Ironman Maryland is finally in the books and it had plenty of surprises and a lot of lessons to be learned! It started with a relatively easy 3 and half hour solo car ride that was almost enjoyable in comparison to the trek to IM Mont-Tremblant or IM Lake Placid! This race was unusual for this distance in that it occurred on a saturday and the last day athletes had for check-in was on thursday! Not sure what the reason is for such logistics, but in the end it was good for the local community.
Cambridge was very welcoming and it has a unique charm that is both familiar but distinct! It has the old historic downtown and of course the Chesapeake bay which makes this an ideal spot for a triathlon event.
The obligatory gear checks, test rides, shake off swims, and activation runs were all carefully scheduled and executed and just as I am about to head to the hotel on friday afternoon to wind down, I realized I don’t have my car keys! I went for a run after dropping off my gear and opted for leaving my phone in the rental car and carrying the key fob in a small pocket of the lycra shorts I was wearing. This was a big mistake! After retracing my steps and recruiting a bunch of IRONMAN staff to assist in searching for these keys, I eventually found them beneath my bike special needs bag. I had my panic moment and then relief, and it was now time to eat some pasta, mix some powders into some water bottles, and unsuccessfully convince my brain that it was in my best interest to get some sleep.
So the swim was in the Choptank river and it was very good indeed! I don’t want to say great because there was still some folks that could not swim straight, but it was certainly less chaotic than Lake Placid. Now for clarification I am not talking about small deviations… we all need to make corrections. I don’t consider myself to be a good swimmer by any means, but if you are going to take on 2.4 miles of open water, you should probably know to sight every once in a while! Sorry for the short rant.
The water was supposed to be brackish but it was not salty at all! There was no wind in the morning and the water was very calm. It was in stark contrast from the previous day’s practice swim where the wind was kicking up a few slappers and bounced you around a bit. It was as perfect as you are ever going to get for swim conditions!
I had been nursing a chest injury from a bike crash 3 weeks prior that had been persistently nagging so I did not get very many practice swims leading up to this race. Biking and running do not seem to affect it but because of the location of this injury (ribs just under my right armpit), when I swim I feel tightness and discomfort from engaging those muscles. It was no different this time. I probably could have pushed it a bit harder but the goal was always to manage my heart rate coming out of the water so I guess you can say I was successful at that! All in all I was happy with my swim time considering that it appears the course may have been bit longer. This was validated by the many social media postings about it.
This is by far the most technical part where making smart decisions can really make or break your race. I knew it was a fast, flat course and got myself a new toy just for the occasion. I got myself a very sexy zipp disc wheel. I got a good trial run on this new toy when I did the aquabike at IRONMAN 70.3 Atlantic City the week prior, and once you get this thing rolling it kinda wants to keep going! I had been plagued by lots of technical bike issues all season long and even as I am coming to this event I did not fully trust this bike. In fact, just as I am torquing and checking bolts, I notice my aero bars are loose! This had been a persistent problem I thought I had solved with some plumbers tape around the thread of the bolt. Good thing I always travel with my tools. I was able to apply some fresh tape around the bolt but it was fighting me and did not want to catch the thread. Once it finally did catch, the aero bar angle was at about 18 degree upward tilt as opposed to the 14 degrees I am used to. It was time to cut my losses or potentially strip the bolt.
There was also the expectation that there may be some wet areas on the course due to the tidal flooding. I was told this is not a hazard but in Maryland it is considered a race “feature”. At the last-minute the race director did make a 12 mile course correction and I am happy to report there was no flooding on the course at all.
What we did have was wind! forecast was calling for around 10 mile per hour wind speeds but it sure did feel like it was a lot more than that! I recall asking a policeman if my back tire appeared flat because of the slight swaying I was experiencing. The wind was ever-present on the bike and it seemed to have gotten progressively worse for the second lap.
For this course my plan was to go aero and stay aero for the full 112 miles. I have been working on fine tuning my position on the bike and this was my test. Aero means lowering and tucking in my head, keeping my knees pointing forward, and trying to look up through a 3 inch line of sight window between the tips of my aero bars and the top of my helmet.
For the most part I did do a little better than the picture above, (I have other pictures to prove it) and considering both the new toy (disc wheel), and the tweaks in position, undoubtedly these were good contributing factors to the sub 6 hour bike split for this bike course! There was however lessons to be learned…
Somewhat of a surprise for me was how much that wind would take a tool! Truly I was expecting fresher legs coming off the bike on this course than in Lake Placid and I could not be more wrong!!! In fact my power numbers reflect relatively low wattage so something must be amiss!
My average power was only 128 watts (normalized 133) and I was on the big ring for 98.5% or the time. My gear choices kept me close to the middle of the cassette so I was somewhat efficient with my gearing. My cadence was a bit lower than what I was going for and this season that has been the primary metric (often only metric) I been looking at while training and racing (I think this is a big clue here).
What I know for sure is that I burned way too many matches on what was supposed to be an easier bike course! What I can conclude from this is that flat does not mean easier! There was simply no descents to give you a break! No climbs for you spin up! No variety to help flush out your legs! You go on and you stay on for the full 112 miles! Mix in some nasty head and cross-winds and now you got other energy depleting factors to deal with than just the watts you are putting down on the pedals. Looking back I am pretty sure I should have held back more to save the legs for the run.
As soon as I got off the bike I knew I did not have my running legs. As a point of reference, I ran a 4:52 marathon coming off a bike with about 8000 feet of elevation and on a hillier run course in Lake Placid, and 4:51 on this completely flat course! Too many matches burned! I did use the bathroom a lot more throughout this race in general which I take as positive sign that I am on the right track when it comes to nutrition.
The run is always when the magic happens… Believe it or not I even got to meet some folks from JSTC (my local tri club) I heard of but never met before. Got to commiserate with a super nice Team Zebra member who I could tell was maybe just slightly deeper in the pain cave than I was. Recognized a speedy “crumb bun” rider that killed it on her first Ironman. Got to run a few quality miles with one of my teammates and experience first hand how bunny ears can be used as antenna for broadcasting and receiving good vibes. Got to see another of my teammates being pulled by the gravity of the finish line to just about the greatest IRONMAN finish I have ever seen live. Got amazing support from the local community that was out in force and a few drunk guys that were very happy to offer me a beer (too early for suds in the stomach).
The run was grueling, and it was painful, and it was hard, and it was also filled with gratitude, and emotion, and even glory! Mike Reilly was waiting and so was Monika and I really wanted to see them both. I got there with a 48 minute PR but at that very moment it kinda did not matter! It was the moment itself that mattered.