Ironman Maryland is a race that I don’t think I’ll forget anytime soon. The course, and the competition, wasn’t what I expected. The race presented logistical challenges I hadn’t had to deal with in previous races, and it didn’t help that mother nature wasn’t playing along.
- Lisa and I hit the road after work on Tuesday. Our plan was to drive as far as we could before finding somewhere to sleep.
- On Wednesday we arrived in Washington, DC just after noon. Neither of us had been to Washington so we wanted to take in some of the sights before continuing along to Maryland.
- Thursday morning we got to the race site. We checked in and did a short swim. The swim course was in river called the Choptank River, and during our practice swim we learned why.
- Flooding was becoming an issue around the race, and with the rain continuing it didn’t look like it would improve. The race organizers were forced to move transition on Thursday because the field it was on had turned into a swamp.
- Lisa and I decided to drive the bike course. All was good until we got into the Black Water National Wildlife Refuge. In multiple areas the road had disappeared until 8-10 inches of water for 100-200m stretches. We weren’t sure what this would mean for the race.
- Friday morning I woke up and did a little run to shake out my legs. Usually before an Ironman I’ll so a bit of running and cycling on the course but with the weather and logistical challenges of where the race is I hadn’t done anything. Where out hotel was we were surrounded by highway, so to get in a little 2k run I had to run 6 laps around the hotel.
- We waited to check in our bikes until as late as possible because of the issues with rain and flooding. We got our bikes racked, and then went for another quick swim. It was still choppy.
- Friday night was spaghetti and then relaxing.
- Just before we called it a night around 8:00PM we got an alert from race organizers that due to flooding they bike course was going to be re-routed, and it would be 8-miles short (it was actually 12-miles short). This was really disappointing. My main goal for the race was to go sub-9 hours, and to really do that I needed a full course.
We were up at 3:30AM on Saturday morning. Neither of us got a lot of sleep, but both Lisa and I felt rested. One of the first things Lisa said to me in the morning was that she thought she was going to have a good day. I had a bagel with almond butter and honey and some Gatorade and we were out the door just after 4:30AM. We couldn’t park right at the race site, we had to park a few kilometers away and take a shuttle. We arrived in transition by 5:30AM.
In transition I got our tires pumped up, checked brakes and skewers, loaded up nutrition and was ready to go. Lisa and I went into the water just after 6:00AM for a swim warm up. The water seemed to have calmed down since yesterday and I felt confident we would be having a swim. At 6:30AM we headed towards the swim start.
The swim was to be a self-seeded start. I was confident that I’d be able to swim under and hour, so I got in front of the sub-60:00 sign. At 6:45 instead of hearing the gun an announcer came on and said the swim was going to be delayed by 30-minutes. 30-minutes later, while about 2500 athletes were all clad in wetsuits ready to go it was announced that the swim was going to be cancelled. They told us it was because the safety kayaks couldn’t hold their position in the water, so in the event of an emergency they would have a difficult time responding. The race was going to be a TT start bike-run by bib numbers. Everyone was to change into their bike gear and wait at their bike racks.
I’ve never put any real thought into the Ironman AWA program, but boy did it pay off big time here. It was going to take approximately 2 hours to start everyone. Since I was bib # 185 I was only going to have to wait about 10 minutes to go.
T1 was very interesting because suddenly there were 2500 athletes all looking for their bike bags and trying to find space to change. By this point I was quite cold, so I took a lot of time to try to dry myself off as best as I could. I hadn’t planned on wearing arm warmers, but I decided I would because of how cool I was feeling. I went to my spot on the rack and waited for my turn to start.
Bike (the start of the race)
Finally, the race was going to start. The way it worked was you had about 5m to run with your bike to a mount line. When you started to run you time for the day began. Racing this way meant you had no idea where you were in the race throughout the day. You could be physically in front of someone on the course, but actually be 90-minutes behind them because they started well after you.
I didn’t have the adrenaline rush I would usually have in the moments before the race. I moved up the line until it was my turn, the volunteer counted down from 5 and then GO. I ran to the line, mounted my bike, and was finally off.
In the early miles of the course there are a few 90* turns. With a range of speeds and abilities from the athletes in front of me I was pretty cautious – there was some mud and wet leaves on the road so no point in risking it in the first 10 minutes. After the first 10 minutes or so I settled into my pace of 240-245W. The lack of swim didn’t impact my planned power for the bike, and I didn’t think the bike course was shortened enough to really make a difference (we were told the course would be 167k, but it ended up being 160k). As the miles ticked away I picked off the athletes in front of me.
The course is a 20k ride to the loop, 2 loops, and then 15k back to transition (you take a different route back). The course is very flat, and it’s not technical, so it’s only weather conditions that you have to deal with.
By the time I was out on my first loop the field was spread out and I wasn’t passing people as frequently. Early on in my first loop was the only time I saw a drafting official for the entire ride. This was a little disappointing as drafting can historically be a problem on this course. At around 45k I could see a group in the distance that was 6-7 strong. It looked like they were doing a team time-trial. As I rode past the group I asked the guy on the front if he knew he was towing all these guys around, and he said he had surged earlier to try to drop them, but couldn’t, and he wasn’t going to continue to risk his race just to shake off a few cheaters. I get that Maryland is a flat course, so cheating is more common, but I was surprised by how blatant these guys were being. It’s not like the course was overcrowded, there was lots of space for them to drop back. This is the first time I’ve actually witness this type of cheating and I did really wonder how those guys riding on wheels could feel proud of their race. I rode at around 300W for 2 minutes to make sure nobody even considered trying to grab my wheel and never saw the group again.
After that I didn’t see anyone again for the rest of my first loop. I knew at least 1 person was still up the road, but he was too far in front for me to ever see. Since the course is so flat I didn’t have to focus on my power meter like I usually do. The final 15k of the first loop had a head wind. After I had been cruising along at about 42km/h riding at 36km/h felt slow. I just tried to stay in a low and lead position. A couple times I switched into a harder gear for a minute and slowed my cadence to give me legs different stimulation.
As I began my second loop the clear roads I had been enjoying disappeared. I was about 2:04 into my ride when I hit the 82k mark where the second loop began and suddenly the road was congested with bikes. People were riding 2-3 wide which made passing difficult. Most people were good at moving to the right when they heard me yell ‘on your left!’ but there were at least a dozen times in the early stages of my second loop that I had to use my brakes because people were blocking the lane and I was unwilling to cross the centre line.
All the extra traffic did help the time pass. I was constantly passing so I had to be aware of of my surroundings and be ready in case anyone veered left. I got caught behind 4 cars that had worked their way onto the course. The I couldn’t pass the cars, so I just had to wait for them to get around all the cyclists. This was more of a frustration then something that I think had a major impact on my time. Before long I was nearing the end of my second loop and ready to head back to transition.
I was surprised when I was ready to turn left across vehicle traffic to exit my second loop and the office that was supposed to be directing traffic was sitting in his car. The lead vehicle and a cyclist had already been through there, so I wasn’t the first, and this was something that could have been a bad situation.
As I rode back to transition I began to think about what I needed to do in T2. Race bike, grab back, singles, shorts, vaseline, socks, shoes, watch, go.
160k bike – 4:01:42, 243W AP, 247W NP, 1.016 VI, 39.6km/h, 1st AG, 5th Overall STRAVA
Coming into T2, which I guess was more like T1 here, I was able to quickly rack my bike, grab my bags and get into the change tent. I decided to switch into full run gear – singlet and split shorts. It only takes seconds to change, and I find it considerably more comfortable. Also, in Whistler I noticed it was a lot easier for spectators to identify me, which gave me extra cheers.
T2 – 3:20
It was time to burn the boats. In transition I heard I was the second athlete off the bike and about 6-7 minutes down from the leader on the course. Because of the TT start this didn’t mean we were actually 1-2, but I figured we have to of been up there. My main goal for the race was to break 9-hours. With the modified course that was no longer on the table so I wanted to go for the win. At 6-7 minutes down I couldn’t run my pace for the first half and then pick it up in the second half if I wasn’t making up ground, I needed to go right away. My plan before the race was to run 3:05, but I decided to go out at sub-3:00 pace. I figured I had just run under 1:23 in the heat for a half in Montreal, and last year I ran 3:11 in Whistler after being on the bike for a lot longer, so it seemed like it could be possible.
In the early stages of the run it felt easy, like you would expect it to. I was running a touch faster than I needed to, crossing 3k in 4:07/km pace, but still feeling good. I was taking in Coke at every aid station. My nutrition plan was to rely on Coke. If I felt like I was getting dehydrated I would grab a cup of something else, and if I felt like I was in need of calories I’d grab a gel.
I didn’t catch a glimpse of the leader until almost 6k when I was still running towards the turn around and he (Jacob Wissum) was running back. Jacob looked really strong and we acknowledged each other as we crossed paths. I tried to get a time to the turnaround after we crossed and I figured I was still over 6 minutes back. After the turnaround I began to see who was running behind me. There were lots of guys that looked strong, but I tried to keep my focus in front of me on catching Jacob, and not who was coming up behind.
As I got close to transition Lisa and I crossed paths as she was going out. Lisa looked really strong and we high-five’d as we went by each other. After you pass transition it’s about a mile through town to the turnaround. This is the best part of the route because it has the most crowd support. I was feeling good my first lap, so I tried to pump up the crowd as I made the turn.
The run course is 2 laps that are about 17k, and then a shorter 3rd lap. As I went out on my second lap the run course was getting really crowded. There was a runner in my age group, Austin, just ahead who was starting his first lap that was running well, so I tried to pace off of him. I was still running well, but my pace was creeping up into the 4:20’s. We chatted a bit as the kilometers continued to tick by.
I crossed 21k in 1:30:53. I was beginning to really feel those early kilometers where I went out a little hot, and I struggled to hold on. I wasn’t really looking at my watch, I was just running what I thought I could to get to the finish. At about 27k things started to get dark for me. Every step was accompanied by a sharp pain in my quads. By the 30k mark I was officially in damage control mode. I just had to finish up this lap and then do a little one and I’d be finished. Running up High St. to the turnaround did provide a small amount of reprieve from the pain because it was now lined with spectators. I was counting down the kilometers and couldn’t wait to be finished.
I don’t have a lot to say about the run out on the third lap, my legs were in a ton of pain, I had no regard for pace, I was just trying to continue to move forward. Looking back at my data I was hovering around 5:00/km pace. I was really happy to make it to the far turnaround on my 3rd lap – I just had to run home, but I knew I still wasn’t in the clear. If I had been more aware on this third lap I would have seen a number of runners rapidly closing the gap on me. Instead I was completely inside my own head trying to manage the pain, and it wasn’t like I could have done anything about it if I knew they were coming up on me.
On all 3 aid stations from the 3rd lap turnaround to the finish I tried to get Coke and Red Bull. I never drink Red Bull, but I hoped it would give me wings to help me get to the finish. As I ran across Water St. with about 2k the road was flooded. My entire shoe was submerged for a stretch about 150m long. This would have happened since I crossed over this area to go out on my 3rd lap with the tides coming in. I had to alter my run to go with high knees, and to my surprise this didn’t hurt as bad as I thought it would. I made the turn back up High Street, I just had a mile to go. As I ran up High Street a runner came flying by me. He didn’t just pass me, he blew my doors off. Even if I had something in the tank, I didn’t, he went by me so shockingly fast he was 30m up the road before I realized what happened.
The entire High St. is sort of like the finish chute, with loads of spectators cheering everyone on. It’s usually an area you savour on your way to the finish. I didn’t do that. I was still very much inside my own head trying to manage the pain in my legs. One foot in front of the other, keep moving forward. Even after the turn with less than 1km to go I was in a world of hurt. The finish stretch didn’t have that usual magical quality where it made all your pain go away. I didn’t look around and take it all in, I just tried to get myself to the finish as quickly as possible.
Run – 3:09:36, 4:30/km, 2nd fast AG run, 13th fastest overall run STRAVA
Overall – 7:14:38, 1st AG, 5th Overall
That hurt! I crossed the line and 2 volunteers quickly rushed over to help me. I didn’t have to tell them that I needed to stop by medical. I have no concept of time after the race. I was dropped off in medical. Got some fluids. My legs were spasming. I got a massage. I passed out. I got another massage. I tried to eat something. I was in pretty rough shape.
The most disappointing thing about all of this was that Lisa was out on the course running down all the top females. I vaguely recall hearing a name that sounded like Lisa’s. I tried to make my way over to see Lisa finish, but she was already done by that point……AND SHE WON THE FEMALES RACE OVERALL!!!! Lisa was sitting just outside of medical chatting to the people who had just been helping me. She was a rock star getting picture requests, and getting lots of questions.
- It’s easy to play the shoulda, woulda, coulda game after the race. I really wanted to break 9-hours in the race. The conditions meant we couldn’t have a full course. If we had a full course I am confident I would have been able to do that, and I will take that confidence with me into my next race.
- I’m glad I tried to run to win. It make for a very painful second half of the run, but I’m really happy I went for it. The guys who beat me were just better. I usually have one of the fastest, if not the fastest amateur run. My 3:09 was only good for 13th quickest. 4 guys broke 3-hours and the winner was 2:50! That’s insane.
- It sucked that they couldn’t put on a race over the full 140.6, but if they can’t get safety kayaks in the water, and part of the bike is flooded I don’t know what else you can do. I’m glad I’m not the one who had to make those calls.
- The water on the run was insane. I only had to deal with it once, but some people had to run through long stretched of shin-high water 12+ times!
- Still haven’t decided if I’ll race an Ironman next year or focus on the half distance
- For the next week or so I wont do any workouts, and for the next month I wont do any structured workouts
- Instead of going to Kona, Lisa and I are headed to South Africa for 2.5 weeks later this month, so I’m pretty excited about that
- When I get back into training one of my big focuses will be figuring out how I can run faster. I can’t give up 19-minutes on the run if I ever hope to compete. This will likely require a mix of getting stronger on the bike so I’m fresher to start the run, and strengthening the back half of the marathon