Ironman 70.3 Augusta – the largest 70.3 in the US!
September 28, 2014
Augusta was a fun, low pressure half-iron distance race for my friend Laura and I to do together. We’d picked Boise before, which turned out to be hot and difficult. Augusta would be nice and easy! Georgia had mild September weather, southern charm, a downriver swim, and would be an awesome way to close out the season. Brian and the girls would meet me there after visiting family in Kentucky.
All of race morning, though, I’d been feeling off. I’m usually nervous before a race, but this one was low key with no expectations. So why were my nerves still killing me? During the morning’s setup, I couldn’t seem to follow my routine. I lost my bento box and didn’t know how I’d carry my salt tablets. It was too dark to see anything, and by the time we needed to get to the swim-start shuttle, I still didn’t have my transition area set up. And then when we finally got in the shuttle line, Laura noticed that I didn’t even have my wetsuit with me. I had to run back into the now-closed transition to get it. I was a mess.
Just the day before I was enjoying being in the Southern atmosphere. There’s nothing like visiting a town you’ve never been to before on a race weekend. It’s full of energy and new things to see, all magnified by race anticipation. Augusta is right at the head of the navigable portion of the Savannah River (the part that the alligators supposedly DON’T live in). It’s one of the oldest cities in Georgia, maybe a little more unassuming than it’s fancy neighbors Savannah and Charleston, but still packed with charm: old brick buildings, fountains, and restaurants with tons of outdoor seating. We’d get to run back and forth through the historic, old-style downtown. We pass Augusta’s biggest claim to fame – the Augusta National golf club — every time we drive from the hotel to the course.
I felt better when we queued up for the swim. We 40-44 year old women (and so many of us, they divided us into two waves) shuffled down a long ramp to a dock under a bridge and jumped into the dark, churning water. The physical sensation of hitting the water turns my bad nerves to good at that point in any race. It’s a river, so before we knew it, the current was carrying us away from the start kayaks. I scrambled to take some strokes back to the start line. I’d lined up on the outside, closest to the middle of the river. The group began to move, and I realized I was too far away to hear what must have been the starting gun.
One girl took off and I couldn’t catch her feet, but as far as I knew, I held onto second for most of the swim. My plan was to swim this course as hard as possible. (It turned out I was 4th among the two waves). There were few crowds, I stayed next to the buoys and pretty soon caught some people in the wave ahead. Due to the current, I PRed the swim by about 6 minutes.
Swim Time: 22:08
Division place: 4
My All-World-Athlete status got me a nice spot in transition: Third row, right next to the pros, para-athletes and the bike-out gate.
I jumped on my bike and soon crossed the bridge heading for the state line toward my first ever visit to South Carolina. We cruised along the rough and bumpy surfaces of rural roads, under the Spanish moss hanging from the trees, spectators sitting on their front porches, watching the world of cyclists go by. We passed a church set up with a loudspeaker about finishing the “ultimate race.” I was loving the local ambience. The ride was breezy and my bike seemed to move around on the road quite a bit even though I tried to keep it steady. My HR was within range in 7 minutes, but I had a hard time keeping it middle of the range, and I saw 160 too many times, though my watts seemed low: 160s. The rollers took us gently up and down. Miles clicked by, and my head felt pretty clear at first. I was prepared with my food and water consumption and ready to grab the water at the feed zones at miles 18, 35 and 45. A few times I spiked my power too much as I had to get around a slow pack or try to pass someone without crossing the yellow line.
The roads were rural, so they were narrow and crowded, with many people not riding to the right. I got stuck to the right a few times myself while large groups of faster guys passed me. The road surface was rough and cracked in many places.
I leapfrogged the entire ride with people I nicknamed the Ninja and Pink Helmet. Ninja once yelled as he passed me that he always had to wait until the uphills to catch Pink Helmet and I. The whole ride was very social, with people from transition saying “hi” as they went by. It reminded me of that same generalization about the South. A Zipp-sponsored guy I’d met in transition recognized me as he flew by said “let’s go for those Austria spots!” Well, that’s interesting. As I pedaled and focused on my power output, I finally realized that maybe that was it. Maybe my nerves were killing me because I really wanted that Austria spot.
Aside from keeping track of my effort, other thoughts ran through my head: My bike isn’t comfortable. I need to have a fit done. Also, do I really want an Austria spot? No, I just want sub-5. I’m halfway through the ride and no mechanicals! The guy who raced for Zipp told me I’m possibly inflating my tires too much. What if I skid out on a corner? I am not taking the corners as fast as I could. Or should. Everyone is slowing down too much! Shoot, I just surged to 300W….
I kept my HR steady but it did creep up and I spiked my power a few times. I may have fatigued my legs too much. But, I had good energy coming off the bike, and thrilled when I saw my time!
Bike time: 2:41
Bike pace: 20.9 MPH
Division place: 3
Started the run too fast, in the 7s. I kept telling myself to slow it down, let the nutrition settle. I had a little tummy sloshing that went away after a bit.
The run itself was packed with spectators. We came out of transition and headed to downtown Augusta, an old-style wide town street lined with shops and restaurants on either side and a huge median in the middle.
I ran all the way up the pretty downtown, circled around, ran back down, circled by the swim finish, then repeated all of that four more times, one block off each pass. The only lonely and long parts were when we looped around the end of the road.
I became really thirsty halfway through the run. Actual thirst that presented itself as thirst and not cramps or churning stomach. Never felt such huge thirst before in a race. I gulped water at the aid stations.
During the second lap I was supposed to push my pace, but by then I was fatigued. Just kept trying to go, be steady, focus. I decided I’d better wait until mile 9 to increase my pace, rather than mile 6 as indicated in my race plan.
Brian, who was spectating with the girls, wasn’t saying anything about how far in front the second place was, and I was getting tired fast. Shoot, will I get that Austria spot, or have I dropped back? Heart rate holding at 165, but the air temp was rising and my pace was heading downward to 8:30, :40, and :50. Legs didn’t want to move. Should I eat more? Drink more? I began to grab ice in my palms. It helped. I decided that at mile 9, despite feeling fatigue, I would push it as hard as I could go. I could do anything for 4 miles.
“I ran. I ran until my muscles burned and my veins pumped battery acid. Then I ran some more.” -Tyler Durden in Fight Club.
I swung my arms in rhythm to help me. I knew my sub-5 would be close. There was nothing to do but pick it up.
Coming into the last few miles, you see the blue Ironman finish chute straight ahead and tantalizingly close. but before you get to it, you wind around by transition again for another couple miles or so, which seems long. But I had a close eye on my watch and knew if I could keep it at 8 minute pace or under, I’d be under 5 hours.
I crossed the line under five hours, thrilled! Dying, dizzy, but thrilled.
Run pace: 8:09
Total Time: 4:57:07
Division Place: 3
This is maybe where my early nerves came from. I really did want a sub-5 hour race and I wanted to qualify for 70.3 Worlds, meaning I’d have to get probably top 2 or 3 in my division. It was all exacerbated by my denial of wanting anything at all out of this race but fun.
We waited for rolldown and my AG was granted a slot that wasn’t taken in a different group, so that left us with 3, and I took it. How could I not? The winner in my age group, as she walked up to get her spot, told me there’s nothing like riding your bike in Europe. It seemed a no-brainer at the time to take my spot, but after writing the check, I found I couldn’t discuss it. I felt like it was all too much after a long season of racing and training. I’ve always been drawn to competing and challenging myself in this way, but I always try to work around others, and do my workouts when it’s not interrupting something or someone else. Signing up for Austria would be a major family event and I needed time to get used to the idea. However, Brian and the girls didn’t need time to get used to it – they were jumping up and down with excitement, and their enthusiasm finally rubbed off on me through all of my race fatigue. So, Austria, here we come!
Laura, her husband Dennis, Brian and the girls and I closed out the evening with beers and a great meal at the Mellow Mushroom, with Laura and I both celebrating our big PRs and talking about the next season – a season that would involve Worlds and Ironman!