Challenge Atlantic City
We’re on a German ICE train cruising from Dresden to Frankfurt at 129KM/HR. Soon we will be tearing it up at nearly 300KM/HR during the 5hour, 20 minute journey. We just spent the last two days with Fiona’s host family whom she stayed with for three months in 2001 when she was part of a foreign exchange program from Australia. Over the last 2 days, we drank plenty of great tasting beer, visited churches and buildings that were completely destroyed by the US bombing of World War II in February 1945, we also had schnitzel in a Witches House that was built in 1801. The history, double in length of that of the US made me realize that when we go to Museums in the US, it is usually someone else’s masterpiece, but here in Dresden, it was their own history. From the detail of goldsmiths and artisans from 500 years ago able to sculpt 148 faces on a cherry nut, or putting together a diamond pendant whose centerpiece was a 14 carat rare green diamond, the only one to have ever been found, we have done and seen some incredible things in the last 12 days. That is why it is amazing to think that only 12 days ago Fiona and I swam 2.4 miles, cycled 112 miles, and ran 26.2 miles in the Inaugural Challenge Atlantic City triathlon.
But before I can recap the race I will quickly summarize the last 18 months. Fiona and I met at an Alice Springs Triathlon in October 2012. We connected via Facebook in January 2013 and in February 2013 she picked me up from the airport upon my return to the Alice from the USA. 2 weeks later I knew she was the one, we traveled and trained together that year, got engaged in August 2013, completed Ironman Western Australia in December 2013. During that time we were also planning our wedding and honeymoon we saw the race for Challenge Atlantic City. So I signed us up and we started training the first week in January.
For the next 6 months, Fiona and I trained like never before. Not only were we consistent, but for the first month we focused on nutrition and I lost nearly 5KG, most of it fat. We had some epic rides and really focused on running. As compared with the IM’WA season which was 2 weeks longer, we cycled 8% less, ran 39% more, and swam 2% more. The running increased so much because I was able to run the full season. Last season the plantar fasciitis hurt too much but that was alleviated this season with more stretching and using The Strausburg Sock. We didn’t put in as many long rides of 5 hours on the bike, but we did improve our FTP’s by working on the Wednesday Muscular Endurance Interval sessions.
Overall, the season was a good one, we ate less junk food, candy, and liquor. It helped keep the weight off that I had lost in the first 2 months. We also ran many more long runs which helped establish a strong base. All of the sessions went good but Build 3 was lower than Build 1 and Build 2. Peak was also good but started to lose steam. During the last 2 weeks before the race we flew from Alice to Stawell, got married and had a reception there. We then flew from Melbourne – LA – Denver – Boston and travelled around Boston for 2 days. This was then followed by a 6 hour drive to Atlantic City and an awful warm up ride in AC the day before. The swim was good and the run was hot.
On to the race. We woke up at 4AM, ate blueberry muffin, banana, and drink. Gear was put on, and we headed to Transition by car which was 5KM away. 30 minutes before race time we found out the water was 80 degrees Fahrenheit and wetsuits would not be allowed. This did not faze me since we train in Alice Springs and only used wetsuits once in the 6 months of training. We watched 3 navy seals skydive with an American Flag but was disappointed that there was no flyover. As this was the inaugural event and the first in the USA, I expect that next year it will be included. We watched the pros and then went into my wave, maybe the 6th of 8 waves. I saw my family at the start, jumped in the water from the floating dock, swam 25meters to warm up and floated in the water, without my wetsuit. The current was slightly pushing me forward but I didn’t think much of it. At the gun, I pressed my Garmin and tried to get on the back of a faster swimmers feet. I hit the first buoy in 6 minutes without any chaos that is found in most triathlons. 1 minute to the next buoy and then headed north up the right hand side of the Y shaped course. It was going well and I was already seeing cap colors from the wave in front of me. By this time I couldn’t see my Garmin on my hand 4 inches from my face so I tried to keep my mouth closed as not to drink any of the sediment. I passed more people and hit another buoy. At this turn around I got kicked in the face for the first time. It wasn’t a strong kick but water was coming in to the goggles. I didn’t want to stop but moments later I was touching the ground with my hand. The water was only 1 foot deep so I actually got up and walked for a few seconds. I fixed my goggles and lots of people were walking. I actually don’t know if this is legal or not. I thought I heard a referee so I jumped back down in the water and swam. That was 26 minutes in. I kept swimming and could see the bridge at the top of the Y course. I saw some people cutting the buoys but didn’t want to cheat so I tried swimming around the buoy and the waters current was so strong it pushed me right into it. I was swimming hard but was barely moving. To make the next buoy, I had to swim at a 45 degree angle just to make it; this is when I knew that it would be a hard swim for many people. My 46 minutes was not looking good because I still had a lot more distance to cover. I kept going, tried to get in a draft from some faster people but just didn’t have the speed. There was one other point of walking and the lasted also only a few seconds. I finished the course, came out of the water and saw my family. My 1:17min swim was awful; way slower than the expected sub 1 hour or the 1hour 2minute shape I proved I was in. However, that is in a 25m pool and this was 2 rivers combining into the ocean with tides and currents I had never experienced. The best thing from this swim is that I proved I have improved by placing 12th in my A/G when I’m usually in the back, also, I broke my 1:18 Challenge Wanaka swim that was in frigid waters with a wetsuit.
In T1, I grabbed my bag by sighting a banner, went in to the tent, helmet, glasses, gloves, and sunscreen from helpers, shoes, and dropped off the bag. No socks or race belt on this leg. I grabbed Shelly, and exited.
The bike leg was tough. Although it is one of the flattest courses in the world, the headwind on the way back was brutal and took a lot out of me. I had trained in plenty of headwind in Alice and realized when I was losing ground on my goal race pace, that the stresses of the last 2 weeks were absolutely taking their toll. The ride on the way out was fun. I was at 251 watts for the first hour, well over the 240 goal and on pace for a 4:40 bike. I didn’t really think there was much tail wind; but attributed the extra speed to the 11 extra watts; I was wrong. I saw my family several times which was incredible, always hearing my brother, the loudest of them all. The town of Hamilton was absolutely brilliant, tons of people, loads of cheers. On the second loop that was placed 30 miles into the out and back course, I got lapped by the first pro. He looked good and strong; no other riders with him. I kept him in my distant sights for at least several minutes. Passing the slower riders on the second leg was good since I had passed a ton on the way out. By that time it was getting lonely, there would be no one in front or back of me for quite a while. In total, only 3 people passed me. By the half, my power was decreasing and I wasn’t happy about it but I just didn’t feel like I had it. I did have 5 ShotBloks and several bottles of Gatorade including 1 shot Blok while leaving T1. I headed back home into the wind, trying to tough it out. I came into T2 in 4:59. Going under 5 hours for the second time was great but missing my FTP to 232NP was very disappointing. Knowing the shape I had put myself into, to then do worse than IM’WA of 234NP told me only one thing; my body was under immense stress from the wedding/travel/beginning of the honeymoon.
In T2, I had some energy caffeine supplement while taking a pee. I didn’t do this on the bike, but now like going in T2. I gained some composure, headed out and started running.
The first 2 miles or so were actually OK. But then I realized how hot it was. The cloudless day meant the summer sun baked on our skin. It made me not want to eat anything and that’s pretty much what I did. I had drinks of Gatorade and cola but never grabbed my special needs of additional caffeine, as I believed it would be bad for me. 16 miles into it I had to go to the bathroom. I did my business, felt quite relieved, and kept going. The run along the Atlantic City Boardwalk was like no other. There were people the entire way. Although half didn’t realize what we were doing, the volunteers were outstanding and some of the sights were quite hilarious. But early on in the run, the heat got to me and I was looking forward to the race just being over. I just wanted it to end. I never thought of not finishing; we don’t do that. But, it was a slugfest, and I was fighting to keep it under 4 hours for the run. Because my day was not the 9:10 I wanted, I kissed and hugged Fiona each time I saw her. She looked like she was doing so well, and I knew I had to pick things up since she seemed quite close behind! My family was amazing and then came the finish line. I ran across in 10:15 which is a good time in hard conditions but very disappointing to my expected goal. I then went back and did the Blazeman roll in honor of Jon Blais who died from ALS and was the only person to ever finish an ironman with ALS. His parents came to me, hugged me and said Thank You for honoring their son. I waited for Fiona and 9 minutes later hugged her and put a medal around her neck.
As with any race, there is always so much to tell and I hope my recaps inspire, open your eyes, improve yourselves as athletes and people amongst other things. It was a huge ask, to train for 6 months, get married, and do an ironman half way around the world. But, Fiona said yes and she performed incredibly taking 2nd female amateur athlete overall, 2nd in her division. I came in 6th in my age group which is one of my best finishes as well. What I learned is that the body can absorb a ton of stress and even if you don’t feel it, it is there and will come out when you need to rely upon the body. I also realize that training for a summer triathlon in the dead of winter doesn’t help either. If I could do it all over again, there is not one thing I would change because the proudest moment of all was realizing that Fiona took 2nd Amateur athlete overall, the next day, and knowing that we did it together. With less than 4 weeks to go in our honeymoon, Fiona and I will relax and enjoy this transition time, even though I am set to do a marathon 2 weeks after I return! But upon that return, we will start a 39 week campaign for Geelong 70.3 and Ironman Port Macquarie with 1 goal. We will take what we’ve learned through our seasons of triathlon and train a third time; once as boyfriend/girlfriend, once as engaged couple, and now as a married couple. And you know what they say, third times a charm.