There is on aspect of competing in triathlon that is consistent among all courses, distances and brands; racing is lonely. Obviously, during the swim it is hard enough to breathe let alone talk. USAT regulations state that you keep four bike lengths between competitors unless one is passing and even at that point it must be done in 20 seconds, so accept for a “hey”, “hello” or an “on your left” there is not much conversation going on there. The run can be more interactive, but after a long swim and bike, most competitors are already hypoxic or have a certain aerobic pace that doesn’t allow for a lot conversation their either. It does happen though where athletes find new connections or meet with old and finish the run together, but it is rare, at least from what I have seen. The common denominator is the people whom you share the race experience with, or the support that accompanies you. After some logistics issues otherwise cancelled some of my support and fellow athletes, I was still fortunate enough to be surrounded by a small group of A-Trainers that made the entire experience a memory that will not fade.
On Friday we met up at Celeste’s home which was centrally located and began the caravan up to Georgia. We started with three suv’s and a car with seven athletes. Most of knew each other from other races and workouts, so the dynamic of the group was anxious but friendly. The ride down was full of group texting, slight a couple of rather “adventurous” maneuvers, the lost and found of some of the caravan, but all-in-all safe and successful.
Luckily, we arrived early enough to drive to the expo and check-in, providing us the option of sleeping a little longer in the morning without the inconvenience of long lines which are typical to this race. I was mentioning to one of my cohorts, that the previous year we arrived at check-in at 6am, coffee in hand, so we were in a prime spot when the activities started at 7. I enjoyed this experience much more as there were no lines and even the expo was fairly empty enough to allow us to shop for any possibly extras we may need or want for the race. Of course after an eight hour drive, unpacking gear, checking-in and shopping we were all tired and hungry. We decided to walk down Broad Street, the main downtown strip, and see some of the nightlife on our way to Mellow Mushroom. The thought of pizza from Mellow Mushroom made Celeste and myself excited with anticipation, but unfortunately, when we arrived there was a long wait and the other places we discovered just did not have the selection the group needed. Even splitting up, Celeste and I picking up the pizza, while Beth, Bruce, Chris and Jessica retrieved the cars from the hotel proved to allot too much time between eating and allowing sleep to overcome us. On the way back to the hotel, we settled on the next best choice which was have another pizza joint deliver food while we headed back. The conversation seemed to stay on the race, sleeping and television while we plowed through two pizzas and 20 wings, which were actually a lot hotter than I expected, before we all finally retired for the night.
Saturday, brought on another level of excitement, renewed energy and the freedom of knowing the only task we needed to accomplish was to stow our bikes in transition for the next day’s big event. I set the alarm for 7 o’clock thinking that would be the latest I slept in a while, but nevertheless my eyes popped open at 6:30 wide awake and ready for the excitement of the day. Amy, my coach, had planned for me to do 15 minutes of each event as a precursor to the following day, however, emails had been sent from Ironman, announcing no swimming in the river would be allowed prior to race day. Swimming the day before the race is usually used to double check the wet suit and understand the conditions of the body of water. For me this was not a big deal, as I had already completed the race the year prior, but it could have been for the rest of the group of whom not only was this the first time competing in Ironman Augusta, it was also their very first 70.3 distance triathlon ever. With all of set on that fact, a few of us headed out for a run, which was surprisingly hilly, but interesting and fun due tot he southern cultural differences and the rare sighting of a fox. Afterwards, we grabbed our bikes and headed out the opposite way and ended up in a very nice neighborhood with a couple of steep climbs. I was grateful for that in order to test my bike, which had been recently pulled apart, cleaned tuned and re-assembled, and my legs. Everything seemed to be in working order which pleased me just fine.
After a shower, a hearty breakfast, compliments of the Comfort Inn, and a quick jaunt to the bike store, we all loaded up our bikes and headed back to transition and race headquarters to drop our bikes in transition and explore the expo one last time. Transporting our bikes to transition was uneventful with the exception that as we walked our bikes to transition, we noticed athletes with wet suits coming up out of the water. When we inquired about it, they had no idea that there was an email warning of the disqualification if swimming in river prior to the race. As a matter of fact the athletes we did talk with all mentioned the overabundance of people that were actually swimming, of which was confirmed by our own eyes. We were all a little disappointed about that, however we shook it off not allowing it to crush our “high” of pre-race emotions.
Something I said to Chris, as we were walking into the expo that afternoon, may explain my last statement. I expressed to him that I enjoyed the events of race weekend almost as much as the race itself. The positive energy of all the athletes there to compete, seems to quell and increase allowing everyone to share in it. Every expo I have attended from 5k races, marathons and mud runs to half and full Ironman triathlons, they all have never disappointed with the positive aura and energy collected and passed by runners, athletes and support staff. It is one of my favorite parts of the weekend and this expo was just as exciting.
After buying a sample pack of a new natural energy drink called Zip Fizz, which tastes like grape and orange soda by the way, I was walking back to the main hall when I saw someone I have been wanting to meet for a long time. He was not only someone I had read about in countless articles but he was a friend of Lisa Jamison, my extraordinary massage therapist and friend. This gentlemen did something that would be a first and would motivate a whole new generation of people to overcome the obstacles in their life and challenge themselves to live up to their own dreams. Scott Rigsby, was the first double amputee to complete the Ironman World Championships in Kona, and I believe the first to finish a full Ironman period. I was elated to meet Scott and I was shocked to watch him stand up and sit down as he was signing posters and books. He moved up and down smoother than a lot of people I know whom have natural legs. After a few words of conversation, a picture and him signing his book for me, I realized why he was so successful. They guy just oozes positive mental attitude and strength. Somehow, I believe that whether or not he lost his legs he would have still found a way to be a role model for people. I wish I would have had the chance to read his book prior to the expo and would have been able to talk with him more about it.
Incredibly, I walked into the main hall and right there was another guy I admired. John Pyle. A vet whom had ran across America, flag in hand, for wounded veterans everywhere. I had talked with John before where I coach at Fit2Run, and even then I noted his air of strength. John is a little more grounded then Scott, not to mention a little older. He reminds me of that guy in the motorcycle movies whom hangs out in the biker bars but is not part of the gang. The character whom always ends up getting hit over the head with something on accident and then ends up taking out the whole gang. Very cool, positive, respectful and passionate about his cause, but to be on his bad side seems like somewhere I would not want to be.
I completed my purchases and I headed to the hotel restaurant because I was starving. I didn’t want anything to heavy because of our dinner plans that night, but I needed a snack and Bonk Breakers, Honey Stinger Waffles or any other race supplement was not going to do it for me. As I sat at the bar, the beer taps floated past my field of vision and my mouth started to water. Really? I wanted a beer? Now? “Well, you only live once”, I thought to myself. Thinking about my friend Dom (whom conquered the Chicago Marathon while stopping in the middle for a beer), I ordered a Guiness, and the Salmon with vegetables and it was awesome. It was even plated beautifully. While I was eating a very interesting couple sat down next to me. The wife was an Xterra triathlete and trail runner hopefully bound for the World Championships and he was doing his first 70.3 the next day. The dynamic had them supporting each other for races, but never doing the same race. After the pleasantries and initial info gathering the conversation turned to running where I was impressed to hear after a long career of running she had started focusing on a new form to help her run more efficiently. Was this a sign? Running form is what I teach, coach and mentor athletes on and love doing so, and this athlete just so happens to let me know she has been looking at changing her form. Kismet! Of course as always I mentioned the group I coach at Fit2Run, my back story of how I became a form advocate, my results and then proceeded to ask her about her experiences changing her form and what she was looking to do. We right on the same wavelength and she even asked my my opinion on a couple of things. Needless to say, it was an outstanding feeling.
We called ahead to Carraba’s because of course most of the triathlete world wants pasta to carb load the night before. Being on a 90% paleo diet I now forgo the pasta rituals and more prefer meat and vegetables. I had a combo of steak marsala, chicken brian and vegetables with a couple of glasses of sangria to help me sleep. It was perfect and the fact we did not wait for anything made it even better. So, it was back to the hotel, to double check the gear, lay out clothes for the next day and off to bed.
My race night ritual usually always includes the following; lay out my gear, go over the race in my head to include transitions and nutrition, pack everything up, double check my list one more time, lay out my clothes bib, shoes, hat and glasses in some odd way, take a picture, post it to Facebook, set my alarm and do whatever I can to get to sleep. The latter is the hard part. I end up so anxious that I do not usually drift off for a couple of hours. This night was no exception except I made a small error that revealed itself way too late.
My eyes popped open the next morning and I was ready for the day. The alarm hadn’t gone off so I thought there was no problem with just lying around for a bit to get my bearings. As I turned over, to turn off the alarm, my eyes cleared up on the face of the clock; 4:25am it read. WHAT??? 4:25?? I was supposed to be up at 3:30 so I had an hour to gear myself up for the race before I was supposed to be downstairs at 4:30am. SON OF A MONKEY”S UNCLE!! (That may have not been my exact vernacular.) I couldn’t believe I overslept. I immediately jumped up disrobed, put on my tri shorts an shirt, took my vitamins, put in my contacts, gathered my stuff and was down in the lobby by 4:30am awaiting the rest of the crew. No hygiene, no pre-race glide, no pre-race meal and of course what I disliked the most, the fear I would have to use a porta potty for a bowel movement. OH-EM-Freakin -GEE! My head was a wreck and I knew I had to get it together. I was so lucky, I ended up driving myself to the race because I needed a little time to pull myself together.
I finally accepted the inevitable when we parked the cars fairly near to transition. This was a huge plus as last year we ended up walking over a mile and then dragging our bikes and gear back. Each moment started to bring on more and more positive energy. Not that I wasn’t still anxious, but everything was starting to align. Setting up transition was easy breezy. A couple of weekends prior Amy had me running through my transition setup a few times to make sure I knew what was the most efficient for me, so it was just like putting puzzle pieces together; towel, shoes, cletes, race belt run, race belt bike, helmet and glasses. Attach the bottles, ditch the bag and my transition was officially setup. I ran up to it once and jumped in my cletes and mimed through my first transition as a quick check and at that point I was confident at least my bike and gear were ready. I grabbed my wet suit, a honey stinger waffle and headed to the bus for a ride back to the swim start.
Everything continued to align as the bus’s speaker roared to life with the announcement that there would be two stops. The first being the swim start and the second being the host hotel. “Wait!” I thought. “Did he just say the host hotel? Really?” Shut the front door! I was going to be able to use a real bathroom prior to the race. Awesome! While the rest of the crew decided to go straight to the swim start, Jessica and I continued on to the hotel. The thought of using a bathroom that was not a porta potty for…well…uh…number 2, elated me. Not to mention, the idea I may be able to actually get that cup of coffee I was expecting in the hour I planned to have prior to leaving. YAY!!! Jessica seemed to be just as happy about the chance to have a cup of coffee as well.
After we both accomplished what we set out for we headed out to the River Walk and headed to the swim start. The sky had this purple hue as the orange sun started to peak through the sky. It was gorgeous. I was also really happy to have a few spare moments to spend with Jessica. She had taken the trip with us specifically to be a motivator and sherpa for Beth, and I could tell that she really appreciated Jessica being here. Beth is this type A personality that while excitable always exhibits this aura of sunshine no matter how she is feeling. Jessica, is extremely positive, but a little more laid back, but can definitely take her Cuban persona to a higher level when provoked. Luckily, I only experienced it positively provoked spilling sunshine and rainbows. I found her to be charming, caring and nurturing to everyone and luckily she was there because we all needed that grounding.
Jessica and I walked up to our crew sitting on a curb gabbing while a few of the other athletes we knew all started passing by. We said our good lucks and gave hugs, high fives and fist bumps all the while suffering from own anxiety. Beth is the one who turned me on to blogging more regularly and she has also forged connections with other fitness and running bloggers whom I have read. One is Swim, Bike, Mom whom is very motivating and just so happened to not only be competing but was standing not to far from a group of bloggers that Beth was acquainted with. I was really excited to see her there. I don’t know what it was, but I was enthralled. Maybe because she puts a lot of her personal feelings into her blog that I felt like I knew her, but I was sincerely happy to see and meet her in person.
I looked at my watch and noticed it was 7:15, so I did some of my Dave Scott exercises, lunges and stretches and sat down to struggle with my wet suit. As each leg went on the anxiety increased to another level. “Just get me past the swim”, I kept saying to myself. “Get me on the bike and everything will be just fine.” One more glance at my watch. 7:28am. I had no idea what I was thinking when the first gun went off and the announcer shouted that the Pro Men were off. I went up to the barrier and and waited for them to swim by. They were fast and looked as though they hardly were expending any energy. If I could just figure that out before my wave start everything would be ok, but if I didn’t have it now, I wasn’t going to have it by then. I decided I would trust my training and just do my best to keep straight by sighting every five strokes, kick as lightly as possible and just swim till I was done. After that, what I thought, was a quick meditation my watch said 7:46. I said goodbye and good luck to my crew and headed for the start.
Saturday started the perfect day. There is nothing better then a nice long bike ride with a group of not only excellent triathletes but amazing and supportive people. A few of us are on our way to Augusta, Georgia next week for an Ironman 70.3, so we took the speed a little more conservatively, which allowed me to get to know a few people a little better.
As much as I enjoy riding hard and challenging myself, there is just something really cool, about the somewhat more aerobic rides like this one. There is more of a chance to check out the local scenery, watch the sunrise, and notice stores and unique businesses I wouldn’t normally notice, but I digress.
Miles for Hope is an event, that includes runs and rides in the support of a cure for brain tumors. The event started extremely well organized. Pete and I rolled up to a somewhat full parking lot, gabbed with a couple of friends and headed over to get our bibs and t-shirts which took all of thirty seconds. Afterwards, we had the chance to catch up with some of our group and gather everyone together at the start line. Here is where the organization wasn’t as clear as it could have been. We took off and about half-a-mile into the ride there a roundabout with a cop pointing left and arrows pointing right. Of course our group split, with half going one way and the rest in the opposite direction. Not a huge deal, a quick look at the map and we realized our mistake, but unfortunately, we didn’t catch up to a portion of the group until the halfway point.
Other than that, the ride was fantastic. The weather started in the mid 70s and didn’t rise higher than the mid 80s. The wind was slight, the company was great and no one really fell behind or ended up lost, which was probably due to the herding skills of Pete and Nick.
We ended up averaging a little over 18 MPH which was very comfortable. During an interesting conversation I had with Nick during the last twenty miles an amazing realization came over us. A year and a half ago, 18 MPH for 62 miles would have been a hard ride for us. Now we are coasting, talking and just having a great time. The lesson; keep riding, running, swimming and progress will be made. Of course we will see just how much this next weekend at Ironman Augusta.
It wasn’t completely without challenges. Pete, and I tried to chase Nick down, unsuccessfully over the 3 bridges of Clearwater, so kudos to Nick. He has gained a inordinate amount of strength this year, of course he has worked his butt off so he deserves it.
We all decided to do this because of Pete more or less. His mother is affected by a brain tumor and with everything he has been through this last year, we all wanted to support him, not to mention he is just a great guy and everyone loves him. There is not a lot I wouldn’t do for him myself and am really proud to call him one of my good friends.
We all came through the line comfortably and feeling pretty confident about next week. There was food, live music and of course beer. Beth and I went straight for the Coke which is fast becoming my recovery drink of choice. Not the best choice but it seems to working for me better than Gatorade ever did. After some great conversation, meeting up with some other riders and some pics it was time to hit the road home. For such a great ride it was actually kind of uneventful, but maybe that’s why it was so great.