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EAGLEMAN TRIATHLON JUNE 13, 2010 – Eagleman was the second ‘big’ triathlon on the race calendar this year, and once again I planned to train through it, but push it a little harder than I did in St. Croix, as the bike and run training was going a little better. Mike and I drove to Cambridge, Maryland, the Friday before the race. Dan Martin, Tim Walsh and Chuck Buckley were also driving down to do the race, and also driving down Friday, but a few hours earlier than us. Cambridge is an 8 hour drive if the traffic gods are with you, but we were stuck in traffic like you read about in NY City, and it took us almost 10 hours to get to Maryland. We were pretty ‘business-like’ driving down and almost never got out of the car. We even ate at a drive through for dinner!
We arrived in Easton, MD (15 mi from Cambridge) pretty late and found our hotel – the Econo Lodge – which was three doors down from Dan, Tim and Chuck, who were staying at the Holiday Inn Express.
Saturday Morning we got up around 8 am and made plans with the guys to meet at 10 for our carbo-load breakfast and then head to Cambridge for packet pick-up, race meeting and to check out the course. Mike and I checked out the downtown area of Easton, which is really cute, and went to a farmers market where we got peaches and blueberries.
We met the guys at the Easton Diner where we had the worst breakfast any of had had in ages. We ordered blueberry pancakes with a side of scrambled eggs and orange juice. Nothing was made locally – the blueberries were actually blueberry pie filling - and it bore an unpleasant resemblance to airplane food (“airplane food” … I’m really dating myself here …). Really disappointing, because one of the best things about racing is the breakfast the day before!
We headed out to Cambridge for packet pick-up, which was smooth as silk with very friendly volunteers and an unbelievable race packet, and checked out the expo while we waited for the race meeting. There was nothing about this race meeting that you hadn’t heard at any race meeting except 1) the Gatorade bottles would all have the inside foil caps removed, 2) there would be snow cones at one of the aid stations on the run and 3) the water temperature was 75 degrees and it would be a wetsuit legal swim.
We left the meeting, took a peek at the Choptank River, where we would be swimming, and went with Dan, Tim and Chuck while they dropped their bikes off (bikes are racked the night before for Eagleman). Mike and I drove off to preview the extremely flat bike course and then got out to ride for 30 mins so we could check out the wind to decide whether we should use race wheels/disk and aero helmet. Yes for Mike, no for Beth. It could get pretty windy with some strong cross winds. Mike was big enough not to get blown off the bike, but I would have been airborne. We dropped off our bikes, checked out the swim, bike and run exits and entrances. After a pretty throughout inspection of the transition area, we headed back to Easton, took our 3rd shower of the day (it was about 95 degrees and humid) and met the guys for dinner. We had dinner at a great Italian restaurant in Easton, watched a little bit of a Saturday night sidewalk concert and headed back to the hotel for early bedtime.
Sunday morning we got up early and did the usual race morning ritual including early breakfast and then went next door to meet the guys. We sat with them for a bit and then caravanned to Cambridge. We each found pretty good parking spaces and headed over to set up our transition areas and get a warm up in. Long lines for the porta-johns, so I held our spot in line while Mike went to fill the bike tires with air. As we were waiting in line, they made an announcement that the water temperature had warmed up to over 78 degrees. USAT rules state that if the water temp is over 80, it’s a “no wetsuit” swim. WTC rules uses 78 degrees (for age group athletes), but in either case, wetsuits are generally still permitted in a no-wetsuit swim, but athletes who chose to wear a wetsuit are not allowed to accept awards. At Eagleman we were told they would not make this allowance because they had ‘no way of knowing who wore a wetsuit and who didn’t’. Well, I could think of two ways immediately, but no one asked for my suggestions. This was not the kind of news someone who is only swimming 90 minutes a week wants to hear……
Whatever. I had no concerns about the actual swim, but I remember saying to Chuck, “haha – they’d better not hold us to the one hour cut-off …..”
After we got our transition areas set up we jumped in the water to warm up. The Choptank is brackish with some seaweed (and apparently usually jellyfish) and is pretty shallow for the most part. The water was temperate, and probably would have been warm if you swam hard in a wetsuit, but it wasn’t ‘dangerously warm’. I got in a good warm up and headed over to the swim start. The pros went off, and my wave was next. There were 207 people in my wave – 2500 people in the race. We were told to swim out to the buoys and tread water until the gun went off. As we started making our way out to the buoys, someone said “GO” and the chaos began.
Suddenly there were arms and legs clawing everywhere – not in an attempt to get ahead – but in what seemed like panic. Great. I swam like crazy to get away from the melee and once I was clear of the crowd I started backstroking to get my heart rate down and see what had just happened. Mike was in the next wave and I began thinking that I might still be backstroking as he swam past me!
Finally I shook that off and turned over and started swimming. And swimming. And swimming. I wish I could remember all the things I thought about during my very long swim workout. I’m pretty sure I saw Mike go by me. I never felt like I was swimming against a current, but the buoys just never got closer.
At last – Land-Ho. I swam into the beach and sprinted to my bike. Pretty good for someone who had been horizontal for (I would later learn) over an hour.
I had a nice quick T1 and before I knew it I was out on the course. With a course as flat as Eagleman, drafting can be a problem, so my immediate concern was to play fair but still move ahead on the bike. Fortunately I felt great and was able to get clear of most of the folks I left the water with. Just out of transition I was passed by Jaime Withrow – an athlete I knew from New England. Go Jaime! – I wonder what wave she had gone off in …..
So let me tell you, I have never done a race that had a flat bike course and didn’t think that was my kind of race. But I loved it! It’s one large lollipop loop – we are almost never on the same roads twice. I only shifted my bike when the wind shifted. About halfway through the bike course, we enter the Blackwater National Forest, which looks like a wetlands. There are often Bald Eagles flying around, but we only saw vultures.
Before I knew it, I was 5 miles from the end of the bike race. People were off their bikes and running and I looked for Mike but I was pretty sure he was up further on the course. I saw Dan Martin who seemed surprised to see me. I got to transition, dismounted the bike and got out of my bike shoes so I could run across the grass to my area. My feet were pretty hot and the grass felt great on bare feet. Suddenly Jaime Withrow went by me. Wow! We must have been pretty close the whole ride. I must have re-passed her at a water bottle exchange.
I got to my rack which was empty. Nice! First one in. As I looked for my name, I noticed that all the names had been covered with duct tape that had something written in magic marker. I squinted to read, “You have been DQ’d. Turn your chip in and do not run”.
I can’t begin to tell you how I felt when I saw that. I looked around and as far as I could see, every space on my rack and the racks around me had the same duct tape love note. What had I done? Did I cut the course? I knew I had a fast bike split but there was really no way to go off course ….. I have never been DQ’d from anything in my life.
I racked my bike, took off my helmet and bike shoes and went off in search of an official. I found what looked like a penalty tent to turn in my chip. “What did I do?” I asked. “We don’t know. We just need you to turn in your chip”. Nice. Feeling like a criminal, I decided to go watch the elite athletes come in. As I walked away from the penalty tent I saw people coming from all directions with their chips in hand. I would late learn that 220 people had a swim that was over the one hour cutoff, (28% of the field), but only 60 people turned their chips in. We were never given an official explanation of why we were DQ’d.
Not only did the race officials screw up the wetsuit rule, the swim was 25% too long. Some people wore Garmins that confirmed that the swim was anywhere between 400 and 700 yards long, but to me, what was more reliable was Mike’s swim time. Mike had done 28 mins in St. Croix (open ocean, 1.2 miles, no wetsuit) and 57 mins in Kona (open ocean, 2.4 miles, no wetsuit). His swim for Eagleman was 32.27.
I never got to experience the run course, but I did a short run (@ 2 miles) to see how I would feel in the heat and after a fast bike split. Not bad, but 2 miles is a lot less than 13. One by one the red, sweaty, salt-stained athletes came in: Mike, Dan, Tim, Chuck. One thing that Tim remembered from the pre-race meeting was that they had promised snow cones on the run course. But when Tim reached the snow cone aid station they were all out! He said he was planning to dump it down his shorts! That’s how hot it was.
We waited through the agonizingly long awards ceremony where they gave out trophies and medals along with Clearwater and Kona slots. The Kona slots rolled down surprisingly far in some divisions (13 slots in the 45-49 age group) and you literally couldn’t give away the Clearwater slots. It could be that the field was that good (some had already qualified) but I think it has more to do with the price of races and all the costs associated with them. Mike got his Kona slot and we were immediately whisked to a tent where we wrote a check for $550. Gratefully.
In the weeks that have passed since the race, my feelings about the quality of the race and whether or not I’d do it again have changed every few days. In fact, just before I published this page, I deleted what I had written after the previous sentence and decided to end on a positive note by saying, CHECK OUT MY BLACK FLY TRI race report!