Category Archives: aviation

Writings about aviation, including chronicles of my flight lessons, product reviews, and so on.

Flying Friday: briefs

Recently I was on a work trip to the West Coast. While there, I had a customer meeting at the headquarters of a large utility company. I was a little surprised when the meeting began to see it open with our hostess saying “For this meeting, I’ll be the safety leader. In case of an earthquake, we’ll all duck under the table, cover, and hold. In case of fire…” She then went on to enumerate what we were all supposed to do in each of a variety of different emergencies: fire, active shooter, medical emergency, and so on. This was accompanied by her updating the small, permanently mounted whiteboard on the wall that listed who was responsible for handling each of these emergencies.

While it seemed really odd at the time, it fit in well with the many other safety posters we saw on the walls of this company’s HQ. They were clearly invested in improving their safety culture. Even though it might have seemed silly to brief what we were going to do in case of an earthquake (I’d already be under the table, crying like a toddler) or whatever, I could easily imagine these briefings taking place in every meeting in that building. Despite the inevitable eye-rolling, I believe that would help normalize safety, and safety planning, as an ordinary part of every activity at the company– which is exactly what they’re trying to do.

This same idea applies to general aviation. There are four times when briefings are a routine and normal part of our activities.

First, there’s getting a weather briefing, whether from a human or through a website or app. There’s a standardized flow and format for these briefings to make sure that all the needed information is communicated efficiently and concisely. FAR 91.103 requires pilots to obtain “all available information” concerning flights and that absolutely, positively includes weather information. Even if it weren’t legally required, as a simple matter of self-preservation, you’d be stupid not to get a thorough briefing and take the time to think through what you’ve been briefed on. The rate of change of the weather may be a surprise, but the fact of its change never should be.

Second, there’s the passenger briefing. The FAA private and commercial pilot practical test standards require the applicant to show how to give a passenger safety briefing. This can be elaborate, or it can be simple. For first-time fliers in my plane, I always thoroughly brief them on a few key points: how to open and latch the doors, how the seatbelts work, where the fire extinguisher is, and when I need them to be quiet. I also encourage them to ask questions about things they see, hear, feel, or smell, and to look outside and tell me if they see anything interesting (especially other airplanes). This is a low-key way to have them acting as extra eyes and ears.

Third, there’s the IFR approach procedure. The advent of fancy GPS systems (and coupled autopilots, may their names be blessed) means that some pilots are tempted to let the box do the work. Complacency is how you get AA 965, which killed 159 people and spawned the semi-famous talk “Children of Magenta.” I always read the approach procedure out loud, whether I’m flying by myself or not. Verbalizing each of the waypoints, crossing altitudes, and course changes is a great way both to prime myself for the approach but also to cross-check what I see on the approach plate with what’s loaded into the GPS. For example, for the RNAV 17 into Montpelier, Vermont (shown below), I’d read it back as “Cross REGGI at 6000, turn 168, cross JIPDO at 5000, cross ZAXOL at 4200, above 2980 cross WANUX”.

RNAV 17 into KMPV

The little inset in the upper-right corner of the diagram above is the missed approach procedure. It has a separate textual description elsewhere on the approach plate, and I always read it out too. This is what I’d do if I got down to minimums on the approach above and found that I couldn’t see the runway– I’d fly the missed approach (a straight-ahead climb, followed by a climbing turn to the Montpelier VOR and a course hold there).

Going missed? Here’s how

There are other types of briefings that are common in other parts of the aviation world. For example, military preflight briefings include information about tactical stuff that doesn’t apply to me, and airlines often have maintenance handover briefings when a flight crew picks up a jet for their leg. For me, though, the four types above cover everything needed for a safe and efficient flight… except what to do in case of an earthquake, and I’ll try to figure out how to work that in later.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under aviation

Flying Friday: how’d that dead bird get there?

Today I was listening to LiveATC, as is my habit, when I heard a Delta flight call in that they’d hit a bird. This isn’t uncommon. The FAA spends a lot of time and effort trying to keep airplanes from hitting birds. However, birds being birds, they don’t cooperate very well.

While it might seem ridiculous that a small bird can damage a large turbojet aircraft. not every collision is so mismatched. If you get a goose in your #1 engine, or a duck through your windshield, you’re going to have a bad day. The Delta flight didn’t have any damage so they went on their way, and the airport dispatched a truck to remove the carcass. Meanwhile, they warned other incoming aircraft. Why? Because any foreign object (including a dead bird) on the runway poses a hazard. Foreign object damage (or FOD) is what caused the 2000 crash of a departing Concorde in Paris, killing 113 people. More commonly, small pieces of FOD can be sucked into air intakes, pop tires, or cause other sorts of mischief.

Happily, the airport truck removed the bird carcass (it was a small hawk) and along the way, rescued a turtle who had blundered onto a taxiway. Score! The Delta flight landed safely, normal traffic was restored, and all was once again well at Huntsville International.

One thing I learned: the Airman’s Information Manual (AIM) specifies that pilots should file an FAA Form 5200-7 to report any wildlife strike. They gather this data in a database, which offers hours of fun if you want to e.g. see how many times airplanes have hit alligators in Florida or raccoons in Missouri. I knew about the database, but not the reporting recommendation. The more you know…

Leave a comment

Filed under aviation

Flying Friday: happy birthday, N32706!

Three years ago this week, John Blevins and I flew Delta to Salt Lake City to pick up N32706 and fly her home. I was perusing my logbook earlier in the week and realized that more than half of my total flying time (318 hours of my total 611) has been sitting in the left seat of this particular airplane. I’ve traveled for races/events (DC, Vermont, Texas, North Carolina, Ohio, West Virginia), family visits (Louisiana, Florida), business (Toronto, Missouri, Kentucky), and fun with the kids (Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee), and flight training (Utah, New Mexico, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska).

where I’ve been in years 1-3

There are times when I think it’s silly to own an airplane instead of renting– like a horse or a boat, you’re always paying the maintenance and fixed costs even on days when the weather is bad, you’re busy, and so on. But the freedom and flexibility of being able to travel where and when I want to, and the comfort of knowing that I’m flying a well-maintained, well-equipped airplane that hasn’t been neglected or operated improperly, more than make up for it.

My next trip is later today, from Decatur to Orlando (well, Kissimmee) for a weightlifting meet. Later in the year, I’ve got Tuscaloosa, Biloxi, New Orleans, and a few other places on my to-go list. I can’t wait!

Leave a comment

Filed under aviation

Watch out for bird nests

I recently had a really interesting cross-country trip. It featured virgins, dirt, avian invaders, and tractors.

Some local friends talked me into running the American Odyssey relay race: just under 200 miles from Gettysburg to Washington, DC, over two days. (Look for a race report in the near future.) Some of my teammates were flying commercial, and some were driving, but I found three hardy souls who volunteered to go with me. Jim’s a Navy officer who’s used to airplanes of all sizes, but neither Rese nor Melissa had flown in a small airplane before… so they’re the virgins in this story.

I’d planned to fly from Decatur to New River (PSK), fuel up with avgas and diet Coke, and then fly into College Park, MD (CGS). This would allow me to use my fancy secret code to fly into the Washington DC ring of restricted airspace. However, because we were staying in Harpers Ferry, it didn’t make sense to fly 60+ miles to the east just so we could have extra drive time going back to Harpers Ferry. I decided to go into Martinsburg (MRB) instead to avoid the extra driving.

We departed on schedule, with about 1500′ ceilings leaving Decatur. A front was on its way so my goal was to get us to our destination before the weather got bad. We benefited from an epic tailwind– my normal cruise speed is about 135kts but I was seeing over 200kts for a good part of the first leg.

208!

Unfortunately, with wind comes bumps.. so one of our crew (I’m not saying who) needed to use a barf bag. No major damage, thankfully, either to the victim or the airplane. Apart from that, the rest of the flight was uneventful– a quick stop at PSK for fuel and diet Coke and we were on our way. Potomac Approach made me fly the RNAV 26 approach even though the weather was VFR. Martinsburg is home to the 167th Airlift Wing, so there were a bunch of big gray C-17s on the ramp. Always a fun sight.

Aero-Smith, the local FBO, had prearranged a rental van. It was waiting, so we loaded up and off we went. The next couple days were a blur– I had a fantastic time at the race. All too soon, though, it was time to head back home, so I planned our flight to follow roughly the same route. While the big front had passed through, we were still forecast to have 20+ knots of headwind, so I tried to choose a more southerly route to reduce the wind penalty (spoiler: that didn’t work). I’d planned the first leg from Martinsburg to Ashe County, NC, then home.

We got to Martinsburg safely and turned in the van. The FBO lineman offered me a box of rubber gloves. “We saw a lot of birds on your airplane,” he said. “There’s probably some poop on it.” I’ll take “things you don’t want to hear at the airport” for $200, Alex!

I walked out to the plane, which they’d parked on the far edge of the (empty) parking area. I saw a few poop spots and used a gloved hand to remove them. Now, this next part is relevant: I usually start my walkaround by turning on the master switch, existing the forward passenger door, and walking back down the right side of the plane, around the tail, and up the left side– finishing at the engine. That’s what I did… except that when I got to the engine, I noticed what looked like a few pieces of grass sticking out. That certainly wasn’t there when I parked the plane, so I poked a flashlight into the front of the cowling and was surprised to see some more grass.

That led me to remove the upper cowling, whereupon I found this (click it to see the detail).

Bird attack!

Yep. In two and a half days, the forces of evil invaded my cowling and built two large, flammable nests. I started pulling out handfuls of grass and twigs, and the other three came to help. All this action attracted the attention of the FBO staff, and they brought us a handheld leaf blower.

Now, a brief note. Air-cooled piston airplane engines work on a principle called pressure cooling. Baffles inside the cowling drive airflow from top to bottom, not back to front, to cool the cylinders. When you look at the picture above, what you can’t see is that there are only a few small openings under the top deck for air to flow down– making it very difficult to get all the bird debris out with a leaf blower. We ended up having to spend 30 minutes or so picking little sticks and blades of grass out of the engine compartment. Here are Rese and Jim doing just that:

cleaning the bird damage

Once that was finally done, I wanted to run the engine with the cowling off, whereupon I discovered a failed cell in the battery.. so the plane wouldn’t start. This was not popular with my passengers. Or with me, for that matter.

The FBO staff was very reluctant to help start the plane. They claimed not to have a ground power unit, but I eventually talked them into bringing their tow tractor out so I could use my jumper cable. The problem with this cable is that after the plane starts, you have to unplug it, and the FBO guys didn’t want to do it “for liability reasons.” Thankfully Jim wasn’t a big baby like they were, and he volunteered to pull the cable after engine start. We deployed the tractor, got everything hooked up, and the engine immediately started up.

Getting ready to tractor-start

Once we got up to altitude, we got a 1-2 punch from the headwinds: it was bumpy, and we were only making about 105kts over the ground– so less than half of our groundspeed on the way out. After a little fiddling, I got permission to climb from 8000′ to 10000′; as we slowly climbed, we got bounced around quite a bit. To make things worse, the wind was even stronger at 10000′, so we went back down to 8000. It was a steady parade of mountain waves, something I hadn’t spent any time dealing with before. Frankly I didn’t much care for them.

As we got closer to GEV, the wind diminished a bit, although not enough to give us any appreciable speed increase. The Ashe County airport sits at about 3000′ above sea level, and the airport description helpfully notes “RISING TERRAIN ALL QUADRANTS,” so flying in means dealing with shifting winds funneled in various directions by the surrounding terrain. Despite the wind, I stuck the landing, and we were well and cheerfully served by the airport manager, who coaxed the balky full-service pump into working long enough to fill the tanks. I’d happily stop there again. (Note that KGEV has no AT&T cell service and no diet Coke in the soda machine, so plan accordingly.)

There was a good-sized line of storms stretching from south to north moving through Mississippi when we left. Our original plan was to get home before it arrived, but due to our de-birding time, there was no way we were going to make that. As we flew, it became clear that the headwinds were going to prevent us from making our alternate at Winchester, so I decided to stop in Chattanooga, which has rental cars, nearby hotels, and food.. just in case. We landed and found the ramp crowded with more expensive airplanes that had obviously stopped for the weather as well. Luckily the FBO had one crew car remaining, so we headed out to look for dinner and wait for the storm to pass. The city got roughly 1/4″ of rain in the hour we were at dinner, but it had tapered off to a light drizzle by the time we got ready to depart. I pored over the radar and it looked decent if we flew a little to the northwest, more towards Winchester, and then turned south, so that is what I planned for.

Once airborne, I quickly saw that the radar depictions didn’t give the full picture– they showed rain, all right, but the clouds were well above our altitude, so for most of the flight we flew through falling rain but still had decent visibility. The picture below shows what the radar depicted (they’re different, but that’s a topic for another post). After an uneventful trip, with mostly smooth air, we landed at Decatur, packed up, and headed home.

Which one’s right?

Leave a comment

Filed under aviation, General Stuff, Travel

Flying with Avidyne’s version 10.2 software

If you think updating the software on your phone is hard, try it with avionics.

Avidyne has been promising a new release of the software for their IFD line of WAAS GPS units for a while now. Originally announced on April Fool’s Day last year, version 10.2 packs a pretty impressive list of features, including synthetic vision, support for a bunch of new devices (including digital radar and FLIR cameras), display of more ADS-B weather and traffic data, and a new “IFD100” iPad app that essentially acts as a second screen for your IFD. They generously made the update available for free, but with a catch: it has to be installed by an avionics shop. The FAA lets aircraft owners make “minor repairs and alterations” (a phrase which has a very specific set of parameters around it), and avionics software updates aren’t considered “minor.” When they finally announced that 10.2 was available, the first order of business was to find a shop to install it. None of the local shops are Avidyne dealers, so we decided to head back to XP Services in Tullahoma. A quick phone call to schedule an appointment was all it took.

The flight to Tullahoma was pleasant, and the XP team had the upgrade done in about 2 hours– right about the amount of time Avidyne says it should take. The update procedure is very detailed and specific, with lots of dire warnings about what happens if you do it wrong, so I’m glad they didn’t. They also upgraded the software in our SkyTrax 100 ADS-B receiver, which will become important a little later in the story. I can’t say enough good things about XP’s staff: they did good work, quickly, at a fair price, and were very friendly. Be forewarned if you go there though: there are no vending machines nearby so bring your own snacks.

On the way home I got to start playing with the new features, but it wasn’t until last week’s Easter trip from Decatur to New Smyrna Beach that they really came into their own. Here’s a partial list of the new goodness in this release.

Let’s start with synthetic vision. The IFD540 doesn’t have a way to sense the attitude of the airplane, so its syn vis feature is limited to showing a “plane in trail” (Avidyne calls it exocentric) view of you, your route, and the surrounding terrain. In this case, I’ve programmed the ILS 18 Y approach into my home airport. You can see the magenta line indicating that I’m on the final approach segment. The white line-and-loop to the upper right is the missed approach procedure that I’d fly if I couldn’t land. There’s another airplane in the area, at 1900 feet and descending. The synthetic vision display makes very clear what the surrounding terrain and obstacles look like, and how my planned flight path would interact with them. This is not a huge deal in the flat riverine terrain near Decatur but in someplace like Montpelier, with more significant terrain, it could literally be a lifesaver.

heading for the approach

Another nifty new feature: temporary flight restrictions (like the one shown below, for firefighting in southern Georgia near Waycross) and winds aloft data (the little white flag-looking things in the second picture) can now be shown along with all the other flight data. You can see that we have about a 20kt headwind. It’s important to remember that, like all other ADS-B weather data, the wind data comes from the ground and may not reflect what’s truly happening in the air at that moment.

Don’t fly in TFRs unless you want to meet the FAA in person

The direction of the wind barb shows which way it’s blowing; the number of little flags shows how strong it is

Traffic display is greatly improved in two ways. First, you can now see trend lines showing you where a traffic target is going (along with its N number, if it’s transmitting one). This is really helpful in crowded airspace, like the area around the Daytona Beach airport. You can see that both airplanes on the display are headed in the same direction as we are, one at roughly our same altitude and the other descending.

In 10.2, you can see where traffic targets are going

I also now get traffic alerts when there’s a potential conflict, i.e. someone else is flying towards me. An aural alert (“bong! TRAFFIC”) comes first, then the screen changes to show the conflicting traffic. This is an extremely valuable feature.

When you hear “TRAFFIC,” you’d better start looking around

The IFD100 app does what it promises: it lets you control the physical IFD, but it also lets you configure its display completely independently of the one on the panel. It does about 80% of what the “real” IFD hardware does. For example, you can load a flight plan into the iPad app while the panel is showing you the map/weather/traffic page, then push a button and activate that flight plan from the iPad. You can see and tune frequencies (but not activate them), zoom in and out on maps, and in general act like you have a second IFD540. It’s pretty neat, although there are some quirks to it that I’m still figuring out.

Not quite a replacement for Foreflight

The IFD100 app isn’t a replacement for FlyQ or Foreflight though; it doesn’t let you anything that the physical IFD can’t do, so no looking up fuel prices or FBO reviews, no satellite imagery display, and so on. ForeFlight has all sorts of useful planning features like terrain mapping, wind estimation, and flight plan filing that the IFD100 doesn’t, and won’t. I don’t think Avidyne intends the app to replace a true electronic flight bag (EFB) app, but rather to give you more options and flexibility with using the in-panel hardware.

I haven’t been able to test one of the signature features of 10.2 yet, though: its ability to do two-way sync over Wi-Fi between the panel device and a tablet. I can already stream a flight plan, and GPS position data, from the IFD to ForeFlight or FlyQ. 10.2 adds the ability for the IFD to send traffic, weather, and TFR data (which means I won’t need my Stratus receiver to see that stuff in ForeFlight), but also the ability to load a flight plan from the iPad to the panel. That means I can plan a complex route at my leisure in my armchair, file it, brief it, get my expected route, and push the route to the airplane when I get to the airport with a single button press. That’s going to be glorious when it finally arrives.

It speaks well of Avidyne that they made this major feature release available for free, and I’m excited to see how they continue to build on the wireless connectivity built into the IFD line.

2 Comments

Filed under aviation, General Stuff

2016 in review: flying

Summary: this year I only flew 84 hours (4 actual IMC, and 12.4 night), which is not nearly as much as I’d like, but there was some quality flying included. A few highlights:

  • I continue to be thrilled with the functionality and situational awareness we get from the avionics upgrade, even though it cost a ton and kept the plane in the shop for three months (with a couple of return visits). When Dana and I flew to Tampa in the RAFA 182, I really missed having ADS-B In and the FMS planning features of the IFD540.
  • Being able to fly from home to Wilmington to run a race, then fly the next morning to Atlanta to see one of my oldest friends for a quick cup of coffee, then be home before lunchtime.
  • Flying to Ohio to see Matt and Anita and their family, then spending a day watching the Blue Angels and then flying home through a clear and spectacular night sky (with a freshly made key).
  • Making my first international flight as PIC, from Decatur to Toronto and back.
  • Taking Matt to the fly-in at Columbus AFB, where we got to fly the T-1 and T-38 simulators and hang out with a bunch of instructor pilots.
  • Trips for races and to visit family and friends to New Orleans, Tampa, and various other parts of the southeast

In 2017, my plans are to get my commercial rating (which I’ve been studying for) and fly more. I’ve already got a medium-long trip planned for January and another for April. Over the summer I’d like to fly from home to Orange County, thence Seattle, thence home, making an extended business/pleasure trip out of it. Lots to look forward to!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under aviation

Race report: 2016 IRONMAN 70.3 North Carolina

Summary: At the end of my season in 2015, I decided that I wanted to try a 70.3 in 2016. I’d heard about how great the Beach2Battleship 70.3 in Wilmington, North Carolina was… in large part because they give pajama pants to all finishers. I signed up in December, right after WTC bought the race and renamed it to IRONMAN 70.3 North Carolina, and then mostly forgot about it because my friend Ingrid was “encouraging” me to sign up for IM 70.3 New Orleans (which I did). I didn’t have a great race at New Orleans and wanted to do better this time. I did, by 46 minutes.

Sunday: new wheels, part 1

My friend Tony finished his season at AtomicMan by smashing the course, and he was kind enough to offer to loan me his race wheels, a Zipp 404/808 pair. I put them on the bike and took off for a ride the day before I was supposed to leave for California. PROTIP: when you change wheels, you have to adjust the derailleur limit screws. If you don’t do this, here’s what happens: you break the derailleur hanger, ruin your chain, put a big dent in your friend’s borrowed wheel, and break several spokes. On Sunday, when no bike shops are open. And while you’re 10 miles from home. A quick Uber ride home and I was left to sort out my plan: Dana would drop my bike off at the shop, they’d fix it, and I’d pick it up Thursday when I got back.

A broken derailleur is a terrible thing

A broken derailleur is a terrible thing

Thursday: new wheels, part 2

Hosanna to the crew at Bicycle Cove. Chris, Parker, and Nick got the parts in and got the bike fixed. When I went to pick it up, though, I was surprised; instead of Tony’s Zipps, it was wearing a pair of Bontrager Aeolus 5s. They wanted Chris to look at Tony’s wheel again before clearing it for riding, you see, so they loaned me a set of their shop wheels to make sure I wouldn’t miss the race. “We’ll settle up later,” they said. “Now go have a great race.” Because we were having thunderstorms at the time, I didn’t get a chance to ride the new wheels; I had to load up and go.

Friday: flying and being pathetic

On Friday, I packed up 706 and filed direct HSV-ILM. A cold front had just passed through Huntsville, and I knew I’d be going through it again en route, but I was looking forward to a nice tailwind. That’s just what I got, with 15-25 knots of wind speeding me along. I landed at ILM after a beautiful flight with only a few bumps. Air Wilmington has a strict 1-hour limit on their courtesy cars, so I grabbed an Uber and headed to the downtown convention center for race check-in. Unfortunately, I failed to note the line in the athlete guide that said check-in closed at 1pm, and I got there about 1:45p. After some nervous waiting in line, Caroline from IRONMAN was kind enough to check me in anyway. She gave me 3 bags: one for T1, one for T2, and one for “morning clothes.” I found a niche to spread out my stuff and started the process of filling the bags. See, this race is a point-to-point-to-point race: you swim from point A to point B, get on the bike and bike to point C, and then run to point D. At each point, you have to change into the appropriate clothes, so before the race you have to stage all your stuff in the right bags. If you forget something, or put it in the wrong bag… well, too bad.

I got my bags packed and found that points B, C, and D were farther apart than I expected. While wandering around, I ran into Nancy and Paula, two fellow members of the Pathetic Triathletes group on Facebook. Nancy recognized me when I mentioned taking an Uber– I’d previously asked her whether Uber was in Wilmington. Thank goodness they found me; they were invaluable in showing me the ropes of this particular race. They were also kind enough to drive me and my bike over to T1 so I could stage my stuff. Then we had a lovely Pathetic meetup at Poe’s Tavern on the beach, where I met several other Pathetics and had a delicious burger. We went to check out the swim exit, where we met a volunteer who explained the swim course to me in great detail. The course was well marked with buoys, which I appreciated since my open water sighting technique still needs some work.

Seems placid, doesn't it?

Seems placid, doesn’t it?

The sunset was pretty impressive, too.

Yay for bonus sunsets

Yay for bonus sunsets

Nancy and Paula dropped me off at my Airbnb (summary: nice and quiet, no New Orleans-style murder) and I was in for the night, modulo a quick run to CVS for some Advil. I checked the weather forecast a few dozen times to get some idea of what the winds would be like. As I tried to drift off to sleep, I mulled over what reasonable goal times for the day would be. All I really wanted was to beat my NOLA 70.3 time, but I

Saturday pre-race: patheticness everywhere

Stan, Karen, Paula, and Nancy were kind enough to let me carpool with them, then stop so I could grab some breakfast, then to loan me $5 because I had pathetically forgotten my wallet. I had a gas station protein bar and a 20oz Coke… breakfast of champions, right? We got to T1 in plenty of time for me to fill my bike bottles with Mercury, pump up my tires, and check once more to make sure I had everything in my “morning clothes” bag that I wanted. See, at the swim start, you leave that bag there, and you don’t get it again until after the race. It’s a good place for things like eyeglasses and cell phones. T1 was crowded, as you’d expect for a race with nearly 3000 athletes. I was way in the far left back corner, which turned out to not be so bad because it was easy to find.

Transition 1 on race morning

Transition 1 on race morning

Last-minute preparation accomplished, I caught a shuttle to the swim start and met up with my pathetic pals there.  Stan had loaned me a cap, which I was glad to have because it was chilly; I put on my wetsuit earlier than I normally would have, and it helped quite a bit while we waited. I got to the swim start about 8:10, and my wave wasn’t due to start until 9:06, so I had some time to mill around. I found that I still had my chapstick with me, even though I should’ve left it in my run bag. Solution: put it in the top of my swim cap. It survived, luckily, and didn’t get too much extra ocean flavor. Almost before I knew it, they were herding our swim wave across the street and into the waist-high water behind the start line. The water was warmer than the air, and it felt great after I’d been standing outside being cold for an hour.

The swim

39:53, a new PR for me at this distance and roughly 20 minutes faster than my New Orleans performance. This course was linear so my poor sighting didn’t put me at much of a disadvantage, and there was a fast current to boot. I swallowed a good bit of salt water so I was worried about having to vomit– usually an automatic cause for the support staff to pull you– but I ended up OK. At swim exit I was wobbly from all the time spent swimming through chop; the second half of the swim was mostly into the surface chop so I was a little, if not seasick, then seasickish. When I exited the water, I noticed that my watch said “Resume?” and had recorded only about 1030 yards of the swim. I guess I accidentally hit a button with my wetsuit cuff or something. So much for an accurate swim distance.

T1

14:28? Jeez. The run from the swim exit to the bike corral was long, and I did stop in the changing tent to put on sunscreen, a dry shirt, and lots of chamois butter… but I had no idea I was in T1 for this long. I felt really stupid when I saw my race results, because this should’ve been no more than a 5-minute stop. Once I got all my stuff together, I got to the mount line and headed out on the bike.

The bike

Before the race, there was a great uproar because of IRONMAN’s decision to shorten the full-distance bike course. During race week, they announced a couple of route changes (and more were rumored), but by race day they’d settled on one 56-mile route for both half and full-distance races. It was windy, with forecast winds of 13-15 mph from the west. We got all that and more– the wind history at ILM was 12.1mph for 24 hours, with a highest sustained wind of 22mph and peak gusts of 27mph. The bike course itself was a big part of the problem– its structure meant that we went out, did a loop, and then came back, starting from the green dot. The loop was south on 421, then north to the turnaround (where a gas station was selling fried chicken that smelled indecently delicious), then south again. Since the wind was coming from the west, we had very significant wind exposure– more miles than I think we got in the out-and-back New Orleans course.

the bike course

the bike course

If you look at my lap times you can absolutely see the last 8 miles of tailwinds… and the other 48 or so of cross/head winds. I averaged 14.5mph on the first 39 miles and 17.6mph on the way back. Despite that gap in speeds, I felt really good on the bike. I passed nearly 100 people, which was an absolute first for me– I usually start at a deficit when coming out the water that I can’t make up on the road. I held the power target that I wanted, I didn’t wreck in the strong crosswinds, and with the winds, I came in just over my target time of 3:30. (obtw, those Aeolus race wheels were excellent.)

bike data… too many cadence spikes

bike data… too many cadence spikes

There was a fair bit of (justified) complaining online because the aid stations weren’t were the athletes’ guide promised, and each one only had 2 porta-potties.

EDITED TO ADD: here’s a video of the bike route provided by relive.cc.

T2

Back through the changing tent and out again; this time it only took me 9:21… still ridiculously slow. That time comprised walking my bike down a long string of rubber mats overlaid on top of the gravel/dirt construction mix on the street where the bike finished, getting into the corral and getting my run bag, hitting the changing tent, and actually changing, then leaving again. I’m still not really sure where the timing mat was.

The run

2:28. That’s really all I have to say about that. Faster than NO, but still ~ 30min slower than my standalone 13.1 pace. Lots of room for improvement here. The run course was semi-scenic; the first leg went through downtown, where there was a moderate crowd, then along an ugly industrial section of Front Street, then over to Greenfield Lake, which is ringed with city-provided signs that say “YES, there are alligators in this lake. Do not feed, harass, or tease them.” It’s a delightfully scenic lake, though, and (unlike the bike) there were plentiful, well-stocked aid stations. The full-distance racers had to do two loops of the course, whereas I only had one, for which I was grateful. I tried Red Bull for the first time on the course; while it didn’t give me superpowers, it also didn’t make my stomach convulse, so I’ll score that as a draw. I saw Pathetic Nancy on the run (I spotted the “#P” marked on her calf as I passed her), and I met Robert Moore, one of the “PPD Heroes” featured by the race sponsor. Then I ran the last mile or so with a lady who was finishing the full-distance race and we chatted a bit– that was a pleasant way to get to the finish line. Oddly, there were fewer spectators out when I came back through downtown on the return, which surprised me a bit.

YES, there are alligators in this lake

YES, there are alligators in this lake

 

Post-race

The finish line experience was great– I crossed, got my medal and pajama pants, and wandered around for a bit catching my breath. Unfortunately, soon I had to go pick up 3 bags of stuff: my run, bike, and morning clothes bags were all in different places. It took me close to 30 minutes of schlepping around to collect the bags and my bike, which was far longer than I wanted to spend. I grabbed an Uber back to the house, took a badly needed hot shower, and headed over to Hops Supply for dinner. I wasn’t up late.

The trip home

This morning, I woke up at 5 with a goal of being wheels-up by 6. Plot twist: there aren’t any Uber drivers awake that early, apparently. I eventually got a car and got to the airport to find that my plane was parked out on the back 40 and had to be towed to where I could access it. 45min after my desired time, I was airborne for Peachtree-DeKalb to meet my best friend from high school, the illustrious Brian Albro. We had a fantastic but short visit (thank you, Flying Biscuit, for breakfast), then I headed back. My flight was smooth and beautiful. I got to see some Harriers parked on the ramp at ILM, some great river fog, and a lot of greenery.

img_1378

The fog follows the river path exactly

The fog follows the river path exactly

Summary
A great race and a worthy effort. There were a lot of logistical hiccups; for example, the 70.3 athlete tracking on the IM website never worked, and the bike course caused a ton of traffic problems for locals that mean this will be an unpopular race next year. I got 7.5 flying hours and 7.2 hours on the triathlon route, so it was a good trip.

3 Comments

Filed under aviation, Fitness