Gary’s Augusta Half Ironman Race Report

This is Gary’s Race Report for Ironman 70.3 Augusta. He was nice enough to let me host the report when I asked around for race reports to compile in my Augusta Half Ironman section of the blog.
This was to be my second attempt at the 70.3 triathlon distance; 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run. My first 70.3 was the Rev 3 Anderson, SC last fall, which was a great introduction to the distance, and a Pandora’s Box. I started tris primarily as a way to get into marathon shape while somewhat limiting the pounding that running puts on my delicate, flower-like body. Somewhere along the line, I started to love biking, even though I am rather new and ungood at it. Swimming still sucks – no ifs, ands, or buts. Before the ‘less than thrilling’ race details, I need to give some props so others. Being able to do this takes help and support from others in various forms. Jennifer and Samantha had to endure many mornings of me banging around before dawn to get workouts in at stupid early times, and witnessing me in clothing that Sam summed up as, “clothing no grown man should wear.” My parents, John and Jeanette, gave me a sense of competitiveness and ‘suck it up, buttercup’ mentality. My brother Keith taught me how to be tough and how to flex. wink emoticon My boy Andy suffered many mornings running and biking with me. In fact, he liked training with me so much that he moved. Bastard. Eddie helped break me into the sport and gave me a ton of advice and support – he was my cohort in Anderson last year. Ryan and all the incredible guys and gals on the Runners Fit Outdoor Mafia are my heroes. They are such bad asses and insanely talented, I am always envious of them as they inspire me to higher running aspirations. Joe was so incredibly generous in hooking me up with some killer EC threads. Then there is the evil genius, Mariska, who did a remarkable job of figuring out what works and doesn’t, coached up my running, and put together an awesome game plan. Sorry about all the things I “may” have called you.
All of the people you come in contact with training for Augusta, and triathlons in general, are so inspiring. I wish I could name them all. One of the unique things about Augusta is the group that makes this tri so special is the support it gets from Jeff Spires and the folks at TriAugusta. The things they do are above and beyond anything I have seen. I know I am forgetting a ton of people and I apologize in advance.
My previous 70.3 finish time was 5:56:21. So my primary goal was to beat that, but I felt if I had a smooth race, I could go 5:50. And my double secret stretch goal, if the stars aligned and time stood still, was 5:45. Being primarily a runner, the strategy was to survive the swim, go Foux du Fafa on the bike and lay it on the line for the run and pull off a negative split. I had to keep an eye on liquids and nutrition during the race because, well, I suck at it.
I was in the 8:24 start wave, which was about an hour after the first group. This gave me time to relax and not be rushed. The downside was that it let all of the worries creep into my head… “Will I get wrapped in seaweed and drown?” “What if I get a flat, have a spectacular crash, or worse yet… get a penalty on the bike?” “What if I rip my groin or fall into a manhole on the run?” Finally said enough, and walked towards the railroad bridge above the dock that led out into the cold Savannah River to wait for the “mid-life crisis age groupers” wave start.
So I began the arduous task of putting on my wetsuit, which is akin to putting toothpaste back into the tube. I waddled out onto to the dock, politely parted a few guys who were debating getting into the water, jumped in with 20 seconds to spare. The gun went off. I paused a bit at the beginning to stay out of the way of the real swimmers; and started the long swim to a point on the distant horizon. Since I did a practice swim on Friday, I knew where the big patches of seaweed/grass that I got hung up in, so I steered to the left. The first kayak was unsympathetic and directed me to stay on the “GA side” of the buoys. This began the endless cycle of counting, “1, 2, 3, 4, sight… 1, 2, 3, 4, sight,” and kept my swimming light and easy not to burn any energy.
Two thirds of the way down the river, one dude cut across me at a 45 degree angle. A minute later, he came back the other way, clipping my arms. In the water it can scare the crap out of you as ‘fight or flight’ takes over… and I wanted to fight. If the kayaker didn’t stop him, he would have continued ping ponging off the GA and SC shores all the way down. Soon thereafter, some green caps started passing me; the women in the wave behind me. I just stayed the hell out of their way while muttering sexist remarks to the fish. Eventually the death swim came to an end, and I staggered out of the water like the creature from the black lagoon; covered in seaweed, red eyes, and breathing heavily while flailing around.
I began the long jog to transition and looked for the wetsuit strippers. For those who haven’t experienced this, you unzip your suit pull it down to your waist, you lay on your back and they rip it off. Then you continue on to your bike. As I approached the line of strippers (insert 9th grade joke here), I heard them yelling, “on your back and legs in the air.” I thought, “so that’s why this race is so expensive.” (There I did it for you). With 3,300 bikes spread out, transition covered two counties. With the help of GPS, I located my bike and headed out of transition into the morning mist.
The goal was to stay nice and steady as we headed into SC. The first 20 miles are relatively flat so I tried to maintain easy breathing and a keeping the heart rate low. I don’t use a bike computer because I am not a big fan of data during the race, and besides, I am half blind without my glasses. With that many competitors, the course was fairly congested, but not terrible. It was a chore staying out of the drafting zone (5 bike lengths). Saw the official several times; but like a cop missing the speeders, they seemed to be missing the mini-peletons that were cruising around. Now the roads in SC are a bit rough in places. The bumpy ride was starting to affect my ‘man parts.’ I couldn’t tell if I was going to lose all feeling, or if I was going to have a baby Cannondale in 9 months. After mile 20, the hills began. They are not bad, but there are a few that can grate at your nerves for one reason or another. The mist was picking up a bit, the road was getting wet and it was tricky seeing through my visor. I didn’t dare wipe it, as I lost it the last time I tried that. The downside of the uphills is that everyone bunches up on hills, which got to be a pain. That is where drafting becomes a fear. At one point I was boxed in and was looking for a way out. As I did, some guy got on my wheel and I looked back at him. He said, ‘we are allowed to do this while recovering from a hill, it’s ok.’ I stood up and hammered down until I dropped him.
At some point during most rides, I have a borderline existential moment that is sort of out of body. When alone, with breathing and everything in rhythm, there is the feeling of no effort. I start noticing the countryside and thinking crap like, “wow, here I am, on some random Sunday, flying through the hills of South Carolina with only two tiny pieces of rubber between me and the road.” It usually only lasts a moment or so, but it’s cool when it happens.
During the ride, you can sometimes tell a lot about a person in just a couple seconds. Some are struggling and need an encouraging word. Others are struggling and need yelled at. You offer whatever words you can to help. As the hills rolled on, I focused staying loose, lower gear, higher cadence and staying in aero to stay out of the wind. Hitting the downhills are a blast. I tried to hammer them pretty good. It was so exhilarating to exceed 40 mph one downhill (per Garmin). At the last aid station at the top of a hill, they were rocking the music. A guy stepped out and yelled, “This is your song #2014!” I replied, “Damn straight this is my mother f’ing song,” and high fived him. Nice energy boost.
The hills soon flattened out and it was back to grinding on the flats in the wind. As an official passed, everyone in front of us started checking up and waving their arms that they were slowing. A gal was sprawled out in the middle of the road with her bike in the grass. Not sure if she hit the wet paint stripe in the road or what happened, but it was a reminder of how scary this shit can be. After mile 45 we began heading back towards Georgia. I used this time to do a body check and start stretching and getting ready for the run. As the bike went on, I grew accustomed to the ‘vwoom, vwoom, vwoom’ of pimped out, razor thin tri bikes passing me on my road bike, despite my perceived solid output. I would just nod in envy and mutter under my breath, “see you shortly.” (If you are reading this and have one of those bikes, don’t let me near it. Just ask Eddie about ‘accidents’ wink emoticon ). Now we were going to get to the part that is my ‘least weak’ leg. I said to the guys around me, ‘this is where the fun starts.’ Some sort of glared at me.
Hit T2 and threw on my hat and shoes; this was my part of the race. I wanted to once again yell, “Welcome to the Serengeti, bitches. I am a lion and you are the zebras, so start running!!!” But I decided politeness was more in order, so I started the run back towards downtown. During the bike, I started getting really nauseous drinking the Gatorade and didn’t even finish what I had, much less get more at aid stations. For you literary geniuses (or is it geniui?), this is called foreshadowing. I had talked myself into thinking this is only a 13.1 mile run, so I could just take a gulp of water at the aid stations instead of Gatorade and gut out the run. I felt ‘strong like bull’ and wanted to take off, but held back. I kept a steady pace of what felt like 8:00 minute miles. In reality it was a tad quicker, but it was not labored at all. The crowd support downtown was so awesome. The people, signs and music were inspiring. There was a hilarious big, black cop out there high fiving everyone and going all drill sergeant on the athletes, “don’t you dare walk on my street or I will taze your ass.”
I wanted to keep steady for 10 miles and then crank it up the last 3.1. Kept my routine of taking a sip of water and pouring the rest down my kit at each station. Halfway through, Andy yelled my name as he was tromping down Broad St. This lifted my spirits as the run was starting to feel more like running than prancercizing. Somewhere between mile 9 and 10, I felt all energy vanish almost immediately. I knew I had used up all of my glycogen and would have kicked myself for not taking in calories had I had enough strength. It was a sudden struggle to maintain pace and I could feel it dropping. Who had hitched a wagon to me? I hit the next station and threw back a few cups a Gatorade but knew it was too late. I kept pounding and hit some more Gatorade at the last station before laboring towards the finish. A half a mile from the finish I came behind another guy with my age group on his calf. I stayed on his shoulder until we hit the last corner before the finish and threw in a last surge to leave him behind. Seeing the chute and finish line with the crowd is a moving experience. I held it together and crossed the line strong.
The clock over the line is set to wave 1, so I didn’t know my time. I hit stop on my watch and the save button. I was highly disappointed in fading at the end. I was numb as Andy asked my time. He said I looked like I saw a ghost or something. I chugged a beer and started crying. I staggered around for a bit trying to regain my senses. About that time I learned my time and felt a lot better:
Swim – 33:49, it is what it is T1 – 4:32 Bike – 2:58:31 – 18.82 mph T2 – 3:20 Run – 1:43:31 – 7:54/mile Total – 5:23:43
Never could I have imagined a path to that time, but I am extremely grateful and will quit bitching about my finish; there are always improvements to be made. I am extremely proud and equally proud of all my friends and fellow athletes who got it done on Sunday. This is an extremely difficult, but oh so wonderful sport. Thank you for reading this if you have not nodded off yet.
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