Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Beach 2 Battleship

Wow... I am not even sure where to start with this race report.  The entire experience blew my expectations out of the water and I am almost in disbelief that everything worked out the way it did.  I am still on cloud 9, but here goes... 

Going into the race, I was quite nervous because on top of the anxiety over attempting a new race distance, my last two long rides were washed out by rain and I had been sick for the three weeks leading up to the race.  Thankfully I felt 98% better by the end of race week, but I was feeling far less confident than I had been in early/mid-September. 

My dad flew down to Raleigh on Wednesday night, so Thursday was a nice relaxing day including a very short run, a pool swim with friends, and a nice carb-filled pasta dinner with my dad.  On Friday morning we headed out to Wilmington, checked into the hotel and went to the race expo.  As I was standing in line for packet pickup, it really hit me that I was about to race an ironman, and the nerves and excitement both picked up yet another notch.  

After checking out the expo we headed over to the transition area in Wrightsville Beach.  I took the bike for a quick spin to be sure everything was working well and to loosen up the legs a bit before racking the bike in T1.  From there we went down to check out the swim exit and I did a walk through from swim out to my bike and then to bike out.  

Bike check-in at T1
I planned to check my transition bags in the morning rather than on Friday, so the only thing left to do was to eat and rest.  We stopped by the Fish House and had a lovely dinner outside (salad with chicken for me while everyone else enjoyed some nice coastal seafood) before heading back to the hotel and calling it an early night. 

I was awake well before my 4:00 alarm, but stayed in bed and tried to at least rest while visualizing the race and trying to bolster my confidence by thinking of all of the training I'd put in leading up to this day.  I got up at 4, took a quick shower, and had a Clif bar, a bottle of nuun, and some coffee.  I put on several layers of body glide and my trisuit, double checked my transition bags, mixed my UCan, and left for T1 around 5:15.  There wasn't much traffic at that time in the morning and I arrived without any issues. I set my helmet, shoes, and sunglasses up at my bike and then dropped my T1 bag with a towel and arm warmers at gear check.  I put on my wetsuit, took once last look over my T1 setup, and boarded the bus to the swim start.

After being dropped off near the marina, I made the short walk over to the start area, used the porta potty one last time, drank my UCan, and chatted with a few other athletes.  With the breeze from the water it was a little cold just standing around, but with my wetsuit and swim socks it wasn't all that bad.  Before I knew it, it was almost time to start, and we made our way down the beach.

The full distance is a single start with nearly 700 athletes, so it was by far the largest swim start I've ever been in (previously my wave at Augusta was something like 150 women).  I know I'm not going to set any speed records in the water, so despite the lack of a start timing mat, I went out near the back of the crowd, content to trade losing a few minutes for a less frantic start.  Despite that, it was crowded for quite a while.  At times there were so many other people around me that I really had nowhere to go, so I just breast stroked and tried to scope out some space.  Though I did feel like there were a lot of swimmers around me the entire time, I eventually found a little room and settled into a comfortable pace.  I was barely kicking at all (boy I sure do love a wetsuit legal swim!) and tried to minimize my energy expenditure since I knew I had a long day ahead of me.  I actually felt so relaxed that I thought there was a good chance I was almost last, so after the last turn I picked it up a little and put a little more effort into the final yards to the dock.  

I climbed up the ladder and jogged over to the wetsuit strippers.  There was a bench, so it was easy to sit down and they just pulled it right off.  My watch got caught up in the wetsuit but the volunteers were helpful and soon enough it was off and I was up and jogging to T1.  Because my watch had been under my wetsuit, I had no idea how long I'd been in the water, and was very pleasantly surprised to look down and see 55 minutes!  Officially, my swim time was 57:36, which includes wetsuit stripping and about 200 yards of the run to transition.  With the current, the time itself doesn't mean a whole lot, but I was really pleased to later learn that my swim was 46th out of 150 women.  Given my (lack of) swimming ability, I will take finishing in the top third of the swim any day.

I had planned to at least rinse my face off in the warm showers, but as I ran through the shower tent, all of them were taken.  I decided that I'd just quickly towel off rather than waiting, so I continued on into T1.  I grabbed my bag and went into the women's tent, where I intended to just put on my arm warmers and then roll out.  Even though temps were in the 50s, the sun was out and I didn't feel particularly cold, so I decided that the arm warmers weren't really necessary, quickly wiped off, threw my wetsuit, goggles and cap into gear bag, gave it to a volunteer and headed out to my bike.  

It was congested at the mount line and I was cautious exiting the transition area.  Once I got going, I heard a very annoying rubbing/squeaking noise coming from my front wheel.  I'd ridden it right before bike check in the night before and everything seemed perfect, so I had no idea what it could be.  I pulled over to the side of the road and checked the wheel, hoping it was simply something stuck in the spokes, but couldn't see anything unusual.  My biggest concern was that there was something wrong with the wheel that would lead to a flat tire or serious mechanical problems, but thankfully it never got worse.  Unfortunately it meant over 5 and a half hours of listening to squeaks, but by the third hour I really barely noticed it anymore.  I saw my family around mile 5 and that was a nice boost and good distraction.  Shortly after that, I rode by a guy pulling back onto the course from the side of the road and he asked if it was my bike making that noise.  When I confirmed that it was, he said he was glad because he'd just crashed and thought it might be his.  Apparently he'd run into a cone and hit the pavement pretty hard.  I noticed his road rash and asked if he was ok and he said "well, not really, but pain is temporary."  That kind of set the tone for the day and I tucked that mantra away, knowing that in all likelihood I would need to remind myself of that later.

Heading out on the bike. Only 5 hours in the saddle to go!
My goal for the bike was to keep my power in the upper 130s and hopefully finish under 6 hours.  I don't have speed showing on my watch, so I didn't know how fast I was going, but with the headwind I just felt very slow.  A few times I clicked my watch over to speed and saw numbers like 16.8 or 18.3.  I knew I needed to average over 18 to get in under 6, so I was tempted to push a little harder, but my coach had said that if I felt like going harder than my planned power I should remember that it was going to be a long day, and with that in mind I just stuck to the plan.  About an hour into the ride I realized that I'd done a great job of hydrating, and despite my desire to not make any stops on the ride I opted to pull off at the second aid station around mile 40 to use the porta john.  I also took that opportunity to reapply some anti-chafing cream and despite losing a few minutes I think that stop was definitely the right decision.  

After that it was mostly smooth sailing.  I was passed by a few guys and one woman, but for the most part I was just sticking to my plan and picking people off.  The course was mostly flat, and with the exception of a section around mile 80-90 that was rough and full of seams, the pavement was pretty decent.   I was pleasantly surprised to see my family again shortly after I hit 100, and yelled to them that I felt great so far and all I have left is a marathon.  Even I had to laugh at the fact that I could say that and really mean it.  

Passing guys around mile 105
I guess that headwind finally turned into a tailwind at the end, as I was still riding on target but averaged over 23 mph for the split from mile 105 to 110.  I spun it out for the last couple of miles, which had a bunch of turns anyway, and though I was not sad to see the dismount line, I actually felt really good.  In the end, I averaged 138 watts on the bike - exactly on target - and a speed of 19.9 miles per hour.  I kind of wish I hadn't stopped because then I would have been at 20 mph, but I guess that will give me a nice even number goal for the next one :)

I gave my bike to a volunteer and ran into the convention center.  It was definitely the nicest transition area I've ever been in, largely because it was inside and there was a real restroom available.  I grabbed my T2 bag off the rack, went into the changing tent, laced up my running shoes, used the restroom (apparently I did a fantastic job of hydrating on the bike), threw my helmet and shoes in the bag, gave it to a volunteer, and took off on the run.  As I started the run, I flipped my watch over to the total race time display and was really surprised to see that I had made it through the swim, bike, and both transitions in under 6:45.  My stretch goal was about an hour on the swim and under 6 on the bike so I could give myself 4 hours to break 11.  My goal pace for the run was high 8s/low 9s, so I realized that I had a chance to finish in the 10:40s if I could just put in a solid run.  I think I did that math over and over about a dozen times because I really couldn't even believe it!  

The hardest part of my transition runs in practice was slowing down to my goal pace (8:40s-8:50s).  Though it wasn't a huge deal in training when the brick entailed a 4 mile run, I knew that going out too fast could really cost me later, so I did my very best to slow it down.  Despite my best efforts, and despite the fact that I felt like I was barely moving, my watch kept showing low 8s.  I took my coach's advice to walk through the aid stations, even though I didn't feel that it was necessary.  I started out drinking Heed and would just walk briefly enough to take a few sips, throw away the cup, and then start to run again. Even with the walk breaks at every mile, my splits were consistently in the 8:20s and I still felt fantastic.  It was a double out an back run, so I cheered and encouraged all of the half IM runners that I passed as well as the IM leaders as they started to come back.  I tried to count how many women were ahead of me, but it was difficult to tell because of the relay teams, who also had purple bracelets.  

Around mile 10 my feet and legs started to get a bit tired and I didn't want more Heed or anything other than water, but I was pretty excited to have made it through over 8 hours of the race before those feelings even hit me at all.  Mentally I just told myself I had another 2 miles before seeing my family again, then 1 more to finish lap 1, then 10k out, 10k back, and I would be an Ironman.  I finished my first lap in 1:50, and knew if I could just hold onto 9 minute pace and run the last half marathon in under 1:55 I would finish my first 140.6 a full half hour faster than my best case scenario goal of 10:59.  As I headed out on the second lap, it felt a little harder, but my pace remained in the low 8s and even with the walk breaks, my splits were under 8:30 until mile 18.  That's when it really started to get tough, and though I largely kept my moving pace in the mid-8s, my walk breaks were getting longer each mile.  I started taking ice and drinking coke, and would then tell myself I just had to run one more mile and I could walk again. My splits edged up into the 9s, and it was discouraging to feel like I was working harder and harder yet going slower and slower.  I pulled out all of the motivational mantras and thoughts that I'd tucked away for such an occasion, and was determined to not let 9 hours of hard work and a shot at 10:30 go out the window.  Just. Keep. Moving.  

Once I got back to downtown, there were tons of spectators and I knew all I had left was a nice little downhill, a run on the boardwalk, and then I would see the finish line.  With the rush of adrenaline from knowing I was about to finish and my pace back in the low 8s, I actually felt strong again through the last mile.  Making the last turn and seeing my family and the finish line was such a great feeling.  It was such an emotional last 0.1 mile run... I was overwhelmed by how well the day had gone, by the fact that I was actually finishing an ironman, and by the realization that I had absolutely crushed even my stretch time goals.  

Down the homestretch with the finish line in sight
A second lap split of 1:53 gave me a marathon time of 3:43:53 and an overall race time of 10:27:42.  I kept looking at my watch and at the clock, but still couldn't believe that could be right, and even as I write this I am not sure how that happened! 

I made my way through the finisher chute and was greeted with congratulatory hugs from my family, walked back to the hotel, and took the longest shower ever.  I followed that up with a nice little session in my new Normatec recovery boots and then we went out for dinner around 8:30.  I was shocked to find that I felt ok and was pretty much walking normally, so even a mile+ walk to/from dinner didn't seem that bad.  As usual, I wanted a burger, so we found a place where I could get that and a post-race beer.  We sat outside and watched as runners were both coming in and going out on the run course, and as I sat there wearing my finisher pants and drinking a beer I realized what an epic event it really is.  

I did in fact wear this out to dinner at a restaurant
After dinner we walked back to the finish line to return my chip and check to see if I'd placed in my age group.  Based on the results from the last few years, I knew that I had a good shot at an age group award if I finished under 11 hours and getting on the AG podium was one of my goals at the beginning of the year, so I was pretty excited to see how I'd placed.  The overall results were scrolling on a TV, so we had to wait a bit and then I would just have to count how many women 35-39 were ahead of me.  The top three were pretty close together (9:25-9:33-9:40) and then there were a bunch of male results before I saw the next F come up.  To my surprise, that next female was me! I thought I must've missed some or counted incorrectly, so we stood around and waited for the results to go all the way through again, and sure enough... 1, 2, 3, me!  I was soooo happy.  As an added bonus, there is a cash prize purse for the top 5, which meant I ended up with $250 and a really cool award.  The other 4 women in the top 5 are all professional triathletes, and to be the only amateur on the podium in my first full distance race was definitely beyond anything I'd ever even imagined.  The race was also the USAT mid-Atlantic ultra distance regional championship, so now I can add age group regional champion to my (very short) resume as well.  

Official splits:
Swim: 57:36 (46th)
T1: 4:44 (8th)
Bike: 5:37:22 (19.9 mph; 9th)
T2: 4:10 (8th)
Run: 3:43:53 (8:32/mile; 6th)
Total: 10:27:42 (4th)

I thought after the very long training cycle and finishing my first 140.6 I would want to take a break from triathlon for a bit, but now I am more excited than ever for next season!  I am recovering surprisingly well and actually felt a lot better than I did after Boston.  After this week off I will resume light training, and I can't wait to see what my coach has in store for this next training cycle :)

Thank you all for your support throughout this journey, for the many good wishes before the race, and for all the sweet congratulatory messages - I am lucky to have such great friends and to be a part of such a phenomenal racing community! 


  1. Fantastic - loved reading it!! You will however need to learn to pee while staying on your bike!! Congrats again and can't wait to hear what your next adventure will be

  2. Kara, I love reading your race reports. You are getting stronger and faster every event. 136W seems low for a 20 mph ride - I would have guessed 150-160W. You might want to check the zero offset on your power meter. At least you know the front brake was not rubbing on the wheel!

  3. Congratulations on placing overall, you made it sound easy!