2019 OBX Half-Iron Triathlon
1/11 AG 8/73 Overall
September 14, 2019 – The 2019 version of the OBX Triathlon was two years in the making thanks to Hurricane Florence causing a cancellation of the 2018 race. In 2018, the OBX Half (70.3) was intended to be my “A” race for the year, so there was a lot of disappointment associated with that cancellation. This time around, the race was going to be my final tuneup before Ironman Louisville a month later, and I was crossing my fingers that the race would go on as planned as a I saw Hurricane Dorian forming in the Atlantic. Thankfully, Dorian passed though the Outer Banks the week before the race. Unfortunately, all of the runoff that went into the Croatan Sound caused dangerously high bacteria levels in the water. The race would go on this time, but sadly, the swim would be cancelled.
While Leigh Anne was thrilled about the swim cancellation, I was definitely bummed. The swim is one of my favorite disciplines, and it usually helps me move up my in age group standings. Leigh Anne is still getting used to open water swims, and had convinced herself that there was at least a 50/50 chance of her drowning in the sound. I was more optimistic of her chances, but at least someone was happy about not swimming.
Candace Broaddus and Mindy Reese were also doing the race with us, and we’d booked a condo in the Shallowbag Bay Marina in Manteo. The race was on Saturday, so we drove down on Friday and went to the starting area of the race site near the North Carolina Aquarium to check in and to rack our bikes. I’d heard all the rumors about the race being windy, and it was really whipping during check in. The wind was a steady 15-20 mph and gusting to about 25, so I had to rack my bike by the handle bars to keep it from blowing over due to the disc wheel on the back. Thankfully, the wind for race day was projected to be a bit calmer, but it was still going to be a factor for sure. After getting squared away at the check in, the four of us hit up a pizza joint on the causeway between Nags Head and Manteo and then went back to the condo for the night.
The next morning, Leigh Anne and I left before Candace and Mindy since my start time was earlier than the girls’. I was doing the 70.3 and they were doing the Olympic, so I was starting about thirty minutes head of them. Since the race was a point-to-point, we drove the the finish area at Fort Raleigh and then took a shuttle over to the aquarium, where the race started. That was actually a pretty painless process, and Candace and Mindy weren’t far behind us when we got to T1.
After getting everything squared away with my bike, I did a short run and then got ready to start. Instead of doing a time trial start on the bike, the race was going to have us line up at the swim exit and then run towards T1 as if we’d swam. Thus, we couldn’t be wearing any shoes or other biking gear – if you wouldn’t swim in it, you couldn’t have it on. I did my best to convince the official that I swim in my helmet and bike shoes, but he wasn’t buying it. Anyways, we’d cross a timing mat as soon as we started, which would begin our T1, and then race would proceed as normal from that point forward. I was in the first wave to start, so I said my goodbyes to the ladies and then lined up near the water with the other guys in my wave.
T1: 1:15 (5/73)
Racers went off alone every couple of seconds, and I was about the 15th person to to begin. I ran as fast as I could (with bare feet on asphalt) and had no trouble finding my bike on the racks – sometimes that’s more difficult than it should be. I put on my bike shoes (without socks), threw on my helmet and then took off on foot for the “bike out” area. I was quick enough in T1 for fifth overall, which I was happy about since I was really trying to have a quick transition.
Bike: 2:37:08 (21.4 mph) (7/73)
The timing mat coming out of T1 was a long ways from the bike mounting line, so that definitely affected everyone’s bike split a bit. Running on asphalt in biking shoes is no easy feat, and I finally got to the line and was able to mount and take off. The first couple of miles went away from the aquarium towards I-64, and I managed to pass several people in the first mile or two.
I got behind a guy with “Holland” on the back of his tri suit once I turned right onto 64, and followed him east towards the middle school, where there was a turnaround in the parking lot. Holland and I were near the very front of the race, and as we entered the middle school property, we were supposed to go right around the bus loop and then head back out. No one was directing the racers yet, and there was only a very small “right turn” sign at the bus loop. Holland kept straight, and I began to follow him – just like a lemming off a cliff. At the last second, I noticed the sign and went right around the bus loop. Holland then realized that he’d missed the turn, and ended up behind me as we got back onto 64 and headed west towards the bridge to the mainland.
At that point, the wind was at our backs and the going was pretty easy. There were a few miles on the island before we got to the bridge and we were making good time. Eventually I got to the bridge, which is about three miles long. Leigh Anne and I had driven the bridge the day before, and there were tons of expansion joints that worried me a bit. There’s also a rise in the middle of the bridge, which had some very bad pavement at the top for about 30 yards. I’d have to cross the bridge a total of four times, and I was concerned as to how it was going to go.
On my first trip across, I started by bunny hopping the expansion joints because I didn’t know if they’d snag my wheel and cause me to crash. I’ve crashed before by getting my wheel stuck in a joint on the Colonial Parkway in Williamsburg, and I didn’t want a repeat of that adventure. After passing about ten of them though, I gradually began to reduce my hopping, and finally began just riding over them. They still made me nervous, but they weren’t causing any problems. Eventually I made it to the hill at the mid-point of the bridge and I did slow down a bit to cross the bad pavement at the top. There was then a nice downhill section on the other side. With the wind at my back, I was flying.
All good things come to an end, and the course took a right turn into “Alligator Alley” at the far end of the bridge. Alligator Alley was a twelve mile out and back with a turnaround cone at the far end. I was dealing with a cross wind from my right for the first few miles, and then the road turned right some more a few miles before the turnaround cone. This meant that I was fighting a headwind, and the going got pretty difficult. I had passed Holland, but here was another rider in front of me, so I tried to stay as close as I (legally) could behind him to get some relief from the wind.
The road ended a couple of miles into the headwind, and I hit the turnaround the cone and headed back down Alligator Alley in the other direction. About six miles later I got back to the end of the bridge, but there was another out and back in the opposite direction of Alligator Alley for everyone doing the half. It wasn’t anything too terrible, but there were a few turns and another cone to go around that hurt the overall pace. Lots of 180 degree turns on this course!
After completing that out and back, it was time for my second trip across the bridge – this time directly into the wind back towards Roanoke Island. Since the Olympic distance racers didn’t have to do the second out and back, some of them had come out of Alligator Alley and were hitting the bridge the same time as me. Between them and the two or three other 70.3 bikers in my vicinity, we were able to work together (at legal following distances) to get across the bridge. The going was tough, but manageable.
There was still a headwind after I got back onto Roanoke Island, but it wasn’t as bad as it had been on the bridge since the trees broke it up a bit. I made my way back to the middle school, turned around and then headed back to the west for my second loop. I was flying once again with the wind at my back and I was across the bridge onto the mainland in no time.
Upon turning right onto Alligator Alley for the second time, things started getting serious. I’d been in the general vicinity of about five other 70.3 racers since the start, and we’d all been leapfrogging each other periodically. Fatigue was setting in, and the cross/headwinds on Alligator Alley began to break us apart. I hadn’t seen Holland for awhile, but he passed me after the turnaround cone and rode away like a man on a mission. I tried to go with him for a few seconds, but quickly realized that he’d hit another gear and that I couldn’t keep up. Ultimately, he finished second overall, so I guess he’d been conserving his energy for the first part of the bike. Another guy went with him, and even though they left me behind, I began to pull away from two others behind me.
I made it back to 64 and then had to do the shorter out and back in the other direction. My only real “mishap” of the day occurred then, when someone was mowing their grass near the road and shot out a rock that hit me in the left knee. It hurt terribly for about five seconds and then felt fine after that. I was actually pretty shocked that the pain abated so quickly since it hit me dead on, but I was pleasantly surprised. I was a bit pissed at the guy for cutting with the mower spewing debris into the roadway though, when he could’ve just cut in the other direction. Still, if that was the worst thing that happened to me all day, I’d be good.
I finished the second out and back on the mainland and then hit the bridge for the fourth and final time. I was alone at that point, so I was completely exposed to the headwind. It felt like I was in a wind tunnel and I tried to tuck in as tight as I could. It got so bad though, that I eventually had to shift into the small chain ring. I was probably only holding 15 mph in the small chain ring, and the bridge felt it would never end.
Thankfully, there were only a few miles to transition after getting back to the island, and I took it easy in the last mile or so to get ready to run. As I slowed down, I began to notice the heat for the first time, and I knew that I’d probably be in for a tough run. I finished the bike in 2:37:08, which was about 8 minutes off my PR at Ironman Virginia 70.3 in May. I was sad that I didn’t PR, but my average heart rate on the bike for OBX (163) was actually higher than my average heart rate for Virginia (158), so I was definitely working harder by fighting the wind for 56 miles.
T2: 2:10 (19/73)
My T2 was much slower than normal for a couple of reasons. First, I was wearing relatively new Hokas and I hadn’t yet gotten around to putting in Lock Laces, so I had to tie my shoes for the first time in a triathlon in a good long while. I also had to put on socks since I hadn’t put them on in T1. What took the most time though was spraying myself down with sunscreen. I’d covered myself well in the morning, but the sun was out in full force, and I knew that I’d burn to a crisp if I didn’t re-apply. Safety first kids! I was 19/73 overall for T2, but that was still a pretty slow transition for me.
Run: 1:57:31 (8:58 min/mile) (10/73)
The run course had been totally redesigned for 2019, and I think they still have some work to do to optimize it. On the upside, it was basically flat with a small amount of shade and very little vehicle traffic. On the downside, it was convoluted as hell, with a ton of turns and out-and-backs with turnaround cones. By my count, there were a total of thirty-six turns, which doesn’t include eight turn around cones. That made it hard to stay in a good rhythm, and I felt like I was constantly turning or doing a 180. I also think the race was understaffed of volunteers, so there were a few of them working multiple turns. Without the volunteers it would have been easy to miss a turn and go off course, and I hope that they’ll modify the run course a bit more in the future to straighten it out a bit.
Miles 1-3 (8:45)(8:43)(8:44)
When I came out of T2 it was about 80 degrees and sunny with a lot of humidity. I’ve run in hotter, but I knew that it was going to be challenging nonetheless. I was hoping to beat my time of 1:54:12 (8:43 pace) from Ironman Virginia 70.3 in May, and I was determined not too go out too fast, like I did in that race. My plan was to run an 8:45 pace for the first three miles and then to descend from there as my body allowed.
I felt fine as I exited transition, and the first little bit of the course was exiting Fort Raleigh towards 64. There was then a left turn on a shaded trail that paralleled the road. As always, I was running a bit too fast early on and had to force myself to slow down. The good times in the shade didn’t last very long though, because then the course turned left into a neighborhood with direct sunlight, which included three turnaround cones. I was seeing a lot of the Olympic runners by that point, but I was pretty much by myself as far as Half racers went.
The course then headed east on 64 again towards a long double loop. I was nailing my pacing plan, but I was getting hot quickly.
Miles 4-6 (8:51)(8:52)(8:40)
Once my GPS tripped over to mile four, I tried to drop my pace down to 8:30-8:40. I noticed, however, that I wasn’t getting any faster even though I felt like I was running harder. In fact, my pace was deteriorating a bit because of the heat and humidity. With ten miles to go, that was NOT good. I had a small water bottle with me so I had been hydrating as much as I could, but I took extra water at the next aid station and shoved ice into my trisuit. The turnaround cones weren’t really helping my pace much either, but I was able to level off around an 8:50 pace.
Mile six was a little bit better at 8:40, but things were getting pretty serious by that point. I wasn’t even halfway done and I was really struggling to maintain my pace. I was still pretty much alone on the course since the Olympic racers didn’t have to do the double loop. There was a guy who stayed about 100 yards behind me for most of the run, and I did see two other guys a few minutes ahead of me at one of the out and backs.
Miles 7-9 (9:07)(9:29)(9:05)
Miles 7-9 mostly took place on my second loop of the eastern-most portion of the run course. My pace continued to degrade, but as soon as I started my second loop I began to see a bunch of other Half racers, who were on their first loop. By and large, I was in much better shape than most of the people that I saw, so that gave me a bit of a boost. In fact, a lot of people were walking (or close to it), and I will still trudging along at something a little over a 9 minute pace. I kept telling myself that if I could just make it to mile ten, then I’d just have to run back down the trail towards Fort Raleigh to finish up.
Miles 10-12 (9:34)(9:34)(9:32)
I’d been telling myself that everything would be fine once I got to mile 10, because then I’d only have a 5k to run, and that would be no problem. Well, I lied to myself, because it was sucking hard at that point. Every ounce of me wanted to walk and I was struggling to keep from doing so. I was still seeing the tail end of the 70.3 racers heading out in the other direction, and I told myself just to be thankful that I wasn’t in the first three miles of the run like those poor souls. I felt way overheated, and nothing that I was doing was cooling me down.
Eventually, I finished the portion on the sidewalk and went back into the original neighborhood for some more winding around. There was then a straightway, and I could hear the finish line and I saw two volunteers ready to tell me to turn left to head into the finishing chute. That picked me up a bit and I was able to run a little faster. When I got to them though, they pointed to another F***ING turnaround cone about 100 yards in the distance and told me to go around it and come back. Seriously, how many turnaround cones can one course have! I said some choice words under my breath and then did the final out and back.
Mile 13 (9:44)
When I made it back to the two volunteers they directed me towards the finishing chute, and then it was about 100 yards to the finish line. I really didn’t have a final sprint left in me, but I ran across the finish line and collected my medal.
As soon as I finished, I saw the girls off to my left and I began to feel a little woozy so I sat down on the grass with a bottle of water. It took me about 5-10 minutes to cool down and collect myself, but even after that I wasn’t feeling well enough to have the post-race pizza and beer. I basically took one bite and one sip and felt nauseous, so I made a hard pass.
I eventually got around to checking the results, and found out that I’d won my age group (1/11) and finished 8/73 overall for the half distance. Mindy was the second overall female in the Olympic race, and Leigh Anne finished 3/14 in her age group in the Olympic race as well. I was obviously happy about my result, particularly since we hadn’t had the swim to bolster my positioning. More importantly though, my result qualified me for Age Group Nationals in Milwaukee in August of 2020. I’d actually qualified for Nationals in 2019, but didn’t do so until we’d already planned our vacation to Maine, so there was a conflict. I hope to be able to race in Milwaukee next year, and and least I won’t have to worry about qualifying in the Spring.
The OBX Half-Iron Triathlon was my final tune up before Ironman Louisville on October 13th, a month later. Most of my heavy training for Louisville was in the rear view mirror at that point and I was feeling good. I still had one last 100 mile bike ride on the calendar the following weekend, and then I was going to be in full-on taper mode. Unfortunately, things don’t always work out as planned, and I’d be bruised, bloodied and nursing a wounded psyche in the final weeks before Louisville.