Race week was pretty simple; a nice taper leading up to what would hopefully be some fast sbr'ing in Augusta, GA on Sunday. I felt surprisingly chipper on my runs and was getting a lot of sleep so I hoped that I was doing all the right things for a good race day. I wanted to be top 5 amateur (preferably top 3 - even though I knew that wouldn't qualify for the ol' pro card) and in my head I was thinking that a time anywhere from 4:02-4:09 would get that job done on race day. So yes, my goals were high and the bar was set, but I knew I was fit and ready to race.
Traveling down with Bob and Melissa was super awesome as we made it down on Saturday to packet pickup, bike drop - off, and dinner without any mishaps and headed to Melissa's Dad's apartment in Aiken, SC (~25 mins away) for a quiet night.
Race morning dawned uneventful, albeit humid. Setting up the bike was simple and Melissa and I met back up with Bob to head over to swim start where we all ran into Selle and Kenneth. We chatted a bit as I put on my wetsuit and it started to drizzle as I walked to start.
Swim 1.2 miles in 22:03 (5th AG)
As everyone knows (or, everyone who knows everything about most things with regard to the race) the swim at Augusta is down the Savannah River. Times are always fast and people gain anywhere from 4-10+ minutes. The slower you are, the more help you get from the little muddy. Added to that the fact that it's normally a wetsuit swim and the slow swimmers are coming out of the water around people that they have absolutely no business being around. Suffice it to say, my time was good but I was extremely annoyed that certain people came out near me or - in one case, in front of me - as I believe I'm a better swimmer than they are. The M18-24 and M25-29 (1 of 2 25-29 waves) started at 7:44 and made our way downriver.
Immediately I could tell that I was uncomfortable. Very quickly I felt like I was on the verge of having a panic attack. This doesn't happen too often for me but when it does I'm usually wearing a wetsuit. I felt claustrophobic and the sky was overcast so it was tough to see in my tinted goggles; all of this added up to make me feel exceedingly uncomfortable. Not uncomfortable in an "I feel like I need to poo" kind of way but more like a "I feel like I'm drowning" kind of way. Both of those situations are uncomfortable, but one is easily solved and one is not. For the most part I was able to settle myself and eventually the feelings subsided but it was a decidedly not awesome way to start a long day.
After a little while it started to become apparent that swimming near the right side of the river was a bad idea, as there was a TON of debris in the water. Not trash, luckily, but what looked like weeds or branches or seaweed (yes, I realize that seaweed is not found in rivers but that's what it looks liked). This was especially the case towards the end of the swim. I was swimming beside Tom Clifford for a while and then he went off to the left near the end and I lost him but saw him come out of the water a little ways ahead of me. The run up out of the water felt difficult and I was breathing pretty hard but I made it to my bike just as Tom was leaving with his.
Transition 1 - 3:10
Not a whole lot to say here, it was a long run so my time wasn't THAT slow but I definitely could have been more efficient.
Bike 56 miles in 2:23:22 (moved up to 3rd AG)
Starting out on the bike I did not feel so hot but I tried to settle in and get my HR down to a more reasonable level. There wasn't anyone on the road in front of me for a ways so I just put my head down and tried to find a groove. After a couple of miles I could tell I was catching up to the two cyclists I could see in front of me so that was encouraging; at the same time my legs started to loosen up and the watts came a little easier. Unfortunately at some point before mile 10 (don't really remember where) I hit a large hold and my downtube bottle and gel flasks decided that it was time to depart. Unfortunately I did not realize this until I next reached for a hit of calories and at that point I did not want to turn around and try to find them. I had planned on taking in between 800-1000 calories on the bike and about 700 of those had just disappeared.
I didn't really "panic," per se as I knew I could make up for some of that with on-course nutrition so I rolled along and eventually caught up to the two guys in front of me. I'm not going to name names, but suffice it to say that one of these guys deserved multiple penalties for multiple offenses. One of them wasn't so bad but the other should have been DQ'd. Riding on the left side of the road (with NO ONE else around), drafting repeatedly and blatantly (on myself and the other guy), not having a number, not falling back once passed...I could go on. Anyway, the first bike aid station didn't come until later than I expected so I grabbed two bottles of perform and carried on; not even thinking to grab gels. I make no excuse for that oversight and I obviously wasn't thinking clearly.
For the next 10-15 miles I drank both bottles of perform but before the next aid station my stomach felt like it had shut down. By mile 35 or so I started feeling really bloated and at the next aid station I grabbed water (again, no gels...dumb!) to try and help with digestion. I realized that I had basically had no water for ~2 hours and that frightened me a little bit. Basically, I was starting to get worried. My legs felt ok but my stomach was doing pretty badly. Still, I knew that in a long enough races things could sort themselves out if you make good decisions (unfortunately I did not do that).
After mile 40 it was basically me and the guy that deserved all the penalties as the other 18-24 had fallen back. Unfortunately at this point my watts began dropping and I couldn't put any more power to the pedals. I still felt very bloated and was hoping that I could produce a really solid burp or fart and get rid of all the whatever that was in my stomach. Even puking would have felt good! Unfortunately nothing surfaced and as we rolled into the last 5-7 miles of the bike course I was about 40 watts below my goal average. I was going the slowest when I should have been going the fastest and proverbially dropping the hammer.
I also began dealing with cramps in the last 5 miles...some slight to moderate twinges in my left hamstring and in my hip flexors. At this point I began really worrying as they wouldn't go away and I still felt extremely bloated. Anywwayyy, I rolled into T2 feeling pretty dejected as my race had quickly gone downhill after the 2-2.5 hour mark.
Transition 2 in 1:53
I was a bit surprised by T2 and hadn't taken my feet out of my shoes yet so I had a slower, clumsier dismount than usual but rolled my bike into the rack and bent over to take off my shoes and my hip flexors cramped a little bit again, which made putting on my socks and running shoes difficult... Not too happy at this point.
Run 13.1 miles in 2:21:07 (back...way, way back!)
Starting out on the run I immediately felt pretty shabby. My stomach was so full and I couldn't burp and nothing seemed to be going right... I made it to mile .5 before I resigned to walking and then starting running through the aid station before seeing Scott and Jenny hanging out just past the aid station. I stopped and sat with them for a while, basically giving up on my race. I said that I preferred a DNF to coming in with a slow time and that was that! After a while my stomach felt like the sitting still created some actual digestion and I felt significantly less fat and bloated than when I initially sat down; after watching all these runners go by I figured that I may as well try and finish. Sure, it may end up being slow and painful but at least I won't have another DNF like at Louisville last year.
I started running and for a while it wasn't too bad but it quickly became an alternating process of run and then cramp and then walk and then run again. It was long, slow, and I almost want to say "fun." Not fun in the traditional sense like "haha, this is awesome" but more in the "I'm proud of myself for doing this" kind of way. Anyway, I eventually made it to the finish line for the staggering time of 5:11 and change.
There are a couple of positives to take away from this race
1) Finishing is a positive, right?
2) I negative split my run (1:11:xx and 1:09:xx)! haha
3) hmm, experience?
There are also some negatives
1) It's easy to feel like you've let people down with a race like this (your self, your friends, your coach)
2) Along those lines, it's also easy to second guess your goals after a race like this
3) When you set the bar at 4:0X and come in at 5:11, it's a bit disappointing...
But the main one would be #2. When you train as much as I do with the expectations (hope) of eventually racing in the professional field a race like this feels like a bit of a reality check. Sure, one race isn't the end of the world but in two of my biggest races this year I've had my worst performances (AG Nats and Augusta). I've also raced really well this year, so to focus on 2 bad races and forget about the 8+ other good races would be short-sighted of me (and of anyone in a similar situation, of whom there were many at Augusta this year). So it's important to move on and keep the ol' chin up etc etc. I am happy to have finished.
This week will be about recovery and making sure I'm ready to race again in 2 weeks down in Myrtle Beach. Redemption time!