A tough day doing what we love, but we still wouldn't trade the experience!
After Ironman 70.3 Boulder I never really got into a groove for the Augusta training block. We took a little downtime after Boulder as a mid-season break. But my body decided to stay on that break indefinitely.
In our first weekend back into training, we had a 12 mile run on the schedule. I never felt great during that run and it spiraled from bad to worse to ultimately the worst run ever. I’m not exaggerating. In hindsight, we should not have done 12 miles that day. I truly believe that run, that crash and burn, set me up for the bad stretch of training, reduced confidence and bad feelings in my back and legs in the following weeks.
My body was never 100%. At best, maybe it was 50%. I modified and adapted my bike and run sessions just to get through the workouts. Luckily I didn’t have any stress over the swim.
I knew going into Augusta that it would be mediocre. I had no idea it would actually be awful. But. If there’s any positive to come from this race, I learned many lessons and I know it will benefit me in the long run. First and foremost, no 12 mile runs less than 2 weeks after completing a Half Ironman.
Race day arrived and I was hopeful as my body felt its best in the days leading up to the race. My nerves were running high and I couldn’t wait to get in the water - that always calms my nerves and I can then fully focus on my day, my race.
My nerves were even higher because we were almost one year to the day of my mechanical DNF at worlds in 2021. While my body felt good, many painful memories of the St. George experience were rushing back. Truth be told, the DNF wasn’t the only traumatic experience at the 2021 Ironman 70.3 World Championship for me. Emotionally, it was a challenge to deflect that energy and put positive energy into Augusta. I also had a subtle reminder of the trauma in transition race morning which elevated some pre-race anxiety.
As Caitlin and I made our way through the swim corral, St. George was on my mind. I tried to shift focus to the upcoming swim as we snaked our way to the dock. Nerves were high. As we passed through the gate and made our way down the ramp, I felt like I was in line for a roller coaster with no turning back.
Finally, Caitlin and I were at that start line. Side-by-side. I wouldn’t have it any other way. We jumped in at the same time and finally started our day.
Just as I expected, my mind was in race mode. And I was so glad to finally be in the river with that famous downstream swim. It was cool to see Caitlin hanging with me for the first 100. I had a lot of energy for her, believing she was going to dominate her day.
Before I knew it I was passing the first buoy. Then the fifth…500 meters in very, very quickly! And this wasn’t even considered a fast current year.
I felt incredible in the water. I had a perfect line despite the sun in my eyes. My stroke rate was holding at a higher pace and I believe my effort was strong the entire way.
I encountered some contact along the way, mainly trying to pass swimmers who were bunched up. For the most part it was an uneventful, fast swim.
As I came out of the water, it took me a bit to adapt to being upright again. It was a nice sight to see sub 29:00 on my watch as well. My goal was to go under 30 minutes, so not a bad start to the day.
I took my time going through transition. I opted to utilize the wetsuit strippers and then trekked the long distance to my bike which was on the furthest end of the transition area.
My actual transition at my bike was quick. Then I made my way out. At first I had issues trying to get my shield on my helmet. I took a little time to make sure it was secured properly because I didn’t want to be out on the bike course without it.
As I made my way to the mount line, I lapped my Garmin only to realize it had been lapped prematurely during the wetsuit stripping. I opted to start a new workout but it took a little time to go through that.
Finally, I was on my way. But not before Caitlin came flying by me. She had a smoking swim! I figured it would be the last time I saw her before the finish. While I knew it was the nature of the course, I hated that thought.
Barely into the bike I had an “oh shit” moment. Without looking I knew I was already in trouble. I forgot to put my water bottle in my cage. All I had was a very concentrated bottle (3.5x) of Infinit in my front hydration. And there was no way I could drink that without any water. I made the choice to wait until the first aid station when I could get some water - 15 miles into the bike - before consuming anything.
I was mad at myself for letting the nerves and emotion of pre-race get to me, overlooking a very basic step in the morning transition setup. Never in 22 previous Half Ironmans, and numerous other triathlons, have I ever forgotten on-bike nutrition. Lesson learned.
The challenges didn’t stop there. About 5 miles into the bike my bike computer power cycled on its own. Out of the blue. I knew I didn’t need it, but it’s also good to have. Fortunately, it powered back up and essentially resumed on its own with minimal interaction from me. Just another curveball on the day and nothing I had control over.
Finally, it was time to get to work on the bike. From Mile 8 until around Mile 40 it was work. A lot of work! It seemed like it was a constant uphill battle - literally. Even with a couple of nice downhill stretches, it seemed as if the entire stretch was uphill. Nothing was flat. My legs were working.
I was disappointed in the road conditions along the course. While there were some nice stretches, so much more was rough, chipseal and some just downright awful (looking at you, 4H Club Road).
At some point after mile 20 my front hydration started squeaking and rattling very loudly. Now my focus was on figuring out why - and hoping it wasn’t shaking itself loose. For many reasons I couldn’t afford losing that bottle. I worked on it and pushed and pulled and tapped it. Nothing would stop the noise. But it did seem secure and I had to let it be. It was annoying and frustrating to listen to and worry about for 30+ miles. Another curveball.
Finally, just past the 40 mile mark on the bike, some flat and general downhill back to T2. And not an awful bike split considering my limited training and the course conditions. Nonetheless, I knew I was in for an uphill battle on the run - even though the run course was flat.
T2 was uneventful, I made sure to lather up with sunscreen, then made my way out on the run.
The run is completely flat some sections with decent shade. It was a warm day, but far from hot. My body seemed to tolerate the temperatures well.
But my first challenge on the run was almost immediately at the start. Calf cramps. I didn’t stress too much, knowing I had my Base salt in my back pocket. I took it at the first two aid stations and it did the trick.
I continued my way down the long, long, long straightaway on Greene Street. The traffic cones seemed to go on forever. It looked long. It felt long. Nothing to break up the monotony. While the spectators were amazing, I realized a long straight stretch isn’t the best for me on the run course.
When I finally made my way to the end and the turn back to Broad Street I was hoping maybe to cross paths with Caitlin. I was also hoping to see DJ soon to ask him how she was doing. At this point I was struggling to keep running and find a steady pace I could hold. I finally saw DJ and asked about Caitlin. He said he hadn’t seen her.
My heart sank. I knew she was ahead of me and the fact he hadn’t seen her made my mind wonder what was going on. Was she ok? Was she on the run? Is she already done? Deflated, I walked. Trying to shake those thoughts.
From that point it was a downward spiral for me. Mentally I wanted to be done with this race. So done. Instead of just waking aid stations, I walked once or twice each mile. I was trying to pull myself up and out of this dark place that my mind went to. I’ve always heard triathletes mention going to a “dark place” and for the first time in 13 years of triathlon, I was there. Very there.
By the time I made it to Mile 6 on the run, at the St. Paul’s aid station, I found a little spark. Or maybe it was the cold popsicle or music pumping from the front church steps. Either way, I was like “Ok, Tiffany. You can do this last half. You got this!”
I thought I was back on track. I wish I could have seen how it would have played out… instead I was stopped in my tracks.
I looked up from the aid station to see our friend Colin. Stopped. And just past him, a train on the tracks. Blocking our route. Coming to a stop. I’m not sure how long my stoppage was, but it was at least 6 minutes.
At this point, it was the last hurdle that I couldn’t overcome. I just could not mentally recover at this point. The last half of the half marathon was absolutely miserable. I honestly wanted to quit. Many times. But I knew what a DNF would feel like and I had to honor myself by finishing - no matter how awful my time would be.
That played on my mind so much. How embarrassed I was at what my time would be. How I always imagined myself as being a strong person, resilient, overcoming every single time some bad shit has come my way. Today was a day that wasn’t the case.
At Mile 9 I finally saw Caitlin. She was done and she didn’t have the day we both hoped for her to have. While it was nice to have her alongside me for a bit, I was deflated for her and all I could think is how long and miserable the last three miles would be.
I did a lot of walking. I tried to find a steady run pace but mentally couldn’t get there. I did so much walk-run-walk. At least I was moving forward.
Finally, the finish chute was near. I picked up the pace, if only a little, and finally made it to the end. Nothing on the day felt better than just being done.
Nothing to celebrate but many lessons learned. From how I approach training to how we handle the days leading into the race (be consistent and adamant about early bed times), to triple checking transition set up.
Fortunately, I can move past this race, know how the experience feels (awful) and know better how to prepare myself to be successful. I am not dwelling on this one race - I’m looking ahead to Ironman 70.3 Indian Wells to close out the season in December. And hoping it’s a springboard to a comeback season in 2023.
Like it always does on race day, the alarm came early. I did a short bit of mobility, band work, and foam rolling. I always travel to races with a band and foam roller. After that we loaded up our gear bags, nutrition and breakfast that we had prepped the night before and headed to the race site. Our plan was to park in the parking garage near the convention center but the line to get in was slow moving. Fortunately we scored street parking that was even closer to where the shuttles were located. Once on the shuttle to make our way to the transition area we started on our go-to pre race breakfast. It wasn’t as easy to eat that morning due to nerves but I knew I would need the calories so I forced it all down.
Once at transition we set up our area and aired up our tires. The day before at bike drop off we always let air out just to ensure the sun and heat does not cause them to expand and pop. Once we were done with our transition area we got back in line for the shuttle.
The swim start was 1.2 miles up the river, so very grateful for the shuttle as some races shuttles are not an option. There were also plenty of shuttles so we never had to wait very long to get on. After our final shuttle drop off we dropped our morning bags that we put our warm cover ups in as the morning temp was in the low 60’s. We were each wearing a retired pair of running shoes that we decided to keep on until we got closer to the actual swim start.
Fortunately a cool front came through a couple days ahead of race day and it dropped the Savannah River temp to 72, wetsuit legal. This race is typically NOT wetsuit legal so being able to wear a wetsuit was an added bonus to the already fast, down river swim that was advertised.
The cannon went off and the male pros were on their way, five minutes later another cannon sounded and the female pro race had begun. As our line moved along the announcer said that the first male pro had exited the water in 21:12! Fast! And the first female pro was out in 21:45! The current was moving for sure. My typical 70.3 swim is around 40 minutes and some change. My goal for this swim was 35 minutes.
Once stepping onto the floating dock Tif and I had our final embrace. “Race mighty, I’ll be thinking of you, I love you.”
Swimmers were getting into the water three at a time ever four seconds, feet first (diving was not allowed.) I got in the line furthest from shore as I knew the current is quicker the closer you are to the center of the river. Tif lined up in the line next to me.
Our beep sounded and our race had begun. I jumped off the dock and immediately took a little water up the nose and in the mouth. But my ability to stay calm in OWS has come a long way. I calmed my breathing just after getting in and I was able to get a good rhythm going. The water temp felt perfect and there was also some visibility in the water. I could see that I was able to hang with Tif for about the first 100 yards (about 75 yards longer than most races 🤣) before she took off.
With the assistance of the current, each of the buoys seemed to come up fast and furious. My strategy was to stay as close to the buoy line as possible. The one downside to this swim is that this part of the river runs West to East. And at that time of the morning each time I sighted the sun was directly ahead which made seeing the next buoy difficult.
I knew the end of the swim was near when I spotted the massive inflatable Gatorade bottle that was located near transition and swim finish. I made the one and only turn of the swim into the final swim chute. Keeping my stroke as long as could before standing up. I may not be the best swimmer, but in the water I still think it’s quicker for me to keep swimming instead of wading through the water.
At the swim finish arch I looked at my watch and was ecstatic that I had finally exceeded a swim goal I had set. 32:03!
Ironman tracker swim time: 32:08
37th fastest swim in AG
As I made my way up the ramp I kinda fiddled with unzipping my wetsuit. Something I had never had issues with. But I got it down to my waist just as I approached the wetsuit strippers. I laid down and the stripper gave my suit one quick pull and it was off. Much, much quicker than if I had done that myself. Just after standing up and grabbing my suit from her I had wished I had given her my white Ironman band.
I continued running to my transition. Once there I could see Tif just getting to the bike out arch. I placed my suit out of the way, helmet on, shoes on, unracked my bike and made my way to the mount line. Unlike other races, Tif and I ended up starting the bike at the same time. We gave each other words of encouragement and I was off.
Ironman tracker T1: 3:48
I knew there was a fairly difficult, rolling, 56 mile route ahead of us as we had driven the entire bike course the day before. I do think that was beneficial to getting a feel of the course and to know when and where big climbs and turns were. But, I had still underestimated the difficulty of the course. My goal was 2:30.
About mile 9 was when the first climb came. Into the small chain I went. I didn’t want to burn to many matches early by grinding it out.
Mile 11 a great surprise was waiting for me. My dad drove to Augusta from the Houston area to cheer us on for two seconds as we rode by on the bike course. It was great seeing him, a sign that my mom had made simply saying ‘Race Mighty’ and a Team Saunders Tri shirt.
I felt like work on the bike never stopped. There were many false flats that I didn’t notice as we drove the course. But I kept pushing. I think the bike is where I shine the brightest and I wanted to see just how well I could do on the bike.
At mile 20 my time was at 1:03, I knew my goal time of 2:30 was out the window. A little deflating, but I kept driving. There were a couple good climbs that led to some fun downhills. I’m not one to freewheel the downhills, I like to keep pedaling and gain as much speed as I can to help propel myself up the following climb. I reached a top speed of 39.8 and hit high 30s on other downhills.
The last mile or so weaved through some neighborhood streets before coming into the transition area. I used this time to ease up a little on the legs to get them ready for the dismount line. That was a legit bike course and I wondered to myself how the run course would go after pushing hard on the bike.
Ironman tracker Bike: 2:50:06
12th fastest bike in AG
Worked my way to 13th in AG
I ran my bike in, racked it, helmet off, bike shoes off. I keep my socks rolled up and ready to put on. Toes in and rolled the sock up and over my timing chip. Shoe on. Repeat for the other foot. Then I grabbed my hat that had my race bib and glasses tucked in it. As I ran through T2 I put my hat on, glasses on and then I slipped my race bib over my head (I keep it latched).
Ironman tracker T2: 3:16
The run. …
I knew from the start of the run things were going to be a grind and I knew my goal of sub 2 hr half marathon would be a challenge. Could I tear down the mental wall and overcome?
The first five miles were decent, I was able to keep the pace in the 9 minute range. But then shit got hard, I started to do a run/walk routine and I couldn’t kick the negative thoughts. ‘This sport is stupid’ (yes Justin M., I thought of you), ‘why the hell do I do this to myself’, ‘no way in hell am I signing up for another one’ (Chattanooga), ‘UGH!’
Soon my pace was 11 minute miles. Obviously sub-2hrs was out the window. I shifted my goal to keeping the pace no slower than 11. I knew my ultimate goal for this race wouldn’t happen so I settled on a goal of finishing at or under 5:45.
My swim PR was high #1 and soon my high #2 would happen. As I was walking along the course that went parallel to the river's levee there were pros that had gathered their things and were cycling back. I could tell it was Big Metz just ahead and he gave me a thumbs up and “Let’s Go!”, that for sure put a little pep in my step.
The run course did several loops and went across a railroad track in three different spots on the course. Didn’t really think anything of it. That is until an actual train came through!!!
That’s right a train. I had 1.5 miles left but this dang train was delaying me from being done with the worst race of my season. I stopped my watch while we were all stuck standing there. Nothing we could do as it was STOPPED on the tracks. After a few minutes it started moving again. When the train cleared we all started back up again and it felt like the start to a run race. The next aid station was only a quarter mile away. I was afraid that it would be a mad house with everyone reaching for what they needed but many decided to pass on it so I was able to easily grab what I needed.
While doing the run/walk I yo-yoed back in forth with another athlete. With only about three quarters of a mile to go I was walking again. That athlete came up behind me and tapped my on the back. I honestly don’t remember what she said, but whatever it was I was touched by it and it motivated me to keep going.
Finally, the last stretch. I could see the red and black carpet. Normally at this point in the race I pick up the pace and my hands go in the air. Not that day. I was just glad to be done and had nothing special to give.
Ironman tracker run: 2:16:50
My Garmin run: 2:13:20
34th fasted run in AG
Ironman tracker total time: 5:46:05
Garmin total time: 5:42:56
Fell to 20th in my AG out of 88 finishers.
Tif and I are fortunate that we are able to race a handful of 70.3 races each season, it’s inevitable that at some point there will be a race that doesn’t pan out as you hope. Ironman 70.3 Augusta was that race.
But I can’t end this report without mentioning the Augusta community. They were phenomenal and you can see they take pride in providing fist class sporting events in their city. There were so many young kids helping with aid stations and it really fills my triathlon soul to see. I hope that we were all an inspiration to the young generation and this sport will continue to grow.
And if you're wondering, later that night we signed up for another race before going to bed 😉