Obviously, Ironman Augusta 70.3 is one of my favorite races, since this is the third year in a row I competed in it. Why?
- The 1.2 mile swim heads downstream giving those of us that are not great swimmers a little push.
- There are two main sporting events in Augusta. The little golf tournament called “The Masters”, and the Ironman, so the whole city seems to show up to support it. The Ironman doesn’t have near the amount athletes or the out-of-town spectators, but it doesn’t seem like that when you are competing.
- The 56 mile bike course is beautifully scenic with rolling hills which makes it somewhat challenging and a lot of fun.
- The run course is two-loops around the center of town which is loaded with spectators that are cheering and holding signs with sayings like “If Triathlon was easy they would call it football.” It gives the competitors continuous motivation through a the 13.1 mile completion to the challenge which depending on the temperature could be grueling.
- The volunteers, all three years I have competed, have always been amazing. There are aid stations every 10 miles on the bike and every mile on the run, so there are a huge amount of volunteers that are there for a very long time.
- The expo and check-in have always been run very professionally and smooth. It is probably one of the best run expos I have took part in.
The weekend started off with a caravan of amazing people up to Augusta including my buddy Pete, Kari, Jaime, Kat, Chris, Kate, Matt, Jeff & Miranda. All of them great people and athletes.
The ride up was uneventful with one stop at Cracker Barrel to fuel up and a couple of minute stops for gas and essentials. We went right to check-in and surprise, surprise, the Marriott opened their new convention center so there was so much more space for check-in and the expo than last year. In the past everything was in a series of rooms, now it was in one great big room that allowed for more vendors and more space to move around. There had to be at least 50% more vendors than last year. It was amazing. Of course my favorite part, as always, is the atmosphere. Super charged with excitement and enthusiasm.
After getting settled in are hotels, Chris, Jaime, Kat and I had dinner at this little restaurant of an old hotel called the Partridge Inn. The meal was incredible, and for the first time I got to try Shrimp & Grits, which of course Jaime was astounded I had never tried. It was really amazing. Paleo? Not in the least, but it was delicious. We ended up splitting our dinners, of which mine was a 16oz prime rib that was cooked to perfection. It was an amazing choice, indeed. (Patrons of the hotel had much less to say of the hotel though.)
The next day consisted of quick workouts, bike check-in, race prep and another awesome dinner at Charlie-O’s Steak House. We had a much larger crowd for dinner which not only included the caravan gang, but some members of Tri-Psych as well. It was the perfect crowd to spend the evening before the race. Everybody was calm, cool and collected on the outside, but some pre-race anxiety seemed to be looming over all of us.
I was surprised at how well I slept that night. I usually never sleep the night before a race. Of course I still didn’t get eight hours, but the 6 I did was a very hard sleep. I woke up even more refreshed than I thought. I had the opportunity to dress, eat and be ready with time to chill out and motivate myself.
The transition area was crowding fast as usual, and since last year I had a very early start, this year I ended up more in the middle waves, so there was plenty of time, to relax and get my bike and gear ready, without feeling rushed. As always there were plenty of people who caught up with me either from, home, past races, social media, or my blog. It was awesome. Race morning has to be one of my favorite times of the race, just because of the excitement and the convening with friends and acquaintances. Those of you podium placers probably are in your own little world at this point, and it makes sense, but to a lot of us just trying to beat our past times and finish comfortably, this is a great time of the morning.
The shuttle took us to the host hotel, and as it was in the lower 50s at the time, we decided to grab some coffee and hangout in the lobby. Finally, it was time to head over to the start, drop my “morning clothes” bag in the truck and enter my corral for the start. I found Jaime, which calmed my nerves a bit. He races with Team RWB of whom I am honored to call myself a part of as well, but he is much faster than I. Usually about 20-30 minutes faster. He is an amazing athlete, motivator and all-around person. We only catch each other at races, but he always is able to motivate just that little bit extra.
The time came and they moved us to the dock, the
gun went off and we jumped in and started swimming. I have been working on my swimming so I adopted my rhythm as soon as possible, and found myself right with the majority of the pack the first 800m but then I fell short. They swam past and I ended up, as usual, in the back. Around the 1200m mark the pack behind me caught me and by time I finished, the fast women, two waves behind me, caught me. I still ended up beating my swim time from the year before by a minute, but it was still slow.
I ran up the ramp to transition and without any incidents I grabbed my bike and headed out and just as I was about to leave transition, mother nature called and I made a quick decision to use the portlets. I still ended up with a four-minute transition, but I was a little disappointed. Around the three-mile mark I started to feel something new; quad burn. I was astounded I was feeling this so soon. Usually, it took 40 to 50 miles of hills before I felt it this bad. I must have over-used them in the swim. After another fifteen minutes I took a Honey Stinger Gel prematurely and the burn subsided meaning that I must have depleted my glycogen levels just enough to feel it. My cadence kicked up and I started passing people, and while I was still getting passed by the elite cyclists in the waves behind me, I was doing more passing than getting passed. The hills were as I remembered and I didn’t have any issues with them until mother nature threw me a curve ball. She added the wind. I was thinking the whole time, I just wanted to average 20mph. That would get me into T2 under 3 hours. I did make it to T2 with that goal, but I fell short of my 20mph average at 19.44 mph.
Unfortunately, because I wanted that 20 mph so bad and I had not accounted for the wind, I spent a little more energy than I wanted and I felt in on the run. At first I felt a little tight, but I was used to that. In my training it took till mile three to get my legs back, so I pushed through and bided my time until then, but at mile three, the tightness didn’t go away. As a matter of fact, the tightness never went away. I ended up doing a run/walk of 1 mile on and sixty seconds off. It worked but I faltered on even doing as well as I did the year before. I was under two hours in 2012, but this year I ended up 2:05 which is the exact amount I was off my over-all time: 5:42 off from 5:36. I cared for a while, but I assessed what I learned and what I needed to take away in order to be successful at Ironman Florida which is the ultimate goal for the year.
I caught up with Pete around mile 11 and we ran into the finish chute together. Of course we were passed by Master’s champion runner, Jeff Lessie who was doing the bike and run as part of a relay. What made it really embarrassing, was that Jeff started an hour behind us and he still caught us. He is an amazing athlete, and when he ran passed us we thought for sure he was just on his first loop, but when we saw him in the finish area, both of us looked at each other and then down at the ground. After a couple of nanoseconds we lifted our heads, found him and gave him a hearty congrats. We both still did pretty well and we knew it.
On to the next challenge, for me, the Chicago Marathon, and for both of of us Ironman Florida, Panama City Beach.
I thought it was kinda nutty when I was invited to the Sunrise/Sunset Challenge, but I wasn’t sure the impact it would have on me. I looked at the distances of the two races, Top Gun and the Twilight Triathlons, and thought, “What the hell? The two distances do not even add up to an Olympic. How difficult could it be?” What I didn’t count on was the increased effort level?
The plan was hammer the Top Gun and do the Twilight for fun. (I am a poet and didn’t even know it.) Yeah. Right. Considering I have been competing and training for more long course triathlons lately, I really thought I would finally be able to conquer the sprint. My last full sprint was two years ago, when I competed in a few sprints in order to get ready for a marathon my times were less than admirable. To be honest, I was happy with 1:20 at the time. Now, after a few Ironman 70.3s and last year’s full Ironman I really thought I could do a lot better. Figuratively, I actually did, but in my mind it still wasn’t what I wanted, but there were some small achievements.
I picked up an A-Train Tri member, Jaime Breibert, around 5am and headed out to Ft. DeSoto. After the experiencing the pay-to-park line for the Escape from Ft. DeSoto Triathlon, I was pleasantly surprised this event was exempt so there were no delays driving into the park. Nice! Like every other race I have competed or watched at Ft. DeSoto the organization of the event was outstanding. The line for body marking was minimal, the transition area was large enough to accommodate all of the athletes bikes, space for their transition setup and extraneous bags. Walking into transition I spent minimal time setting up my bike, helmet and sunglasses, towel, bike shoes, and running gear including my choice of shoes (this time being my Brooks Pure Cadence), running belt and hat. I wasn’t rushed for time, or inconvenienced by other athletes. It was smooth sailing which is always nice since it eliminates any unwanted stress.
I headed on down to the beach with Nick Zivolich and Jaime where the low pitched but high energy voice was repeating instructions over the speaker system. It was a nice and comfortable environment I have come to love over the past years. The energy of the upcoming race increasingly becoming more and more intense as the time for the first heat was getting closer. I caught up with a bunch of friends and familiar fellow tri community members I have accumulated over the last years. This is absolutely one of my favorite times of the race. I have been really lucky this year as my age group has been assigned early heat times, so the intense anticipation has been minimal. Last year, I was not so lucky, but I understand the race directors strategy of moving the groups around each year to be fair. It will be interesting to find out what they where I will be starting next year. I was in the fifth heat this year only 12 minutes after the first and immediately following Jaime’s heat.
I wished Jaime and Victoria luck and intensely watched them swim out to the first buoy. Just a quick disclaimer. I totally and utterly suck at swimming. For me triathlon is survive the swim and get on the bike where the competition really begins. Not that I haven’t been working at it, but honestly, if for some reason I have to skip a workout, I’ll skip a swim before a bike, run or strength workout, but I digress. The horn finally went off and my personal race had started. I had been analyzing my swim prior to this, and just recently had the epiphany that maybe my pull of my arm through the water was possibly to shallow to allow me any kind of real speed. I usually finish with the heat behind me, and even sometimes with the heat behind that one, but this time following my experiment of dipping my arm deeper and pulling a little harder, (Voila!!) I actually finished in the middle of my heat. As I ran to my bike I noticed silver swim caps in front of me and coming behind me. A huge smile came over my face as I was slipping into my bike shoes and put on my helmet and sunglasses. I really couldn’t believe it. At this point I already felt like a winner.
I ran out of transition, jumped on my bike and headed out to the course I knew so well, due to all of the brick workouts I completed here with my A-Train Triathlon family. My goal; keep my speed above 21 while keeping a cadence under 96. The whole ride was pretty uneventful. The same word came out of my mouth more than anytime in the short period I have been racing. I continually yelled the word “left” as I was passing other athletes on my right, of course it was disconcerting when I heard it coming from my left. The ego boost came when I finished the final roundabout yelling “left” to a male athlete that had passed me at the beginning of my ride. As, I came into transition the only thought was how fast can I get in and out of transition, start the run and whether or not I had pushed a little to hard on the bike. According to my computer I had averaged well above 21, so was that too much?
I pulled on my shoes, grabbed my hat and ran out of transition buckling my race belt with my number attached to the front. I grabbed water on the way, a little disappointed when it turned out to be very warm, but it was wet. As I started trying to increase the cadence I noticed that my legs were very heavy, not a good sign. I kept saying to myself this is fine, just lean from the ankles and let gravity fuel your momentum. As much I told myself to lift my legs and lean a little more, my body refused to submit to what my head was commanding. I continued through the first mile to the fort, and very, very slowly my legs started to loosen a little, and my cadence started to increase. Passing the 1 mile aid station, I noticed a little more energy in my step and my hip flexors obeying my will. Then I turned the corner and I remembered. Crap! The middle mile of this race is on SAND! The lower extremities of my body surprised me as they adapted immediately to their new environment. I guess all those beach runs with Amy Eck had actually done something for me. All of the sudden I found myself enjoying the run. My legs stretched out, by body leaned, my cadence finally reached 180 (I think) and I was flying. Who would’ve thought feeling all that resistance under my feet would actually transform into moving faster? Not me, but after begging my body to obey earlier I was not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, so before my body decided any differently I picked up my pace. Turning on the path back to the asphalt I caught another athlete with a 44 on his calf. Hmm…an athlete in my wave I will place in front of…cool. With that thought completed I noticed another male runner in front of me with the number 41 on his calf. My only thought; “You are mine!” With the finish line in sight and the 3 mile marker on my left, I started to sprint with the finish line getting larger in my view and the runner in front of me coming closer and just a few feet from the timing mat, I caught him and jumped in front. A short term goal accomplished. I was so wiped out I could not immediately put my foot on the stool in order for the volunteer to remove my chip. I had to step over to a section of baracade and keep myself from falling for a quick second. After a half a minute I recovered enough to get my chip removed, grab some water and meet some friends at the end of the finish line assembly. Jaime had just finished and Speedy Nick was there already dried off and drinking some water.
With as exhausted as I was how was I ever going to this again in less than 12 hours?
After greeting some friends and coaches, watching some other friends and athletes come across the finish, I headed out to find some water and Gatorade. I noticed some preliminary results were posted, so I walked over in the hopes mine might just be posted and as luck, good or bad, would have it they were. My first split was the swim, and I was pleasantly surprised 7:53…cool. Less than 2 min per 100m…I’ll take that considering my miserable swimming performances leading to this race. Second split was the bike..26:51 averaging 22.3 MPH…Sweet! I never did that before. Finally, a 26.35..5k run. Well, I have run much faster, but not during a triathlon. 8:33 miles per minute…honestly I thought I did better, but I accepted it. More Bricks, more bricks, more bricks.
Overall, 1:06:36. A personal record(PR) since my last Sprint was 1:19 so you would think I would be happy and at first I was, until I looked at my place; 38th with only 67 athletes in my age group. Not even in the top 50 percent. That dropped me from my high pretty fast. There were still runners on the course so maybe there a few more in my group out there where I can at least be in the top half. As I check the results while I write this, it turns out there were I am ranked 39th out of 84 so I made it, just barely but I did make the top half.
The end of the morning consisted of congratulating friends, socializing and grabbing some breakfast at Lucky Dills in downtown St. Pete. I couldn’t have imagined a better morning.
Next up, the two race day continues.