the front half. oops. I put my head down and kept swimming. Saint Motel's "My Type" was going through my head. I counted strokes and sang that song in my head. I sighted again and saw people walking.  WTH? I stopped and put my feet down.   I couldn't quite touch the bottom but it was close.  Alrighty then. I put my face back in and started to push the pace. I just wanted to be done. It was at that point I realized that I was just about to complete my first ever non wetsuit swim and I didn't freak out once. Not once. I started grinning. The next thing I knew, my fingers were scraping along the sand. I stood up and started wading through the water. That was slow going so I did few dolphin dives to get me closer to shore. I stood up and started running again. I glanced down at my Garmin and was shocked to see almost 41 minutes. Wow. I knew I'd be slower without a wetsuit but not THAT much slower. By the time I hit the shore my Garmin said 2000m. Other people said the swim was longer so it wasn't just me. 
SWIM: 42:02
I ran into T1 yanking the zipper on my skin suit down and pulling the top down to my waist. I found my bike, pulled my skin suit off, put my helmet on, dried my feet off, yanked on my shoes and grabbed my bike. I ran as fast as I could out of T1. It was already really hot. I figured the next 90km was going to be interesting. 
T1: 2:46
The first bit of the bike course has quite a few turns. You don't get out into the open until about the 5km mark. After that it's pretty much straight open road. As soon as I got out onto the highway I got into my aero bars. There was a LOT of "On Your Left" - I should have just had a recording going for that first while. At 12 minutes in I took a salt tablet and a gel. By just over 30 minutes in to the bike, I had gone through my first bottle. Normally it takes me about a hour to get through a bottle. It was just so hot, I felt I had to drink. I had brought 3 bottles of GU Roctane, made at half strength and I had planned to get a bottle of water if needed. Fuel wise I had 6 salted chocolate Roctane gels + a package of margarita shot Bloks in case I got sick of the sweet stuff. The plan was 2 gels an hour + 2 salt tablets. I hoped that would be enough to keep me hydrated and cramp free. In terms of power my goal was to race in between 140-150w. Cruising along, that felt easy. I was averaging around 34-35kph. I'm pretty sure we had a bit of a tailwind. My 5km splits were averaging between 8:10-8:30. I started doing the math and figured if I could keep this pace up, I'd probably have a sub 2:40 bike split. Whaaaat!?!? 
The only time I got out of aero was when I had to refill my aero bottle, to eat a gel or to take a salt tablet. The rest of the time I stayed tucked. I'm clearly not used to my new fit because my shoulders and upper back were killing me by about 40km mark. Nothing I could do about it so I tried to get as comfortable as possible. 
There always seemed to be people around on the course. Sometimes I'd have one or two people around me and then all of sudden I'd come up to a group. Most people were obeying the 5 bike length rules. I was more surprised at the number of people that didn't seem to understand they needed to stick to the right of the road, not ride in the middle of it. Or even worse, riding side by side with someone. I had to yell on your left three times to one guy before he realized I was behind him trying to pass. And then there was the drafting. Good lord. I know it was rampant because when I passed the pentaly tent, it was packed. I also watched a group of four paceline the last 30km of the bike. Ridiculous. I seriously hope none of them got a Worlds spot. 
I was feeling really good and then I hit the 60km mark. People had said we would probably get a headwind on the back half of the course. I didn't notice a dramatic drop in my speed until about 60km. Then I noticed my 5km split dropped to 9:15. My next 5km split was 9:22. Things continued to stay in and around the 9:20-9:30 mark for the next bit. I could feel the heat radiating off the pavement and I was starting to get a headache which worried me a bit. I grabbed water at an aid station and swigged that back. At the 80km mark I decided to push the pace. I realized that I was probably just going to miss a 2:40 bike split. Oh well. This was still going to be way better than I had hoped for. I zig zagged back towards transition, dying to get my helmet off my head. I pulled up to the mount line and was shocked at just how hot it had gotten. I ran into T2 and back to my spot on the rack. 
BIKE: 2:42:20
I racked my bike and pulled off my helmet. AAAHHHHH. That felt so much better. I pulled off my shoes and was shocked at how much sand I still had on them so I wiped them off, along with my face, which felt really grubby. I smeared ultra balm on my feet (which had almost melted due to the heat) pulled on my socks and shoes, dumped my pockets except for 2 gels, grabbed my BASE salt, one flask of Roctane, sprayed some more sunscreen on, grabbed my race bib and started running out of transition. 
T2: 3:58
As I made my way onto the run course I saw Meredith jumping up and down and cheering with a sign. That totally made my day. I waved and did some kind of silly jump haha. I hoped to find her after the race. I had hoped to be able to run a 1:40-1:45 half given the conditions. As soon as I got out onto the pavement I threw that goal out the window. The heat radiating off the ground was stifling. I've never experienced anything like it.  It wasn't just hot, it was hot and humid. There was the occasional breeze but it wasn't enough to cool you down. I ran along at 4:40-4:45/kms for the first 2km. I was dying. As soon as I got to the first aid station I stopped. Surprisingly I had to pee, which meant that I actually hydrated well on the bike (yes!). I jumped in the stuffy porta potty. It was a feat to get my tri shorts off and back on. As soon as I got out, I dumped iced down my top and the front of my shorts. AHHHH. That felt so good. I started running again. I was passing people left and right. My legs felt pretty good. It was the rest of me that didn't. I could feel the sun beating on my shoulders and head. Locals that were spectating had sprinklers out so I took advantage of that and ran through each and every one. By the time I got to the 5km mark I figured a 1:40 half wasn't going to happen. Not in that heat. I was even questioning a 1:45 half. I was running fairly well when I was running but I'd have to stop at each aid station to cool myself down. By the time I got to the 9km mark I decided that if I made it in under 2 hours, it would be a good day. 
I was running towards the turn around looking for people that I knew. I had seen Aaron a bit earlier and he was having a tough time. I figured I should see G soon. Sure enough I saw him and ran across the road to give him a hug and a kiss. He was about 2 miles ahead of me. I wasn't sure if I'd catch him or not. I ran towards the turnaround and into a pocket of road that had absolutely NO air circulation. I imagine that it's kind of what the energy lab in Kona is like. It just sucked the life out of me through here. I hit the 11km mark in 58 minutes and thought ok, only 10km left. Less than 50 minutes at your current pace- keep it up! I couldn't. I decided that I was going to stop at every single aid station for ice. I hadn't taken a gel either. I couldn't face taking a gel so I went for the flat coke. At least it was supposed to be flat. Some aid stations it was and some it wasn't. I didn't care at that point, I wasn't running hard enough for it to matter. I took a handful of chips at one aid station. The rest of the time it was flat coke, water or Gatorade. I slogged along, the water I had poured all over myself, pooling in my shoes. I could only imagine what my already hideous feet were going to look like when I was done.
I got to the 16km aid station, grabbed my usual handfuls of ice and wet sponges and instead of running I contined to walk. My legs were starting to feel tired. I had 5km left. If I managed to eke out 5 min k's I'd be done in 25 minutes.  Ok. Get your ass in gear. You've got this. 
I started running again. I made it to the next aid station and grabbed more water and sponges. I didn't linger too long this time. My stomach wasn't feeling great. It was cramping and I was gassy.  Never trust a fart in an Ironman went running through my head. I thought about stopping and using the porta potty but I couldn't face getting back in that hot box or trying to get out of my soaking wet clothes. So I contined on and hoped that my stomach would behave. I hit the last aid station and grabbed another ice cold sponge and some water. Once again I didn't linger. I was so close. I was coming up to a guy with a hose andi threw my arms open - he turned the hose on me and I jumped through it. My legs were really starting to hurt and my form had gone to shit. I could hear the announcer at the finish line. I managed a smile and wave for a race photographer- probably because I was so close to being done, haha. I was running 4:40's once again. I could smell the finish line. I turned into Great 'Marsh Park and ran down the finishing chute. There was myself and one other guy. He wa high fiving people. I had tunnel vision on the finish line. I raised my arms in the air, grinning and crossed the line. I hit stop on my Garmin, got my medal,handed in my chip and went to find G. As I came out of the finishing area, I saw him standing there, looking spent. I went over to and high fived him. The we went to find some shade and some food. At that point I looked at my watch to check my time: 5:26:59.  I ended up running a 1:55:53 half. 
Certainly not what I had in mind time wise but given the day we were handed, it was the best I could do and that's all I could ask for. It was the hardest race I've done to date, hands down. 
Apparently the weather that day was 35 degrees with 99% humidity which made it feel like over 40 degrees. I don't think many people were prepared for that except for some of the locals. Amazingly I ended up in 11th place in my AG. Most of the women ahead of me were from Maryland or surrounding area. With the exception of one who was from Spain. I'll happily take it.
Next up is Muskoka 70.3 as the runner in a relay team. Looking forward to that. 


Wendy at Taking the Long Way Home said...

Wow! Great way to finish a tough race. Those conditions sound brutal.

You are my hero! :)

Kristen said...

Great race recap, Phaedra. Isn’t it interesting how courses that appear on the “easier” side on paper are actually deceivingly difficult? I thought I would have an epic race going into Boise 70.3 because the course is relatively flat, but the wind and heat were factors I did not take into consideration. It can definitely be humbling. Sounds like you gave it your all and had a solid race, given the conditions. The swim alone would probably mentally destroy me – I’m not sure how I would handle a swim without a wetsuit. And jellyfish – what?!?! The run in the heat just sounded brutal. I remember doing a half marathon once in temperatures of 90-95 F and all I could think was “get me to the next aid station for more ice.”

Looking forward to your next adventure.

John Francis said...

Fantastic Phaedra! Terrific report from one tough athlete. Thanks for the fuel and hydration tips. See you at Muskoka 70.3!

Abby said...

Wow, amazing job. This heat is killer. I cannot even imagine.

Kelli said...

Tough race! I just had a tough one at Mont Tremblant, although it wasn't that hot. Tell me more about this salt...I have to figure out how to deal with tummy issues on the 70.3 run.

Meredith said...

Good to see you even if we didn't connect after! My other friend was about 10 minutes behind you so I didn't want to leave the finish area till he crossed.

Major props to you for racing in those conditions. It was brutal out there but you made it look easy!

Loved the jump coming out of T2 :-)