After another hurried Friday evening flight to BWI in Maryland, Michelle and I arrived in Alexandria, VA at 11:30 p.m. and crashed at our Friend Rob O'Hanley's townhouse. Rob, a close friend of mine since High School, has been living in Alexandria for the past year or so, and although we had to drive a bit out of our way to stay with him, the extra drive time and D.C. traffic (still insane/bumper to bumper at 11 p.m.) was well worth it. It was great to see Rob again. Even better, upon our arrival, I found out that my old HS cross-country/track & field teammate Matt Ventimiglia was also crashing at Rob's as well! Matt is now a Naval aviator and stationed in Norfolk, VA. He was in town to see us that night before moving north to meet up with his wife the next morning (she was visiting friends in Annapolis).
So after a bit of catch-up time, Michelle and I hit the sack; exhausted from 8+ hours of traveling after respective full days at work.
I awoke Saturday morning and set out for my a.m. shake out run. I was expecting heat and humidity this past weekend, but the blast of hot, wet air felt more like a sauna as I stepped foot outside for my 15 min. trot. After shaking off my a.m. grogginess, we all headed out for breakfast at the local coffee shop. From there, Michelle and I said our goodbyes to Rob and tailed Matt north through D.C. and over to rt. 50. I was a bit saddened to watch as Matt veered off towards Annapolis as we approached the Bay Bridge which traverses the Chesapeake Bay.
By the time Michelle and I arrived in Cambridge, MD, the heat and humidity were at their worst. It was clearly evident that this year's race was going to be a little more challenging than the '07 rendition! No worries; just have to hydrate and pay attention to the electrolyte consumption a little more than usual.
We checked in at packet pickup and then quickly headed over to meet up with our most gracious home stay host Marge Hull. Marge's house is located just 200 meters from transition, so pre-race and race day bike racking and transition set up is a breeze. Just one less stressor to deal with before the gun goes off.
My friend Diane Haupt from Virginia Beach, VA showed up shortly after we did (she was staying with Marge as well), and we both set off for an easy 25 min. spin on the Eagleman bike course. I was feeling pretty snappy during the later stages of my shake out spin and followed this session up with a half mile of swimming to cool down. From there, it was time to rack my bike and head off to eat.
At 6:30 or so, Michelle, Marge and I met up with one of my rising stars, 24 year old Virginia Beach, VA triathlete, and fellow PE teacher, Dave Smith, for dinner. "Smitty" has made great strides forward this year as an athlete, and I was excited to finally meet him in person and watch him race. Dave was joined by his wife Rachel and a couple of friends. It just happened to be Dave's birthday, so Rachel and Co. surprised him with a cheese-cake sampler. A good time for sure.
From there, it was off to bed and early to rise. I'm not a big fan of 4:30 revelry, but you gotta do what you gotta do. Luckily, I had slept soundly, so I felt relatively refreshed Sunday morning.
As Michelle and I walked to transition, I was wishing that I had a camera on me as I caught site of one of the most ridiculous things I've ever seen before a triathlon: Standing just 30 meters away from me was a guy in his middle to late 40s, tall and lanky, decked out in full Craft kit (the "Elite" suit to be exact). Now we all have our pre-race rituals, but his was a bit outlandish to say the least; I had to do a double take, make that a triple take: He lit up and smoked a cigarette!!! I looked him over 4 or 5 times. Sure enough, there were the body markings. This guy was for real and he was smoking a butt. Talk about a pre-race warm up.
Walking into transition, I got the word from Diane that pros wouldn't be able to wear wetsuits today. Uh-oh. Just 12 hours prior, I had listened as the race director informed us that we were racing under WTC/Ironman rules and, as such, pros could wear wetsuits right up to the AG cut off temp. of 78 degrees. I guess that a midnight call from USAT informed the RD that he had to stick to the 72 degree rule.
No time to worry. I shrugged off the bad news and prepped for go-time.
At 6:45 a.m. I departed shore with the pro-field. Bottom line: I got dropped within the first 10 strokes and was swimming solo from there on in. I never felt bad per say until I hit shore again and saw 00:34:xx on the race clock.
At that moment, I knew that I was in for a very, very long day. Long story short: I spent the next 56 miles on the bike working myself through constant discouragement and despair. I was hitting my goal wattage, but hating every minute of my ride. I was so upset about my piss-poor swim performance and the resulting time deficit that I will be honest in saying that I wanted to pull the pin and quit as soon as I hit T2. However, as I comtemplated the idea of quitting, my mind drifted back to my blog post on D-Day and I spent some time thinking about the many athletes that I coach who were at that very moment either suffering out on the Eagleman course, grinding it out up in NH at Mooseman, or hanging tough in MA at Firmman. They were all dealing with extreme heat and humidity. They were all experiencing their own dark moments. I wasn't injured. I wasn't sick. I was physically able to complete the race. I'd not only be committing a cowardly act by quitting, I'd be setting a poor example. I made a pact with myself to finish the damn bike course and then see how the legs felt on the run. I figured that even if I walked the entire run, that would be better than the dreaded DNF. I had enough of those back in my early 20s and never want to go there again. Quitting just because you're getting your ass kicked should never be an option.
As I rolled into T2, I was a bit surprised by the fact that I had bridged all the way up to notable US pro Paul Fritzche. We departed T2 together but it was evident by mile 1 that Paul's engine was running a little too hot. He stopped for ice and water at the first aid station and I was solo once more.
Surprisingly, the legs started rolling along by mile 2, and before I knew it, I had passed the 4 mile mark and a couple more athletes in the process. The heat & humidity were taking their toll but I continued to roll on and roll out one 6 min. mile after the next.
Due to the heat, and the fact that no one was in sight, I never left my comfort zone on the run and played it safe. I was worried about a late race melt down due to the 90 degree temps and humidity, so my only objective by the 5 mile mark was to see if I could claw my way into the top 10 and come out of this race with a bit of my pride still intact.
I finally caught a glimpse of the race leader, Paul Amey from Great Britain, heading the other way at the 5.25 mile mark. A little mental math meant that he had a 2.5+ mile lead on me which meant I was a good 15 min. down. Not too bad considering that 11 of those god damn minutes were lost in the water.
I counted off the rest of the leaders as they streamed past in the opposite direction. All of the big names were there, and the placing was pretty much what it was expected to be. As I neared the turn around/6.55 mile mark, I caught a glimpse of my Craft teammate Chris Bagg, who, unbeknownst to me at the time, had laid down the fastest bike split of the day! Chris was in 9th. Behind him was early race leader and swim stud John Kenny. I caught and passed Kenny shortly after the turnaround and then passed Chris, who was struggling badly thanks to the oppressive heat and humidity, around mile 9.
I maintained cruise control though the finish and crossed in 4:11, which was good enough for 9th place overall (8th place in the official standings since Chris Legh was DQ'd post race). I was far from excited about my performance, but took great pride in the fact that I stayed the course and dug my way out of a horrendous hole/mental funk. I won't lie: Nothing about the race was fun, and as I put this race report together, I'm still fuming about my awful swim.
I'll be honest in saying that I'm extremely discouraged by my inability to swim efficiently/quickly. I know that I'm racing against athletes who have the time and resources to train full time, but part of me feels as though I'm fighting a losing battle when it comes to the swim front. The logical side of me knows that this is a biomechanical/efficiency issue that will take time to correct, but at 32, I'm starting to wonder why I even bother. I'm walking away from a cushy job and significant percentage of my annual income by leaving teaching behind in 2 weeks, and am hoping that my decision to do so is not going to be in vain.
Only 1 way to find out how far you can really go though, so sometimes you have to roll the dice...
Congratulations to all who "competed & completed" this weekend despite the horrendous weather. I was super excited to see Dave Smith take a very close 2nd place in his AG at Eagleman and secure his Clearwater 70.3 World Championship slot in the process! Diane went on to win her AG. Another one of my athletes, pro Nick Dufresne led most of the day at the Mooseman half and held tough to take 2nd place overall! Many others endured the insane heat index and held tough to finish high up in the AG/overall standings of their respective races as well.
A tough weekend for sure, but one to remember and learn from.