Monday, June 14, 2010

Tough day at Eagleman 70.3!

Here at Ocean City, MD (downy ocean, hon!..with my Baltimore accent :) for a little R&R with the family after Eagleman Ironman 70.3 triathlon and enjoying the beach prior to heading up to Lake Placid for camp this coming weekend. I thought I'd post a quick race report.

The last time I did Eagleman was in 1998 before it became an Ironman 70.3. I was just turning 29, racing pro and at the peak of my athletic career. I won and posted a sub-4 hour finish. Flash forward 12 years later at the age of 41 (in a couple days) and I was back to give it another shot! I love this sport in how it allows you to keep competing and pushing your limits, no matter what your age might be. Granted, we don't have the same physical strengths as we had when we were younger, but the determination and desire remains the same. Awesome!

The day promised to be typical Eman... hot, humid and windy. It started with a twist as the announcer said wetsuits were NOT allowed, a first in the long history of the event. I'm a big fan of wetsuits as a non-swimmer... but it is what it is... let's roll!

The 40-44 AG was the largest wave with over 300 athletes (WOW!). The gun goes off and we attack the river, which has a strong current. Yes... big time current! The Choptank river is very unpredictable and swim times can be fast or slow. This year, they were slow across the board and many didn't meet the cut off time. There are even some rumors that the buoys marking the course shifted overnight and that the course was 200-300 Meters long...but it doesn't matter... we all swim the same distances (if navigation is good). I exit at around 36 min. and think, "hmmm... shoulda done more than 1000 yd workouts in training." :)

T1 was slow as my lower back was stiff from the swim and I had to put a tight lycra tri singlet over my wet torso, which took awhile. I headed out on the bike and had the plan to be patient and not to hammer so as to avoid my constant nemesis as of late...quad cramps! I started out at a nice controlled and relaxed tempo/cadence on the bike.

I also adhered to my nutrition plan of consuming 4 (yes four) 20 fl oz water bottles per hour on the bike due my freakishly high sweat rate (and I sodium loaded all week). I also took 3 enduralyte caps each hour and ingested three powergels and 4 shot blocs during the ride. My riding rhythm was fine but my left glute was extremely tight... likly due to inadequate time in the aero position on my awesome Kestrel airfoil. EMan's 56 mile bike course is flat and fast... so one needs to shift position once in awhile, which I did, but perhaps not enough.

Entering T2, i had already consumed 80 Fl oz and had ingested around 600-800 calories, a ton of nutrition. I hobbled off the bike due to my left glute pain, but had no quad cramps (yet!). As I sat down in transition to put on my socks and shoes, I couldn't help think that I was going to have a hard time running. ugh. I was right as my running gait was off immediately and I couldn't stride out or run 'fast'. bummer

I started hitting the aid stations for fluids immediately and the glute started to loosen up and was not as painful at around mile one. I was actually feeling like my 'old self' and started to hit a 6 min. mile pace but then just after mile 2, things took a turn for the worse and the all-too-familiar quad cramps kicked in. Aggghhh!! So frustrating! I thought the race was over for me and even contemplated walking back with a dnf. Nope... gotta finish. Several people passed me from different age groups and waves as I stood and massaged the quad, trying to get the spasms to subside. They did, and I slowly started running again after what seemed to be an eternity.

I reeled back the folks who had passed me, but couldn't run at 'tempo' because that would have brought the twinges back. Then, at around mile 6, someone told me I had two guys ahead in the 40-44 AG. Cool.

Just after the turnaround of the out and back, I caught the first place masters athlete. All the while, I'm running with the knowledge (and fear) that each step could be the last before I cramp again. Then, it happened as predicted and I had to stop with a cramp in the left inner quad that made my hair stand on end! 30 sec. later, I was passed by my competitor and he was running strong. I had a feeling I could reel him back...but only if I could resume running asap. Finally, after another eternity of over 90 sec., I could start jogging and gradually pick up my pace. With about 4 miles to go, I took the lead again. As I approached the final turn towards the finishing stretch to the line, I could feel the cramps coming on again and thought how funny it would be to skip or crawl to the finish line in front of a 'home' crowd... even my kids and parents were there. I didn't want my 6 yr old to see daddy seize up in pain... not a good race memory for her! I slowed to an easy jog to prevent that from happening and held off the hard charging second place athlete to win the division and as 10th OA amateur. I declined the IM Kona slot as there's no way I'd be ready for it until I figure out these darn cramping issues... and i'd rather someone else get the slot whose dream it is to compete there but has not yet had the chance.

I really enjoyed racing the 'half IM' again...what a great distance as it combines speed with the unknowns (like cramping!) associated with long course racing. Also, it was great to be involved as a sponsor and as an athlete with my hometown race after so many years of not racing. I saw a ton of familiar faces and really appreciated all of the encouragement and support I received out there on the course too. Awesome!

My next 70.3 is Racine in July. I'm hoping to make progress in figuring out my cramping woes and to test them at Racine. I know that many of you also struggle with cramping and would welcome any advice or personal experiences you may have to offer.

Thanks for reading and congrats to everyone who finished EMan 70.3 on a really tough day! My next race is the Life Time Fitness Tri in MN and then Racine 70.3 ... so hopefully I'll see you there!

Train smart,
Coach Troy


  1. Congrats on battling through a tough day to an excellent AG win! Nice move giving up your Kona slot knowing you wouldn't go - you're a champion Coach Troy!

  2. Congrats on your successful return to that dam*ed race. Nice write up, sorry I missed your return to town.

  3. What an absolutely awesome race report. Even with all your cramping you came first - great effort.
    As for cramping - I can't help much there, I too cramp but always swimming. I am yet to see if I cramp in long distance races as my first 70.3 is next year in Port Mac.
    I hope you get it sorted out. Take care.

  4. Troy I have suffered from quad / calf cramps on the long course run my whole career. I hydrate like mad and sodium load as you described - but by the time I'm into the run I predictably cramp. I am now using a product called Cramp 911. You apply it to the cramping muscle and it stops it in about 10 seconds. It's a "reactive" solution...because I still dont know what causes my cramps however it has saved me multiple times in races. I know the owner of the company as he's a sponsor so if you're interested I'm sure I can have free samples sent to you to try.

    I am planning on doing blood workups before / after long course efforts in the Arizona heat. This will allow me to see what is being depleated and not repleanished (or not absorbed) and potentially causing cramps. I'll keep you posted if I find a solution before you do! Steve Elwell LTF Tempe Arizona

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Hi Coach Troy,

    All this Eagleman talk makes me feel nostalgic about Cambridge…I can almost taste the gasoline from the boat launch!

    Since you asked for some outside opinions on your quad issues in the race, I’ll throw an opinion out there. I think nutrition/hydration could definitely be an issue, but there are some other things to also consider to paint a complete picture. The back tightness out of the swim raised some red flags to me and I believe it related to the quad issues. Let’s examine this issue in full context first…

    You’ve been on a reduced training load for the past five years or so, have spent more time than ever behind computers and desks and in airplane seats, and are now in the “masters” category. What does all of this mean for your back? I haven’t actually screened you in person, but I would suspect you have lost some dynamic extension ability in your thoracic spine, lost mobility in the hips, and have lost the ability to optimally fire your gluteal muscles.

    A loss of thoracic spine extensibility combined with limited hip mobility spells trouble for the lumbar spine (low back), especially for a good athlete such as yourself who can usually find a way to “get it done,” even if it requires you to call upon inefficient neuromuscular pathways. The thoracic spine and hips are inherently mobile regions, while the lumbar spine craves stability. If the thoracic spine and the hips don’t operate with the requisite mobility, a good athlete can often call upon the lumbar spine to pick up some of the slack. Unfortunately, the lumbar spine and the surrounding muscles function best in a stabilizing role. When they are called into a mobility role, the result is often pain and discomfort.

    With regard to the quads specifically, the same principles apply. The hips have probably lost some mobility, in part from reduced training and spending a lot of time seated. How do we use our glutes in a chair? We don’t because we’re sitting on them. All this sitting has deconditioned the neural pathways responsible for activating the glutes . When you upped the training ante in preparation for a big season, you were likely more in tune with your quads, so they gave you the fastest road to good power numbers in the short term. This might have been your primary neural activation pattern in your peak years anyway, but unfortunately Coach Troy at age 41 is not as resilient as Coach Troy at 27 (certainly wiser, but not more resilient).

    When you called upon the glutes to fire in the race (while sitting in a dialed-in bike position that forced you to use the glutes), they started to act up due to insufficient training (as you suspected). Your body eventually figured out a way to transfer the dominant muscle activation to the quads and they too rebelled, but likely for a different reason. I think the cramps are a signal from the quads trying to protect your body from damage. As with most dysfunctional patterns in the body, the locus of the pain is not the locus of the dysfunction. The pain is usually a protective mechanism to prevent the body from slaughtering itself. Your quads are basically screaming “Enough already!” Overworked quads (and underactivated glutes) are often a precursor to more serious knee and lower leg issues.

    Note, another possible break in the chain could be the ankles. You’ve spent a lot of time in the saddle relative to time in the pool, so you have probably lost ankle mobility. We often see limited ankle mobility as part of a nefarious triumvirate with limited thoracic extension and limited hip mobility. Any combination of these three dysfunctions just creates havoc for the nervous system when the body is placed under some duress, not to mention the level of duress found in the 70.3 half marathon.

    Katherine and I are now local in Tucson, so if you want to discuss this when you get back, we’re more than happy to share some ideas. Maybe grab some Thrasher’s fries for me while you’re down the Boardwalk…

    Allan Phillips

  7. Thanks everyone for your fantastic insights! I'll be private messaging for more info.
    - Troy