Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Eagleman: Why?

It wasn't like the heat surprised me on Sunday morning, I knew it was going to be hot. I felt like this whole year has prepared me for adverse conditions, although it's much easier to have to deal with sudden, extreme cold than sudden, extreme heat. I woke up before my alarm on Sunday, at 3:55 a.m., and by 4:30 I was in the car, driving the 35 minutes from Salisbury to Cambridge. I parked and lugged my gear down to transition. The weird thing was, I was not nervous at all, which almost never happens. For as much pressure as I had on myself to do well here, I felt completely relaxed. Maybe it was the change of venue from the normal haunts (Columbia, New Jersey, etc), or maybe it was the fact this race is so much longer than normal, and success hinges more on pace than pure speed.

Either way I felt good about the day, and felt like I was properly fueled leading up to the swim. They made the announcement around 6 am that the water temp was 76 degrees. To me, this is the gray area that I always wish against. At 78 and above, wetsuits are illegal for all athletes. Below this and they are allowed. At 76 degrees, for a 1.2 mile swim, that's a lot of extra heat you're generating (because you do sweat when you swim) and I am never sure what to do. Despite being a mediocre swimmer, I would prefer that wetsuits weren't allowed, even if it's going to hurt me more than the swimmers. It speeds up transition and I don't get as hot. Anyway, we get in the bath water that is the Choptank River, and after 7 years of racing, I was finally able to pee in my wetsuit. It was so gross, but I had to do it.

In some years, the Choptank lives up to its name, producing whitecaps and making for very difficult swims. Others years, like 2007, it's like glass and the swim times are very quick. This year the water didn't look bad, but you could see the current moving swiftly, largely against the way we'd be swimming. As we rounded the first buoy, I could feel the current working against me. I stayed comfortable, and steadily moved up through the field, but I felt like I was out there for a really long time. This was confirmed when I exited the swim in 33:14. Everyone was slow, but this was particularly slow. I lost considerable time to my main age group competitors, but was still 18/60ish in the age group and 274/1300ish in the race.

My transition was terrible. I couldn't get my wetsuit off, and I was flustered. I discovered that in my clothes changing process from the morning I had put my singlet on inside out, which meant I couldn't access the little pockets. In my haste, I decided to leave my salt pills behind. To call this the day's biggest mistake would be an understatement. I got to work fairly quick on the bike, and was feeling good. My cadence was high and I was in a pretty big gear, so without a computer I knew I was going quick. Around mile 20 I decided that only having to ride 5 more miles would be more fun than 36 more.

My water store was depleted, so at the 20ish mile water stop I grabbed a bottle and dumped it into my aero bottle. Did the same about 10 miles later. I was managing to eat my little packets of Gu, but I didn't feel like I even needed calories, I was losing something else - sodium. I didn't feel like I was losing power, and I felt alright when I saw the crew at mile 45. Two miles later I was rendered useless on the side of the road, with a right quad muscle seizing up so intensely I thought I was going to have to drop out. I waited a few minutes for it to get better, then soft pedaled to the finish. My time was 2:28:38, a far cry from the 2:15 goal and even the 2:20 worst case scenario I had planned for. Amazingly, it was still the 10th fastest in the group, 123rd overall, and off the bike I was now in 9th in my age group. My second transition wasn't bad, I took two salt pills right away and went onto the run feeling strong.

The original goal was 1:19, or right around 6:03 pace. My cardiovascular effort on the bike was not taxing, and I started out well running. Unfortunately for me, the damage of nutrient imbalance was irreversible, and no matter what I did I was not coming back from it. A half mile into the run I was seizing up again, my body just stopped functioning. I was relegated to jog, cramp, walk. It took 36 minutes to go the first 3 miles, and only got worse from there. You may not fully understand how humiliating it is to be one of the faster runners at any given race and be hit so hard that you have to walk. I continued walking, in the brutally hot sun. The air temp was 100 degrees, and the road surface was around 115. I took fluids at every water stop, thank God for them, but it was too little too late. I was over an hour at the turnaround, and then just slowed to a crawl. My body was furious at me, and was showing the outward signs of severe dehydration. Cold, tingly fingers, delirium, stumbling. I was praying for a familiar face, someone to have better judgment and pull me out.

I kept walking, and finally got to 3 miles to go and saw the crew again. I was deflated at this point and wanted to stop. They forced me to keep going. I mustered up a slow jog with 200m to go just so I didn't walk across the finish line. My "run" time was 3:40, or 16:45/mile. My finishing time was 6:47, again, nowhere near the original goal.

People have told me they were impressed by what I did, continuing on, but I am not. It was stupid. I suffered so much, and am sunburned so badly I still can't move. It was definitely not worth it, and I wish I had stopped. The people who weren't reduced to walking were impressive. The people who had amazing races despite the weather were impressive. My friend Matias won the amateur division and was 9th overall in the same time as he did last year. His run was 6 minutes slower but his bike was 7 minutes faster, and his swim was a little slower but in "real" time we'll say it was faster.

As I looked at the results, had I even been able to muster up a 1:40 half, I could have placed 4th or 5th in the age group. Not good enough for the Hawaii slot, but probably would have picked up a slot to Clearwater. I'm glad I don't have to do an Ironman this year, it's clear that I am not ready for it yet. I'm hoping to recover by this weekend and I'm considering jumping into the Rhode Island half Ironman that is slated for July 13th. I don't really want to do another so soon, but I feel like I need to get in another attempt at the distance this year and I don't know when else I could.

So it was about the worst possible day I could ever have, I appreciate everyone's support and concern in my quest, and everyone that came out to watch really helped. I'm not interested in having a decent race, I had a goal, tried to stick to it and got burned. It happens, and hopefully next time won't yield a similar result.

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