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.
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.