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I felt really great on this swim. Granted, the tide made a world of difference, but even removing that from the equation, I felt excellent! I never got bored, or tired, and I somehow managed to not think about sharks!
Another good thing was that I didn’t forget to pack or check anything. I was very worried that I would end up standing in transition going “oh no…” and missing something important. But fortunately that didn’t happen. Hooray for obsessively checking everything over and over.
I could have done so much more on the run. I know this. But at that point, I was tired, and I knew I could make the cutoffs. I didn’t want to run too much and then blow up on mile 18, or feel like complete shit at the end. So I kind of mailed it in at the end. In hindsight, I wish I had tried to run more. I could have done so much better.
I feel like my overall training fits into this category. I did alright, but I missed a lot – partially due to my own laziness, and partially due to other unrelated factors. Just like I say after every big race, I really want to train well for the next one and see what I am really capable of.
I need to change up my nutrition on the bike. Holy crap I am so sick of chocolate Gu gels. I never want to see one again. Also, I need a better saddle. Both of those things contributed to my three hours of misery.
On top of that, I really need to do a LOT of hill work or I am going to be one miserable person at Lake Placid. This course wasn’t as flat as they say it is, but it’s pretty darn flat. Even with that, the small rollers and false flats killed me.
By now, I had completed two of the three legs of this race. Aside from the literal pain in my ass from the bike, as well as my back and neck, and the fact that any thought of food made my stomach flip, I was feeling generally awesome as I rolled into the convention center and T2.
T2 was located inside the Wilmington convention center. I rolled up to the dismount line, told the volunteer how much I loved him, and crossed the timing mat while walking up the ramp into the transition area.
Just inside the doors to the convention center, volunteers were waiting to take our bikes from us. We were told in the athlete meeting that we could give them our helmets as well, but the woman who took my bike insisted that I carry my helmet with me and put it in my T2 bag. Whatever. It really didn’t matter.
After handing off my bike, I took off my shoes and started to walk down the blue carpet that wound around the outside of the room to the T2 bags.
HOLY HELL MY FEET HURT. I didn’t notice that while I was on the bike!
I made my way down the racks of bags, to the spot where I had hung my T2 bag the day before. I grabbed it and went into the changing area. One nice thing about having T2 in the convention center was that we had full bathrooms available in the changing areas. I didn’t feel the need to use them, but many people were taking the chance to wash their faces, etc. It was definitely a perk.
Just like in T1, I did a full change of clothes. I swapped out the bike shorts for my regular compression shorts, and put on my compression socks and No Meat Athlete shirt (represent!). Hat, sunglasses, race and fuel belts, and running shoes went on. Everything that came off went into my T2 bag. I knotted the bag and handed it off to a volunteer on my way out of T2.
T2 time: 11:08 (Slow again, but I’d rather be comfortable!)
The run (bringing it home!)
When I came out of T2, it was 4:36pm. I had until 12:30am to finish the run. That’s ever so slightly under 8 hours. The cutoff for the turnaround to go back out for the second loop of the run was at 8:30pm. So I had just under 4 hours to travel 14 miles. I knew that I could easily make those cutoff times, so the stress of making a cutoff was gone. Now I could just go at my own pace and enjoy the moment. I didn’t want to do anything stupid and end up crapping out somewhere on the run, so I decided not to push it.
I fell into a group with two other guys coming out of T2, and we walked together for a little over a mile. They were planning on walking three miles and then running one for their run/walk schedule. I didn’t want to walk for that long at a time, so we said our goodbyes (we knew we would cross paths many times since this was an out-and-back course and you had to do it twice on top of that). I started running as we came off the boardwalk, right next to the finish line that we were all so eagerly waiting to cross. Just beyond the finish line, there was an aid station. I decided to hit them up for some vaseline (oh the sweet relief!), and continued on my way.
I ran for a few miles after that – not sure exactly how many, it’s all kind of a blur at this point – I think about three? But the course took us down some cobblestone streets right next to the river (pretty, but a little tough on the tired ankles), and then through a pretty victorian section of town. Eventually, we crossed some railroad tracks, hung a left and passed another aid station which was sitting right next to a bar.
Passing the bar was always fun. There was a huge crowd outside, and they had clearly been partaking in the “festivities” all day. Every time you passed them, you got a HUGE cheer. Then we hung a right and headed out to the Greenfield Lake area.
The lake area was really pretty. We ran mostly on paved trails that wound through trees and over bridges. There were houses along the route still, and there was one house in particular that was getting really into spectating. I imagine their neighbors loved them that day. They were blaring music for hours and standing down at the road with horns and all kinds of noisemakers. Screaming their heads off for every single person who passed by them. They were fantastic. I did feel kind of bad for their neighbors though. But not that bad. 🙂
By now, I had settled into a very loose run/walk system. I ran when I could and walked when I needed to. There was no plan. I was just going by feel. My legs were tired, but okay. The main thing was just that my feet were so stinking tender. Both on the bottom and the top. I felt like my shoelaces were cutting into my feet. At one point I stopped to loosen my right shoe, which helped a bit, but the tenderness was pretty intense. I know I could have run a lot more than I did, but I was being a pansy. 🙂 I really didn’t want to do too much and not be able to finish, or finish, but feel like complete shit. I just wanted to enjoy the moment and have a good time. So run/walk I did. And by “run,” I mean “shuffle really slowly but ever so slightly faster than walking.”
Eventually we got to the part of the run course that was giving people some confusion. It was an out-and-back course, but there was a little triangle-shaped loop that went off to the side that we had to run as well. In the athlete meeting we were told we had to run this when we went out and when we came back. I still don’t understand how that was so confusing, but people were really bothered by it for some reason. I did my first loop of the triangle, and made a left to continue out to the turnaround for the first time.
It felt like it took forever to get to the stupid turnaround! Eventually, I started seeing people coming back in the other direction that I knew weren’t too far ahead of me, so that was a relief. And I was so happy when that aid station and turnaround came into view. Finally!
I hit the timing mats at the turnaround, which was mile 7.7 with a split of 1:45:10. Ouch that’s slow. That’s a 13:39/mile pace. And that was the first part of the run. Whatever. I was going to be a freaking ironman as long as I kept moving, and that’s what mattered to me this time. I’ll worry about my times at the next one.
Coming back the first time was pretty uneventful. There were many encouraging words exchanged with everyone you crossed paths with. People were high-fiving each other when they saw a friend or a buddy from the bike course, and cheering each other on. It was very sweet.
I hit the triangle on the way back and saw the Spartan Man (a guy doing the run in a big red cape with a spartan helmet) who was in rough shape. He was crouched down on the side of the road, and his cape was blocking my view. I was a little concerned that when I looked around it, I would see him throwing up, and then I would throw up too. But he was okay. He said he had been checked by medical and was just dehydrated and needed an IV.
Then he got up and smoked me. I didn’t see him again on the run. Go Sparta.
At this point, it was starting to get dark. I definitely didn’t need the sunglasses anymore, and people were breaking out the glow necklaces that you get of you’re on the course after dark. I picked mine up at an aid station somewhere on the way back to town.
Before getting back into downtown and starting my second lap, I had this sudden realization that I had been going from sunup to sundown. That was crazy. And I still had about 14 miles to go.
Perhaps the worst part of the whole thing was that the turnaround point was literally feet from the finish line. You could see it and hear it! It was torture! We had been warned about this in our athlete meeting as well. It was so hard to see the finish line, and make your feet turn around and go the other way for another 12 miles (the turnaround was just after mile 14).
My sister took a video of me as I was running in to the turnaround where I’m yelling “oh that’s so mean!!! It’s right there!!!”
At the turnaround, our run special needs bags were waiting. I had packed a long sleeve NMA shirt in it just in case, but I didn’t need it. Instead, I just grabbed my letters and went on my way.
I had three letters in my special needs bag that I was saving for the second half of the run. One was a serious one from myself. The others were stupid ones from my sister and my best friend. I told them I could use a laugh at that point, so they should amuse me. Problem was, it had gotten so dark it was hard to read them!
I carried the unread letters with me for a while, and a mile or so down the road, decided to read the one from myself…
You’re 91% done! (Yes, I did out the math, but I assumed the bags would be at mile 13.1, not after 14, whatever.)
I am so proud of you/me for all that you have done – both physically and mentally – to be where you are right now. This has been a really tough year, but you never gave up. And now look where you are!
13.1 miles away from being an IRONMAN.
All the planning and hard work has gotten you this far. Your heart will take you the rest of the way.
You can do this. You WILL do this. You’ll finish strong, and with a smile on your face.
Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and keep your head up. It’s going to be so amazing when that finish line comes into view, and everyone is cheering you home.
I’m so proud of you. Just keep going!
Alis volat propriis. (Latin for “She flies with her own wings.”)
I did get a little choked up when I was reading that. But I didn’t really lose it like I did at mile 22 of my first marathon. I was pretty calm through the whole “run,” actually.
I put the letter into the zipper pocket on my handheld water bottle and kept heading out towards the turnaround for the last time. As I passed volunteers, I would tell them “the next time I see you, I’ll be coming in to the finish line!” They were all awesome. They had been out there all day, and were still yelling and cheering with huge smiles. Major kudos to all of them.
As I passed the bar, I told the crowd (now very drunk), “the next time I pass you, I’m coming in to the finish line so you better scream your heads off.” They promised they would.
Not long after passing the bar, I fell into step with a girl about my age who was going at a similar pace as me. We started chatting, and were both doing a similar run/walk system, so we ended up sticking together for the rest of the run. Her name was Rachel, and this was her redemption race. She had participated in last year’s ill-fated Beach2Battleship with the horrendous weather (40 degrees on the bike, 30+ mph winds, and rain all day). People had been dropping like flies. Unfortunately, she didn’t have warm enough clothing and was basically hypothermic by mile 27 of the bike, and had to DNF. She had come back this year to make B2B her bitch. So far, so good.
We slogged on. Mostly walking, but adding in a short little jog every couple minutes. We would pick a landmark like a streetlight and run to it and then continue walking. We were bumping into a lot of familiar faces along the way, and congratulations and high-fives were plentiful.
Eventually, we made it out to the turnaround point at mile 20. I shouted “I LOVE YOU SO MUCH!” to everyone at the aid station. Then I hit the timing mat and went around the cone to turn around and come back for the home stretch. After officially turning around, I shouted to the volunteers again. “NOW I LOVE YOU EVEN MORE!!!”
My 20 mile split was 4:51:28. Or a 14:34/mile average pace. Bah. Oh well. I was going to be an ironman in 6.2 miles. Who cares? I’ll be faster at the next one. At this point, it was 9:28 pm. We had three hours to do a 10k to make the cutoff. It was in the bag, and I was so relieved.
At mile 21, my family was waiting and cheering. I gave my mom a big (sweaty) hug and told them all I’d see them in five miles at the finish line, and we kept on moving. At this point, if you stopped moving, you stiffened right up and it was hell getting going again.
We kept run/walking our way back towards the finish line. Once we got out of the Greenfield Lake area, I felt like the end was getting close. We made good use of the little downhill going past the bar, and as we ran past I yelled “WE’RE ALMOST DONE! YOU CAN CHEER LOUDER THAN THAT!” And they did. 🙂
After running down the bar hill, we made a right onto the main road that would take us most of the way back into downtown. A couple hundred yards away were the train tracks and as we were getting close to them (as in, a few yards away), I heard a train blowing it’s whistle not too far away. I hauled ass across the tracks and told Rachel to do the same. Just after we crossed, the lights started flashing and the bars came down. The people behind us were stuck and had to wait for the train to pass. That sucks. I am so glad we ran down that hill. Otherwise, we would have been stuck for several minutes waiting, and stiffening up.
I was getting excited, but still not really overwhelmed. As with most of the day, it felt like a dream, or like I was just doing any old normal race. I knew in my head what it really was, but it didn’t seem to register with my emotions. Or I was simply too tired at this point to think straight. That’s also highly likely.
Once we hit the victorian section of town, I knew the finish line was close. I saw the flashing lights of the cop car marking the turn to the finish line, and was SO HAPPY. THIS WAS THE FINISH!
I told Rachel I was running it in from there, and I took off. I flew down the last nice downhill, made the hard right at the bottom, and ran it in along the cobblestone street along the river. NOW the (happy) tears started to appear. Some of the volunteers gave me high-fives, and I definitely yelled “I’M DONE!!!” a couple times.
This time, instead of making that evil, evil turn just before the finish, I stayed to the left, and went on to the finish line. The big arch was hanging over the road, and the announcer was calling my name. I crossed under the arch and jumped onto the timing mat, signing myself in as an ironman. My final time was 15:33:26.
Officially an ironman!
After crossing the finish line, I got wrapped in a space blanket, and a volunteer put my bling on me. And boy, are those finisher medals some bling!
I look SO TIRED.
That’s one snazzy medal!
My family met me just beyond the finish chute with hugs, and my warm clothes I had left out in my hotel room for them to bring to the finish line. (They were such good ironsherpas!) We walked – okay, they walked, I waddled – to my hotel, which was all of 1000 yards away (hooray for staying at the race hotel). I got to my room and proceeded to lay down on the floor, while my mom sat there saying “okay, so are you good because I need to get back to my hotel…” (She wasn’t being nasty. I had asked her just to keep an eye on me for a little bit after the race to make sure I didn’t pass out or get stuck or anything.) I dragged myself up off the floor (quite possibly the most difficult task of the day), and got in the shower. Getting out was also quite a challenge. Who made bathtub sides so high???
By 11:45pm, I was ready to get some sleep. I attempted to go to bed, but wasn’t able to fall asleep for hours. My whole body was so sore, tired, and stiff that it was absolutely impossible to get comfortable. Around 1:30 am, after tossing and turning for hours, I remembered that I had brought my prescription-strength anti-inflammatories with me that my orthopedist had given me for my toe.
Once the super-advil kicked in, I was out cold. Somehow, I ended up wide awake at 6:30 am (oh the irony). The wonderful meds were still in my system (those puppies are good for 24 hours), so while getting out of bed did totally suck, it didn’t totally suck as much as it could have. I took one more (you can take up to two a day), and was feeling much better, very quickly. I have actually never felt as good after a race as I did this time. It was magical.
I ate a little bit of breakfast (my stomach still didn’t like the sound of many of the foods I had with me), and loaded up the car. My family had grabbed all my gear while I was racing, so it was all waiting for me back in my hotel room. The only thing that was missing was my T2 bag. It was still at the convention center, with many important things in it (bike shoes, helmet, license…). So after loading the car, I wandered the two blocks (walking very well, I might add!) to the convention center to pick it up. Also, I wanted to buy one of the sweet finisher jackets.
After getting my T2 bag and ordering a jacket (can’t wait until it gets here!!!), I met up with my family and we headed out of town. Peace out, Wilmington. It’s been fun.
PS – I am an ironman.
Missed part 1? Check it out!
The sun is rising and there isn’t a cloud in the sky. 600+ wetsuit-clad ironman triathletes are standing below the starting arch on the beach. Everyone is within themselves, going through their pre-race thoughts and routine. Boats, kayakers, and stand-up paddleboarders are floating just offshore, waiting for the chaos to begin. The race director plays the national anthem and says a prayer for the athletes. Then everyone begins bouncing in time to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.”
Look, if you had one shot, one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted in one moment
Would you capture it or just let it slip?
The air horn sounds. The ironman has begun.
I consider myself to be a moderately strong swimmer. Not fast, but I’m plenty comfortable in the water and I have decent form, so I’m fairly efficient. Even though I feel comfortable in the water, I hate the washing machine at the swim start. Rather than trying to deal with the mayhem that is an open water swim start, I tend to hang back a little bit, let all the crazies go, and find myself a little spot somewhere off to the side where I have some space to do my thing without too much contact.
Somehow for this swim, I didn’t place myself very well, and I ended up smack dab in the middle of the crazies.
Between the excitement of the race start, and the craziness of the washing machine, my heart was pounding and I wasn’t breathing smoothly. It didn’t take me long (a few hundred yards) to realize that I was in a place I didn’t want to be. But I’m proud of how I handled it. Rather than freaking out, I flipped over onto my back (very easy to stay afloat thanks to the wetsuit and the saltwater), took a couple deep breaths, and then started backstroking for about 30 seconds.
Just that quick little flip made a huge difference. I caught my breath, my heart rate came back down, and I stopped feeling overwhelmed. Once I flipped back over and started swimming normally again, I had a little bit of open space to work with, and I was able to settle into my groove.
My biggest worry for the entire day was with the swim. I had never done a saltwater swim before this moment. And with saltwater comes ocean life. With ocean life comes an overactive imagination. I was so afraid that my day would be cut short not because of a lack of fitness or swimming ability, but instead, a panic attack because I kept imagining a shark swimming around me. For many of my final long swims, I spent the entire time imagining a shark swimming below me in the pool, and thinking “okay, what do I do if I see a shark???”
During the race, I didn’t let myself think about anything related to ocean life. Somehow, I managed to stay in my little box, and only thought about my swim stroke, sighting, breathing, and all the flailing legs and arms around me. I didn’t let myself look directly down into the water. Instead, I always look straight ahead, just underneath the surface. This works well for me because it keeps me from looking down and potentially seeing something that will freak me out (and also stops me from thinking about it), and it also keeps me from getting kicked in the face. Win-win.
My swim felt surprisingly good. Once I got out of the craziness and found some open space, I just started plugging away. I felt like I was moving well, and breathing easily. I never felt like I got flustered or out of breath. Occasionally someone behind me would grab my leg, and I would give them a little kick to shake them off. They would back off and we would move on.
One nice thing with this swim is that you really don’t need to worry too much about sighting. (I still do it a lot because it gives me something to focus on.) Even the race director said this in our pre-race meeting. Since the swim is straight down the channel, it’s impossible to get lost. There are only two buoys that you need to turn around in a specific way, and other than that, you can swim wherever the heck you like. They do have some smaller green buoys out there for sighting purposes, but you don’t need to go around them at all.
I actually had a really nice time in this swim. I was relaxed and felt strong the entire time. And even though I was so worried about a potential shark sighting or panic attack, I never had a problem with my imagination getting the best of me. There was a brief moment after we rounded the turn at the end of the channel where I started to think I saw something that wasn’t really there (a shadow that looked like a hammerhead), but I just pushed it out of my mind, told myself to shut up, and keep swimming.
After we rounded the first turn out of the main channel, we started to swim back into the marina. The dock for the swim finish was clearly marked – with a big giant red wacky inflatable arm man, like this:
I have never been so happy to see one of those things before in my life.
Once I got my first glimpse of the wacky arm man, I was elated. The last few minutes getting into the dock went quickly and before I knew it, I was swimming the last few feet up to the ladder.
I climbed up the ladder, and managed not to stumble too much on the dock as I got my land legs back. I ran up to the first wetsuit stripper and he worked his magic like the pro he was. My wetsuit was off in about 5 seconds. He handed it back to me and I ran down the path, through the freshwater shower tent, over the timing mat, across the road, and into T1.
- Swim distance: 2.4 miles
- Swim time: 1:08:24 (this includes the wetsuit stripping, and a few hundred yards of running)
The crowds lining the path into T1 were great. They made you feel like a rock star. I ran into T1, grabbed my gear bag, and into the women’s changing tent.
I’ve never been a big fan of public nudity, but in an ironman, there is no such thing as modesty. If you’re going 140.6 miles, you want to be comfortable, and you don’t give a damn who sees what in the process. Besides that, everyone else is so preoccupied with their own efforts, no one is even paying attention. So I grabbed a spot in the changing tent, and stripped off the shorts I had worn under my wetsuit. I made sure to towel off as much of the salt as I could, and put on my bike shorts and jersey. I had put some spray on sunscreen in my T1 bag, so I put on a liberal coating – nothing is worse than getting a sunburn in the middle of a day like this. I was also pleased to confirm that that morning’s application of copious amounts of bodyglide on my neck had prevented me from getting a wetsuit hickey (hooray!).
The wetsuit, towel, swim caps, and goggles went into my T1 bag, which I knotted up tightly and handed to a volunteer. I left the sunscreen in the tent for others to use. Triathletes are always ready and willing to share. 🙂
I ran across the transition area to my bike, where I quickly rinsed off my feet with the throwaway squeeze bottle I left there that morning. Popped my socks, shoes, helmet, and sunglasses on, and then unracked my bike and ran out of T1.
T1 time: 11:39 (not fast, but I’d rather be comfortable and make sure I don’t forget anything important)
I ran my bike to the mount line and hopped on. One thing that was pretty amazing was the girl next to me. She was blind and riding a tandem bike with a guide. I found out more about her later on the run – this was her fourth ironman, but only her second racing blind. She had macular degeneration after her second ironman, and continued to race anyway. She is a beast. I was in awe.
We took a roundabout route getting off Wrightsville Beach. Everything was clearly marked, coned off, and indicated with flaggers. The town of Wilmington is so accommodating for this race. We had entire lanes closed down for miles, and cops were stopping traffic left and right so we could safely cross intersections wherever we needed to. It was excellent. I never felt unsafe. Even when we were riding on the highway (an interesting experience in itself).
I went over the bridge to leave the island and headed out onto the bike course. This was where I spotted my family for the first time. I had warned them about the construction at the Wrightsville Beach bridge and suggested that they stay on the mainland side of things and just catch me once I got over the bridge. I’m so glad they did. The traffic was crazy! They were out there with their signs and cowbells, being the awesome support crew that they are.
What great spectators!
The first portion of the bike course was fairly uneventful. My legs felt good, and I was following my nutrition plan (eating/drinking every 20 minutes). Eventually, we were directed onto the on ramp for the highway, where we circled around and crossed into the left lane of the highway, which was closed off just for us. The right lane was still open to traffic, but I really didn’t feel unsafe at all.
The only thing that was unsettling/discouraging at this point in the bike leg was all the people just flying past me like I was standing still. That is, until I realized that they were all the front-of-the-pack halfers. Once I realized that, it made me feel better, and less sucky. But they were still pretty annoying. For a non-draft-legal race, they sure were drafting the crap out of each other and setting up huge pace lines. (I am too slow to actually really care about this, but rules apply to everyone, no?) They were also making some pretty dangerous passes. I was very happy when we finally split off from them somewhere around mile 30. I think most of the other full athletes were as well.
We rode on the highway for about 12 miles. The end of our time on the highway included the one significant climb of the course, up and over a bridge. But it really wasn’t too bad of a climb. I definitely didn’t like the guy that the bridge was named after at the time. But in hindsight, it wasn’t terrible.
We cruised down the off ramp and made a left onto another main (but reasonably quiet) road. My family was waiting for me at the turn, and it was nice to see them again.
There isn’t much to report about this part of the ride. We were finally on some quieter country roads, so things were fairly boring for quite a long time. I made a point to stop at every aid station to refill my water bottles (and grab a backup water bottle to stick in my jersey pocket just in case I ran out), and stretch out my legs. At this point, I was really feeling good. I had finally managed to get the nasty saltwater taste out of my mouth too, so that was a plus.
Things started to go south somewhere around mile 50 or so. By now, we had been separated from the halfers for about 20 miles – over an hour. There weren’t a ton of us, so were were fairly spaced out. Occasionally we would pass each other and say some hellos, but it was pretty quiet and you were very much on your own. Also at mile 50, I finally bumped into Betsy. I had been looking for her since racking my bike at T1 the day before. Betsy is my coworker’s college roommate. In our random conversations, my coworker and I discovered that her friend and I were doing the same race, and we happen to swim, bike, and run at roughly the same paces. So I had her race number and name in my brain, and had been keeping my eye out for her. When I saw her pass me on the bike, I shouted out a hi, and we said our hellos. We saw each other several more times throughout the day. You definitely fell into a group and got to know each other as you went back and forth for several hours. By the end of the run, we were all greeting each other like old friends.
Anyway, around mile 50, things went bad. The winds were nothing like the 30+ mph winds they had had the previous year, but they were enough to be annoying. We were all waiting for the moment where we turned and started to have a bit of a tailwind, but it just never came. Instead, we had a headwind the entire time. It was terrible! I was getting so tired, and frustrated, and my butt, back, and neck hurt SO BAD at this point. All I wanted to do was get off my bike. But there were still 50+ miles to go.
I stopped for a quick bathroom break and re-lubing session at the halfway point aid station. Fortunately, I didn’t need anything for my water bottles because they had somehow ran out of water in the few minutes prior to my arrival. People were freaking out. This was also the aid station where the bike special needs bags were located, and many people had nutrition they needed to mix, and no water to mix it with. As I was in the port-a-potty, I heard a girl panicking. So before unracking my bike, I tossed her my backup water and went on my way.
By now, I had been on the bike for over three and a half hours. That’s a lot of chocolate Gu eaten. When my garmin chirped to tell me it was time to eat another Gu, I felt like I wanted to throw up. Just the thought of eating another Gu gel made me feel sick. So I skipped it. I could not possibly stomach another stupid Gu gel. If I never saw one again, it would be too soon. Fortunately, I could still stomach my clif shot drink, so I kept up with that. I also had some packets of strawberry Annies gummy bunnies in my jersey, which ended up being a lifesaver. Whenever I was supposed to eat a Gu, I had those instead.
At this point, I hadn’t seen my family in a long time. I had been telling myself that the next time I saw them, I would let myself get off my bike and take a quick mental break and stretch out my neck. But they never appeared! I was getting so angry! (Not their fault, they were wonderful spectators, but I wasn’t really thinking clearly at this point.) I was in a BAD PLACE. I was angry at the world. I hurt, I was tired, and I was SO SICK of my stupid Gu. I had a few daydreams where I could see myself throwing my bike into a ditch and sitting on the side of the road. But I kept on pedaling. The tailwinds never came. And the false flats were everywhere.
Miles 50-75ish were like this. Then somehow around mile 75 I got my second wind. I felt stronger again, my speeds were up, and my neck was feeling better. But it didn’t last long. Probably only 5 miles or so. Then it was back to the BAD PLACE. This kept on going until just after the aid station around mile 95ish. At that last aid station, I got off the bike and just stood there bent over stretching out my hamstrings and neck. Someone else was sitting on the ground hunched over, looking miserable. I felt bad for the guy. I hope he was okay. There were a lot of people at this aid station just saying “oh my god please just let it be OVER!”
I got back on my bike and pedaled off towards the bike finish. Now that I was closing in on the end of the bike, I started to pick it up. It’s amazing what your brain and body can overcome when you know the finish is near. Coming back into downtown Wilmington and the convention center, traffic was backed up for quite a while. We were blowing along the side of the road past all the cars, which was nice. We made the final left turn onto the bridge to cross the Cape Fear River and get to T2. This bridge was awful! We had been warned about it beforehand, so we knew what to expect, but it was still scary. It’s a grated bridge, and the openings are rather large. So the race organizers covered a three foot wide path with rubber mats for us to ride on. Except the rubber seemed to grip our wheels and everyone felt like they were about to wipe out at any second. I just held onto my bars as tight as I could and hauled ass over it. It was scary. I was so close to the bike finish, I could see the convention center. I didn’t want to wipe out now!
After I got across the bridge and off those mats, I was feeling awesome. I cruised into the convention center telling every single volunteer how much I loved them. I was just so happy to be about to get off my bike. Even with the three hours in the dark place, I ended up being very happy with my bike split. My goal was 15 mph, and I was pretty darn close (according to my garmin, I was spot on).
- Bike distance: 112 miles (my garmin says 112.7)
- Bike time: 7:32:21
To be continued…
Read the rest of the story here: Part 3
Miss the beginning? Part 1
This weekend was the 5th running of the Beach2Battleship iron distance triathlon, which was set to be my first 140.6 race.
Since the race is held in Wilmington, North Carolina, and I live in upstate NY, I had quite a drive to get down there in the first place. Fortunately, I planned ahead and set up my class schedule with some guest lecturers, and guest lab teachers, so I was able to take a few days off from work to do the drive and not be stressed out rushing and getting there at the last possible second. I left my house on Tuesday, and made a pit stop in Washington DC to stay with my sister for two nights.
At this point, I hadn’t done one damn thing since my 104 mile bike ride three weeks ago. Rather than a “taper,” my training just sort of went off a cliff. I wasn’t supposed to run at all so the toe could heal, and really, I always seem to just mentally check out once I get to my taper, so swimming and biking didn’t happen either. But by now, I also know my body seems to respond well to this sort of thing, and I usually come back after that little break feeling strong and well-rested.
When I got to my sister’s house, I had yet to test out my toe on a run. So on Wednesday, we went out for a nice little 3 mile run around her neighborhood with her dog (who is completely adorable). I was happy to find out that my toe wasn’t too bad. I definitely noticed it and it was a bit uncomfortable, but it wasn’t painful. There’s a big difference between, “oh hey, that feels a little odd” and “OW.” Fortunately, I was in the former category. So I called it a success and set my sights on Saturday.
I left DC on Thursday morning and drove down to Wilmington. At this point, I still wasn’t really excited because it didn’t seem real yet. When something is so far away for so long, it doesn’t feel like the big day is ever really going to be here. It started to feel a little more real as I got within a few miles of Wilmington and started seeing other cars with tri stickers and tri bikes heading in the same direction as I was. We were swooping in, ready to invade the city.
I had decided to stay at the race hotel (the Hilton Riverside) back when I signed up because with this being my first full iron, I didn’t want to be stressing out. And the race hotel is the race hotel because it is so convenient. So even though it was expensive, I felt like for my first iron, it was worth it.
I ended up pulling into the hotel at 4:40. Packet pickup at the convention center was only supposed to go until 5 that day, and I was hoping to maybe pop over there quickly before it closed so I could get my gear bags to pack that night. So I checked into the hotel, brought my bike up to the room (didn’t want to leave that in the car), and then walked the two blocks to the convention center. I got there right at 5pm, but people were still walking in, so I figured it was worth a shot. Turned out check in was still going on without a problem. So I got checked in, picked up my packet, bib, timing chip, and gear bags, and then wandered around the (small) expo for a little bit. I really wanted to do all this that day because it was practically empty, so it went really fast.
The entry into check in and the expo. All quiet before the swarm appears!
Setting up the bike racks in T2 at the convention center.
Got my athlete wristband! The silver ones were for the full, purple for the half. I felt very official.
Shit’s getting real!
After checking in at the expo, I finished unloading the car, settled into the hotel, and spent the night arranging my equipment and gear bags and watching Project Runway. I went over and over each of my gear bags (T1, T2, bike special needs, run special needs, and post-race) about a million times because I was totally paranoid that I was going to do something stupid or forget something important.
On Friday, I brought my bike over to T1 right when it opened. I wanted to get it checked in early so I didn’t have to stress about it later (my family was coming into town that afternoon/evening), as well as beating the crowds. I didn’t know before getting over there, but there was some pretty major construction going on, which caused some really awful traffic backups most of the weekend. Fortunately, I got out there right as the transition area opened at 12 on Friday, so I was one of the first people there, and the traffic was fine.
I got my bike racked (and got a squeak checked by the bike tech guy on site), and chatted with a couple people around me. I didn’t check my T1 bag yet because I wanted to put a few things in it the morning of the race. I planned on bringing it with me the next morning when I went to the start. There was a little bit of concern from the guy racked next to me – when he dropped off his T1 bag, it (and he) got swarmed by fire ants. Ack! I made a mental note to keep my eye out for them, bring a rubber band to close my bag as tightly as possible, and shake off my clothes before putting them on.
One of the first bikes racked – most people were just getting into town. Can you find Roo? He’s in this picture. 🙂
After racking my bike, I headed back to the hotel to grab my T2 and run special needs bags (I decided not to check a bike special needs bag) to check at the convention center. Just in the time I had been at T1, the traffic had increased considerably, and things were backed up for quite a while with lots of people trying to get out to Wrightsville Beach. I was very happy to be going the other way at this point.
I checked my T2 and run special needs bags in at the convention center, and then went into the next room for the required pre-race athlete meeting.
So official… Ooooo…
At this point, I imagined I would be getting really excited and nervous, but I really wasn’t. It just didn’t feel real yet.
My family – my mom, sister, and brother-in-law – got into town around dinner, so we went out for a pre-race pasta dinner. It was nice to see everybody again, and it was so awesome of them to come to Wilmington to cheer me on. I have a wonderful family. After dinner, I gave them the spectator thank you bags I put together, plus a cooler full of food and drinks to keep them amused and well-fed for the next day. Spectating an ironman is a difficult task in itself, so it’s important to make your awesome spectathletes feel appreciated.
I got back to my hotel room around 9pm, did a final gear check (the few things I hadn’t already turned in), and tried to get some sleep. But not before setting my alarm for 3:45am. One of my biggest fears for this race was that I was going to oversleep, and end up missing the start. So to prevent this, I set multiple (MULTIPLE) alarms, and scheduled a backup wake up call for 4am. I also made sure I put my phone (which I use for my alarm) on the other side of the room, so I would have to physically get OUT of bed, walk over, and turn it off.
I actually fell asleep easier than I thought I would. I ended up being awake until around 11, but there really wasn’t any of that typical pre-race jitters that I’ve gotten before other big races. Again, it was really just because it didn’t seem real yet. Even with all the driving and checking equipment, it hadn’t really sunk in that the next morning at 7:30am, I would be toeing the start line.
I woke up a few times in the middle of the night, and of course immediately thought “OH MY GOD, WHAT TIME IS IT???” But all was well. I woke up without a problem, and at 3:45, I was wide awake.
The first important thing to do was a final check of the weather forecast for the day.
It can’t get much better than that.
Breakfast was a bagel with peanut butter – simple, but it works for me. Then it was time for a shower, sunscreen (and lots of it), bodyglide (and massive amounts of it), heart rate monitor, clothes for under my wetsuit (sports bra and some basic running shorts that I planned on changing out of at T1), and then some flip flops and warmer clothes to wear just until getting on the athlete busses to go out to the start. (I planned to leave these in my T1 bag so I could pick them up after the race was over. The race organizers were no longer doing the start line gear checks because people were leaving important items that they didn’t feel comfortable being responsible for, so anything you wore out of T1 and to the start line was going to be sacrificed and lost forever.)
A little before 5am, once I was all dressed, fed, and ready to go, I texted my mom asking her to please post as much to facebook as she could/wanted because I had a lot of friends at home wanting to know how it was going. (I don’t normally post much on there, but I figured today was a justifiable excuse to be a facebook attention whore.) Then I grabbed what was left of my gear (my T1 bag and another bag with my wetsuit, cap, goggles, and earplugs) and headed down to the hotel lobby to catch the athlete bus to T1.
Loading up the athlete busses
Everyone was very friendly and chatting all the way out to T1. The “busses” were actually trolleys, which had open sides. We were flying down the highway at 60+ miles per hour, in the dark, in about 50-something degrees. It was COLD. So cold, that many of us (myself included) ended up sitting on the floor of the trolley to escape some of the wind. I just told people it was to make the water feel that much warmer when we got in.
We rolled into T1 just as it opened. People were swarming in to do final checks on bikes and gear, set up their transition areas, and drop off their T1 bags.
Looks pretty different from the day before!
I gave my bike one last check (I had inflated the tires before bringing it to T1 the day before, and they were still good), put my water and nutrition bottles on it, and set up my limited transition area. Since you grabbed your bag of clothing as you were coming into T1 from the swim, all I had laid out on my little towel next to my bike was my helmet, sunglasses, shoes, socks, and a throwaway squeeze bottle to rinse the crap off my feet before putting my shoes and socks on. Everything else went into my T1 bag.
Once I went over my stuff about 50 times to make sure nothing was missing, I took off the warm clothes and put my wetsuit on. I wasn’t worried about being in the wetsuit for a while, because it was plenty cool out, and it was keeping me just warm enough to be comfortable. I pulled out my swim caps (my tri club cap and then the race one to go over it), goggles, and earplugs, and the warmer clothes went into my T1 bag.
I dropped my T1 bag over at the gear area, and started heading to the shuttles to the swim start. Then there was a (brief) moment of panic. I didn’t have my cap and goggles on me. Fortunately, I quickly remembered that I had left them sitting in my bike, so I ran back to grab them and then got on a shuttle.
Sitting there in the dark, in my wetsuit, on the shuttle next to the transition area, with a bunch of other triathletes walking around in wetsuits and various stages of dress, just about to head out to the beach starting line, it still didn’t feel real. I felt surprisingly calm. I was just enjoying the moment and having fun.
The ride out to the beach start was short. The trolleys let us off at the south end of Wrightsville Beach. It was still very dark out, so no one was wandering out onto the beach yet. Instead, there were a few hundred wetsuit-clad people milling around the end of the road, just waiting for the sun to come up.
Everyone was chatting and helping zip each other up (very difficult to do yourself). I ended up talking to a very nice (and tall) guy I zipped into his suit who was a former pro (Land Heintzberger), and was doing the swim leg of the relay with some friends. He was hoping to break 50 minutes. (Out of curiosity, I looked him up later – he did 45 minutes. That was my HALF iron time!) That’s humbling. I was going to be happy to just not have a panic attack thinking about sharks.
Once the sky started to lighten, we made our way out to the beach. I wish I had had a camera with me (a little difficult to swim with!), because it was so pretty with the beach, sunrise, starting line, and all the athletes.
I put my cap(s) and goggles on, and earplugs in, and stepped into the water.
HOLY CRAP IT FELT LIKE BATHWATER. THIS WAS AWESOME.
The air temperature was somewhere in the 50s at this point. The water was low 70s. It was incredible. Somewhere between leaving T1 and getting onto the beach, I had gotten very, very cold. So stepping into this warm water was a huge relief. I was still shivering (I’m sure some of that was due to adrenaline), but it was subsiding at least.
I didn’t do any swimming to warm up – 2.4 miles is long enough as it is – instead, I just bobbed around in the water and put my head under a few times to get used to it. One thing that surprised me was the drop off just two or three steps off the beach. One minute I was shin deep. The next, I was up to my chest. That was fast! The other interesting thing was how buoyant I was. I knew to expect this, but it was my first saltwater swim, so it was pretty neat to just float there. Between the wetsuit and the salt, I didn’t have to do a thing.
At 7:25am, the race director called everyone out of the water and into the starting corral. I ditched my flip flops and got in with the crowd. There were a few brief announcements, congratulations and well-wishes to first timers (wohoo!), and then they played the national anthem. Then Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” was blaring (they always start this race with that song).
Look, if you had one shot, one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted in one moment
Would you capture it or just let it slip?
Now I was excited.
To be continued…
This weekend was awesome! I finally did my first century ride! This was my last long workout before my taper. There was no more 20 mile run in the cards, due to my toe (feeling better, but still hurts).
On Sunday morning, I woke up early, packed up the car, and headed out for my ride. Earlier in the week I stopped by my local bike shop to get some ideas for a route that wasn’t super hilly. Since the B2B course is very flat, and now with a broken toe, I didn’t want to be wasting lots of energy trying to mash up lots of unnecessary hills. I wanted it to be as close to race day conditions as possible. I ended up finding a 52 mile loop that looked fairly flat – or as flat as I’ll get in this area:
Not bad at all. I was looking forward to that nice little downhill. Especially at the end of the second loop.
Compared to the B2B bike course, this was still a little bit hillier, but overall, a pretty good analog:
This ride is on top, B2B is on the bottom.
It was pretty overcast and crummy out right from the start. There were showers and possible thunderstorms predicted for the afternoon, but I managed to stay dry for most of the ride. But I wasn’t completely lucky. For the last hour of the ride, it poured on me. And it was fantastic. I felt like the rain was just washing away the craptacular summer I had, and letting me start fresh.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I set out from my car a little before 9am. My plan was to ride the 52 mile loop up and down the river twice, stopping at my car at the halfway point to refill my water bottles and get my “special needs” bag. (I had thrown an apple and a peanut butter sandwich in there.)
Starting out on the ride, I was feeling really good. My speed was hovering around 17 mph, and I felt strong. Eventually, I hit my turnaround/cross the river point, and I started heading back north on the loop. Over on this side of the river, I was on much quieter roads. And of course, what goes along with quieter roads, is less maintenance. So things were quite bumpy for a while.
The other thing I noticed was that this side of the river seemed to be mostly uphill. So my pace slowed a bit. But I was still averaging around 15 mph. I was okay with that. I didn’t want to get too hung up on my pace during this ride. If I needed to slow down, I needed to slow down. This was my first century, and I was riding with a broken toe. I just wanted to roll with it.
The first loop was fairly uneventful. I saw lots of wildlife while I was out. Deer, sheep and goats (not really wildlife, but they’re cute), alpacas (also not wildlife, but still fun), and a HUGE turkey vulture. How that thing gets airborne, I have no idea. It was the size of one of my dogs.
After the first loop, I knew I was averaging just under 15 mph. I pulled into “special needs” (AKA: my car) and replenished my water bottles. I was feeling good, so I decided to skip the food. While I was off my bike refilling water bottles, I decided to stretch out my hamstrings for just a minute. That little bit of stretching felt so good.
Then it was time to hop back on my bike and set out for loop #2!
I was still feeling strong, so this was a good sign. I really didn’t feel any fatigue. My toe wasn’t painful either. The only problem with the toe was that I couldn’t scrunch up my toes like I usually do while I ride. If I don’t move my toes around, they tend to go numb after a while. My left foot was okay (I broke my right big toe). But I couldn’t curl up my toes on my right foot without pushing on the big one. So that foot was pretty much numb for 75% of the ride. Which, all in all, isn’t the worst problem in the world. Later in the ride, I started trying to wiggle things around other ways, and I managed to get feeling back well before I stopped riding, so I think it’ll be fine come race day.
Around mile 70, I had my first chance to cut the ride short. Earlier in the week, I had said all I wanted to do was at least 75 miles. Near that point, there was a bridge where I could have turned back and cut off the last 30 or so. The thought did cross my mind – my butt was sore, and my foot was numb. But I talked myself through it and pushed ahead.
I had another opportunity near 80 miles. And again, I managed to forge ahead. At this point, I was feeling pretty good. I was mostly just bored. But I told myself that my legs were good and I was going to regret it if I turned back now. So just suck it up.
Around the 6 hour mark, I was feeling great. I knew I was getting close to finishing. My endorphins were up, and I was getting into the early stages of a nice riders high (like a runners high, but on a bike). When all of a sudden, out of nowhere a HUGE (unfriendly) dog came charging at me, growling and snarling. I didn’t see him until he was about 8 inches away from my leg. He scared me so much I audibly screamed, and started mashing on the pedals like a mofo. His owner was in his driveway yelling at him, and I was so pissed. The dog continued to chase me for a good 100 feet, and then he finally turned back.
Well that’s one way to get my speed up.
Not long after the dog incident, it started to rain. The closer I got to the 100 mile mark, the heavier it came down, and the better I felt. I found myself actually yelling out “bring it rain!” because I knew at this point I had it in the bag.
When my garmin beeped over to 100 miles, I let out a great big “woooooooooohoooooooooooooooo!” out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by farm fields, in the pouring rain.
I felt awesome.
I celebrated my 100 mile mark by coasting down the last big downhill. Unfortunately, I had to squander away the downhill because it was raining so hard, I didn’t want to wipe out. So I rode the brakes most of the way down. But it was still a great way to finish.
Pulling into my car, I felt like a million bucks. I couldn’t actually run run, but I did get off my bike and do a quick little jog just to see how my legs felt. And they felt good! My toe was still problematic, but nothing I can’t manage come race day. At that point, I felt like I could have run to the moon.
So the final total was 104.1 miles in 7:12:41. Which comes out to 14.45 mph. Not quite as fast as I was hoping for, but I’ll take it. I think come race day, I should be feeling good.
I packed my bike back into the car and headed home, but not without a quick pit stop!
Apple cider donuts – a local fall favorite, which I just recently discovered ARE vegan!
I earned those donuts, dammit. And they were amazing.