Austin 70.3 - a big, fat DNF

Disclaimer:  This race report took several days, glasses of wine and even a few beers to complete.  Read at your own risk.

I haven't been looking forward to writing this race report but I also felt like I would be taking the easy way out to just try to forget it ever happened.  I'm sure with a few more days I will have a better perspective on this race.  For now I'm angry, frustrated, disappointed, and seriously questioning my chosen hobby.

"But what about all your training?" you ask.  What about the speed work, over-distance rides, the fancy new shoes, the expensive race wheels?  What happened to the best training cycle and recovery strategy?  The new diet?  The gluten-free fueling?  Shit, if I knew any of the answers I wouldn't be the Grumpasaurus Rex that I have been for the last few days.

I will say that the organization the morning of the race was superb.  They had ample Porta Potties and plenty of shuttles to get everyone to the start on time.  Unfortunately, that is just about all the positive comments I have to say about this race.

Part of why I signed up for Austin was that I had never been to Austin but have heard great things.  If you're thinking about this race for the same reason, let me save you a whole lot of time and money: Just go visit Austin and skip the race.

The race was staged entirely out of the Travis County Fairgrounds.  We were no where near the city.  I suppose at one time on the course, you could see downtown for about 3 minutes.  But if you looked up for that long, you would have crashed.  I'll get to that later.  The bike course took us through the countryside where we did get to see not one, but two different power plants.  Oooh.  Aahhh. 

The run course was in full sun between the fairgrounds and the lake we swam in.  It was a 3-loop course (about 4.4 miles per loop) and of the 4.4 miles, 3 miles were on the fairgrounds access road.  Oooh.  Aahhh.

Ultimately, the reason I dropped out was because of my hip.  I knew it wasn't 100% going into the race but I thought it would be OK.  Going up the first hill, it started hurting and it only got worse.  By mile 3, I was shuffling and decided I was not going out for the last 2 loops and risk making my hip even worse.  The fact it was almost 90 degrees, 90% humidity didn't help.  I turned in my chip at mile 4.5 on the run.

But the real story is the bike course.

I've completed Ironman Kansas, Boise, and New Orleans (all 70.3) and Redman 70.3  I've raced in Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Vermont, and Wisconsin besides the 70.3 races.  So I've ridden a variety of courses and I'd like to think that I have very realistic expectations when it comes to racing.  Without exception, Austin was the worst, most dangerous bike course I have ever been on.

There were huge cracks, pot holes and slumping pavement.  The race organizers tried to patch the worst of it.  If what we rode on was the fix, I can only imagine how bad it was before.  The coal patches were uneven, rough, and there was loose patch material everywhere.  Since the road was so rough, anything people carried on their bike ended up in the road: full bottles, food, gel, spare tubes, CO2 cartridges, glasses, anything that wasn't fully attached.  So not only were we dodging cracks and God-awful pavement, we were dodging all the shit in the road the 15 previous waves had dropped.  The road was so rough that I lost most of my water before mile 20.  I had to stop and get a bottle at an aid station since I was low before I even was halfway through the course.  I usually keep close track of my fluids since I have over-hydrated before and I had no idea how much I had drank.  Not good.

But it doesn't end there.  There also was a 70 meter gravel section we had to ride through.  On tri-bikes.  At the race briefing the director said, and I quote "There won't be any loose gravel on the course.  We have people out there sweeping the course right now."  I don't think you have to be an engineer to see the problem with that logic. 

On top of shitty pavement, shit in the road, and a shitty gravel section, there were over 35 turns that were 90 degrees or sharper.  I stopped counting at 37.  Over 37 sharp turns on a 56 mile course.

Let's recap the bike course: 2600 racers on shitty pavement, through gravel, trying to avoid shit in the road and navigate over 37 sharp turns.  Awesome.  Like I said, the most dangerous course I've been on.  I saw 2 people being loaded into different ambulances, 2 people who had crashed but gotten back on their bikes (torn clothes, bloody backs), 3 people sitting in the ditch with their bikes (not even attempting to fix whatever was wrong) and at least a dozen flats, maybe more.

It's hard to explain what a rough road feels like.  By mile 35 I was starting to get sore and uncomfortable.  I had 3 rides over 60 miles and 3 rides over 50 miles in my training.  There is no reason that I should have been fatigued at mile 35.  Everything just fell apart. 

The disappointing thing is that the terrain had the potential to be AMAZING.  It was wonderfully rolling hills.  I love a hilly course and this was the kind of terrain that I do well in.  I could tell a big difference in the race wheels when climbing.  I could attack uphill with the same effort.  It's too bad that I spent more energy avoiding rough pavement and absorbing vibrations than I spent climbing hills.  Comparatively, I still did OK on the bike.  Out of 85 in my AG, I was 15th on the bike and I didn't consider that a good ride at all.  Clearly the entire field suffered.

I've never had my bike shoes blister and I've done all my races in them, all of my training rides, and even a 112 mile ride.  Both feet blistered during the bike.  I had never blistered in my new running shoes.  But the run course was on broken pavement, gravel and dirt.  I never took my Zoot shoes trail running, and I blistered from my running shoes.  I chafed under my left arm and I've never had an issue with that top.  Everything about this race was awful.

The first mile on the run didn't feel bad.  But then I hit the first big hill and problems really started.  My hip hurt, a deep throbbing pain in my left hip joint.  My hip flexor was tight which was also unusual.  It eased up on the downhill and into mile 2.  But by mile 3, it hurt and didn't stop.  I was shuffling somewhere between 10 and 12 min/mile pace.  Between my hip and my blisters, my form was terrible.  It was hot and getting hotter.  Aid stations had already started running out of ice and sponges.  Somewhere between mile 3 and 4, I decided I wasn't going back out for my 2nd and 3rd loops.  With my hip hurting, I didn't want to risk making it worse.  And I didn't feel the need to grind out a 1/2 marathon in 2.5 hours when it was 90 degrees in full sun.  I've done this distance before.  I had nothing to prove.

I'm glad I dropped.  Based on how my hip felt Sunday night and Monday, it was the right decision.  But I'd be lying if I said it didn't bother me.  Clearly, it has bothered me a lot.  The trip actually got worse after the race, but those details don't matter.  Let's just say this was a very expensive trip and I wish I had never gone to Texas.  I dropped the f-bomb more times that weekend than I usually do in a year.

I don't know when I will travel to race again.  I have a hard time justifying something so selfish and expensive when it could go as poorly as Austin.  Maybe I'm spoiled since I've never had a race where everything just fell apart and I dropped.  Maybe I just don't handle failure well.  But what's the point?  I put in months of training to drop out.  I did speed work, I drank protein shakes after my hard work outs, I cut out gluten, I wore compression socks.  I had the best level of fitness I've ever had and for what?  I didn't even finish and I should have PR'd.

I need another beer.


Erica7135 said...

F the beer - that's a whiskey story.

Sam said...

Erica, that's why I like you. :)

James T. Barker said...

"Too much of anything is bad, but too much of good whiskey is barely enough."
--Mark Twain

Mark Dobberstein said...


After 4-years of endurance racing in a variety of formats, geography, weather conditions and event lengths I've determined only a few "constants" out there. So here they are in no particular order.

A) Hot weather, & humidity can do very bad things to an athletes physical and mental fatigue. I've expereienced race conditions like this in 1/2 marys, fulls, OLY, and trail racing. NEVER has turned out well.

B) No amount of training will allow for enjoyment of an event with poor course set-up or conditions. Unfortunately...this is something tough to know when wanting to experience a "new" event/location.

C)My favorite qoute which I try and remember......"The only true failure in life, is the failure to try." You trained hard, were prepared, followed good nutrition, and gave it your best. Even smarter on your behalf.....before risking injury....you stopped so you could live another day. I give you A++ for your deicision making there!!

Im summary Sam you're a great competitor who smiles a lot and cares about others. Thats more than many people could say. I have sincere respect for you in the way you've supported your friends fight with breast cancer.

Since I've done the race....I can say come to the Steelhead 70.3. Nice rolling bike course with good roads......few turns....and its fast. Nice 6.5 mile looped run course with some small rolling hills....and a swim and finish line right on beautiful Lake Michigan. The only downside is that since Lake Michigan weather can be dicey at times....when winds are up...they've had to cancel the swim for athletes safety.

Keep your chin up and keep smiling!

Christi said...

I have read a couple of race reports about Austin and they all said the same thing about the bike course! WTC needs to rethink this race and make sure it is worth the danger that it poses to athletes. They certainly have enough money to make sure that the athletes are say.

Now, you did the best you could do given the conditions. I know that you are a great athlete and I am sure you are disappointed. But you too will overcome this because that is who you are. I believe Mark said it much better than me so please re-read what he said. I am not that eloquent.

I will make sure that I have a beer tonight in your honor!