After months and months of training, the time had finally come for me to put my hard work to the test in my first half Ironman.
It came as a surprise to some friends that I train with that I had never done a 70.3 race before. I train a lot, but with a wife, two kids, and a full-time job etc., entering a lot of races is not always an option. Therefore, I have to pick my spots and make the most of it when I finally reach the starting line. I had every intention of laying it all on the line on this day.
While Ironman Florida remains the overall goal, Augusta would be a good “dry run” for my IM distance debut in November. Most of all, I needed to get my pacing and nutrition dialed in and see how my body reacted.
Living near Atlanta, it’s a short 2 1/2-hour drive to Augusta, so I was able to just pack all of my gear in my car and not have to worry about an airline losing my luggage.
I arrived on Saturday afternoon for Sunday’s race and checked in with some friends who were nice enough to let me stay with them. After registering, I picked up a new pair of my favorite K-Swiss K-Ona shoes from Alex at the All3Sports booth at the Expo took a quick spin on my bike to make sure it was dialed in and then dropped it off in transition.
Unfortunately, my wife and kids were unable to come to the race, but thankfully there were plenty of members of my “Tri family” in town. Many of them were competing, while others had come out just to cheer others on. It was a great atmosphere. Dinner at Carraba’s on Washington Rd. featured appearances from the “Gypsies” from North Augusta . Very odd. There were about 50 women — of ALL ages — dressed like this:
We had no idea what was going on, so I decided to walk up to one of the teenage girls and say: “Ok, so I’ve got to know… what’s going on?” She stared at me and said “It’s a pageant.” Hmmm… “For all ages?” I asked. She stared at me again, rolled her eyes, and said “YES.” It was clear that I was not supposed to be talking to her. Her mother was giving me the evil eye. Crazy stuff.
After finally getting seated, we got another surprise appearance from the man, the myth, the legend #Slayer @ClydeWatts. He’s a big dude with an even bigger heart. He rolled into town a day after winning the Clydesdale division of the Tugaloo Triathlon. The man knows how to throw down! However, he got chicked by Yvonne by 11 seconds in their charity race against each other.
If you’re gonna get chicked, it better be for a good cause!
Race day arrived early on Sunday. My wave (wave 11 – Male 40-44) didn’t hit the water until 8:12 so I had plenty of time to get myself set up in Transition. I remembered to pack almost everything, but forgot a towel to lay my gear on, so I had to use my small grease-covered towel I use while working on my bike. There are worse things to forget, I guess.
Before making my way down to the dock at the Savannah River, I killed some time with youngsters Katie, Scott and Shanks. Katie and Scott were also making their 70.3 debuts, while Shanks — a well-respected, fun-loving, rail-thin triathlon coach for Endurance Concepts — was a veteran of many races.
When the start times were announced, I saw that Shanks’s 7:48 start time was 24 minutes ahead of mine. I joked during the week (mostly it was just me joking… he just tolerated my “trash” talk) that he would be my rabbit and I would try to catch him. I wasn’t entirely sure if this was possible, but it was worth a shot. It gave me a goal to shoot for. I planned on staying within my race plan, but if I saw him on the course, I was going to try to catch him.
The Savannah River isn’t the cleanest body of water in the world, that’s for sure. But man, it sure has a fast current. After working hard to improve my swim with Maria Thrash and Matt Rose at Dynamo Multisport 3-4 times/week, I thought I might be able to cover the distance in 25 minutes. No such luck. I got caught up behind a small crowd of other slower swimmers at the start and had to work harder than expected to find some open water. I headed over to the right side of the river to get some space. This turned out to be a “safe” move, but I don’t think I chose the fastest part of the river. It seemed that the larger group towards the middle were moving faster. Oh well. I had a comfortable spot and was able to “stretch out” as a I swam without having to worry about getting kicked and elbowed.
I felt that I did a better job of getting my heart rate/breathing settled down after the start and was able to get into a steady rhythm after about 200 yards. I owe this to Maria’s workouts. She kicks our ass with her simulated sprint starts during workouts, but this really helped on race day. Thanks Maria!
By the end of the swim, I had caught several swimmers in the group ahead of us and exited the water feeling pretty good about my 26:43 time. Out of about 3,200 competitors, I ranked 566th and was 96th out of more than 550 in my AG. This was MUCH better than my usual middle-of-the-pack swim times.
TOTAL SWIM TIME: 26:43 As a bonus, I was 35 seconds faster than the youngster Shanks.
I sprinted out of the water, skipped he wetsuit strippers and made my way over to my bike. The run to the bike was about 500 yards on grass. Not too bad. I fumbled a bit getting the wetsuit off. Strapped the helmet on, put an extra tire sealant in the back shirt pocket and headed to the Bike Out sign (Note to self, spray the wetsuit with cooking spray before the race next time, or stop at the wetsuit strippers).
T1 TIME: 3:43 (picked up another whole SECOND on Shanks)
With my shoes clipped in, I decided to try out the “Flying mount” on the bike to save a few seconds putting my shoes on. I crossed the mount line running, grabbed the handlebars and threw my leg over the saddle in mid-stride. Bam! I nailed it without falling on my face. Damn, I must have looked like a total stud to the people standing on the side of the road. If only they knew what a dork I was.
After getting my shoes strapped on, I followed the advice of my “adviser” @BlueChance and focused on spinning an easy gear to get my legs warmed up before gradually increasing the effort.
The bike course is beautiful. It’s a mix of long flat sections, some rolling hills and a few small climbs. Many people describe it as “hilly”, but it was flat compared to where I’m used to riding. I worked my shifters through the entire ride and never really felt that I was pushing too hard, despite averaging a 22.91 mph pace. The key was to spin the gears in the small ring on the uphills and push a bigger gear on the flats and descents (but not too hard). As soon as I could feel that I was straining my quads, I shifted to an easier gear and increased my cadence to maintain the same speed.
The only issue came at about Mile 40 when I felt a small cramp in my leg. I stretched it out and was able to get a salt tab from another guy on the course. (I had forgotten to put my salt tabs in the bento box on my bike. Note to self: Don’t forget to do that on IM day.)
TOTAL BIKE TIME: 2:26:39. I moved up in my AG from 96th to 17 and picked up 17:33 on Shanks. I had no idea how fast he rode, but I felt good on my bike and was ready to run. I had a feeling I might see him on my way to the finish line.
After dismounting the bike, I threw on my socks, shoes and a visor and made my way to the Run Out exit.
T2: 2:10 (made up 12 more seconds on Shanks.)
RUN: The run course in Augusta is two loops winding through the streets of the downtown area. I’ve heard that this is the best part of the race because there is so much on-course support. The pre-race talk lived up to the hype. There were people everywhere. It was great.
My legs felt really good coming off the bike and I was ready to attack. Oops. That was a mistake. I tried to keep my pace at about 8 min/mile, but did a bad job of sticking to the plan. LAP ONE PACE: 7:12/mile. LAP TWO PACE: 8:40/mile. Oops.
After the race, I tried to think about why and here’s what I came up with… there was a 6-foot-4, 210-pound dude in the middle of the road at the intersection of Broad and 10th Streets screaming at me to go faster! (Just kidding Slayer).
The big man was aware of my desire to chase down Shanks. He also knew that I needed to be smart and not blow myself out too early. Still, when he ran alongside me and informed me that I was closing the gap, I got a bit over-excited.
Slayer: “You need anything?”
Me: “Yeah, water.”
Slayer: “Hold on.” (runs over to girl standing nearby with bottled water in hand and grabs it away from her. She’s baffled by this turn of events. Slayer: “I’ll get you a new one!”)
Slayer: (Runs back to me with the bottle) “Here you go.”
Me: “Thanks dude!”
Soon after this, I spot Shanks on the other side of the road at a turnaround section. He sees me and we both point at each other. I try to keep a straight face, but inside I’m smiling. IT’S ON LIKE DONKEY KONG!
The course winds around a couple more times before heading down a long straightaway section. By this point, I figure my rabbit is less than 1/2 mile in front of me. Off in the distance, I spot him. It give me some new life. I pick up the pace a little.
I’m not sure he knows that I’m closing in on him, but I suspect he has also been getting updates from Slayer and other friends along the course. As we approach Mile 10, I’m within 100 yards of Shanks, aka “the translucent one” There’s an aid station around the corner. If he walks it, I know I’ve got him. Sure enough, he slows to grab some water. I give him a tap on his skinny ass as I pass him. At that moment, Josh, another friend and Endurance Concepts athlete, is yelling at Shanks: “MIKE’S RIGHT BEHIND YOU!”
It’s too late, the pass has been made ( BTW, Josh I NEED a copy of the pic you took .)
Truth be told, this whole “race” was very friendly. My “competitor” even told me before the race that he would cheer me on if I caught him. Like everybody involved in triathlon, he wants to see everybody give the best effort they have and challenge themselves to achieve lofty goals. After all, it’s not like the two of us are racing for money. However, that doesn’t change the fact that I was “WINNING” with about 3 miles to go!
Shanks quickly settles in off of my left shoulder as we make our way down Broad St. — the main drag in downtown Augusta. Now, we’ve got ourselves a race! We’re approaching 10th Street. I know very well what this means. Slayer is waiting for us up ahead.
This time, there is a crowd of about 10 people gathered along the side of the road. When my man spots me in the lead, all hell breaks loose. (Editor’s note: if you have ever noticed on Twitter, my name is listed as “MikeyBB”. The reason for that is simple. I was given this name by Slayer himself two years earlier,when I met up with him for this century ride. The “BB” stands for… ahem, pardon my French … “Big Balls”.
Picture this: A 6-foot-4 man with a shaved head standing in the middle of the road screaming: “LOOK OUT, THERE’S A SET OF BIG BALLS COMING THROUGH!”
Part of me was laughing, the other part of me was scared for the children standing nearby. Heck, I was scared for myself. As we make our way down the street, there are friends yelling and cheering “COME ON SHANKS! COME ON!”
Damn, this was fun… but man, I was almost out of gas. I turn over my left shoulder and say to Shanks: “Man, I’m dyin’. This hurts.” He utters something like: “Too fast or too slow?” I have no idea what this means and it hurts my brain to even try to figure it out, so I just keep running.
By the look on my “rival’s” face, I wasn’t the only one whose brain was hurting…
Eventually, I can feel that I have opened a little gap, but I’m still afraid to look over my shoulder. MUST NOT SHOW WEAKNESS. We approach a turnaround and I grab a cup of ice and throw it down my shorts … Ahhhhhh! Grab a sponge and squeeze it over my head… grab a cup of water and drink it down…. keep running… don’t look back.
I make my way down the other side of Broad Street and try to maintain a steady pace, but I’m really starting to hurt. I’m fading. My only “hope” is that I’m not suffering alone. I keep running… 7th street, 8th street, 9th street… 10th Street… there he is in the middle of the street again… “COME ON BIG BALLS!”
It’s clear that Slayer can see the pain on my face. I run long sections with my eyes closed to try to escape the pain. When I open my eyes, there’s a screaming bald man running directly to my left.
“COME ON BIG BALLS! EAT THAT PAIN! EAT THAT PAIN!!!”
I try to ignore him… yeah RIGHT! As if that could ever happen. He was literally yelling right into my ear. I still fear that Shanks is gaining on me.
I round the final two corners and head to the finish line area. I attempt to pick up my pace a little, but my hamstrings were having no part of that noise. I cross the line in 4:43:06. My goal was to break 4:45, so I’m very happy with my day. I finished 9th in my AG. I was psyched to get a Top-10 finish in my first-ever 70.3. Augusta is also the biggest half Ironman race in the country.
See that look on my face? That’s what I like to call “Painful Satisfaction”.
When I cross the line, I nearly faint. Two volunteers throw my arms over their shoulders and help me into the medical tent. I lay there for about 20 minutes until my heart rate comes down and I no longer feel like I’m going to pass out.
When I finally get to my feet, I spot Shanks on his back in a cot behind me. He came in with a total time of 5:11:16. (1:10 behind me) By the look on both of our faces, it was clear… we left it all on the course on this day.
After leaving the tent, I grab some food, get a massage and make my way over to 10th and Broad St. Unfortunately, my lead cheerleader had already departed to get back home to his family. As I recover, I hang out for a couple of hours with several other members of the Dynamo, All3Sports and Endurance Concepts teams and cheer other competitors along the course. What a great group of people. What a great day!
Sadly, three days after the race, my world gets turned upside down as my mother (who has been in a hospital in Maine battling an illness) unexpectedly passes away.
As you can imagine, this is crushing news. However, I know I can attribute the fighting spirit I showed on the course in Augusta to her. She fought for everything she had in life and truly made the most of the time she had here on earth. I’d like to think she would have been proud of her son on this day.