Well, that sucked.
Seriously. Not good.
The score is now Eagleman 2.5, Ryan 0.5. I'll say I earned a half point in 2009 because I didn't have an epic failure, unlike 2008 and now 2011. The trip to Cambridge began on Saturday with the diva-worthy temper tantrum I threw when my bike was not cooperating. My fault for not having it ready to go before Saturday, but when I went to swap the brake pads (putting in the cork ones for the carbon rims), the front right would not go all the way in (twss) and, somewhere in the process, I f'd up the whole front brake. Now it was late in the morning, and I was already sweating. Alyssa and I met Pat's brother Tommy in Cambridge and by the time we were ready to ride, it was already 1pm. On the way out for my 45 minute ride, I could tell something was wrong because it felt like I was pedaling through fudge. When we were halfway out, I stopped and looked at the brake - and sho nuff it was completely up against the rim, impeding the smooth rotation of the wheel. I was really frustrated now, and wanted to smash that piece of shit on the ground. We arrived back at the cars, now almost 2pm, and went for a 20 minute run. I felt pretty terrible, and the pace of 7:50ish reflected that.
On our way to the transition area, we spotted Benda and Bob V, and fortunately Bob had both his entire toolset and the skills necessary to quickly adjust my brake. Satisfied with the outcome, I threw the bike in transition, where I knew it was going to take a bath later that day. Then we hopped in the water. It was warm (they claimed 82, but I don't know if it was that warm) and real shallow. The buoys looked close, but generally I think they're supposed to be about 200 meters or so apart. If that's the case, you could stand well beyond the first buoy, and even at the second buoy it was only about 7 feet deep. I swam to the second one and then came back. We met up with Pat and Jackie and the five of us found our hotel. Then it was time for dinner - but where to go? I hate the Eastern Shore, at least that part of it, because it's filled with fast food and awful chains. We opted to keep my terrible tradition of eating at Greene Turtle in Salisbury (25min away) where it was a) freezing cold inside and b) slow and not very delicious. We scooped up some DQ on the way home and then kicked it in the room, getting ready for the next morning while watching I Love You, Man.
We heard our neighbor's alarm go off at 4:15, so I didn't sleep very well after that, but I didn't "get up" until 5am. Out the door just around 5:30 and off to park, we had to walk a little bit to get to transition so that served as my warmup. This is the first time I think in the history of racing that I did not run a STEP before the race. We watched the pros come out of the water and then I just didn't feel like running, and with my foot hurting, I figured I may as well not give it an opportunity to hurt. The air temp was still somewhat cool, but the humidity was high. And here's where the race report begins:
First pro out of the water was a little under 25 minutes. Some were closer to 30, some were over. It seemed that my pre-race (non-wetsuit) goal of 32:xx was not likely. I've done this race three times now, and the start has moved...three times. This time we entered via the boat ramp, and I guess one hour and five minutes after the pros went off, off we went. I felt like I had a decent start, and the conditions were pretty good - good water temp and not too choppy. By the first turn (a long way out), there were noticeably fewer orange caps around. I was picking up a lot of the slow swimmers from earlier waves, and nobody from my wave had passed me since the first 200m. I was pleased with my lines, and since I touched three buoys, I felt like I was swimming as straight as I could have. By the time I turned in towards shore, I didn't see any orange - I was really just by myself. When it became shallow, the race got weird. I figured swimming is still faster, and more efficient, than trying to walk or dolphin dive for an extended period, but there were a number of people walking in seemingly as fast as I was swimming. With maybe 75m to go, I started mixing in some dolphin diving before finally just giving up and wading in. Out of the water in 34:45 (192 overall/33rd 30-34).
With no wetsuit to pull off, I figured I could have a speedy T1. Nope. I found my bike and just was not moving with any oomph. I put on my glasses, then helmet, then number, and since I don't have a computer on my bike, I wanted to ride with my watch so I could keep track of when I should be doing various activities. I ran out of transition and was surprised to see them allowing people to mount their bikes RIGHT THERE. That seemed precarious, as that road is pretty narrow to start. I hopped on the bike and started pedaling. After the initial uphill, I had built enough momentum to get my feet in the shoes, and then as we turned onto the next road, I tightened them up. I quickly found my groove and was easily moving past people.
I settled into the aerobars and the first 8 miles went pretty quick. I passed 10 miles in what looked to be about 24:30, and looked to have about 8 minutes in my pocket from when I went out a few weeks ago. It then seemed like there was a little bit of a headwind on the way out to the refuge, which I expected, and I rolled through 20 miles in 48:45 I think. My goal was to ride 2:15, which for some reason I thought was 25mph, because apparently I can't do math. I used the calculation of 20mph = 3min/mi and 30mph = 2min/mi, so 25mph must be 2:30/mi. I figured out during the ride that it was not correct, and in fact it was 2:24/mi. So at 20 miles, I was about 45 seconds slower than 25mph pace. Shoot.
I had made the decision to only have my downtube water bottle cage, nothing else. I figured I would just take something from every station and would be good. Well, I didn't need anything at the first one, so I took a water bottle at the 2nd aid station (around an hour). As we made the left in the refuge, it felt like we picked up a bit of a tailwind so I used it to my advantage. I passed 30 miles in 1:12:30 I think, so I should have been on pace at this point. I had a little Bento box with 4 Gu packets, and threw in some Gu Chomps, and originally had 6 S! Caps. Well, the humidity had me feeling a little queasy, so I only ate the Chomps (I think there were 6 or 7 of them) and I had somehow lost 3 of the S! Caps so I could only take three.
Shortly after 30 miles is where I came up on Pat, who must have swam well and was riding great. I then passed OJ, who was of course just out for a swim and ride. I hadn't seen many 30-34 people in a while, so it was good to see some people I knew. I passed 40 at 1:35 and felt okay, but was becoming a little less comfortable in the aero position. Note: as OJ and I discussed today, we definitely do not ride our TT bikes enough. This is only the 6th time I've ridden it this year, which really means since July of 2009. 56 super flat miles take it out of you when all you do is pedal and crouch.
I passed Dorchester HS and made the left turn at 1:53, which was still about the same amount of time I was up on our ride from a few weeks ago, and that's when I started noticing the wind again. Passing 50 in just a few seconds over 2 hours, I thought I could still get in inside of 2:15, but must have slowed down in the last few miles because I finished at 2:16:44 (24.57mph). A 2 minute improvement from 2009, and what appeared to be 8th fastest ride in 30-34 (moved me into 11th off the bike). Cool, but obviously the people that had ridden faster had also swam faster! So now I have to run really fast, ha.
T2 was also not particularly quick. I had worn my one piece for the swim and bike, but I have trouble running in it for longer distances, so I unzipped the thing, pulled the top down and put on my old white tri top. Much more comfortable. I also put on socks and a hat. The first couple of steps told me I was in for a long day. Even in 2008 I at least ran the first quarter mile faster. I figured I would run something in the 6:15-6:20 range for the first mile, and that the slowest I would run would be 6:30. Imagine my surprise when I came through in 6:46. Well, there goes that. For a little while I held hopes that I just needed to control my faculties, but my left quad was seizing up. Bad news. I immediately slipped to nearly 7:30 miles, and then it only got worse. When some of the girls I know started passing me (they had started 8min earlier, and I had passed them on the bike), I threw in the towel. Out on the eternally long stretch of shittiness, I saw Matias out there killing it. Adam Webber was having a great day (Matias had only passed him near the turnaround). Chad was running well. Jeremy Cornman, who, much like Columbia, had left T2 with me, was blazing. It took everything I had to stay upright. My fingers were tingling and I could feel that all-too-familiar feeling of electrolyte depletion.
I was now walking...a lot, and stopping for no reason at all. I hit the turnaround and shortly after, Pat passed me. In that stupid little taint of a road around mile 10, OJ was riding next to me for a minute on his bike. Two guys pass me and say "you know you'll get disqualified for that" - to which my snotty remark was "yeah his pacing my 10:30 miles is really an advantage." F you. So he took off and I went back to suffering. A really old man cruised past me. Then with 2.5 to go, you come up on this little neighborhood that always has a party. Sometimes they have a slip-n-side, and I had always wanted to do it. Well, no slip-n-slide this year, but they had Cornhole. So I took one of the beanbags and on my first throw, tossed it right through the hole. AWESOME. They gave me high fives. Then I got yelled at by a race official on a motorbike because I was on the wrong side of the road. Again, F you.
I saw OJ again sitting with pre-race fave, Chris Legh, on a lawn in the shade, with a mile to go. I stopped and talked to them for a bit. Then finished up. My run was 1:58:54, one of the worst of the day, and all but 2 of the people I passed in my age group on the bike reclaimed their positions on me, and I finished at 31st in 30-34 and I guess 166th overall. My final time was 4:54:04. This was somehow slower than what I did at Hunterdon last September, with just three months of running and biking in my legs, on my road bike, on a really hard course. Man, I suck.
Upon crossing the finish line, I was greeted by Cheese, Jen and Carly, who had made the long drive out to watch us. Really nice of them. Particularly since Cheese had raced that morning in Baltimore, and drove out immediately after. I felt pretty terrible, and although I've never thrown up after a race, I thought I was going to. I dry heaved a few times and then finally cooled down to the point where I was a little more normal. Watched Alyssa come through (new PR - 5:05, previous EM best was 5:19) and then I went in the water for a few minutes with the brothers McLoughlin and OJ. It was not cooling me off much. I didn't care much for sticking around for awards, but good thing we did as Alyssa had earned a slot again for Clearwater (note: when I say Clearwater, I mean Las Vegas, but I am continuing to call it Clearwater because I like the sound of it better).
A storm was about to roll through, so we packed up, including the belongings of Alyssa's friend, Andrew Hodges, who had finished well in the pro division. We hit Wendy's in Easton on our way out, then got stuck in bridge traffic for a while as the storm of the century hit hard. That night I had a fairly typical hiccup fit, and then Monday came. No rest for the weary, this was Alyssa's birthday and coach Hillary had given her a tough swim workout. Apparently on her athletes' birthdays she likes to give them 10k sets, but being the day after the race she had a kind heart and gave her 26x200 instead (for 26 years old). I actually felt pretty awesome doing this swim, much better than I expected to feel. My left quad was really tight from cramping the day before, so I didn't run. Tuesday I got in the pool for a short set, Wednesday I swam a little longer again and then ran at night. I felt surprisingly decent. This morning I got in the pool again for another workout with Alyssa. I love how the past four days have been incredibly nice, with low humidity and low mornings temps. It couldn't have just arrived one day earlier?
So now it's time for some analysis:
1) Speedsuits work. Looking at the swims of those I know who wore speedsuits, and those I know who didn't, I can unequivocally say that they work! It should be pretty obvious, but I really didn't think the advantage would be that great. But here's what I know: Benda swam about 25:45, wearing a Blue Seventy suit. OJ admitted after the race that he wasn't really swimming that hard, finishing in 28:55, but even swimming very easy wouldn't come in 3 minutes behind Benda. Meanwhile, Matias - who had an all-around great race - swam just one second behind OJ using an XTerra speedsuit. Then I put it into context of Columbia. Matias swam 19:13 there, while Pat swam 19:31. I would have expected maybe 30 seconds or so between the two at EM. Instead, Pat swam 31:20 with his tri top and shorts. That's a pretty big gap, and at this level you wouldn't see an improvement like that (discounting bad days). Pat lost time to others who he may normally outswim, but then my gap to Pat was about what I expected at 3:25. Benda is a great swimmer, and I am clearly not, but I also shouldn't lose 9 minutes over 1.2 miles. Maybe 7. I am now going to have to get one of these things as Louisville is obviously non-wetsuit.
2) I need to spend more time on my TT bike. Obviously after being hit by a car while on my previous TT bike, one can understand my apprehension and aversion to riding it on a regular basis. I do not feel comfortable riding out of the city on it (at least not riding on the bars), and most of Baltimore County is simply just too hilly. Most of our rides feature quite a bit of climbing, so I need to figure out a decent place to ride it. But I noticed that I became less comfortable by the minute after about 90 minutes on it, and my neck and arms were quite sore after the ride. A course like EM does not suit my fancy, as I hate pedaling (seriously, it sounds dumb but I hate pedaling). Based on how some of the other guys rode, I wouldn't have expected to be as far back as I was. I use them mostly as barometers as they are quite speedy on the bike. Adam rode 2:12. Matias was just under 2:15. Chad rode 2:13. Lucas didn't race this year but has gone 2:13. These guys are among the strongest riders in the entire race, so at least I held my own, but when I'm already giving up minutes in the water, it doesn't leave me in a good position.
3) Nutrition, nutrition, nutrition. My buddy Matias, amateur winner and 8th place overall, had a great race, going 4:05. That's ridiculous. He was kind enough to share his race report, including his nutritional intake. He used smart, even splits to get the win, and clocked I think the third fastest run of the day behind Richie Cunningham and one other pro. He consumed an ideal amount of calories throughout the bike, and was able to run fine off the bike. Meanwhile, I consumed probably 300 calories total throughout the day, and paid for it dearly. This is the same thing that happened in 2008. In 2009, interestingly, I ate a little more and ran "okay" (1:31). I don't know why I keep thinking that my body can go without food or water in these long races, but I keep doing it and keep paying for it. If I'm going to make it through Louisville and have any kind of a good day, I need to really make this a focus.
Believe it or not, despite my horrendous runs at these longer races, I actually race pretty smart. I swim and ride aerobically, and try to leave legs for the run. I just don't do anything else smart, like drink water or consume calories or take in enough salt. It's getting old, but I have no one to blame but myself. It's clearly frustrating when you have a race like EM on the calendar for a year, and spend the better part of 6 months training for it, only to have it be a real shitty day. You spent money on the race, hotel, all your gear, etc, and spend time (which is really more valuable), so it makes it look like a real bad investment after the fact. And as we approach the halfway mark for the year, I realize my year has barely started. I have 3 more tri's before Louisville, and then at least another two in between Louisville and Arizona. Those, plus two 5 milers, an 8k, a 10k, another road mile and probably two track meets, then maybe a half marathon in September.
I'm heading up to NJ tonight for Father's Day and to race one of my favorite races, the George Sheehan Classic 5 Miler. Once upon a time this race attracted foreign talent to the tune of a 23:05 winning time. If you placed in the top 100 it was a big deal. Unfortunately, the race moved from August to June, they took away the money and thus the talent, and now if you break 30 minutes you'll probably finish in the top 30. It's kind of sad. But I love this race and I get to run with my brother and sister, and see a bunch of friends from the old days. My best time here is a pedestrian 28:49, so if I get my legs under me by Saturday, I'd like to give it a go and see if I can go under that. Considering Peachtree is just 2.5 weeks away, it will be a good test of my running legs.
A final note about Eagleman, and then I'll stop (for real) is that I'm still impressed with my bike split, considering how hard I've had to work over the past two years to get back there. EM was the last race I did before getting hurt and I'm glad to see that despite a knee that has severely restricted range of motion and a tremendous imbalance in power in my legs, I can still ride with some gusto. And as I was waiting around while they were announcing Clearwater spots, I noticed one Brian Boyle being called up. You may remember him from Kona coverage a few years ago, a young guy who was nearly killed in a car accident, and decided that in his second chance he wanted to do the Ironman. His first ever tri was Annapolis (2007) and then a month later he went to Hawaii. He made it, but it hurt. He caught the bug, though, and started doing Eagleman. He has a swimming background, and really got his bike going (fyi, his bike split was a full minute faster than mine at 2:15:40, that's nuts). This year he finished well enough in his 25-29 age group to earn a rolldown slot, and he was super psyched, celebrating with his family after they announced his name. It was a great sight to see someone so excited to just be alive, to earn the chance to compete against the world's best. As I was packing my things in transition, I ran into him so we chatted for a minute. He really does remind us what it's all about.
Oh, and as a postcript, at least I didn't get SUNBURNED. I put on sunscreen prior to the swim start, and only my shoulders took in a little sun. I feel great about this one minor area of improvement.