Ironman 70.3 Augusta 2016: The Swim Bike Mom Race Report
“I am relentless. I am unbreakable. I am unstoppable. This is good. This is great. This is awesome. I am relentless. I am unbreakable. I am unstoppable. This is good. This is great. This is awesome. I am relentless. I am unbreakable. I am unstoppable. This is good. This is great. This is awesome. This——-”
I didn’t even have a chance to react before both knees smashed into the pavement, quickly followed by my hands, jarring my elbows and shoulder.
And in a matter of seconds, I was plopped down on the side of the 2016 IRONMAN 70.3 Augusta run course at Mile 5.5.
I was assisted by several spectating angels under a tan tent… thinking to myself, “No, really. Why do I always F everything up?”
My knees were bloodied and throbbing. I honestly didn’t know if I could get up. (I honestly didn’t know if I wanted to, either.) But the spectators pulled me up. Turned me around in the right direction (somehow I had spun myself backwards), and I hobbled off.
I rounded the corner to the back stretch of the run course and tears unwillingly leaked from my eyes. I found myself so sick and tired of the pattern: swim, bike, run, hurt/fall down/crash/BS.
[And hello—the heat. For the love of God, the heat out there on this Augusta course. It was Satan’s armpit.]
I was close to the finish area (not the finish line — still had 6.5 miles of the run left). So close that I wanted to just walk in my timing chip and call it a day. I was over it.
What did it matter anyway? Who cared if I quit?
It’s “just” racing. We “do this for fun,” right? Fun… then I sort of laughed (sort of).
Because literally minutes before, I was pacing right along with my race plan, chanting in my head “this is great this is awesome” to the rhythm of my footsteps. I was feeling the heat, but managing it well. I was doing okay. Maybe having a little fun—just a little. I was only 3-4 minutes “behind schedule” in my race plan.
So in summary, before I crashed into the pavement, my race was on track to pretty darn good–if not great. As I hobbled on, legs throbbing, I reminded myself again and again, that only minutes before, I was smiling.
But a really loud voice inside said, “Just quit.”
Why, now? Why now am I quitting? I felt myself asking the voice.
Before I let myself quit, that was the question I had to answer…
Why am I quitting?
* * *
The Expert, two kiddos and I, headed down to Augusta through Atlanta traffic on Friday afternoon. I was on edge. I was tired. I haven’t been sleeping. I had a dumb incident on the spin bike on Tuesday that blew up an old hip injury, which I thought was going to take me out on race day.
By Friday, I was grinning and bearing it–I figured I would be okay. By the time we picked up our race packets, I had a glimmer of hope and I started the positive race thoughts and visualization that I was a little behind on.
Okay, let’s do this race!
- First Timer Augusta 70.3 Tip: Get there on Friday if you can. Do packet pick-up, any expo and grocery shopping on Friday. Less crowded, less hoopla. Time to relax. Wake up on Saturday and get to bike check early, and then rest.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express on Stevens Creek Road, near Washington Road. Anything around this area is really easy access to Whole Foods, Outback, Starbucks, gas stations, and all sorts of fast food. It’s only a 15-20 minute ride to race start and finish line – so if you are looking for a place to stay that is NOT super expensive, these are good options. Downtown Augusta has good parking options for the race, so while staying on the Riverfront or the race course is certainly nice–don’t panic if you can’t. The Washington Road and Stevens Creek/Claussen Road options are fine ones, too–and for half the price.
We went to packet pick-up and dinner.
The four of us were piled into the hotel and asleep by 10:00 on Friday night.
I didn’t sleep again, and thrashed all night long. I was up with the sun, and ready to get this show on the road.
Saturday: Iron Kids and Bike Check
On Saturday, we went to the IronKids race with James and Stella. They did the one-miler, and completed it in some SICK time – like 7:15.
If you want something fun to do with the spectating kiddos the day before the race, this was really fabulous.
After that, my-mother-in-law took over the kid watching duty while we did the pre-race running around.
The Expert and I headed to bike check, did the pre-check ride on the bike, and a quick run.
- First Timer Augusta 70.3 Tip: Augusta has a stupid long distance from transition to swim start and the finish line. This is a tricky race to do without a Sherpa who is willing to run you around. Just consider that once you finish, you have to get about 2 miles back to transition to pick up your bike. The best thing to do is to go AROUND downtown and back towards transition the back way, park at the nearest gas station, and walk to your bike. You’ll save almost two miles of walking post-race.
Ran into this fabulous pro, April Gellatly. Who reminds me that race day is “fun” but not actual fun. Like hell fun. (How right she is!)
As we were doing our shake-out run, the Expert said, “You are kicking out your right leg and it looks weird.” So I said, “Watch now.” And I tried to straighten out the leg.
“Better,” he said.
I said, “Yeah, that hurts.”
So the hip, while much better, I was overcompensating and monkey-up my run stride by trying to protect it. Noted. Try and straighten that out tomorrow.
We also had a great meet-up with Women For Tri and Swim Bike Mom/ Tri-Fecta, for some quick pictures.
Up at 3:50 and ready to roll. I felt okay. Slept better than I had in weeks, and my hip felt pretty good.
I was super positive.
We headed over to transition to drop off the bike bottles and the like when I heard the announcement, “For the first time in history, this swim is NOT wetsuit legal.”
And the complaining, murmurs and muttering began among the athletes. Understandably. One of the big draws to Augusta is the historically screaming-fast down river, wetsuit-legal swim.
Well, there ya go. First race-day adaptation.
The river didn’t look that fast AND now there was no wetsuit. It was wetsuit optional, which meant you “could” wear it, but you would start with the relay group – which was around a 9:20 swim start- meaning you would be out on the run course an hour (up to two hours) later in the day. And the morning was already warm.
I chose to go without a wetsuit–because I didn’t want to start over an hour later than I already was. And feeling the temps out, I was thrilled at the idea of being in the cool water without a whale skin.
- First Timer Augusta 70.3 Tip: You can’t always guarantee a wetsuit legal swim or a super fast river in Augusta.
The energy was good at the swim start. I heard the announcement that Haley Chura (female pro) was out of the water in 20 minutes–I thought I remembered her out of the water in something like 16 minutes a few years back… So to me, that indicated a slower river and/or wetsuit impact. Or I made that up in my head.
I had my eyes set on a 27 minute swim with the wetsuit and current, so in that moment, I mentally readjusted my expectations to 31 minutes. I have found there is nothing worse than getting out of the water and seeing a “bad” swim time–it can throw off the whole day. I figured with 31 minutes, I could deal (mentally) with anything between 31-35 minutes without blowing a gasket.
The Expert headed off in the 7:40 wave, and my friend Therese and I hung out in the car until 20 minutes before our waves.
Then we lined up with our like-minded and like-aged people, and got ready to go.
My fellow 35-39 year-old gals inched down the dock, and before I knew it, it was go-time.
The water was chilly and a little shocking at first jump-in, but then okay. We floated and waited for the official time to go, and I could feel the current pulling–had to struggle to stay in place… Oh, that’s a good sign! I thought.
The buzzer sounded and the silver capped 35-39 age-group females were off. The swim start was a little crowded, but this one tends to thin out pretty quickly because the river is so wide.
- First Timer Augusta 70.3 Tip: Take your time pushing off to swim. If you are nervous, just take your time. The current will move you a little anyway… kick and catch your breath and go when you are ready. Put your face in the water before you decide to swim. Breathe out all the air. Head out of the water. Back in the water, repeat. Wait until you are calm enough–you have 4-5 minutes before the next wave will come. Just breathe.]
We were off, and it was a little bit of a fight in the beginning. I was swimming next to someone who was determined to swim off-course, blocking the way, for about 100 meters. Finally escaped that, and settled in. I set my sighting on the large American flag on the first bridge. Then on the middle pillar on the second bridge.
The water was clearer than I remembered from 2012 and 2013, but was still full of debris and sticks and river grass. At one point, I felt a little like Swamp Thing–I had a big ole thing of river grass across my face and another on my shoulder. I could literally feel sticks down in my boobage. (When I showered after the race, I had all sorts of debris coming out of who knows where.)
I settled into a calm rhythm quicker than I ever have on any swim of any distance–I really did feel calm. I think that I was glad there was no wetsuit to freak me out and make me feel like I was being buried alive. I still really don’t love the feeling of a wetsuit, even after all these years. Sure, I see the speed advantage (and warmth if necessary), but in a swim like Augusta, that’s where the benefit ends, mentally, for me.
I was determined to go easy on the swim, so I could go into the bike with plenty of matches to burn.
I was pleasantly surprised with an easy effort 29:53 swim, and 33rd in division. And I will obnoxiously say that it was, indeed, easy. This is really my last opportunity to brag on the day… so just let me.
Out of the water, up the boat exit/hill and through one of the longest T1 exits in the sport. Feels that way at least.
I headed out of transition in 3:55 and out onto a crowded bike out.
There were loads of people on the left who needed to be on the right. Lots of difficulty clipping in. Lots of bikes, just standing and blocking the mount line. I get it–trust me, I do. Clipping in sucks, and it’s hard. I still struggle with the flying mount, and am not brave enough to try it in any race–and not the flying dismount either. But here are some super simple mount line etiquette that will really help you (and others) in a race. When you are nervous about clipping in at the mount line, follow these simple pieces of beginner advice:
- Walk your bike to the mount line, but do NOT block the mount line. Take your bike 10-15 feet past the mount line, go to the far right (near the barricades) and take your time straddling your bike. Look behind you, and make sure you are clear before you go. Yes, you might have to wait a New York minute. Then look ahead and focus on going forward, in a straight line. Hold your line, and stay to the right.
- Keep one foot un-clipped, in case you have to stop, or put your foot down. It can be tricky getting down the road. You should be able to adapt and stop if necessary.
- Once you are on your bike and riding, stay to the RIGHT.
- Take your time to clip in the other foot once you are ready. You can ride slow, but stay RIGHT. Far right. Not middle, and never left. There are people who are ready to start the bike and go, and they would like to go. When you are riding on the left or in the middle of the road, trying to clip in, or weaving, you are dangerous. Really.
- Then, unless you are a confident, reasonably skilled and fast cyclist, just hang out to the right. For a long while, until the ride opens up and you can safely pass people.
I’ll be the first to admit my own flubs. And sure, we all weave and mess up on the bike at some point. That’s how accidents happen.
Sooooo, speaking of dangerous… as I headed out of transition, I had three bottles of nutrition on my bike – and one flew wildly off, hit the pavement and slid into the crowd. (Yes, that’s a penalty. Go ahead and give it to me.) I have no idea what happened with that–the bottles were on my bike, and then that one just wasn’t. And no, I didn’t stop and retrieve the bottle because of the crowd. I truly believed stopping at that intersection of the turn to backtrack would be more of a safety hazard than just swallowing my equipment abandonment penalty.
I thanked God that my bottle flew off so quickly and didn’t cause any injuries. Whew.
But damn, I thought, after I realized everyone was okay, There went 300 of my nutrition calories for the bike.
The bike course changed this year.
Usually the course is 1400-1500 feet of elevation, and the first 16 miles are pretty flat. Rumor had it because of bridge issues, they re-routed the course. We went about 6 miles of flat, and then turned off, to 8-10 miles of climbing. Overall, I think it added 800 feet of climbing and about 10 minutes to the route–which is NOT tragic, but IS notable. [Garmin results from my accout: 2,247 feet of climbing]
- First Timer 70.3 Augusta Tip: This isn’t technically a “hard” bike course–but it is certainly not easy. And if you aren’t training on hills, I think it could be killer. If the race keeps this bike route, note that it now has some really decent climbing. Not just a few rollers, as before. There is definitely a difference. Ride your hills.
I had power goals and heart rate to watch. I held myself back on the first part ride, because I usually blow up my legs on the first half of any ride. I tend to race a bike leg and lose all my marbles, like I don’t have a run to do—I guess because I just really like to ride. Here, I was over-conservative on the first part of the course, so I had some juice left for the second half.
I saw several bikes and riders down on the road, and it was seriously crowded out there. I think this is the most crowded bike course I have experienced in a 70.3–not sure why, but I felt like there was much more stop and start, and brake action than ever.
I was out of nutrition by the start of hour two (from losing my bottle) so I was at the mercy of the upcoming aid stations for the last bit. At the last station, I grabbed a Gatorade to try and make up some calories—held it up to my mouth—where I learned, the hard way, that the lid had been unscrewed before being handed over. I dumped the majority of the orange Gatorade all over myself, and chugged the rest.
I ended the bike feeling good, a little more under my power goal than I had planned and hence, slower–BUT actually having some run legs under me, and I wasn’t too hot—yet.
All signs were pointing to a well-executed race plan. My Garmin had my average speed at 18.1, but official was 17.8 with a 3:08:24 bike, 46th in division. The same time as my 2012 race, with 800 feet more of climbing.
Time to run. Yeah, the big question mark for me.
I made a quick stop in the porta potty in transition, and was out of the gate in 5 minutes.
- First Timer Augusta 70.3 Tip: Yes, the run really is “that flat.” There is one incline heading out of transition, near the railroad, and that is it. Literally, 80 feet of elevation for the whole 13.1. Pancake. GREAT run course. Also excellent for spectators, as you repeat the loop twice AND snake through downtown. Your sherpas can literally see you 8-10 times if they want to run/cross a few blocks.
I had a plan to pace around 11:00-11:15 minute miles for the first 4 miles, then progressively increase my pace in 15-20 second per mile intervals until the bitter end. Of course, this is the perfection of the negative split, and is the ‘right’ way to run a race. Easy to plan, often hard to execute.
The miles ticked by. It was hot. Really, flipping hot. The first stretch of the run was in wide open, blinding sun. No shade, just heat. I filled up my stomach with water, ice and Gatorade. I kept plugging along.
Mile 1: 11:04
Mile 2: 11:05
Mile 3: 10:41
Mile 4: 11:10
Just me, Consistent Cathy, trucking along, according to my plan. On Mile 5, I cranked the pace down to 10:45, also according to my plan.
I was running back through town–the best part of the run course. I was smiling, I was happy. I was hurting a little… but I truly felt okay. I was going to do “this.”
Then… a half mile later… SMACK. Down I went.
Yeah, I picked myself up.
Yeah, I kept going… but the pace goals had come to a halt.
I wanted to quit. What was the point? My “perfectly executed race” was going to hell in a hand-basket. I was headed straight to walking off, because I was over it. I didn’t want to be out there anymore. I had worked for this stupid race, I had a plan, and what? I FALL DOWN?! Why do I always do this dumb stuff?
It’s hard when the mental armor gets a crack in it… when you are working so hard to focus on something, and then a huge distraction swoops in.
But. I have even more issues.
I apparently have an internal barometer that gauges whether I can “allow” myself a walk-off-the-course and DNF. In order for me to walk off a course, I will do so with the clear understanding that I will eventually have to write about it in a race report.
So, I always ask myself, “Is this an acceptable reason to walk off the course? Can you later justify in a race report?”
And no, I don’t mean justify it to other people–I mean, as I write it, can I nod along with my own writing and say, “I did the right thing walking off the course.”
If I think I can do that, then fine. I’ll turn in my chip and find some food. To date, I haven’t been able to answer it affirmatively. I have not had any real reason to quit any race. Not any reason that I would, personally, accept later, after the pain stopped.
Also, the kids were there. SO I would have to tell that to this kiddo, who literally thinks that I never quit anything.
On paper, the fall probably would be a fine enough reason.
I couldn’t really bend my knees, I hurt–and I was bleeding. From others, I could probably get an understandable “you did great” and that be the end of it. Also, not sure if the kids would buy it. And, most of all, deep in my heart, I knew that if I wrote a report, I would be kicking myself as I typed.
I would be quitting for the wrong reasons. I would be quitting because I was a brat. Because things didn’t go my way.
I looked at my watch, and I gave myself two-tenths of a mile to complain in my head. To cry a little from the throbbing knees and gross sand and blood running down my legs.
Then I started the determined post-fall, full-heat shuffle. And shuffle I did. Ran a little, walked a little, and ticked off the miles. One by one.
As I rounded the last corner towards the Finish, I didn’t feel the usual elation to see a finish.
Just relief to be done. Relief that I did the right thing by finishing what I started.
I was about 100 yards from the finish line, where I saw the Expert, “Where are the kids?” I asked.
He gritted his teeth, “They had to go potty.”
“Should I wait for them?” I asked.
He said, “No, go finish. Who knows what they are doing.”
I shrugged my seized-up shoulders, continued another 50 yards, and ran through the finish chute, straight to a slice of weirdly warm pizza, a medal and my sixth and hardest half IRONMAN 70.3 finish to date, with a 6:40:59.
Walked right past the timing chip folks, and off the race course—wearing my timing chip. (Sigh. $%&*. Back to the finish line with me, shortly thereafter.)
From a starting point, half Ironmans are hard. I also understand that it was awesome to even finish out there, under those yucky heat conditions. It was, under all the changes (no wetsuit, harder bike course, and the heat) a technically, surprisingly HARD day for everyone out there.
I was having a good day. All the way through Mile 5.5 on the run, even with some issues along the way.
So from the starting point that I am grateful that I even finished Ironman 70.3 Augusta 2016, I write the following:
After six years in a sport, I have set some goals. My goals are not the same as yours or his, or anyone else’s out there. Some are out there to finish, and that’s awesome–I have set out to finish many, many races and that’s a noble goal. I have had “Best Race Ever” where my only goal was to finish alive and in one piece.
So please understand that I am not poo-pooing a “finish.” And I am glad that I finished.
Summary: Finishing is amazing. I just wanted to do more than that. Had a goal, wanted that too. Plain and simple.
The truth was, after the race, I had was dealing with disappointment in what I, personally, set out to do in Augusta.
In most circumstances, I swim well. I can hold my own on a bike in a half iron distance. Those two things have never been the real kickers for me on a half iron race day–because from a starting point, if I have any talent in triathlon, it would be like I received three drops of swim talent, and one drop of bike talent.
But the effing run? That’s been the nemesis of me.
I have no run talent—zero. I came to this sport as a non-runner, so I was at 1/3 deficit in triathlon right out of the gate. Over the years, I have ticked that down to 10 minute paces in a half marathon. And that is a massively huge accomplishment for a non-runner like me. Massive. And no, I don’t discount that either. But I have also worked really, really hard to get there.
And I wanted my race to reflect that.
During the race, I stayed on my plan. When I knew I could blow that swim out of the water, I held back. When I knew I could ride 19.5 MPH on the bike, I held back, watched my power, controlled the effort, listened to my body. So I would be, finally, ready to really run. To reflect my hard running work.
Did I have a time goal going into the race? Not precisely.
But I did have ONE goal.
And that ONE freaking goal was: RUN WELL.
So, in my head, I “failed” my one stupid ass goal. That’s what I think when I think of this race. I had a plan. I had one goal. I was amped up to RUN WELL. I was ready. And running well, I was doing.
Then I fell. And then I cracked. Because things didn’t go 100% as planned.
Then I mentally quit. But, then I (thankfully) recovered (rather quickly), and slogged my way to the finish, snatched up my medal and thought about what I was going to eat for dinner (and feeling a small disappointment that post-race beer was no longer an option for me). At that point, the only thing I cared about was bread, which I never eat.
I was disappointed. But I started to immediately deal with it, work through it–and ask myself the important questions.
So, I have a takeaway or two, a lesson, in every race.
What did I learn? That’s the first question.
Race day will always teach you something. In Augusta, I failed my “one goal” and accomplished two dozen others. I get it… waaaaaah! Poor me! Of course, my race wasn’t a pity party. That’s dumb. I write about these things because they are my truths.
And another truth? A HUGE part of why I continue to show up to this sport is to push my limits. Triathlon is not FUN. Triathlon is hard, and that’s why I keep doing it.
The funny thing is—we never know what “our real limits” are, until they are tested. Sure, we think we know our limits. For example, my limit would be the run, in general.
On this race day, however, my limit was what happened outside of the run. My limit, as revealed to me after the fall, was not actually the run–but rather, how I handled stress when the race didn’t go the precise way I wanted. After all, I was still RUNNING, even after the fall. Was I running as fast as planned? Nope. But I went. And while I pouted for a little bit, at the end of the day, I put on my shitkickers, and I kept going.
And even though my kids were in the potty when I crossed the finish line, they may not have seen me finish–but they also never saw me quit.
So out of the fall, I realized that I had to literally “just keep moving forward” and adapt. Mentally, I turned the corner as quickly as I could. Maybe I should have done better with the joy. And next time, I will turn it quicker.
Because finishing is enough. These are lessons. They are things I had to learn.
I am made of a lot of things. But one thing that I am not made of… is quit.* Ironically, my mantra for this race was this: I am relentless. I am unbreakable. I am unstoppable. [Clearly, I like to test my mantras. “Unbreakable? Are you sure?” SMACK.]
I repeated those three things in my head until I fell. Then I kept going. And I kept repeating them.
So that’s what I learned. I don’t quit. And I won’t quit.
And that’s what I will continue to build upon.
Finish Time: 6:40:59
*Please note that Augusta and Chattanooga IRONMAN conditions were brutal on race day 2016, and there were lots and lots of DNF’s and medical pulls from the course. I am not referring to or criticizing ANYONE who walked off the course and DNF’d, or didn’t make cutoffs. This Race Report is MY personal account of MY race and what happened TO ME. I have many friends who were pulled or pulled themselves out of the races yesterday for very GOOD, medical, crash, injury and other reasons. If you are ever in danger, then you should pull or be pulled and DNF. But, if you are whining and being a baby (like my story would have been) and then quit, then you have to live with–just like I would have if I had walked off. That’s the distinction.
Thanks to IRONMAN for putting on another great race, albeit in Satan’s lair. I know there were issues with ice and warm water… but I really don’t know what could be done about that with a heat index of 103. IRONMAN controls a lot, but unfortunately, not the river or the weather.
Major thanks to the volunteers for gutting it out with us out there in the heat.
Thanks to my mother-in-law for shuttling the kiddos around, and letting them hang in her hotel room so we could sleep well.
I raced this race 20 pounds lighter this year than in 2012 and 2013. I lost 20 pounds in 2015, and while I really didn’t lose much in 2016 (sort of stuck, dudes!), I have been consistently trying to crack the weight code.
And while my time didn’t reflect a technical course PR, I was only 4 minutes slower than in 2012, with a wetsuit, mild weather, and a much easier bike course. I would guestimate that this race in these conditions, 20 pounds heavier and health-wise ago, would have added (at least!) another hour on my time. I felt amazing all day, and I know that I am making progress. I am thankful for the knowledge that I am fueling my body well, and will keep working on that.
I WILL break through this plateau… stuckness sucks.
Congrats to the Expert, who didn’t PR either, but had a great day under sweltering conditions, with a 6:08 finish time. You done good, Expert. Your coach is proud.
Thanks to everyone who cheered, waved and said “hello” on the course. Lots and lots of friendly faces on the course, familiar tri kits, and smiles.
The Expert said that lots of people said hi to him, too. At one point, he was screaming across the street, “Go Meredith!” and he said, from behind him, a voice said, “That’s not Meredith.”
He looked closer, and it wasn’t me. Hilarious. So thank you all—I am glad my SBM crew can tell my husband who I am on the race course. 🙂
Two days later, I am good. I am sore in places that shouldn’t be sore–and I know that’s from hitting the concrete. My knees are huge and purple and gross.
But I am here. I don’t give up and I don’t quit. Triathlon is hard, and that’s why I won’t quit.
I am relentless. I am unbreakable. I am unstoppable.
(Or at least I am… until I am not. And we’ll just deal with that, whenever that day comes. But today is not that day.)