Race Recap: Beach2Battleship Half Iron Triathlon
Last year, I had a conversation with one of my friends who is an incredible runner and triathlete. After finishing more than 25 marathons, she was training for her first Ironman. I recall being in awe of her training and unwavering dedication. I distinctly remember saying to her one day, “I wish I had your discipline.”
At the time, I was training for the Marine Corps Marathon and my first half Ironman (Augusta 70.3). I knew that much of my training could have been better if I was more willing to sacrifice what I wanted in the moment (often times an extra hour of sleep, the couch after a long day, etc.) for what I wanted most: big race results.
I’ve thought a lot about that conversation since last year. The truth is, the only person holding me back from being more disciplined was me and the choices I decided to make. In January, I dedicated 2013 to being my year of discipline. To doing what I say I’m going to do. To make what I want most a reality.
This past weekend, discipline translated into results. Big ones. I didn’t want to just finish the Beach2Battleship Half Iron Triathlon; I showed up in Wilmington, North Carolina, with a mission. And I left with a 16-minute PR (personal record). POW!
During the past 20 weeks, I’ve worked hard. Harder than ever before. I’ve trained tough. I’ve been mentally focused on this race and proving that I’m stronger than I think I am. I desperately wanted to show that hard work really pays off. Some days I was exhausted. Some days I was irritable. Some days I wasn’t always present in my life or with those who love me most. I knocked out workouts. Did two-a-days. Allowed my weekends to revolve around swimming, biking and running. Most endurance athletes talk about making sacrifices (a lot of them), but we don’t always share how hard this sport can be on our families. How many apologies we make and how much disappointment we create for others. We’re selfish even when we don’t mean to be. So the payoff really needs to be worth it.
I can’t really put into words how “worth it” Saturday proved to be. We are what we believe we can be. We do what we think we can do.
Before the Race
I made the 6-hour drive from Atlanta to Wilmington on Thursday with my friends and training partners Teesha and Andrea. Teesha was also doing the half, while Andrea was doing the full (her first!).
When we stopped for lunch at the half-way point, I apparently thought I needed to eat 3 pancakes, 2 egg whites and 3 pieces of turkey bacon for lunch. In 13 minutes flat. Yes ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to carb loading at its finest.
We timed our departure to ensure we could get to packet pick-up Thursday evening.
This race requires you to use transition bags for all your gear. This was a first for me. Essentially, you receive 3 bags (5 for those doing the full Iron distance) with your race packet that you must check in and leave with the race staff the day before the race along with your bike that include all your gear. The swim to bike transition (T1) was in a different location than the bike to run transition (T2), which made the logistics a bit more complicated. We wanted to have plenty of time Thursday night and Friday to pack these bags and check them in while still having time to relax before the race.
I must admit that I spent an inordinate amount of time panicking over these bags and how much time they would add to my transitions. While this is pretty customary for the full Iron distance, it was very different than my first half Ironman. It turned out that the whole process was completely seamless and I spent a lot of brain cells worrying over nothing.
On Friday, we attended the mandatory pre-race meeting to learn more about the course. Next, we checked in our bikes, T2 bags and post-race gear bags.
I was stressing about a million factors that were beyond my control: The bags, of course. How cold it would be on the bike (the temperature at the start was going to be about 45 degrees). The wind, which the bike course is known for. And the long transitions. Despite all this analyzing, I was trying to remain positive and remember the advice from my friend Tere about mentally preparing for race day. Race weekend is not the time to doubt yourself or your training. It is a time to celebrate all that you have accomplished to get to this day and to believe you are capable of your best performance.
On race morning, I woke up 4 hours before the race start to eat. My breakfast consisted of 500+ calories, including an everything bagel (260 calories), a hard-boiled egg (70 calories) with lots of salt, a cup of Chobani Greek yogurt (160 calories), a half of a banana and strawberries (50-60 calories) and a salt pill. I tried to get a good mix of carbs and protein. I also drank 16 ounces of water.
At 5:30 a.m., Teesha and I left the hotel and drove to the race finish, where buses were transporting athletes to T1 and the race start. We were bundled up from head to toe in warm clothes as we boarded the buses. We could see our breath and our fingers and toes were freezing. Thank goodness for throwaway gloves and old running shoes. Once we got to T1, we set up our transition area and then boarded another bus to the swim start. The logistics sound really complicated for this race, but it was all very easy.
About 35 minutes before the race, I ate 6 Clif Shot Bloks (200 calories) and did a 10-minute jog with some dynamic stretching. Then it was go time!
The swim was in an intercostal channel (salt water), and the half Iron athletes had an in water start. We were told that the current would be fast for us, but I don’t think it had a positive impact for me. When the gun went off, things were very chaotic. I was expecting to spend at least 200 yards trying to get out of the hitting and kicking and to find my own space. Unfortunately, I felt crowded for the majority of the swim and was constantly trying to find my personal space. The water was quite choppy from all the swimmers and from the wind. I swallowed a little salt water and was struggling more than I had anticipated in the water. About half-way through the swim, there was a left turn. Once I turned at the buoy, I knew I was supposed to just swim straight, but there were no additional buoys to sight. This is the only complaint I would have about this race. I just followed the swimmers in front of me until I could see the dock, although I stopped swimming twice to ensure I was headed in the right direction. You climb a ladder out of the water and then immediately get your wet suit stripped off. The timing mat was another 200 yards away.
When I looked down at my watch I was a bit devastated. I knew the swim was tough, but I wasn’t expecting it to be 9 minutes slower than my time at Augusta 70.3 last year, especially since the current was supposed to be strong. I immediately started questioning how this would affect my goals and my time, but charged into T1 to try to make up time on the bike.
Swim time: 00:38:18
I knew T1 was going to be a little long because of the extra gear I would have to put on due to the cold. Although I’d practiced putting on arm warmers quickly, nothing could prepare me for how long it seemed to take with slightly wet arms. I felt like I was moving in slow motion. To compound things, when I grabbed my bike from the rack, it fell over and I sort of fell with it. Could this transition take any more time!?! I finally got it together and headed out to the bike start. Surprisingly, I had the fourth fastest T1 time in my age group.
T1 time: 00:5:21
Although the first 2 segments of the race started a bit bumpy, I was glad to be on the bike.
I’d trained the hardest for the bike because it is my least favorite of the 3 sports and is where I thought I could see the biggest improvements. During the first half-mile, I noticed that although my speed, distance and time measures were reading on my bike computer, my cadence was not. Cadence (rotations per minute) is how I measure my effort on the bike and when I need to go into a higher or lower gear. I suddenly realized that when my bike fell off the rack, my cadence sensor fell off with it and was now nestled somewhere in the grass near my transition area. Oh shit.
What the hell is going on? I’m thinking. This race should be going much smoother than it is. I mentally panicked for about 10 seconds before reminding myself that there was nothing I could do about it and that I would have to ride by feel. I know what an 85-90 cadence feels like and I’m going to have to trust that.
The bike was mostly flat with a few bridges to cross and a handful of false flats or gradual small inclines. The first 5 miles had a lot of twists and turns which caused me to slow down a bit, but once we got through that, it was a straight shot in which I could ride in the aero position nearly the entire ride. Most of the athletes complained a lot about the wind. I thought it was very windy from miles 21 through 38, but I was riding with the wind for the last 16 miles and came in faster than I went out. My fueling and hydration plan was to eat one Honey Stinger Vanilla Waffle (160 calories) after the first 20 minutes on the bike and then a half of a waffle every 20 to 30 minutes for the rest of the ride. I ate a total of about 550 calories. I tried to take a sip of fluid at least every 15 minutes. I went through 20 ounces of Cherry Limeade Nuun and 25 ounces of water.
As I approached the last mile, I knew I was going to completely crush my goal for the bike. I was hoping to come in about 3 hours to 3:03, averaging more than 18 mph. When I saw that I was going to be well under 3 hours, I started shouting out some random things (too unladylike to mention here) and “woo hoo-ing” to myself.
I got off my bike at the dismount line and handed my bike to a volunteer. I came to conquer the bike and victory felt sweet!
Bike time: 2:56:16 (19.1 mph; 7th in age group on the bike)
The second transition area was inside the Wilmington Convention Center.
We had to run around the perimeter of it, grab our T2 bag, change and then run out of the Convention Center while handing off our bag on the way out.
When you enter the area, volunteers are yelling out your race number so that another volunteer will find your bag and hand it to you. I quickly put on my gear for the run, stuffed my bike gear into my bag and finally headed out for the one sport that I knew was mine: the run.
T2 time: 00:2:35
My plan for the run was to try not to allow my adrenaline and excitement to cause me to go out too fast. I wanted to take the first 3 miles easy (based on feel vs. pace). The first 2 miles of the run were filled with twists, turns and curves and included a very narrow pathway along a board walk. There was a very steep hill during the second mile, but it was short and manageable. My Garmin was telling me that I ran my first 3 miles all under 8:10 pace. That scared me a little knowing how much more I had to go, but I felt really good and didn’t feel like I was going too hard. My nutrition plan was to alternate between sports drink and water on the course, taking a salted caramel GU at miles 3 and 7. I planned to take one around mile 10 too but just couldn’t stomach the last one.
And if you were thinking I was going to get through this race report without at least one unladylike moment, you are sadly wrong. I had to pee the entire time I was on the bike but my body would not allow it. However, I have perfected peeing on myself while running. I peed 3 times during the run. There is nothing quite like urine running down your legs when there are men all around you. We’ll see if I can save those Brooks Pure Cadence or if they are destined for the recycle pile.
The run winded through a nice park and along the water. It was an out and back course, so around mile 6 I kept thinking, Where the hell is the turn-around point!?! There is something so mentally helpful about reaching that turn-around spot and knowing you’re on your way home. The pathway was narrow but overall it was a pretty good run course. The people doing the full had to run the out and back course twice, which I imagine was much more mentally challenging.
With 2 miles to go, I was hurting. I kept telling myself to just hang on. That no matter how slow I ran, I was going to be in the 5:30s, busting my Augusta time from last year. I was running out of steam but stayed focused. I saw my good pal Teesha heading out as I was passing mile 12 and that was a positive boost. With just a half-mile to go, I looked down at my watch and saw that I was at 5:27. I knew that if I kicked it in, I could come in under 5:30. I took off and started sprinting. I turned a corner and saw that finish line. This was mine.
Run time: 1:46:56 (8:09 average pace)
I cannot begin to describe the elation and emotion I was feeling after the race. Not only did I rock the bike and run, but I CRUSHED my goal time. Tears welled in my eyes at the finish. It was all worth it. All the hard work paid off. I did what I came to do.
Total time: 5:29:22
Fifth in my age group, 25th female overall
A few things to know if you are considering doing this race:
- All race proceeds benefit the Wilmington YMCA. How cool is that?
- Beach2Battleship has been ranked as one of the top 5 Iron distance races in the U.S.
- The transition areas are in 2 different places, so you’ll want to plan to take the shuttles to the start and plan accordingly for time.
- All transition gear must be placed into provided bags and checked in the day before the race. (Half Iron athletes can bring their swim to bike bag on race day.) A key tip for the bags is to decorate them with colored sharpies, stickers and decorative tape so your bag is easily identifiable among all the other bags and at the end of the race.
- This race can be very cold. It is critical to pack adequate throwaway clothes, including socks, shoes, gloves, ear warmers and sweats. Nothing you take to the swim start you will get back. There is no morning gear check. Wal-Mart is a great place to get cheap throwaway clothes. Everything left at the swim start is donated to the Salvation Army.
- The water temperature can range from 60 to 70 degrees F. It is in salt water but is not considered an ocean swim since it is in an intercostal channel. I highly suggest wearing a long-sleeve wetsuit for this race.
- There is a long run from the swim to the bike (about 400 yards). If it is cold, I highly recommend wearing swim socks or “booties,” which will help you run faster and pain free to your bike.
- Wet suit stripping and a 200-yard run are included in your total swim time.
- Be prepared to dress warmer for the bike, which will make your T1 time longer because you’ll have to put on more clothes while slightly wet. I highly recommend putting a plastic kitchen trash bag under your tri top rather than wearing a vest or jacket that will create more drag, along with arm warmers and throwaway gloves. The bike is also very windy, so just be prepared for that mentally.
- There were a lot of race officials on the bike course. Be very cautious of the drafting rules and trying to keep 3 bike lengths between you and the next cyclist.
- There are a lot of turns on the run. It is mostly flat with one very steep, yet short hill, and a few small gradual inclines that are not difficult. It is an out and back course.
- The volunteers were amazing and all the aid stations are top notch.
- Wilmington is a great city. The downtown has awesome restaurants and bars for post-race celebrating.
I highly recommend this race for anyone looking to do a half Ironman in good temperatures on a relatively flat course. I am going to be flying high for the next few days. Thank you so much to all of you who have sent words of encouragement and support during this 5-month journey. It means more to me than you will ever know. And my own journey proves that with a lot of discipline, some flexibility, positive mental framing and hard work, you can reach whatever goals you set for yourself, too.
Who else raced this weekend? If you raced, how did it go? Is Beach2Battleship on your race bucket list? What is your next running or triathlon goal?