September 23, 2018
Ironman 70.3 Augusta
1.2 mi swim, 56 mi bike, 13.1 mi run
“Fuck! Something’s not right.” Is one of the last things you want to hear from your guide as you’re two miles into a 13.1 mile run during a half Ironman where you both appear to be having a top notch day. Nevertheless, this is Ironman, whether at the 70.3 or 140.6 distance stuff happens and it tests your ability to adjust on the fly.
Danny and I flew into and met in Atlanta on Friday evening. We shared a quick dinner with Aleshia Mueller, who is directing and producing the documentary about Team Sea to See and our Race Across America. Aleshia is based out of Atlanta so I didn’t want to pass up a chance to see one of my RAAM family members.
After dinner Danny and I drove to Augusta listening to a riveting podcast called Dirty John. When we arrived at our Airbnb in Warrenville, South Carolina (just outside of Augusta) our Airbnb hosts had stayed up to greet us and give us a quick tour of the house. Terry and Kevin are an older couple and truly delightful people. Terry had baked a whole jar full of chocolate chip cookies as well as a basket of blueberry muffins to welcome us. Talk about southern hospitality. Danny and I both indulged in a blueberry muffin before turning in for the night.
The next day was a busy pre-race day as we needed to collect my tandem—AKA the Limo—from the bike shop to which I’d shipped it. We then had to drop it off at the transition area as well as get all checked in.
After a classic low budget diner breakfast we made our way to the race expo and picked up some essentials such as our race packets, some Gu Energy Jells and CO2 cartridges. We had some fun with the people who were checking us out at the Gu station. Someone asked how I knew what bills I was handing over since I was paying in cash. I quickly explained that I folded my bills a certain way to quickly identify them in my wallet. Fives are folded in thirds, tens are folded hamburger style and twenties are hotdog style. The woman seemed confused. “Hamburger and hotdog style?” “What did you never play with paper airplanes?” Danny asked incredulously. Several people behind us in line laughed and we moved on.
We then headed to the bike shop where I’d shipped my bike. Chain Reaction was about a 13 mile drive away. So we left the rental car parked at the expo and grabbed a Lift to the shop. After spending some time with the head mechanic and bike fitter, Brad, in the shop dialing in our bike fits and making sure everything was shipshape we rolled out of the shop and pedaled our way to the area where transition would be. We stashed the bike on our transition rack through on our running shoes and ran back to the expo.
Having gotten our pre-race day spin and easy run done we headed for a quick bite of lunch before heading back to the Airbnb for an afternoon nap.
Danny had some Olive Garden gift cards so we picked up Olive Garden for dinner. I munched on grilled chicken parmesan, spaghetti, soup and bread sticks. Then it was off to bed because we had to race tomorrow.
Our race morning began bright and early at 4 AM. My breakfast consisted of oatmeal, walnuts, a banana, some watermelon, a bagel with almond butter, gatorade and coffee. Danny had music playing over a bluetooth speaker and we had a bit of fun as we took a short 15 second video of us stupidly dancing to our friend Alan Greening (who will be guiding me at Ironman Arizona in November). Of course it was to Alan’s favorite song, Africa by Toto. (Sidenote: At a camp we attended at the Olympic Training Center Alan expressed his absolute disdain for the song Africa by Toto.)
Finally it was time to get going. I do not like getting to race starts late. I like to be there in plenty of time to set up transition and soak in the pre-race atmosphere. There’s nothing quite like the charged feeling before an Ironman 70.3 or 140.6 event.
We arrived in transition and I methodically set up my gear. Cycling shoes with socks in the shoes. Directly to the right went my Hoka One One Tracer 2 running shoes with my run tether/racebelt stuffed into the right hand shoe. On the handlebars went my helmet with sunglasses inside the helmet. I put two water bottles on my bike filled with my customary Base Performance Rocket Fuel. This Mixture consists of two scoops of Base Performance Hydro, two scoops of Base Performance Salt and one scoop of Base Performance Amino mixed in a 20 fluid ounce water bottle. In my food box I put three Base Performance Real Bars of various flavors. I think for today I’d grabbed a peanut butter and a couple of apple flavored bars. To the top tube of the bike I also taped three orange/vanilla flavored Gu Energy Jells with caffeine. Then I just had to make sure I had my swim cap, Roka sleeveless wetsuit, Roka X1 goggles and swim tether.
Our friends Rachel Weeks and Patty Collins were wrapping up their set up next to us and were ready to head to swim start around the same time we were. So we wandered over to the shuttle that would take us to swim start and made it there in plenty of time for a final bathroom break, the singing of the national anthem and to see the pros take to the water and begin the race. The male pros took off down stream then the female pros. Then the Physically Challenged athletes were called to the start.
Since “PC” athletes are not eligible to qualify for Ironman World Championship events we all elected to wear our wetsuits even though all other age groupers were not allowed due to the water temperature. But a wetsuit is free speed and I figured I needed the practice stripping my own wetsuit for future races. There were five or six of us in the PC division and we all gathered on the dock for a group photo before jumping in the water to await the race start.
Danny and I floated holding on to the dock patiently waiting. Then the announcer began the count down. When he reached five seconds to go I hit the button to start my watch. Then the horn sounded and we were off.
This was my first open water swim opportunity since I’d raced the CAMTRI American Championship in Sarasota, Fla back in March. At that race my guide and I’d gotten our tether tangled around a buoy on a tight turn. Fortunately we wouldn’t have any technical turns on this swim course. The Augusta swim course is one of the fastest swims on the 70.3 circuit because it is a point to point down stream swim. This morning the dam hadn’t been opened so the current wasn’t flowing as fast as it had when I’d done this race as my first ever 70.3 in 2015. Nevertheless there was still a bit of assist from the current.
Danny and I quickly found our rhythm. I focused on a high stroke rate, where my hand entered and exited the water and on the position of my body as I rotated. Given the limited number of turns in this race the swim tether was joyously slack between Danny and I. I think we only bumped into each other a couple of times. We’d started five minutes behind the female pros so we had no chance at catching them and we’d also started five minutes ahead of the fastest age groupers so there was a chance we’d only be caught by a few as long as we swam well.
I love open water swimming so much more than swimming in the pool. I can let my mind go blank and just focus on smooth technique rather than worrying about when I’m going to smash into the wall. Because of this I tend to swim just a touch faster in open water than I do in the pool.
About three quarters of the way through the swim my left hand was about to enter the water. Danny meanwhile was taking a quick second to look over to the right just to make sure I was still over there. Suddenly three of my fingers were nearly bitten off as I fishhooked Danny. Fortunately Danny didn’t bite hard there was no interruption to our swim strokes overall. A couple of minutes later I felt my hands slapping someone’s feet. I figured we were on the feet of some of the faster age groupers who’d caught us. Unfortunately one such age grouper kicked out and grazed the right side of my face. Just a minute or so after that though my hands touched the boat ramp and I popped up out of the water.
I immediately hit the lap button on my watch to shift it from open water swim to Transition 1.
Swim Time: 28 minutes 5 seconds
The run from swim exit to the bike was long and slightly uphill. Running in a wetsuit is not fun. While we ran I stripped my wetsuit down to around my waist. Then I began shoving it down over my thighs. Less than 50 meters from the bike the wetsuit and the swim tether got bunched up around my knees and I had to shuffle the last bit to the bike. I then quickly sat down and peeled the rest of my wetsuit off. I tossed my cap and goggles on the ground, grabbed my socks and cycling shoes. Then I stood up and got my sunglasses on before accidentally knocking my helmet off the handlebars. It took only a second for Danny to grab the helmet and then for me to get it on my head and buckle the chin strap. Then we were running with the bike to the bike out zone. I threw my leg over the top tube, clipped in and we took off.
Transition 1 Time: 4 minutes 13 seconds.
Total Time: 32 minutes 18 seconds
“Railroad tracks” Danny called out for the fourth or fifth time. We hadn’t even made it 5 kilometers and we’d already hit a ton of railroad tracks. With each railroad crossing I tried to relax but unconsciously tensed up despite my best efforts. Before my crash in June during Race Across America I’d never feared railroad tracks or any small bump in the road. Now a tiny nugget of fear was implanted in my brain. All I could think about was “don’t crash. Stay upright!” Fortunately after six or seven miles the railroad track crossings seemed to be over. Once the tracks were behind us Danny and I could get into our rhythm.
Strangely enough we were riding alone. Normally on an Ironman race course there are several dozen cyclists around you and you are all trading spots in a line while trying to keep out of the drafting zone. But for the first 25 kilometers or so Danny and I rode alone. At mile five I took my first jell. Then at mile 10 I ate my first Base Performance Real Bar. Every five miles or so I took two licks from my tube of Base Performance salt as well as taking a sip or two from my bottle of rocket fuel.
As we passed through the first aid station Danny caught a bottle of gatorade tossed to him by a volunteer and handed it back to me. I chugged some of the gatorade and then Danny handed back a bottle of water. I drank some of the water and then sprayed the rest of the bottle over my head to cool myself off. The temperature was beginning to rise but it wasn’t unbearably hot yet.
Soon after the 15 mile mark several super fast age groupers caught up and passed us. Pretty soon though we settled into a familiar pattern of back and forth chasing with a group of three or four age groupers. They’d attack on the uphill and then Danny and I’d use gravity to blow pass them on the down hill. On one such yoyo an age grouper joked as he rode by “Gotta love gravity.” To which Danny replied, “See you on the next hill.”
Just beyond mile 20, we saw a race official ride by on a motor scooter. Then we heard the bleeping of a police siren as a police officer raced by us to pull the race official over. We’re not sure if the cop didn’t know the guy was a race official or if he had some other agenda. Nevertheless it was funny to see the official get pulled over when it was usually the race official pulling racing athletes over.
The miles melted away and I continued pacing myself hitting my nutrition at certain intervals. As we passed the 28 mile marker—the halfway point—Danny looked down at his watch and saw that we’d been riding for one hour 17 minutes. To himself he thought “Oh shit, we’re riding too hard.” Meanwhile on the back of the bike I wondered if we were riding hard enough. I felt comfortable and strong. We continued holding a consistent pace and I continued nailing my nutrition.
It was just beyond mile 50 when Danny and I finally got the pleasure of being “chicked.” (To be chicked is to be caught or beaten by a woman. To me it’s a real badge of honor as I greatly admire badass female athletes.) The woman that came blazing by us left us in the dust like it was nothing. She also caught and passed the three or four age group men that were just ahead of us as well. All Danny and I could do was say “Wow, fucking badass!”
A few miles before this Danny had confessed that his legs were beginning to feel a little like jelly. So I cranked up the intensity on my end. Instead of riding in my high aerobic zone I began creeping toward that threshold zone.
We blazed into the second transition feeling strong and ready to kick ass on the run.
Bike Time: 2 hours 33 minutes 56 seconds
Total Time: 3 hours 6 minutes 14 seconds
As we rolled close to the dismount line we unclipped. As Danny counted down “3, 2, 1” I popped my right leg over the top tube and hit the ground running while holding on to my saddle. We arrived at our rack and Danny hooked the saddle on the bar as I undid my helmet and kicked off my cycling shoes. I quickly slipped into my Hoka One One Tracer 2s, grabbed my XLab race belt with my run number and the luggage strap that made up my run tether. I stepped into the race belt and shoved my tube of Base Performance into the custom salt tube holder on the side of the belt. Danny pulled his race belt on which was attached to the other end of the luggage strap. We quick stepped through transition and nearly went the wrong way out of transition, but were able to slip through and on to the run course.
Transition 2 Time: 2 minutes 1 second
Total Time: 3 hours 8 minutes 15 seconds
My legs felt heavy at first but after a couple of hundred meters I felt loose and ready to fly. “Don’t let me go too hard,” I told Danny. My legs felt like they did when I ran my half marathon personal best at the Aspen Valley Half Marathon the year before. That race I’d run a 1:40:59 and felt as though I’d been floating over the ground rather than running. Yes I’d just come off swimming 1.2 miles and biking 56 miles, but my legs felt better than they ever had coming off the bike.
Danny and I immediately began cruising. I was breathing easy, my heart rate was fairly low and our race was going according to plan. We hit the first aid station and I downed water and gatorade, tossing an additional cup of water over my head. It was hot but I felt that I could control that by maybe slowing the pace and dumping water over my head and ice down my Tri kit.
After the second aid station was when things took a turn for the worse.
“Fuck, something’s wrong.” Danny said. “My heart rate is way too high and I’m burning up.”
I immediately slowed the pace and told Danny that we’d walk the aid stations and make cooling him down a priority. But barely a hundred meters went by and Danny had to stop. “I’m a dead weight to you bro,” he said.
“Dude, it’s ok, you’ll bounce back. Just focus and we’ll work through it,” I tried assuring him. But Danny wanted me to have the best race I could so he kept an eye out for someone that might be able and/or willing to run my pace. He asked a couple of volunteers and spectators on the side of the course if they were able to run a 7:45 pace. They couldn’t. Then a couple of racers sped by saying they were averaging sub 7 min paces. That was faster than I wanted to go until the last part of the course. Finally a guy named Jack came along and Danny asked him if he’d be willing to guide me for a few miles while he cooled off. Jack was averaging a 7:30 pace and immediately said, “Sure I’ll help.”
So for the next four miles I ran with Jack. We found a rhythm where our arms swung in sync together and Jack quickly learned how to direct me. “Feet up, railroad track. We’re coming to an aid station, let’s walk it.” And while we ran we chatted. Jack was in his sixth year of doing triathlons. He’d taken a bit of a break and this was his first race back. “I’m glad I came across you guys and that your guide was having a bit of trouble because that run was getting a little lonely,” he said as we passed the five mile mark.
I was glad that Jack had sacrificed his own race to help me and Danny out for a few miles. Danny appeared at mile six ready to give it another go. He’d cooled down and was ready to get back to racing. Jack stayed running with us for a short time but Danny and I slowed down and let Jack pull ahead. We walked every aid station and poured water over our heads and ice down our kits.
Around mile eight someone just ahead of us was begging aid station volunteers for salt because he was cramping so bad. I pulled my tube of Base salt off my belt and gave it to him. Danny and I would share the other vile of salt that Danny had on his belt.
A couple of miles later though Danny began to struggle again. The heat was brutal and the humidity was oppressive. Danny glanced around to see if there was someone on their second lap who’d be able to guide me for a short stretch while Danny stepped aside and cooled off again.
A guy had been running just behind us for a couple of miles and volunteered to help out. And so I met Dustin who was in his first 70.3. We ran together for about two miles chatting and dodging the crowding race course. We were so close to the finish. We walked a couple more aid stations and took a short walk break just beyond mile 11. Dustin was cramping but fighting through. Even though Dustin was in his first 70.3 he wasn’t a stranger to endurance events. He was a Georgia State Champion cross country mountain biker and had done a couple of off road triathlons. He was on pace for a sub five hour 70.3. When Danny hooked back up with us at mile 12 I encouraged Dustin to hang with us, to push through. He did for a bit but I think Danny and I wound up out pacing him after the last aid station.
We had less than a mile to go. It was hot, the sun was beating down and we were so close to going under five hours. To bolster our spirits and give a little extra pep to our step I yelled at Danny, “Come on man, we’re not here to fuck spiders!” (Sidenote: Danny had just returned from being a handler for a wheelchair athlete at the ITU World Championship in Gold Coast Australia. After the race Danny and a few other para triathletes were hanging out with some locals who taught them a phrase “We’re not here to fuck spiders.” Meaning, we’re not here to mess around, or something to that effect.)
The phrase had the desired effect and Danny cracked up and immediately began picking up the pace. We cruised into the finishers shoot and sprinted the last couple hundred meters. I hit stop on my watch and gave Danny a big hug. Even though we didn’t have the race we’d both hoped for it was still a personal best for me. I would’ve much preferred that Danny didn’t overheat the times he did, but I was also touched that he refused to slow me down when I was having such a good day. And I was very thankful that people like Jack and Dustin were so willing to step in to help out.
Run time: 1:53:29
Total Time: 5:01:42
Post race massage, pizza, beer and cheering on other finishers is standard. Let’s be honest, it’s pretty lame to just peace out and not cheer on other competitors especially if you’re waiting for friends to finish.
Danny and I began walking toward the transition area to collect our gear and also to see if we could catch Rachel and Patty as they were on their second lap on the run. We did catch up with them and they were both having some trouble with the heat but were otherwise in high spirits.
After packing up the transition area we made our way back to the finish area and cheered Rachel and Patty through the finish line. Then we collected our “Participation” plaques for taking part in the Physically Challenged/Exhibition Division, grabbed a photo with Tim O’Donnell and Mirinda “Rinny” Carfrae (the winners of both the men’s and women’s races). After taking a photo with them Danny asked Rinny (who’s originally from Australia) “So is ‘we’re not here to fuck spiders’ really an Australian saying?” I can only imagine the look on Rinny’s face as she said that she hadn’t heard it before but it could be. Tim O’Donnell (Rinny’s husband) laughed and said “it sure sounds like an Australian saying, so I say go with it.” Then it was time to go. We needed to shower and sleep since we had an early flight out of Atlanta in the morning.
And so I closed the chapter on another successful 70.3. A new PR, on a day when I didn’t run what I felt I was capable of and on a day where I had no nutritional or gastro intestinal distress. All in all it was a solid day and I’m feeling enormously confident heading into my final two races of the season—The Sarasota-Bradenton World Cup (sprint triathlon on October 14) and Ironman Arizona on November 18.
Thank you Danny Craven for doing an excellent job guiding. Don’t worry man, we’ll go grab that sub five 70.3 soon. Thank you to Jack and Dustin for stepping in to help guide me for several miles. Thank you to all of the great volunteers who supported all of us athletes on course. Thank you to Ironman for always putting on such an incredible event. And thank you to my incredible sponsors who make it possible for me to travel and race in these amazing events. And finally, last but certainly not least, thank you to you all for cheering me from afar and taking time to read these newsletters and race reports. Be on the look out for another #eyeronvision newsletter coming out soon 🙂