Sometime mid last year after I finished a Sprint Tri on 8 days of “training”, I had a crazy idea. So crazy that I immediately banished it, but so crazy that I couldn’t help keep thinking about it. I wanted to do Ironman 70.3 Augusta. There was a small catch though – along with being a slow swimmer and runner, I didn’t know how to ride! And hence began the #LongRoadToAugusta
These past 15 months, I’ve trained, I’ve learnt, I’ve had breakthroughs, I’ve had breakdowns, I’ve had fights, I’ve had jokes, I’ve been frustrated, I’ve been amazed, I’ve laughed, I’ve cried. So many ups and downs through this training cycle that my family and coach were saints to put up with!
But all that also meant that I had eerie calmness leading up to race day instead of my usual bundle of nerves. No panic attacks, no increased heart rate, no taper tantrums. Even on race morning. I didn’t know what race morning was going to bring, but I was prepared. I was prepared for things to wrong and to fix them when it did.
And I was prepared to embrace it when things went right and not sabotage myself. This was VERY important to me because I keep playing Devil’s advocate so much with myself (my real life job is analyzing things!) that it’s paralysis by analysis.
I got to transition early enough that there weren’t many people around. Put my stuff out and walked around a few times tracing my path from swim to bike and bike to run. I didn’t have a headlamp, but was lucky that the no crowd meant no shadows and I could see. I pretend practiced what I was to do and it was still super early, but I was hesitant to leave transition because I was afraid I’d forgotten something. And oops yes, I had – I had forgotten to take out my bike nutrition from my transition bag.
I met quite a bit of people in transition, including a girl who cried on my shoulder and I calmed her down. *Me*!! I’m the nervous nellie usually!
After I set up transition and went to the swim start, I took advantage of St. Paul’s church opening its door for athletes with clean bathrooms. I talked a bit, but mostly relaxed and just reflected. Maybe I prayed a little (All prayers lead to the same God with different names!).
I joked with Carrie when she passed me on the run course that it wouldn’t be my first without my “oops”. What do you know – yep. Are you kidding me?!! Not today!!! I stayed at the church until the very last minute so I could retreat into my bubble.
That last minute advantage turned into a time crunch with me realizing that I had only 20 minutes to get into the wetsuit! oops! I met Mike for 5 minutes before I went off, and the family for 5 seconds! (Both of them had been texting me asking where I was. I do wish I had been a little more receptive of their concerns instead of choosing to shut everyone out. But I think I was allowed to be a *little* selfish and rude just today. The bubble was strong!)
Augusta Half Ironman Race Day
I chose to sit on the dock waiting and when the signal went off, jumped right in and off I went. As Ricky reminded me later, from the girl who was afraid to swim 25yds of OWS to the girl who dropped out of IronGirl because she freaked out to the girl who wouldn’t let go of the dock in Chattanooga Olympic to the girl who had to be yelled at to swim at practice in Augusta and finally to the girl who cooly jumped in and started the swim – that was truly a #LongRoadToAugusta.
And then I jumped in with absolutely no hesitation.
I was slow 40:xx – Meh, that’s no surprise.
The practice swim in friday was full of icky weeds, and race day swim was clear and near perfect! There were some grabs and kicks and some people passing close by, but nothing to scare me.
When I got out of the swim, I was dizzy as usual and was thankful to hold on to a volunteer to steady myself. I took that moment to walk up the ramp and then run into the bike – no issue finding my bike. Mine was the only one left on the rack 🙂
When I rode out of transition, the only thing I kept hearing was “on your left”. So much that I was quite annoyed by it. I wanted to spritz it up to go a bit faster. I knew I could, I was feeling good. But even though my legs were spinning easily and I was feeling great, I kept remembering the cardinal rule of the Augusta bike course – hammer the first 15 miles, and the last 15 miles will hammer you down.
Race day was my 4th time riding the course, and yes, the course gets flatter everytime you ride it. But there is a difference in riding it in a small group when you are mostly by yourself vs. riding it with 3500 people!
One of my fears over the course was a drafting penalty. The rules made us maintain 5 bike lengths, and anyone who rides with me knows that I would NEVER draft but the crowded course makes it hard to be spaced out properly and the last thing I wanted was a drafting penalty because someone passed me and I didn’t fall back quickly enough.
A girl who had just powered past me on many a hill went down right in front of me at about mile 15 and that shook me. It pained me even more when I didn’t stop to help her (Bless the gentleman who did stop to help! I asked around the next day and it looks like she got the help she needed pretty quickly, but most likely her race was done.)
When we approached the first aid station, I did what Mike had adviced me to do – ask one of the volunteers to run with me to take a bottle much more easily. Huh? He must have a more commanding presence than me – coz the volunteer looked at me like I had three horns growing. I still grabbed a bottle and emptied it into my front aero bottle.
When I threw the race bottle (a cheapo squeeze bottle with a sports pop off cap), the top of my NEW aero bottle went with it !!!! So here I was at mile 18 with a completely open water bottle splashing water all over me with every little bump. I had to make a split decision whether to stop for the top or to go on. I chose to go on – there was no saying if I could even find it amongst the bottles that had been discarded. I grabbed an extra bottle to keep in my cages because I knew that the splashing would empty my bottle much sooner.
It had been raining/misting almost all through the bike course, but because of that water sloshing on me I felt like I was getting rained on! There was a apparently a lot of wind (weather channel said 5-10mph). Except for a few gusts that would make me feel like it would knock me down, I honestly did not pay that much attention to the wind or rain – I remembered to just be in aero and pedaling. More importantly, I did not waste energy cursing it like I usually do.
I knew that the worst part of the course was miles 20-40. And I kept telling myself that I just had to get through those miles for a good ride home. I waited for the misery of the loooooong climbs to hit me, but surprisingly it never did! About mile 40 or so, I started having stomach cramps (or maybe I started noticing the cramps). But nothing to be done about it and I put it out of mind with a small prayer that I don’t chafe (or worse, embarrass myself!!).
There was no point on the bike course when I reached my usual ‘ugh, how many more miles’ point. When I came to T2, I had had an unbelievable ride – averaging 15.2mph, my fastest ever. And I was not tired. The number of people who had slowed down to say hello to the FauxRunner and offer encouragement on the bike course blew me away.
My main mantra on the bike course was Can I go one more gear harder?
I have to say that the first 2 miles or so were the only miles that I noticed and put thought into. I think at about mile 3-4, I was pissed at Mike who insists on “there’s no walking in running”. What was wrong with run-walk, everyone was doing it and it gets you from point A to point B, doesn’t it!! But I’d trusted him and I’d said that I’d not go back to run-walk and so run it was! In whatever shuffle pace I was going. And come to think of it, it really wasn’t *that* hard anyway.
About mile 5, I hurt something fierce when my right leg would land on the ground. No, no, no. Stomach cramps vs. leg shoots.
I had a Gu sometime – my second one in 18 months(!) but I don’t think it made any difference. I know I occasionally glanced at my Garmin, but I wasn’t comprehending any information other than that I was about 14:30 steady pace. Boo, I was hoping I’d be able to pull in mid-high 13s, although at that time the number didn’t mean anything.
The rest were all a big blur. I remember snippets of it like the marine drill Sargent keeping us all running, the “chafing the dream” poster, Stacy and Shawna, Mike with a few other guys, the NoBoundaries tent with Guru and the minions, “John” who had a UGA Bulldog kit and was walking at my running pace for most of my second lap- hate people with long legs!
I remember one of my minions dressed as a devil and thought how appropriate.
And I remember that I told a guy who stopped to walk in front of me that he looked fabulous from the behind (and he took off running again, poor guy, creeper 70.3 lady scared him)
Tom later mentioned that I was in a zone when he saw me twice, mile 4 and 12. And so did Jim who saw me in the later half of the race, and said that my body had probably shut down long before but I was running on fumes and mind. And I don’t doubt that – this wasn’t my usual race approach where I talk and exchange stories with fellow runners or stop for photo ops (What has coach turned me into!!). I don’t even remember Guru running next to me at mile 10! Or whatever coach was telling me.
When I passed the finish chute on the second lap and had about 2 miles to go, every single fiber was hurting and throbbing. I know people say that that’s when you dig deep. I don’t know if I did dig deep – all I know is I kept going on. Lester says if you are still smiling, you are not doing it right. But I was smiling all throughout and giving it my best too. Jaron asked me if I smile to mask the pain. I think that it is true. Smiles make everything better – it uses less energy to smile than to frown.
What were my thoughts on the run? (Since I usually have mile by mile conversations)
Strangely, nothing. I didn’t have anything in my head. No devil on my shoulder other than a few short minutes, no angel pumping me up either. I was …. just running, if that makes any sense.
And before I knew it (or rather 3:12 hrs later), I was at the finish chute. And I was done.
The #LongRoadToAugusta had reached its destination.
I couldn’t stop laughing as Guru and Mike greeted me. Ironman 70.3 wasn’t a dream anymore, it had turned to reality. I had MADE it turn to reality. Months of facing fears and insecurities and growing in confidence to take on race day and I had.
Although, I guess I must’ve messed something up on hydration or something because I found myself at the medical tent with an IV about 30 minutes after I finished.
But all’s well that ends well and the day ended with us driving back with a shiny medal that I will treasure.
- Anything IS possible. IF you put in the work and commitment. If you have a goal and a passion, don’t give up on it no matter how bad you are at it
- If things can go wrong, they will. Don’t make it worse by focusing on it. Focus on things you can control, don’t waste your energy on things you can’t control. If it bothers you, walk away.
- The best and easiest way to get better on the bike – ride your bike!
- I KNOW that I’m stronger than I think and now that limit has been pushed back further.
On that training day from Hades, I was struggling pitifully and I confessed that this Augusta Half Ironman with its Alligators would be the hardest thing I’ve ever done (even more than my first marathon). Mike had asked me what I would consider as a successful race day. I didn’t know the answers to that then, but today I knew the answer.
Did I get to the start line with no regrets? Yes
Did the #LongRoadToAugusta help me grow as a person and as an athlete? Yes
Did I help or influence atleast one other person into thinking that anything is possible? I hope I did
Did I cross the finish line with no regrets? Yes
Then, no matter the finish time (although I did have a beyond expectations time of 7:47 with a completely unexpected 3:42 bike split), I had had a magnificent race day and season.