Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Ironman 70.3 Augusta

Ironman 70.3 Augusta was my second half distance tri back in 2013 and I remember enjoying the current-assisted, wetsuit-legal swim, relatively flat bike course, and super flat run.  So I signed up for this last winter after what was (for me) a successful fall racing season with the goal of breaking 5 hours. Training has gone pretty well, and going into the week I thought this still seemed to be a realistic goal.  However race week brought some unexpected twists, including (1) learning of changes to the bike course that added a little distance along with 700+ feet of elevation gain over the old course and (2) seeing that the forecast was predicting high temperatures around 90.  After racing Raleigh in June and completely blowing up in the heat, I knew I needed to adjust my race plan given the conditions.  I decided on a slightly slower pace and decided ahead of time that I would walk through all of the aid stations to try to keep my core temperature under control and make sure that I was hydrating.  These changes to the plan made it pretty unlikely that I'd finish in under 5 hours, but when life gives you lemons you just try to cross the finish line and not end up in the medical tent. 

Made it to my hotel just in time to see the sunset on Friday night
After driving down to Augusta on Friday, Saturday was pretty low key.  I went for a quick spin to make sure all systems were go with the bike, met up with Tim for lunch and bike check-in, and then met some friends for dinner.  Other than that the day was just spent getting things together, hydrating, and lazing around watching football.

Race gear ready to go
Sunday morning I walked over to the Marriott to catch the bus to T1.  While I was walking I overhead several people saying that the swim wasn't wetsuit legal, but they'd announced the water temp to be 74 on Saturday - a full two degrees below the cutoff - so I thought they must be mistaken.  Unfortunately they were not.  The water temperature had somehow risen to 77 in one day.  Part of the reason I'd chosen this race was the wetsuit-legal swim with the current, so that was really disappointing (and the conversation I had with myself in my head may have contained an expletive or two).  I know that relying on the wetsuit is sort of a cop out, but because I'm not a strong swimmer, the extra buoyancy and improved body position really helps to cut the gap between me and the front of the field. At least we still had the current!

Looking over the swim course from the bridge nearest the start

It was 50 minutes between the pro start and my wave, so we watched the pros go out to try to see what the best line would be.  We were instructed to stay to the right of the buoys but the pros were using both sides, so I decided I'd stay as close to the sight buoys as possible. 

It's an in-water start, and we had to work at treading water and moving backward against the current, which I thought was a great sign.  Unlike my last two 70.3s, which were very choppy, difficult swims with portions against and across the current, the Savannah River was blissfully calm and the point to point swim is with the current the entire time, so I was actually feeling pretty comfortable when the horn sounded.  My comfort was pretty short-lived.  I guess I just need more practice in crowds, but I just can't find a rhythm with people bumping into me from every direction. One woman seemed to be trying to draft off of me and kept grabbing my feet, and it was frustrating me to no end.  Thankfully I was eventually able to find my own space, stayed on my line just right of the buoys, and the second third of the swim went by uneventfully, which for me is a victory.

When I did Augusta 3 years ago, I finished the swim in 30:35.  Originally I thought I'd be able to take a couple of minutes off of that time, but without the wetsuit I wasn't sure how it would go.  So I was content to see 31 minutes on my watch when I exited the water.  Though I had the current to thank for most of it, that is still BY FAR my fastest non-wetsuit open water swim.  

2013: 30:35, 104/159
2016: 31:28, 54/159

I made the run up to T1 and found there were still a lot of bikes on my rack, which made me smile given my questionable swimming ability and my struggles in the early portion of the swim.  I put on my helmet, bike shoes, and sunglasses and was out of T1 in under 4 minutes.

While I was not thrilled about the added elevation on the bike course (hills are not one of my strengths), I was excited to get on the bike.  I'd hit the 56 mile mark at Patriots in about 2:38, and though I was better suited to that course I thought something at least close to PR would be a possibility.  The first several miles were incredibly crowded.  People were riding three wide and it was very difficult to avoid drafting.  There were three women in my age group close by and we played a bit of leap frog for a while as we were weaving in and out of passing lanes, going around people, and avoiding some of the men from the wave behind us that were flying by at mach 7.  Once things started to spread out for a bit, I found that they were pulling away.  I thought about trying to stick with them, but knew it was going to be a long day, especially with the run in the heat, so I decided to stick with my plan to ride around 160-165W and just hope that they'd come back to me later in the race.  I took it easy up the hills, used the 5 mile split beep on my garmin as a reminder to eat a couple of chomps and drink some gatorade, and just tried to ride steady.  I ran out of fluids before both the first and second aid stations, and was disappointed to find that they were so far apart (#1 at almost 20M, #2 around 38M, and #3 at 46M or so... not the best spacing), especially given that temperatures were already in the 80s, but overall I felt ok.  Despite seeing some slow bike splits, I fought the urge to ride harder and actually dialed it back a little as the temperature rose, not wanting a repeat of the Raleigh run disaster.  The last 12 miles or so are mostly flat and downhill, so I was actually able to maintain a decent pace without blowing my legs out.  Overall I'd say it went pretty much to plan, with a final normalized power of 160.  That put it on the low end of my target range and I finished with a an average speed of 20.2 mph, but with the heat that was probably not a bad thing.  Though of course I wish it'd been faster ;)

2013: 2:56:00, 38/159
2016: 2:46:18, 8/159

According to my garmin data, it was 88 degrees and 49% humidity at the start of my run.  My legs felt good and even though my legs wanted to run in the 7:30s (my original target pace), I made a conscious effort to slow down.  I felt that if I could stay in the 7:40-7:50 range with short walks through the aid stations, that would be a solid run given the conditions.  Again, I thought about Raleigh, and though it was awful at the time, at least I learned from my mistake of going out too hard, too soon.  It also helped tremendously that I've been training in the heat for the last 4 months!

As with the bike course, I thought the aid stations were poorly spaced.  While I'm used to having one every mile, several of these were spaced one and a half miles apart or more.  That might not sound like a huge difference, but when it's 90 degrees and sunny, a half mile can feel very long!  I was also disappointed to find that the majority of aid stations were not stocked with ice, especially since they'd known for quite some time that it was going to be an extremely hot day.  Thankfully I still felt (relatively) ok, and though my pace slowed a bit and my walks through the aid stations got progressively longer, most of my splits stayed in (or at least near) my goal.  As I was walking through the second to last aid station, a woman in my age group ran by.  I thought of taking off immediately or speeding up to catch her, but stayed with the plan and it wasn't long until I ran by her and pretty quickly put some space between us.  The last miles were tough, as could be expected, but I managed to finish strong...  a far cry from my last 70.3.  Even with the walking I ended up with an average pace of 7:47 per mile.  Though it's not my fastest half run split, it's not far from my 70.3 PR of 1:40:37 last fall, which was run under more pleasant conditions.

2013: 1:46:09, 14/159
2016: 1:41:59, 3/159

6th Female 35-39
14th Amateur Female of 900+ finishers
Though I was fairly satisfied with my effort and execution, I knew it was unlikely that I'd placed high enough to have a shot at a World Championship spot, but I'd hoped to crack the top 5 and get onto my first Ironman podium.  After getting a massage in the finisher area, I anxiously retrieved my bag from gear check and looked up the results.  Sixth.  For the second straight Ironman 70.3.  Though it's not a terrible finish, I missed out on fourth by three and a half minutes and fifth by only 2 minutes.  So close but so far, and I'm definitely a little disappointed because I know I could have found a few minutes out there, be it not getting frazzled by the foot grabbing in the water, pushing just a little harder on the bike, or not walking through the final aid station on the run.  Thankfully the three Championship slots were accepted by the top three finishers, so I am not beating myself up over missing out on that as I would have if one had rolled down to fourth and been within only a few minutes of my reach.  

I am trying not to dwell on the disappointing parts and to look at the positives as well... Though it wasn't ideally suited to my strengths with the changes to the swim and bike course, I finished less than 9 minutes from a World Championship slot.  I'd started to question whether I'd been overambitious in setting that goal for myself, and though it's still a sizable gap, it is inside the realm of possibility and in that sense I am feeling more confident despite falling a little short this time around.

So now it's back to work and on to Ironman 70.3 North Carolina.  Hopefully I can finally find that fine line between going out too hard and blowing up (Raleigh) and leaving a little too much in the tank (Augusta).  Time will tell... 


  1. Great race under tough conditions. Being only a minute off your run PR is an amazing accomplishment. Most of us were 10-15 min slower! You'll crush the competition at B2B.

    1. Thanks, Tim! It was great seeing you out there and I really appreciate all of the support!