If you’re on the fence about trying this race I’d say it’s okay to do it once, but it’s not worth going back to. Augusta is one of the towns on the Georgia Antebellum Trail, and for those who don’t know what that means those are the seven towns that General Sherman forgot to burn down during his march to the sea.
I went up earlier than my family because Danielle had a 16-mile run to complete that morning. I checked in at the always less than stellar athlete expo at the Augusta Convention Center. Every single year the swag gets to be less and less. I walked away with two cans of Red Bull and a small wet backpack for my swim stuff (I don’t even think my pull buoy would fit in it). The vendors didn’t have swag either, they were all there to hock their products. Not too long ago I remember a time with tons of vendors and free shit, now even Clif Bar doesn’t show up.
The next thing on my list was bike check-in, which was roughly 1.6 miles from the Convention Center. It was a good thing I rode it down there because finding parking in the vicinity of transition would have been impossible (the area is entirely street parking). I was very lucky to get the very first spot for my bike in the row where the only break in the aisles were which made me easy to spot on race day.
I walked my way back to the Convention Center via the Riverwalk (which is nowhere near as nice as Chattanooga’s Tennessee Riverwalk). I managed to walk through the Saturday Morning Market and found a few good things for us (two pieces of cake, pumpkin butter, mild pineapple salsa and homemade dill pickles, and no they weren’t all consumed at the same time). That was really the only thing to do while I was in town. I got a nice picture with a dude in a Pikachu costume.
Lunch was easy for a change because I didn’t have to consider anyone else. I just popped in a dive bar, ordered a burger, ate and left (the place was called Bermie’s). The burger wasn’t anything special, but at least they knew how to cook meat, unlike that place at the Myrtle Beach Marathon that served me a hockey puck served between two slices of stale bread.
Our stay at the Medical Center Inn was notable in the sense that it too was a flaming dumpster fire. The first thing we noticed about our “non-smoking” room was it was completely baked out by the previous occupants and then Febreezed by the hotel staff. The hotel staff forgot to give us towels and washcloths too. The TV picture wouldn’t adjust to the right proportions so the image would have four inches cut off on each side. They had no wifi, but it was probably for the better as someone probably would have stolen our info. The walls had dents and holes in them. The pictures were bolted to the walls. The bathroom door had a huge piece of wood peeling off of it and no door lock (as in it had handles, they just removed sliding bolt). Only about half of the outlets worked.
We were out searching for a place to eat and every place we turned to had long wait times. We settled on dinner at Texas Roadhouse (as this town basically only has chain restaurants to eat at). While we waited, I realized all of the restaurants aren’t packed because of the race, they’re packed because this is all these people have to do on weekends. I asked Danielle, “Is this what it’s like at Buffalo?” (see this Marshawn Lynch Mayne Event Interview for reference).
After we ate I had about an hour before bed to shave down and lay out my stuff. I’m pretty organized with my stuff so I wasn’t rushed. I put my watch on the charger before I laid down and was out like a light (not the broken lights in the stairwells that strobed all night).
Race morning felt like any other. I was up at about 3:15 a.m. and sent out some “Rise and grind” texts to friends racing that day in Chattanooga. I took the time to shave that morning because I can’t grow a beard for shit. Today would be the first time I used a tri kit with sleeves in a race. It looked pretty cool. I told my parents they could sleep in and just come to the run course at about 11:00 a.m. because transition would be too hard to get to. We packed up the car and then I laid out towels on the sidewalk so Danielle could stretch me before we left (as the hotel room didn’t have enough room).
I opted not to park at the Convention Center Hotel and street parked on 10th & Greene. It wasn’t because I was cheap and didn’t want to pay for parking, it was because all of the parking lots were located in the confines of the run course. I’m a person who doesn’t like waiting for anything, so this would mean we could get out easy. We hopped a bus at the hotel and rode down to transition.
I took my time setting up my gear while listening to music with my Airpods. I made sure to spin my wheels to see if they were rubbing my brakes as it happens from time to time (usually I need to undo the skewer and retighten it). It took me about a half an hour. Danielle scoped out the area to find out where she was going to watch from. We then hopped a bus back up to the swim start and then played the waiting game.
In the athlete meeting the Ironman employee said there would be a 27 minutes and under swim seed, but the best they had was 30-33. Naturally you will always have slow assholes who want to start at the front despite given clear directions on how a self-seeded swim works. There was a guy in front of me who definitely did not have that kind of speed. I turned to Andre and said, “This guy doesn’t belong here.” I know this because his goggles were one size short of being scuba goggles (even had the nose cover). I also noticed he didn’t have on a triathlon watch and was wearing a $20,000 Rolex.
Let’s get back to Andre for a minute. Weeks before the race we talked about starting at the same time and racing each other. Naturally I would give him a hard time about the race saying things like I’ll chase him down at the end (I closed the gap from about 16 minutes to two minutes at Lake Logan).
I wanted to make sure I got one last piss in before we headed down to the docks, so I pissed myself. It’s not like a wetsuit where it’d trap it in between my body, the skin suit did not make it that discreet. Whatever, I wanted to make sure I didn’t have to go on the bike. When I turned my watch on to get GPS I saw how much battery I had left. Shit, I must have stuck the charger into one of the broken outlets the night before. I could have sworn I heard the beep when I put it on and take it off. I saw I was under half capacity and I knew the watch is good for 17 hours so I assumed I could make it through the race without it dying.
As we prepared to enter the water the old dude with the Rolex said, “Why don’t you go in front of me?” Don’t mind if I do because I have no qualms about running you over. Also, people are stupid. Feet first entry was said at least five times and yet they still dive off the dock. In all my years of swimming I know better and have always done feet first entry in warm ups or crowded swims (or more importantly when I couldn’t see through the water I was diving into). The current was decent on race day and I felt pretty good on cruise control. My 26:12 wasn’t my fastest swim ever, but it would do. I felt like the 7:50 a.m. start was way too late. The entire swim I couldn’t sight for shit because the sun was burning a hole in my retinas every time I raised my head. I wasn’t prepared for that and didn’t have my deep tint goggles. The injured shoulder did hold up pretty well. It took me a couple of minutes to get adjusted to racing in sleeves.
I saw Danielle as I exit the swim and ran up the boat ramp. I peeled myself out of my skinsuit as I ran across the carpet. I could feel the carpet covered rocks beneath my feet as I made my way to T1. Everything went smoothly and I was out in 3:36. As I rode out I heard Danielle yell, “Go Andre!” I thought to myself, “Shit, I’ve only managed to put three to four minutes lead on him with the swim, I don’t think I’ll be able to hold him off past mile 15.”
I drove the course the day before, which is not my normal thing, but this time I knew what I was getting into. The streets in the first and last few miles in the city kinda suck, but once I made it out to Gordon Highway I started to crank out the watts. I wanted to really push on the bike this race, and for the first 20 miles I was pushing an average of 255 watts. There were three people who would pass me, then slow down, or die on hills. That went on for about eight miles when I finally passed on a climb and said, “What are you three playing footsie under the table?” I didn’t look back after that and they never made another move to pass. I made it till mile 24 before Andre caught me. I told him, “It took you long enough.” Andre said, “I’m pushing 260 watts all race.” We then came up to a long climb, which I’m strong at from my Atlanta bike commute. I said, “I thought you lived in the mountains?” as I passed him. I kept within a few bike lengths for the next few miles and then he took off.
Halfway through the race I was averaging about 238 watts. I may have burned a match trying to make Andre come get me, but I was still hanging on pretty strong. There were a couple of moments on the back half were I got a light-headed. A problem on the back half of the race were the draft packs and I think I was passed by three of them. On long descents I made sure I was clear of anyone in front so I could crouch down and fly downhill. I had yet to have to stop to pee, my plan with stop hydrating at 2:00 p.m. the day before was working out.
At about mile 30 my left foot started to tingle — it’s something that happens with those shoes and I probably should sell them. By mile 40 my toes started to hurt on that foot. Maybe it had something to do with wearing socks with the shoes? At mile 46 I reached behind my back to stick a Gu wrapper into my pocket when I felt a lump. I thought, “Shit, it’s my Airpods.” Yeah, I went through the entire swim and bike with them; it was the first time I ever wore this kit so I couldn’t tell the difference between when there was something in my pocket or if it was empty. It sucked that I lugged around an extra 42 grams for 56 miles (yeah, I looked up the weight of the Airpods and case just now). At mile 48 I saw my shadow on the road and noticed my seat wedge had come unstrapped from its Xlab Super Wing mount, which was not very aero with the straps flapping around in the breeze.
Danielle decided to surprise me as she camped out at about mile 55. I averaged 222 watts for the ride, and finished in 2:30:57. I hadn’t ridden that fast in a race (that didn’t have the swim canceled) since 2016. The shoulder survived all the weight and force bearing down on it for two and a half hours. I consider myself a little lucky my Di2 didn’t die – I didn’t charge it before I left like I normally do, there was a lot of things I kind of forgot about this time around. I had been so stressed with my daily life I didn’t even have time to worry about the race.
When I got into transition I took my Airpods out and threw them in my bag. I took my left sock off and sprayed my foot with tri slide to help with the from the shoes (it did fade away). Getting the sock back on was hard. I also sprayed my junk real quick as I had some discomfort on the bike and wanted to prevent any further chaffing on the run. I was almost to the run out arch when I realized I forgot my hand-held and had to sprint back for it. I probably lost 45 seconds because of the small hiccups, but I was still out of T2 in 3:19.
On the run out I did quick math and realized I needed about a 1:50 half-marathon to PR. At that point I thought that was possible even though it’d be my fastest run in a 70.3 this year (my run has not returned to what it was since before I was hit by the SUV). I felt good as I passed Danielle right off the bat. The first mile was strong as well as the second mile, I thought I was at about a 7:40/mile average at that point. My heart rate was well above 170 beats per minute and I knew as hot as it was I would not be able to sustain it for 11 more miles. Then I started to walk as much as I needed to in order to get my heart rate to drop to 140 bpm before picking the run back up. I wasn’t fried though, when I would start my run back up I’d still be running at sub 8:00/mile pace.
I told my parents and Danielle to camp out on 6th Street for the run course because they could go block to block to watch (they only had move within four block space too). That meant they were able to see me about eight times over the entirety of the run. Even though I was starting to walk some, I made sure to not walk until I had got past them and out of camera view so they didn’t see it. By mile five I started to walk through aid stations, I knew a PR would likely be out of reach now, but maybe I could still break five hours. I avoided getting my feet wet for as long as possible so I wouldn’t have to run in soggy shoes and risk blisters (my mom didn’t understand why I went out of my way to run around a sprinkler).
I finished the first loop and was running a 9:04/mile pace. Doing the math in my head I realized to break five hours I’d need to maintain that pace. By the way, the run course may be great for spectating, but it’s kind of demoralizing knowing you’re just going up and down streets, then doing it a second time. I hated always seeing cross streets, looking down at my watch and realizing I had only gone a tenth mile since the last street (with the stretch being nearly two miles long). It was extremely hard to get lost in my mind.
When I got to the first aid station on the second loop I done fucked up by stopping my watch out of habit. I assumed my time was off about two minutes. It took a lot of effort to get my lid off my hand-held for a refill because I couldn’t twist the cap with wet hands, then getting a volunteer to pour Gatorade took some time. I also stopped to take a quick pee, then walked away. I probably lost 30 seconds or so right there. As I left that aid station a woman said, “Eric, what mile are you on?” I didn’t register it was Andre’s wife at the time because I hadn’t seen her that many times. I’m guessing he wanted to know how much of a lead he had on me. I wanted to know the same thing, but Danielle never told me.
I saw my family again at mile eight. My mom was yelling, “Way to go! You’re almost there!” I responded, “The fuck I am I still have five miles to go.” I heard the people around them laugh as I passed. By mile nine my sub-five hour finish pace was long gone, but I hadn’t blown up. In fact, Danielle said when I passed them I still looked strong. I passed my family again and my mom said, “Now you’re almost there!” I said, “Nope, I’ve still got three miles to go.” The shoulder was still holding up, but my mom noticed I had a lean to compensate for the discomfort.
My plan had always been to kick the last two miles and run as hard as I could. I picked up my run again at 11 and was running at about 8:30/mile pace. I skipped the last aid station and continued to haul ass. By the time I reached mile 12 I was running a sub-8:00/mile pace again. I reached 7th Street and made the final two turns. The volunteer said it was right around the corner but it was another two blocks, which sucked. I ran hard through the chute. As I walked through I saw Andre keeled over the fence. He couldn’t have been there that long, could he? It turns out at about mile eight or so he blew up. At that point he probably had about a 15 minute lead that I eventually closed to 1:31. The heat during the half-marathon was oppressive and it played a role in my high heart rate, but I still managed to finish in 5:08:32 (with a 2:04:28 half marathon).
Logistics of retrieving your bike after the race are kind of a pain in the ass. You can take a shuttle down and ride your bike back or you can make an attempt to find parking (good luck you poor soul). I took the bus and what should have been a 10 minute ride took well over half an hour because we kept getting diverted. I leaned over the seat to ask the bus driver to ask if we were going to Cleveland. By the way, I took those Airpods out of my bag while packing up to see if they worked. Low and behold the fucking things survived after being submersed for 26 minutes (my iPhone didn’t survive after 15 seconds of being in the toilet four years ago).
There’s a 90% chance I won’t ever do this race again (especially for the ridiculous $350 entry fee they ask…the value you get in return is not worth it). Augusta doesn’t have the southern charm that a place like Chattanooga has. There’s nothing to do while you’re at this race, especially for any guests you may bring. Danielle said while I raced she was bored. She said there was one coffee shop downtown and it didn’t open until 9:00 a.m (it was good though). A lot of the town is pretty sketchy and there’s many homeless people in wheelchairs with 40’s of OE roaming the streets. Soon you understand why Augusta National Golf Club (home of the Master’s) has completely walled themselves off from the rest of the town.
Click here to see the YouTube Videos from the race!