I Ran Eppie’s Great Race!
After a year of losing a ton of weight and getting in shape, I ran my first (last? only?) Eppie’s Great Race. Here is a write-up of my experience.
Anybody who really knows me knows that the reason I ended up doing this race as opposed to a 5k or a 10k or a “color run” or any of the other activities I could have and probably should have done knows that I most likely did this because I knew nobody else I knew would probably do it with me. This would allow me to do something vaguely difficult without the fear that one of my friends would want to do it, too, and then all the childhood anxiety I have about being inadequate would come to the surface as they would realize I actually suck at everything (you can go to therapy for a long, long time, and get very much better, but underneath it all, you’re still you).
So, anyway, Eppie’s seemed like a great thing to try, even if a bit insane. Why do a simple run to get a cool t-shirt, or join a bunch of friends who like to bike and do a century, when I can do a triathlon? They probably wouldn’t do it, so I get to avoid having social interactions! Woo-hoo!
Luckily, I have a friend, Pat, who agreed to be my crew guy — the guy who would help me stage the boat and the bike. Pat is like… the anti-Joe. Where Joe is all about going into a cave and not interacting with the humans, Pat is all about the humans. Pat can talk to anybody about anything, and not just do it, but will go out of his way to do it. And not only will he do that, he will most likely make a new friend (or 5) along the way. I do not understand how Pat can do that… it is totally alien to me. But, that’s how we became friends. He just started talking to me and is so easy going — how can you not like the guy?
Anyway, with Pat I got the best deal — a friend who encouraged me, but a friend who, like, wouldn’t actually do the thing, so I still get to be the loner who doesn’t have to feel inadequate by not “performing” well. Also, it’s Pat — I could have taken a dump during the race and he probably would have told me I was doing great.
Given that I’ve been out of shape most of my adult life and pretty much since my late teens, I had an extensive training regimen, but it was all ad-hoc and made up. Leading up to the race, I would work out every day — either a 6–8 mile run or an hour on the stationary bike or an hour on the treadmill or rowing machine at the gym. Nice, solitary activities where I can put on my headphones, tune out the world, and just build up strength in my legs and lungs.
This is clearly not the best training regimen. I suffered from what happens to a lot of runners — not working out all my leg muscles meant you get that thing where your legs kind of “turn in” on each other (many times either bumping my knees or ankles together). And I never built up speed — my per mile time would be on the order of 10 minutes.
But I wasn’t really concerned with performing well… just performing. I suffered from asthma as a kid, and running was always very difficult. Most times I would have to stop not because my legs were tired, but I just… couldn’t… breathe. I did better biking, but biking is easier — you can stop pedaling and just coast. But when you stop running, you… stop. So, mostly I was concerned with just building up stamina.
The Night Before the Race
All that training still doesn’t take away the anxiety. I was going to have to get up pretty early (around 4AM to get ready to drop all the stuff off). And of course I couldn’t sleep the night before.
I did all the good prep things — making a list of what I needed to bring (water shoes, suncscreen, water bottles, snacks like protein bars, something to change into after the race since I have the tendency to sweat like a witness about to break under interrogation), and was ready to go.
Dropping Off the Equipment
The race has three stages — a 5.82 mile run (first stage), a 12.1 mile bike ride (second stage), and a 6.1 mile kayak (third stage). I had rented a kayak from a company that does this every year, so needed to meet them at the water staging point to check it out. I also had my (pretty old) mountain bike I was going to use that I had to take down to the bike staging point.
Pat picked me up with my bike and away we went. Everything went pretty smoothly… well, except that I didn’t leave my water shoes or any water bottles in the boat, and while I did leave my helmet with my bike, I didn’t leave my bike gloves. So I was going to have to carry my gloves with me on the run, and Pat agreed to head back up to the boat after the race started to drop off the extra water bottles and water shoes. Did I mention that Pat is a mensch yet?
Another friend, Jackie, who had done Eppie’s 20 years before agreed to come down and cheer me on. She brought her son and picked up my son on the way down and we all met up at the starting line. Pictures were taken, my nerves were calmed, and I felt like I was ready to go!
The first stage is a 5.82 mile run. Now, I don’t know how you feel about running, but I think running is awful. If there is a hell, it is a place where every day you are forced to run a marathon. If you think about it, humans hate running. Why form villages and societies with walls? Because we as a species were sick and tired of running away from lions (…and tigers and bears, oh my!)
Anyway, I hate running. Hate it. HATE it. Except when I get done running, then I loved the fact that I just ran. And this is the terrible part of running — the endorphin kick you get running is just awesome, and it keeps you coming back, again and again, until your knees or your hips or your spine or all three at once give out and then you can’t do it anymore. I have so many friends and family my age or a bit older who can’t run anymore because running has destroyed their joints. I benefited from being a lazy slug all my life, so I’m in my 40s and can actually do it.
Everybody who I talked to about the race said that the best running times they had were during the race, and I can definitely see why. I average about a 10 minute mile, but I did the first mile at my fastest time ever (9 minutes) because you’re just so pumped up and you don’t necessarily think about your pace — you’re running to keep up with everybody else.
Needless to say, you do need to keep your own pace. After that first mile, I started to feel a little side cramp because I was just going too fast. I started to get really nervous. I figured if I could get through the running part, I would be OK. I’m good at the bike, and then I wouldn’t need my legs on the kayak too much (actually, you do, but that story comes later), but I needed to get through the run. And here I was 1/6 of the way through and I might have to start walking because of a friggin’ cramp?
So I slowed down to a more reasonable pace and started letting people pass me. And I got passed by a lot of people. Younger guys, older guys, young women, old women, and at one point Stephen Hawking passed me in his wheelchair and his battery was almost drained (I may have hallucinated that last part). But, I did OK. I set my mind on some people in front of me, trying to keep them at the same distance or inching my way closer, and then playing a game of ‘the tortoise and the hair’, where people I would target would eventually stop and walk. So, while a lot of people passed me, I passed a decent number, and it was a relatively “fun” game.
Naturally, being the data driven nerd that I am, I tracked my run on my Apple Watch, and here were the results. I forgot to start it right at the starting line, so it’s missing the first 1/10 of a mile.
The really cool part that happened at the end of the run was that Jackie, her son, and my son drove down to the end, and were there to cheer me on as I got done. That was a really cool surprise.
I figured I could make up a lot of time on the bike. My bike is… crap (25 year old Diamond Back Sorento with road tires), but I did have everything replaced on it about a year ago, so the gears, crank, brakes, etc. were all in great shape. But it’s not a road bike with teeny-tiny thin tires of low friction, and it’s much heavier than modern bikes.
But I’m just really much better on the bike than anything else. When I got done with the running portion, they directed me to where the bikes were for the ironman portion, but I didn’t realize exactly how far away it was. I thought one group of bikes was my group, but those were the ironwomen bikes, and once I stopped running, my legs were like, nope, not doing that again, so I ended up walking to where my bike was. I hopped on pretty quickly, but again didn’t start my watch right away, and I forgot to put my gloves on. Instead of stopping on the side of the trail and putting them on, I tried to put them on while riding, almost wiped out, and generally didn’t go as fast as I could have.
But once I was squared away, I really, truly did start to make up time. I passed just a ton of people, and there’s nothing more satisfying to me than to pass somebody who has a kick-ass, modern, super expensive road bike with my old, beat up mountain bike. Take that, you hipster yuppie!
I only had one person pass me the entire time that I didn’t end up passing again later, and that was a guy who looked like he was riding one of those Tour de France timing stage bikes. That thing was right out of Star Trek, and he looked like he did centuries or double centuries as a fun way to pass a random Tuesday. So I didn’t really consider him “competition”.
There was one woman who kept pace with me the entire time — I sometimes drafted behind her, she sometimes drafted behind me. We kept pace with each other during the run, too. So, anyway, that was kind of fun — a little “mini” competition. (For the record, her bike was much better than mine, so score one for “men” because I beat her with a worse bike. 🎶 Men, men, men, men… Men, men, men, men 🎶).
At the end of the stage, Pat was there. He had my water shoes and water bottles in a bag, and he handed them to me as I got off the bike. These two bottles were ones I had frozen the night before and so the water was oh, so deliciously cold.
Here was the result of my biking. Personally, I think I kicked ass doing 16.2MPH on such a crappy bike.
Here’s the funny part about getting done with the bike stage. By this point, you’ve either been running or biking for almost two hours (1:43 total in my case). When you get done with these two stages, you have to cross a foot bridge over to where the kayaks are. And you really want to run over that bridge. But, your body? Not-so-much.
What you witness when you are watching this bike-to-kayak transfer is a bunch of people doing some version of a duck waddle as they’re trying to will their legs to move faster than they are willing to go. It’s kind of funny to watch… it’s not so funny to experience. Like, you aren’t tired — this isn’t happening because you are in pain or things have stiffened up. Your body is literally just saying “sorry, chief, ain’t happening”.
So here I was about to enter the last stage. It wasn’t too hot yet, and I had conquered my biggest fear (running) and had plenty left over to do what I thought was an amazing bike stage. I was ready to go. Unfortunately, not only was my body not wanting to move quickly to where my boat was, but it also didn’t want to do little things like, say, bend my foot towards my body so I could change out of my running shoes into my water shoes.
It was kind of comical. Put it in black and white with a laugh track under it and you got yourself a Lucy skit.
Eventually I got into the boat and pushed away from shore, and that’s when I realized I forgot the other important thing about the boat, besides, you know, pre-stocking it. I had not sat in it to adjust it right, so had to move the foot holds while slowly coasting towards the foot bridge I had to go under and trying not to drop my paddle. Oy.
This wasn’t incredibly hard to fix, but you know, lesson learned for next year.
Given that I’m not a kayaker, it took a while to remember the technique from my lesson, and at first I wasn’t doing very well. But eventually I started to right myself, and remembered all the other training (trust your feelings… Let GO, Luke) and started to move rather well. I came up on and passed some other kayakers, so my mission of making up for lost time from my slow run was continuing well.
I didn’t end up seeing the woman who I was sharing the pace with from the run or the bike. Maybe she was doing her stuff as part of a team, or, more likely, she was a kick-ass kayaker and left me in her dust. But alas, the competition we had that was totally made up in my own head was over. So long, awesome lady!
The first portion of the kayak is the fastest. It has the most rapids, including San Juan rapids, which is not, like, white water crazy, but it’s where most people spill — it’s where all the medical staff and life guards are. When I took my class, this is the area we practiced the most so I was prepared for it, and actually did pretty well. I went right down the center and avoided getting turned sideways.
Those rapids were the thing I was the most scared about. Not that wiping out would have been a disaster or anything, but those kinds of mistakes are more likely to happen when you’re physically or mentally tired, so I figured if I was going to do anything wrong this would be it. But I did it just fine.
At this point, I was on cloud 9. I had got through the run with my early cramp, killed it on the bike, and now made it through the one rough place on the river. What I didn’t realize, though, was how much farther I had to go. I thought the San Juan rapids were halfway down the course, so I looked at my watch and saw that it only took me 20 minutes to get to that spot and figured I was a shoe-in to get done with the kayak in 45 minutes and possibly finish the race in 2–1/2 hours.
Alas, no. The San Juan rapids are about a 1/3 of the way down the course, there was still a long way to go, and that final 2/3 was going to be all hard paddling as there were maybe one set of teeny-tiny rapids left.
This was a little dispiriting. I was spending a lot of time asking myself “where the hell is the finish line?” But just like with the run I started to settle in. I would pick a pace, pick out people I wanted to pass, and just work towards achieving that mini-goal.
I probably passed 15–20 kayakers on the route. I got passed by 4 kayaks — 3 of them were people who had their own, very nice boats, and looked like they kayaked a lot, and one was a tandem kayak. So I was doing really, really well. I again remembered more of the training, and was using my legs properly do to that “push” you are supposed to do. And this is why I was passing so many kayaks — you could see that they were doing it all arms instead of “body”, and so they just weren’t getting the power I was getting. Now, I’m not saying I was generating a lot of power or anything, my technique sucked. But I was doing it “right”.
In the end, I finished the kayak stage in about 50 minutes, but it had taken me 10 minutes just to get the boat going, so totaled an hour, and this is where the last bit of comedy comes in. When you get done with that final stage, you have to get out of your kayak and run through the finish line which is only about, oh, 20 yards or so. They have volunteers in the water who will take your kayak for you, so all you have to do is get out of the boat (which is in water only about 6 inches deep by that point), and run through the finish line.
But remember that bike-to-boat transition where your legs were like “sorry, no”? Yeah, that’s even worse by now. I tried to slide my butt up so that I could get my left leg out. I was able to slide my butt up, but my left leg was like “are you kidding me?” So I almost dumped into the 6 inch water. I would have if not for the volunteer keeping the boat from tipping. I finally got my legs into the water, but I think my legs thought that this was all that was required of them. When I went to lift my right leg to start heading into shore, it said “nope!” and I almost fell face first into the sand. But somehow I kept my balance, and then I heard the DJ/PA guy say “c’mon folks, do that final run to the finish line” and that got me going. I was able to get into that same “duck waddle” mode I had when getting off the bike to head to the kayak, and crossed the line, seeing that the total time on the clock was at 2:45:08.
I captured the timing/calories from the kayak, but this was done under “rowing” in the Apple Watch app, and so there wasn’t a thing like my pace per mile or anything. Also, I didn’t stop the activity once I crossed the finish line, so the clock ran for another 15 minutes or so.
When I was done and standing in the shade, I was kind of surprised. I felt… really good? It wasn’t like, an endorphin rush good. I didn’t feel euphoric, but I felt really calm. I had done it. I had done all three stages of this big, epic race, and I beat the time I was planning for. I had hoped to do it in 3 hours, and did it in 2:45. I had hoped to do it “right”, which meant not being so utterly dehydrated that I felt terrible. (Though, after being done, I drank a bottle of water, a bottle of gatorade, another bottle of water, yet another bottle of water, and an Orange Crush soda, and I don’t think I have pee’d yet, but regardless, I wasn’t so dehydrated that I was at risk for being sick).
Jackie, her son, my son, and myself hung out for about an hour and a half and got something to eat and listened to music. (Pat had to leave to do his radio show). We came home, I took a shower, took an hour nap, and woke up feeling pretty good. My legs feel great, my upper body is not sore (though I expect it to be sore tomorrow). The only complaint is my glutes are sore. But it’s a pretty minor set of aches and pains. So as much as my training wasn’t great, it was clearly pretty good — I am clearly in very good cardio shape.
Here’s how I finished:
- Overall: 153 of 328
- Overall Male: 117 of 207
- Ironman 40+: 29 of 51
Middle of the pack all around. Not bad for a first timer!
My split times:
- Run: 56:32 (9:43 min/mile)
- Bike: 46:39 (16.08 mph)
- Kayak: 1:01:58 (10:10 min/mile)
Will I do this again? Not sure. I do think it would be fun to do more proper run training — build up other muscles in my legs, do speed training to work on picking up my pace, etc. If I could get to an 8 minute mile, that would be sweet. If I had a better bike, I probably could take another few minutes off, and who knows, maybe I could get down under 2 and 1/2 hours. And maybe if I went kayaking more, I could significantly reduce my kayak time.
But regardless of my time, I did it. In the middle of July, 2016, I was 235 pounds, could not run more than a mile without my knee or hip hurting, and couldn’t have even dreamed of doing something like this. A year later i’m at 170 pounds and can do hours of an activity like running or biking without feeling like I’m going to die. I did a triathlon, and I not only did it, but I think I could probably do it again even better. That’s just awesome. What a year.