As I stated on Friday morning it still didn't feel like I was racing an Ultra Triathlon (Ironman) the following day and it really didn't sink in until the athlete meeting at the race venue. Only then did I begin to get some goose-bumps making me aware that Saturday was the day that I had spent all summer training for....unfortunately it didn't look as though the weather was going to cooperate! As we exited the restaurant heading back to the hotel after dinner, the rain had just stopped and the forecast for the race was a day of intermittant showers. I went off to bed hoping that at least the rain might be warm :-)
Waking in the morning, the first thing after putting the oatmeal into the microwave was checking the Weather Channel and seeing what the forecast was! 30% chance of rain and a daily high just below 80. At 4:30am it was 72 and so at least it wasn't a chilly start. The transition bags had a whole myrad of stuff thrown in just in case I needed/wanted my wind-vest, armwarmers, spare socks....you name it, it was in there. ChesapeakeMan is a bit unusual in that it has two separate transition areas as the swim start is about a 10 minute drive from T2 and the race finish. In the morning before heading down for the swim start we went and dropped my run gear bag at T2 as well as any special needs bags that you may want (I didn't).
As per the weather forecast the rain showers began at about 6:00AM (I was hoping that was the 30% gone for the day!) and the sun hadn't even vaguely begun to come up for the day yet.....it was dark, rainy and we still had 140.6m to go! We couldn't even see the swim buoys until about 6:50AM and by that time I had said my farewells to Team Banks (assisted by new team member, Jessica!) and we were heading off the boat ramp and warming up. Bearing in mind the water temp was 70 degrees it certainly felt much colder, perhaps it was the fact that at 6:59AM the heavens opened and rather than a drizzle it just hammered it down for the next 30mins or so (This is what I am told as when you are swimming you can't really tell hard it is raining). The swim was certainly challenging, the rainy weather had created a significant chop and with the water being the same color as the sky, sighting the buoys was pretty difficult (damn my color blindness!).
The change in swim course on Thursday had made it into a two loop swim (not exiting the water after the first loop) and brought us back past the shore where the hardy spectators could see us again. Sarah managed to spot my swimming style and so could follow me for much of the 2nd lap. The swim was pretty odd....with only 136 starters in the Ultra Triathlon and another 120 in the Aqua-Velo and swim divisions, it wasn't a huge field and by the end of the first lap there were not many feet to draft off. The chop was making it difficult to get into a decent smooth rythmn but I exited the water in 12th place and a time of 1hr 7mins....slightly slower than I had wanted but based on the conditions I wasn't too dissappointed.
T1 was only a short run from the boat ramp and after collecting the bag it was a quick change, making sure the socks go on properly and armwarmers are somewhere on my body (they can be altered as I go along). No sunglasses as the sun didn't even look as though it would make an appearance and so the "winter" glasses went on and off out onto the rainy bike course! Only 3mins in T1....
I was looking forward to the bike, I knew the course well (from Eagleman 70.3M and Church Creek TT's), it wasn't windy and I felt comfortable from the start. The first hour seemed to fly-by and it was at about mile 10 on the initial out and back portion that I could see that I was 8th on the road and about 10mins behind the leader. It was after an hour though that the bike computer decided that it had had enough of the rain and wet and refused to function for the rest of the day! Not quite an ideal situation but at least the aid stations were about 10 miles apart and I could gauge my pace and distance off them.
Team Banks were out onto the bike course now and I was seeing them every 20 mins or so. This is certainly an attraction of independent ultra triathlons, the bike courses are open primarily due to the small amount of competitors and the spectators can really get to see the racers throughout the entire day. Over the bike course I would estimate that I saw Team Banks about 15 times and not only is it good for me but they also get to see all the other racers and cheer them on too.
The rain hadn't let up for much of the bike and at mile 45 I heard the sound that no bike rider ever wants to hear.....psstttt! Yep, the rear wheel began to go down and from rattling along in 7th place, I now lost about 5-7mins while changing the tube and was also bitten alive by the flies and mosquitos of the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge. Obviously it was fortunate that the tire hadn't blown and it was just the tube but I was then hoping for the remaining 70 miles that the rear wouldn't go again. I carry two tubes, but one is for the rear disc and one is for the deep front wheel....they don't mix and match! So I reckon I lost about 10 places or so and had to try and get those back and I was still pushing to get in under 10hours!
The bike is a two loop course and Team Banks were at mile 65 at the end of the first loop wondering where I had got to....seeing riders come past that were behind me previously. All was explained as I blasted through the school on the way out to the 2nd loop. Still without my bike computer I was estimating my bike speed and in the end I got it pretty much spot on.....the only troublesome section on the bike was the flooded Maple Dam Road, which on the first lap was about a 1/2mile stretch but by the 2nd lap was about 3/4mile and close to 4inches deep in places. Some people reported seeing fish (and I'm not joking!) as the road had the marshes on either side.
The hoping and praying worked as the rear tire held for the remainder of the course and I came in with a bike split of 5hrs 20mins at an average speed of 21mph (for the 4th fastest bike split including my repairs). Coming into T2 I was 7th on the road and 5th overall male (there was a female and relay team ahead)....I was in the podium spots and had 26.2miles to try and get up a few more rungs!
T2 was uneventful.....I was glad that I had already chosen to change socks and run in my Injinji socks, which are in my opinion the best running socks on the market. My cycling socks would have been carnage on the feet being so wet and grimy (they were thrown straight in the trash later in the day!). The GPS watch went on, electrolytes into the pocket and off I was with the 8th place racer a few meters behind me....
Team Banks confirmed that I was 7th onto the run course and with the cowbells clanging in my ears I turned for Egypt Road and the first out and back loop of the three loop course...it was still raining! The loop was about 8.7miles long and the last loop would end with 200meters around the High School Stadium track, which I thought would be pretty cool.
Going out onto the first loop I knew that I would have to run 3hrs 27mins or less to get in under 10hours....I thought it was do-able but things would have to go well! There wouldn't be much time for bad-spells, dodgy-periods, whatever you call it...forward motion was the key! As they always say Ironman racing isn't about who can go the fastest, it is about who slows down the least! Although saying that, as I came through the first aid station at mile 1 I saw Eric Roy who was the leader and he was heading for mile 7 and close to starting his 2nd loop....at that point I knew that winning the event was not on the cards :-)
The first loop went well, the first few miles were at 6:45min/miles and at mile 4 I moved into 4th place (male) passing a steady looking Steven Levickas. It was also at this point close to the turnaround that I could see David Glover and Kevin Kunkel heading back and running together in 2nd and 3rd. I had moved ahead of the relay team and had also spotted the lead female. Up to this point I had played the nutritional game well, I was feeling relatively comfortable and was taking a gel every three miles or so and then gatorade and water at every station. Coming back to the high school I had completed the first loop in 1hr 4mins and with the rain finally stopping I ditched the soggy armwarmers and again with Team Banks' cowbells ringing in my ears headed off for the 2nd loop!
At the start of the 2nd loop I pit-stopped and made a quick void! 3rd place was just up the road and with about 15 miles left I was passing into 3rd and could see 2nd some way up the course. The worst point of the race came during the 2nd loop. The legs were getting decidedly tired and I felt as though I couldn't get enough fuel into me. To make sure I began to quickly walk the aid stations making sure I got a decent drink and a gel or gummie bears! (at Aid Station 1) As a result the 2nd loop was slower at 1hr 15mins but importantly I was gaining on 2nd place and heading back out onto the last loop I was only a few hundred meters behind. A pep-talk from Sarah got me energized and seeing more gummie bears at the Aid Station I upped the pace to somewhere under 8min/miles.
For the final loop it was great to try and chase down 2nd (Kevin Kunkel) and at about mile 21, I finally managed to pass and was still able to keep the pace at about 8min/miles. It was at this point that I knew that the sub-10 hour time was gone and I concentrated on staying in 2nd place. As always the final mile of a race is one of the best. At ChesapeakeMan it is cool that you can see the stadium coming from the horizon and then you get guided onto the track and see the finish banner only 200meters away. Team Banks got a nice surprise as they obviously didn't know whether or not I had managed to creep into 2nd overall. Crossing the finish line it was a hard and wet 10hours 5mins 28secs.....Eric Roy the winner went 8hrs 59mins!(Full results here)
Huge thanks go out to Team Banks as their support always means so much and most importantly Sarah who puts up with me and my training schedule! From sounds of things they had a great day out on the course, even with the rain.
If you ever want to do a 140.6m triathlon (do you?), Columbia Triathlon and Race Director Vigo do a great job of really looking after the athletes (and supporters). It may not have the glitz and razzmatazz of an "Ironman" with 2200 other racers, but you still get to have an unforgettable experience. Just watching all the finishers whether it be 12hours or 16hours (and it was raining again), you get to see the same excitement as if you were at any of the much bigger races.