January 12, 2007

One Tough Race

We all have our favorite races. We may have our favorite easy race. And we may even have our favorite toughest race. But does anyone have a race they seem to do year after year even though it’s as hard as hell and not necessarily their favorite? I do. It’s the Eagleman 70.3 in Cambridge, Maryland. This year will be my sixth in a row doing Eagleman and sometimes I ask myself: Why? I have a love-hate relationship with this race. First of all, it’s one of the most professional races put on that I have ever competed in. The director, Robert Vigorito and his team put on a great event year after year. Second, to race a course that has been won by Natascha Badmann the last five years on the women’s side and the likes of Chris Legh, Luke Bell and Tim DeBoom winning on the men’s side is pretty cool. And third, the give-away’s remain fairly strong year after year. And that’s really why we do these crazy things, right? For the T-shirt!?

But let’s talk about the conditions because that’s what makes this race so tough and yet so compelling at the same time. The swim, shaped like a V, always has at least one leg where the current is against you. The course is on the river Choptank. That name ought to tell you something. In addition, the water is a mix of salt and fresh water which is always interesting. In 2006, there were wakes 3 feet high on the swim in. I kid you not! Every time I went for a breath I got whacked in the face with a splash of water. I also enjoyed my own personal nightmare last year as I cramped up in both calf muscles as well as my hip with less than 200 yards to go.

After the swim, the flat as a pancake bike course awaits you. I’ll say 3 words that describe the bike course: Flat, Windy and Hot. I get bored on flat tracks. But throw the wind in there and there is no relief. No coasting and no climbing. It’s just constant motion. Last year, the wind was so strong that my speed went down to 12 MPH at one point. It felt like I was standing still. Around the 40 mile mark I’m usually screaming to get out of the saddle. The temperature around this time of year on the Eastern Shore is no walk in the park either. It’s usually 85 to 90 degrees with very little shade. All in all it makes for a tough bike ride.

After 56 miles, the urge to get off the bike and run is so great that is hurts. However, what waits you is the most painful part of this race. At least for me it always is. The run is flat, which is nice, but it usually takes place at the hottest point of the day. And absolutely no shade. Let me say that again because it requires emphasis: No Shade. It’s also mentally tough because part of the course is sort of an open U shape. Since it’s an out and back, you can see the people in front of you for miles and miles. I try not to look at them since it’s a reminder of how far I need to go. The first year I did this race, I made the mistake of not putting any sun screen on. I was so sunburned that the race number on my arm was a permanent tattoo for over a year after.

But all in all, it’s a great race. Well run, well supported and great participation. I guess I’ll just keep doing it until someone knocks some sense into me. It’s always around the 2nd Sunday in June with the entry opening up in September the year before. And if you’re lucky you may even see an Eagle out on the course. I never have but there certainly seems to be some vultures circling me every year waiting for my carcass to fall.

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