2015 Ironman 70.3 Raleigh
80/202 AG 587/1928 Overall
May 31, 2015 – Its finally time for Ironman 70.3 Raleigh. I’d signed up as soon as the race opened a year earlier, and all of my training for those twelve months had been focused on this particular race. I had completed several sprint triathlons and one Olympic distance race, but the 70.3 (“Half-Iron”) distance was a big leap up in mileage. The 70.3 features a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike and then a 13.1 mile run. The mathematically inclined will notice that those numbers add up to a nice round 70.3.
In July 2014 I completed my first 50 mile bike ride on a Friday night, and I remember getting off the bike and barely being able to walk. At that point, I had already signed up for the Raleigh race, and I didn’t think I could run 1 mile, much less 13.1. I purchased an indoor bike trainer in September 2014, and I had steadily increased my biking volume over the winter. I’d also come across the Super Simple 70.3 Training Plan online (see the link below), which I followed pretty closely for the fourteen weeks leading up to the race. Thus, in the two months prior to the race I was averaging 5-7 hours per week of swim/bike/run training, excluding any additional stretching or strength workouts. That’s not enough to be age group competitive in an Ironman brand race, but it was a step up for me in my training, and certainly enough to get me through the 70.3 miles, barring a fueling catastrophe or injury.
Chris Busher, or “Busher” as he is known, was also participating in the Raleigh race, and we had essentially signed up together. Unfortunately, he was involved in a car accident on Christmas Day 2014, and due to ongoing neck problems, his training had really been curtailed. In particular, it was painful for him to run, and his coach Karen really didn’t even want him completing the race. She wanted him to swim and bike and then withdraw during the run. Like me, Busher is hard-headed, and couldn’t bear to travel to Raleigh and then pull out of the race without getting a big shiny medal.
The weekend prior to Raleigh, Busher had a party at his house in Goochland, so we strategized our races there. Karen was present, and was kind enough to give me some pointers even though she was not my coach at that point. That meeting eventually planted the seeds towards my hiring her as my coach in May 2016 to help prepare me for a full Ironman.
Originally, I was planning on heading to Raleigh alone, and had a room at the Sheraton all to myself. Leigh Anne was going to stay at home with the kids, whereas we felt as though a full day affair would be too much for them. A couple of days before I left, however, Leigh Anne was able to get child-care arranged for Jillian, so she and Jackson decided to make the trip. Still, they were not coming down until Saturday evening, but I needed to leave Saturday morning to get checked in, so we both had to drive.
Thus, early Saturday morning I loaded up my car, strapped Blue to the rack on the back and I was off. It was a little after lunch when I arrived in Raleigh, and I promptly found the race expo and checked in. There was a thirty minute mandatory race briefing, and once that was over, I needed to drive to Jordan Lake to drop off my bike in T1. On the way out of the expo I took a picture of the balloons below.
Since the race was a point to point, T1 was in a totally different spot than T2. In fact, Jordan lake was about a 20 minute drive from downtown Raleigh. Once I arrived, it was pandemonium on the small road in and out of the transition area, but I finally made it to T1 and racked my bike. I made sure to deflate the tires a bit, whereas it was really getting warm and I didn’t want the pressure to build up and cause a blowout. That sounds paranoid, but it is actually a frequent occurrence, and I would not have been happy to arrive on race morning and find two flat tires.
After racking my bike, I took a look at Jordan Lake and familiarized myself with the swim. The buoys had already been set up and several people were test swimming. I chose to save my energy, and then headed back to downtown Raleigh to check in to the hotel. The Sheraton was right next to the finish area, but sadly, my room had no view worth mentioning. Busher’s room had a perfect view of the finish line, as seen in the photo below.
Leigh Anne and Jackson arrived a bit later, and then a group of us walked to a nearby Italian restaurant for dinner. Either my nerves began to get to me or something that I ate disagreed with my stomach, because soon after eating I was chewing on Pepto-Bismol tablets. I was hoping for no GI issues during the race, and after dinner we headed straight back to the hotel and an early turn in.
Multiple alarms woke me at 4:00 a.m. on race morning, and after gathering my gear and grabbing a cup of coffee, I met Busher downstairs and caught the shuttle bus that would take us to Jordan Lake. Thankfully, all of my gear was accounted for once we reached the lake and the T2 area, and after inflating my bike tires, eating a GU and multiple trips to the porta-potties due to a nervous bladder, it was finally time for the race to begin.
Swim- 43:15 (2:14/100 m)
The swim was a triangle course in Jordan Lake outside of Raleigh. My goal for the swim was anything sub-45:00, which I thought was fairly conservative, especially since I had recently purchased a wetsuit. I had only swam in the wetsuit once prior to the race, which was a test run in the James River at Robious Landing the weekend prior. Wetsuits help in two ways. First, they make you more slippery, and thus faster – to the tune of about 10 seconds for every 100 meters. Over a course of 1900+ meters, that roughly equates to three minutes. Second, they make you more buoyant. Thus, drowning in Jordan Lake was far less likely for me.
The downside to a wetsuit is that it traps heat, so wearing one in warm water can dangerously overheat you. Thus, Ironman restricts the use of wetsuits when the water temperature exceeds 76 degrees. Due to a heat wave, Jordan Lake was several degrees warmer than the cutoff point on the morning of the race, so the athletes learned at the transition area that the race would not be wetsuit legal. Technically, Ironman still lets age group athletes wear wetsuits up to 83.8 degrees, but those athletes are ineligible for awards and have to start in the last swim wave. When I mulled over whether I would still wear my wetsuit, Busher said emphatically, “Karen says if its not wetsuit legal, you DON’T wear a wetsuit.” The die was then cast, so I prepared myself for the 1.2 mile swim in the lake sans wetsuit.
Due to the number of participants, there were a lot of swim waves, and I was in about the 13th wave to start. Busher had aged up to the 40-44 year old age group, and he ended up being in a swim wave that started about 15 minutes ahead of me. We did a quick warm up swim together before the joined his wave, and then I got farther back in line to wait for my wave to start.
When my wave finally got the start signal I was off, and had positioned myself far to the left to stay out of traffic, whereas the first turn buoy had us turning right. The water temperature felt just about perfect, but there seemed to be a fair amount of chop for a lake. There were several times that I swallowed lake water and had to pull up to cough and dry heave. My body still has a violent reaction when I swallow water that is not intended to be drinkable.
Even though my swim technique had improve a lot after a full year of practice, I was still no better than a middle-of-the-pack swimmer for an Ironman race – maybe even the back portion of the middle. The 35-39 age group is very large and competitive, and as such, there were actually three swim waves for my age group. I was in the first of the three waves, and a female swim wave started immediately prior to my wave. Before I hit the first turn buoy I had begun to catch the slower females from the group ahead of me. About that same time, the really good swimmers from the wave behind me began to catch me. From that point forward there seemed to be a constant stream of bodies that I was passing and getting passed by, and that resulted in a fair amount of kicking, punching and everything in between.
By the time that I rounded the final buoy to head back to shore, I was really ready to be done with the swim. The non-stop swarm of bodies was really getting to me, and I felt like my time in the water had passed very slowly. Still, my time of 43:15 was faster than my goal time, but all in all, I didn’t feel as though I had I great swim. Once I got to standing depth in the water, I ran up the exit ramp and headed to T1.
T1 was relatively uneventful. From the swim out area, there is about a 50 yard run to the transition area, and I hit the porta-potty on the way in. I should have just gone on the home stretch of the swim, but neglected to do so. The transition area was HUGE, and there were several very long rows of bikes. The day before the race, I had made sure that I knew exactly where my bike was, because if I started down the wrong row, I was going to lose a bunch of time trying to get over to the correct one.
Thankfully, my bike was right were I left it and ready to roll. Since I was not wearing a wetsuit, it was pretty easy to ditch my goggles and swim cap, and then slip on my helmet and bike shoes. Given the length of the race, I chose to wear socks. A few seconds of fighting to put socks on wet feet was worth the diminished risk of getting blisters over the 56 mile bike course and then the half marathon. I also scarfed down an entire Honey Stinger Waffle to get some calories into my system, whereas fueling correctly was going to be necessary to prevent a bonk.
It was a long run with my bike to the bike out area, and I neglected to wait and let the volunteers re-apply sunscreen to me. I figured that I would be protected since I had just applied sunscreen before the swim start, but in hindsight, that was a bad idea since I ended up with pretty a bad sunburn on my shoulders and upper back. After bypassing the volunteers, I hit the mounting line and was off onto the 56 mile course.
Bike – 2:47:26 (20.07 mph)
The bike course was full of “rollers,” and the first 6 miles away from the Jordan Lake area were primarily uphill. There were A LOT of people congested within those first few miles, and there was really no way to stay far enough away from everyone else so as to be out of the drafting zone. If the race officials wanted to be Nazis about the drafting rules, then pretty much everyone would have received a time penalty in miles 1-6. Not that drafting was really an issue climbing away from the lake, because the initial going was fairly slow.
After mile 6, there was a pretty good decline and then the course evened out, but it still seemed to be continually going up or down. None of the hills were all that steep, and I probably only had to shift into my small chain ring a few times over the entire bike course. Still, there were some long sustained climbs, that, over the course of 56 miles, taxed the legs a bit.
My goal for the bike course was sub-3 hours, and I felt really good on the bike. I made sure that I stayed on top of my nutrition with GU gels every 45 minutes, and I also took a half banana at two of the aid stations. Thankfully, the wind was relatively mild, but there were a few gusts on some of the roads close to Jordan Lake that gave me a good shove due to the deeper rims on my Zipp wheels.
I had driven the bike course the day before the race after dropping off my bike at the transition area, and it was helpful to know what was ahead of me. I was amazed to see the amount of traffic control at the intersections, and Ironman continued to impress me with its level of organization.
The last aid station came about 13 miles from the finish, and when I slowed to grab a bottle of water, I noticed the heat for the first time all day. The temperature had continued to climb while I was on the bike, and was probably in the upper 80’s or low 90’s by the time I hit the last aid station. The movement of air on the bike can insulate you from the heat a bit, but when I slowed down at that last aid station, the heat really hit me.
Even though it had gotten hot, and even though the last few miles on the bike were tough, I never reached the point were I felt as though I NEEDED to get off the bike. That was actually quite a change for me at the 50+ mile distance, and I felt really good for the last 2 miles heading into downtown Raleigh. The last bit of the bike course into T2 was uphill, and I caught up to a lot of people struggling up the hill. Since I was feeling good, I decided to burn it up the hill, which probably was not a good idea since I was getting ready to run a half marathon. Still, I accelerated up the hill, passing a half dozen or so riders in the process. I saw Leigh Anne and Jackson off to my right, and gave them a big wave as I cruised into transition more than twelve minutes ahead of my goal time of three hours.
Once again, the transition area was huge, and I had made sure to walk it off in the morning so I would be able to find my spot quickly. Once I racked my bike, I had decided to change socks and put Bodyglide on my feet to prevent blisters. When I popped the cap of the Bodyglide tube, however, it had melted in the intense heat and shot out everywhere. I quickly blotted my feet with the liquid, put on my socks and shoes, grabbed my Fuel Belt and then headed for the run out area. I hit the porta-potty on the way out, and then let the volunteers smear me with sunscreen. Once again, I lost some time by hitting the porta-potty since I was not willing to “go” on the bike.
I saw Leigh Anne and Jackson once again at the run out area, and Leigh Anne told me that I was catching up to Busher. Given the intense heat, I should have known that I was getting ready to catch 13.1 miles of hell, but I was still feeling good leaving T2.
Run- 2:05:49 (9:36 min/mile)
The run course has 563 feet of elevation gain, but seemed much worse than that at the time. It is a two-loop course, with the “out” section generally going up and the “in” section generally going back down. The worst part is that its only about 5% shaded, and there was no cloud cover on race day. Thus, there were 13.1 miles of direct sunlight and 90 degree temperatures.
My goal for the run was two hours or less. I had decided to bring my Fuel Belt, which had two 8-ounce water bottles. I didn’t know it at the time, but those would prove to be a Godsend, particularly during the second loop. For the first half mile or so I was doing fine, with the sole exception being the heavy leg feeling from being on the bike. At the half mile point, however, my stomach tightened up and I was forced to walk. This was not a GI distress type issue that required a porta-potty, but instead, was just tightness and pain. That continued until a little after the 1 mile marker, and I was forced to run-walk for the better part of a mile until my stomach cramping eased up.
Ironman had aid stations every mile, and I’m not sure that I would have finished this race if they were spaced out much more than that. I filled up each water bottle at the aid stations, and I also drank a few cups of water and put ice on my head and in my tri suit. By the time I reached the subsequent aid station, I had drank one water bottle and dumped the other over my head. I repeated that process for the entire race.
There were a fair amount of spectators on the run course, including a lot of people playing music. I was able to enjoy them a little bit on the first loop, and managed to keep my pace just under the 9:07/mile pace needed for a two-hour half marathon. Coming back in on the first loop was a little better than going out due the downhill sections, but by the time that I reached the start of the second loop near the finish line I was really beginning to struggle with overheating. I hit the midpoint of the race a few seconds under one hour, but I knew that I was going downhill quickly – at least in the proverbial sense.
If the first loop of the run was tough, the second loop was the seventh layer of Hell for me. I began walking every aid station and dumped as much water and ice on myself as I could. My water bottles would be empty a half mile later, leaving another half mile to go before the next fill up. Around mile 8 or 9 I saw a guy getting sick in the bushes, and Busher apparently saw a woman faint and collapse on the asphalt. All around me people were people who had been reduced to a walk.
Speaking of Busher, I saw him about 100 yards from the turnaround point on the second loop, having made up approximately 15 minutes on him from my later start time. I finally caught up to him at the first aid station after the turnaround, and he was really struggling with neck pain due to his car accident. Karen had wanted him to quit after the bike, but he was continuing on. At that point, I looked at my watch and calculated that I’d need to run approximately 8:00 minute miles to the finish in order to make it under two hours. Given that my pace had already fallen off to about 9:30 minute miles, I decided to run with Busher for the last 5k.
Misery loves company, and running with Busher did seem to make the miles go by a little bit faster. Still, it seemed as though we would never get to the finish line. When we finally got to the last turn, Busher said he was going to sprint the last few hundred yards and took off. I intended to do the same, but Busher had way more left in the tank than I did, and I finished about twenty seconds after him.
After crossing the finishing line, my timing chip was taken away and I was handed a bottle of water. The water went down quickly, and then I grabbed another, and another still. There was pizza at the far end of the finishing chute, and I usually have no problem eating after a race, but due to the heat, I was starting to feel sick. I sat down for a few minutes in the shade, and after drinking a Diet Coke I began to feel a bit better.
My goal for my first half-Ironman was six hours, and I managed to complete Ironman Raleigh 70.3 in 5:43:44 in less than optimal conditions. I was very happy with my finishing time, even though the run took me 2:05:49. Given the heat, I couldn’t be upset with my run time, and when I got in my car in the shaded parking deck around 4:30 p.m., my car indicated that it was 94 degrees.
In looking back at the race, there is not much that I would have done differently, and I probably performed near my maximum that day. If I hadn’t slowed down to run with Busher I might have been a couple of minutes faster, but I still would have missed my two hour run goal. The Half-Iron distance had been a big jump up for me, and it had taken more than a year of dedicated training to get me through that race. The only thing left would be the full Ironman distance, and leaving Raleigh, I was already trying to decide which full distance race I would try to tackle.
In the short term, however, I needed to rehydrate and recover, and there were only a few weeks before my next race – the I Love the Tavern Sprint at Robious Landing. I had completed that race in 2014, and it would be the first triathlon that I had completed twice. I was really looking forward to seeing how much I had improved from my rookie year in the sport.