Race Report: 2015 Ironman 70.3 Eagleman (a/k/a the “Convection Oven”)

After a few years of doing Sprint and Olympic distance triathlons, I decided 2015 was the year to take my first crack at the half-Ironman distance of 70.3 (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile run). I chose the Ironman 70.3 Eagleman as my race.  This is my race report and review of Eagleman 70.3.

I can sum up this race in three words:  hot, hot and hot.  Literally, I would rank this race as the hottest and most humid race (triathlon or otherwise) I’ve ever competed in.  I heard, but cannot confirm, that the heat index towards the middle of the race hovered around 108.  Knowing about the heat, I still picked Eagleman for obvious reasons.  It’s known as a good first-timer course.  First, despite being in a river with potential currents (depending on the tide), the water was temperate and the swim was very nice (water was clean) and the course very straight-forward and sightable.  IMG_3928Second, the bike and the run course are pancake flat.  This isn’t an over-exaggeration, they truly are about as flat as you can find.  So, for all of those reasons I would rank the Ironman 70.3 Eagleman as a terrific first-timer half-Ironman distance race with one disclaimer:  you absolutely need to prepare for the heat and humidity.  The picture to the right is the “only” time from the beginning of the day until I crossed the finish line that I saw even a stitch of shade.  All day long, this course was full direct sun, no shade, hot temperatures (high 80s, low 90s) and high humidity (85% +).  These conditions weren’t an aberration this year.  Notoriously, these are the conditions every single year at Eagleman.

Coaching and Gear

Chris Coffin has been coaching me for almost a year and a half now.  Chris is a co-owner of Team Resolute/Open H2O, and is a solid coach.  I would recommend him to anyone.  I could not have finished this race without Chris’ help.  He significantly improved my swim and bike skills over the past six months while we were preparing for this race.

In terms of gear, here’s what I used for the race:

  • Felt B16;
  • Stradalli carbon front wheel, Zipp 900 Clincher rear disc wheel with an 11/23 cassette;
  • Bontrager Hilo Tri shoes;
  • Zoot Performance Tri-shorts;
  • Rudy Project Wing 57 helmet;
  • Garmin 920XT GPS watch;
  • Hoka One One Bondi 3s;
  • TYR Torque Pro swimskin;
  • Nathan Sports Trail Mix hydration belt;
  • XLab Wing system for off-the-back-of-the-seat hydration;
  • ISM Century saddle;
  • Profile Design FC 25 aerobar hydration system; and
  • 1st Endurance EFS and Liquid Shot for nutrition and fuel.

Accommodations

I would recommend staying at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Resort.  It’s a bit pricey but Ironman usually blocks off rooms and you get the group discount rate ($359/night).  In the end I think it’s worth it.  The accommodations are very nice, there are plenty of places to eat on site, there are pools to relax in and best of all, the hotel offers a shuttle on the morning of the race.  The shuttle is especially nice if you have family with you as they don’t have to get up at 3:30 with you and drive with you to transition at 4:30 in the morning.

Swim

The 1.2 mile swim took me 44:19 at a 2:03/100 yard pace.  Not exactly the pace I was looking for, but I could live with it.

The swim was really nice. It takes place on the south shoreline of the Choptank River right alongside of Cambridge, Maryland. The swim starts at Great Marsh park and moves east towards a marina, and following two 90 degree turns, it then heads back to the park.  I highly recommend that leading up to the day of the race you take a look at the tidal charts on the NOAA site and see which way the tide will be moving at the time and day of the race.

On my race day, the tide was at it’s low trough – almost a slack tide (meaning that part between low and high tide when it stays at low for a little bit).  This meant that at certain parts of the swim, including the very start, you could stand.  I am 5’7″ and the water depth at the start was roughly chest high.  I found this a little frustrating since I was swimming but kept running into people that were walking.  After the third buoy it was too deep to walk.  In a few spots on the return leg it was again shallow.  I heard that a few years back it was so shallow that in certain parts peoples’ hands were striking the bottom.  That problem did not exist during my race.

If you are looking at the boat ramp where you enter for the swim, off to the left is a small bay.  This bay is perfect for warming up for your swim. You can go right off the jetty, or you can backtrack towards the finish line and there is a little sandy beach. It seemed even more shallow over here but also the only place to warm up.

There are only a few trees in the park near the swim start. If you are not in one of the early waves, I would highly recommend that you steal a place under a tree and stay in the shade. Especially if the swim is wetsuit legal and you are sitting in the heat.  Bring some fluids with you to the swim start in case you have to sit around.  Don’t dehydrate.  There are plenty of porta-potties at the swim start but the lines form quickly.

The water temperature can get warm down there at that time of year.  My race was not wetsuit legal and you need to be prepared for that.  I used a TYR Torque Pro skin suit.  I highly recommend the skin suit option rather than swimming in your Tri kit which can act like a sea anchor.

Bike

The 56 mile bike took me 2:36:40 averaging 21.5 mph.

The run from the water line to T1 isn’t terrible.  There’s about 10-15 feet of soft sand and then grass all the way to transition.  Maybe about 75 yards to the transition entrance.  As you can imagine, transition is large but well marked.  I opted to put my shoes on at my rack rather than using the rubber band and flying mount technique.

The bike is flat, hot and has no shade.  After a few miles you will exit the residential area of Cambridge and will head out into first farmland and then for the bulk of the 56 miles into the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.  For the most part the road conditions were good and although you are sharing the road with cars, the car traffic was light. No matter how much sunscreen you put on, any skin that is exposed during the bike is going to fry.  My shoulders got roasted during the bike.  Also, don’t forget to factor in a moderate to aggressive headwind starting as soon as you turn the corner on the bike course at mile 31.  This reduced my pace by about 1 mph over that back half of the course.

Run

The run took me 3:41:56.  Just terrible.  Probably an hour and ten minutes longer than what I thought my longest run time would have been.  Reason = heat and GI issues.  The heat and sun at this point were so bad that I couldn’t use my 1st Endurance Liquid Shots.  After about three miles, I felt like I was ready to drop or pass out.  I badly needed calories and nutrition but couldn’t get it down.  So at mile three, I started a routine that I adopted for every aid station.  First, a cup of ice water down the front and one down the back of my shirt.  Ice water is a necessary tool in battling the heat.  Second, down two cups of cola.  Third, eat as many oranges as I could.  Last, fill up my two water bottles with ice water.  In between aid stations I drank a little water but mostly would squirt it all over my head, face and back.

At the beginning and end portions of the run, you are weaving through residential sections of Cambridge.  I have to say, Cambridge residents really get into the race and during the run there are many many sprinklers and other devices set up to cool off runners.  This resulted in wet shoes and wet socks and lots of hot spots on the bottom of my feet.  Don’t typically have that problem so it was just another fast ball I got hit with during the run.

Advice

If you choose this race as your first half-Ironman distance, then I would suggest a few things.  First, train to be in your aero bars for the entire 56 miles on the bike and put your long miles in at the height of the mid-day sun to get used to riding in the heat.  The bike course is all about aerodynamics and consistency and dealing with the exposure to the constant sun, heat and wind.  Being aero during this period is going to provide a huge benefit in terms of conserving energy for your run in the blistering sun.  In terms of consistency, you really need to manage by heart rate zone and cadence on the bike and by heart rate zone and pace on the run.  Do whatever you can to protect yourself from the sun.  Second, prepare for the heat and humidity – it’s gonna affect you one way or another.  No one is immune to it.  In addition to watching your heart rate zone (probably one of the best ways to know how much you are taxing your system), you need to have a real nutrition and fueling plan in place.  You’ll never make it without such a plan.

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