Blackwater Eagleman 1/2 Ironman

June 6, 1999

Summary - It was a great day in Cambridge, Maryland. The Choptank River was fairly smooth, the wind was not a problem and it was warm but not outrageously hot with fairly low humidity. My goal was to practice my hydration/nutrition and pacing plans for Ironman USA in Lake Placid. The hydration/nutrition plan worked extremely well. I expected to do 6:20 and finished in 5:39.  Splits were 48:00, 2:45:57, and 1:58:22.  I have been psyched ever since.

Long version:

This is too long, but that's mostly because it gives me a chance to organize my thoughts.

Preamble - Since formulating my training program for IMUSA, the Blackwater Eagleman Triathlon has been an important milestone. At 1.2 mi swim, 56 mi bike, and 13.1 mi run, it covers one-half the ironman distance. A successful day and I would charge on past the point of no return; if unsuccessful, I would consider bailing out of Lake Placid.

I wanted to use Eagleman as a chance to see how my plan for staying hydrated and nourished would work. This plan consists of consuming 225 cal/hr; one 20 fl oz bottle of Succeed Clip every 50 min and one Succeed electrolyte capsule every 45 min. This means I had to carry 5 bottles of Clip on the bike and one bottle (double strength) in my Fuel Belt for the run. I dilute the double strength Clip with water from the aid stations as I go. It also meant two Power Gels each on the run and bike. I've been following this regimen during long (over 2 hr) runs and rides but hadn't yet tried it in a race situation.

My second goal was to find a pace I could maintain "all day". Again the purpose was an IMUSA-type simulation. I figured around 45 minutes for the swim, a pace of 17.5 mph on the bike and 10 min/mi on the run for a time of 6:20 or so. These have been my training paces during distance sessions this spring. Actually, I was going for heart rates in the high 140's and low 150's and I'd be happy with whatever pace resulted.

The third goal was to try out a pre-race strategy including a taper. I've been following Marc Evans' recommendations in the Endurance Athlete's Edge and I did a two week taper. This was my first taper since marathoning in the 1980 era. In the past, the day before the race has been a rest day. This time, I planned to rest on Friday and do an easy brick (12 mi bike plus 2 mi run) on Saturday morning.

I also wanted to make sure that I changed my pre-race ritual to include a swim warm-up, which I've never done before. The last two years I've tended toward hyperventilation at the start of the first tri of the season. I decided that a brief warm-up might help in this regard by allowing me to get used to the water temperature and the wet suit.

Pre-race - I arrived in the Cambridge area in time to check in at the race and at the motel, get my bike inspected, and drive the bike route. The bike route is typical of shore areas: very flat but subject to strong land-sea breezes. I returned to Sailwinds Park in time for dinner. I started to feel lousy before dinner and attributed it to dehydration after spending so much time in the car. Began to drink lots of water. I ate with the RST group including Brad Speierman, Brad's dad, Bob Mina, Mark Markley, Eric Weiss, and Iron Pete. The experienced ones regaled us with tales of last year's nasty wind and long swim. We had a good time and enjoyed Vigo's slide show. I didn't meet up with anyone from the OneList group and left hoping to connect with some of them the next day. After dinner, I drove the run route - also flat and open. Both routes were extremely well marked.

On the way back to the motel, the lousy feeling continued. To make it worse, my shoulders began to ache (arthritis of both a/c joints) and so did my right hamstring which has been bothering me all spring. I was especially bummed about the shoulders because they have given no problems in over a year. So I iced everything before bed. I thought, this is going to be a terrible triathlon. It will be a hard swim and me with aching shoulders.

As a substitute for my usual ice cream snack before bed, I had stopped at Dairy Queen for a large root beer float. I figured this would help with hydration. Spent a fitful night trying sleep. The people next door had lost their dog and everyone was loudly blaming everyone else. Suddenly, the water and the root beer float began to work and I was awakened every two hours all night long. Finally woke up at 4:30, awake but still tired - man, this is going to be a terrible day.

The only coffee I could get was high test; I am accustomed to decaf. So I violated rule one and tried something on race day that I didn't try during training. Had my usual breakfast and left about 5:30.

Race day - It is foggy. I figure that this is a good omen as fog means the air has been still. Therefore the Choptank should be calm and the winds low. Maybe this will be a good day after all. Arrived early enough to get a good parking place. Racked my bike, had my body marked and organized all my stuff by 6:30. Wandered around checking out the transition points until 7. Applied sunscreen (but not very well as it turned out) and went for my warm-up swim. Didn't need to warm-up in one sense - the water was pretty warm and fairly calm and my shoulders felt good. It was good to practice a bit in the wetsuit - I hadn't worn it since September.

One of the advantages of age is that I was in the second wave, right after the pros, with a 17 minute wait until the next wave. Standing in the water waiting for the start, my heart rate is 99 bpm which seems fast - maybe it’s the coffee. I start swimming slowly, wishing to avoid hyperventilating and trying to establish a pace I can maintain for a long time. The good news is that I quickly do so and the swim went by pretty uneventfully. I think, there is hope for this day. There was a bit of kicking and banging of bodies but nothing like other triathlons. I am sure that I did the scenic route as my swim time was a bit slower than I thought: 48 minutes instead of 45. My mile pace was 40:00 and I've done better at distances close to this. Getting out of the water I was a bit disappointed with the time but happy with the way I felt and looking forward to the rest of the day.

The first transition took me about 4 min because I walked though most of it. I wanted to get my pulse down as it was 160 coming out of the water. Otherwise, the transition was ordinary. I did spend some extra time making sure that I had everything that I would need and I was surprised to see that there were still bikes left in the rack.

Almost immediately on the bike, I was doing about 20 mph. This was higher than I had planned but my heart was around 150 bpm which was the target so I kept it up. I expected to slow down when I went into the wind, but that never happened. I think I never went slower than 17-18 mph, and that only on the tight turns. I began to re-calculate my finishing time (it's always a challenge to do computations in your head while working so hard) and soon realized that under 6 hours was possible. I succumbed to the urge to change my goals and maintained my speed. Heartrate stayed in the low 150's and I felt I could hold the pace for a good long time, but certainly not "all day".  My bike split was 2:45:57 and the pace turned out to be 20.2 mph which is close to the best I have ever done at any race length. The only other time I came close was at Bethany Beach Make-a-Wish in 1997.

Eric Weiss went flying by me at mile 43. He said hi and as I watched him go, it seemed to me that tall people with long legs have an unfair advantage us skinny little guysJ I didn't recognize any of the others who passed me but I know that Bob, Pete, and AJ certainly were among them.

I went through T2 faster than T1 because by now I was certain that I could break 6 hours. The first split that I got was at the 2 mi marker and my pace was about 8:30. Wow, I couldn't believe it. I felt pretty good but my pulse was 160 so I backed off a bit, again trying for a maintainable pace. Now I was thinking about finishing in 5:45. I got to the turn-around in 57 minutes and 5:45 is a definite possibility.

I walked through all of the aid stations making sure to swallow the water I took instead of pouring it down my shirt. Also, discovered (duh) that cups of ice are great for mixing the double strength I was carrying. I learned this when two of the aid stations had run out of water (not good) but had ice (turned out to be great).

On the way down Horn's Point Road to the turn-around, I passed Eric and then Bob who were on the way out. They both looked strong. On my way out I met up with Brad and Mark coming in. A little later, I met John Faith, literally - we introduced ourselves to each other while running in opposite directions - thank goodness for those TRI-DRS singlets.

I maintained a pace of 9+ for most of the return trip. When I got back to the 2 mile marker, I realized that 5:40 was in sight so I picked it up a bit for the end of the race. Ended up with 1:58:22 run split.

So count me among the happy. Elapsed time of 5:39.04 which worked out to 563 out of 855 finishers; 14 out of 20 in my 55-59 age group (an additional 4 in the AG did not finish).

Post-script - Any soreness that I felt Monday was tolerable and limited to the lower quads. My shoulders feel OK and I'm psyched about my training and looking forward to Lake Placid. I realized that morning that, with a three week taper, there is just seven training weeks left. Yikes!

The nutrition plan worked out well. During the race, I consumed 1300 cal, and about 150 fl oz of liquid, plus 9 electrolyte capsules. No stomach problems. I actually like the gels and the Clip but I need to work on consuming some solid food as most people tell me it is too difficult to subsist on gels and liquid for an entire ironman. The pacing was approximately correct, especially for the swim. On the bike, my heart rate was generally 149-153, but on the run, it was usually 156-158, both, I suspect, too high for the IM.

I also need to practice self-application of sunscreen. I did a poor job on my shoulder blade area which, of course, is not covered by my singlet. So I am sunburned there, but, fortunately, no place else. This was the only thing that marred an otherwise thoroughly excellent day.

This was my third (or fourth) Vigo directed triathlon. Like the others, this one was superbly organized and went off without a hitch. I especially appreciated the 17 minute hold between wave 2 (seniors) and wave 3 (twenty-somethings). The food was fine, although Sunday's lunch looked surprisingly like Saturday's dinner. But, if you're hungry enough and love pasta…

The usual kudos go to Lin-Mark Computer Sports, Inc. The official times were posted Monday morning when I checked about 8 am, and the splits were posted early that afternoon when I checked again.

Thanx for reading this…John


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