||Sunday, June 13, 2004
||Triathlon - Half Ironman
||Male 35 - 39
||46 / 1373
|Age Group Place:
||7 / 208
||"How Now, Iron Cow?" -or- "Just a training day?"
Eagleman Half-Ironman at Blackwater
Mostly cloudy, 72F, Max wind SE 12mph
Swim: 68F saltwater with some currents and windchop
Bike: Completely flat "lollipop"-shaped loop. Exposed to wind in many places.
Run: Flat out-and-back.
[Part I of my race report from Eagleman is an open letter to my coach, Eric Hodska. (www.hodska.com)]
Greetings. I got your voicemail message earlier and know that you spoke with Joe Whelan about his Eagleman experience.
Usually, as you know, I write a heinously verbose race report that explains everything from my point of view. Unfortunately, you are going to have to suffer through another long (but engaging) diatribe, but it’s a report from a half-Ironman, so you’d expect things like that to be long.
This time, however, there is an obviously important issue from the Eagleman that I must immediately address. Part One of my Eagleman report is this message, an open letter directed towards you, is an attempt to resolve that issue. After this, I’ll return you to your regularly scheduled programming.
Enough with the fancy words…here we go.
Extremely Short Story: Joe and I, as co-clients of you and members of the same age group, finished sixth and seventh in our age group, respectively, and seven seconds apart. The final Kona slot in our age group rolled down to Joe.
The Issue: I missed a Kona slot by seven seconds.
My response to the issue is three-fold:
First, You should not be disappointed by this circumstance. Granted, it is not optimal to coach two athletes who do equally well and see only one of them have their highest goals fulfilled. This, however, was beyond your control.
Second, be happy in knowing that your training system works. I believe that Joe said that he executed his race plan close to perfection. Ditto for me, and I presume that our plans were similar since you scripted much of mine.
Finally, Don’t worry about me being disappointed, because I’m far from being so. Remember the game plan where I was supposed to pour it on for the final three miles? About 1.5 miles remaining before the finish, I had already ratcheted up the speed from 7:00/mile to probably 6:40s. At that moment, I didn’t see too many people behind me and the thought that I had in my head was “If someone is going to catch me now, he’s going to have to be doing 6:20s or better…and if he can do that, he deserves to go to Hawaii.” Barely 30 seconds after formulating that thought, I hear big steps coming out of nowhere from behind. That would be the person who eventually finished 5th in our age group. Joe passed me not too long after that. I only got within seven seconds of Joe after lighting the afterburners at the end to make it close.
Joe beat me, one-on-one, while probably using the same strategy in the endgame. There’s no need for anybody to talk about how things could have gone differently or how I could have saved seven seconds here or there.
I wasn’t certain during the race where I was in relation to my age group. When I first learned that I was seventh, I was happy to know that I had accomplished all but the highest goal for the day. I was going to at least qualify for an Ironman North America event. (We had three Kona slots, one LP, one Wisconsin, and one FL spot…and I knew that one of the six in front of me was already Kona qualified.) Initially, I thought that I’d get whatever IMNA slot got left over. After the Kona rolldown, I wasn’t obsessed with thinking “Gee, I missed Hawaii by one spot” but rather “Cool! I get to choose which Ironman I get to do next!” We had discussed this possibility earlier, so you knew that I had a plan already in mind for this possibility. I’ll be racing among the cows in Wisconsin in September. We can talk about that later, but I guess that I won’t be firing you after Coeur d’Alene. :)
That, my friend, is only one small story about one small part of one eventful day. Stay tuned for the rest.
Eagleman race report 2004
[I know that this is a race report, but in a way my Eagleman was three years in the making. If you want the straight dirt on the race, hit the FF button on your web browser and bypass this brief trip down Memory Lane.]
My last Half-Ironman that was a Kona qualifier was the 2001 Half-Vineman. It was a race that I didn’t particularly aim for…basically, I entered it because I knew a friend from school was doing it as well. I gave myself about a one-percent chance of qualifying for Kona.
My 100-1 shot almost came true that day. I ended up leaving T2 tied for the lead of my age group and finished seventh in the AG, lowering my PB from 5:15 to 4:26. I missed qualifying for Kona by less than seven minutes. The person who claimed the third and final Kona slot in my age group was Eric Hodska. Eric is now my coach.
In January, the Eagleman was a “C” race at best. It was a race that I didn’t particularly aim for…basically, I entered it because I thought that I HAD to race it. The Navy has been gracious enough to sponsor me in certain races this season, and this was one of those races. Eagleman, however, was a “C” race to me because it was two weeks before my “AAA” race that I had planned for months earlier, Ironman Coeur d’Alene.
I had expected to fluff my way through Eagleman until sometime in May, when my coach offhandedly suggested that I might actually want to speed my way through at least part of it. The initial thought was perhaps that I’d swim hard, bike hard, and then shut it down on the run…unless I happened to be leading the age group…THEN maybe I’d put some real effort into running. Of course, I didn’t want to do anything that was going to hurt my chances in Idaho.
My recovery from the hills of Columbia was slow, and after piling on the mileage over Memorial Day weekend, I was hardly certain that I’d even be feeling O.K. for the Eagleman. I eventually had a long talk with Coach Eric, and we decided that we’d restructure the taper and give the Eagleman a full effort.
Obviously, this is a high-risk / high-reward gamble. The risk is exposure to a multitude of things that could derail my opportunity to qualify for Kona in Idaho. The reward could be as high as qualifying for Kona right now, or perhaps qualifying for a domestic Ironman race, which I would happily accept. I’m also auditioning for a Kona slot as part of the U.S. Navy’s official team, so putting up a good, low number on the clock would certainly help there. Those rewards, though, were only going to come with a bold strategy.
Swim: A fast breakout sprint followed by a steady effort.
Bike: Get up to cruising speed quickly and hold that effort.
Run: In quarters – Get my “running legs” working in the first 5k, cruise the next 10k, go all out the final 5k.
THE SWIM (28:52)
Yea, another counter-clockwise, start-straight-into-the-sun swim. Been there, done that twice already this season. I started swimming straight from the start line because I forgot that the water was shallow enough to dolphin off the bottom. Nonetheless, I was still near the front after a clean breakout.
At the pre-race meeting, Vigo said that the current would be favorable going out. I thought that, after looking at tide table and my knowledge of what an “ebb” tide is, the opposite would be true. We were approaching low tide, meaning that the water should be flowing out towards the bay. Wind waves from the southeast wind were also going to make the first leg slow. My original plan, based on what I expected to currents to be, was to swim slightly outside of the buoy line going out and tight to the buoys coming back.
I made the mistake of following the masses for a short period after the turnaround that were swimming WAY wide right. After that, aside from a few contacts with slower traffic, the swim felt good and was uneventful. Seeing a 28 on my watch surprised me because I thought I was going to do better…but that’s open water racing. At least, I was near the front of the AG, coming out of the water in 10th place.
I didn’t have an advantageous transition spot…out in the appendix off the main lane and buried near the end of my row. Squirming out of the wetsuit was again an adventure. I grabbed two flasks of gel, put them in one of my jersey pockets, and shoved off. Exiting my row, I was on a collision course with a pair of incoming swimmers until I dropped the hammer and shot straight out of the row at ludicrous speed. I had to make a wide, high-speed turn once clear of the bogeys to make it to the exit gate. In spite of the follies, I moved up from 10th to 5th leaving T1.
I had a good start and a steady cruise through the first 10 miles. It was then when I reached into my pocket to discover, in horror, that I only had one gel flask there. (The second one fell out of my jersey avoiding the potential collision in T1.) I was carrying an extra gel flask strapped to my handlebar stem, but I was counting on at least chugging down 2.5 flasks of gel for this ride. I knew now that I was going to have to ration my gel, but nonetheless started chugging it “on schedule”.
I was moving fairly well through the field. We were spaced out pretty well heading west down MD16. I did have one cyclist seemed to be attracted to my rear wheel for a few miles, but like a crafty submarine driver, I was frequently “clearing my baffles” by zig-zagging in and out from the curb. Eventually, I opened up enough distance to drop him, but I expect that he would be but the first such rider I would encounter. In each of my last two Kona qualifiers, I was caught by a peloton of riders at around Mile 31. I expected the same to happen here.
With the good wind heading out, my speed was excellent. I was rattling off 12-minute intervals between the 5-mile markers. I made the turn onto Smithville Road and now into the wind…not slowing down that much, but becoming more attractive as a wind blocker to those whom I passed. Within a couple of miles, I came up upon Paul Gantzer, a very strong racer who beat me in Charlotte earlier this year. To my surprise, I passed Paul with so much ease that I didn’t expect to see him again until after the race. Knowing that Paul is a super swimmer, I presumed that I had just made THE DEFINITIVE PASS…the one where you just have to believe that you took over the lead of the age group. I came through 25 miles at 1:00:54.
Soon enough, I turned onto Hooper’s Island Road near the 30-mile point. I had enjoyed a clean ride so far and the low density of racers on the course was getting lower. I looked back to see a little bit of a “chase group” back there…but not a full-fledged peloton.
The complexion of the race changed a bit at the turn onto MD335 at the marina. My sole thought coming off the turn was “Must take advantage of the tailwind!” I was now somewhat alone and unafraid. I saw a pair of cyclists well in front of me and the aforementioned group well behind me. I turned another 12-for-5 between 30 and 35 miles while slowly gaining on the pair in my crosshairs. It turned out to be a great run up to the turn eastward onto Key Wallace Road. I had managed to ward off the chase group who, to their credit, looked to be legally spaced from each other.
After the fast run, I needed to throttle back a couple percent before the final push for home. In my mind, the “real” bike ride didn’t start until turning north onto Egypt Road just before 40 miles. My minute deceleration, gel chugging, and a water bottle fumble allowed my pursuers to close some more. (Fortunately, the water bottle slipped out of my hand and lodged between the bike frame and my left foot at the top of my pedal stroke.) Having valiantly defended against the pursuit for 40 miles, I knew that I just couldn’t do it for another 16. At least, I could continue to work to close the gap to the pair in front.
The pair in front consisted of Eric Sorensen and 58-year-old Thomas Waldrop. Eric started falling back and I caught up to him just before two of my pursuers reached me. My new cycling buddies were Kyle Yost and Doug Clark. Doug was the first person my age that I had seen in 20 miles, and we spoke briefly about whether we thought that we were leading the age group and why we were barely keeping up with at 58-year-old this late into the ride.
The final 11 miles of riding were fun. Kyle, Thomas, Doug and I stayed together in a legal, loose group. Occasionally, we would shuffle positions when one of us would get a good run off of a turn or a long straight. I went through 50 miles at exactly 2:02…essentially even-splitting the bike ride. At the end of the ride and all of the shuffling, I was in front of Doug by a few seconds. I made it to T2 in the position that I had to be in to have a chance to go to Kona…leading the pack.
Uneventful, except to grab a little extra gel that I had set aside. Doug had a quicker transition and left T2 in front of me.
The plan was to spend the first 5k trying to get my running legs going. To my joyful surprise, I didn’t need any of it. I had running legs right away! I clicked off the first mile in seven minutes flat…good for me. I’d take sevens every mile if I could, and so far, I felt that was achievable. The quick math in my head spit out a predicted finish around 4:22.
Just after mile one, I was passed by one runner who I thought might be in my age group. It was just a hunch, because I couldn’t see his bib number and he wasn’t body marked. I hadn’t exactly remembered what range of bib numbers equated to my age group. This would be a common theme on the run…I wasn’t getting passed by too many competitors, but I often couldn’t tell if a passing runner was in my age group or not.
At the 5k point, I put a little bit more effort into my running just to keep the speed up. I was still running 7-minute miles.
I was still cruising through mile 5 onto Horn Point Road. Just yards before reaching mile 6, I saw Steve Smith for the first time in my life with something other than the look of complete joy on his face. We exchanged pleasantries, though he didn’t seem his usual bubbly self. The fact that I was at net parity with him on the race clock suggested that he wasn’t having a hyper-outstanding day.
Soon after, I tried to assess where I was in the age group race as leading competitors were coming back from the turnaround. It was a futile attempt. At best, I figured that I was at least in the top five. (In reality, I was in fourth at the turnaround.) I reached the turnaround between 45 and 46 minutes.
Approaching mile 8, I was caught by Vinnie Monseau. Though Vinnie was in my age group, I knew that he had already qualified for Kona and was thus not a threat to me. We had a little conversation going for a while as we ran through the aid station before getting back on the main road. For a little while, I thought that he might choose to hang with me, but he decided to press on forward. I came through mile 8 in a shade below 56 minutes. With five miles to go, I aimed to run a couple more 7-minute miles and then open it up with what I had left.
I was unchallenged for the next two miles. I made a final gel chug approaching the hot corner, jettisoned excessive stores, took my hat off and started the final push turning onto Glasgow. I was still looking at a 4:22/4:23…maybe not a Kona qualifying time, but it was still a solid PR, something to brag about to the Navy, and perhaps a ticket to an IMNA race. I made the error of running without socks, and the feet felt like they were starting to blister.
I was unchallenged on the next mile, and actually caught a runner or two. I was probably doing around 6:40s now, not seeing many people behind me, and thinking that if anyone was going to pass me, he’d need to be doing at least 6:20s. Shoot, if you could run that fast late in a Half-Ironman, you deserved to go to Hawaii, I thought.
I couldn’t have been more prophetic. Big footsteps came out of nowhere just then and Daniel List passed me just before turning onto Riverside. I elected to let him go…too early to hit the afterburners.
Not long after that, I was passed by another person who appeared to be my age. Again, I couldn’t tell for sure with this guy, but I thought this person was probably the second person in my age group to pass me in the final 2k. I was already at max cruise speed with sore feet. My HRM confirmed that I was “military” power…the equivalent of having the throttles all the way forward, but without the afterburners lit.
I finally lit the burners near the transition entrance, about 150 yards from the finish. After crossing the line, I shut down the engine and subsystems started shutting down as well, such as the ability to walk smoothly. At the end of the chute, I saw the person who passed me with a mile to go wearing a familiar hat…the same hat that I had been wearing with the logo of my coach’s business. “You must be Joe.” I said to the person whom I hadn’t met in person but knew from various postings on message boards. “Great race and congratulations!”
We both staggered immediately to the massage tent, stopping only for me to remove my shoes and give my bare feet needed freedom and air. I was on the massage table in short order.
“Congratulations. So, where does it hurt?” asked the masseur.
I point in the general direction of my thighs.
“O.K. why don’t you lie down on the table?” I do so, and he grabs the legs and props them up with a pad.
“So, where are you from?”
“Uhh, my right calf just cramped up.”
“Oh, that’s nice. Wow that was fast!”…and that was the only fast thing that my leg muscles could do for the rest of the day. They couldn’t move fast, but they could sure cramp up in a snap.
AWARDS AND POSTMORTEM
Seeing the results listing me in seventh place wasn’t a surprise. After all, this was pretty much a carbon copy of what happened at the Half-Vineman. Initially, I figured that I had achieved all but my highest goal. My age group had three Kona spots and one slot to each of IM USA, Wisconsin, and Florida. With Vinnie probably passing on an Ironman slot, my first thought was that I was going to get the last IMNA slot left over. Wonderfully and amazingly enough, Kona slots started rolling down until an eager Joe Whelan, ready to pounce on the announcer’s table, had the third and final Kona slot roll into his possession. Again, I had finished about seven minutes out of third place, but this time I ended up seven seconds from the Kona coast.
No worries, I thought. Now I had options that I wasn’t expecting. Do I go to Lake Placid, Wisconsin or Florida? At least, I had considered this question when I decided to race the Eagleman all-out. Each race had pros and cons. For various reasons, I chose to ride among the cow pastures of Wisconsin and spurn the Reston Triathlon for this year. (Sorry, but I can’t transfer my Reston spot to you…already tried.)
After the long drive home, I unpacked the car and emptied my luggage. As I emptied one duffle bag, I found a clean Hawaiian shirt...one that I had acquired in Hawaii last year after my near-fatal collision. Beginning last year, I started packing a Hawaiian shirt in my luggage when going to a Kona qualifier so that, if I was fortunate to earn a slot to the Big Show, I could claim it at the awards ceremony in proper attire. I paused for a brief moment as I held that shirt in my hands, and then set it aside on a table. One week later, I packed that shirt again…in a bag headed to Idaho.
COST / BENEFIT ANALYSIS
Entry fee - $165 comped by the Navy. Camping at a local school (a good deal) - $20. Half-tank of cheap Maryland gasoline – about $13.
Benefits (participation): White T-shirt…but at least it had a multi-color logo and socks of a matching color. Water bottle (thanks…I didn’t pack enough of them). A few other assorted goodies in the bag. Post race massage and pasta. (Skipped official high-price pre-race pasta for big Denny’s salad meal at half the price.) Pewter medals for finishers.
Benefits (awards): No points for seventh place, but did win the right to spend $400 to enter my fourth Ironman.