Last season was a bust for me due to my ongoing knee problem. I only raced 1 (that’s right 1) triathlon! My friend Doug suggested we rock Eagleman 70.3 to set off the season. It would be his first attempt at the distance and I was excited to be a part of that.
We left might Manhattan at noon on Saturday. In tow we had Doug, his fiance Danika (also a friend of mine) and his youngest daughter Madison. Madison has already rocked out a few triathlons at the age of 8! She wanted to see what a 70.3 was all about.
We had a fun car ride down and got to Cambridge with 2 hours to spare before bike check-in closed. The river looked peaceful and I was pretty excited to get my swim on the next day.
Back in the car, we had 20 minutes until the Belmont Stakes and a possible Triple Crown were to take place. We found a spot called Jimmie and Sooks and posted up with a few beers. Maddie had a Mountain Dew. As it turns out they had a few great pasta options on their menu so we opted to chill out there.
SIDENOTE: For those of you not familiar with Maryland crab country, we were in teh heart of it. I grew up eating Maryland Blues and I was so pumped to eat some after the race. Jimmie is a male crab and a Sook is a female.
Cambridge is a small town and so hotels are sparse. We found a room 30 minutes away in the lovely town of Seaford. Once there we did the usual pre race set up… mixing drinks, laying out clothes and setting alarms.
I slept kind of okay. One positive sleep related thing that happened was when I awoke thinking it was go time and I actually (after checking the clock) had 2 more hours! Wooooo!
We woke up at 5 and were out the door by 5:15. Both Doug and I did not feel hungry, a great sign. In all of my races, especially the more recent ones, I have mastered this. Setting up the glucose stores so that you need minimal fuel for the morning sets the stage for a good day.
While in transition they made the announcement that wetsuits would be illegal as the water temps were over 76.1 degrees. (This sets the stage for what lay ahead weather wise.) I was pissed for a hot second and then shrugged it off. The Choptank River looked nice and I was psyched to just splash around with my fellow triathletes. I have never been a solid swimmer and so I make up for it on the bike and run. Better to chase then to be chased. The only thing that pissed me off was that I wanted to swim topless (woooo0) and then they announced everyone must wear a top. Gotham City Runners’ tri kits aren’t in yet, so I was going to wear a running top after I got out of the water. Now I had to wear it for the swim. Whatever.
Doug and I were in like Wave 11 almost an hour after the 6:45 start so we just chilled out watching the swimmers. I ran into my friend Pat who is a local NYC runner I know who races for the Flyers.
I don’t know what my deal is, but I had zero nervousness going into this, like nothing. Maybe this comes with experience? Maybe it comes from me not giving a damn and just being excited to race? Whatever it is, I liked the feeling.
5 minutes until our wave start they announced that you in fact now did NOT need to wear a top. Great, thanks for the heads up guys. No way I could get my race top for the bike and run back up to transition and back in time for the swim start. Oh well.
We made our way into the water and bobbed around in the 4 feet deep water for 5 before go time. Doug and I did a fist bump and wished each other well right before the gun went off.
I just dove right into the chum and started calmly swimming. The sun was up, the water was refreshing and I was pretty excited, but not crazed. I focused on form and really felt good about the progress I was making. The shirt I was wearing was definitely creating drag.
There was some jostling here at first but I found an inside lane and just did my thing. I didn’t mind not having a wetsuit at all.
The swim was a rectangle missing one of the small sides. The first ‘out’ portion seemed to happen fast, each buoy coming along steadily. As we made the turn I noticed that Doug was right next to me. He is hard to miss as he has full sleeve tattoos. We swam along together for the whole second, shorter turn around side of the rectangle.
We turned again and were on the homestretch. This is where I had some trouble. All of a sudden these two big guys started zig-zagging in front of me. Now, I may not be a fast swimmer, but I am pretty good at sighting and accuracy and I basically needed to get ‘over’ these dudes. I got kicked a couple times and was also hit in the small of my back pretty bad. That one pissed me off a bit but I kept my cool. Shallow water martial arts battles are not part of the triathlon experience.
I had lost Doug once all water trouble started. I finished in 47 minutes. 5 minutes slower than expected. That’s what you get for swimming 3 times in 6 months during training. My longest bike rides (2) were 35 miles and 22 miles so I didn’t know what to expect on the bike either.
Entering transition without a wetsuit was a first and I loved it. It was so easy.
As I was running out of T1 I got overly excited when I saw Danika and Madison and when I went to wave I lost control and dropped my bike. Rookie move Baker!
The bike course was a blast. Fast and flat. We had a headwind the whole time which was a bit of a problem. I was clicking through miles every 2:30 or 2:45. At Mile 10 I caught up to Doug. He was doing great holdin it down. I pressed on.
Soon after this guy in front of me points down at the road as if to signal a pothole. It was a 7 foot long black snake crossing the road! That was a first. No, I did not run over him, I went around. I thought for a hot second it might be a cobra or something and latch onto my calve, ending my race.
We were riding through and around the Blackwater Nature Reserve and we were ‘out there.’ There were also lots of Eagles and Hawks flying about which was really cool! There were times when some of them felt like they were flying with me. Now we know why the race is called Eagleman. They should create an Ironman in Africa and call it Lionman.
By mile 20 or 25 the heat was kicking up off the pavement. My nutrition was great, legs slightly sore but all-in-all doing fine. I was worried about the run though. If it was already this hot and I had another hour on the bike it was gonna be a scorcher.
At mile 30 I was pretty over the bike ride and ready to run. My quads were hurting and the heat was getting to me. I think the monotony of a flat course was getting boring too.
When mile 40 hit something weird happened. I got a second wind or something. Or I equalized? My pace even jumped from 20 MPH to 22-23 MPH. Whatever the reason, I’ll take it.
Doug and I were wondering why they gave us 2 bibs when we checked in. Well, I ripped my bib getting off the bike, so that second one came in pretty handy. I also tacked on a few extra minutes in T2 trying to get that squared away. I also slathered (good word) a new batch of sunscreen on.
As soon as I was away from T2 and on the road I kind of went, “Holy Shit.” It was 90 degrees, 100% humidity and not one piece of shade or cloud to be had. It was here, within the first mile or two I actually contemplated quitting. It was that bad.
At the first aid station I hosed myself with water, ice water and sponges. I told myself to just take it one aid station at a time and that’s kind of how it went. I would start running, and mind you my legs felt awesome and my energy and nutrition couldn’t have been more perfect, and just try to get to the next station before I dried up.
Anytime I saw a sprinkler left out by good Samaritans I ran through it. Kids with garden hoses, bring the noise I’m down. I would be dry and on fire again a 1/4 of a mile past the water stations.
Did I mention that Maddie had made the best sign ever?
It was an out-and-back course and I could see all of the people in the earlier waves coming past. I wanted to scream, “Where is the turn around! How far? Is there a pool?”
Since it was flat and in open fields you could see the runners ahead way off in the distance. It was surreal. The worst part of the course was between miles 5 and 6.5. It was the greatest distance between water stations and you could really feel it. Total march of death.
I hit the turn around and started taking Coke at aid stations from here on out. I knew my pace wasn’t my best, which was slightly upsetting as I had a good bike split, but at this point I just wanted to complete the race.
I saw Doug at mile 8 and we hooked up a high five. I was psyched for him as he was coming off a stress fracture and was going to walk it if the injury reared back up. He was running and in good spirits.
Soon after I saw my friend Derek followed by Pat.
It was somewhere around 1PM at this point and the heat was insane. I was being conscious as well to my vitals, making sure I wasn’t going to pass out.
I finished in 5:21:22, 9 minutes from a PR. All in all I was happy to have fought the battle and come out alive. That is now the hardest run I have ever done.
I hung out in the athlete’s food area scarfing some black beans and rice in the shade. Soon after I heard Doug’s name announced as a finisher and I went to find everyone.
Next up… celebrate. We hit up a good old fashioned Maryland Blue Crab joint. I taught the group how to pick apart the shells and even Maddie was doing great. Once we were done we headed back home to NYC, ready for some sleep!
The part of the Ironman, the battle, is what I like most, even when it’s kicking my ass. Out there on the course, I didn’t see ‘fit’ people or overly athletic bodies. What I saw were warriors, using determination and mental strength to get them through the day.
Congrats Doug for killing your first 70.3!
And to all of you 70-84 year old people I saw on the run, you are my inspiration.