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!

Check in!

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.

Overkill much?

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!

Pre-race checks

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…

The story continues here: Part 2 and part 3

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