On Saturday as I picked up my packet and racked my bike in the sweltering heat of Cambridge, MD I definitely questioned why I had chosen to do this race. It is well-known for brutal conditions – heat being the number 1 offender. Back in the day I used to love racing in the heat – did I really think I was going to enjoy it this time around? Sunday’s forecast looked much better than today’s though – I believe the high was set to be 84 with possible storms, meaning possible overcast skies. Even though 84 was still hot these conditions would be mild by Eagleman standards. So I focused on why I chose this race.
I’ve done Eagleman twice in the past. It was my first 70.3 distance back in 2005 – when the race was organized by the now defunct Columbia Triathlon Association and you hoped to earn the coveted bronze eagle head. I snagged one that year – for the 1st Overall Female 1st Timer. You don’t see awards like that anymore!
My triathlon career started in MD in 2004 and I have done multiple races in Cambridge. I ran my first marathon in Cambridge in 2005 as a relay runner for Chesapeakeman (now Ironman Maryland). Coming back to race Eagleman this year was partially a nostalgic decision. My mom now resides on the Eastern Shore as well so it was also a chance to spend some time with her in accommodations not too far from the race.
Race morning arrived and I was surprisingly calm. For once I was racing a 70.3 with little pressure put on myself. I was not looking to secure a slot to the Ironman 70.3 World Championship. I was not feeling 100% – not even close. I had strong doubts that I was fully recovered from the Cayuga Trails 50 two weeks prior. Sure I always aim for the best possible outcome and I was going to put my best effort out there but I did not have high expectations. This course does not play to my strengths – it is pancake flat on both the bike and the run. My goal for the day was ~ 4:45.
Despite driving to the race site on a dark rainy morning where the only light in the sky was from flashes of lightening, by the time I made it to the transition the skies were clear and the sun was making an appearance. I had an hour wait between the time transition closed and my wave went off so after a quick peek at the swim course I plopped myself down in the parking lot to wait. It was a non-wetsuit legal swim which I had been mentally preparing for all week. Long gone are the days where those words caused instant anxiety. I had my trusted TYR Torque Elite Swimskin – which may provide more mental assistance than actual advantage 😉
At last the women’s 35-39 age group wave was underway. The start was not super-aggressive which was a relief. I vowed to focus on settling into my pace from the get-go instead of going out too hard like I normally do. Not only did I accomplish this but I was feeling relaxed and actually in the mid-pack, which for me is a huge deal! After making the first turn it definitely looked like the outer buoys were a bit out of line. Not uncommon for a swim. The rules were to keep the buoys on your right so that’s how I swam. As we neared the next buoy I saw a few athletes cutting the course instead of swimming further out to go around the buoy. Frustrating, but oh well. By the next buoy I saw that practically the whole field was now cutting the course. I couldn’t hear any whistles from the swim marshals in the water like you usually do if someone is swimming off course. I guess I’m just a stickler and would rather be a good example to others rather than follow the flock. I’m not going to cut a course and ignore the rules simply because “everyone else is doing it”. One other girl from my wave came with me as we struggled to get around the buoy that was drifting further out as we approached. We both popped up seeming somewhat confused and she said “I thought we were supposed to keep the buoys on our right!” I confirmed that we were and we continued on. The swim into the finish felt like an eternity – the tide was strong and my poor swim ability was no match for it 🙂 My watch confirmed this as I stood upon reaching the very shallow section far from the shore line. The long trudge to the beach made time tick by even faster.
Swim time – 46:48
Swim place – 30
(it’s okay that you’re laughing right now)
I was counting on the bike to be my strength today. I had major doubts on what my run could produce. With the little running I did between the 50 miler and this race my legs always felt very heavy. Therefore I avoided running at any effort and did the bare minimum in mileage hoping that when race day arrived the legs would be ready to go. I immediately felt good on the bike and attempted to settle into a steady pace. The bike course was very congested. And for a very long time. It wasn’t until the halfway point that it started to thin out slightly. Nutrition and hydration went as planned – with ~225 calories per hour, I drank both of my bottles on the bike throughout the course while also grabbing a bottle of water at each exchange to guzzle and squirt into my helmet and onto my body. I was slightly behind my goal bike split but I was happy with my effort considering what my legs had in the tank. I felt steady throughout the 56 miles and continued to pass females in my age group right through the end.
Bike time – 2:33:56
Bike place – 6
(When I got out onto the bike course I set a goal of passing 20 females in my age group. I knew I would need to pass more than that but I didn’t want to aim too high. I was fairly certain I was at 20 when I passed the 50 mile marker, so I then aimed to pass 1 girl per mile in the last 5. So close!)
Now came the true test. The run is normally where I shine. Today it is where I melted. I was pleasantly surprised that my legs did not have that heavy, uncooperative feeling that I was dreading from the previous 2 weeks of training. What I did notice was how oppressive that heat felt as soon as I got off the bike. Was it really only 84?? And for those who have not experienced Eagleman, there is no shade on that run. I hit mile 1 at 7:17. A bit off pace but I told myself this was fine. It’s better to ease into this run. I would focus on keeping it under control until the turn-around and work to negative split the course. Time to fall into my aid station ritual:
– 2 cold sponges, squeeze over my head, place one down the front of my tri suit, the other down the back
– 2 cups of ice – one down the front of my tri suit, the other down the back
– 2 cups of water – 1 over my head and 1 to drink
– 1 more cup of ice to eat
Mile 2 was 7:12. Still doing okay. But damn that heat! I quickly realized that my idea to “slowly ease into” and “negative split” the run were laughable. Mile 3 – 7:33, mile 4 – 7:51, mile 5 – 8:06. You get the idea. It only gets worse from there. At this point I knew that my goal time was way out of reach and it was time to focus on finishing. The moment you realize you’re not going to reach your goal can be pretty mentally defeating. I am proud to say that today it wasn’t. I was just so focused on getting to that finish line I had no care of what place I would end up in. Perhaps it would’ve been harder to swallow if other athletes were out there crushing it, looking great and having a blast. But you didn’t see much of that. Sure some people looked better than others but we were all suffering together.
I made it to that finish line with a finish time of 5:07:31. Quite slower than my original goal time of 4:45, but the success came in finishing, and heading directly to that med tent all on my own 🙂
Run time – 1:44:12
Run place – 3
I was shocked to find out that my effort earned 3rd in my age group. I was not shocked to find out that the actual temperature at the finish was 97 with a heat index of 123! It was tough to “cool down” after leaving the comforts the med tent provided so I didn’t stick around long. I declined a slot for the World Championship (that’s not my goal this year), grabbed my award, and loaded my burnt to a crisp body into the air conditioned car headed back to a cooler NY. No sense in delaying my taper for this weekend’s 50k 🙂
Despite the tough conditions Eagleman is still a great race. You gotta give it to those volunteers – they are out there often longer than we are. They’re enduring the heat along with us, they’re getting sunburn like we are, but most importantly they are keeping us as safe as they can. With over 2,500 athletes on the course that is not an easy task. I tip my hat to all of the athletes who toughed it out, all of the spectators who stood by to cheer, and to the volunteers who make our experience a great one.