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.
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.