I made it to the front of the dock where handlers had signs up with our ages and waves on them. I found my wave with ease and merged in the rest of the 40-44 males whom had last names that started with the letters I – Q. Now is when the nerves started to build up in my stomach and all the insecurities started to show their pretty little selves. “Did I train enough?” “Why didn’t I do more swim workouts?” “Why can’t I use a pull buoy?” “Should I really use a wet suit?” and the most famous insecurity that comes up before a race; “What makes you think you belong here with all these athletes?” I never can shake that one. (Read my “About” page to find out why.)
Before I knew it, we were starting to move toward the dock. I pulled on my wet suit and with the help of another athlete got it zipped up and secured. One thing about triathletes, we always help each other out and the real special ones may even give up some time on their race to help as well, but I digress. We slowly moved to the dock where we jumped into the water. The temp wasn’t bad at all and my wet suit was buoyant enough that my insecurities started to fold the minute I got into the water. Maybe subconsciously I thought there was a chance I could die while I was in the water, I am not sure, but I felt a lot better. I moved toward the starting buoys and noticed one thing. The current was not nearly as strong as the previous year. Last year I spent more energy trying not to cross the start line before the gun, because of the strength of the current. This year, that was not the case.
The announcer was counting down and my heart rate started to rise. 3, 2, 1.. and the gun went off..bang! I started my 1.2 mile survival journey that would be the swim portion of the Augusta Ironman 70.3. I could swear I heard the announcer from the horse races in my head. “AAANNNND There OFF!”, and we were. I kept two things in my head as the swim went on; my stroke count and how many reps of my stroke count did I do. In other words, “1, 2, 3 bubble, breathe. 2, 2, 3, bubble, breathe”, all the way up to five when I would site the boat house right by the finish. I was able to maintain it for about six hundred meters until my A.D.D. took over and my mind drifted. Of course, I got a quick dose of reality when I looked up and right in front of me was a diver yelling at me “To the right! To the right!” It seems I may have drifted a little over to the left and was about to cross the line. I don’t think it was a dis-qualifier or anything, but it did take me a little off course. For a good amount of the time, I just kept my legs together and stuck my head down and as long as I used my roll to turn into my armpit I found that I was moving rather smoothly. Slowly, but smoothly. Right at the point I met the diver was when I realized that I was at the back of my wave, which was a lot better than last year when I ended up falling to the back the wave behind the wave behind me. This year I was in the rear of my wave with the stragglers but at least the bulk of the wave immediately behind me was still back there. Sure, the faster swimmers from that wave passed me and I expected that, but what I didn’t expect was to stay in front of that wave. Score…2 points for my ego.
When I sighted the finish line, I was ecstatic. I surely was going to hit my goal of thirty minutes. My only issue now was, that the finish line looked so close but it was like the opposite of a mirror on the driver side door of a car. They should put a sign up…”Swim Finish is Farther than Appears”, because when I was about to turn for the finish, I realized that the finish buoys were actually another 30 meters ahead of me. You mean, I have to continue swimming? Son of a……uh…donkey? (I didn’t really think that either.)
Feeling pretty good after the swim
I finally was able to get to the ramp and out of the swim and started heading towards transition. I glanced down at my watch as I pressed the button to move it from Swim Mode to transition 1 mode, I noticed that, gosh darnit (see the last set of parentheses), my time was the exact same as last year. I couldn’t believe it. Last year, I was all over the place. I zig zagged, I swam breast stroke, side stroke, back stroke, but this year I consistantly swam freestyle the full 1.2 miles and I still was just as slow. Seriously? All that work and I still came in at 37:17. One thing was different this year though. I was actually running toward transition and they made it farther this year to get to the wet suit strippers. My legs felt good, my breathing came back almost instantaneously and I was running, almost sprinting. There was the difference. While last year the current was stronger I still used a ton of energy to finish it, which only allowed me to walk to my bike in transition. I remember even walking my bike to the mount line. This year, ran to the strippers, dropped to my butt, a young chick grabbed my suit and yanked it off and handed it to me as I jumped up. I ran to my bike, slipped on my shoes while clipping my race belt, grabbed my helmet, clipped the chin strap and ran my bike to the mount line. Four minutes and twenty-two seconds after I stepped out of the river I was mounted and rolling onto the bike course. It took me less than half the time it took me last year and that was without the third-of -a-mile distance they added from the river to transition. Sure, I think I could have taken even more time off, but I was ok with it.
Starting out on the bike
I rolled out with the sound of the spectators becoming more and more distant as I quickly got my cadence up to 90 RPM, which is what I strive to keep no matter what the terrain. My coach, Amy Bennett Eck, had suggested I not take any fluids or food for about 15 minutes to allow my body to calm a little and luckily I remembered because I noticed I was hungry. In February, I purchased the Garmin 910XT and it has been an absolute dream to train with. I mainly use it for number of swim strokes per 100m, time and distance, bike cadence, time, speed, power, distance and heart rate, and run cadence, pace, distance and time. In this auto multi-sport mode, there is the functionality to program the events you will be either racing or training and with one touch of button it will transition from one event to the other giving you a transition time in-between. For example, when I came out of the swim, I pushed one button as I came across the timing mats and it started to capture the amount of time I spent in T1, as soon as I mounted the bike I pushed the same button and it automatically started capturing the data for the bike portion. Obviously, it did the same when I completed the bike event and on to the run. There is also a simultaneous alarm function that I programmed to go off every 15 minutes. This is how I track my nutrition. Every fifteen minutes, when I hear, or feel, the alarm I know I need to have taken in a quarter of a bottle of hydration. Every three times that alarm goes off it is time to eat something. For this race I chose Honey Stinger gel packets. To me they taste like Jello brand pudding so they can also be a treat. Since Amy suggested I hold off I knew I just had to wait for the first alarm to go off and I could start drinking for the speed bottle that is bracketed to the vertical frame tube beneath my seat, where a straw then is strung up the through my aerobars so I can sip on the bottle whenever I want. I love it.
The first five miles of the course was relatively flat which allowed me to slow down my heart rate while picking up my cadence and moving my speed to around 21 mph. The air was clean, the sky was overcast and the temperature was perfect. Everything just kept feeling like it was coming together. I had no physical issues, I was keeping to my game plan and even though I was getting passed, I was also passing athletes. Around mile ten the hills started to come into play and I started to move through the initial pack of age groupers whom I was suspecting were the good swimmers and runners but not so good cyclists. Sometimes you can tell experience from the way people ride. Amy always has me keeping my cadence and not coming out of the saddle unless I really feel like I need to. I keep my cadence where I need to and I just move the gears to keep it in that range whether going up hills, coming down, or riding flat. Sometimes a hill is steep and long therefore I do come out of the saddle, but it takes a lot of energy to do that, and while I do notice a lot of experienced riders taking that strategy, I do not care to. I also notice while I am expending the same amount of energy on hills as I do cycling on flat roads, I pass those whom are pedaling out of the saddle. Personally, that is always my favorite. It is a little fun passing people and saying hello while I am comfortable in the saddle and they are standing, mashing down on the pedals and panting. But, just a little. It still doesn’t take away from those athletes that are trained to average 23-25 mph and fly right by like a jet plane. That is when I come back to earth and realize I am still that un-athletic guy who took two years to get this far, while others were able harness their genes and progress much faster.
Mucking for the camera
Before I knew it mile 16 flew by and I was passing the very first aid station where the volunteers where hooting and hollering, handing out water bottles and Ironman Perform sports drink. Last year I strayed from my nutrition plan and ended up having stomach issues on the run which slowed me way down. This year I was determined to learn from my mistakes so every aid station I just passed up. Everything I needed was either in my bento box, in my bottles or in my tri-top. I refused to stray this year and later, that paid off.
The hills were coming a little more fast and furious in the middle of the bike course. I had programmed another alert from my watch that helped a little. I had my Garmin give me 5 mile splits, so I could tell how I was doing. I was hoping to average 20 mph minimally, so when the split alert sounded I should see 15 minutes or less. I was shocked when the middle of my bike I was consistently getting 14:19, 14:40, 14:52. Of course there were two laps of 5 miles when I was way over. After mile 30 we ended up with these rolling hills that while were nothing huge I got caught in the wrong gear and had to come out of the saddle and of course was shocked to see that I was moving all of 8 mph. Wow! From 21 mph to 8 within just a few seconds. Somehow I screwed up somewhere, probably due to my ADD, and wasn’t paying attention and got caught on a hill and now I had to mash down on the pedals like the novices just to make it. Sir Isaac Newton gave me all the luck I needed when he proclaimed “What goes up?”…wait for it…wait for it…”Must come down.” Even though I was behind time, I could make it up by continuing to pedal on the downhills and scream at 35, and even once for a short stint, 42 mph. That helped quite a bit. While the last ten miles were pretty flat I still was kind of shocked when I looked at my watch at mile 55, when the split time came up at 12:49. That was the highlight of my event. Five flat miles in 12 minutes, 49 seconds. It was definitely a first for me.
I mentioned earlier that Coach Amy had me practicing transitions prior to this race, well, it paid off at T2(bike-ro-run transition). I slipped off the bike, surprising myself by continuing to run, slipped off my helmet, took off my cletes, changed my race belt to a the one that stored salt tabs and stinger gels, slid on my running shoes, grabbed my hat and ran out of transition in two minutes and forty-four seconds. Well, below half of my T2 time last year. What made it even more motivating and exciting was the race clock stated 4:05:32 as I ran out. Remember, that my wave was at 8:00a, exactly 30 minutes after the start of the race, so this wasn’t my race time. My race time was 30 minutes less; 3:35:32. As I was running passed the aid station they had about a quarter of mile out of transition, it hit me. I could possibly be 5:40 something. I was hoping to come under 6 hours, but if I could run around a two-hour marathon I could really crush my time from last year. A two-hour marathon should be easy for me. I ran a 1:38 in a race last year, I should be able to conquer this goal. So that’s what I set out to do.
Unlike road races, long course triathlons usually have aid stations around every mile, which is nice. When your body has been taking a beating for more than 3 hours, it might need a little extra hydration and nutrition. My nutrition goal was to walk through every other aid station grabbing water and coke and then every 4 miles taking a gel packet.
Starting the run
Before I knew it I was at mile 3 wondering where the miles went, especially when my watch had me doing under 9 minute miles. Of course I expected that to change as my body became a little more tired and I started to walk through the aid stations. The run in Augusta is two loops around the center of town around Broad street. It was loaded with spectators and I enjoy it. Sometimes there is even some great signs that people make. I have seen some funny ones, like “Toe Nails are for sissies” and “Chuck Norris never did an Ironman”, but my favorite to this day is still “If triathlon was easy they would call it football.” That one always cracks me up. Not that it is true. Take it from someone who has attempted both American football the other football we call soccer, they both have there different definitions of tough. Triathlon is just the endurance tough because it doesn’t stop for numerous hours, where in the other kinds of football they usually only last 2-3 hours and they have these things called “timeouts”. In triathlon we don’t have timeouts, the clock doesn’t stop because you have a foul or a penalty. It just keeps going.
The first loop went around Augusta went very fast. Before I knew it I was in back a couple of blocks to the west passing the split where a sign was posted to keep left for the first loop or turn right if it was your second loop. I remembered last year really disliking that sign, but this year not so much.
The last mile (took off my hat and sunglasses for the picture…LOL)
The crowds seemed to have grown on my second loop and I kept my eye out for Jessica who was sporting her bright yellow tank top and green hair. It was supposed to be yellow as well, but unfortunately it didn’t work out that way. I never did see her the whole run, but nevertheless the crowd cheered everyone on. A couple of little kids were on the side holding their hands out and cheering hoping we would run by and give them a high five. There were families out just hoping to get a glimpse of their sons, daughters, husbands, wives, mothers or fathers. As I was running, my photographer’s eye kept seeing Norman Rockwell, paintings. This really was a very clean, forthright city with an old soul. I couldn’t help but smile a lot of the time, at least until mile nine. I couldn’t believe it, the plan was working just fine but at that point, cramp, side stretch…ouch. I forced myself to run until the mile 10 aid station where I walked and grabbed water and a cup of coke while breathing as deep as I could. When the pain subsided a little, I started to run only to be struck down again by the pain. I grabbed a gel packet and a salt tab hoping they would help and they did, for a short while until I arrived at the mile eleven aid station and ate an orange. At this point, I didn’t care. I had 2.1 miles left and I wasn’t stopping. If I had to leave my intestines on the sidewalk and pick them up later that’s what I was going to to. I picked up my pace, blocked out everything and headed for the finish line. I didn’t even see the mile twelve marker, but I felt the vibration of my watch which told me now I had just a little over a mile to go. I kept looking down at my watch, 12.1, 12.24, 12.35. I felt like this was the longest mile of my life, but I was wrong. I finally made it to the split. Left for the first lap and right to the finish and I was going right. Here is what turned out to be the longest stretch of the run. I had no idea that a quarter mile could feel like an eternity and when I finally did see the finish, I felt like I was in the movie; “The Shining”, when the little kid is looking down the hall and it keeps getting longer and longer? That exactly what it felt like. I looked down at my watch and noticed what it said 19:54. Crud! I wasn’t going to make it. I lifted my legs and increased my cadence just hoping I could get one little ounce of speed and I got it, but just a little too late.
I crossed the line with the race clock stating 6:06:54, so doing the math my race time ended up being 5:36:54. While I didn’t hit my goal of a 2 hour half-marathon I still crushed my previous year’s time by over forty-two minutes. I was on cloud nine. I couldn’t help smiling. This really was one of the greatest races I ever competed in. I take that back. It was the greatest performance I ever had in a race, period. Unfortunately, being the oldest in my group I was the first person to cross the finish line, except for Russ who passed me at mile 5, so there was no one to share it with.
Best race of my life!
After receiving my medal, taking a couple of pictures and having my timing chipped removed from my ankle I headed over to the refreshment tent a can of coke from this pool of ice and ran in to Russ. He told me that he finished around 4:28. This kid is a machine and that just proved it. We congratulated each other and I went over and got a massage, but not before disposing of the first coke and grabbing a second. While waiting I finished that can and by the time I finished up with Caroline, the LMT who took care of me, I felt like a million dollars. With exception of a twinge in my back, which for me is normal due to my injury, I really felt good. No pain, no soreness and due to the adrenaline still pumping from having such an awesome performance I felt like a rockstar, and I never really felt that way before.
I changed and called Amy and gabbed about the race. She was proud of me. The last two races she had trained me for didn’t turn out so well, so with this performance I felt like I validated myself in her eyes and in my own. After hanging up I saw a text from Kim telling me how awesome I did and there was a voice mail from my Dad telling me congratulations as well. I almost cried. I felt the tears well up, but there was just too many guys around so I wasn’t about to let that happen.
Beth and I
As it turned out we all had a good race. Celeste PR’d, Chris finished under 6 hours, Bruce beat me by one second, and as it turned out Russ actually took first place in his age group and was on his way to Las Vegas, but the story of the weekend was Beth. Beth had gone through a lot just to get to the race. Besides this being her first 70.3, she never biked really prior to this year, she had an injury that kept her from running for over 3 months, so she was very freaked coming into this. Wouldn’t you know it, after having a goal of just finishing under 6:30:00, her official time was 5:47:16. We were all really proud of her. You can read all about her experiences on her blog Discom-BOB-ulated Running.
The rest is pretty boring. We grabbed our bikes, and said our congratulations to the other athletes we knew as we walked out of transition We packed up the cars, rode back to the hotel, cleaned ourselves up and headed out to Red Robin. I don’t know if it was the race, or all the gel packets, electrolyte drinks, or just all the calories we burned, but I had a lettuce wrapped burger that I swear was the best I ever had. Maybe I just felt like I actually earned it.
What I can say is this; this had to be one of the best experiences of my life. I cannot only attribute it to my performance in the race. Every piece of the puzzle fit. I couldn’t have done it without the training, my friends, my coaching, the group that I coach, my family and all of the positive people I choose to surround myself with. With one piece out of sync, it would not have been the experience it was.
is a certified running coach, triathlon coach, personal trainer and sports nutrition coach who's real passion is to help others enjoy the journey on the way to conquering their goals. He has written many articles and guest posts on the technical, nutritional and psychological aspects of endurance training. He currently lives and trains in Tampa, Florida.