Race Coverage

Mayoral Selfies, Super Soakers & Mindfulness...

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By Erin Lahti


Augusta 70.3 Race Report - In order to understand what this race meant to me, you must first understand what I went through to get here.  My “A” Race was supposed to be Ironman 70.3 Madison. However, 5 weeks before race day I was rear-ended and herniated 3 discs in my lower neck.  I pulled out of the race altogether. My coach and I decided to switch gears and focus on short course. My next big race of the season was Nationals in Cleveland in August.  I got a flat tire early on the bike. So, that is 2 big races of the season where I didn’t see a finish line. I got the go ahead from my doctor to pick another 70.3.  Other races were selling out. I pulled the trigger on Augusta and bought a plane ticket....

 

Since, I’m traveling by myself to a place that I’ve never been where I don’t know another single soul, I decided to reach out to my Base Performance Team.  It turns out there is a large group of my teammates doing this race. There are a bunch that are renting a few Airbnbs. They ask if I’d like to join them. I gladly do.  I’m staying in a house with 6 other people that I’ve never met, yet quickly get to know. 

The logistics of this race differs from any other race I’ve done.  The Expo, start line, and transition are all in different places. The finish line is close to the Expo.  So, there are shuttles everywhere. 


Race Morning:erinhands.png
I hitch a ride with 2 of my house mates.  We drive over to another Base house and pickup 2 more teammates.  The 5 of us drive to the convention center and get in line to take the shuttle down to transition.  A quick bus ride and we are there. It was an interesting feeling, stepping off the dark bus and into the busy transition area.   The bright white flood lights were illuminating a large grassy area, where 3,000 athletes were setting up for their race. The music was blaring and nervous energy was in the air.  I made my way to Katniss (my bike) at 954 and set up my gear. The water temp it 76.3. So, that means it wetsuit optional. Some get scared. Many have swim skins. I just shrug. I finish setting up just before transition closes. I stand in the shuttle line for 5 mins before deciding to walk the mile or so down to the start line. Again, I was able to hook up with many of my teammates and we all walked down together.  The sun is starting to come up now and it is lighting up the Savannah River like a runway. It looks like it going to be a glorious day. We stop walking for the singing of the National Anthem. The massive flag is hanging sideways from a bridge over the river.  It is dancing gracefully in a slight breeze. The sun is shining right through it. It is a beautiful sight. I take the time to say a prayer as I usually do. I thank God, for getting me here safely, for blessing me with a body that is capable of doing this sport and I ask to keep everyone safe on the course today.

Just a couple moments later, the cannon goes off for the Pro men and 10 mins later for the Pro women.  From where I am, I can’t see the start line. I make my way to the front corral. The fastest one I see says, “30 -33 mins”.  Ummm, What? Considering this is a river swim, I plan to be well under 30 mins. (As I’m sure a lot of others do as well) So, I positioned myself right up front and make friendly conversation with athletes around me.  I heard about 5 others ask volunteers “Where are the faster corrals?” This is it. You are at the front of the line. We are packed in, standing shoulder to shoulder. Wide eyes darting around, thinking about the day to come.  You catch another person’s eye and they flash a quick but friendly smile. As we were waiting, the Mayor of Augusta came over and wished us all luck and took a selfie, (that I totally was in). 7:45 they open the gate and the line starts moving down towards the water.  The crowd is funneled down to 3 people across. We walk down a steep ramp and onto a floating dock. I finally get to feel the water. It’s warm. I splash my entire body and dip my goggles in. Then, Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us” came on. I start dancing immediately. Then of course, rapping.  I flow every word, as I have a hundred times before. Everyone around me is clapping, dancing, cheering and singing. This is what this sport is about. The energy is contagious and undeniable. No tension anymore. We are all ready. Let’s go!


Our line keeps moving forward.  Then, 2 by 2 we jump (or dive) in to the Savannah River, for 1.2 mile swim straight down the river.  In just a few 100 yards, we swim under the bridge that holds that massive American flag. From the water it looks even bigger.  I take my next 5 strokes and roll all the way over, in order to take in the view. It may have added a few seconds to my time, but it was worth it.  The image of that flag draped directly above me will be burned in my brain for years. I decided not to put a whole lot of steam on the swim. Swimming fast tends to hurt my neck and shoulders.  As, I am still not 100% recovered from my accident. I swam very mindfully, and bilaterally breathed most of the way. Stay balanced and set yourself up for a good bike. I see the grass coming up from the bottom of the river. It sways a little, but is mostly unaffected by the chaos that is happening just a couple feet away.  I find it pretty. The buoys are easy to sight and we only turn at the last one. I turn right and kick like mad to get some blood flowing back in my legs. I pull until I touch sand. 27 minutes and change. I’ll take it. Run up the ramp and into transition. My bike is very close to the swim in. I do my thing and I’m at the mount line 3 minutes later.

The bike is a single loop with about 1700 feet of climbing.  I see lots of the Base team members cheering right out of transition.  I get out of town and start eating. I made the race morning decision to take a 3rd bottle of Rocket Fuel and just get water at the aid stations.  I also have 3 Base Bars and 3 fruit strips. That puts me at 1000 calories total on the bike.  It worked great for me. There was only one tough climb at mile 9. I actually got in my small ring.  The decent after that was long, windy and an absolute blast to ride down. I hit 40 mph. Much of the route was through the countryside and was shaded by tall trees.  At every aid station I got a good hand off of a bottle of water. I drank a little but dumped most of it on my quads, neck and back. I knew I needed to stay ahead of the heat.  I felt like I always had something to do on the bike. Eat, drink, navigate, climb and of course talk to other athletes. It was a lot of fun. There were a couple times on the bike I felt sluggish, but I choose not to push it. Set yourself up for a good run, I thought. We had to do a little out and back near the airport. Lined up along the road were pictures of hundreds of fallen soldiers.  They each had their own large board and were double sided, so we could see them after we made the turn. My thoughts, instantly, went to my brother. I choked up a little and my eyes filled with tears. He is the reason I found this sport.  I would not be riding my bike on some random road in Georgia if it weren’t for his death. Perspective. Getting back into town, I made sure I finished eating everything on me.  The last few miles, I prepared to run. I got out of aero, rolled my shoulders and stretched my neck out.  It was stiff. I made it back into Transition after being on the bike for 2:46. 2 mins later, I was running.

erinpodium.jpgThe run was a double out and back and cruised downtown Augusta. It was 70% exposed and pancake flat. I’m feeling good.  It was hot but not too hot and I don’t really feel the humidity.  But, I know that can change any second. I still need to stay ahead of the heat.  The very first mile, I got out my Base Salt and took a lick. Every aid station I drank water and Gatorade.  I also grabbed a cup of ice. I would pour some down the front of my kit and some in the back. I would hold on to the rest.  After just a couple of minutes that ice would melt and I would pour the ice cold water on my head and neck. I could make a cup last until the next aid station.  I took a lick of salt every odd mile. Stay ahead of it. My first 4 miles were sub 8 min miles. I knew I could probably not maintain that, but I was sure going to try.  My stomach was rock solid. It was hot, but I was managing. Whenever I thought about the heat, I corrected my form. I worked incredibly hard on my run this season, and it’s come a long way. It was time to prove that. I saw many of my team mates on the run course.  It was fun to shout out to anyone in a Base kit and get a huge smile and waves. There were many spectators with super soakers, asking if you needed to cool off and few sprinklers to run through if you needed it.  Mile 11 and 12 my pace slowed to 8:20. I thought, “Almost done, I can burn this last mile down.” My last mile was a 7:55. I came down the chute to “Body Moving” by Beastie Boys. I double high fived the crowd and hit the finish line at 5:03.32 with a smile on my face. (1:44 run split)

Bam!  I finally got an A race.   


Take away:
My overall experience in Augusta was incredible. This was by far the most successful race I’ve ever done, for a number of reasons. The main reason is I met so many awesome people, most from my Base team but some friends from social media. Perhaps it’s easy to make connections with people who share your passion. But you have to be willing to open yourself up to them. Triathlon is an individual sport, but it is so much more fun and rewarding with other people.

I have never raced so mindfully and tactical before. I was able to put together a smart race. Dealing with adversity and setbacks throughout my season made me think about the big picture. Finish lines are never guaranteed. In fact, start lines aren’t either.


And also, podiums are fun.

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