This race would end up being a short weekend excursion for me and Danielle. The trip from Atlanta to Scottsboro, Alabama, takes 2 hours and 45 minutes. There was a stretch where I didn’t see a billboard for an hour and a half and a McDonald’s for two hours. This is the area where you’ll see a muscle car on the side of house or in the front yard that needs some restoration and have a decent chance of getting a good price on it. When you’re driving out here you wonder “What on earth do these people do for a living to live in BFE?” In this landscape and with the limestone farming isn’t feasible. We did see a ton of mom & pop BBQ joints along the way and a shitload of churches (it is the Bible Belt). Sirius XM radio was free for the weekend, but the driving route was so remote we’d periodically lose satellite reception. There were some pretty scenic views of the mountain landscape passing over the two ridges. I normally speed on freeways but I just cruised at the speed limit and enjoyed the drive on the backroads.
The first signs of advanced civilization appeared just before Scottsboro when we spotted a Home Depot. Our hotel was only a half mile down the road from there. Our stay at the Red Roof in wasn’t too shabby and managed to get the Danielle seal of approval. I googled “Where to eat in Scottsboro” and only came up with a couple of options that weren’t too risky for getting sick. We settled on Geno’s Pizza and ordered some boneless wings and two Shocktops and to our surprise they were some of the better wings we’ve had in a long time.
We still had about two and a half hours until packet pick-up and the meeting, so we went to the Unclaimed Baggage store. I forgot where I heard about this place, I think on some TV show, but it sounded interesting. All the baggage airlines lose ends up for sale at this place. The majority of their inventory was clothing and I managed to pick up seven new work shirts for cheap. The next two things they have a lot of were jewelry and electronics. There were so many engagement rings on display — I genuinely felt sorry for all those proposals that got ruined. You shouldn’t expect to find a deal on any of it because they price it at market or higher, the same goes for electronics. Almost all of the electronics are used and you’d be better off buying new. I looked at two Forerunner 920XTs and they were priced higher than the refurbished one I bought directly from Garmin. It’s an interesting store and you’ll never know what you’ll find because they’re constantly putting out new arrivals.
When we arrived at check-in the first thing we noticed was the pungent odor of the lake — it smelled like goose shit. It seemed to fade after about half an hour. Check-in itself was pretty slow. I received a plastic one-time use timing band for my ankle (that would eventually rub me raw during the run) along with a shirt and socks. The meeting at 6:00 p.m. was a lost cause. I had no idea what the race director was trying to tell me about the directions for turn by turn because I’m unfamiliar with the area. We ended up leaving the place early to drive the run course and then head back to the hotel. We stopped at a gas station on the way for some drinks. I snacked on some pretzels and drank my Yuengling tall boy before hitting the sack.
A very nice thing about independent races is being able to sleep much later than for Ironman branded races. I was up at 4:30 a.m. and started packing up the car. I ate the loaf of banana bread Danielle made for breakfast, which is probably going to be the new routine.
We arrived at transition at about 5:50 a.m. There was more than enough parking and I didn’t have to walk very far. The small transition area was on the area of the parking lot just outside of the loose gravel. Since I was there early enough I set myself up near the end of the row. My Garmin Edge 500 kept picking up other people’s power meters when I tried to search for mine so I had to unrack my bike and take it out to the parking lot. The only restrooms available were at the pool house, but they were locked.
The sun rose at 5:34 a.m. that day so I was slightly concerned about the sun being over the tree line during the swim for the 7:00 a.m. start. I packed an extra pair of deep tint goggles just in case, but I opted to race with a lighter tint. It was an in water start and you could almost stand because it’s such a shallow lake. There is a small issue with the seaweed being all over. Apparently it’s not as bad in the mornings because the boats haven’t kicked it up yet. The swim doesn’t seem as long as a typical half swim because it’s a clock-wise two-loop rectangle (it also doesn’t seem as long because it’s a little short). I got out in front for about the first 600 yards until a guy caught me. I was on cruise control the entire time, which was a good idea because if I cranked it I would have overheated in the 86 degree water. I exited the swim not too far back from the guy who passed me (26:28).
I ran through the grass to T1 quickly while struggling to get out of my swim skin. I stripped down and got my bike gear on. I sprayed my toes with tri slide in hopes they wouldn’t blister on my left foot again. I was out in 2:08.
I was riding in second place when I reached the first set of railroad tracks three miles out. The race director said they’d lay down matts for us to ride over since it was pretty bad, but as I rolled up on it I saw they weren’t in the lane, they put them in the shoulder. What a stupid idea. When I ran over the tracks I lost both my water bottle and torpedo. The water bottle exploded and the torpedo lid came off. I was able to salvage a few ounces of Gatorade after picking it up. It’d be another 18 miles before I could get some fluids, but I did have a SaltStick in my pouch so I’d have some electrolyte intake. At that point I dropped back to fourth. Riding through town wasn’t exciting. I noticed there was an Auto Zone & Advanced Auto side by side and an O’Reilly’s half a mile down the road. There wasn’t a lot of traffic control and we were told if they volunteers got a emergency call they’d bail. When I came to the freeway off ramp I was a little nervous because no one was there but managed to have the light change as I got there. I missed the first turn (but quickly noticed and turned around). A couple of short turns later I drilled a huge pot hole. The roads were only shit for a third of the ride. When I wasn’t in Scottsboro I was able to spend most of my time in the big chainring because of how flat the course was.
I finally reached the first aid station at mile 18 and found there was no one handing out water bottles. It was just five Rubbermaid tubs full of water, you had to stop completely and help yourself. There are also no porta potties on the course, so if you gotta go you’re on your own. I had to pee twice and had a big enough gap between people where I could stop, put my foot down and go off the side of bike. I neared the turn around and saw the front three guys about half mile out. I averaged 202 watts the first half of the bike leg so I knew I could afford to push more watts on the way back. There was someone manning the aid station on my return trip. I could feel it starting to heat up. I caught one of the people in front of me with about five miles to go. I glanced at my watch to see what my running time was to find I hit lap an extra time on triathlon mode thus my bike time was under T2 split. I planned on resetting it before T2 and switch it to just run mode. I ended up pushing another 20 watts on the way back into town to average 212. I finished the bike in 2:39. I probably lost about five minutes with those few minor setbacks.
In T2 I saw how bad my tri shoe rubbed my toes. I’ve had these shoes for three full seasons and haven’t had a problem until this year so I don’t know what happened with my foot to cause this. Before I put on my socks I hit my toes with tri slide again hoping it wouldn’t get worse knowing my shoes were going to be soggy on the run. I took the extra 15 seconds to spray my arms and shoulders with sunscreen again because I knew I was about to get baked. I was out in under two minutes.
It was already 90 degrees with barely a cloud in the sky by the time I got on the run course at 10:10 a.m. I knew if I had a decent half marathon I’d be in the five hour ballpark overall. Being as hot as it was and not consuming as much liquids as I wanted to on the bike I planned on walking through the aid stations. I didn’t stop for the first two aid stations and was averaging 7:40/mile by the time I hit station three at mile 2.5. I ended up stopping completely to consume Gatorade/water, dump some on my head and throw some ice down my singlet (I did this for most of the remaining aid stations). Rolling up the fourth aid station I saw the guy third place. I could tell he was hurting and I’d catch him by the next one. I arrived at the next aid station shortly after him and he was toast. I thought I had moved into third place but Danielle told me I was actually in second as one of the people in front of me only did the aqua bike. I thought, “Cool. If I’ve got a 10 minute lead I could probably hold onto second.” I also learned there were cold towels at each aid station so I started grabbing one at every other station. I ran through the campground for the last time and was disappointed to not see a bunch of drunk people yet. I saw Danielle for the last time at the aid station at Berry Drive, she put in some good miles following me all over the run course. I got caught by a guy at mile 10. This guy was moving fast, I think he ran about a 1:25 half (I ran a 1:54). Mile 10 was my slowest mile, but that was only because two aid stations fell in that span. Even though I stopped to take in fluids at most of the aid stations I still managed to run about 8:10/mile in between each stop because my heart rate had a chance to drop. I skipped the next two aid stations because I knew I had gas left in the tank and was not going to let anyone else catch me from behind. At the last station I stopped for 10 seconds to toss some water on me and drink a Gatorade, then headed to the finish line. My last two miles were about 8:00/miles. I hauled ass past the marina and made the hard right into the finish.
I crossed the finish line with a 5:05:06 after running a 1:54 (8:45/mile average) half marathon. I was lucky to finish when I did because my phone told me it was 95 degrees out. I was really happy with the time considering I went 5:36 on a very hard course four weeks earlier. It was the first time since the accident I felt like I was close to what I used to be. Another nice thing about the independent race is I can cross the line, come right over to Danielle and give her a hug.
The post-race food wasn’t too bad, there were small snacks and Little Caesar’s pizza. They had a cooler full of beer so I started drinking, I made the mistake of starting with Michelob Ultra and quickly switched to Yuengling. We waited around a little for awards to be presented, but they kept pushing it back because not enough age groupers had finished yet so we left.
If you’d like to watch any of the videos, see my link to my YouTube playlist from the race.