Sunday, September 29, 2013

Ironman Augusta - 2013

Of course I didn't sleep right. Maybe five hours. At best. Drams of T1 & T2. Dreams of self motivation. Dreams of not accepting defeat. Anyway. Up at four thirty to finish packing. (No, I didn't pack the night before due to lack of focus and excitement.) On the road by five thirty. Crowded into a bus and shuttled to the transition by six thirty.

Then I'm effectively alone. No team members near. Just me and me. Felt great. No nerves. An odd sense of calm and focus. Took my time. Everything in the right place. Minimized chaos. Maximized escape velocity. With only a minute to spare before it closed, I removed my glasses (effectively rendering me blind) and cleared out of transition.

A long, blurry walk to the swim start. Plenty of time to collect my thoughts. The plan? Relax. Breathe. Enjoy. Don't burn out. Don't burn out. Don't burn out. And above all else: stick to the plan! (Famous last words?)

My age group was the single largest. Over 460 men aged 40-44. All of us in white caps. Zooming into the first picture there are two bridges beyond my toes. The second, barely visible, bridge is the HALFWAY point in the swim. Thankfully, the weather went from cold to perfect very quickly, and as we gathered to enter the water, I knew it would be a good day.

Some early luck. J.G. found me wandering and helped me (remember, I'm just about blind!) drop of my gear bag then shuffled me to the right line. Hugged Tish. Hugged Lisa. And (big bonus!) Jack Gazzo found me right before the point of no return. I get lumped in with Jack, Ryker, and Chris Kirby. All of us fired up and ready to start.

Jack had a plan. A great plan! With such a large group, we wouldn't start in the front. We'd hold back, wait 10 or 20 seconds for the brutes to clear out, then enter the water behind the egg beater. Not only that, but literally at the last minute, Jack decides we should sit on the floating dock, OPPOSITE the first line of guys. When the horn sounds, a hundred men jump off one side of the dock. The whole thing is violently rocked from their inertia, like a giant teeter totter strung across the Savannah river. Those of us sitting down slide down gracefully into the water. Those others standing in the middle are virtually thrown through the air and land with a half-bellyflop to start their mile long swim. And that is how almost five hundred of us entered the water at 8:12A.

The brain does strange things during moments of excitement and stress. Time unhinges. Distances compress. I barely remember the first half mile. It is a blur of elbows and me thinking, "Wow! I'm passing people soooo fast!" That first half mile took like nineteen seconds, in my mind. Then reality crept into the equation. Everytime I tried to sight my way down the course, I'd get an eyeball full of beautiful, burning sunlight. If I tried to angle towards more open water, it would be a fist fight. And if I slowed down, Jack Gazzo was behind me, punching me in the foot in a silent suggestion of hurrying up! Where the first half was over quickly, the second half took an hour. I kept thinking: "Where is the red buoy? I'm ready to get out!" And finally, after only 27 minutes (three minutes ahead of my goal,) we were out, sprawling in front of "strippers" who pulled off our suits, then racing into transition! (And the guy punching me in the foot for a mile? It wasn't Jack! No idea who it was, but he was chasing me the whole way...)

T1 was cool except for the huuuuge gap between the water and my bike. But that is what happens when there are 3500 folks in a race. Could I have rushed through? Sure. Did I breathe, take it easy, and enjoy it? Yup! So I thought it was a nice, smooth transition. And then I was onto the bike for at least three hours.

By ten miles into the course, I was clocking an average of 20MPH. Lots of race adrenaline and my legs were still super fresh. But I knew I couldn't keep pushing myself. Not for another 44 miles. So I stuck with the plan: Relax. Breathe. Enjoy. (Plus I made sure to nail my fuel plan: alternating between gel and half a Stinger waffle every twenty minutes.)

Overall, I was very well prepared (thanks to weeks of listening to Luke!) had a great ride. I was passing people left and right. Some folks passed me. I said, "Good morning!" often. I grabbed bananas on the fly. Cruised up a four kilometer hill. Didn't have a flat. Didn't throw a chain. And before I knew it, we were cruising back into Augusta, where I finished before my 3hr goal.

T2 also blurred. Found my spot, racked the bike, swapped shoes, swapped the helmet for a visor and dashed out. Before I knew it, I was one kilometer into the run, clocking just under six minutes. Ahead of pace! Had to slow down! Relax. Breathe. Enjoy.

So I settled into my decidedly slow pace and tried to survive. By now, it was noon. No clouds. And long gaps without shade or water. Again, the brain gets weird and mine kept telling me: slow down! Even though I wasn't tired or winded. Mainly just hot. The crowd helped, though. People cheering. People holding up signs. Volunteers by the hundreds with water and oranges and more bananas. Despite my turtle pace, I was passing people and almost (almost!) happy. After eight miles, though, something started feeling going sideways and a toe on my left foot (next to my pinky toe) felt like it was bleeding. Don't ask why I thought that. I know it wasn't real. Still, on two occasions I came to a complete stop, pulled off my shoe, pulls off my sock, and made sure my foot was okay. And it was. Thankfully. Anyway, my goal was two hours and thirty minutes. I ended up running a half marathon in about two hours and forty minutes. Could have done better (should have done better!) but I stuck to my plan and didn't gas out. If nothing else, I can say I didn't bonk on my first Ironman.

My goal for the whole race was six hours and thirty minutes. Even with a wonky rear derailer on the bike, a rubbing brake, and two stops on the run, I still finished in 6:11:31.

I crossed the line, bowed my head to receive my medal, and somebody said, "Jon McDougal, you are an Ironman..." To which I responded, "After all of that, damn right I am!" People laughed. Somebody patted me on the back. And there was a photographer there to capture the moment.

Overall, I loved it. Having done more than a dozen other events, this was one of the best. Especially for my first Ironman. I am definitely going back. I am definitely doing other Ironman events. And I'm definitely going to train harder and smarter next season.

I also loved having so many people from my team up there: Luke, Eddie, Jack, Lisa, Kristen, Onnie, David B, David S, J.G., Tish, Gini, Alice, Chris, April, the Kirby's, and like 50 other.

And a special note of thanks & admiration to Luke Davidson for MONTHS of patience, suggestions, and guidance in getting me to Ironman Augusta. I never would have or could have done it without his encouragement and the examples he set for me. He beat me, this time. But we're already planning our next BIG adventure...

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