I rolled into Georgia Thursday for my last big race of the season- Augusta 70.3 (half ironman). I had a huge chip on my shoulder and a lot to prove to myself. As I said before, I put a lot of time into getting ready for this race. I was confident heading to the start line that I did everything I could to put myself in the best possible position to execute a great race.
Leading up to the race, I wasn't nervous or even excited. I explained to Danielle that I was eager to race as I wanted to see what I could do. I checked my bike in the day before (not without a little mechanical drama) and went to bed early Saturday night.
Sunday morning I was up before the alarm, which is typical for me on race days. I took a shower, had some breakfast and then we were on our way to the race. The race director for Augusta really has this down to a science. The swim start is 1.2 miles up river from transition. They have shuttle buses that run between the start and transition. I parked near the swim start, took the bus to drop off the rest of my gear, then took the bus back up to the start. I hopped back into the SUV and relaxed for a little while. About 30 min before my wave start, I got out to get ready. I still wasn't nervous, I just wanted to get this day started.
The river was flowing faster than years past. I took my place on the pontoon and slipped into the water. I held on until the horn went off. I was stuck in a little human traffic at the beginning, but I was able to find open water quickly. I knew that to maximize the effect of the current, I had to swim as far to the middle of the river as they would let me. I swam just inside the buoys. It took me a few minutes, but I was able to get a good rhythm going. The swim felt 'easy', but I got confused with the buoy numbers. They used yellow and orange numbered buoys. I forgot to ask how many orange buoys they put out (they are numbered). I use them as a reference so I know how much more I have to go. So at this point I was just sighting and using my best judgement as to when to start turning in towards the shoreline. Before I knew it, I was up out of the water much faster than I expected. I knew what my swim time would have been with the 'regular' current vs no current, but this swim was ~5 minutes faster than that. Bonus. I had some 'money' in the bank in terms of time as a cushion in my pursuit of a PR.
I got out of the water and opted to skip the wetsuit strippers. I find it faster to get my own wetsuit off, plus I don't have to lie down and get yanked back up. I found my bike and quickly headed out.
The plan for the bike was to hammer it (in a certain power/watt range) for as long as I could hold on. I took a few minutes to get my cycling legs going and clear out of the crowd. I drove the bike course on Friday to see what the 'hills' looked like. The course was pretty much flat with a bunch of rollers. And the rollers were spaced out so you had some recovery time in between climbing up. And most uphills started with a downhill so you could use some momentum.
I was making quick work of the bike course. I hit the halfway point and hit the lap button so I could see a comparison later on when I downloaded the data. I saw what my 28 mile split time was and did some race math. If I kept the same pace, I would finish the bike ~2 minutes faster than what Danielle predicted. I knew that a negative split would be possible as the 2nd half of the course was slightly downhill. But would my legs be able to hold onto the pace I was pushing? I came to the one 'tough' climb on the course and just relaxed into it. I knew I didn't have to kill it as there was plenty of downhill to recover.
I kept looking at the garmin to be sure I was pushing the watts. I knew it would be difficult to maintain it because of the downhills. As long as the speed was there, I wasn't worried. I knew I was flying on this course. And before I knew it, I was back at transition for the last leg of the race. I wound up maintaining the pace and coming in 2 minutes faster than predicted. More money in the bank!
I put on my running shoes, hit the port-a-john, and went out on the run. I knew that barring a disaster, a PR was possible. I told myself to be patient at the run start in order to find my legs. After the 1st mile, I knew I had to pick it up a little. I was doing a lot of race math since the 2nd half of the bike. I had many different finishing times I was calculating for and what kind of run I needed for each. I knew I had to keep things moving if I had a shot at an aggressive finishing time. I was running well until mile 8, then the fatigue hit me like a ton of bricks. My legs weren't heavy, but they were cooked. Every step was awful. I pushed through the agony, focused on the time. I had one bad spot on the run where I was basically shuffling along, and it would wind up costing me my new goal time. I was never so happy as when I saw the 12 mile marker. I knew I had just a little more to go. I kept the feet moving and when I saw the finish line head, I picked it up some more. After I crossed the line I saw the Wingman. I doubled over with my hands on my knees and found it difficult to speak. I just wanted to be still for a few minutes. I nailed a PR by 11:45 in the half iron distance. I adjusted my time goal when I got to the run, but missed it by 2:05 - so close and yet so far.
But even though I missed my goal, it gave me plenty to think about for this offseason and what I need to achieve for next year. The positive was I was able to really push the pace on the bike and hold on. I was able to make it 8 miles into the run before I had trouble, but I was able to keep going and push myself to finish hard.
I ended my season much better than the 1st half. I really turned things around and was able to salvage a good season. It feels good to head into the offseason on a high note, that all of my work paid off. I know I am on the right track to having a great 2016 season that will finish with an Ironman race at Mont Tremblant, Quebec.