I am a HUGE fan of riding a race course in advance of race day. Whether in a car or on a bike, there is nothing like seeing the road in person. This morning, I headed out with one of my friends to join local tri group to ride the Augusta 70.3 course. Augusta is about a 2 hour drive from here so the day started with a 4:30 AM wake up call. A little early for a Sunday but in the end it was worth it!
We parked in the most nondescript area possible. There was a boat dock, a small shack for a rowing club, a covered picnic area and a small field. As we were rolling out, the ride leader mentions that the boat dock is the swim exit and the field is the transition area. Could not believe it. It will be interesting to see how the area is transformed when Ironman invades on September 25th. If I go back next week, I'll have to remember to take a picture, it really is hard to believe. (BTW apologizing in advance for the lack of pics, we were all bizness today) ;)
Once the bikes were unloaded, our ride started from the transition area and headed out of the riverfront area along the ride route. On the ride over, my friend and I had "new ride group" worries. You know, "are they going to hate us because we aren't super fast", "hope they don't take off and leave us", that kind of thing. We aren't crazy slow but we aren't 20mph riders either. For the first couple of miles, it was the tightest ride line you have ever seen. What were we worried about? No sooner had I said that then it was like the front part of the group had taken on rocket fuel and were gone. L.O.L. Luckily, the back half of the group was still with us and my friend was smart enough to have brought a map with her.
The first 15 to 18 miles were essentially flat. At the point the hills were about to begin the ride leader pulls up and gave us pointers on how to race the course and asked us about our nutrition plan. I told him mine involved fig newtons and accelerade every 15 mnutes. I had the alarm set on my garmin (which really helped BTW). Every time my alarm went off from there forward he announced "time to take a fig newton". HA HA.
In terms of race strategy, he said not to let the adrenaline of the race take over because you need to save something for the last 40 miles of hills. Pretty much everywhere we ride has hills, there are really no flats where we normally train so hills are not such a huge deal. The weird thing though was that several people who live around me had said the course was more or less flat with some rolling hills. Just goes to show you that one person's mountains are another one's molehills. I won't say the hills were like climbing Mount Everest or anything but I was a little suprised given the course description I had heard from those people. My garmin had it at about 3200 feet of climbing. I did a little extra as you will see.
The nice thing about the course is that the roads were marked. Every turn had an arrow and a pink Mdot in the road. At about halfway, we regrouped at a convenience store to top off with water. Back on the road, I was following the rocket fuel group with the rest of the group behind me. The rockets were pulling away from me but I was able to see them in the distance. At some point I heard some talking behind me so while I knew the group wasn't right behind me I felt like they were close. I continued to follow the turns in the road. I no longer was able to see the rockets in the distance, I no longer heard the talking behind me. I continue to ride. I slow down a bit hoping they will catch up. I wasn't all that much faster than the group. I am a decent climber on the bike but still something wasn't right. It had been a while.
Just when I think about stopping to wait, I see another pink Mdot which confirmed I was in the right spot. I decide to keep going. 24 miles to go, 18 miles to go, 11 miles, I make a turn off the country road onto more of a highway. I ride. I keep riding. More hills. 2 miles to go. Where ARE they? Did I miss a turn? WHY did I not take that map when Debbie offered it to me? No pink Mdots to be found. There is no way this is right. Googled my current location on my phone and got directions to the transition area. The first instruction was "W on Hwy 278". Hmmm.... which direction is west? I decide to go back the way I came. Nothing on the directions is coinciding with the roads I see. I pull over again. I call the ride leader who is out looking for me (and 2 other lost people - glad they weren't too lost but there was some relief that I was not the only one). He was just around the corner. I keep riding and we eventually run into each other. At this point I was at mile 60 of a 56 mile bike ride. There was no argument from me when we decided to load up my bike in the car and ride back. At that point, I was just thankful to be found!
In retrospect, I should have stopped at one of the early turns with the pink mdots and waited for everyone to catch up. So dumb. The rocket group was long gone and the other group would not have been all that far behind me. They would have had to come through there eventually. I should have also definitely had a map. In my mind I was riding with the group. I never dreamed I would get separated but it happened and honestly it was a little scary when I was 3 hours away from home with almost NO IDEA how to get back to my car. That portion of the ride was a perfect example of what not to do.
Despite the navigation issues, I was so thankful to have had a chance to ride this course. It was not at all the type of course I had in my head so it was good to see it first hand. I know in Chattanooga, I drove the course in my car and it really helped. I highly recommend it!