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Ralph’s California Half Ironman and The Eagleman Half Ironman: Two Races, One Goal

December 6th, 2009

I’ve been fortunate enough to have have had some really great experiences in my life– from expeditions to triathlon races– many of which I’ve written about, but never have posted online (mainly because they were written prior to the widespread use of blogs or common occurence of writing to the web). I figured now is a great time to share some of these stories on Ascending Higher, particularly as we’re waiting for the snow to arrive and searching for some inspiration to plan out some exciting adventures for 2010. I’ll run them as a series of posts, starting with a narrative I wrote about my trip to Peru in July-August 2001 during an expedition to the Cordillera Blanca. I’ll then follow that with write-ups of my climbing trip to the volcanoes of Ecuador in December 2000, my expedition to the Cordillera Real of Bolivia in July-August 2004, trek to Everest Base Camp in March-April of 2000, as well as recaps of my experiences at bike rides (Harpoon’s Brewery to Brewery) and triathlon races (Eagleman, Ralph’s CA Half). I would love to hear your comments and experiences, so please comment on any of the posts!

This first post was written in June 2003, soon after I had completed the Blackwater Eagleman Half Ironman.

Ralph's CA Half Ironman now known as 70.3 Ironman CA- Oceanside

Ralph\’s CA Half Ironman now known as 70.3 Ironman CA- Oceanside

After finishing the Timberman Half Ironman in 2002, I was hooked. I knew the longer distance endurance races were why I had gotten into this thing called triathlon. Where else could you suffer for 5 or more hours (in my case at least) completing a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and a 13.1 mile run and call it “enjoyment”? Or perhaps more appropriately, where else could you challenge yourself to reach beyond your limits and to seek your personal best? So shortly after I finished the Timberman I scoured the Internet for more of these endurance gems. Like a drug addict, I needed to know when the next one was so that I could satisfy my inner yearning for more torture. Just as importantly, I wanted the “good stuff”—the races off the beaten path—races with some history—races with some Mojo.

Two races in particular piqued my fancy—Ralph’s California Half Ironman (now called Ironman 70.3 California Oceanside) on April 5, 2003 and The Eagleman Half Ironman on June 7, 2003. These races not only fell perfectly into my training and race calendar for the year, but also fit the criteria for the “good stuff”. The California Half would take me to Triathlon City Central– San Diego, California– while the weather was still cold back east (and ice climbing season was coming to a close) as well as allow me to pay a visit to my sister who still can’t quite figure out why I would want to fly 3000 miles to do one of these things. Likewise, The Eagleman would take me to lovely Cambridge, Maryland (okay, well not so lovely, but the Chesapeake is nice) and allow me to pay a visit to my two year old godson along the way. Always combine pleasure with pleasure I like to say.

The California Half Ironman featured over 2000 athletes from around the world, including last year’s Hawaii Ironman World Champion, Tim DeBoom. (Not that I would ever get a chance to see him since he finished 1 and half hours before me, but it was somewhat cool to be at a race with the “big guns”). The California Half is considered the “kick-off” to Kona, being the first Hawaii qualifier of the season. This fact, coupled with its location, ensured the competition would be stiff. My only goal entering the race was to see where I was at at this point in the season. Being from New England, its difficult to train outdoors in the winter (you get no sympathy from those living in southern California—trust me) so I knew the 56 mile ride over the hills of Camp Pendleton would be quite a challenge. I was praying to the God of Trainers to pull me through!

“Be sure to wear your wetsuit, the water is freezing!”, the Race Director warned us at the pre-race meeting. However, the race day water temperature turned out to be 59 degrees—child’s play! Being in my wetsuit for the first time since last October did not worry me (but it should have as I ended up with the biggest wetsuit hickee ever seen on a human being), as I slid myself into the Pacific. With water temperatures just fine, air temperatures in the high 60s and absolutely no wind to speak of, the swim in Oceanside harbor was the best ever for a race.

The transition areas were all well-run and organized, as I made my way for my bike. Fortunately, the course is closed to public traffic since it’s on a military base (there was actually a threat of a base closure due to the war in Iraq, but luckily that did not happen). The support of the Marines handing out water bottles at the aid stations was a true inspiration, as I was reminded of how lucky we all were to be competing in races such as the California Half because of the bravery of the Marines. I gave it all I had on the ride, but the hills had taken their toll. My time was much slower than I had hoped, but I did have enough for the run.

The run took us along the strand at Oceanside and was quite a flat, scenic course. Temperatures had risen during the double out-and-back run, approaching the mid-to-high 70s by race end. I had been battling a post-tib injury since last year (and still am), so I knew the run would be a true test of mental stamina for me. For me, the run (especially around mile 8 on a half IM) is always “the meat” of the race—the time when you have just got to hang in and pull it through. I had to reach deep to pull it through this time, but I did and was rewarded with a great big hug from my sister and Leslie at the finish line. Victory!

After the California Half, I knew I had a lot of work to do. The Eagleman was two months away and I needed to get outside and train. With the weather now consistently above 40 degrees (and consistently wet) back home, there was no excuse not to get the miles in. I settled into a nice routine of long ride-long run on the weekends and even ventured out into Walden in early May to get some open water swimming in.

June 7th quickly came and race day was already here. The Eagleman Half Ironman, like Ralph’s California Half IM, was a Hawaii qualifier, so a large number of pros (some having already qualified for Hawaii) came for the event, including Tim DeBoom once again, as well as Lori Bowden. With over 1800 athletes, it was one of the largest races I have ever been in.

Fortunately, the rain held off for race day, with perfect conditions of overcast skies and temperatures in the low 70s. The brackish water in the Choptank River lived up to its name, pelting swimmers with some of the choppiest conditions ever seen at the Eagleman. Navigating proved difficult in such conditions.

Eagleman Half Ironman

Eagleman Half Ironman

The heavy rain the day before caused the transition area to be quite muddy. Not wanting to risk clogged cleats, this was the one time I actually left my “coffee shop caps” on my cycling shoes as I ran my bike through the transition area. The ride through the Blackwater Preserve was very scenic and fast. I was able to pull down a descent bike split. The run, on the other hand, would be another story.

The 13.1 mile out-and-back once again took us through scenic and flat stretches of the Blackwater Preserve. Unfortunately, my injury had not improved much since the California Half, so I was limited in my training for the Eagleman. It certainly showed on the run, but once again, I was able to win the mental battle and pull out a solid overall time.

Both races proved to be premier events and “must dos’ in the circuit of North American Half Ironmans. From a personal standpoint, I was quite happy: With two races, I achieved my one goal—to challenge myself to reach beyond my limits and to seek my personal best. And I had it done it at venues that possessed “the good stuff”.