6 months of training all culminated on Sunday with a phenomenal race that I couldn’t have imagined enjoying as much as I did.
Leading up to Augusta, I was more excited than I have ever been about a race, and I felt more confident and physically better than I had about any previous race. Theoretically, this was going to be the most difficult race I’d done to date, but honestly, I didn’t feel that pressure. I know you aren’t supposed to make time goals for first races of new distances, but who really follows that rule? On August 12th, I shared those goals with Jeneen in a text. This was the text:
Yep, I said it. I really didn’t have a clue as to how the run would go, so the 7 hour mark gave me almost 3 hours for the run in case I fell apart, but if all the stars aligned, then maybe, just MAYBE I might hit 6:30, but I really felt that was a stretch, and it didn’t take into consideration how long transitions would take. The only goal I shared publicly with my running group was 7 hours, and even after actually texting those goals to Jeneen, I kind of wished I’d kept that to myself. I don’t like sharing what my true “A” goals are. I don’t mind sharing the “C” goal time usually, but the “A” goal time is typically my little secret.
I decided Thursday night to go ahead and go to Augusta on Friday to get away from the chaos of several weekend activities at home that I was trying to juggle. I decided I had to let go of control of those things and focus on my race. My husband, who has supported me through 6 months of training, told me to go ahead and go. I really can’t thank him enough for all that he has done and put up with for the last 6 months. He’s my best friend, cheerleader, encourager, and rock, and he picks up my slack around home when I’m training and racing. With two kids involved in their own activities, he can’t be at races often, but I always know he’s cheering me on wherever he is.
I finished packing early Friday morning, and I headed out around 11:00AM. I arrived at the hotel, checked in, unpacked, and headed to the expo by 3:00PM. Going against the typical superstitions of buying anything for a new distance before you actually do it, I bought a coffee mug, sweatshirt, and 2 t-shirts, one of which said finisher. I was confident that I was going to finish this race. Of course anything could happen to change that, but it wasn’t going to be because I wasn’t prepared or quit, so superstitions weren’t going to have anything to do with it either, besides, I’m really not a superstitious person, but I’ve gone along with the runner ones anyway, and it sure didn’t help in Albany. It was time to throw caution to the wind, and just go with what I felt from my training. The race was going to be fun, and I was going to do great as long as I stuck to the plan.
What was the plan? What HR zones was I supposed to be in for my race? This is where great coaching comes in. Coach Chuck ( http://www.peakracingteam.com ) had sent all his athletes an email a few days before the race explaining his race strategy and what he wanted us to do. Of course, it was up to us to execute. Each section was focused on heart rate zones just like our training had been. “First, I want you to remember two rules all day long. 1) This is NOT A RACE. It’s an event and I am a participant. 2) Save it for the run!” was how Coach Chuck started the race plan. In the bike section, the overall gist from Chuck was “as bike effort, think high z2 / low z3 all day.” He knew we’d hit some upper z3 & z4 on the hills, but the idea was to just not stay there! He then went on to tell us to break the run into 3 parts and detailed each part which was how I typically run races, so his plan fit right in with mine for the run. 😉
Saturday morning, I had to do a short swim/bike/run, so I met some of my Peak Racing teammates at T1 to do a 10 minute swim, 20 minute bike, and 10 minute run before we checked our bikes in. By 11:30AM, our bikes were checked in, and I had nothing else to do until a team photo at 4PM, so I headed back to the Marriott to get off my feet and relax as I was instructed to do. My friend Dani arrived around 1:30PM while I was watching the UGA vs. UT game, so I headed down to meet her in front of the garage, then I was back in the room relaxing and watching the game for the rest of the day. Towards the end of the game, I started prepping my fuel and transition stuff that I needed for the next morning.
The Dawgs pulled off the win, and it was time to head down for the team photo. We met in the Marriott lobby at 4PM and headed up by the river for a photo.
After the photo, we had a quick chat with the coaches, then everyone was off in their own direction. Dani and I headed straight out to dinner. I hadn’t eaten lunch other than snacking on cheese and cold cuts in the room, so I was starving. We headed to Carrabbas, and luckily, we beat the crowd by arriving at 4:45PM. I stuck with foods that I’ve typically been eating the last few months of lean meat and veggies, no pasta for me, but I did have 2 small slices of their bread because I couldn’t resist, and I figured it was an early enough dinner with a late enough wave start that it wouldn’t be an issue.
Peak had reserved the conference room from 5:30-7:30PM at the Holiday Inn in case any of us wanted to get together and hang out or eat together, so we headed over there after dinner. We got there around 6PM for a chance to relax and chat with team members a bit and ask any last minute questions of the coaching staff. At 7:30, we all headed out for a good night’s rest.
Back at the hotel, I was still trying to figure out how to deal with the late start of my wave, 8:44AM. This was my only real concern that I had going into the race. I had done 90% of my long rides within an 2 hours of waking up. I’d be awake at 4:30AM Sunday, and I wouldn’t race until 8:44AM. After a lot of debate, I decided I’d eat cheese and Greek yogurt while setting up transition which would give me plenty of time to digest it, then I’d eat a protein bar like normal about 90 minutes out and drink my Ucan with protein about 45 minutes out. I finished getting all my gear packed. Checked it about 20 times I believe, and I decided I’d head to transition as soon as it opened.
After sleeping through my alarm in Columbus, I was pretty sure that wasn’t going to happen again, but just to make sure, I set my phone across the room, and Dani set her alarm for me as well. Plus Coach Tony had assured me that I’d be receiving a call. 😉 My alarm was set for 4:00 AM, and I was wide awake staring at the wall by 3:00AM. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning waiting on your parents to get up, so you could open your presents. My excitement level was off the charts for this race for the last month, and this was the day! About 3:50AM, I got a message from Tony to make sure I was up. I decided it was close enough to 4 by then to start moving, so I got dressed, grabbed my stuff, and was out the door to catch one of the first buses to transition. As we headed to transition and got off, I realized that the bus was filled with lots of volunteers, maybe more volunteers than athletes. Yep, I was early. About 10 minutes after I got there, Peak Racing members Kim and Joey walked up. It was nice to see a familiar face. They were setting up transition and heading back to their hotel for breakfast. Hmmmm…. that sounded like a good idea, but then I’d have to walk to the swim start, so I stuck with my plan. Kim let me borrow her bike pump, and then they were off after they had set up. I decided to hang around in transition a bit longer to see if I saw anyone else with Peak. I ran into another friend, Lacey, and chatted with her for a few minutes, then I slowly headed towards the shuttle to go to the swim start. I bumped into Carl from Peak Racing while I was waiting on the shuttle there, so we rode the bus together to the swim start and found a nice grass area close to the morning bag drop to chill on for 2-3 hours. I closed my eyes for about 10 minutes thinking maybe I could get a short nap, but it was pointless. I wasn’t tired. I had too much adrenaline pumping through me already.
It wasn’t long before other Peak Team members, Coach Chuck, friends, and family all started showing up, and we had apparently picked a good spot to locate people because they all seemed to find us. As race start neared, the flag was brought in by parachute.
Dani, my Sherpa, found us a few minutes later, and I handed her my extra bags instead of using the morning bag drop. Soon after, it was time for Clay and Carl to head to the start. They were lucky and had an early wave. The rest of us, headed towards the flag pole to meet up with the other Peak group. From there, the waves seemed to fly through, and it was time for me to get my wetsuit pulled up and head down to the wave line before I knew it.
The line of waves moved quickly and we were quickly walking out the dock to get in the water. This was HAPPENING! I sat down, rinsed the spit out of my goggles, put them on, and eased myself into the water to wait for the horn. When the announcer said we had about :45 seconds, I glanced at my watch. Uh oh! I hadn’t turned it on, and it takes a while to find the satellite. I quickly turned it on, got it to multisport, and tried to let it find the satellite, but by that time, it was time to go, so I just hoped it’d find it at some point. Honestly though, I don’t ride or run off pace. I don’t even look at them anymore, so they aren’t even on my screen. All I needed was HR, RPM’s, and time, so even without the GPS. I’d be ok. I just wouldn’t have the data that I’d want.
The swim went pretty smooth. I’d been in the river a couple of times, so I wasn’t concerned about it. There was some grass in the water, but I’d read about it already and seen a video of a fly over discussing it the day before, so I knew it was there in small patches until we got beyond the 2nd bridge. Unfortunately, everyone around me hadn’t seen the same video, and people would suddenly decide they didn’t want to swim through it and try to make hard left and right turns trying to find a way out of it I guess, so the first part of the swim required a lot of dodging people, and perhaps a bit of pushing, kicking, and boxing out with elbows, but what happens in the water stays in the water, so I’m not telling who did what. After the 2nd bridge, the crowd thinned out some, and I found my space. The swim was very quick, and as I exited the water, I hit the wrong button on my watch as I was taking it off to head to the wetsuit strippers, then I hit lap, and my watch went to the bike, so now, I had to pause it until I got on the bike. I got my wetsuit down to my hips, and it came off easily for the strippers. They handed it back to me, and off I went. I stopped by the sunscreen station and got lathered with sunscreen, then headed to my bike. <I’ll spare you the jokes here about being stripped and lathered, but it’s quite the efficient process.> 🙂 T1 was uneventful. I dried my feet, slipped on my shoes, helmet, and glasses, and I headed out. My official swim time was 30:11, pretty much right on target, but I had no clue since I had already goofed up my watch and didn’t see my swim time on my watch as I came out of the water before I goofed it up.
Bike, this was the part that could make me or break me for the run according to everything our coaches have said. Chuck warned us that our HR would be elevated from the swim and transition, so we shouldn’t panic if we saw z3. Ummm, how about mid z4? Yikes! Now, my job according to Chuck was to take the first 15-20 minutes to settle in and get it lowered. As I headed out Sands Bar Ferry for the first 5 miles that were totally flat, it was hard to resist that urge to push it. Especially with people flying by me. Head down and focus on YOUR race is what I kept repeating. It took about 10 minutes, but my HR was down to upper z2 finally. Now, the goal was to hang out in upper z2/lower z3 for the rest of the flat section, so 15-17 miles. As I was riding that section, I knew I was at a slower pace that I was at camp. I had time showing on my watch, and I knew I would have to pass 5 miles every 20 minutes just to average a 15mph pace, and on that section at camp, I averaged a little under 17mph. I wasn’t even averaging 15mph this time. I just kept repeating, don’t worry about pace, don’t panic, stick to the plan. I knew how the hills felt at camp, and I slowed later on the course at camp, so I wasn’t sure how it was going to go. Was I going to hit the hills and slow like camp, or would starting easy make the hills easier? Stick to the plan and see what happens. You have to make a choice. One will work, and one won’t. The question was, which one would work? I stuck with the plan. As I got into the hills, my HR started climbing as I knew it would, but as Chuck said, just don’t let it stay there. At this point, I started to catch a few people who I remembered flying by me earlier, but not many. I need to work on the bike portion because it’s definitely my weakest of the 3. My HR went up and down over the rest of the course, and the closer I got to the end, it was starting to stay slightly higher than it probably should have, but still not bad. I knew I was getting close to 3 1/2 hours on the bike, and 3 1/2 hours was the time I was hoping for, but I also didn’t want to push too hard at the end trying to make sure I got it. I felt good though, so I pushed a little, but still kept it in check and out of z4 for the most part. I didn’t even think to look at my time as I got back, but I knew it was close to the 3 1/2 hours, so I was good. My first 28 miles were at 14.96mph, and the second 28 were at 17.21mph. My official bike time was 3:29:53. I couldn’t have gotten much closer than that!
As I arrived back at T2, my neighbor had left a ziploc bag of candy corn on my transition mat. She had a larger bag on hers. I’m hoping that she didn’t need that for her fuel on the bike because it looked like she had poured some into that bag to take with her maybe, or perhaps she had just left me a snack. Oh well, I set it back on her mat, changed my shoes, grabbed my hat and belt to head out for the run….right after I make a quick porta potty stop. As I ran out of T2, I had overall pace showing on my watch for the run, and I knew my pace at the moment was too fast to start, so I started trying to slow down. I was feeling kind of sluggish as I got into the run about a half a mile, so I took my first Gu of the day. I had set my watch with a :30 run to :30 walk alert, and I had though I would probably start the first mile or two using that, then switch to a longer run. With my watch set up as :30/:30, it’d be easy to add run time by 1 minute at a time by just running through a walk break and another run. As soon as I started though, I felt like I could skip the :30/:30 and go with 1:30 to :30 because my legs felt really good. This was surprising, but I’d executed my race plan pretty well so far, so maybe this theory about saving your legs for the run really works? 😉 I decided for the first loop I was going to stick with the 1:30 to :30 no matter what because I started feeling pretty froggy early on, and I was wanting to extend the run time, but I kept telling myself that lap one was too early. I had been passed by tons of younger guys and girls, and on the run, I was starting to catch several.
On the first loop, I averaged just under an 11 minute mile, but I finally caved just before I reached the beginning of lap 2, and I switched my interval to running 2:30 and walking :30. This felt good for the first 3 miles or so, then it started getting hard. Not terribly hard, but hard. I was also approaching that last home stretch in run, and I had about 3 miles to go. “Suck it up Stephanie! You can finish this race out with negative splits and close to your half marathon PR time.” This became my mantra for the next 3 miles. I LOVE to run races and finish with negative splits, and my running buddies who truly know me, know this about me. I will also admit that I’m competitive, so catching and passing people who I knew flew past me on the bike just made me run that much stronger. It becomes a bit of a game with me in a lot of races where I make a mental note of some people when they pass me, and then check the list off as I pass them later. I have counted runners in front of me before in a smaller race, so yeah, I have a bit of an issue, and I admit it, and there are plenty who I never catch as well, but for each one I catch it’s a small victory. Going back and reading my running buddies’ posts and knowing where I was in run portion of the race is pretty amazing and funny. Here are some of my favorites:
I love those ladies! Overall, the entire day was negative splits. I didn’t realize everyone was getting so many splits. I thought they’d just get the total time for each section and the transitions, so I didn’t think Coach Chuck knew how my pacing was when I finished, but he met me right past the finish smiling and that was the first thing out of his mouth. Chuck – You had negative splits pretty much all day. Me – Yeah, I did. Averaged 10:27 on the run. He popped the bill of my hat with a laugh and walked away. I think I may have surprised him a little. 😉 My official run time was 2:15:34 at a 10:20 pace. My half marathon PR is 2:11:15, so I’m pretty happy with that run at the end of a Half Ironman.
Official HIM time 6:25:39, yeah, I met and passed my kick ass goal that I told Jeneen on August 12th.
I can’t say enough about Coach Chuck and Peak Racing. I can honestly say that I never reached a dark moment in the race. I never had a moment where I thought I couldn’t finish. The worst feeling I had the entire race was with 3 miles left in the run trying to decide if I could push harder to get negative splits, and if that’s the worse I felt over 70.3 miles, then I’d say my coach prepared me well. I’ve been plagued with injuries until I started working with him, and I was injured when I started with him. He was cautious with my recovery which took over 3 months. He found ways to work around the injury, and once it was better, he kept me grounded and from pushing harder than I should, so I didn’t hurt myself again. I honestly don’t think I’d have completed the 70.3 distance without a coach, and as much as I complain and joke about Chuck and his crazy workouts that he assigns, he’s an excellent coach! I look forward to continuing to work with Chuck and the Peak Team.