Where to begin, where to begin...
In the days leading up to this race, I went from terror to doubt to resignation. I figured I had done the best I could in terms of training, and the only way to see that was to just get out there and do it. Being my first long distance triathlon, I know that my fear stemmed from the uncertainties: what would my body do, what would my mind do, would I drown, wreck, or cramp up?
Driving to Augusta, I was a ball of nerves. My heart raced, my stomach fluttered, but it was all in a very good way. I was excited to get there and I was finally excited to race. As we drove through town toward the convention center (am I the only one that thinks that Augusta just might be the Detroit of the South? I mean, there were dozens of abandoned buildings and store fronts!), I practically wanted to jump out of the car and run toward the expo. The closer we got, the more bikes and Ironman bumper stickers I saw, and I wanted to sing, “I am actually doing this!”, but I kept my composure, lest I look like some kind of triathlon dork. It was, after all, a race expo, not Comic Con.
I went to athlete check-in (it still makes me giggle to think that I am an ATHLETE), signed my life away to WTC, and got my beautiful blue wristband. Talk about a badge of honor! It was like being let into some very exclusive club, and I was giddy like I had just been handed a free puppy. Then, on to collect my swag bag which, in my humble opinion was sort of pitiful. The bag that our “swag” came in is beautiful and great and all, but where were the Gu samples, the Clif bars, even coupons for a free beer at the local pub after the race? But, I digress. I didn’t come for the free samples of Biofreeze, I had come to do an Ironman race!
|Getting the wristband, no turning back now!|
I dragged my husband and kids through the expo, including the Ironman store, where I emptied our bank account on a Finisher t-shirt, a water bottle, an Ironman visor, and cowbells for my kids/cheering section. I also got to see some old triathlon friends from home, which helped to ease my nerves just a bit.
As the hours ticked away, and after I made the pilgrimage to transition to check my bike in (which involved a 1.2 mile hike from the swim start with my son...ant bites and sliding down hillsides were featured prominently, along with some good memories made with my favorite teenaged boy in the world) and we got checked in at the hotel, we went to dinner, and I began feeling oddly at peace with everything that was happening. I was relaxed, feeling good, and had arrived at the point of just wanting to be in the race.
I slept like a baby, and at 4:15, the alarm sounded, and it was time to get it done. I ate - half a peanut butter sandwich, a cup of Greek yogurt, and half a cup of coffee, along with a bottle of water and banana in the car on the way to transition - got myself dressed, and got my bleary-eyed children out of bed and to the car. My husband dropped me off at transition so that I could unload my gear by my bike, and then I took the shuttle (actually a school bus) back to the swim start, where I met up with my family. All before 6 a.m. You gotta love living on triathlete time!
Then came the wait. My swim wave was #14, and it left at 8:24. The first wave - the pro men - left at 7:30. We watched the pros leave from a bridge overlooking the Savannah River, and I tell you, watching those pros swim is impressive (and pretty intimidating). After that, I had time to use the bathroom one last time, wriggle into my wet suit, eat a Huma Gel, and take a few photos with the family. By that point, it was only a few minutes before shove-off. Thankfully, I had run into a friend who was in my swim wave, and we were able to chat as they queued us up to pile on to the dock before the race start. It really eased my nerves to have someone to talk to in those last moments!
|Do I look like a triathlete to you?|
It was finally time for our wave to approach the start line (the dock)! We were not allowed to dive in, so rather than standing and taking a feet-first plunge, I decided to sit on the edge of the dock so that I could get my feet used to the water. The water was 69 degrees, a little chilly, but not that bad at all. Suddenly, our gun went off, and it was go time!
|Wave 14 swim start|
I hadn’t had any real warm-up time, so I decided to start slow and let my shoulders loosen up a bit. I knew the swim would be faster than in other races, because we were swimming with the notoriously strong current of the Savannah River. Within about 200-300 meters, I felt good enough to dial it up, and I was able to swim a good, strong stroke. We all had a good amount of room to swim, and I only bumped into a few people along the way. It was much less chaotic than any other race I have ever done.
|My husband says I'm in there somewhere!|
As I swam, I tried to sight the buoys to my left. When I hit buoy number 8, I knew that I was almost done, and I felt like I had only just gotten in the water! As I made the slight right turn toward the final buoy at the boat ramp, I realized that I felt really darned good. I made my way up the boat ramp, and began the long jog to transition. The transition area at this race was kind of labyrinthian, in that you had to snake up one side, then enter the area, then find your row, then find your bike. I am happy to say that I did not get lost in transition once during the day!
In T1, I took time to dry my feet well, throw my wetsuit, goggles, and cap in a bag, and then I was off! My family was waiting for me at the bike start to cheer for me, and it was beyond amazing to see my kids’ smiling faces.
**I purposely did not try to rush through either T1 or T2, because I wanted to do everything to guarantee my comfort and nutrition. My T-times were ok, around 6 and 8 minutes respectively, but I definitely know where I could trim seconds in the future.
Now came what I knew would be my ultimate test of the day: the bike ride. I really don’t enjoy sitting on a bike from more than about an hour, so this was not only going to test my fitness, but it was also going to test my mental and emotional strength. And it proved to be so much more than I had ever anticipated. Weatherwise, it felt great. Except for the requisite headwind that seemed to be present for about 70% of the ride. Then there were the hills. The damn hills. What seemed like dozens of them, spread out over 56 long and arduous miles. Long, slow inclines that never seemed to end. Rapid descents that were actually fun and relieving. And sharp points that felt like actual mountains rather than hills. My top speed of the day was 37 miles per hour, which I hit briefly on a descent. My slowest speed? An embarrassing 5.2 mph on this one short but brutal hill toward the end of the bike course. We had just come down a good descent, took a corner, and this hill smacked us in the face. Nobody that I was riding around saw it coming. One poor woman and her bike tipped over because she couldn’t spin her pedals fast enough to keep climbing.
|Pretty much the only time you would catch me smiling on the entire bike ride!|
With each passing hill, from about 20 miles into the ride, I could feel my back getting a little worse. Then my left hip. Then my left IT band, which NEVER bothers me. There was a point on one particularly long incline that I actually considered dismounting and walking my bike up the hill. Of course, I realized how silly that was, and just soldiered on. As much as I was hating the bike ride, I never EVER wanted to quit. I wanted to be done, and I even told myself that it was the LAST time I would ever ride a bike, but I never even thought of throwing in the towel.
Aside from the hills, there were the bumps in the road to contend with. I thought the roads here in Florida were in pitiful condition, but they are nothing compared to the roads in South Carolina. It was bad enough having to dodge other racers’ litter - water bottles, bento boxes, power bars, gels, etc. - but the bumps were just awful. I know that is what contributed to my back pain during the race. I would say that about 30-35 miles of the roads were so bad that I thought for sure that I was about to blow a tire at any moment. Thankfully, I didn’t, but I saw plenty of people who did. And there were plenty of sections, especially close to Augusta, that had had recent road repairs, so at least there was something to be thankful for. Rapport among the athletes on the bike course was ok. I briefly chatted with several nice folks, mostly commiserating about the hills and bumps. I got passed A LOT, and I knew I would. Most everyone did the right thing, announcing “on your left” as they approached. But there were a few occasions when I nearly got run down by some meathead who couldn’t be bothered to have manners. On the rare occasion that I passed another cyclist, I looked over my shoulder 2 or 3 times before passing, and almost always there was a cluster of bikes coming up behind me. The course was crowded in a few spots, especially at the aid stations, so you really had to be alert the entire time. There was no room in my plan for a bike wreck.
One thing that I was successful with during the bike ride was my nutrition. Two bottles of electrolyte drink in my aerobottle, and a strawberry Huma Gel every hour helped keep me going. Though, I did begin to feel actual hunger toward the end of the bike ride, which scared me a bit for the run. I was ok, though, and made sure to take the Coke that was offered at the last few aid stations of the run course. You wanna know what tastes better than just about anything on this planet? Warm, flat Coke after having been working out for 6+ hours. Don't believe me? Try it.
As the bike ride blessedly came to an end, I knew from my bike computer that I had gone about 3 hours, 40 minutes, which is about what I had expected. Slower than I should be, but considering I’d never biked any of the course, it was ok with me. The most important thing was that it was OVER, and it was time to run a half marathon.
I racked my bike, changed my socks, put on my running shoes, race belt, and visor, and headed off to the maze toward the run start. I stopped at the sunscreen tent and let them lube me up, which likely contributed to my longer T2 time, but I was glad I did. The run course had lots of shade, but it also had lots of spots in the open sun, and I tell you, it was one gorgeous day out.
I did my 60 second walk out of transition, like I had trained for, before beginning to run. I went slow, which was ok with me. In order to finish in 7 hours, I knew I had to run between a 2:45 and 3:00 half marathon. This killed me, because my slowest half to date was Iron Girl back in April, and I did that in 2:23 while suffering from debilitating calf cramps. But, I was more focused on finishing this race than setting any sort of land speed record.
I felt pretty good as the run began. I was 2/3 done with the race, and most importantly, I had survived the bike ride! I walked through the first water station, drank some electrolytes and some water, and moved along. About 2 1/2 miles into the run, we were into downtown Augusta, and the crowds picked up. The course support all day long was incredible, from the volunteers to the local folks who had come out, sporting funny hats and hilarious signs to keep the athletes moving, motivated, and smiling. It was at this point that I looked up, and standing on one corner were my kids, screaming and smiling for me, shaking their cowbells at me. In that moment, I was so overcome with emotion, and I could feel the tears welling up, and I wanted to just break down right there. I knew right then and there that I was going to finish the race! The emotions were powerful, powerful beyond words. For my kids to see me pushing through the pain and exhaustion to reach a goal was humbling. There was no way I wouldn’t cross that finish line.
|Are we having fun yet?|
I felt great for about 7 miles of the run. Then fatigue really began to set in. I started walking more and for longer periods of time. I never wanted to quit AT ALL, I just wanted to be finished. As I made the second loop downtown, I had noticed the crowds were a lot smaller than they had been, so the encouragement began to come from us athletes. We were in the final stages of this journey together, and we lifted each other up. We talked about how much food we were going to eat, how we couldn’t wait to have a beer, whether this was our first Ironman 70.3. I congratulated a fellow 40-year-old woman, who promptly answered back with, “you go girl!”. I watched as runners began to lose hope, and their physical strength, but never their spirits. I was inspired by those around me, some much younger and some much older, who were out there doing it for their own personal reasons, reasons as important and huge as mine or anyone else's. To be surrounded by that kind of emotion makes you feel super human. In the midst of the pain and the exhaustion (and the extreme hunger!), I had never felt more alive in my entire life.
Turning the corner at 11 miles, I could hear the finish line commotion, and I knew that it was inevitable. I was going to finish the race, wow! As I turned the final corner, a lady standing there shouted, “one more corner and you can SEE the finish line!” I picked it up. All of the aches and twinges I was feeling were suddenly gone! I rounded that last corner, and there it was: the finish chute! Lined with people, and the gray Ironman carpet, it was a sight to behold. I tore down the chute, and as I crossed the line I pumped my fists in victory. It was an unbelievable feeling.
|They know their mom is one tough old lady now!|
All of the training. All of the pain. All of the time. It had all led to that moment. And it was so worth it.
I was ready all along.
Ironman 70.3 Augusta
Finish Time: 6:57:48
**My race wasn’t perfect. I beat my goal time of 7 hours, but I know I could have done better, especially on the run, and probably shaved off at least 10 minutes. But I hadn’t felt that kind of jubilation in a race since my very first triathlon two years ago. So, after all of that talk about “one and done”, I think I want to go again.