AUGUSTA HALF IRONMAN 2013: All Locked Up

Sunday September 29, 2013 7:30am (er–9:12)

Overall Place: 425/        Gender Place: 10/          Total Time:  5:09:23

I pooped twice on race day morning, and I knew it was going to be a good day. But allow me to back up a couple days…

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Pre-race: Rich and I arrived in Augusta Saturday morning, checked in, and dropped our belongings at my friend Jessica’s house, who is my favorite soon-to-be-MD at Medical College of GA. Met up with Christopher and Daria at Wild Wings for football and a couple beverages (only two— and noooo margaritas). Rich and I discovered that we had both lodged at the oh-so luxurious Clarion Hotel across the street the year prior when I spectated Kristin’s first 70.3 and he raced. Turns out we’d lived parallel lives.

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My first triathlon experience. I’ve come a long way in one year!

Caught up with Jessica after she got home from work and hit the hay a little later than planned… Before midnight is good, right? All kinds of thoughts and concerns played through my mind, including inopportunely timed tenesmus during the race, as I hadn’t had a BM on Saturday.

Arose early, chugged a couple cups of coffee (and pooped!), and squeezed into Daria’s hot convertible (I felt fast already…). The ride took away so much stress! Many many thanks Daria! As we hopped out of the car, a disheveled, cachectic man hanging out at a gas station on a mountain bike wished us well on the race. I invited him to join us on the bike, but he declined.

We made our way to transition, and I gingerly arrayed my belongings in probably the worst transition spot out there. Strategized my entrance and exit and prayed I hadn’t forgotten anything.

Warm-up: Rich and I walked the mile back to the swim start rather than mess with the busses. That counts?

SWIM: 1.2 miles      Rank: 21       Time: 26:57 (1:23/100m)

The swim started in waves grouped by age/gender. Mine was second to last at a ripe 9:12 am. I waited to eat my peanut butter and banana bagel until we arrived at the swim start. I pooped a second time (yes! All caught up!), and struggled into the wetsuit that Melissa had kindly lent me.  The late start left me alone with my sky-high nerves for a long time, and I chatted with anyone I could find to distract myself. I found Kristi and her smiling face as our start wave lined up, which was a big relief, and we walked the plank to the start together.

The Augusta swim is a down river point-to-point swim (the main selling point of the race for me). The joke is that a potato chip bag can finish the race in sub-30-minutes. I was still skeptical—especially after my embarrassing performance two weeks prior at Sprint the Gaps. One of the other girls told me that there were 9 yellow buoys, 9 orange buoys and then one red buoy signaling the exit (probably should have known that prior). With the current being extra strong that day, participants sat on a dock before starting. I scootched up front (every bit helps!), stared at the American flag hanging off a bridge in front of me, and breathed deeply. Time stood still. This is happening! The minute-long countdown to the start was definitely at least 10 by my calculation. Gun went off and in the water I went.

I utilized my exclusively left-sided breathing pattern to my advantage. I knew that as long as there were buoys/people/kayaks to my left when I breathed, I was on track. No turns to worry about. Just keep goin’ straight! I adopted Bethany’s “swimming machine” approach and tried to keep my head down and focus on long, smooth strokes without exerting myself too much. I think I may have sighted twice the entire swim. It wasn’t until I reached yellow buoy #5 that I realized they were numbered. OOHHH!!! That’s so helpful! So that’s what I did—count the buoys. Yellow buoy 6, 3 more yellow. Yellow #7, 2 more to go… I reached orange buoy #1 and noticed gentleman wearing a blue cap (from the wave in front of me). A BLUE CAP! A BLUE CAP! Expecting to be the END of my wave, I was super-pumped to catch up to the PREVIOUS wave!

Everything went swimmingly (pun intended) until orange buoy 7sih. I was minding my own business, counting buoys, repeating THE BLUE CAPS ARE COMING! in my head, and admiring a swimmer’s form next to me, when I felt someone grab my ankle, then my shoulder and actually manage to hook a hand in my wetsuit briefly. I popped my head out of the water and that same swimmer whom I was admiring shouted, “Stop it, B*tch! TOTALLY unnecessary!” New to swimming and especially to open-water, I guess I had been inadvertently swerving, which clearly upset my new-best-friend and former secret admirer. Oops. I slowed down a few strokes and let her go by.

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The water got super murky at the swim finish and I doggie-paddled on the ramp after my first solid open water swim ever. Man what a difference a wet suit makes! And that current is BOMB! Clearly I was excited.

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Transition 1           Time: 4:17

Had my very first (wetsuit) stripping experience (and loved it haha!), made my way to my awful transition spot. Donned socks and bike shoes with grass and dirt lingering on my feet. Helmet. Sunglasses. Bike. And hobbled aalllll the way across the grass transition area to bike out.

BIKE: 56 miles          Rank: 7          Time: 2:39:41 (21.04 mph)

Having never done a long brick after a bike, I wasn’t sure how to pace the bike to ensure a decent 13.1-mile run after since biking seems to have surpassed my running ability. Whereas my initial strategy was to go a little conservative (but solid) and save it for the run. That lasted about 5 miles. The bike course is flat, then rolling hills, then flat—an FAST. I felt great, and I was already doing better than I expected. New plan was to push it as much as I could without raising my heart rate significantly to gain as much time as I could and save only enough on the run to keep people off—not necessarily gain on anyone. I don’t use a HR monitor (chafing), but I have a good sense of where I need to be to sustain effort.

Early on I caught a racer (chick #1) who appeared about my age, wearing an aero helmet and handling her fancy red tri-bike decorated with fancy race wheels gracefully, efficiently, and fast. Trailing behind here was this sinewy-appearing 40-ish-year-old (chick #2) with a ‘fro of curly hair exploding out behind her helmet. In attempt to keep up with #1, #2 was hammering down on her pedals with her whole body swaying side to side. It looked like she was using every muscle in her body to pull and push on the bike. And it didn’t look comfortable. Nor sustainable for 56 miles. Every time #1 passed her, she would make convulsive-type movements to swing around her briefly before immediately slowing down (out of exhaustion) and #1 would gracefully glide past her again. #2 would then draft until she garnered enough energy to convulsively pass again. I noticed the “R” on #2’s calf indicating she was part of a relay—which made sense. I trailed behind, entertained.

When we hit the hills, I scooted up  with relative ease, blowing by a lot of people—including #1 and #2. Ms. Aero-Helmet/Race Wheels caught up with me on the downhills, and that’s how we spent The. Entire. Ride. I’d pass her up. She’d pass me down. I looked for her age on her calf to see if she was in my age group (and thus my competition), but she wasn’t marked. After a few miles of leap-frog, we started exchanging words of encouragement with a giggle. Haha! Passed me again! Lookin good! Or I’ll catch ya up the next one! Great work!

There’s always a song stuck in my head during a long ride it was “I Live For the Night” by Krewella on Sunday. By the end of the ride, the words echoed as “I live for the hills. I live for the hills. I live for the hiiighs and loooows keep peddlin’” (Better than “Sherrie Baby” by the Four Seasons turned into “Chamois Butter” on an under-lubricated training ride…)

Paying attention to my speedometer, I knew I was averaging 19-20ish mph, and I knew I was having a great race. I tried to stay up on fluids as much as I could. Around mile 30, though, I realized I hadn’t taken ANY salt. And it was getting hot. Dang! I knew I forgot something! Luckily I had 3 salt tabs on my bike from a prior ride and I took two immediately. Total nutrition on bike was 2 bottles of Perform, 1 bottle of water, 2 honey stinger waffles, and 2 salt tabs. Maybe this would be enough…?

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Guns for the camera

Transition 2          Time: 3:35

Hopped of the bike and had the sense to shed my shoes before running all the way to the opposite side of transition to my cozy, awful spot. My feet were dirty already—I didn’t care. Running shoes on, visor, Powerade Gel on the way out.

RUN: 13.1 miles          Rank: 10          Time: 1:54:53 (8:46/mile)

Oh. No. Tingling in quads immediately out the gate—the obnoxious antecedent to incapacitating cramps. Just don’t stop moving, and they won’t lock up. To keep from cramping I found myself adopting the high-cadence, shuffling stride that I’ve been told is ideal for triathlons, rather than my usual longer, more leap-like strides. OHH! So THIS is why! I caught Dustin, who was looking strong, then Christopher. I jogged next to Christopher telling him I planned to jog to mile 6, then stop and stretch. Not because I thought he actually cared, but more to tell myself in hopes that I actually would. He said he wasn’t feeling great, but I was confident he would shake out and get into rhythm.

Little seeds of wisdom planted in the back of my head throughout training rematerialized throughout the run. I remembered Lauren saying “the run is the easy part—just one foot in front of the other”. And there went my focus. One step at a time. I made it to the first water station with my quads in full-fledged cramps, and took a cup of Perform, knowing I was seriously short on salt. I was ready to walk the entire run, happy with a solid swim and great bike to write home about for my first 70.3. Then I thought don’t let that great swim and bike go to waste! I knew that even a mediocre jog would give me a decent time—but a 12-mile stroll wouldn’t. One foot in front of the other…

Another nugget popped up in my mind—“walk ONLY through water stops.” And that was my new focus. Just get to the next water stop. Then you can walk. The first loop through was rough. Stef from Team Podium asked me how I was doing from the sidelines, and I said “Not too bad!” (I was lying). It was awesome, though, running through town and hearing “GO SUSIE!!” every 500 feet or so. The people around me must have been annoyed to hear SUSIE so much because their names certainly weren’t chimed throughout. It felt great to have so much support from great friends at ATC, Podium and Team in Training.

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The look of pain…

I eventually made it to mile 5 and remembered I had one last salt tab, which I washed down with Perform and water. My calves and hams were on the verge of cramping, too. And I was developing nagging, sharp pains on my left ankle, which felt weak. I wanted to stop. 5 miles of running and 8-mile walk would still be pretty good, right? Adam thought otherwise. He caught me at the most opportune time—the stretch outside of town that is a no-man’s land, without spectator support, and where only the strong survive. He told me I was 7th off the bike, and I saw only one or two racers in my age group pass me thus far. Dang! I can’t start walking now! My mind was excited–my body wanted to give out. I told him I was cramping, and he encouraged me. “This is part of it!” he said, which also stuck with me. “Just keep going, Susie. Keep running. You got this!” And I made it through that awful part, figuring I’d get a second wind when I made it back to town.

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Whelp, I made it back to town and no second wind. Every step hurt. Bad. My typically great running form devolved into a limping shuffle from water stop to water stop, walking a bit so as not to aspirate perform and water. I couldn’t even look up to find the 80ish people I knew out there that day, which typically entertains me during the run. Couldn’t even muster a smile for the camera. Nor did I see Lewis the Alpaca, who I had been super-pumped to encounter. One foot in front of the other. Walk only through water stops. I was dying. 10 miles of jogging and 3 of walking in a half Ironman? That’d still be good, right? I kept shuffling. Mile 11 and I caught and passed 3 girls in my age group. Afraid they would catch me, another nugget hit me. At sprint the gaps, one of the podium race team members kept saying to me “Dig Deep!” Dig Deep! Dig Deep! echoed  through my head as I stared at the pavement in front of me, all of my legs completely cramped and my left ankle stabbing with each step. This is part of it! One foot in front of the other! Leave it all out here! No regrets! I turned a corner and saw the finishing chute. Picked it up as much as I could and crossed the finish, immediately breaking out into dry sobs of excitement, relief, pain, joy. Rich was there waiting for me, and he walked me to the medical tent for ice.

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Exhausted smiles

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Post-race: Waited in a ridiculously long like with Kristi for a 10-minute leg massage (slash exfoliation, as I was covered in salt). Scarfed down some ‘za, cookies, and a well-deserved ice-cold beer at the ATC tent, feeling much improved. Rich, however, was very uncharacteristically quiet… We caught a ride back to transition to gather our belongings. As I packed my bag I heard the unique sound of forceful vomiting. I turned around to find Rich watering the transition grass with what must have been his entire liquid intake during throughout the race. Wishing the medical tent weren’t over a mile away, we ended up going back to Jessica’s, with Rich insisting he felt much better (he did look better…). I wish I had a bag of fluids to give him! I left post-race meal selection up to Rich, and he said “I know this sounds really weird, but I really want a SALAD!” Really?! So we indulged in a post-half-ironman salad (followed by ice cream on the ride back to Atlanta).

Lessons Learned:

SALT! SALT! As a world-class sweater, accomplished at soaking through many-a-layer of clothing, I know that I need a lot of salt. During training, I didn’t notice much difference whether I took salt or not during long rides or runs. But it does make a difference during a long ride AND a long run. I probably would have realized this earlier had I not skipped all of the long transition runs… Two miles may prep your legs to loosen up after a long bike, but it certainly doesn’t work out nutrition issues.

Also, I’ve heard triathlon described as “life-affirming”, and my experience on Sunday serves as a true testament. “Old Susie” would have walked all 13.1 miles. Somewhere I discovered my limit and every mile pushed farther and farther passed what I dreamed I was capable of. At each water stop, I didn’t think I could run anymore. And then I did. Despite all of the pain and poor form, my run pace was only 16 seconds off my target average pace. (I can only imagine what I would have done with a great run!) I learned an incredible amount about myself through this experience and have grown tremendously. I have met unbelievable people along the way whose nuggets have helped pave the way for me and whose company has made the trek extraordinary.

I am truly blessed to have found an activity at the intersection of talent and joy and am even more blessed to have the health and means to participate in it. My only wish is that my mom was with us to share in it. I’m confident, though, that she is specta-cheering from a much better vantage point, where the “cocktail time” never ends, the bunko cards are always the lucky, and the tennis ball always falls within the lines.

Overall experience with this race:

5/5 Awesome! Best course for a speedy 70.3. Well organized. Great course support. I’ll be back…