Friday, June 15, 2012
I want to go back to race the Hawaii Ironman this year for the sheer purpose of taking my kids to Hawaii and showing them what’s been such a big part of my adult life. As I raced in St. Croix in early May with a bronchial infection, attempting to qualify, and suffering very early on during the bike then really suffering during the hot and humid run, I thought to myself “do I really want to put myself through this again for twice as long in an even hotter place?”. Not even two days had passed before I found myself looking for ways to get into the already sold out Eagleman 70.3 race which also had Kona qualifying spots. Turns out they had a couple of community fund slots left with the contributions going to the Blazeman Foundation which is a great cause, so I jumped on the opportunity. I received an email from Vigo, the race director, welcoming me back to the race. This guy is a class act which, even though I’m not a fan of the flat “draft enabling” course, explains why this race is so popular and so well run. The last time I raced at Eagleman was in 98’ or 99’ - He remembered that I was the top amateur that year! My training had been going well with two exceptions; this allergy season had been brutal! As a kid, I never had allergies. In fact, I developed allergies as an adult, from, what I believe to be heavy training in this outdoor environment. The other exception was that I simply don’t have the time to train now like I used to. And I see the evidence in my racing. In 98’ or 99’, I did a 4:08 on the eagleman course in a year where the swim was particularly long (I swam 36 minutes that year compared with 27 min this year). This year I did a 4:22. The main difference has been my run. I used to run 6 to 7 days a week in training, and now I run 3 to 4. The result is that I run 10 minutes slower now for the ½ marathon portion than I used to. This is something I will be working on this summer. I know that many may think it’s aging that is the real culprit, but I don’t buy into this. But the main thing about my training and racing is that my motivation and desire has changed. I have been doing this for a long time, and I’ll always be competitive, yet I’m not as time driven as I once was, I’m more driven by experiences now. I left early Saturday morning to make the long, monotonous drive to Cambridge with my dad/manager. The sun was out and they were predicting heat for the weekend, with temps in the 90’s. What the hell is it with me and hot races? I’m a bigger guy who’s not great in the heat, yet I continue to race in notoriously hot races. Maybe it’s the stubbornness, or more simply, the stupidness in me that makes me want to take on the things I’m not so good at? We drove straight to the race venue where I registered and then went out for an hour spin on the bike while Big Rocks gathered all the race details that I tend to blow off. We stayed 30 minutes away which I actually prefer. We met Mike Biehl out for dinner at a cool micro brew pub. I had a great IPA, some pasta and chicken, and a glass of red wine before heading back to the room to watch the Celtics unfortunately loose game 7 to the Heat. I drifted off around 9pm and slept well, awakening at 4am. I had a bagel w/ peanut butter, a frappacino, and a handful of peanut butter pretzels, but wasn’t really hungry for anything else. I took in 4 saltstick capsules between 4 and 8am. Now here’s the thing that sucked the most about the day; my wave was the eleventh wave, leaving at 8:10am. The pro’s left around 6:40am. Many of the amateurs were well off before 7am. I hate waiting around for the race to start – I’ve mentioned before how this is the worst time for me on race day. The waves were so spread out to break up potential drafting - I understood this. I also understood that the later waves like mine would be dealing with more mid-day heat and increased winds that start to come in around 10am down there. I know that I’m racing against my wave, but I also like to see where I stand against all the amateurs and the wave starts made for much different races. I blocked this out and began to focus on the task at hand; get my Kona spot. They finally called my wave up to the swim start. I jumped in to do a brief warm-up, and then lined up in the front row, slightly to the outside for the in-water start. We were off, and I got a good jump out and targeted the feet of a guy who was swimming well. The swim felt…good?! I’m known for neglecting my swim training so I never expect to feel smooth during the swim, yet I did which is the result of me swimming more consistently since St. Croix. We soon were catching swimmers from the wave in front of us which, although it’s fun on the bike, is a pain during the swim. One guy jumped on my feet early on and he continued to slap my feet throughout the whole swim. Not enough to where he was pushing down on them, but just a slight graze of my toes. I’m a good one to draft off because I have wider shoulders and no kick at all, especially with a wetsuit. Two guys in my age group came out of the water with me; a guy who beat me in St. Croix and who I know is a solid swimmer and very good runner, and the foot slapper, my buddy Scott Jones who I didn’t even know was racing here! It’s always great to see Scott, but we could catch up later - we were racing and there were only two Kona slots. I had a slower transition than the other two, not by much, and exited T1 in 6th place. I felt decent right away on the bike, and by mile five, I had taken the lead in my age group. I stayed aero and kept a high, efficient cadence. The bike felt almost easy, meaning I had a lot more in the tank to give, yet it was hot already without a cloud in the sky. I was leading and knew the run was going to be tough, so I may as well conserve as much as possible without giving up my lead. For the first 75 minutes of the bike, there was little wind and I was moving along at around 26 mph. Then, as I expected, the winds started to pick up and slowed things a bit. I rode all alone the entire ride, passing many packs of age groups that started in earlier waves. I knew the drafting would be blatant out there and I mentally blocked out these packs so that I didn’t waste energy worrying about something I couldn’t control. I sipped from a bottle of EFS liquid shot mixed with water, while drinking gatorade throughout the bike and pouring water inside my helmet and down my back to stay cool. I love entering T2 and racking my bike first in my division! I opted to put on socks since I was wearing a newer Nike racing flat, and headed out on the hot, flat, boring run course. This run is an out and back and the miles feel as though they are marked two miles apart. The turnaround just never seems to come. I knew I wasn’t moving too quickly, but I was running. I took in coke, water, and gatorade at the aid stations and never missed an opportunity to dump ice in my tri suit. As I hit the turn around and began making my way back to the finish line, I had my first opportunity to see where my competition was. The guy from St Croix and Scott were maybe five minutes behind. I thought that as long as I kept running, they wouldn’t make up 45 seconds per mile. Yet, I was still running scared and I was lacking confidence. This was because it was extremely hot now, and I could feel myself withering. I started counting, but still couldn’t help but to focus on the pain of each stride in the 95+ degree sun. I took it one mile at a time. “Get to mile nine Eric” I talked to myself. “Then, you only have four miles left to run”. “Get to mile 10 then it’s just a 5K left – you can do that in your sleep!” I was fading though. The thought of missing my daughters’ recital and both of my kids games this weekend while I was down in MD racing for myself was all that I needed to keep me pushing. At the 12 mile mark, a guy came up on my shoulder and said “great race man”. I glanced over and asked “are you in my age group?”. He was, and he was moving well in the heat. I know I have a strong kick in the last 200 meters so I thought, if I could just stay with him… He ended that thought quickly and surged hard right away. I could not respond. I knew there were two spots and my goal of qualifying was attained, yet I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed about coming in second. Mission accomplished though, and I quickly called home to let the family know. Lisa answered and I told her to pack her grass skirt. I could hear the kids screaming with excitement in the background. Big Rocks and I looked for any shade we could find to hang out in and wait for the awards ceremony. I sat on the grass under a tree, uncomfortably trying to just let my body recover from the effort in the heat, and asking myself “do you really want to put yourself through this again on the lava fields?” Earlier this spring, when Lisa and I were discussing me racing in Hawaii again and taking the kids, Lisa lectured me; “listen, the kids don’t need to see you suffering out there and in a med tent at the end with iv’s stuck in you. Go there and enjoy the day. Keep the effort easier. You have raced there eight times - You have nothing to prove.” It was an interesting plea since she knows I can’t do that.