Note: This race report has been edited from last year’s version – shortened and cleaned up. Lots of personal details and philosophical musings were left out for the sake of brevity. It's still a bit long though. Someone requested info on the upcoming race so I hope this helps. Enjoy!
Beach 2 Battleship Nov. 7, 2009
This was my first Iron distance race. I woke up at 4am, ate 4 packets of Quaker instant grits, 2 bananas, 1 cup of motts applesauce and sipped 8oz of orange Accelerade. My family was still asleep and I was out the door with mixed bottles/nutrition plan by 4:45 and did a final check of my gear in the hotel. I was expecting around a 13 hour race for my first IM. Because of the way the transitions are set up, I should point out that you should take care to know which bags go where. You will have a T1, T2, Special Needs Bike, Special Needs Run and a Swim Start bag provided by the race. You do not get your Bike Special needs back so don’t leave anything you want to keep in it. I did not stick around to get my Run Special needs bag as there was only a gel in it.
Anyway, here goes:
SWIM 2.4 Miles
Water Temp: 64-67F
Wetsuit: Sleeveless with speed sleeves (*&#@%%!!!!! speed sleeves)
Current: Heck yeah!
Time: 0:56:39 (So this is Craig Alexander speed….)
Course: Point to Point with a right and left turn. Buoys to the right.
The host hotels started running shuttles to T1 by 5am. It was cold but managed to get transition bags and such stowed away without any problems. Then everyone lined up for the shuttles to the race start. I thought it was odd that I wasn’t nervous at all. I didn’t figure out why until about 1 minute before the start. Race start is at the southern tip of Wrightsville beach and people put their wetsuits on in the parking lot. You put your gear into a bag and put it into one of the boxes – you’ll find your stuff next to your bike in T2 at the end of the day. It’s a 200m walk to the water’s edge. The water was warmer than the air or the sand. Someone next to me said, “I can’t stop shaking. Not good.” He looked like he was losing it so I turned to him squarely and said “After training 5000 miles and 600 hours to earn the right to stand here, how can you be nervous when there’s only 140 miles to go? Enjoy the day.” (If you’re 6’ 4” tall you’ll at least have to act braver than that little guy 5’4.5” standing next to you.) The Star Spangled Banner ended, the starting horn blared, Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” started playing and slow people like me walked toward the shore way to the left. The water was cold, but not intolerably so and I began with a nice, smooth, easy stroke – and I paid for it. I got pummeled once, swum over twice, and took in a large mouthful of sea water within the first 30 seconds. It’s a MASS start. I’m small, light, weak, dressed in black and swim using total immersion. I may have been mistaken for a patch of unoccupied water. I veered left and headed for the open water. By the time I was parallel to the first buoy (50m) to make a right turn I had already added an extra 15m to my swim. The water was colder in that open channel – which was a blessing in disguise because 1) it kept me from vomiting and 2) I had found the center of the inbound current which made up for the 15 extra meters. In the pool I average 1:10:xx for 2.4 miles. The fast inbound tidal current, salt water and wetsuit chopped off 13.5 minutes. The swim was FAST. I got to buoys a lot faster than I thought and several people overshot the exit.
The squiggly man was at the END of the swim course. Other race reports had said a squiggly man marked the first right hand turn or the end of the ½ IM course but I never saw that one. I looked at my watch and thought that I had about 600m to go until I saw that people were exiting at the dock on ladders. 56 minutes as I crossed the timing pad. I found a suit stripper and as I walked beneath the fresh water showers I yelled, “Hey! These are supposed to be HOT!” I walked/jogged through to transition ¼ mile away. (Ok, so it’s 140.85) The air was colder than the water. Next time I’ll run in with a wetsuit on.
T1: Grabbed the bag and made my way into the changing tent. Crowded and noted a little tenderness/burn underneath my arms and neck. Apparently something had gone wrong and I was chaffed by the speed sleeves and a folded flap on the neck of the wetsuit. I wore a tri suit, the B2B long sleeve tech shirt I got the day before underneath a red Wal-mart tech shirt. No knee warmers. The legs would be fine. The T1 time was mixed with the Bike time as there was some technical glitch. (10-12 minutes?)
BIKE: 112 MI -- Flat--no really--flat.
Course: Out to a loop and back. 2 bridges and 2 inclines that could be loosely considered rollers. Essentially flat after the bridges.
Wind: none until mile 70 – and then what was supposed to be an 8mph tailwind on the way back turned into a 10mph headwind.
Avg. Speed: 16.6 (that headwind was a killer for a lightweight)
I was COLD for the first 15 minutes – but having 3 thin layers was just right for the rest of the ride. The bike course is FLAT for the first 70 miles with only 1 or 2 rollers and the bridge at the beginning/end gives you an excuse not to stay aero for the entire ride. There was a special needs area at mile 60 where I changed bottles and downed a banana.
NOTE: Stuff left at special needs here will be tossed out. Some of the aid stations were off by a mile or so. But it wasn’t really an issue. There isn’t much to describe here except for the guy camped out on patio furniture on the side of the road at mile 30ish with a cooler and a shotgun and the kids at mile 50ish with a sign that said, “SMILE, If you peed on the bike!” As a warning to others there was someone in special needs making a lot of noise about his eye. Along with your helmet wear your sunglasses or eye protection. You will need it. No discussion.
Lower back pain started on the way back in at about mile marker 70. Probably from being in aero A LOT. The course moved from rural roads to the highway at that mile marker, but what was supposed to have been a nice tailwind going in became a 10+ mph headwind all the way back into Wilmington. The last 10 miles seemed to be a slight 1% grade – there was a 1 minute stand up climb at the bridge, an easy spin/coast then a left into T2. Next time, train to sustain aero position for as long as possible—more core work. As I got back to the Battleship I saw the Half-IM participants finishing and felt a tinge of envy. They were going to get pizza. I’d had my fill of gels, snickers, bananas, and accelerade.
T2: T2 is NOT in the same location as T1. Stuff you left at T1 or tossed in the bins at the swim start will be brought to T2 later in the day so don’t worry. Someone took my bike after I dismounted. I was sooo ready to be off the bike and on the marathon. But the area on my torso underneath my arms and the back of my neck were raw. Someone that was from the local newspaper was taking notes when I got in to T2. I didn’t realize it until I read it in an online article a week later.
RUN: 26.2 Miles
The course is essentially flat and you can see the finish/battleship USS North Carolina for most of the course. You go over 2 bridges on your way across the river through downtown and into the park. The bridges are the only real climbs. Mile marker 1 is on the far side of the first bridge on your way out. It is 2- 13 mile loops or 4 – 6.5 mile segments. It all depends on what perspective serves you best. Did I mention I was happy to be on the run and off that bike? At least until I started to sweat into the raw chaffed areas on my torso. The cold water had kept it numb. The cycling clothing and cool weather had kept the injuries dry. They were burning now and running form was rapidly deteriorating due to lack of arm swing by the time I reached the first aid station. For the first time all day, the thought of a DNF started to creep in. “What do you need?” asked one of the volunteers. “Do you have anything for this?” I showed her the raw areas. She winced and immediately produced a big jar of Vaseline. I dolloped it on my neck and torso. She had just saved my race.
At this point I really should say that the support and volunteers for this race were superb and first class all the way. Thanks to all of them – especially the lady at mile marker 1. I thanked her 4 times before the day was through.
By mile 3 I saw the race lead heading back with a cyclist escort. Somewhere on the race there was a “pace crew” if you requested it and they would run with you. There was a huge surprise at mile marker 4. My wife and kids were yelling and cheering. I don’t know how long I stopped. Long enough I guess to get some hugs answer some questions and to make sure they knew I was doing fine. I felt great when I started running again – at least for the next 10 miles. But you know that feeling would be temporary….
The run past the waterfront was uplifting as onlookers cheered on all 4 passes. The run through the park was pleasant on the first loop. Did I mention those 2 bridges? Well, they get a little tougher each time you go over them. You will hit them a total of 8 times on the run. The one closer to the start/finish is definitely steeper. The second is more manageable. By the start of the second loop it was getting dark. There is a “special needs” here – pack a camping glo stick, food or any extra clothing you’ll need as the temp drops. I picked up my running shell. For a 13 hour IM you will be looking at nightfall by the time you hit mile marker 15 and the bridges and the park will be very dark in some areas. They ran out of glow necklaces so next year I’m packing my own. Keep your knees a little higher when you’re on unfamiliar terrain, and do not be afraid to run in the center of the road in the park instead of the sidewalk. The uneven spots you saw in the daylight are treacherous in low light. The tops of the bridges were not lit. Hope they put some lights up next year. The hardest part of the race was running alone in the dark.
By mile 16 I hit the line – just in the right spot to discover chicken broth, coke, bagels and jam. Mile 17 was my dinner stop. I spent 2.5 minutes stuffing my face. This was NOT in my original nutrition plan. I went from quick walk to “running” 4 minutes later. The strategy had been to run easy and walk the aid stations. Now it was run 8 minutes, walk 30 seconds AND walk each aid station taking in as much coke and chicken broth as I could get in 15 seconds. A pretzel went down the wrong tube at mile marker 19 and threatened to choke me to death (I haven't touched a pretzel in a year). The last 6 miles were dark and lonely and the thought that kept me going was, “You know, it could be worse. You could be in the office attending endless conference calls.” And it was true.
As I passed each aid station on the way back I yelled, “Thanks! You guys are great! See you next year!” to the volunteers. A positive attitude goes a long way, especially if it’s all you’ve got left in the tank.
What’s left to say? From aid station 25 (aid station 1) I walked half way up the last bridge fending off a wave of leg cramping, but ran the rest of the way up, down, and finished the last mile strong in 13:04:xx . Savored the last 100m in the chute . They took my chip, handed me a foil blanket and asked if I was ok. I asked, “Can I do that again, please? I think I can do it faster!”