Most weekends Great Marsh Park is a peaceful oasis along the Choptank River in Cambridge, Maryland. But on the second Sunday in June, the park is transformed into the home base for the Ironman Eagleman 70.3 Triathlon. Such was the case this past Sunday.
Almost 2000 athletes from 40 states and 53 countries descended on this sleepy little town to participate in this 70.3 mile race that tests an athlete’s endurance, strength and mostly sheer determination to complete this monumental fete.
Few will win, both overall and age group awards. Most are doing it for the satisfaction of knowing they can.
They were accompanied by coaches, trainers, and countless friends and family there to support their athlete.
The Pros began the race 15 minutes ahead of the amateurs, starting with a 1.2 mile swim in the 73.2 degree Choptank River. Since the water temperature on this day was 75.2, below the 76.1 max temperature, wetsuits are allowed. Athletes could still wear wetsuits when the temperature was between 76.2 and 83.9, but their results would not show on the leaderboard. When water temperatures are 84 and above, no wetsuits are allowed/needed because it would be too hot. The start is staggered so that all 2000 swimmers are not on the course at the same time. That would be a nightmare for the many lifeguards surrounding the 1.2 mile rectangular course.
Coming out of the water, athletes immediately began peeling off the restrictive suit, with the help of volunteers. Speed is of the essence so athletes welcome the help. They moved on to Transition 1 where they got ready for the bike portion on the race. Speed in Transition is critical because it counts in an athlete’s overall time. Many practice transitions to increase speed and have a routine worked out. Transition 1 from swim to bike entailed putting on shoes (which many already have clipped on their bike pedals), helmets, timing belts, and sunglasses. This may look like a teenager’s bedroom, but each athlete knows exactly where everything is!
Then they were off on a 56-mile ride through the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. This particular course is relatively flat, allowing for faster speeds. As they traversed the course there were volunteers spaced ready to hand out water or gel packs (pure energy boosters) to keep the cyclists hydrated and energized. An athlete could burn over 4,000 calories in this race, so hydration and nutrition were key. Unlike your everyday cyclist, many of these bikes didn’t always have water bottles on them. Added weight meant a slower time. One interesting fact I learned about this race was that you could only dispose of trash 50-75 yards before and after a rest stop or risk a 30-second penalty. Precious seconds you didn’t want to lose by littering.
There were race marshals throughout the course making sure there was no littering, and also no drafting off of another rider, giving the rider in the back in unfair advantage. This was also cause for a penalty.
After the 1.2 mile swim and 56 mile ride, athletes returned to Transition again. Once they hit the transition area they exited the bike and ran/walked with their bike down the long passageway into Transition to get ready for the run. After returning their bike to their rack, they removed whatever equipment needed for the ride, and put on running equipment. This could include socks, shoes, sunglasses, hat, handheld water bottle, and whatever else they thought they’d need. They also made sure they had their racing number facing forward around their waist (a mandatory rule) and headed out onto the running course.
They headed out onto the 13.1 mile course. By now, many were just continuing on sheer determination. They knew they had trained as best they could before even attempting such a race. I admired the determined spirit I saw on the faces headed out onto the run course. They’d made it 57.2 miles, so surely they can do the last 13.1!
There were water/nutrition stations every mile on the run course to help the athletes stay as hydrated as possible, and as with the bike, the littering rules applied here.
The top finishers had crossed the finish line long before the amateurs. As some of the amateurs made their way into Transition 2 for the run, they could surely hear the medals being awarded for the top spots. But for these athletes, it wasn’t about first, second or even third, it was about competing and turning the corner and seeing this glorious red carpet. These athletes knew they’d most likely never be the fastest. That wasn’t why many of them were there. It was because they loved the sport. I watched many of them come across the line like they had won. And, you know, they did, because they finished. The joy, and relief, was palpable at the finish line.
You couldn’t help but be inspired by the “everyday athletes” who had proven that, indeed, anything IS possible. They’d spent countless hours training in the pool, on the bike, and running to accomplish their goal of saying “I completed the Eagleman 70.3!”
You may ask why I wrote about this race since I’m a romance author and the rambling quilter. Well, I’m proud to say that I’m also the mother of an Eagleman 70.3 finisher! His first, of many I’m sure, and he came in 9th in his age group and 87th overall.
Jennifer Skinnell is the author of the Hope Springs Romance Series now available on Amazon. Check out http://www.jenniferskinnellquilting.wordpress.com for all the details!