Ever since the day I even thought about signing up for Ironman 70.3 Augusta, I knew it would be a long and hard road. Hence the #LongRoadToAugusta on all social media. But it was almost 10 months to the day that I signed up. I knew I would stumble, I knew I would have my firsts, I knew I would break down some days, I knew I would come out tougher some days, I knew I would love it all, I knew I would hate it too. But it was all a mush of thoughts and an eternally optimistic “it will all be fine”.
On Saturday, I went to swim and ride the course with about 70-80 people, most of whom I was meeting for the first time. I was very very worried about the swim – I don’t do cold water(river was expected to be 66-67F), and I had memories of my blank-out at Chattanooga Waterfront Triathlon fresh in my mind. It was going to be a hot day, but I didn’t care much about that. Weather is what it is – I’m not powerful enough to change it just because I willed it so. And plenty of pre-marathon worries has taught me to look at the weather but not obsess over it (No, really! I do NOT obsess over weather!!).
We all met at swim exit/bike start so we could keep our bikes ready. Chad of the TriAugusta club gave us instructions (I swear I paid attention, but I can’t remember anything at all now!)
The TriAugusta folks shuttled us to the swim start and just like that, it was time to get in! They were giving us instructions and I was trying my best to focus on what they were saying instead of focusing on the river.
The Augusta Canoe and Kayak Club had joined forces with the TriAugusta club and come out in full force to support us! There were atleast a million kayakers looking out for us! (Not a million really, but plenty of kayakers and paddle boards)
I watched in shocked admiration as people jumped from the dock.
As I was standing trying to compose myself, I could hear shouts of get in the water (Shawna!) and get in now by Chad and Brian on the deck!! Afraid that someone would come up and push me in, I slid in. No sooner did I get in the water than it was go-go-go.
I tried to float and flipped on my back. No drowning in a wetsuit – trust the wetsuit.
I hesitated for a minute wondering what to do next – d’uh! I wanted to take a moment and get used to the water, but I also knew I wouldn’t have that luxury on race day so I decided to keep moving. And at that moment when my brain was going ‘cold, cold, cold’, my movement was backstroke. I could hear Laurie and Barry’s voice around me but it only had the effect of agitating me.
Laurie encouraged me to tread water and sit up instead of being on my back. I did that and again – trust the wetsuit. And I attempted a few strokes. For some reason, maybe because the water was still cold, I flipped back over. But this time I knew it wasn’t as bad and steeling myself, I started swimming.
Surprisingly, the water didn’t seem that cold (it was 67F). I kept remembering what Mike had told me (joked?) about it feeling cold until the face went numb. I don’t remember if my face went numb, but I definitely found my rhythm. At some point, I saw Mike in a kayak next to me (He had kayaked up river after he lost a battle with bungee cords earlier in the morning resulting in a deep cut chin.).
Like ALWAYS when I swim open water – I wasn’t quite sure of the direction I was going in! Luckily, I could see orange swim safe buoys in the distance and followed them. At one point I asked myself how much longer, but I could see the orange swim safes and the kayakers veering towards the right and I knew the end was there. I had to get a little … umm… “help” to get up on the dock. (There is a reason that push-ups are not a discipline in Triathlon!)
Thoughts and Takeaways on the Swim
- Trust the wetsuit.
- There are some plants and weeds in the river but they are nearer the banks. At first I was disturbed by it, but I started closing my eyes every time I’d put my eyes in the water and I was fine.
- Swim closer to the middle of the river – no weeds and faster current. (More people on race day though)
- Just do it. (This one is more for myself)
- Enjoy the swim – it will be the easiest part of the day on this course.
The transition took a little longer than I’d have liked since I’d not pumped my tires earlier. But quick UCan drink and I was off. Mike was going to ride with me and coach me through the ride (Heavens help the man!).
The first 10-15 miles was very peaceful. Some chatter and awkwardness in my head, but I quickly put it behind me – it was a day to focus on what I needed and if that meant focusing on myself for a bit, then I would.
The first 10-15 miles were nice and easy. Since Mike knew the course very well, I didn’t have to stop at the regrouping points. Some boring long climbs and some bumpy roads, but it was all good. I remember laughing with glee as I went down on the drops and raced to pass a tractor on the road. Ha! I love riding the drops, makes me feel legit!
Mike rode ahead to hand me water so I could fill my aero bottle – just like race day. It was the first time I’d attempted it and I was very pleased, especially given that I’m not very steady when I let go my right hand. He taught me an important tip – to ask the volunteers to run with me. That makes it easier to grab the bottle instead of grabbing it while the bottle is standing still and I’m moving – laws of physics.
At about Mile 25-26, I remember thinking that we were almost half way there and I was riding good and no bonking. I was drinking plenty, and eating too. About mile 30, I was feeling low and Mike was giving me some pep talk. Sorry Mike, but I don’t think I was hearing anything; I was starting to feel that breathing was hard.
About Mile 32, we made a turn and Mike remarked that we would pass some horses and that I’d think that horses were great until the turn would kick me back in a long hill. And sure enough – it kicked me. I had wanted to stop plenty of times before, but I kept pushing through! And really, I could go on for a couple of miles more, … At that turn, I mentioned that my heart rate was at 182 and I could feel heat radiating out of my head. I saw a couple of people stopped over in shade and very reluctantly opted to stop.
Soon the big group behind me stopped over and instead of feeling cheered up by their company, I began to feel flustered. I wanted some quiet and there was chatter all around me. I put my bike down to walk away, I heard Mike telling me not to, but I just wanted to get away.
I had been ok while riding, but when I stopped my hands had started shaking and I was not sure what that was about. The LIFESAVING All3Sports sag wagon came with Carlos bearing cold water and ice. I drank and poured 2 cold bottles of water on myself and had some base salt directly.
All of a sudden, I was mad, I was frustrated and I slammed an empty water bottle. If I didn’t have a not-so-good ankle, I would’ve stomped and crushed the water bottle in a tantrum.
I took some time to compose myself after the rest of the group rode off.
I wanted to cry, I wanted to yell, I wanted to stop shaking. I JUST WANTED TO RIDE.
I honestly don’t remember what I told Mike at that point or what he responded. Did I curse (something that reserve only for extremes)? Did I cry? Did I yell at him? How was my attitude when I finally stopped shaking?
But I was up on the bike and riding again.
Mike and I talked about heart rates a bit and this time I kept an eye on it. I opted to take a second break at a gas station where everyone was already gathered. Did I need that break? I don’t know. I needed water for sure, but maybe not that long a break. Did I regret taking that break? After the last break that got me worried with the shaking, no.
We got ice and more cold water and a BIG slab of ice that I shoved down the front my jersey. When we rode off from that point – I felt good again.
But after half an hour or so, a relentless headwind beat me into submission. Mike would try to shield me from the wind at times or try to push me up the hills, but I wouldn’t take it. I had to know where I had to pull in my strength. I rode back into town sitting upright, no energy or strength to go into aero. The last 5-10 into town were flat, but no matter how I tried to dig in, I could only give so much.
Thoughts and Takeaways on the Bike Course
- The course is hilly. Be prepared.
- At mile 50 is a short but steep hill that appears to be worse that it is because you go into it from long stretches of downhill. It is very important to be in the right gear on that. Mike warned me that many an athlete have found themselves with snapped chains as a result of that hill.
- There are a lot of bumps on the road.
- At about mile 26, there are two quick right turns. You come down an incline and then make the two rights and start going up. Be prepared with your bike skills to take those turns safety.
- It was blistering hot, my Garmin recorded 100+ after 30 miles, I even had one 113F (!!!). I was prepared for the heat with hydration and nutrition and most importantly, mentally. But I hadn’t understood how it would actually affect me physically. Carrie said it perfectly when she said that just because we train in the heat, it doesn’t mean that we were ready to ride in that heat.
- I have to remember to ask Coach more about heart rate on the bike. When I suspected something was off, it really was off – I’m glad I spoke up before it was too much. And I’m happy that I can understand my body without having to look at numbers always.
- I wanted it to be over with (at mile 30, at mile 40, at mile 50, everytime I hit a hill on the second half) but never once did a thought of cutting it short cross my mind. The headwind beat me down, but it was always keep pedaling, keep moving, even if that earlier 13.5 pace had dropped to 12.5 average pace.
- I could look at it as the 56 miles whooped me with just 11 weeks to go. Or, I could look at it as 11 weeks to race day and I have nowhere to go except get stronger on the bike.
The fact that I was willing to lace up and ride meant a lot to me mentally – I wasn’t completely beat up and I still had a lot of spirit in me! One of guys even called out “badass” as I ran out 🙂
Hardly had we run for 5 minutes when Mike stumbled and then within seconds, guess what – I went down.
My first thought – Oh #%@&, I hope no one saw me fall.
My second thought – Oh $%@#, my ankle!
No such luck – Mike saw the immediate aftermath of my thud, Danielle and Sheila saw it live driving by, … AND the firemen in the station in front of which I’d fallen.
The road rash pain on the other leg was a bit bothersome but I was trying to hide that and the embarrassment by shrugging it off. But the firemen were so nice, so so nice that I let myself be escorted to get looked at. I couldn’t stop giggling – I wasn’t completely delirious but it was pretty funny.
Poor, poor, Mike. Just for having stayed with me through that, he deserves the Coach of the Day award.
The road rash remains today but is on its way to recovery. And the ankle is a bit sore, it is being babied and will be given some TLC next week as I go into PT.
I felt like I had known all these strangers for ever. We bonded over 100+F temperatures and alligators (inside joke on the Ironman 70.3 Augusta facebook group) and badassery. I wish I could’ve stopped and talked to EVERYONE who showed up – that was about 84 people!!
There are absolutely no words to describe the PARTY afterwards at Nacho Mamas.
The Support Crew
This day was originally to be Lisa and Shawna going down and I asked if I could tag along. When I posted it on the Facebook forum, it suddenly grew
big HUGE. Susan Smith, the original kayaker brought in 8-10 from the Augusta Canoe and Kayak Club. It was an amazing escort down the river. Kayakers and paddleboarders everywhere.
With the number of people riding the course, the TriAugusta club came out in full force. Jeff Spires, our awesome host, coordinated with the TriAugusta club as our pace leaders and tour guides. They organized the swim start so smoothly and thought of everything! They all went over and beyond and then some more in helping us.
If you have been to the Augusta training day or plan to go to Augusta in the future to train, please consider supporting them by joining the TriAugusta club. It is only $30 per person, and $40 for a couple for an annual membership.
When the number of people grew so big, I reached out to All3Sports, a triathlon store in Atlanta. I knew they had provided sag support to similar large (un)organized groups of people riding courses in Augusta and Chattanooga. Mike at the store immediately said he’d send the van to support us. As the day came closer, it was clear that the temperatures were going to be scorching and I was even more glad of the sag support.
On the day – it cannot be described in words how much All3Sports saved the day. We called them lifesavers – they literally were! I saw them stopped several times on the side of the road, and they picked up quite a few people along the way. I know that the cold water helped me cool down when I had to stop at mile 32 (and I had an empty water bottle to slam down my frustration).
I wonder how many bottles of cold water were used that day. Everytime we’d ask for water – it was heavenly icy cold. I am sure we all fell in love with Carlos – he was running around passing cold water and electrolytes and nutrition with a smile all the time!
Mike was coming over for the whole day to guide me through the swim and bike. I was looking forward to this, but also a little trepid. He rides at twice my pace, and apart from one of my very first rides in early February, we have never ridden together. 56 miles at my pace is a LONG LONG day to be spending together! I wondered how it was going to be between us at the end of the day – would we still be on speaking terms? I was taking bets on which of us would want to kill the other first!
Mike instructed me all through the course, approved of me going in the drops when I did, listened to my ups and downs, distracted me when I was feeling low, told me to suck it up, encouraged me to gear up to speed on the downhills, made me focus on the positives and was just there with me when I was in auto-mode of just pedaling towards the end.
I don’t know how he felt about the ride with me (it must’ve been torturous for him to ride at that pace), but for my part, I did not feel like killing him (not completely anyway) 🙂
And that is what I always mean when I say that a coach-athlete relationship is based on your gut. I’m not usually comfortable when I spend so much time with someone (I know it seems contrary to how I come across sometimes, but believe me, I’m pretty nervous around people.), but even though we haven’t met too many times in real life, I was comfortable riding with Mike. I did not feel like I had to bite my tongue, or be a different person, or ride differently because he was around. Although I will admit that I was eager to show off since our last ride together in February when he had to teach me how to dismount without falling!
In the end, it wasn’t the ride that I was hoping to have. I went in hoping to have a strong, confidence building ride on the course. Instead, I had a ride that was brutalized by the heat and then beaten down by the headwind. I was hoping to learn tips and tactics from Coach, instead I was in survival mode after those first 30 miles.
But so what if the course beat me down today; it didn’t break me.
I rode all the 56 miles, I came into transition and was ready to run. I may have had some miserable moments when I said “not another hill”, but I was still able to smile at the end of the day. I didn’t quit and the thought of quitting never occurred to me. I may have only averaged 12.5 mph riding time not considering the two massive stops (which will not get me in by deadline time), but I still finished.
I don’t know what race day will bring in 11 weeks, but training for Ironman 70.3 Augusta has already brought me friends and courage to face my fears – even the deepest fears of time cutoff limits.
Have you done the Ironman 70.3 Augusta? Do you have any tips to share about the course?