Ironman 70.3 North Carolina 2017 (Beach to Battleship)

27 10 2017

My last race of the 2017 season is officially in the books! Ironman 70.3 North Carolina has been on my calendar for MONTHS, and it’s finally come and gone. It was my first time doing this race, formerly known as Beach to Battleship, and I’d say it was a good one!

Two days out from race day (Thursday): 

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I drove up to Wilmington from Tampa with two carloads of friends on Thursday for the Saturday race. It was a long drive, but I guess it beats packing/unpacking and flying with a bike? Jury is still out on which is preferable…We arrived at our rental home around 6pm, dropped our things, and then walked over to Ironman Village to pick up our packets. We were staying less than half a mile from the finish line/Ironman Village, so we had plenty of time to get checked in and buy some swag before they wrapped up for the night at 7pm. Once checked in, we walked home, finished unloading and then ordered some pizza for dinner. A few of us in the group (including me) have a tradition of pizza two nights before a race, so this was perfect! We ate our pizza and watched some tv before heading to bed. It’s the night before the night before- the most important night for a good night’s sleep!

One day out from race day (Friday):

I woke up around 7/7:30 (no alarm) and went to the Brooklyn cafe next door for breakfast. The day before, I had seen their advertisement for homemade beignets, so I was immediately sold on going there for breakfast. Beignets weren’t the healthiest breakfast option, but I figured, carbs! I ordered beignets, a homemade banana bread muffin, and a latte. The cafe has only been opened a month and a half and it is owned by this super sweet couple. The wife bakes all the muffins and cookies in house (she even brought me a fresh peanut butter cookie while I was eating my doughnuts!) and her husband fries up the beignets as you order them. While I was waiting for the beignets, another customer walked in, and I noticed that he had left his puppy outside.

IMG_2890It was a husky puppy and probably one of the cutest dogs I had ever seen. Immediately I asked the owner if I could go pet her, and he said of course. Luna was super sweet and when I sat next to her, she climbed right onto my lap. I texted one of my friends to tell her she needed to come out immediately to see this dog. Seriously, this dog was adorable. After some puppy snuggles, I enjoyed my doughnuts – super delish by the way- and chatted with my friend Brad before heading back to our place to get ready for pre-race workouts.

We drove over to Wrightsville Beach, where the swim start would be, and parked at the unofficial TriMarni HQ for this event. This race had a handful of TriMarnis racing, and though I wasn’t staying in their house, they let us use their place as a landing pad for our pre-race workout and then on race morning, it was our staging area. THANK YOU JIM!!

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Since the bay was getting a bit busy with boat traffic, we opted to do our swim in the ocean. You guys, the water was PERFECT- water temp was in the 70s, there were small, clean swells coming in, and the water was super clear. If I hadn’t had a race the next day, I would have spent the entire day in the water catching waves. But alas, I didn’t want to wear myself out, so I did my usual pre-race swim before catching a wave in and then heading to get in a bike workout. My girl Justine joined us and it was so nice to see her! She’s my TriMarni teammate and we both push each other to be better athletes.  After our ride, we went back to our house. I was going to do a bit more riding, but it was starting to get late and I wasn’t entirely sure how safe it was to ride in the downtown area, so I scrapped it and got my gear bags ready.

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This race takes a bit more planing, because it’s a two transition race. T1 (swim to bike) was over by Wrightsville beach, and we needed to drop our bikes and bike gear bag there before 5pm on Friday. T2 (bike to run) was in a different location, close to the finish line (but not at it!), and we needed to drop our run gear bag by 4pm. We had to use gear bags at the World Championships, but logistics were a tiny bit different for this race. At T1, though they said we needed to drop our bags with our bike, it ended up not being mandatory. Since there was talk of ants on the ground there, and we could access our bikes in the morning, I opted to take all my bike stuff with me (except for my bike, obviously) rather than leaving it. However, we DID need to bring the bike gear bag back in the morning to leave with the bike- that would be the bag all your swim stuff would go into when you were done the swim (so that you could get it after the race in the finishing area). The Run Gear bag was a mandatory drop off, and you left it by/on your numbered spot on the bike rack. On race day, you’d finish the ride, rack your bike at the place where your run gear bag was, and put on the run gear from the bag. My friends actually dropped my run gear bag off for me because I was hoping to make an athlete meeting. Unfortunately, I misread the information about the time of the meeting, so I totally missed it. Whoops. Thankfully the RD was still there and told me a few highlights. Once all that logistical stuff was settled, we ran to Whole Foods for breakfast and post-race supplies, and then had a yummy dinner at a sushi place downtown. I had a bento box with teriyaki tofu and a tempura shrimp roll. After dinner it was early to bed for all of us- tomorrow would be an EARLY day!

Race day! (Saturday):

My alarm went off at 4:15am, and I was up and gearing up to leave the house by 5:00am. I checked the weather and it looked like it was going to be a darn near perfect day. It was currently 55, but highs would get up into the high 70s/low 80s. Not gonna lie, I was pretty pumped about FINALLY having a run course that wasn’t going to be miserably hot!

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Me and Shannon

We weren’t entirely sure how bad traffic would be on race morning, so we left plenty of time to account for that. Our fearless sherpa, Chris woke up with us and drove us to T1. (They did have shuttles from the Hilton downtown if you didn’t have a ride to T1.) Traffic ended up not being bad at all, so we were all in transition and mostly set up by 5:30. I put my Garmin on my bike, put my bike shoes on the pedals, filled up my bladder, placed two bottles on my back cages, and laid out my helmet between my handle bars with my Skratch chews and sunglasses. I hung my empty gear bag on the front of my aero bars so it would be ready to fill with my swim gear. Chris pumped our tires (he was allowed in to transition because he was registered but decided not to race), we took a pic, said goodbye to Chris and then headed towards the shuttle busses to the swim start.

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The gang

We had to wait in a decently long line, but thankfully, there were plenty of busses/trolleys so it moved fast. Once over at the starting line, we walked several houses down to the TriMarni house. It was so, so, so nice to have a warm house with real bathrooms to wait the hour+ until go time. If you have race sherpas, I would highly recommend a house at the start, especially because weather at that time of year can be a bit iffy, and the waiting area for athletes is an unprotected parking lot, with no where to sit but on the cold ground.

Justine and I went for a short warm up jog, and we stopped by the course where she gave me some pointers that another one of our teammates with experience doing this race, told her. We ran back, got on our wetsuits, and headed to the start line.

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Tri Marnis!!

Swim:

Women 30-34 were in the third wave, 7:26am. It was a wetsuit legal swim (water just above 70 degrees) so I was wearing my long sleeved Xterra wetsuit. After walking down a super slippery ramp (the rubber mat they had on it was too small, and had already started slipping away from where it would have been most useful),  we waded into the water for our floating start. Right before we started, one of the safety boats came up to the start line, and someone in there was wearing and ACBP sweatshirt. I recognized the sweatshirt immediately, being an ACBP alum myself, and then I realized I knew who was wearing it! I yelled hello, and then put on my goggles just in time for the 10 second count down. I was totally expecting the cannon to go off or to hear a horn, but I didn’t hear anything indicating a start, I just saw the girls in my wave starting to go! GAH! I joined in with the thrashing and took off. There was a bit of a craze right at the beginning, as with any group start, but I finally broke away and found someone’s feet. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t feel completely prepared for this swim; not fitness-wise, but in my understanding of the course. I probably should have done a bit more recon, studied the map more, and gone to check out the swim finish before I ever jumped in that water, but it ended up working out okay.

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I swam with some girl in my wave for a little bit and then I think I dropped her. I kept the buoys to my left and tried to sight pretty frequently. The sun was rising to my right, so I breathed mostly to my left. At some point on this first straight part of the swim, I started catching the people in the waves in front of me. I also spotted another girl from my wave, and tried to stay with her. At the first turn buoy, it got a little hectic, but I just kept swimming. Sorry to those I swam over! Shortly after that first turn buoy, I felt my wristband fall off. For half a second I was like, oh, I should try to grab that, but then I realized how dumb that was and I kept swimming. As long as my timing chip stayed on, I was good. Soon, the next turn buoy was upon me. I made the right turn, and in my head I was like, I’m swimming straight to the finish now. But then I came upon another turn buoy, and we needed to turn left to head into the finish. See, should have paid a little closer attention to the map! I wasn’t sure how much longer I had to swim, but I had felt my watch buzz every 500 meters, so I knew I had to be getting closer. All of the sudden I looked up to sight, and saw people ahead of me at about 2 o’clock, climbing out of the water onto a dock. I totally thought I was going to be swimming to straight to a ramp that I’d walk out of the water. Nope, it was a dock with a ladder off to my right. Again, should have studied the swim course/checked out the swim exit! I quickly cut to the right and aimed for the third or fourth ladder in. I climbed up, and after starting my run towards my bike, I remembered to lap my watch. I looked down and saw 25:XX and was like WHOA, that was fast. I knew it was a with current swim, but wasn’t expecting that much help!

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what I actually swam

Official time: 00:24:38

T1:

The run to the bike was long. The nice thing was that a) there were wetsuit strippers b) they had fresh water sprinklers we could run through which were WARM! and c) the volunteers were awesome. The cold, hard concrete hurt my feet while I ran to my bike, but eventually, I made it to my bike. I threw on wetsuit, cap, and goggles into my bike gear bag, left it on the ground, threw on my bike gear and headed out. Just as I was leaving my rack, I heard “GO STEPH”- I looked up and saw Justine heading in to transition. I knew she had a solid swim and she’d be hunting me down on the bike. Though I knew I needed to race my own race, I wanted to hold her off for as long as possible.

00:04:37

Bike:

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I got my bike out of transition, carefully stepped off the curb with my bike, mounted at the line, and started to ride. I have a tendency to start racing right from the beginning of the ride (see Wisconsin 70.3) which is really not what I need to be doing. So, the nice thing about the start of this ride (for me) is that it starts with a short section with some speed bumps and turns, which force you to slow down. Then, about a mile in, you’re forced to slow down again, to go over the drawbridge with metal grates. When I got there, volunteers were emphatically telling everyone to slow down and be careful over the grates, which were a little wet from the morning dew. As I neared the top of the bridge, there was a car stopped, in the lane where we were supposed to be biking. I thought to myself, “What the heck, get out of my lane!”, as I carefully went to the outside of the coned off lane, into stopped traffic, to get around the stopped car. Riding on those grates was definitely sketchy- I have ridden metal grates before, but this was the first time I legit was nervous and thought I might lose control and fall over. As I made it over the top, out of the corner of my eye I spotted what I thought to be a cyclist down. OH, THAT’S why the car was blocking my lane. I later learned that the downed cyclist had been my SOAS teammate Shannon. She’s okay now, but the fall ended her race. SUCH a bummer.

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The course is what I’ll call a lollipop- a long straightaway (stick), with a small loop (the pop) and then back down the stick. After this first part with turns and the bridge, we eventually made it to the stick , a long stretch of flat, flat, flat road. During this part of the ride, I remember feeling cold- I was wet from the swim, it was still early in the morning, and the ride had some shaded parts. I was wishing for the sun to be higher in the sky so that I would warm up!

Around mile 20, my friend Maria passed me, along with another girl in our age group. Maria is super strong on the bike, so I was happy that I had held her off for that long. She was playing leap frog with that other girl, and at mile 25, I ended up catching them, thanks to some legal drafting. It didn’t last long, and the two of them picked it up and took off. I kept them in my sight for a little while, but eventually they left me in their dust.

Throughout the ride I kept telling myself to ride my own race. Marni had reminded me that I should always feel like I have one extra gear in my toolbox; after all, I have a 13 mile run after this ride! I lap my watch every 20 minutes, so, I focused on being present for 20 minute chunks of time, staying up on my nutrition, and always having that one extra gear. To be honest, this ride was BORING. Sure, all my training rides are on a boring trail, but for some reason, I wasn’t really enjoying the course. Maybe it was because my last race was so epic?

At several points along the course there were large packs of men who flew right past me, in a draft pack. It was pretty frustrating because not once did I see any of them get caught. At one point, near the end of the course, a girl had passed me, and then I just watched as this group of men essentially swallowed her up. She hung with them for a little, pulled even further away from me, but it was clear that she had gotten stuck in this pack of cheaters. That was my biggest complaint about this race: the blatant drafting that went seemingly unnoticed.

When we made the turn back on to the stick, I told myself I could turn it on a little more. This is also the part where historically the wind has been a tail. The wind wasn’t blowing super strong today, but I do think we had a little bit of a tail on this stretch, based on the fact that my speed went up even though my power went down! On this stretch, maybe 5 miles from the end of the bike, I noticed a male cyclist in front of me, coasting. We were on a flat so I was like what is he doing? As I got closer, water droplets started to fly. OOOOH. I know what he’s doing! I quickly got out of his draft, made my pass, and jokingly yelled, “A little warning would have been nice!” GROSS! Eventually, he passed me after he was all finished and he apologized, and we both had a laugh.

We rode over one last drawbridge (total on this course is 2 bridges; one bridge you ride over once and the other you ride over twice, for a total of three crossings), and finally we were in to transition. I hadn’t noticed at the time, but the bike was a little long (almost a mile). Even so, I was pleased with the way I rode. It wasn’t a PR, but I finished with legs that were ready to run!

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Riding isn’t always glamorous

Official time: 02:42:54

T2:

It was a long-ish run with my bike to get into the transition area, but I was the third rack in, which was super quick to get to. I accidentally ran right past my spot on the rack, and had to backtrack and pay a little closer attention to the numbers. Once I got to my spot, I untied my bag (it was tied around the rack) and it dropped to the ground. I put my bike on the rack and started to take out my running stuff. Shoes and socks on, and then I took my race belt, hydration belt and visor as I made my way to transition exit and put each on one.

00:03:10

Run:

When I left transition I felt surprisingly good. I reminded myself not to go out too fast, but to run strong and run with good form. I did many runs this season at HIM effort, so I needed to find that effort and stay there.

Not too long after leaving transition, you get a fun little incline- it’s super short (1 block) but kinda steep. On this little incline I started to feel a little tightness in my left hamstring, but by the time I was back on flat ground, it went away. The run is an out and back, the first two miles or so are through the city and then you get into this nice neighborhood, along a lake, with plenty of trees for shade. The temperature was also quite nice. I’m not entirely sure what the temp was, but for this Florida girl who’s used to running in hot and humid conditions, it was glorious to have little humidity and cooler temps.

I had figured out how to make my watch only show my HR, which is exactly what I wanted. My plan had been to start the run controlled, below HR 160, and keep it there for a few miles before finding my stride and seeing what I could do. My watch was also on auto lap every mile, so I could see what I was holding pace-wise, but only if I looked at it when it beeped, which I tried not to do a ton, since I didn’t want to get in my head about pace. However, on that first mile, I couldn’t resist- it ticked off at 8:11- WHOA Steph, slow down! I backed off my pace and monitored my effort.

The first few miles went by pretty quickly, and I started to see people on their 2nd half of the run. I saw the lead men, and they also had a cyclist with the lead woman (or at least the woman who was physically in the lead, not sure if she was technically the leader at that point by time).  By mile 3, I was already above my 160 HR target, but I felt good and decided to maintain this effort. I was wondering where my friends Maria and Shannon were, who I knew would be ahead of me (at the time, I didn’t realize Shannon had gone down). Surprisingly I didn’t see either of them; I must have been zoned out or something when Maria passed me! At the turn around, I saw my friend Chris and Maria’s husband cheering me on! It was a nice mental boost to see friendly faces!

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Maybe a quarter mile after the turnaround, I saw Justine, running towards the turnaround. She wasn’t that far behind me! I turned it on just a little bit more, but reminded myself to race my own race. The second half of the run seemed to almost be a little bit of a downhill, but I think that was in my head. It really was a lovely course- probably one of my favorite runs I’ve done in a half!

By miles 9 and 10 I was starting to feel myself getting tired. I took a coke at mile 9, mostly for the sugar. I had been keeping up on my Skratch (in my fuel belt), I had taken a few shot blocks over the course of the run, and I was drinking water at the aid stations as well. I felt like my nutrition was pretty darn good for this run. Finally, at mile 11, Justine caught me! I was pretty proud that I had held her off for as long as I did; she is one tough cookie! We ran together for a very short time before I told her to go get em! I watched her slowly put distance between us, which I was totally okay with. Justine is an amazing competitor and one of my dear friends, so I was super happy to see her having a great race (she ended up with a PR!).

Shortly after Justine passed me, there was a slight, short uphill. I ran up it, but my heart was pounding, so I walked for 30 seconds to bring it back down. There was an aid station up ahead so I ran to it and yelled “Coke!” Some kids were working this one, and I got a response, “I have Pepsi?” and in the heat of the moment I frustratingly said, “Ugh, yes, that’s what I want. Just give me the cola.” I feel a little bad about that now. Whoops.

The last two miles were down the main street in downtown. You could almost see the finish line from pretty far out, except that there was a cruel slight uphill and the finish line was on the other side. Soon, I was in the chute and on the red carpet. Throughout the run, I had seen a few of my splits come in, and they were in the high 8’s. I was fairly confident I had broken 2:00 on the run, and as I came in, I started to get joyful tears in my eyes. I think I did it!

One of the first things I did after crossing was obviously to check my Garmin for my run split. I nearly burst into an ugly cry (but didn’t; I held it together) when my watch showed 1:55.9 (actual time 1:56:37). In 9 Half Ironmans over the course of 5 years, I had finally, finally put together a sub 2 hour run. I was so preoccupied with that goal that I didn’t even realize that I had gone 5:11. Five hours and eleven minutes!!! My previous best time was a 5:24, which I did at Florida earlier this year! Wow, just wow!

After I got my chip off, I saw Justine, who told me we were 9th and 10th in our age group. OMG I finally made it to the top ten at an IM race! I was super pleased with the race I put together, I finally have figured out how to put together a solid performance at this distance.

Official Run time: 01:56:18

Official Overall Time: 05:11:37

And just like that, my 2017 triathlon season is over. It was a long one, but it sure did end sweetly!

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