Ironman Augusta 70.3
It took place on September 25th, a cloudless, sweltering hot day. For those not familiar with triathlon, Ironman 70.3 events are also known as “half Ironmans” as the distances are half of that of a full Ironman. It starts with a 1.2 mile swim, following with a 56 mile bike and topped off with a 13.1 mile (half marathon) run. Augusta, GA is home to the nation’s largest Ironman 70.3 event with over 3000 participants.
The current-assisted swim in the Savannah River leads to fast swim times, the bike is a scenic trip through the South Carolina countryside with rolling hills, and the run is a two loop course through downtown Augusta, a perfect spectator’s race.
Augusta 70.3 was my “A race” for 2016. The ultimate goal with this race was to try to secure a spot in the 70.3 World Championships, which is being held in Chattanooga in 2017.
This race had 50 qualifying spots to give away to age groupers, which meant I would have to finish on the podium to have a chance at a spot. The Worlds are held in different locations all over the world every year, so since the 2017 Worlds are being held somewhere relatively close to South Carolina, I was not the only person racing with this goal in mind.
For FGM team member Fiona Martin, this was her first Ironman-branded race, but her second time racing at this distance. Preparation for the race included months of training and increasing my training load from 6 hours a week to 8 hours a week. Training included lots of swimming, biking and running, of course, but I also added Masters Swim to the schedule and a functional movement plan developed by KORE Wellness. I raced the Mountains to Main Street half ironman-distance race in May, my first attempt at the distance. I surprised myself in that race by finishing 2nd in my age group and 16thoverall female. M2M was also slightly longer than 70.3 – the bike course had 2 extra miles making it a total 72.3 miles. Race week preparations included tapering, eating, hydrating and an adjustment at HealthSource Chiropractic to help with a stubborn rib that keeps popping out of place.
The race being held on Sunday, I travelled down to Augusta on Friday afternoon and picked up my packet at the Ironman Village. The swag bag was decent with an Ironman Augusta 70.3 backpack and t-shirt and I purchased an Augusta 70.3 women’s cycling jersey to commemorate the occasion. Ironman know their audience and you can definitely spend a lot of money in the Village on branded apparel. I was doing this race without a “Sherpa” (a common word used in triathlon to describe a friend or family member who travels with you to help with race logistics) so I liked having the extra days to figure out the logistics of transition, race day parking and travel. That night I enjoyed downtown Augusta with a yummy burger from The Whiskey Bar, although it was missing the advertised avocado. Saturday morning I hit up a local diner for a heavy, high calorie breakfast. A lot of the other athletes had the same idea so I was not alone as I tried eating a breakfast that I would never normally eat. You would think I’d be excited about the fatty, high calorie eggs Benedict that I don’t allow myself during training, but I tend to lose my appetite when I’m nervous so it truly was a struggle to eat even half of it. Then I headed to transition for the mandatory bike drop off. There is room for improvement here – you are not allowed to park anywhere near transition so a lot of us parked illegally and then had to hike a mile or so with our bikes to get to transition. In transition, I met Robin, another lady in my age group who was travelling without a Sherpa. We planned to meet back up at the Ironman Village to catch the race briefing since this was our first for both of us. At the Ironman Village, I caught the end of the Pro Panel, a question and answer session with the pro female triathletes who were competing. That was fantastic – they answered questions about what they eat, how they train, what they do for training besides swim, bike, run. I’m happy to say that I seem to be following the same program as them, but maybe not the same high volume. Robin and I stayed for the race briefing, which was extremely helpful. Questions were answered about timings, logistics and how in the world we would be able to obey the “6 bike lengths” rule on a crowded bike course. The advice was to stay to the right at all times, unless passing, and then keep 6 bike lengths between you and the bike in front. Okay then, we’ll see how that goes on race day! After the briefing, I grabbed lunch at New Moon Café and did a bit of work to kill time. Robin and I met up again that evening at the spaghetti dinner put on for athletes at St. Paul’s Church, right on the river. They put on a great spread and it was exciting to chat with other athletes about our training and nerves for the next day!
Sunday morning’s early wakeup call was not too bad – the alarm was set for 5am, which is pretty late for a race morning. I had overnight oats made with coconut milk, raisins, walnuts and a banana. I packed up my stuff and headed to downtown Augusta. I managed to get a parking spot in the garage near the finish and walked to the shuttles that would take us to transition. In transition was the first time I heard the announcement that the swim was NOT wetsuit legal. This was the first time in the history of the race that the water temperature was too high for wetsuits. Generally, you always wear a wetsuit if it’s legal because of the added buoyancy and speed, so I know a lot of people were upset with that development. For me, I’m comfortable with or without a wetsuit so I wasn’t that bothered. It meant one less thing to worry about in the swim to bike transition. After I got my transition set up, I found Robin and we caught the shuttle to the swim start. The pros swim start was at 7:30, but our swim wave wasn’t until 8:40 so we had a lot of time to kill. Luckily, St. Paul’s had their doors open again and it was wonderful to have somewhere nice to sit and bathrooms besides porta-johns. They did have muffins and coffee also, but I avoided them as they are not on my race day plan. I also had a horrible case of nervous nausea so the food and drinks were the last thing on my mind. Robin and I stepped outside to see the start of the race – national anthem, paratroopers falling from the sky – it was pretty cool.
At about 8:10, Robin and I moved into our corral and they slowly herded the 30 – 34 year old women down the chute to the swim start. Getting in the water felt amazing – the day was already heating up at that point (scary!) so the cool water was a relief. It was an in-water start off of a floating dock and while waiting for the air horn to blow, the current was pretty strong. It continued to push me away from the dock so I had to swim backwards a bit to stay in the right spot. And then we were off. The start was frantic – it took probably 10 minutes of swimming to get to a clear spot free of traffic. I don’t think I’ve been in a race where it took that long before. Once it spread out a bit, I continued to pass people and get caught up in river grass. I stayed relatively close to the center buoys until the end, where to take a sharp right turn onto the boat ram exit. Coming out of the water, I had to push a bit to get by some slower ladies and men from the waves before us. That became a theme in this race – making your way by people who were “participating” rather than “racing”. My goal was 30 minutes and I did the swim in 30:50. I was hoping for a bit faster but without a wetsuit and navigating traffic, I’ll take it.
T1 was quick – I can’t say it was a great transition or a bad one. I made sure to spray more sunscreen on myself. I had a bottle up front with Perpetum, 2 bottles of water and another bottle of frozen Perpetum to fill up my front bottle when needed, along with 2 Hammer gels for nutrition. The bike course was packed, as to be expected with 3000 athletes. I tried to stick to the passing rules as much as possible. 6 bike lengths between bikes went out the window for everyone. I just concentrated on riding my ride and passing as safe as possible. I did get caught up behind a few people, who received a stern word here and there. There were faster guys behind us too so a lot of the race was guys flying by on our left, some called out and some didn’t so I’m happy to have made it through the course without incident. The road had its good and bad parts. I dreaded SCR1 between miles 15 and 25 because it’s bumpy the whole way, but I don’t know if it was race adrenaline, it didn’t bother me on race day as bad as I’d thought. The hills were manageable, and I passed a lot of people on the way up. I started feeling the heat on the bike around mile 20, which was worrying. Normally, the heat doesn’t bother me on the bike as you generate your own breeze with the speed, but the breeze was hot, which meant it was already a very hot day. I didn’t plan to use the 3 aid stations at miles 18, 36 and 46 because I had all of my nutrition with me, but I grabbed ice cold bottles of water at the last two aid stations and dumped them over my head to combat the heat. The last 10 miles of the course are mostly downhill so it was a fast finish. My goal was 3 hours, I finished in 2:55 with an average speed of 19.4 mph.
T2, once again, involved trying to get by people who are taking their time and not racing and putting on more sunscreen, visor and dumping water over my head. It’s 12:15pm at this point and it must be 95+ degrees – time to run a half marathon! The aid stations on the run were spaced roughly a mile apart, although there was one gap of 2 miles between the 1st and 3rd mile and miles 7 and 8, I believe. My normal strategy is water at every aid station and then cola from mile 6 onwards, but the heat was the killer on this run so more strategy was needed. It became ice down the top, water over the head, sponge on the back and in the visor band at every aid station and as for run/walking – walk the shady parts and run the sunny parts. I’ve never seen so many people walking a half marathon before. That made me feel better in my misery, but also sapped any motivation to push harder. There were more sunny bits than shady bits so I did run the majority of the race, but just barely. I passed a couple of people in the first 5 miles who I know are faster than me and thought they must be on their 2nd lap. They weren’t – it was just that bad of a run. The spectators were awesome cheering everyone along and taking our minds off the misery here and there. This truly was a test of mental fortitude and it’s crazy the things you think about when you’re at your limit – I started feeling bad for the spectators being out in the heat, I cried when I heard the church bells at St. Paul’s and recognized the hymn, I told myself I had to finish or else I couldn’t wear my new cycling jersey! I took a caffeine gel at mile 4, which helped, and then I was on cola from mile 6 onwards. My pace was 2 minutes slower per mile than usual, but I never got above 11:00/mile, a pace I would kick myself for during a normal half marathon. I pushed through and ended up with a 2:16 half marathon – total time of 5:50, likely very far off the podium.
I went straight to the medical tent for overheating and spent maybe 20 minutes with ice on the back of my neck, feet, legs, face, etc. The medical tent was packed with athletes doing the same. I was just happy to be out of the sun for a bit. When I finally stood up, a volunteer caught me from falling over. I made my way to the food and drinks, grabbed a Bud Light, found a shady corner and sat back down. Post-race is all about trying to get back to normal, which was taking forever. I chatted with two other women who had just finished. We commiserated and sipped our beers. Probably a half an hour later, I made my way to pick up my morning bag with my phone and keys so I could call my family to let them know I finished. My phone was chocked full of congratulatory messages. Almost all my friends and family were able to follow me online so at least they knew I was okay and they even knew my results before I did. They also got to watch me cross the finish line on the live feed video. I hung around for the awards a bit, but I ended up being 22nd out of 100 in my age group so no chance of qualifying for the Worlds. At that point, I’m just happy I finished. I don’t think I could’ve have gone much faster given the conditions. If it had been cooler and cloudy, I would’ve had a much better run time, but you have to run the race you’re in and I did that without injuring or killing myself. I finished 146th out of 1046 women, which is in the top 15% so I can’t beat myself up too bad.
When I finally felt well enough to make it to the car, I headed that way and then decided to check in on Robin. She had less than 2 miles to go and I was on the last 2 miles of the run course. I hung back just in case she would pass by, and I got to cheer her on and give her a high 5! I was really happy I was able to do that. I got in the car and then made my way back to transition to get my stuff. The same problem as the day before at set up – we had to park a mile away and then walk in the sun to get our stuff. That was almost harder than the race as my body was done with the sun at that point. I heard later that someone had passed out in transition post-race and they had the ambulance take him to the hospital. I got my stuff and headed back to the hotel, where a shower and air conditioned room was waiting for me. Robin and I got in touch via Facebook and met up in town that night for dinner at Nacho Mama’s. The next morning, I had a massage booked with fuse Massage Therapy to help with the recovery process. To make Monday an even better day, that afternoon I went to the bike shop to pick up my new bike (present from the fiancé) and then had a sushi dinner, a perfect way to top off my adventurous weekend at the Ironman Augusta 70.3.