This was not just my first Ironman but my first triathlon in general. With moving to IL and this race being fairly early in the year anyways I did not get a chance to start a shorter triathlon before tackling all 70.3 miles of Eagleman. Although that fact weighed on my mind, it did not have that much impact on my race and although my time doesn’t show as well as I was hoping I think I performed well and learned so much more for all the triathlons in my future.
Saturday Expo and Bike Check-In:
My parents were nice enough to accompany me out to Maryland for my race. Bride was busy studying so I figured I would make the journey by myself and take my time coming home, depending on how exhausted I would be after the race. My parents being there with me for this journey made my race experience much better and I am happy to say they enjoyed themselves at their first triathlon as well.
We got to the expo early on Saturday so I had plenty of time to register, go to my athlete briefing and look around before heading out on a quick bike ride to get my legs warmed up before it had to be racked in transition. I got my bike racked and checked into transition early in the afternoon and was off with my parents to relax the rest of the day before the long day that I knew would be ahead on Sunday.
My father was nice enough to get up early and drive me to the race start so I was there by 5:10am with plenty of time to set up my transition before it closed at 6:30am. Without having done a triathlon before this one I knew that setting everything up would take me longer than others so I wanted to leave plenty of time for me to rearrange my area if needed. The other 25-29 year old men around me were nice and we chatted about the day ahead as we all began to get set up. This conversation included a lot of talk about advice since many of us were doing our first 70.3 race as well as discussion about not using wet suits since the race water temp was said to be 78.6 (77.1 is the cut off for wet suit swims). I got my transition set up (unfortunately I didn’t have my phone to take a picture!) and was off to wait until wave 20 of the swim start.
Swim Leg (1.2 Miles): 50:33
After talking to so many other athletes this weekend I believe that there are two distinct groups of triathletes: 1)those that like the swim and 2)those that don’t. I, along with the vast majority of triathletes, fall into the second group so as I entered the water I was prepared for the least enjoyable part of my day and what I got did not disappoint.
The swim started my swimming out about 10 yards off the pier to a shallow area where you could stand for the start. As the gun sounded I was prepared for the chaos of the mass start and stayed in my spot for just a few seconds to allow those serious swimmers a chance to go ahead. As I began the adrenaline began to pump and I began to remember all the time I had spent in the pool, specifically for this moment. As I began to maneuver around those slower swimmers I realized that some were still standing. The shallow area (approximately 4 feet deep) went out for the first 100 meters or so. I slowly stood up and began to use the shallow area to catch my breath and relax before hitting the deeper water.
After about 300 meters in the water my body wasn’t relaxing very well and I knew that if I was going to get through this swim I needed to calm down, catch my breathe and remember that I will make it through this swim. That is exactly what I did. I took my time by treading some water to catch my breathe and slow my heart rate and remind myself that I trained hard for this and was prepared. As I started going again I remained calm and slowly got closer to the first swim turn (first of two). As I made the turn I realized that the reason that first straight away seemed so difficult was because we were swimming against the current and now the current was pushing us. With that help I felt like I was flying when I reached the second turn back towards the exit. After that turn is where I began to catch swimmers from the group ahead of me (they started 4 minutes earlier) and I began to think about my transition. About 250 meters out it got shallow again and you had to basically walk in. The water was only about 2 feet deep for this section, even too shallow for your arms to stroke.
As I came into the finish I realized I had done it. The hardest part (so I thought) was over and I knew then that I would finish the race!
Bike Leg (56 Miles): 3:34:22
Although a lot of my early training focused on my weakest leg (the swim) a lot of my recent training had focused on getting miles in on the bike. One of these training rides even included riding this specific route during the Six Pillars Century Ride (see the review here) in May before moving to IL. That ride, followed by a short run, provided me with a lot of comfort about this course when I hit the road on Sunday. I knew it was going to be a hot day so I took some time to put on a cycling jersey over my tri suit so I could carry my nutrition and cover up my shoulders to avoid being sun burnt.
The route takes the riders through the Blackwater Nature Preserve where you can regularly see eagles nesting (hence the name of the race). Along with animals along the way you can also guarantee that there will always be wind. The nature preserve is located between two bodies of water and that causes wind to come from all directions at all times. On most hot days you would welcome the wind, but this wind was not cool, but instead it was just blowing hot air into your race the whole day.
None the less, I was feeling good going into the bike leg and as I got out on the ride I realized that I would easily be able to get a faster time than on my ride during the century just a month before. But at around mile 35 all my joy of how well the race was going began to disappear. The arch of my foot began to hurt and I could tell, without getting off my bike that it would make my run really hard…and painful. Coming in from the bike my emotions were running high, I was excited that my legs felt great and that I crushed my previous time on the course but I was so upset that my foot was hurting so badly that I knew then my run would not be fun, and would not be a good time.
Run Leg (13.1 Miles): 2:59:57
I got off the bike and tried to take a few steps and could only limp. I arch was hurting so bad on my right foot that I couldn’t put my full weight without a lot of pain. I thought it would get better in a few minutes so I got ready for my run. I put on more sunscreen, grabbed my hat and started to head out to the course but despite my hopes my foot did not feel any better. I knew that I had to put in the miles so I began to walk with the continued hope that it would eventually heal up enough that I could run in. I walked for the first 2 miles before my foot felt well enough to run and when I did I only was able to make it about a half mile. From then on I would run as far as I could before the pain became too much and then walk until my foot felt better.
Although it felt like forever by the halfway point I came to the realization that I was going to finish, not with my ideal time but I would finish. I know that not every race is going to be your best but I always hope that an injury like this would not hobble me during a race. The temperature continued to rise through the afternoon and didn’t make it any easier to do the run, adding to the difficulty I experienced throughout the time pounding the pavement.
As I pasted the 10 mile marker I told myself that now was the time to push yourself despite the pain and after the 10 mile marker the only times I walked were through the 2 water stations, trying to finish as strong as I could. Crossing the finishing line I was proud, despite the struggles. I finished my first 70.3 and I know that I will do another one as soon as I can. Although my next endurance adventure will be this fall is not a triathlon, I am already planning my 2016 year to include AT LEAST one triathlon!!!
TOTAL TIME: 7:39:38
I didn’t have the best race, my foot bothered me more than I could have imageined and I know that if that did not happen I would have gotten under 7 hours. I found, through all the training, the early mornings and the early nights that I am in love with triathlon. Although running is still my first love, this triathlon proved that not only can I excel at another endurance challenge, but that I can push myself further than I thought and that with training I can do anything…maybe event 140.6 in 2016!