ironman maryland

Ironman Maryland (Part 1): The Inaugural Race

Ironman Maryland was my Ironman mulligan. The do-over that typically takes years to pull off. And I did it in just 8 weeks. And, I had a PR in Cambridge. Even months later, it’s hard to fathom. Here’s how it happened.

The Background

Greg and I were fit from Ironman Lake Placid training, and eager to race a better race after the tough conditions (i.e. heavy thunderstorms) of the 2014 race. Ironman Maryland seemed like a perfect choice, for a lot of reasons. Relatively speaking, it was:

  • Convenient: a 2 hour drive from DC
  • Easy: read “flat course”, especially when compared to the hills of IMLP. Make that very easy
  • Cheap: registration was only $650 since it was an inaugural event. Ironman took over management of the annual Ironman-distance Chesapeakeman event after TriColumbia folded. (Lodging, however is another issue since Cambridge doesn’t have a lot of hotel options. Though the Hyatt is ridiculously overpriced, it’s the best and most convenient option, especially if you have kids)
  • Still open: at only 2 months out from race day, practically unheard of in the IM world.
  • Workable: We had just enough time to taper from IMLP, pick up peak training, and then taper before IM Maryland

Greg and I were supposed to tackle this race, again, together. But, that was before his bike accident – one month before the race. Thankfully, Greg is ok. But after the fallout of the accident, including his (obvious) decision not to race, I lost motivation.  Ironically, our coach had reluctantly agreed to write us a plan to get us to IM #2 safely, but doing the long bike rides and long runs by myself, honestly, just wasn’t all that fun anymore.  Emotionally and mentally, I backed out of doing the race. Twice. And then one week before the event, I finally recommitted. As another athlete said “you’re trained, and it’s flat. Just treat it like a training day.”

A few days later, Greg (arm in a sling), my mom, the two girls (age 5 and 2) and I were headed to the Hyatt in Cambridge to start the IM Maryland adventure.  I’m so glad we did.

The Race Venue

Anyone who has raced Eagleman (a half IM) or Chesapeakeman (which had both full and half-distance IM events) knows how beautiful the Eastern Shore can be.  I had raced the 1/2 at Chesapeakeman in 2013 and assumed the course and event would be the same. It wasn’t, and I was pleasantly surprised by the changes.

And, the vibe of the race was far from the over-the-top mass marketing of Ironman today. The race took me back to my early days of racing – more than a decade ago – where triathlons were more intimate and the spirit was more relaxed.  To be fair, there were 3 Ironman events happening that weekend, and I’m sure that corporation’s resources were spread across all the races. They had just enough to make it function well, and make the weekend special and memorable. Sadly, Mike Reilly wasn’t in attendance to announce, but the stand-in was almost as good.

When we arrived Friday morning (the race was on Saturday – which I LOVED), we drove straight to Sailwinds Park for check-in. Automatically, I knew the race would be different. Parking was easy. The vendor booths were mostly local companies, and there were only a dozen or so vendor tents. It seemed to simplify the whole pre-race experience. Also, the number of people in line was significantly lower. I would venture to guess that there were no more than 1500 athletes who competed, which certainly made the race seem more intimate. It felt like a neighborhood race, and having raced several times in Cambridge before, I felt at home.

The Course

Even though the location was familiar, the course was somewhat different. First, the swim course took you North on the Choptank river toward the bridge (as opposed to South, which how the other races are organized.) It seems simple, but somehow having different scenery on the swim was just enough to mix up the feel.  The bike course was essentially the same as Eagleman, with 2 loops that include miles in the Blackwater National Wildlife Preserve. It’s pancake flat (the only climb on the course is a bridge that has you “climbing” 8 vertical feet) but the winds can be brutal. The run, however was the best change. The three loop, out-and-back run course had you running through the town of Cambridge at the end of each loop, and finishing at a different part of Sailwinds Park, away from the transition area. This run/finish change reminded me of the town of Madison at Ironman Wisconsin with its noisy, rambunctious, beer-fueled-festival of spectators (hands down, Madison still has the best course for spectating. No question.)

For more views on the race, check out Part 2, which is my IM MD race report.

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Monique McDonough
About the author

Now a 5-time Ironman finisher, Monique is starting to think that, perhaps, she might actually be an athlete. Triathlons were supposed to be a hobby to alleviate the anxiety of turning 30, but more than a decade later, and after a 5-year hiatus to start a family, she’s hooked again.

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