Ironman Maryland Race Report
On Saturday, September 20th I toed the starting line of my fourth(!) Ironman distance race. Ironman Maryland was the second full IM of the 2014 year. After a rest following Coeur D’alene I ramped back up to long rides and runs and continued to try to improve my swim. After having enjoyed five weeks of leave from work for the last big build period, where I was able to focus only on training, nutrition, and recovery, I felt physically strong going into this race.
Cynthia and I arrived in Cambridge, Maryland midday Thursday and “checked in” at the house we found on AirBnB to stay in. The one warning I will give anyone considering this race is that hotels are not plentiful and fill up early in the year. The house ended up being a great thing though. A very funny and welcoming couple and their dog hosted Cynthia and me, along with three other racers and a couple who had come in from Atlanta to volunteer and sign up for next year.
After getting through check in we took a quick stroll through the underwhelming expo and headed back to do a short bike ride. Dinner was at a local restaurant using our vouchers and then we headed back and got to work putting our gear bags together for the next day’s gear check in.
Gear Check-In Day
Friday morning we headed out to the race start site to check things out as it’s at a different location from the finish line/expo area. It was also our opportunity to get a short swim practise in. There was a lot of speculation about whether this would be a wetsuit legal swim as the temperature was very close to the cut off at the buoy. Eagleman, the 70.3 hosted at the same site is not usually wetsuit legal and the same has been the case for Chesapeakman which was the 140.6 distance race hosted there by a private company before the Ironman brand took it over this year. I opted to do the practise swim in my wetsuit since the other chatter had to do with all the jellyfish and I didn’t want to risk getting stung.
Later in the afternoon we returned to check in our bikes and gear bags. The usual bike pictures were taken and we were able to walk through the transition area to get a clearer understanding of the flow of things as the swim out and in are in different spots. A light dinner and early bedtime were on the schedule but as usual I didn’t have the best sleep.
The morning started super early as Ironman race mornings tend to. We were out of the house and our way to the start site by 5 a.m. (way too early as it turned out). After arriving we checked over our bikes, and after having a bit of an issue with my Garmin reading multiple power meters before it would finally calibrate was rectified (thank goodness I checked!), I loaded my nutrition on and then it was time to sit and wait.
Thanks to some cooler temperatures and rain in the days leading up to the race the swim was announced as wetsuit legal. I had brought both my wetsuit and swimskin but am not too proud to admit that I was relieved by this. While getting into our wetsuits we were surprised to see Thom and Chad our AirBnB hosts! They had come with their dog Ghost to watch and wish their new “Ironman family” good luck! After good luck hugs from the guys and Ghost it was time to line up, wait for the gun, then get to it!
You enter this swim via the boat ramp, swim out to open water, make a left, then swim two loops (without exiting) before getting out at another point down the shore. The boat ramp entrance makes everything pretty congested until you make that left into the open water. I had seeded myself in the 1:20 – 1:30 group along the buoy line as I was determined to not overswim as usual! I managed to swim along the buoy line (my Garmin map from this swim is a beautiful thing) but as a result it was super congested and I was in constant contact during the whole swim. Despite the beatings and copious amounts of water swallowed I felt controlled and relaxed during this swim. I’ve come a long way from pretty much losing my cool at the slightest brush of contact to feeling ok during a swim like this.
Unfortunately this swim course is terrible. The water is brackish (mix of salt and fresh), horribly dirty (I’m not sure how anyone could spot a jellyfish in that and we came out with our faces covered in dirt - gross), has current coming from multiple directions, and the two loops without exiting means there were six turns that have to be made.
Considering how good I felt and how straight I went I was really disappointed to see 1:32 (and 4,250!) on my watch when I exited. After the race though I learned Cynthia’s swim time was about 7 minutes or so slower than normal. We attributed it to all those darn turns!
I headed out on the bike feeling pretty good and had opted to not put on the gloves or arm warmers I had brought as a precaution. It was a bit chilly at the start (especially being soaking wet) but the weather forecast was for a warm, sunny day.
The Maryland course is two loops of flat, flat, flat. Very Essex County like in that they also can experience some pretty fierce wind. We had the perfect day though with mild temperatures, no real blazing sun until the end of the ride, and very little wind. I was happy to be hitting the high end of my prescribed watts without feeling too taxed. The only issue on a course like this is it gets tough to stay in aero for that long! I was on pace for a pretty nice bike split so that kept me motivated. I started to not feel too hot on the second loop and keeping up with my nutrition was starting to become an issue. I was worried because I know what a lack of nutrition on the bike can do to the Ironman run but my stomach was feeling pretty gross and the gels and Roctane drink were close to coming back up. I suspect it was all that disgusting water that I had taken in during the swim coming back to haunt me.
Needless to say I was pretty happy to be off the bike so I could stretch out my neck and was doubly stoked to see a time of 6:01! Darn stop at special needs cost me an under 6 hour ride!
The run has become my favourite part and after what I had accomplished in Couer D’Alene I was super excited to see what I could pull off on a flat course. It ended up not being my day though unfortunately. The first four miles had me at my goal pace but at that point things started to deteriorate quickly. I had been trying to get down what I could at each aid station to make up for the lack of calories in the last hour of the bike but it wasn’t working. Nothing was staying down and I was worried I wasn’t going to make it to the finish line! The thought of walking 22 miles made me want to cry and I was disappointed that I wasn’t going to be able to meet my goals. Couple that with the run course being three very mentally taxing figure eights and I was in a dark place. I pulled myself together and managed a much slower run pace until I could get myself physically in a better place. Unfortunately it took almost the entire rest of the run but by about mile 20 I started to feel ok enough to up the pace. It was during that last loop through the cobblestones of the downtown that I finally switched my watch to overall race time and I realized that if I kept up that pace I might be able to squeeze out an overall IM PB. That became my new goal and I went at it. Turning left towards the finish (instead of right toward another loop) was so awesome. The downtown was packed and the crowd went wild for anyone heading left towards the finish. My run time ended up being 4:43 which is not my slowest, but nowhere near what I’m capable of.
That Ironman PB though? Yep, got that J. Overall race time was 12:26:20 which was a 7 minute PB over Ironman Florida. Not much, but still a win for me.
That night back at the house was a fun chance to catch up with everyone and put our feet up. Our hosts entertained us with tales of their day spectating (it was Thom’s first experience and he cried every time he saw one of us – haha!).The giant panzerotti Cynthia and I picked up on the way home was pretty good too!
Thanks to my awesome coach, Russell VanEvery for knowing exactly what he’s doing! And also thanks to my training buddy Cynthia (who really crushed this race btw!) for providing a lot of comic relief along the way.