I am finally getting to the actual race report. Here is a little context first for those of you not as familiar with this crazy sport I have gotten myself into. Augusta 70.3 is the largest half Ironman event on the WTC circuit, and perhaps in the world. It is a race that many first timers select because of the course and the amazing crowd support. Over 3,000 people register for the event. I believe that I heard that around 2700-2800 actually started on Sunday.
This is really long and there are not many photos to break it up. I’m sorry about both.
Early morning alarms
I woke up around 4:15 after a fairly decent night’s sleep, but one with odd dreams. I actually had a dream that my Camelbak didn’t work. Remember that for later if you don’t know about my day. I ate my normal breakfast – a protein shake – and added a bottle of Heed and a slice of cinnamon raisin toast with almond butter. I checked over what I needed one more time and headed out to the parking deck.
I was early, as usual, so I was able to park on the first level, walk to the Marriott and get right on a bus for transition. Unlike the bus in Raleigh, everyone on this bus seemed upbeat, happy, and not overly nervous. I saw a few of the Vulcan Triathlete team members from Birmingham. It only took a few minutes to get to transition.
In transition I set up my area. I did a few stretches, filled my water bottle, and did a short jog. It didn’t take me long to get things set up and get ready. I grabbed my wetsuit and headed toward the buses. I realized that I did not have my grocery bags to use to get my wetsuit on so I headed back for them. By the time I headed out of transition to get on a bus to the swim start, the lines had gotten confusing. I was not quite sure where I was going if I walked but I knew the general direction and followed some other people who were walking. It was actually a good thing to do. I had a short time to warm up with the walk and I was away from the crowds of athletes and any nervous or anxious people. There were already a lot of people at the swim start when I arrived shortly before 7 am. The race began at 7:30 and I debated about walking up the hill to St. Paul’s for a short time. In the end I didn’t because it was up a hill or a set of steps and I didn’t really want to leave the swim area at that point. The lines for port a potties were not long so I took advantage of that before I got into my wetsuit. I waited a little longer before I put on my wetsuit and dropped off my morning clothes bag because I did not want to stand around in a long sleeve wetsuit too long even though it was not very warm.
Before the start there were parachuters who had the American flag, a chorus that sang, and a minister who offered a prayer. Then the pros were off at 7:30.
Swim start 1.2 miles
As I said, this was wetsuit legal because the water was 69 degrees. Augusta is referred to as an aided swim due to the fast current, downstream swim and always being wetsuit legal. The river was running around 5600 cfs, slower than it had been the few days before. The Corps of Engineers controls the river flow and can slow it down or speed it up. This is usually an in water start swim, but this year we had to jump in the water from the floating dock because of the current.
My age group, women 50 and above, were set to begin at 8:04. After the first few waves, groups of probably around 100 at a time go off 4 minutes apart for almost two hours. I was very calm on race day. The Thursday swim had helped me tremendously as had the summer long open water swims at home. I had no questions in my mind about being able to do the swim. I knew I would reach my goal time as well since I swam the course in 35:47 on Thursday. I was not as worried about being kicked after I swam on Thursday because there is a lot of space in the river. Watching the first few waves go off reinforced my feelings because people seemed to spread out pretty quickly. There was upbeat music playing and many of the women in my age group were dancing and singing along. As my friend Karen says, this is what we do fun! In no time we were lined up on the floating dock waiting for the horn. I placed myself in about the middle and in the back row. I saw no reason to do anything different than I normally do in races. The horn sounded and we were off. I jumped in without a second thought and began. The swim passes two bridges, a long section of trees, the boathouse and finally the exit. The 9 yellow buoys and 9 orange buoys were in the middle of the river. I knew that the group behind me would catch me, or at least the fastest ones, so I tried to get as far as I could before they started. The water was very comfortable for me Sunday morning – a great victory after my struggles in open water. I was right and the orange cap men began appearing beside me. One swam over me and I gave him an elbow like I had been instructed to do :). I was hit a few times and hit a few people’s feet myself but there really was room to spread out so I moved one direction or the other.
Ironman provides a lot of water support. There were kayaks, boats, and paddle boards everywhere on the course. I did not need them. One kayaker called to a few of us to move further out into the current. I did but wish I had moved back in a little sooner because all of a sudden, I was done with the swim. I had made it – one leg down. It was a little slower than Thursday but the current was not quite as fast Sunday morning.
I exited the water, a volunteer helped me unzip my wetsuit, and I began to pull it off. I decided to use the wetsuit strippers who pulled the rest of the suit off quickly and I was on my way to my bike. I stopped again at the port a potties because I knew I had a long ride ahead. I also took time to have sunscreen applied which was a very good decision. I had decided ahead of time that I would not worry too much about my time in transition for this race because I wanted to make sure I had everything. I ate half a banana, drank some Heed, and headed out after I was sure I had everything. I really thought I was in T1 a lot longer than I actually was – time 12:53. That is much too long for the future.
Bike 56 miles
I headed out for the bike of 56 miles. In August I rode part of the course and I had driven the entire course on Friday. I had also watched Randy Cantu’s videos of the course several times and had marked up the map with landmarks and notes. I set my Edge 500 to alert me every 15 minutes (thanks to Lester’s suggestion) to make sure I was getting hydration and nutrition. I knew that was a key element for success. I was wearing a Camelbak, had gels and a larabar, and a Profile bottle on my bike.
The course begins in Georgia and then winds through South Carolina. There are hills and some sharp turns to maneuver as well as some false flats. The first 14 miles went by quickly and I was setting a good pace of 16-20 mph most of the time. I passed some people and had a lot of people passing me. I felt really good. I eventually reached the point where I had turned around in August so I was now riding new roads even though I felt familiar with them. The alerts were working and I was taking in my nutrition and hydration. We got to a road that I knew was really rough from my drive and it was really driving me crazy on my bike. I thought, as I have heard others did, that I had a flat. I finally stopped and checked it and did not have a flat. It was just a bad road. The first aid station appeared and I passed by without stopping. The course was now getting hillier and a little more difficult. It is still nothing beyond what I ride at home though. I pulled over for a minute to collect myself before the next difficult section. With that many cyclists on the road it can be a little challenging getting back in the pack but I did without incident.
There is a hairpin turn from Old Whiskey Rd. to Gray Mare Hollow Rd. At that point you can go pretty fast but have to slow down a little before going around the curve and right into another hill. I did it without a problem. I came to my next landmark and knew I was half way finished. This road continued with another sharp turn. I was being passed by many cyclists but it was ok. I was able to get some good stretches of speed, was getting my nutrition, and reminded myself it was my day and my ride.
I stopped at the second aid station to eat a banana. I can’t do that while I am moving yet. I also took some water before moving on to a 2 mile climb. I stayed on the bike the entire way. There were cyclists passing me and encouraging me as I was trying to do for others. I knew that was the longest climb and I made it up the hill.
There were people out all along the route. I had always heard that this happened but it is hard to believe until you experience it. The volunteers were fantastic. Roads and intersections were monitored by volunteers and police so that we could get through easily. But there were also people sitting in yards with cowbells ringing and with signs. And on Pine Log Road a church was playing a recording for the athletes which included Philippians 4:13. It came at a point that was really crucial.
By the time I passed the church I knew that I was almost to my third landmark – two gas stations. For a moment I thought I would stop for a minute but I didn’t – I pushed on. There is another steep hill at this point but the first one is a downhill where I was up to 41.1 mph. As one cyclist said as he went by me, “that was fun.” Torture followed shortly after, however, with a really sneaky, steep little climb before the final aid station. I still don’t think it as steep as Dry Creek but it sure was a surprise. I stopped briefly at the last aid station which was around mile 46.
The last 10 miles had some rolling hills and then returned to the same road we started on. The fun part of this section was going around the exit ramp from the highway. The roads were in much better shape than in August. Quite a bit of road work had been done and the ride ending potholes were filled in.
As I approached the final turn onto Prep Phillips Drive, I became very emotional. I made it 56 miles with no flat tires, no crashes, and only one stop to put my chain back on. I made the hills and I had some pretty good stretches of speed. For a good bit of the course I stayed in aero position. I also realized at that point that this was the longest ride I had completed. I had hoped for a slightly better time but the time of 4:06 equaled a shorter ride that I had done a year or so ago. I really enjoyed the experience.I dismounted and headed to T2.
T2: mistakes were made
It was around 1:00 when I made it into T2. Ryan Rau, a pro who was finished, spoke to me as I came in and said “take that water bottle on the run.” I should have done that. I spent a little longer in T2 than I planned on (13:58) but, again, I had decided to get things right and not fret about time in transition on this one. The problem is I made mistakes without realizing it. The first one had really been made the night before when I had not mixed my Heed and salt sticks correctly. I had taken in all the Heed/salt stick mixture on the bike and the nutrition but there was not enough mixed in the Camelbak and Profile bottle. The second mistake occurred when I refilled my Camelbak, or thought I had. Apparently I did not actually pour my Heed/salt stick mixture into the chamber. Then I dropped a package of salt sticks in transition – though I did discover I had the dispenser in my Camelbak with salt sticks in it.
Run, walk and shuffle
I headed out for the run with a few other people. One woman stopped and asked if I wanted her to run with me for a while. We started but I wound up walking. Transition goes out and up a small hill. I planned on walking to the top of the hill and then beginning to run. There was a water station right after transition and I took some water. Once I was up onto the flat road, I began trying to run but I was not doing very well. I kept trying though. At the turn onto Greene Street I went to take fluid from my Camelbak. There was nothing in it. That was a shocking moment where the dream I mentioned at the beginning of this overly long report had come true. I knew that I did have gels and some other nutrition and that there were supposed to be water stations every mile or so. I started a walk/run pattern and felt like I was crawling. My first mile was 16 minutes though. That is very slow for many people but I had anticipated a 16 minute mile for the first mile or so. At the water station I took Perform and water and kept moving. I guess I should have taken more. I tried the Camelbak again because I really could not believe that there was nothing in it. I had poured a full bottle into it in transition. I think I was so stunned by the lack of hydration that I forgot to take in nutrition. At one point a woman came beside me and said I looked like I needed something. She took a gel out of my back and handed it to me. It helped temporarily. There was not another water stop until I reached Broad St and by that time I was already in trouble. I kept going after taking water and Perform again. As I headed down Broad I tried to get my breathing regulated but I was wheezing. I had been sneezing on the bike most of the way. Finally, at 10th and Broad, a volunteer took a hold of me and that was the end of my day. She called for help and a wonderful woman named Carol came first. She gave me water, took my pulse, made sure I knew my name and the other things you ask someone who seems to be deranged. Then medical finally came and took me to the medical tent. I was there for a while and then left when I felt better. Dehydration had gotten me one more time.
No excuses, no regrets
I wanted to cross the finish line but a few missteps on my part, after a very careful plan, prevented that. I was trained and ready. Race morning I was calm and confident. The lack of the right mix of hydration and the salt sticks got me though. That is not an excuse. It is a fact. I still made it farther than I ever have before and I felt strong on both the swim and the bike. I could have pushed more on the bike than I did but I did not really realize that until later either. My goal was to complete the bike course and I did do that.
I read this tonight in a post by Dennis Pursley, the head swim coach at University of Alabama:
“The great athletes are rewarded by success and are motivated–rather than discouraged–by failure. They learn from their mistakes and turn bad into good, whether it’s in the next race, the next meet or the next season.”
That is what I want to do – be motivated by what I accomplished on Sunday, and learn from and improve on what I did not do well. My next triathlon is not until 2014. I have plenty of time to focus in on nutrition and on trying some different things to see if there might be something that will work better.
I made it 60 miles on Sunday. I completed the swim and the bike. A She Does Tri team member suggested that I could just think about it as an endurance length aquabike. That one made me smile.
I did not cross the finish line and I did not come home with a medal. But I gained a great deal in Augusta and I have the will and determination to continue and to try again. Beyond the race course, the best thing that came out of this experience was the people I met who I now call friends. That is a separate post that I will write in the next day or two.