Tales of Endurance: Eagleman 70.3

Some times just getting to the starting line is the hardest part.  Before the start of Eagleman last Sunday I sat on the grass near the swim start with the events of the last few years rolling through my mind.  Starting with a bike crash in which I tore my rotator cuff and labrum, it seemed like Murphy’s Law was firmly in effect.  I struggled to regain fitness after a long recovery period following surgery to repair the injuries from the crash.  Then when things started to come together last fall and I was feeling ready to race again, I crashed at 34 mph during a time trial and broke my elbow.  Forunately that didn’t require surgery too, but I was out of training for quite a bit of the fall.  Then in January when I was beginning to ramp up my base training for Eagleman, I was on my way to meet some friends for a ride, and got hit by a woman who ran a stop sign.  My car was totaled, and I suffered some pretty painful injuries to my neck and back.  I couldn’t run again until March, and my first run back was an exercise in pain and frustration.  I looked back at the results of that workout on my Garmin right before Eagleman: 2 miles, averaging 8:39 per mile.  I was in so much pain after the run that I think I lay on the floor for 20 minutes before I could move again.  But after all those set backs, there was no way that I was letting anything stop me from racing at Eagleman.  So I pushed the training, always remembering the old saying “Do the best you can, with what you have, where you are.”  My results actually were surprising in that they were fairly decent.  Certainly not what I would have hoped for, but better than I expected.  As race day drew closer I was feeling optimistic about a good result.

As the sun came up on race morning, it wasn’t quite as hot as the previous days, but it was still hot.  The water temperature was 82 degrees, and air the temperature was quickly climbing into the 90’s.  Still, I had my plan for fluids and nutrition and felt confident.  Soon enough we were all the in water, lined up for the swim start.  When the gun went off it was the expected chaos, but despite a few years off I felt right at home.  The currents going out were tough, there was a bit of wind and some pretty good chop, making it difficult to sight the buoys.  I actually had to breaststroke a couple of times the get my bearings.  But about 800 meters in a found a good draft and settled in.  I decided to play it safe on the swim and keep my heart rate low to conserve for the run, and finally came out of the water in just over 33 minutes, quite a long ways off my best time, but I felt good and was ready to focus on the bike.

T1 went smoothly, and once I hit the roads I started trying to get some fluids down.  My stomach hadn’t felt great for the couple of days before the race, and the fluids weren’t going down too easily.  Looking back, I should have switched to water and just gotten some fluids down, but at the time I was caught up in the race and trying to keep my speed up.  The roads were as flat as a pool table, but after 10 miles the winds started to kick up.  Some pretty big packs formed and at about mile 30 I sat up to stretch my back and got passed by about 20 guys.  I hadn’t even realized they’d been on my wheel.  I yelled at one of the guys that it wasn’t a team time trial, and he just laughed and said, “It’s not?”  So much for non drafting rules.  My one complaint about the bike was that there didn’t seem to be any effort to break up the packs.  By the end of the bike I saw pelotons of 20-30 riders flying along at 25 mph, and not a single draft marshal in sight.  I just tried to stick to my plan, and came in at about 2:34.  Again, well off my best time, but pretty close to the target I had set of riding 2:30.

So it was on to the run.  Off the bike my legs felt great.  I was picking up guys in my age group pretty quickly.  I drank a cup of water at the first aid station, and about 10 steps later it all came back up.  Then I definitely knew it was going to be a tough road to the finish.  I would guess that the actual temperature on the road was close to 100, and running 13 miles with no fluids was looking like a tough proposition.  So I slowed down and just tried to get lots of water down, without much sucess.  I think that I didn’t hydrate enough on the bike and my stomach was starting to shut down.  I slowed my pace even more, filled my jersey up with ice at every aid station, and just kept putting one foot in front of the other.  By mile 10 even that was getting tough.  My timing chip was rubbing my ankle raw and I stopped and reached down to adjust the strap, and my hamstrings totally locked up.  I started running again and they loosened up, so I just decided to keep moving slowly to the finish.  I knew that no matter how tough it got I could finish three miles.  The volunteers and the aid stations were awesome, I don’t know how they had so much energy out there in the heat, but they really kept me going out there.  The thought of ice and water was the sweetest thing in the world over the last mile.

It’s hard to sum up the feelings I felt as I approached the finish line.  On one hand, I was disappointed that my time was so slow, I was over an hour off my best 70.3 time.  But on the other hand, I couldn’t help but feel proud of having overcome some major obstacles on the way, and of finally reaching the finish line again.  I remembered a quote from an interview with Mark Allen, when he mentioned Luc van Lierde’s withdrawl from Ironman Hawaii just a day before the race.  Luc van Lierde had apparently dropped out because of having some difficulties getting products from his sponsors, and Mark Allen had talked about how sometimes just getting to the start line was the most difficult challenge in a race, and how he thought that Luc would have a very tough time racing again if he had really dropped out for such a trivial reason.  Now, I really can’t compare myself to Luc van Lierde, and I don’t mean to take anything away from his amazing career, but you can see that even the greatest champions are sometimes overwhelmed by the difficulties of balancing life and sport.  I may have been slower than I hoped, but I did the best I could, with what I had, where I was.  And I learned some important lessons along the way for the next race!  Thanks for reading these triathlon tips and stories, now turn off your computer and go for a run!