B2B Half Iron Race Report

I did it! I did a half iron distance triathlon! And, I danced across the finish line!

What started as an idea nearly one year ago - finally came true. On October 29, 2011, I swam 1.2 miles, biked 56 miles and ran 13.1 miles in 6h32m56s. It was the hardest challenge of my life....but one of the best days EVER! It was actually one of the best weekends ever - complete with a medal, a cruise on the Cape Fear river, a stack of pancakes with some my favorite champions and memories to last a lifetime.

PRE-RACE:  I think I felt unusually calm. We arrived at Wrightsville Beach park to set up transition at the bike. Loaded LOLA up with gels and protein bites and laid out my clothes. I chatted with a few friends and perused the pretty bikes.

Happy and Ready. Loving all the compliments on my cute bag.

Neal and I headed to the Seaside Club. We spent some time hiding from the wind inside the car with Sylvain and Anna. With 25 minutes to go, I donned my wetsuit and headed to the pier. I was greeted by Captain Courageous! My wonderful, amazing training partner and friend, Beth had arrived in costume for an early Halloween surprise. The night before, Captain Courageous had dropped a good luck microbrew and a note at the front door. Here she was decked out in hat, goggles, cape, superhero emblem, green top and black and yellow knee high socks. She was joined by Jen, Mandi, Joe and Ben.

The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start. [John Bingham] That's me in the center/top with my arms raised in victory at the start of my first half-iron!

Just Keep Swimming

THE SWIM: The swim was a wild ride. I can only say that I loved it because it was incredibly fast.  That in itself was wild, but the weather made it feel a bit like a roller coaster. The cold didn't bother me, but the wind and the fog made me feel like I was in a washing machine. The inbound current and winds from the north made it choppy for the first half mile.  Plus, the fog was just low and thick enough to mess with my sighting in the water. I swallowed a LOT of water and I think I was 100 yards off the turn buoy at one point. Still, I had predicted a 38 minute swim and finished in 28:55 - ten minutes faster than I thought possible!

Out of the water and headed into T1.

THE BIKE: The bike was a killer. By the time I got out of the water, the headwind had picked up and the temps had dropped to about 45 degrees. One of the athletes (and a meteorologist with the National Weather Service) described it like this: …..winds were 12-18 mph with gusts to at least 23 mph for the morning, but peaked at 25 mph sustained, with 33 mph gusts around 2pm. There was a slight lull in the wind from 11am-1pm when most halfers were on their way back, but the strongest winds were after that, when full athletes were coming back. Another athlete wrote: Driving home today I think I'm going to sit on the front of the car at 40 mph just to reminisce.

The first few miles were okay. I settled in and tried to get my heart rate down. I tried to figure out how to wipe the mist from my shades. I was surprised to see the Nixes on Market Street at the entrance to their neighborhood and even more surprised to see SHELLEY on the ramp onto I-140! I even caught a glimpse of my mom-in-law Dottie, Ron and one of their friends in Porter's Neck. The rest of the ride was the challenge.

My bike start. Headed into the wind.
Physically and mentally it was tough. I had three bad patches in the race and two were on the bike. I rode against that wind – at 11-15mph for 35 miles. The first 25 miles of that 35 were also in a foggy mist or rain. The last ten were simply windy. It was hard physically – I was afraid I was going to be blown off my bike sideways several times! Plus, I was having a hard time staying in my heart rate zone.  Mentally, I was afraid the wind would never stop. I was being passed left and left [it's illegal to pass on the right]. And by mile 10, I already knew that I wouldn’t meet my time goal. I struggled with that disappointment for quite a few miles - trying to make the math work in my favor and trying to justify my performance. Highway I-140 will forever be etched in my mind as the Highway to Hell.

No stop signs, speed limit/Only wind is gonna slow me down. Like a wheel, gonna spin it/Nobody's gonna mess me round. I'm on the Highway to Hell.
In fact, when I started singing that AC/DC tune out loud at mile 15, I started to feel a little better. I knew that my attitude was one of the only things I could adjust so I started singing Christmas carols. Out loud. I started with Away in a Manger and went down my list alphabetically [O Little Town of Bethlehem, O Come All Ye Faithful, Deck the Halls, etc.....]. I even made one up to the tune of Away in a Manger:

Alone on my bike, and into the rain
My toes are so numb, I can't feel the pain.
The wind it is blowing, and I'm being passed
I wish I had wings now or a bike that was gassed.
And what's that ahead in the fog and the mist?
A hill in the distance, WTF is this?

Right about that time, I got mad. In the distance - at mile 19 - loomed a giant bridge. The threat of it - a six-story climb in the wind and rain - was a surprise. In all the months of training, this was the one stretch that I hadn't practiced. [It's illegal to bike on an interstate.] I hadn't even driven this section of it in years. 

I do not like to be unprepared. Plus, I was suddenly scared to death. The wind was gusting from my across my front tire from the right and I was afraid of being blown off the bridge. So I turned my anger and fear as the way to power up that hill and against the wind. I reached the peak in 2m:4s, my speed stayed above 15mph and I counted eight people that I passed [on the left].

I regrouped when I reached Highway 421. This section I knew: the set of railroad tracks, the false flats, even the wind on this section felt familiar. I worked a little harder on readjusting my attitude. I sang a little more and talked to a few people in passing. Santa was helping out at an aid station and I called out: will you bring me a medal for Christmas? He answered: it's waiting for you at the finish! Up ahead, I could see a distinct break in the clouds and sunshine for the first time all day. My heart rate began to drop [and stay] in Zone 2. I also adjusted my finish time. I had hoped to finish the bike in 3h:18m but with the wind and the rain, I added 20 minutes and aimed for 3h38m.

I had one other dip in my ride between mile 30 and 35. I was hungry, I had to make a pit stop and oh, did I mention it was still windy? Plus, I realized that the course had been changed. As I turned onto Blueberry Road, I started looking for other riders. The course was designed to be an out and back on Blueberry Road and I thought it would be possible to see Erica and Jason racing for their relay teams in the opposite direction. No Erica. No Jason. Nobody. This is not right. There was literally a moment of thinking - I am lost. Where are they taking us?! I am going off-course. I am turning around. In the next moment, I collected my thoughts. I had done this ride enough to know the roads to lead us back to the Battleship.

Fortunately, I was leap-frogging with a gal with a beautiful pink camo bike. As I passed her, I asked her how she was holding up. This wind is getting to me, she answered. Hold on for another few miles. We're getting ready to hit a tailwind. At the second right, you're going to feel much better. I believed my own words. This time, I started singing: Somewhere Over the Rainbow. I passed the sign at the Currie Baptist Church that said: David, a man after God's own heart, and I laughed out loud. I took it as a sign. [my small group at church is doing a study on David and it reminded me of my heart rate training!]  So, of course, I started singing Jesus Loves Me.

I actually turned a corner (literally and figuratively) at mile 35. I made a pit stop, ate half of my Uncrustable and I refilled my aero bottle. When I got back on my bike, I made that second right and I was a new woman. My heart rate came down even more and I went from averaging 16mph to 24mph for miles at a time. 

Uncrustables: PB&J on White Bread

When I turned back onto Highway 421 and headed south, I breathed a sigh of relief. The sun was mostly out and the wind was at my back. I knew I could reach my new time goal and suddenly I didn't want it to end! I started remembering all the amazing training rides this summer: the trips to White Lake, the early starts at Malpass Corner, the hot long rides to Holly Shelter, the heat, the bee stings, the dog chases, even the flat tires! I began listing all the people who helped me on my training journey: Michelle, Jen, Jen, Beth, Erica, Brian, Alex, Nicole. I began assigning their names to the traffic cones I passed. I named each little orange and white cone the name of my family: Ace, Anna, Colin, Dad, Joyce, Parker. Even Mama and Nanny [I can bike to Pender County and back. My Mama can't! She never could!]. If I know you, you have a cone on Highway 421 named in your honor. There were hundreds of cones so my list went on and on: my coaches, my friends, running buddies who got me into this [Billy, Ben, Sylvain, Brian and yes, Amy S., you got me into this, too]. 

Thank You, Mr. Conehead.

I had two great things happen in those last miles of the bike. First, I decided I needed to stop again. I tried for two miles to eat the other half of my peanut butter and jelly, but my hands were too cold and honestly - I was going too fast! With the wind, I was traveling around 23mph. I knew there was an aid station ahead but I already had the sandwich out and ready to go. In the distance, I noticed two people on the side of the road. I could tell they were watching for a biker, because they were cheering and clapping. I figured they were safe and I'd stop when I reached them. A few seconds passed and I thought: they look friendly, that person even looks like Anna (my sister). A few seconds later I was screeching to a halt. IT IS ANNA! I said out loud. I'M STOPPING!!! Anna and Colin were both there cheering me on! In between bites of my sandwich, I think we hugged and said a few words before I was off again.

Second, I was passed by my new BFF. She said, "I have decided that you have the best legs out here!" I thanked her and laughed. "I usually only look at men's legs, but your legs are beautiful." I thanked her again and said (as she passed): "I would give anything for your fast legs right now!" I think she said something like we'll work out a trade at the finish, but I never saw her again. I love her and her words of affirmation.

I cruised into Battleship Park and was anxious to get out on the run. Who would have thought I'd be so excited to run 13.1 miles?! I was so thankful to hand LOLA off to the volunteer and be off the bike. My one mistake on the run came long before I started. I had forgotten to set my watch for this workout: Run 13.1 in Zone 2. Fortunately, I had practiced setting my Garmin 405 a million times and it didn't cost me too many seconds. Before I knew it, I was off and on my way.

Headed Out on the Run. I Posed for Every Picture. [Shocker!] Click Here to See the Rest

By mile three of the run, the sun was out and my spirits were up.  My quote going into this race: Divide the race into thirds. Run the first part with your head, the middle part with your personality, and the last part with your heart [Mike Fanelli]. I ran 13.1 miles with my heart. I felt the love of so many friends [Michelle, Jen, Anne, Mandi] and family that showed up to cheer on every mile. I met and talked to women on the course, I got a shout-out from Leanne on her back in, I high-fived my husband, mother-in-law, sister, brother-in-law and dad [three times],  I hugged friends at the aid stations [Shelz] and smiled at volunteers [Renee, Johnny, Tricia, the Moxeys] that called my name. I have been joking that I did 70.3 miles that day - one for every friend, family or fan. [Jen and Mike's Bambino-to-Be counts as the .3]

Mile Three near the corner of Water & Market Streets.

The weirdest part of the entire run was the turn-around. It was a surreal moment.  First off, it was a lot sooner than I remembered or had practiced - which was GREAT! As I ran off a footbridge, into a little valley and up the other side to the turnaround cone, I was greeted by a lounge singer and his electric piano, an aid station where everyone seemed to be dressed like a pirate or pimp and a section of fans that were loud and hilarious. [One sign read: Toenails are for Sissies and another: Chuck Norris Never Did an Ironman!]

The best part, though, was that Dad, Anna and Colin were there! I was totally shocked. I had expected them to head from their last spot at the corner of Water and Market to the Battleship finish line! I was so excited to see them. I stopped to walk and high-fived them. I grabbed some water from the pimp-pirate and passed the lounge lizard [Nights in White Satin? Really?!]

Right after that, I hit my third bad patch. I think I was emotional about them being there. My left IT band was getting tighter. Plus, I came up and out of that little cove on Greenfield lake and headed north and there was wind in my face. I thought, I’m all by myself, now. I have to get all the way back….against the wind?!!! My legs are hurting and it’s getting colder!  It didn’t take long to snap out of it. I started talking with another runner and it suddenly felt like all the other long runs I’d practiced in this park. The sun is shining, my legs are moving and I only have 6.2 miles to go. I knew I would make it if I ran like I loved it and stuck with my heart rate pace!

Those last miles were long - but fun. I passed Brian Campbell and Jen Young on their first out of their double out-and-back. Shelley hugged me at the PPD aid station and got me all teary by saying how proud she was. I talked a girl over the Isabel Holmes bridge - I sang her my off-key version of U2's vertigo as we ran across the steel grates. I saw Valjeanne at the last aid station. And did a fist pump at the top of the Tommy Rhodes bridge when I got a glimpse of the Battleship and downtown Wilmington.

I finished my run in 2:14:33. Coming through the chute was so much fun. I could hear people I knew cheering me on (Anne, Renee, Johnny). I heard people I didn’t know yelling my name (it was printed on my race bib). Even the announcer called my name and recognized me from my relay team in 2010 (team tiara). I think he said something about me being Queen of the Half Iron – but I don’t mind making that up either.  I did a little dance across that finish line - I called it the Uzi Disco Shuffle - and was awarded my medal by one of my favorite teenagers (Leanne's son!). I finished in 6:32:56!
Neal greeted me with the biggest hug and the kindest, proudest words I've ever heard. He made me cry and then, seconds later I started laughing. I was too happy for tears! I collected my finisher's tee shirt and hugged everybody I saw. Anna awarded me ANOTHER medal. A silver charm with B2B 70.3 inscribed. Michelle and Jonathan were there and they gave me......a Chick-Fil-A sandwich!
I stayed for another three hours. I wanted to soak it all in. I got a massage, drank a few beers with Michelle and Jonathan, and kept eating [I craved Oreos and bagels]. I caught up with Sylvain and Leanne and Wendy and Ben. Together we watched Brian and Jen finish their first full iron-distance..........in less than 12 HOURS!! 
I know that I have forgotten someone or something about that day. There are a ton of things that can happen in six hours in the water, on the bike or the run. It's been several weeks and I keep adding memories - jotting down conversations and people and cheerleaders (thank you, Jane Ellison and your children for being at T1 with those signs!). I am so grateful for every moment that led up to the race and every person who sent texts and notes and voicemails. I could not have done it without you. Thanks to you, one of the hardest things I've ever done is one of the best days of MY LIFE!
I am still in the BuB2Ble!


The Final Countdown

Holy Cow! It’s almost here. I’m BIB NO. 1084. My race booklet arrived in the mail yesterday. I know my start time is 9:00am. And the forecast for next Saturday is calling for Bright Sunshine, a high of 66 and a low of 44. The water temp at Johnnie Mercer’s pier is 71.  Hooray!

I can't believe that it's all culminating in the next seven days. I can't believe all that I've learned and loved about the entire experience. I can't believe I haven't written more about it - but I've been too busy training! I can believe that I've put in the preparation. I do believe that I will never forget these past six months. I do believe I will be ecstatic to cross that finish line!

Stay tuned for more in the next few days.


Mental Preparation

This weekend's adventure was a huge mental prep. It is the biggest weekend before the B2B and I'm thankful that I made it! Essentially, I did most of the course in three days. 

On Friday afternoon, I joined fellow B2B buddies Jen and Brian (both doing the full) and tri-club friends Renee and Theresa for a swim in Banks Channel. As we've been doing all summer, we met at Seapath Marina and parked our cars.
 I ferried Jen and Brian to the south end of Wrightsville and the start of the full course. Renee, Theresa and I headed back to the Seaside Club. The water was in the mid-seventies, the current was moving north and the wind was blowing 15knots to the south. Yikes! Our mile-point-two into the wind and across the channel was a struggle. I had two issues: one was technique related and the other (as usual) was a wardrobe malfunction. First off, I am usually a right-side breather, but tried every different breathing method to find a rhythm. We hugged the docks (which I don't recommend on race day) for the first half. When we made the left turn to cross from Blockade Runner to Motts Channel, I was swimming with the wind/waves in my face. 

This is where my wardrobe malfunction reared it's ugly head! After a few strokes, I realized my goggles were sliding across my face from my left eye to my right eye. I stopped readjusted and stroked again. Same thing happened. I switched to breathing solely on the left side....same thing. Frustrated, and swimming blind to keep up with Theresa and Renee, I wondered if I could cry and swim at the same time. Suddenly it hit me. I had used body glide on my sleeveless wetsuit! I applied it to every spot that might chafe and afterward, must have wiped my face inadvertantly! I stopped, treaded water, wiped my face with the back of my hand and the rubber seal around the eye piece and Voila! My goggles stayed put! Peace at last.

Two great things happened in the swim. Despite the wind in Banks Channel, we noticed that the current actually picked up as we swam north. I'm told this  happens quite a bit because of the curvature of the shoreline. There are pockets where the current stalls, and the next thing you know, you're whizzing up the waterway again. The other thing that happened: a wind break. As soon as we crossed into Motts Channel - the homes on Harbor Island protected our swim. The waves disappeared and so did my frustration.

On Saturday, I did my longest ride yet. We started on Hwy 421 about a half-mile from the I-140/Burney Freeway overpass and headed north.

I've done Blueberry Road about a gazillion times and so Shep, Michelle and I decided to simply head up Hwy 421 - in hopes of catching Brian and Jen (who did the full course) and for a change of scenery. We had two challenges. The first happened in the first hour! Let me start by saying that I did something that I'd already learned not to do: I filled my tire just before we left. Since flat number two in July, I've always filled my tire the night before. At the 40 minute mark, 421 merged into two lanes, the shoulder was bumpy and immediately after that I felt like the bump stayed in my back tire. We stopped in Malpass Corner to check it and stretch. Nothing in it. No bulges. No clue. We hopped back on and 50 yards later, POW! Michelle and Shep had barely clipped in! We walked back to Malpass Corner store to change the tube. The owner of the store was waiting for us. "Was that your tire?" he asked. I confirmed and he exclaimed: "I thought someone had been shot!"

Of course, our other challenge was the wind! There were gusts close to 20mph and we could feel them in our face the entire ride north. Every time we passed an open field, we braced ourselves for an invisible onslaught. For me, mentally, the wind is tougher than hills. We finally reached our third county of the day (New Hanover, Pender and Sampson, this time!) and turned around. For a mile, it felt as if the wind was against us AGAIN! How is that possible? But, when I checked my computer, I realized we were cruising 3-5 mph faster than we had been before the turn-around. The crosswinds were still there, but were behind us for the rest of the ride.

On Sunday, I was beat. My right knee and left piriformis were screaming. I got up anyway at 5:30am, determined to run 1h:45m....on a course that included the bridges, downtown Wilmington and part of Greenfield park. I met Jen and Shep at Battleship Park. We crossed the Thomas Rhodes bridge and Isabelle Holmes bridge.

We headed into downtown and onto Water Street, which was slowly coming to life for the second day of River Fest. The street was lined by craft booths, funnel cake stands, giant chicken legs and fresh squeezed lemonade. We were greeted by two large pirates that joked: Arrrrrr! Do you want us to chase you to make you run fasterrrrr?! [To which Jen retorted: I'd rather walk the plank!]. We got caught up in an 8K race and were mistaken as the last participants - even without race numbers. We even eeked out a couple of high-fives from race volunteers!

I kept pace with Jen who has planned to run the marathon by running a mile, walking a minute until she reaches the corner of Water and Market. At this point, you can look across the river and see the Battleship North Carolina. 

Battleship Park from Downtown in the Day

Battleship from Downtown at Night

At this point we decided to run the three miles back. We're doing heart-rate training, so I use the term run very loosely. I think we averaged a 10m30s mile and we only walked twice - up Red Cross Street - and then up the Thomas Rhodes/Battleship bridge. As we crossed that last bridge Jen encouraged me to take it all in on the day of the race. To look over the river and at that boat and take it all in. Remember that you have never done anything like this before. As we descended the bridge and turned into the park, she wondered if she could hire Bono to sing Scarlet [her bike's namesake] and I wondered if he could be there to sing Magnificent for me. 

I got chills as I finished my 10.5 miles and we ran down the road leading to the finishing chute. We practiced the hard left into the chute and imagined the announcer calling our names and crossing the line. 

Sunday Morning Pre-Run Inspiration
In only a few short weeks, the practice will be over and the game will be won! Rejoice!


Scout Slocum

One of my favorite aspects of triathlon is the bike. It is not necessarily my strongest sport of the three (I can’t figure out which is), but I think I look forward to it the most. When I started my training in 2008, I fell in love with early mornings on Masonboro Sound road as the sun trickled through the trees. I was thrilled at the fact that in the time it took to run four miles, I could actually bike nine. I think it was one of those mornings that I thought up my new favorite phrase: triathlon is like being a kid again – only faster. 

Growing up, we lived for our bikes. We imagined them as horses. My sister Anna and I – alongside our neighbors Leanne and Stacie – would race up and down the street and around the block on our pretend mares. We would cut branches from the weeping willow behind our house to use as whips. We named them Flicka and the Black and Beauty and characters from Little House on the Prairie.

Now that I’ve stepped up my training to longer distances, I live for rides that take me places much farther away than nine miles. In the time it takes me to run a half marathon, Lola [yes, I still name my bike] and I can bike 35 miles! My new love is a summer morning out in the country. I like the idea of exploring roads I’ve never even been in a car. I like the idea of riding before most yard-salers get out on a Saturday morning. I am thrilled by gardens and corn fields and stables and even country creatures: I’ve seen foxes and ospreys and turtles and snakes and a skunk. I’m also happy that I am faster than most of them.

A few Sundays ago, a group of riders took off at the crack of dawn from Highway 421 near the Pender County line. My training plan called an hour and 45 minutes in zone two. A few miles into it, Nicole and I dropped to the back of the pack and used the time to catch up on a zillion different things – writing, relationships, etc. As you may know, my heart-rate dictates my pace and soon we fell off the peloton and found ourselves zipping along the highway alone. We followed the B2B bike course towards Moore’s Creek battleground and into Pender County. It was a classic Southern morning. Cicadas were humming, dogs were barking, roosters crowing, horseflies were chasing us and the smell in the air was a mixture of earth and smoke and dew.  At the fifteen mile-mark, I still had ten minutes left until the turn-around.

Nicole is always up for an adventure, so we decided to have a little fun and take a detour on a road less traveled. It was called Battleground Road and I expected it to take us into Moore’s creek. Instead, it bumped along the old entrance to the battleground park and became Old Slocum Road. We passed the original entrance, marked by two white brick columns and cordoned off by a fence. We passed a yard full of dogs - also cordoned off by a fence. We nervously passed broken beer bottles in the middle of the road – twice. 

We finally hit a straight-away and picked up some speed. As we’re cruising along for the final minutes before the turn-around, we passed a few trailer homes on our left surrounded by a huge ditch. Little did we know that there was a sentry standing guard of his castle and moat. A brown, heavy-set small dog – we’ll call him Scout Slocum - at the corner of the lot spotted us and noisily alerted the entire countryside that we were about to pass. He immediately started running with us. For a few seconds, we were sure we were safe. He was to our left and a little behind us and we were separated by a very wide-but-empty ditch. That thought was fleeting. With a late surge, we all three reached the plank board bridge that connected Scout to the mailbox and the rest of his kingdom at the exact same time.

With Scout at our heels and my heart in my throat, I’m sure I yelled GOOOO or NOOOO or something that woke up the rest of the countryside. My mind is thinking, pedal, pedal, pedal for the entire time Scout is chasing us up the road. About 50 yards from his house, we lose him. Nicole and I laugh and thank our lucky stars and laugh again.

And then: my alarm sounds on my watch indicating two things: my heart rate is waaaay out of Zone 2 (160bpm) and we have now reached the turn-around. We have to race back through the gauntlet. Nicole and I look at each other and quickly develop our own battle plan. We figure that we’ll gain an advantage by picking up speed before we pass the house. I unclip my right foot from the pedal in case I have to gently push Scout out of the path of my wheel. (I said, gently.) We gained more speed. 

As we reached the house at 21 mph, we size up the situation and instantly see that Scout – for the moment – isn’t even paying attention to the four wheels coming up the road. He’s staring up at the front door of the house and is already past the plank board bridge.  Victory! We have a head start! Defeat! He spots us and accelerates from zero-to-20 in one instant. Victory! He skips the bridge and is running parallel to us – and again we’re protected by the moat. Defeat! In a move that defies physics, we witness Scout accelerate, jump into the air, stretch his little legs and soar across the five-foot-wide ditch and onto the asphalt. He didn’t even skid. He kept his momentum and for a moment he was close enough to my right foot that I could have tapped his mustard-colored head with my toe. I was too scared to stop pedaling. I switched into a power gear and in the last second, we flew past him. Victory!?

We breathe a sigh of relief, pass the broken bottles, the old Moore’s Creek entrance and the fenced-in dogs and turn back onto to the main road. We cover 35 miles in just over two hours and meet back up with the other riders. We laugh when we tell the story and brag a little because we out-smarted and out-rode that little brown dog in the country. I joke that I have one more thing on my list that makes my heart-rate soar.

My bet is that old Scout is sitting on his front porch telling all the other dogs how he chased those four-wheel machines from the big city right out of his country and back home where they belong. He’s bragging that he’s not spring pup, but he’s still got it after all these years. You can’t teach old dogs new tricks, but you can make the old tricks better, he’s saying. It has never felt so good to run so fast and jump so high.

Like I said, triathlon is like being a kid - only faster.