Race Recap: Ironman 70.3 Raleigh

Ahh, another race report. You never know how these are going to go, do you? Well, this one is a bit neutral. You see, it wasn’t my best day, but it’s still one I’ll always be proud of. It’s not always about the finish time, but the time between beginning and end that unveils a story of true grit and willpower. Let’s rewind, shall we…

I’d been training for the Ironman 70.3 Raleigh race (June 5, 2016) for the past few months alongside my teammates. About twenty of us signed up for the half Ironman, stoked to try a new course and visit a different city. Last year, we had completed the Ironman 70.3 Syracuse race in late June, which proved to be a grueling and hilly course. This year, we thought we were choosing something a bit easier, but now I know that was surely an oversight. The date of this race didn’t leave us much room for heat training. It has been a cold winter and spring, and only let up a week or so before the race. I can only remember one training run where I was sweating uncontrollably, and that was in Florida. Us New Yorkers haven’t had a lot of sun in quite some time. So as the days to Raleigh neared closer, our weather apps made it apparent that we were embarking on highs too high for us to comprehend. 

Training up to this point has been pretty good. I have been nursing a sprained/broken foot for almost a year now, and I’ve had an extremely busy work schedule that’s kept me from training at times. So I wouldn’t call it my best training year. If anything, I feel as though I’m training about 80% of what I did last training season. I sleep more when I’m tired, and I focus more on the workouts I know I need more quality time with (cycling!) So, I don’t feel as if I’m getting faster, but I am a bit wiser and stronger for listening to my body and giving it what it needs. Plus, I finally got that bike fit I have waited so long for.

Wednesday, June 1st, we dropped our bikes off to be driven down to North Carolina, so I snuck in a ride that morning. Thursday night, I packed my things quickly, dusted off my wetsuit, and glanced at my helpful race checklist to make sure I had all my essentials. It’s so important to be organized with triathlons! There are so many items you do not want to forget (because you can’t race without a helmet or cycling shoes, people!) Friday, June 3rd was departure day. I flew out that evening and my teammates and I made our way to downtown Raleigh to check into our hotels and call it a night.

Saturday, June 4th. The day before THE DAY. Because we love food more than anything else, we got up early to have a proper breakfast (with extra salt!) before heading to the expo to get our race materials and attend an athlete briefing. Next, we drove about a half hour away to the race start location to meet our coach and get our bikes racked. This race is point to point, so you start at Jordan Lake Recreation Park and you finish in downtown Raleigh (near the hotels). What that meant was two transition areas. Ahh! So it was new for most to start to think about packing separate transition bags for bike and run gear. Anyway, we got to the park and met our coach to get our bikes and go for a little spin. The temperature outside was about 100 degrees and we soon ran out of water, so it was a bit scary to say the least. Normally, we would do a light swim in the lake, but it happened to be closed, so we stuck with just a spin and a walk-through of the swim in, swim out, and bike rack setup. I left my bike “Barb” in transition, letting out some of the air in her tires (to avoid bursting in the heat), and I covered her chain in case of overnight storms. Then it was time to jet out, get some lunch and rest up.

I had a salad with chicken for lunch. Looking back, I should have filled up a bit more. I also should have drank more than water, and maybe gotten in some electrolytes, extra salt, etc. But I did get some laxing time in there, reading a book in my hotel room before we all met up for our 6pm pre-race dinner. At the restaurant, I ate my usual bowl of penne pasta with grilled chicken and tomato sauce, plus some extra bread and a lot of water. Some speeches were given, some last minute race tips exchanged, and then it was time to head back to the hotel. But suddenly, the skies opened up and BOOM, a HUGE storm hit the area, with massive winds and rain striking down hard and scaring the socks off all athletes. Just as we were to begin to unwind, now we were staring at a finish line that was completely destroyed by the weather. The scariest? That this would continue during the race, mainly throughout the bike and run portion. You could only imagine the thoughts that passed through all of our heads. Do we really want to risk our lives for a medal? But most of us are insane, so we just pack extra socks and a rain jacket and swallow our fear. And that’s what I did. I spent that evening arranging my gear and thinking about my rain strategy. Heat wasn’t on my mind, and it should have been, because what happened the next day was not what was expected…

My roommates and I woke up at 3:45am (Eeek!) to gather our things and make our pre-race snacks before heading to meet the rest of the team downstairs for a group walk to Transition 2. T2 was located just a few minute walk from our hotel (also not far from the finish) and we were advised to drop off our Run gear bags at T2 before 5am. After dropping my bag off under my numbered rack spot, we got on line for the buses that would shuttle us to the race start. The bus ride was a nice time to relax, wrap our minds around the day, and for some it was prime time to immerse themselves in music or a book for inspiration. Soon, we arrived at the start and it was barely 6am, when I wasn’t to start until 8:15am. It was nice not to have the pressure of rushing. But I also did not need the time. You see, the water temperature was 81.1 degrees, so this was a non-wetsuit legal swim, meaning we were not allowed to wear one. If anyone chose to, they would have to start last and would not qualify for awards. Luckily, I wasn’t too worried about swimming in my tri kit; I feel a bit more free that way. After standing around for some time, I started to worry that I didn’t have enough of a breakfast prepared. I had 1.5 whole wheat sandwiches of peanut butter, banana, honey & a touch of salt. That was consumed fully by 7am, and closer to the swim I ate a handful of Honey Stinger chews. I also drank quite a bit of water and some Gatorade. But honestly, looking back, I know none of it was enough considering what was about to come.

SWIM (1.2 miles)
I was the third to last wave of the morning, which meant a lot of energy had been wasted and I was to enter into much choppier waters then those before me. Well the siren went off and us females 30-34 got into the water and began our swim. As usual, I stuck to the back of the pack to avoid the kicking and sloppy swimming of others. I soon learned that was a huge mistake because the top females of the next wave nearly killed me when they caught up. It was apparent from the start that this was going to be a challenging swim, as almost no swimmers around me were sighting, so bodies were crashing left and right. On top of that, the buoys that mark the course were setup in an unusual arrangement, making it hard to determine the just how far you were off course. I knew it would take time to settle in and find my groove, but sadly, that time never came. It felt like a constant battle against messy swimmers plus the onset of very choppy waters and a current working against us. No one was winning this war. I was karate-chopped in the back, kicked in the side, punched in the head, and pulled under by my ankles nearly ten times. I tried so hard to hold back from yelling at these open water swim criminals - I just knew it wasn’t worth losing my breath over. So instead, after swallowing my pride and a whole lot of brown water, I kept on, and eventually finished one of the toughest swims of my triathlon career. My best was 39 minutes, and this swim was 53 minutes. Everyone and their times suffered that morning. The bright side was that we survived and I felt a little stronger for it. 

I ran to my rack and was smiling with the thought of not having to worry about peeling off some awful wetsuit. Instead, I dried off, drank some water, clipped on my cycling shoes, put on my helmet, sunnies, and gloves, grabbed Barb the bike, and I was off to start the bike leg. I couldn’t wait to eat something.

BIKE (56 miles)
The first 10 miles were on rough roads with a never-ending incline, but I used that time wisely to get in a lot of fluids and eat some of my nutrition. My bike was equipped with two full bottles of half orange Gatorade/half water, and one full bottle of pure water. My bento box was filled with four Honey Stinger waffles, folded in half, with a pack of Clif Shot Blocks as a backup option. The plan was to drink every 15 minutes at the sound of my watch beeping, and eat half a waffle every half hour. That’s been my plan for all races and it’s usually a winning combo based on my size, output, and preference. But something that day went wrong. The initial issue was my achy shoulders and arms hurting from being in aero, a newly set position I had thanks to a new bike fit. I hadn’t spent much time on my bike since that fit to feel this pain, so it was an unfortunate coincidence that I had to deal with at the moment. The rolling hills we traveled were a little hillier than I had been told/expected. It wasn’t hard per say; I just wasn’t prepared. The ride took us through the countryside, passing farms and making our way through major roadways and neighborhoods. Spectators were kind and offered their support and cheers which is always the best. Volunteers and policemen were also great about blocking intersections so we could pass. But around mile 45-ish, I hit a rough patch. A cramp stretching all the way down my torso on the right side began to disable me. I knew right away I needed straight up water, but all I had left was half water/half gatorade mix. Then I started to hold back from eating more waffles and I really slowed down my speed to sit up and stretch it out. Unfortunately, it wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The only positive in all of this was that my teammate Lisa was by my side through it all which kept my spirits up. Beating any previous times was not in question. I just wanted to rid this cramp and this bike and get on my feet (just like Gloria said).

My favorite place. T2. Where I get off the saddle and do what I love most- run! The run to transition from the area where we dismount was a far distance which was a tad annoying but I kept running. When I finally got to my rack, I traded the cycling shoes for my trusty Asics sneaks and as I lifted my head I banged my forehead into my aero bar shifter. The pain was tough but I couldn’t stand there and cry about it. (Little did I know that I would have a bloody forehead for the rest of the race). I threw on my visor, asked the volunteers for a spritz of sunscreen and I was off and running. 

RUN (13.1 miles)
It was supposed to be storming by now. That’s at least what the forecast called for the evening before. But instead, it was as hot as you could ever imagine. 100-degree temperatures, with 95% humidity and absolutely no shade. My pace started extremely slow and careful - just enough to get me going but keep me from going out too hard. But I swear, within a mile, I was already sinking. I started to see teammates appear on their second loop of the rolling-hills run course and they looked destroyed. It was hard to comprehend and brought my spirits down very quickly. It was about 12:30pm, and the sun was a bright fireball in the sky. He wasn’t letting up and I soon was. I found myself walking as early as mile two, completely out of gas, no energy what so ever. That cramp from the bike continued to strike throughout the entire run, hitting new places each time. I was convinced that I was going to pull out of the race around mile three or four because I was so out of it. No amount of water, gatorade, chews, made me come to life. But I also couldn’t stomach the thought of coming this far and then not completing this race. If I was going to walk to the finish, then so be it. I was going to get there. That’s when teammate Lisa appeared again, and she never left my side. We ran more than half of that run together and again, it was exactly what I needed…a friend. (Thanks Lisa!) We didn’t have the energy to talk, but having someone by your side is enough to keep you moving forward. At every water station, we drank water, gatorade, filled our tops with ice, poured cold water on our heads, and pretty much did whatever we could to stay cool. But it was willpower that was going to get us home. And somehow, we picked up our pace on that last loop. It must have been the base salts she handed me (which I usually steer clear of) that gave me an extra surge. That or I was too fried to take another moment of this. Then there was one pivotal turn and there she was…that finish line. It was far, but it was straight ahead. So I kept my eyes on the prize and tried my best to not look like a mess through the screaming crowds lining the chute. I raised my hands high, but by the looks of my finish photo, it’s very clear I was exhausted. Ridiculously, happily exhausted. 
I was aiming for a 6:15 finish and I had to settle with a 6:47. Not bad for a very rough day from start to finish for a girl with almost no heat training. 

I was offered pizza, pasta, chips, pretzels, bananas, sodas, and more at the finish, but I wasn’t craving a thing. My teammates and I all went directly to T2 to collect our bags and bikes and get them to our coach’s trailer. I took some pics, headed back to the hotel and took a very painful shower (bike chafing, ouch!!). Dinner was pizza and sweet potato fries, and dessert called for chocolate chip cookies with vanilla ice cream. But the celebration we all really wanted was bed. Most teammates had headed back to NY that night, but a few of us stayed over and then left the next morning.

I can’t beat myself up. No one should. I’ve always been and will continue to be one of the most conservative, careful, clean racers on the course. What does that mean? Well, I don’t like anything fast, so a downhill is not my friend and going out too hard will never be an issue for me. I think that’s why my times never change, but I don’t try to change them. My coach may not be ok with that, but I am. I’m also a clean racer, meaning I eat so healthy and clean leading up to races, I give up all alcohol for months, I don’t drink mixes, elixirs, powders, and foods that don’t list real ingredients. On the course, I give in to Gatorade, some chews and waffles, but I’m afraid to throw in something new. I know heat was a huge issue for me on Sunday, but if I was more energized, had a bigger dinner, a better breakfast, more salt…maybe I would have had a little more pep to my step. But now it’s summer time, and I’ve got 6.5 weeks till I take on Ironman Lake Placid on July 24. So with that in focus, I plan to spend a lot of hours outdoors in the heat, testing out my nutrition and my limits on the bike and run. The important thing here, for me and for everyone, is to remember what it takes to get to these finish lines. It’s just as, if not more impressive to be a warrior who struggled and got through it, then to someone who whizzed on by like it was no big deal. I’ll always give myself the pat on the back I deserve. You should remember to always do the same. 

Call me crazy…and some of you do (hehe)…but even with all this pain, I love this sport.
Ironman Lake Placid, I’m comin’ for ya, baby.

Hope to hear from you soon! Shoot me a note and let me know what you’re training for. fitwithforge@gmail.com