Ironman Augusta 70.3 Race Report. The good, the bad, and the ugly! (VERY LONG!)
First, let me start this off by thanking the Ironman organization, the people and city of greater Augusta, and the police of Georgia and South Carolina for the incredible job they did in hosting and co-cordinating this event. I cannot think of one criticism about this event, and while I'm sure there were things that did not go as planned, it was invisible to me. That's how events like this should happen.
I'm a 65 y/o metabolically efficient, fat adapted athlete. I started eating low carb following a LCHF diet in May 2012 after being diagnosed with pre hypertension and high cholesterol, despite all my exercise and eating a "good" DR recommended "diet." Last year, after doing my first sprint triathlon in Sept. 2012, I was searching to learn more about Triathlon. I found the Garden Variety Triathlete podcast, and while it didn't fit my new diet, I found other valuable insights into the sport. Needless to say, I was very pleased to hear about the I FitFatFast podcast and became an instant fan.
I don't use goo or other carb based supplements, and except for my drink, I didn't eat at all on rides, training, or events. I had 3 TBS. of MCT for breakfast, and 1 TBS. after the swim. Just to be safe, I carried a goo to sip on, and a bag of some kind of electrolyte gummies.
Aside from some washboard road surfaces, thanks to the US Government and the State of South Carolina (and they were few), the venue was perfect. The weather was incredible, mid 70's with a light breeze, low humidity, and no chance of rain. We arrived about 2 PM on Saturday. Final check in was up to 4 PM and bike check at transition was open to 5 PM. With very little effort we were able to find some free parking a few blocks from the Mariott Convention Center were check in was located.
The check in went very fast and efficient. This was our first hint that this organization has it together. The volunteers at check in were very well versed in their position and responsibilities, and if they didn't know an answer, they knew who did. Check in took about 10 min, and that was mostly signing forms and confirming information.
After swag bag pick up, we strolled though the IM shop where I picked up a decal for the car. Even if I don't finish, I'm entitled to say I went there! Then we visited the adjacent EXPO were health and triathlon related vendors had their samples and wares. My wife and I treated ourselves to a free massage. She got her back worked on, and I had them work on my tight calves.
After that, we checked into our hotel, and made arrangements to meet friends for dinner. I had a half chicken, and ate all the skin, and lots of roasted veggies fortified with olive oil. You will learn about my choice for dinner later.
A great weekend was off to a great start!
I called it a night early, and we were in bed by 9. This may seem way to personal, but this is a major concern of mine, and many others I am sure! I was very happy to pass a good stool that night. My biggest fear was to get to the swim start with a wet suit and singlet on.
I double checked my equipment bag, and laid out my stuff for the AM. But after a few hours of sleep, I awoke with a few things to check. After putting them in order, it was back to sleep at 1 am.
I awoke at 5:30 for the 7:44 start. I took off my wedding band and secured it in my wife's purse, and did not put in my partial denture. These are two things that I fear loosing on an open water swim, and feel better leaving them in a safe place.
The ride to the transition area was only about 15 min, but we had to stop by the finish, which was downtown, about 1.5 mi. from the transition area. We wanted to drop off a cooler and chairs for my wife and friends who would be spectating. Then it was off to find a parking spot, and set up my stuff in transition.
We parked about 3/4 mi. from transition, mid way to the finish. I arrived at transition with about 30 minutes to spare before it closed, but more importantly with just about enough time to make it to swim start.
The swim (1.2 mi.) is located on the Savannah river, and is just over a mile from transition. There is a nice river side walk, or lots of shuttles provided by the local school district. Since I had an early start, my wife waited in the long lines as I set up. Before I was full set up she was ready to board the bus. I set up what was important, and headed out. I didn't get to fully charge my aero drink holder, but I did have 2 additional bottles in my seat holder. I didn't fill my fuel belt, but everything else was ready
The swim is in the Savannah river, one way. There is a light current, regulated by a water control dam upstream. Since the weather had been dry, they limited the outflow of the dam so the current was a small factor. On years when there is heavy rains in the week prior to the event, the current can be pretty swift, but this year it was "normal." The water was about 69 degrees, perfect for a wet suit. I was in the 4th wave, just after the men and women Pros and the Wounded Warriors waves.
Due to the current, only the pros are allowed to swim prior to start on race day. So, despite my swim coaches admonition to get in the water before, I had to wait. Also unlike the pros, we had do drop in feet first. No diving. That suited me fine, but it was a bit of a shock none the less.
There was about 140 in my wave (55+,) and 12 in my AG. I wanted to get in near the last, as I'm new to this triathlon thing, and all that start commotion is a bit off putting. I probably got in the water about just after the middle of the pack. Despite my every intention to stay calm and swim my race, the shock of the cold water and the commotion and chop kinda freaked me out. I couldn't catch my breath and get into a comfortable swim stroke. I was afraid that like my first two Tri's I would have to "Johnny Weismeuler" it the 1.2 mi. And that would not be easy or pretty. But as the field cleared and the chop settled, so did I. I was able to get into a nice stroke pace and concentrate on breathing, and a nice long stroke. I soon found myself passing lots of people, and finished 2nd in my AG.
I've mentioned the bike venue slightly already. Most of it occurs in South Carolina. Participants are treated to a bucolic ride in mostly quiet rural roads, with the occasional local sitting on their front lawn cheering you on. The road surfaces were by and large very good, with the few exceptions noted above. The terrain is mostly flat with some rollers, and it makes for a pleasant but challenging course. There are several sharp corners, but like all intersections and side streets were very well covered by police and/or volunteers. There were a few stretches on divided 4 lane highways (were we had one entire lane, and one AGAINST TRAFFIC) but they were very well guarded by SCHP and Local Sheriffs.
Those were the only few times I remember seeing other vehicle traffic. I never felt threatened or unsafe. I would love to ride the course again when I can fully enjoy the scenery and not be concentrating on HR, hydration, cadence, avoiding drafting penalties, etc.!
As great as the bike venue was, the run was even better. The course has you doing 2 loops though the center of Augusta. It's great for spectators, as properly placed they can see you 4 or more times with very little movement. We had several friends racing from by bike club and triathlon group, so there was lots of people to root for. My wife was with me, and she had a great time.
The streets were somewhat shaded, but the weather being perfect that was not a problem. Water stations very well staffed with loads of eager volunteers were about every mile. The mile signs were very visible and all turns well marked. Locals sat on their front porches and on the curbs and cheered you on the entire way. We were treated to real southern hospitality!
Now I've mentioned the Good, the (few things) bad, and now for the ugly. This was my first race at the 70.3 distance. I was confident in my swim under these conditions, and very comfortable with my bike preparation. I had a hydration and fuel plan, and a plan for my race pace. The only question mark was the run distance. My longest run to date was 8 miles.
I came out of the swim in 2nd place with 30:28. I was ahead of my planned 35 min time. After a comfortable transition, ensuring I did everything (but missing START on the Garmin) I was off on the bike. At home at last.
I kept my HR in zone 2, spinning up hills and hammering down them. I made sure to drink frequently, but perhaps not enough. I was stocked up with TriLabs Ultra Fuel, my sports drink of choice. 1 scoop (25 carbs) per 24 oz and fortified with 1 tsp. of beet extract for oxygen uptake.
I got off the bike in 2:57:03, ahead of my 3:15 budgeted time, and maintaining my 2nd place position. Again I had a comfortable transition 2, and it was off to do the work of the day. I got off the bike feeling strong and like "I could have done more" but fact is, #1 was way ahead, so saving myself for the run was good strategy. Or so it seemed.
I started the run at an HR well above the planned zone 2 HR. A seasoned runner friend said that's normal and that it would settle down. Well it did come down into upper zone 2, but never got to my planned HR. But I felt good, and while lots of younger people were passing me, I was passing lots of others younger than me. Even many who were in my swim start wave.
I tried to focus on a good stride while keeping my HR at or near the goal. I followed the Endurance Nation advice to walk though the aid stations, and that worked well. My HR came down, and allowed me to focus in drinking and cooling.
Everything went according to plan up to mile 7 or so. I had only ran 8 miles a few times before, and they were at a much lower HR, and not after a bike (that is, not as a "brick".) I felt very strong, but I began to feel a slight twinge in my left hip. By mile 8 the pain was sufficient that I had to pull up and walk. I walked for a while until the pain subsided, and then ran again, only to feel it come back right away. So after a few of those, I decided to walk the last five miles. I was still well ahead of schedule (finishing under 7 hrs.) and I figured it's better to "Race to Complete" (and do it) than to "Race to Compete" and not finish. A finishing time. not matter what, is better than "DNF."
Along about the time the hip started to hurt the legs began to feel stiff, like they would begin to cramp. I like to think it was because I didn't follow my hydration plan and bring my Ultra Fuel in my fuel belt, but fact is, I never did the work.
I could probably count on one hand the number of bricks I've done, and in the last several month I've used every excuse in the book, and probably ran not much more that once a week. As mentioned, my longest run was a few easy 8 milers and various other shorter distances. Hence the UGLY truth is I was not prepared for this distance. I didn't do the work to deserve any more than I accomplished. Lesson learned. Never the less, I feel great about doing it, and about the elements of my plan that, until an unforeseen circumstance, kept me very competitive.
So, the take aways are:
1. Ironman, at least in Augusta, puts on an first rate event, and the people of Augusta and the surrounding areas are to be thanked and congratulated to their hospitality.
2. My race plan was sound. Keeping my HR in zone 2 for the swim and bike kept me fat burning and aerobic. I really like not being dependent on sucking goo at every aid station!
3. Maffetone training really works! I plan to continue as I prepare for my next race, and though the off season.
4. I should have filled my bike and run hydration bottles in advance, and arrived earlier to set up. Put a "sticky" on the Garmin to remind me to press start.
5. I need to put much more emphasis on my run training. I figured "If I can't swim, I might drown" and my bike has always been strong. But the run training requires as much time, effort, and determination as I have placed on swimming over the past year.
6. I'm in no way ready for a full IM. I'm confident on my swim and bike even at those distances, but no way for a full marathon. Maybe I could finish walking within the time allotment, but I want to "do it right!"
I hope someone might learn something from my first IM event.