10
Oct
2015
0

My First Half Ironman – Race Report: Ironman Augusta 70.3

Pre-Race
The day was finally here! It was a very early morning. I had my first snack of the morning and cup of coffee, then we all headed out together for the long day. My dad dropped me off as close as possible to transition, and I went in and set up. I made sure to give myself plenty of time so I didn’t feel rushed or get panicked. I hopped on the shuttle over to the race start and chatted with fellow racers. When I got off the shuttle, I was luckily able to find my family very quickly and easily perched on top of the hill. I was in wave 19 out of 26. The first wave started at 7:30 am and I didn’t start until 8:42 am. So I had plenty of time to hang out with my family, use the restroom, stretch, eat my nutrition and put on my wetsuit. It was very overcast, humid and slightly cool, but I would take that over heat any day. I watched each wave line up until I decided it was time to line up.

My family sent me away with hugs and I walked down to line up. The weather, the prior preparation, other racers – it was all out of my hands and time to focus. I didn’t recognize that I was nervous, but I realized that I was continuously side stepping and dancing while we waited on the dock – likely burning off the nerves. I chatted with other ladies in my wave until we were allowed down the ramp before the floating dock. It was a relief once I was able to get going!

heading down to the dock

heading down to the dock

The Swim
As soon as the previous wave took off, we were allowed to walk onto the floating dock and get into the water. I was in the front of the line, so I was able to pick my position. I stayed slightly to the left of the center so I could sight to swimmers and the shore to my right, but I didn’t want to get too far left and have to cut the final turn too much. I got in the water as soon as we were allowed so I could acclimate. We only had 4 minutes between waves, so I needed to spend as much time as possible in the water. I ducked my head under and had the first rush of the cold water on me. I opened the neck of my wetsuit and bobbed up and down to try to get as much water possible through my wetsuit so it could settle in place. I was still holding onto the dock so I could keep my position. A few ladies were nervously chatting about this and that and then SSCRREEECCCCHHHH off went the whistle! I looked in surprise at the lady to me right and said “I guess it’s time to do this thing!” put my head under, and off we went! I was expecting a more dramatic swim start, but hey, that’s how it went. There was some slight jostling during the swim start, but overall it wasn’t too crowded and I didn’t get smacked or hit very often. I sighted at just the right time to see the American flag hanging from the bridge, and it gave me goosebumps for a brief moment (the flag looked HUGE when looking up at it). I got into my breathing and stroke rhythm. I thought about my hips and my kick. I drafted off a few ladies here and there, but mostly I sighted off the shore. I was flowing along with the sweet current of the Savannah River. I passed two ladies floating along on their backs. I saw some silver and pink caps, which I knew were the two waves in front of me, and thought IT’S ON! I sped up so I could pass as many different colored caps as possible. It was hard for me tell where I was within my group, but I thought it had to be good if I was passing people from waves in front of me which meant they had either a 4 minute or 8 minute start in front of mine.

swimming down the Savannah River

swimming down the Savannah River

Before I knew it, I saw the boat house and knew it was time to start cutting in to the right. I saw one last silver cap by the boathouse, and just knew I had to pass one last guy from a wave in front of me! I kicked it into high gear. I started to turn hard right and swam until my hands hit the bottom of our exit. I got out of the water and checked my watch. THIRTY FREAKING MINUTES- F**K YEAH!!! I don’t know if I smiled, I don’t know if I shouted, but I was damn happy on the inside. I just kicked ass in that swim! And my dad got an awesome shot of me coming out of the water with all men from the wave in front of me. Damn, that makes me feel awesome 🙂

Distance: 1.2 miles
Time: 30:40
Average Pace: 1:26 min/100 yd
Division Rank: 68
Overall Rank: 427

Coming out of the swim feeling strong

Coming out of the swim feeling strong

T1
Thank you wetsuit strippers, and I ran around into the transition area. The swim entrance required us to run around the edge of transition and back into it, so it took me a while to get into transition. I put my bike gear on and made a game time decision to keep my tri top on for the bike. I quickly checked the other racks near me and saw some were already back and some weren’t. I then had to run my bike out the opposite end of transition and cross the mount line. I saw my family and Novia right as I took off on the bike, and I thought of Sara as I stood up to pump my pedals to get a head start out of crowded bike exit.

Time: 7:15

The Bike
I was initially intrigued by this race because over 45 miles of the bike course is in South Carolina. We headed out across a short bridge and passed the “Welcome to South Carolina” sign. The temperature was still moderate, but it started to drizzle as soon as I got on the bike. Just a few weeks before, I had a training ride in the rain because I knew I couldn’t let myself be afraid if I faced rain on race conditions, and I’m so glad I had that recent experience to take with me to my race. Other racers really complained about the rain on the bike, but I just completely blocked it out of my mind. I only allowed myself to recognize the rain when I had to wipe the drops off my sunglasses. Other than that, I just kept moving forward and pushed.

starting off for the bike

starting off for the bike

The first aid station was near mile 16. It was well staffed by volunteers, and I was immediately surprised by 1) the amount of food and beverages they were offering (it was a full-on buffet!) and 2) that people were stopping to get off their bikes to either indulge in the buffet or use the porta potty. I knew that volunteers would be there to offer drinks, but I was really surprised at the amount of activity going on at all of the aid stations. At the first aid station, I grabbed an orange Gatorade and took in about 8 ounces before the last trash dump.

Right around the first aid station, I noticed a pinching pain in my right shoulder and back of my neck. I tried repositioning myself the rest of the race. I even stretched out my right arm occasionally to try to find some relief. This pain increased from a dull pinching to being pretty sure I was going to need surgical intervention at the end of the race. The pain was excruciating, and nothing I did would alleviate it. There were points that it almost brought me to tears, but I convinced myself that meant I needed to get off the bike even faster and tried to refocus on the race. I barely recognized the rain at this point due to the pain in my upper shoulder and neck, so in a way I suppose it was a blessing in a disguise.

More pedaling. More pain. More rain. More wind. Rode by the second aid station without any troubles. I followed my nutrition plan and ate my gels and Bonk Breakers when I needed to. Every 5 miles were marked with tape on the ground, so I watched the miles tick by.

The third aid station was manned by the local chapter of Wear Blue: Run to Remember. I noticed happy and helpful volunteers to my left as I approached the aid station, and then I noticed signs to my right. As I looked closer, I realized they were photos of our fallen soldiers. I immediately got choked up and felt a huge swell of tears trying to come out. I was touched by the smiling volunteers being helpful, then by the images of our soldiers, plus the still excruciating pain that I came extremely close to losing myself in a bed of tears. Thoughts flashed through my mind like lightning. I sucked them back and pushed forward. The rain trickled on and off.12046867_10104316898632381_5010157299998411925_n

My constant mindset was that I needed to keep moving forward and focus on the race, and not let the rain or upper shoulder pain distract me. Around mile 48 and on a decent downhill, I hit my fastest average speed ever – 37 miles per hour – during the race and on wet pavement! When I hit the 50 mile mark, I knew I was home free. The last 6 miles were a flat stretch back across the bridge to Georgia. Internally, I was waving my arms above my head and screaming for joy that I had rocked that bike course, but I stayed down and focused on keeping my pace up and turning my legs over so I could prepare for the run.

Distance: 56 miles
Time: 3:35:20
Average Pace: 15.60 mph
Division Rank: 95
Gender Rank: 750

Note – The course was advertised as slightly over 1,000 feet of elevation gain. My Garmin registered an elevation gain of 1,759 feet. Several other members of the active Facebook group also commented they tracked nearly 1,800 feet of elevation gain as well.

T2
Back off the back and in transition. I felt stronger going into T2 than I ever have off the bike, which felt AWESOME! My legs and lungs felt great. I eased into transition and mentally ticked through all of the changes I needed to make. I decided to change out of my trip top since it was still wet and put a dry(ish) tank top on for the run. I had to exit through the south end of the transition area and loop to the north end for the run start, which added time and distance to the transition. I didn’t want to start with an elevated heart rate so I walked until I crossed the official run start.

a visualization of T2

a visualization of T2

Time: 7:55 – I was shocked to see after the race that I spent this much time in T2! What was I doing?!

The Run
The start of the run was less lined with spectators than the bike start had been, so it seemed eerily quiet. I knew I was in for a flat run but hadn’t memorized the turns throughout the streets of Augusta, so I relied on signage to follow the course. I was still feeling the high from the bike. I started off with an 11:16 min/mile pace for the first mile. I followed fellow racers through the course and each aid stations. I made sure to drink at every single aid station, alternating between water and Gatorade as needed.

As we headed in and out of downtown, things suddenly became a blur. My mind went…numb. I wasn’t able to clearly process my pace, strategy, or focus on my form. I would run as much as I could until I hit my perceived wall and then crash to a walk. I was coherent enough around mile 5 to take in some of my Cliff Shot Bloks – but that ended up being the only nutrition I took in during the run. My inside voice would occasionally yell at me about how I was letting myself down by walking, and then I would pick it back up until I slammed into my wall again. I wasn’t able to remind myself to fuel, so I had very little energy to call on.  Mostly my inside voice was quiet, which is highly unusual. My body kept moving forward without my mind agreeing or disagreeing. But luckily this numbness also extended to my should and neck pain, because truly miraculously that had lessened.

A few memories exist from the run. I recall passing a police officer manning an intersection and he was shouting things such as “this is a no walking zone! You have to at least give me a shuffle!” and “don’t you dare hang your head! You hold your head high like the winner you are!” I typically relish in interacting with fun folks like this, but I was having such a hard time processing what he was saying I wasn’t able to respond. I kept up with my running-too-fast-to-try-to-make-up-time-then-screeching-to-a-walk unplanned technique as I followed others around the course. I was a follower and they were hopefully leading me to the finish line. I was hungry and needed to use the bathroom.

It may have been around mile 7 that I saw my family and friends. Again, I wasn’t comprehending how far I had gone and how far I had to go so I’m not exactly sure at what point along the course it was. Their cheers and smiles lifted me up and I hope I was able to eek out some smiles back to them. I knew I couldn’t stop to talk or hugs because it would have been even more painful to start again. Their love and encouragement lifted me up to continue. I looked down at my watch to try to figure out where I was along the course, but I wasn’t able to do simple math at all. I just saw my average pace and became horrified at how slowly I perceived myself doing. Finally, I settled on the fact that I knew I need to get to 70.3 total miles so I watched my total mileage number tick up. I saw people lining the course that already had their medals and I felt like I had SLOW stamped across my face and body. One finisher was with a group cheering along the course. I passed his group’s tent twice near a turnaround and each time he shouted “there is beer at the finish line, Allison! You keep running to that beer!” I think I cried when I passed him the second time.

Heading towards the finish line

Heading towards the finish line

I continued running the streets in and out of downtown, following the path of other runners. I saw my family a second time and felt like a complete blob of mush as I passed them. The total mileage on my watch crept up, but I still couldn’t process how much farther I had to go. I thought I had just a final turn down Broad Street because I could see and hear the finish line. Finally! I was going to finish! But then the course veered left and I dead stopped in the street. I was NOT going to do an extra loop or extra mileage. No way, no how. 70.3 miles and no more. I walked towards the spectators close by and asked something along the lines of “where am I and how do I get to the finish line?” I don’t think I made much sense (still…numb brain, which probably didn’t translate very well to my speaking abilities) because I got blank stares back. But then another racer ran up next to me and lightly grabbed my arm. I turned in confusion to look at her. She said, “this way! You’re going the right way. We need to make a turn behind the finish line and then you loop back around. Come on!” I was very grateful – but still extremely confused – and I may have said “who are you?” or just stared in confusion. She then informed me that she had been running with me for nearly 45 minutes. WHAT?! Usually I am highly aware of who is around me in races. But I had been so numb I completely didn’t know another running was pacing off me?! That was truly shocking. I followed her and the course instructions and just wanted to be finished. I turned the corner of Reynolds Street and suddenly saw my dad standing there on the phone. (How did he get there? I couldn’t comprehend). I ran towards him. He hopped off the corner and started running with me and talking to me. I still can’t remember everything he said, except for – 1) you’re almost there and 2) I’m so proud of you. Then it hit me – I must be close to the finish line if my dad said I was! I got extremely emotional and tried to pick up the pace. My body gave all it could the last bit down the chute. I couldn’t see any other athletes around me. I just saw the beautiful finisher’s chute and headed towards it. My dad had run ahead so he could high-five me along with the rest of my family as I finally crossed the finish line. The brain numbness finally lifted and I realized that I was crossing the finish line.

Distance: 13.1 miles
Time: 2:47:10
Average Pace: 12:45 min/mile
Division Rank: 96
Gender Rank: 773

Date: September 27, 2015
Location: Augusta, GA
Distance:
Half Ironman or 70.3; 1.2 mile open water swim, 56 mile bike, and 13.1 mile (half marathon) run
Conditions: Low 60s, 6-12 mph wind and 90% humidity at race start. Overcast and raining.
Total Time:
7:08:36
Division Rank: 96
Gender Rank: 773


Post-Race
In true perfectionist form, as soon as I hit my watch and saw my total time, I immediately thought “UGH!!! I could have broken the 7 hour mark!! Why didn’t I run faster?!”I started to beat myself up that I had completely fallen apart on the run. I didn’t know my time but was guessing I had taken near 3:30 for the run. I was in tears after finishing. I was tired, I was hungry, I was mad at myself…yes, mad at myself. I was so proud of my swim and bike, but I thought I had seriously choked on the run.

It wasn’t until I made it back to the house and showered that I was able to quit beating myself up, at least momentarily. Mostly, I didn’t want my family to hear my disappointment. I wanted them to be proud of me. But I continued to beat myself up about my perceived dismal performance on the run. It wasn’t until I looked up my results online two days after the race that I saw my run time was 2:47, not 3:30. My best case scenario was a 2:45, and I had done it just two minutes slower. Again, I shed tears standing in my kitchen back in Texas. But this time I didn’t beat myself up about the race. I was proud of what I accomplished. I am a 70.3 Ironman.

And then I ate cake!

And then I ate cake!