Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Race Report: 2017 Ironman 70.3 Augusta

I've been home for a few days now, so I've had a chance to really reflect on this year's race weekend in anticipation of working on this blog post. I'm really afraid that this is going to be a boring story because as I look back, everything really went so smoothly! Well. except for coming down with a bad head cold the day I left for Augusta, but even that all worked out in the end!

I guess I'll start with Friday morning, the day I left for Augusta. I woke up about 3 AM, totally unable to breathe. I had been fighting a cold all week, but it really hadn't been too bad. I had been able to swim and run and ride gently and actually it felt great afterward. I was taking Vitamin C and D, and was thinking I was really doing a good job at fighting it off. So when I woke up in the middle of the night feeling horrible, I was really discouraged. (That would be code for "Freaking the heck OUT!" - those of you who I told that I was feeling so badly can testify to that, and I thank you all for talking me down off the ledge!!).

I did some school work with my daughter and loaded the car before heading to work. I was really trying so hard to be positive, but I was so disappointed. I had trained the best I could and I was proud of my hard work - and I had a time goal that I was wanting to attain. I was seeing it all slipping away. Keeping positive was the one thing that I could control.

I had a great day at work and tried to rest in between customers as much as I could. I made sure to push the fluids and eat as well as I could! One lesson I learned when I went to Tri Camp in August directly from work is to eat near work because there is very little in between there and Augusta! I stopped to get Chick Fil A, and started working my way through ATL rush hour!

The drive went well and I made it to my hotel close to 9 PM.  I would be by myself in the hotel on Friday night because BJ wasn't coming until Saturday afternoon. Many of my friends were already in Augusta on Friday, but I texted when I arrived and told them that I was heading straight to bed! I brought all of my stuff in from the car, set my alarm for an early Expo and Bike Drop experience, and zonked out immediately.

When I woke up on Saturday morning, I was feeling much better. I could actually breathe out of one side of my nose, and the pain in my head was much, much less! To make sure I had everything I needed before I went to the Expo, I set up transition on the hotel bed!

Transition on the bed - how the completely nutty make sure they have everything!

I know it seems weird, but one time I actually forgot to bring socks to a race and didn't realize it until that night when the expo was already closed, so now I always set out everything before I go to the Expo until I need to buy something! Thankfully, I had all that I needed! I took a shower, got dressed, ate the hotel breakfast buffet, and headed downtown.

That was another difference this trip - I wasn't staying in downtown or near to it. I was a good 5 miles from the exit where I usually stay and 15 minutes from downtown. I had to figure out where to park for the race. I had decided on the parking garage near the host hotel where I could pick up the shuttle, and I decided to test it out on Saturday. Parking in that garage on race day was truly one of the smartest things I did all weekend! $7 for the entire day and my car was in the shade all day!

Even though the expo had only been open for 30 minutes, there was a decent line formed when I walked in. I wasn't thrilled because I was feeling so blah, but again, nothing I could do about it! I talked up a guy behind me who was wearing a Raleigh 70.3 shirt who told me that the course is very hilly, which I already knew. :) The line moved fairly quickly and I had my race materials and headed over to the Ironman store. I needed a name shirt, a visor, and a backpack. I got all 3 - drooled over the tri kit and other cute items that were in my favorite shade of blue, but didn't purchase - and checked out the rest of the expo.

My first stop after the IM store was the TriAugusta booth! They were selling TriTats as a fundraiser, and I had to pick up my pre-ordered art print from local artist Carrie Brooks!

"Transition" - perfect for me this year that has been full of transitions in my own life!
This isn't an expo like a Disney expo (or even Atlanta Track Club) so it didn't take too long. I got back to my car and drove down to the transition area for bike drop. I saw lots of folks riding down there but I wanted to rest. As it turned out, I had to park and walk quite far away anyway so I really could have ridden down there and run back! LOL Oh well!

Mike the Bike - complete with pretty new handlebar tape!
I don't know why it's always so hard to leave Mike the Bike in transition, but it is! As you can see from the picture, I was one of the first folks at the bike drop. I decided to grab some lunch and then go back to the hotel and sleep until BJ arrived. Of course, Farmhaus Burger was my lunch of choice and since I was running on such an early schedule, there was a very short line when I arrived (unlike when I left LOL).

Oreo Milkshake

Burger and fries!
Since Farmhaus is closed on Sunday (even on race day?!?! NOOOO), I had to have my "post-race" reward food before the race! LOL And my gosh was it SO good!

Back at the hotel, I decided to get all of my stuff packed instead of going right to sleep. I was feeling a bit better, and I wanted to take advantage of that. Another smart decision on my part! It took a good hour, but then it was done and all I had to do the rest of the day was relax and rest. And it was Harry Potter Weekend on Freeform! What more could I want?!

BJ arrived mid-afternoon and I was so happy to see her! She was coming to pick up her sister's bike (they are racing together in Mississippi in two weeks) and to cheer with her TriCoachGeorgia team (the best Tri team out there, in case you didn't know)! I was so happy that she could be there with me! We both wanted an early evening and since I must have pizza the night before a race, we decided upon Mellow Mushroom early before the crowds arrived. So yes, by 8:30 PM, I was back in bed yet again. It was so hard to spend all weekend before the race in bed, but ultimately it was the right thing to do. I slept really well again on Saturday night and woke up race morning completely able to breathe out of both nostrils! I really couldn't believe it!

The alarm went off at 3:45 AM. I wanted to be leaving the hotel by 4:15 and in the parking garage by 4:30. I was afraid it would get filled up quickly, and the first shuttle was pulling away at 4:45. I like to be on the first bus! I need not have worried. I had my choice of parking spaces in the garage and I was on the first bus which wasn't even filled. We had to actually wait for transition to open at 5 AM. But it was ideal. Nice and relaxed and didn't have to worry.

I got my transition area set up and my neighbor on the rack hadn't shown up so I had a bit of space to spread out just a little bit. I was set up quickly but I didn't want to go back to my car until I knew the status of the wetsuit. I hung around for a bit, hit the clean porta potty, and waited until I heard those magical words: Not wetsuit legal. I was not disappointed, even though I have never swum the Savannah River without it. I have been in my wetsuit exactly one time this year and it wasn't entirely successful. I knew if the river was warm enough, I'd be much more comfortable without the wetsuit. After the announcement, I boarded the shuttle bus back and returned to my car.

I planned to have this down time, and while I was planning it, it seemed like a lot of time to kill but really it passed by so quickly. I did some foam rolling in the parking garage next to the car, made my breakfast, and started out towards to church where I was meeting BJ - as I took the first step, who should drive by but BJ! LOL I decided it was foolish to try to find her in the garage, so I went to the street level to wait for her. We walked over to St. Paul's church together to wait. I ate my breakfast (bagel w/ PB, banana, and Nuun), went to the chapel to pray, and hit the real bathrooms. I was hoping to see my run group friends, but never saw them before we left the church to see the pre-race festivities. I had missed those last time and was determined not to let that happen again!

The sun was starting to rise over the river when we walked outside and it was simply incredible! BJ took these pre-race pictures!!

Beautiful river and a beautiful morning! 
I simply adore this picture of me with my swim wave getting ready to start the race! Maybe I should wear a swim cap all the time?! :D

My run group peeps! I had walked up and down everywhere looking for them and couldn't find them! But then I saw Minja (in the back) and he told me where to find them! I got hugs right before my swim wave was going to start! It made my day!
My start wave on the dock. That dock was slippery and rocking like crazy!! 
Swim - 38:11
Like I said, the time flew by waiting for my start. I hit the bathroom a few hundred times, helped take BJ's picture with her team, and looked for my run group folks. Once we were on the dock, I got in the water right away and loved the temperature. I made sure my goggles were secure and not leaking and held onto the dock until time to go. Once we got our start, I let folks take off ahead of me but probably should have let it go a little more since I got a bit caught up in flailing arms and legs. I tried to get over to the left more but finally gave up and settled into a good middle of the lane place. I didn't want to push hard, not knowing how my body would react to the water since I was sick. But thankfully, my head didn't hurt and everything felt really, really good. I settled into a groove and let myself swim a nice, easy pace. I couldn't believe how quickly the swim seemed to pass - I usually hit a spot after the bridges where I feel like the swim is never going to end, but I didn't experience that this time, despite the fact that this was my slowest swim on the 1.2 mile course ever! In fact, I was surprised to see the turn buoy! I made my way up out of the water, with the assistance of a volunteer (which was nice) and started my way up the ramp. I wanted to run the transitions this time, but I knew I wasn't going to waste my energy on the steep ramp! LOL

BJ got this fabulous picture of me - but I look like a miniature next to this guy! 
This funny picture was taken by my friend, Susan, who did Tri to Beat Cancer with me last month. She had talked about coming to spectate Augusta but I hadn't heard for sure that she was coming! You can see the surprise on my face to see her there!

T1 - 5:28
Once I was up the hill, I ran the entire length of transition. Which is a long, long way in Augusta! LOL I had done it in Athens and I knew I could do it this time! I also knew my best chance of reducing my transition times was to pick up the pace and not treat it as a rest area! I was pleased with my time.

Bike - 3:39:41
I ran my bike out of transition as best I could - my new shoes are fairly slippery. I didn't have my bike in the proper gear but I knew that ahead of time (forgot to shift it back in transition - my mistake) so I ran a bit past the mount line so I wouldn't be in anyone's way if I struggled. But surprisingly enough, I didn't struggle at all! This would be the first of many surprises on the bike during the race!

Now my plan for the bike was simple - as undertrained as I was, and being sick, I was just going to take an easy pace. No pushing. None. I had to save my legs for the run and I knew that was where I could shine because my runs have been super strong this summer. What I wasn't ready for was that my "easy" was so much faster than it was in 2014. I kept a sharp eye on my HR monitor, but my bike pace was still strong despite the HR in the proper zone.

What I also wasn't ready for was the need to pee. I had had that same experience in 2014, but I blamed it on the wetsuit and the UCAN (liquid) that I was fueling with. I hadn't had much experience with it at that point to know I have to take it earlier so I could pee enough. This year I didn't fuel with UCAN so I wouldn't have that problem. But it appears it's a "swimming in the water" and a "getting old" problem instead. Now, I didn't have the urgent need like I did in 2014 where it was painful, but it was enough to make me decide to take care of it at the first stop. I also figured I could go ahead and fill one of my bottles which would be empty by then according to my fueling schedule. So I stopped, peed, blew my nose, and filled my bottle. I lost a good 4 minutes, but having a clear nose and losing that urge to pee was more than worth it! I felt really ready to take on the next part of the course which was the hilliest part.

There is a part of the course between miles 40-46 that I typically struggle with. I was mentally preparing myself for that part, so much so that I stopped at the 2nd rest stop and blew my nose again (and applied some sunscreen). I wanted to have clear breathing for the impending struggle bus. But just like during camp, there was no struggle bus! In fact, I had to reign it in and avoid pushing myself. I was pleasantly surprised! All in all, I lost almost 6 minutes of moving time according to Garmin, but I think it was well worth it. And next time I will definitely just plan to stop and pee at the first stop!

Before I knew it, I was back on the flat part of the course heading back into GA! I was feeling strong and even thought to myself, "Could I do another 56 miles? Yeah, I think I could!" (Full Ironman dreaming on the bike?!? Yes, I did!)
Susan got this great picture of me heading out on the bike course! 
T2 - 4:09
Dismounted and ran the short distance to my rack. Again, not using transition as a rest stop! Get the shoes on (with the lock laces this time) and get out there! I had a long run to get out of transition (just like for the swim) but I was going to run it, even though it was on the grass which made me a bit nervous. I still have trail running PTSD!!

Run - 2:26:21
It was crazy hot by the time I got to the run. On the bike with the breeze it was misleading because it felt quite comfortable, but soon after starting the run I realized that this was going to be an intervals sort of day. No worries! I brought my GymBoss timer and got it started. My goal pace was 10:30 which would not have been a problem on a regular day, but this was not going to be a regular day. My cold had not held me back on the swim or the bike, but I would feel its effects on the run in a very scary way. Especially since at the time, I didn't realize that it was likely the cold doing it to me. You see, after the first two miles, every time I started to run, I would get tingly and dizzy. When it first started to happen I decided to change my fueling strategy and I took a hit of Base Salt immediately and would do that every 30 minutes, in addition to my Nuun and my Honey Stinger Chews. It really didn't help. My heart rate was crazy high. I drank water and doused my neck cooler in the ice water at the aid stations and put ice in my bra and an ice sponge in the band of my visor - and still, every time I ran, I would get dizzy. It was disconcerting. In hindsight, knowing that my HR had been elevated for the last several days due to the illness (and not overtraining as I was thinking) and that the HR going higher while running makes perfect sense. But at the time, I decided it was more important to stay upright and lose a few minutes that it was to possibly pass out.

It was such a hard decision, too, because during the act of running I physically felt great! My run pace was strong and I didn't have any issues with my IT bands or my knees. I just couldn't run for very long at a time. I tried several times to walk for a bit longer to see if my HR could recover with a bit of extra walking, but it didn't so I decided to let that go.

One of the best parts of the run course in Augusta is that you wind up and down the roads on a 2 loop course and you can see all of your spectators several times plus you can see your fellow runners! BJ was cheering with TriCoachGeorgia (best Tri Team around - did I mention that?! LOL) and they had a huge presence on the course. Not only did BJ cheer for me but several of their coaches cheered me on by name on the course and that felt really nice. I'm not on their official team, but I am a huge fan, and my Ironman affiliation is with them! If you need coaching or a team, I highly recommend them.

OK, enough of the commercial and back to the report! Oh wait.. I was talking about pictures! Here are some pics that folks got of me! I don't even have to buy the official race pictures (except maybe a finish line picture from the front) because they took such great shots!

Susan got this lovely one! (And more - she has a whole jump drive for me! But this one she loved so much she sent it right away)

BJ got this one at the TCGA Energy Wall - I've got Horns Blaring for the team!! Love BJ and love TCGA!

I saw Tamara (my coworker and run group leader) on my 2nd loop. I was attempting to throw out the "Double Cs" for Classic City Running where we work. Instead, I look like I'm getting ready to break into a rendition of Thriller!
So my goal for the race was to come in under 7 hours. With it being a no wetsuit race and so hot with so much walking, I wasn't sure if that was going to be possible. And I purposely didn't look until I had 2 miles to go. Because if nothing else, my training has taught me that I can pretty much do anything for 2 miles. I hit that 2 mile marker and saw that I had a really good shot to make it, but it would mean that my longer walk breaks were over. It was basically time to put up or shut up. I had a lot of quotes from friends running through my head to inspire me - and I was also singing two particular Hamilton songs, or rather lines from the songs over and over: "I am not throwing away my shot!" and "Just you wait!! Just you wait!" Yeah, weird things happen in Ironman 70.3 - whatever it takes, huh?

I turned the corner and saw the finish line. I walked for just a few seconds to catch my breath, because I knew that I was going to let it all out. A lady next to me told me not to stop now. LOL No, I wasn't! It was the deep breath before the plunge! I did not hear anything except the announcer saying my name and city as I crossed the finish, but both BJ and Susan got pictures of me! I had no idea either of them were there!

Pushing through to the finish!
Why yes, I do still have my sweat band from the bike ride on under my visor and, yes, that IS a sponge in the back of my visor! Nobody ever said that Ironman 70.3 was pretty! 

Finish - 6:53:49

So yes, I did it! I beat my goal of 7 hours. I took 14:58 seconds off my time from 2014, and under much more difficult racing conditions. To say I am thrilled would be an understatement. In fact, after I crossed the finish and checked my Garmin, I nearly said a happy cuss word or two! LOL

Susan got this great picture of me in the finisher's chute! That's a look of total satisfaction on my face!
My rankings during the run are simply amazing. I was 2167 out of 2480 on the bike overall. I finished 1682. Yeah, I made up something like 485 spots with my run. And it wasn't even a good run for me! This confirms for me what I've been learning over the summer - that spending lots of time making my bike slightly faster is not as important as making sure my legs are strong on the run. That is where I will make up my time. My bike is getting faster along with my run (and I give lots of that credit to my strength training ala Pure Barre), but I am going to show better gains with my strong running. 

You've made it to the end of the race report. I bet you feel like YOU have completed a half ironman as well! I am totally thrilled with the way this race played out. While I would have loved it if I hadn't been sick right before the race, that's not how it worked out. You have to race the race you are given. Physical training is only a small part of the Ironman 70.3 preparation! Mental and emotional training is every bit as important! I was proud of myself for sticking to the race plan I had developed, and being smart enough to modify it when circumstances warranted it! I couldn't have asked for a better day! 

Now it's time for a recovery week, and then I'm going to jump into my training for the Dopey Challenge in January! After that, Ironman Raleigh 70.3 will be waiting for me in June! Please stick around and follow my training!