Dustin's Ironman 70.3 Augusta Race Report
(he's no one trick pony)
Having some time to reflect on the Augusta 70.3 race I have experienced a mix of different thoughts. Training for this race has been going on for several months and that alone has been a new endeavor for me as I am more used to racing many times during a year. For instance, in 2017 I stepped to the line for over 20 races, but in 2018, just counting triathlons, that number is now only six. I had plenty of highs and lows in training for this race. Most memorably I believe my running speed and endurance both peaked in the mid points of July and during one week in early August I feel like I hit rock bottom by training through a cold while working over 50 hours a week. However, all of this helps me recall what the entire point of this journey was…..I wanted to step outside of my comfort zone, see what my body can do, and reflect on the many blessings and sacrifices people make to allow me to do so! All of those goals were completely accomplished in training alone and as a fourth benefit…I met some really amazing people along the way! All of the back-story aside, let us discuss race week and eventually race day!
I have never been very good at tapering or preparing for a big race. Mostly I think this draws back to how normal it has become for me to do many events spaced throughout the year. People claim you should prioritize races as A, B, and C to make sure you peak at the right time, but I have found I perform better in a series or in the game of averages. However, amateur ironman racing is not a game of averages or a series. Instead, it is an extremely taxing one-day race. If you do not taper down and relax some for it, I am sure your body will rebel in a blaze of firing glory! Therefore, for about 6 days leading up to the race I did relax and dial back training volume but kept a good amount of intensity. Knowing that I probably trained every week for 12-14 hours, my thought was I could meet that volume of training for the week, but needed to account for racing for 4-5 hours on Sunday. Add a whole lot of beet juice, pedialyte, and quinoa and you pretty much have an idea of what my pre-race week looked like!Friday and Saturday were full of check in activities and watching college football. I must say that staging a “big” race during the fall on a Sunday is a sweet idea because I most certainly can lay around all day Saturday to watch football and not feel bad about it at all! “Stay off your feet” has never been easier to achieve before a race! The only setback is that my near and dear Florida Gators started their game at 7 PM so I was only able to watch half before going to bed.
Sunday morning started at 3:50 AM for me. I actually woke up before my 4 AM alarm and thought that oh yes this will be a glorious day! Checked football scores on my phone and that kicked off a huge smile! Sorry to any Tennessee fans out there! Taking all the advice from my training partners, I got to the transition area very early to set up my gear. That all finished around 6 AM which left over an hour and a half until the swim start. As luck would have it, I ran into Sam Burkett at the parking garage and we were able to head to the swim start together.
I will have to take a brief break in this to share my view of Sam and my other training partner Estevan. Back in June I linked up with these guys after meeting them at an Olympic distance triathlon. My early cycling career taught me that if you want to get better…find the most bad ass person or people in your area and train with them. Well I quickly found out that two of the best triathletes in the southeastern region both live about 10 minutes from my house. Plenty of hours, shared training sessions, trash talking, and gentlemen’s bets later…I have made 2 great friends I will carry forward for quite some time! Without these guys there is absolutely no way I would have made it through half of the training that I did. They encouraged and advised me through with their own performances and of course their mentoring. If you two are reading this...you suck and are old! To everyone else, these guys are amazing athletes, great fathers and husbands, and a pretty solid group of friends!
Back to race day! Sam and I made it down to the swim start area to get situated in our group. We met up with Estevan and the three of us headed on our merry way to near the front of the line. It was amazing to see what nearly 3000 people lined up in swimming gear looks like. I knew this was a big race, but that really put into perspective just how big it really is! By some chance or miracle, Cassie was able to find me in this massive crowd and tapped on my shoulder. Turning around to see her was awesome! I was not nervous before the race but it put a huge smile on my face to get a pre-race hug and kiss from her. After the pro men, pro women, and physically challenged athlete waves went off it was time for the mass of age group athletes to start. This year had a new rolling start meant a single file line down to the floating dock and jumping off across the timing mat to start your race! I probably got in the water about 150 from the front. Having done a few mass start swims I thought this would be easier, but with the sheer number of people, it was still just as chaotic. A good number of people passed me but my swim was ok. Unfortunately, I was never able to find a good person to draft as the people who passed me all seemed to be considerably faster or were swimming in a zig zag line. The one person who did stick by me though was Estevan! In our previous swim races I think I had a bit of a leg up on him in the water, but Sunday he was a man on a mission!
Exiting the water was a relief to have 1 of 3 races within the race done! It was not beautiful but it was not bad either! As I headed towards the bike racks I was impressed with how much distance had to be covered between swim and bike, but it was a relief to get a lot of mental transition time. Got all my stuff together, grabbed the bike, and headed out for the fun leg! My goal on the bike was to be over 23 mph and not to blow up doing so. As the start was flat I think at check point one I was sitting around 27 mph but everything felt extremely solid. Having ridden the course in July I knew to anticipate the first good hill by roughly mile 10 and that is when I would start my first snacking. Getting there I think I probably passed no less than 50 people which was hilarious fun! After that hill there was a fun sweeping descent on very new pavement. This is where I got to see Robin Blake grinning big as I was about to get through the first aid station. I grabbed me a bottle and headed up climb 2.My power, heart rate, and speed numbers all looked to be right where I wanted them so I was very pleased at this point. Unfortunately this also was the moment of my one race day misfortune. Trying to get ahead of late race cramps I reached for a tube of base salt in my pocket but unfortunately dropped it. Preparing for the race I did a lot of research on what would be provided for consumption on course and base salt was supposed to be available on the run, but for some reason it wasn’t. Looking back if I would have known this I surely would have stopped to pick up the salt but instead I kept rolling. Between this climb and getting back onto highway 56, not much happened but I was disappointed to see a few athletes sit directly on my rear wheel for an extended period of time. Ironman has a rule to not allow drafting within a 6 bike length distance. Most people respected that, but I was shocked at how many did not. Jump forward to the 3rd large hill and I dropped some of those punks who wanted to draft me…go on continuing being lame you fools! Towards the last 20 miles of the bike I found myself evenly paced with another guy. We ended up trading off in the lead and although we didn’t draft, there is a lot of benefit from sitting even 6 bike lengths behind someone. There seems to be a little air break there and also just having someone to pace with was really nice! I ended up rolling into the bike finish with this guy and am really glad to have linked up with him on course. I finished the bike leg around 23.5 mph average so race 2 of 3 was a success!
As I started the run, I got to see my first glimpse of friends and family! There weren’t many bikes in transition yet and I think I probably started the run within the top 70 people overall. My plan per Sam’s instruction was to really cruise for the first 2 miles and then try to step up the pace. Within those first 2 miles I felt like I adjusted well and got to see my wife, her parents, Jamie, Dennis, and Candace! All of them were offering great encouragement! Rounding onto broad street for the first time I was amazed by all the spectators lining the street! I passed by the TriAugusta and TriCoachGeorgia tents and was stoked to see the party they were having on course! Further down Broad St. I passed by Zach for a high five and saw 3 of my coworkers as well! What a great atmosphere! My run kept settling in and before I knew it I was approaching the end of lap 1 and the 7 mile mark. I had to make a pitstop at this point that I will not detail out for everyone’s sake.
Starting lap 2 I felt great up Greene St. until I turned onto Broad. I took as much fluid and ice as I could from every aid station, but as the heat and sun of midday kicked up…that was not enough. I started cramping bad in both legs all the way down Broad St. and began my unfortunate crawl through walk/run time. Cramps led to bad running technique and bad running technique led to flaring up all of my run training injuries from the last 6 months. This was a dark place to be in, but I never once imagined not finishing…that was never going to be an option. I did have to concede that my race for a great age group finish was over, but in reality that was ok. Instead of some performance glory, what happened next was the best part of my race and something I will remember for the rest of my life!
Back when I finished the bike portion of the race, I started the running course behind two guys in matching outfits that were tethered together by an elastic belt system. I reasonably assumed one of them had to be blind and was wildly impressed with how fast they were running! It took me over a mile to come past these guys and with how my race progressed we actually traded positions on course multiple times. Roughly at mile 8 when I was in the deep pain of cramps, these 2 gentlemen ran up behind me and the guide encouraged me to finish strong running with them. I needed that encouragement and dug deeper to try to hold their pace. Approximately 200 yards later the guide asked me if I would mind running with Kyle, the blind athlete, for a while. I cannot fathom the chances of that happening, but without hesitation, i responded “of course!” I was now tethered to a partner and my directions from Kyle’s guide were simple…”he needs help knowing when to turn and at the aid stations wants water, Gatorade, and ice.” So began the most memorable 4.5 miles I have ever ran! As I am fighting leg-locking cramps, Kyle was the definition of cool, calm, collected, and of course motivating! I learned he is a professional physically challenged triathlete who first came to Augusta to race in 2015. Living in Colorado he always trains at high altitude and on race day near sea level, he was loving the oxygen rich air! He was probably being humble about his performance and what allowed him to race so well, but make no mistake…Kyle is one badass athlete by any standard! After we rounded the last corner on Broad St. I grabbed him as many cups as possible per his guide’s advice. I didn’t know before how simple it was just to grab cups for myself, but next time I know how much more challenging that can be! As we exited the feed area I got to joke around with Kyle a good bit. For those of you not familiar with the Augusta run course, it is completely exposed to the sun. Mix that with temperatures in the low 90s and very high humidity…you basically have a sun exposed sauna. Running through Olde Town I couldn’t help myself but to say “Kyle it’s a real shame you can’t see all the shade out here today.” Kyle immediately started laughing and replied, “you must mean the shade of my shadow on the ground.” It goes unmentioned that after that reply I was instantly friends with Kyle…humble badass athlete who loves some good sarcasm…yeah we can be friends. As we returned through the main spectator portion of the run, people were cheering all over for Kyle! He mentioned along the way that in November he is trying to beat the world record for the fastest physically challenged Ironman finish at a race in Arizona! How much cooler could this guy get?! I was running with an Ironman legend! Words really can’t justify those last 4.5 miles. I was in a dark place physically, but mentally I was excited to near the finish and to have made a new friend along the way! Kyle helped push me because even though my legs were toasted, I did not want to let him down! I had to walk through some leg locks but would get my legs turning over again as fast as I could! We kept this up until the last half mile where I handed the reigns back over to Kyle’s guide for them to finish as a pair!After over 4 hours and 50 minutes of racing, I rounded the final corner to approach the finish line. My run had turned into a waddle at best, but there was no way I could walk down the finishing chute! Friends and family were cheering and before I knew it, I had finished the race I started training for nearly 8 months ago! Although my time wasn’t what I wanted…it’s so easy to look back at training milestones and see that I have come a very long way! There were training days where I tried to bike the half Ironman distance, averaged 1.5 mph slower than I did that day and still couldn’t run 2 miles after. Training was not perfection, but it was some hard earned progress! Now a week after the dust has settled my next mission is on the horizon. In 2 weeks I will be on the Ironman race course in Louisville, Kentucky. The goal is that twice the distance should equate to twice the fun! Of course I respect the distance, but I have learned too much about myself and my limits recently to be anything but confident that within due time…I will cross the line hearing “Dustin, you are an Ironman!”