What can I get you hun?”
“Mountain Dew…that sounds like a good start”…
“How about a blanket and an ice pack for your neck?”…
“Here you go sweetie. Let me know when you’re ready and I’ll get you some chicken broth.”
You just can’t put a price tag on the wonderful volunteers that support our racing efforts. Especially those who arrive in that dark span of time between the finish line and post race recovery. In the warming tent of the PPD Beach2Battleship half iron, I find myself in good hands and finally able to reflect on the race.
We rolled into Wilmington on Thursday afternoon under cloudy skies. Our first stop was the downtown convention center for packet pickup. The parking garage was completely full for the first four levels and almost every vehicle had some sort of bike transport connected to it. This did not bode well for the quick check-in we were hoping for. Once inside however, we were pleased to find a smooth and efficient flow. A few minutes later we had wristbands, timing chips, and race numbers in hand. All that was left was to avoid buying over priced race merchandise…check.
Friday morning started with a short swim in the channel. It closes off for race day but it was open to traffic the day before. Fortunately, I was able to get out there before things got busy and at least get a feel of the current. By now the clouds had moved in and rain was on the way so, I decided to get in a short run and postpone the bike until after the mandatory athlete meeting at noon. The day before a race is a time I like to spend mostly off my feet and relaxing. That said, B2B is a great venue but it does make for a bit more running around than I would prefer. We chose to stay out on Wrightsville Beach about halfway between the swim start and T1 in order to avoid having to take a shuttle from downtown on race morning. The trade was that we had to travel downtown for the athlete meeting and T2 drop off. This was my first experience with T1 and T2 not being in the same spot. It wasn’t that it was that far away but Wilmington gets a bit congested so getting around takes a little extra time. All in all, we managed to drive the bike course, ride the run course, and get all of our gear checked in.
Race morning went smooth. We began with a trip over to T1 to inflate tires and drop off fluids and gels. Then we headed back to the condo for a good greasing before donning our neoprene fashion apparel. Since the full started up stream ahead of us and there was a current to the channel, we decided to skip trying for a swim warm-up and instead use the ¾ mi walk to the start instead. The full was a mass start but the half was a wave start and my group was the second to go. As we took off, I made my first tactical error. Instead of getting in a draft in the center of the channel, I decided to set up on the far right to get a better angle on the first turn buoy. Adding to my poor positioning decision was the fogging of my goggles. Despite my anti fogging application efforts, I was now using the ‘force’ more than my vision. Other than losing the draft, the first turn was not a problem. It was one huge orange buoy in the middle of the channel. The next turn was easy too as the whole channel made a right had turn. This was where not surveying the course the day before would cost me time. Through my foggy goggles I spotted a large green course buoy and set my heading directly for it. As I drew closer to it, I noticed that there were no longer very many swimmers near me. I pulled up and lifted my goggles to see the crowd swimming towards yet another green buoy to my far left and realized I had made tactical mistake #2. I adjusted course and swam hard for the exit. (31:25)
Next up was a ¼ mi run thru a paved lot and across the highway from the dock to the grassy field of a local park that housed T1. I felt good coming in despite the prior navigation mistakes. I found my bike and got moving quickly. I was a little nervous as this was my first time leaving T1 with my shoes already clipped in. Crossing the line I hopped over the seat and landed perfectly on my pedals. A few turns of the crank and I had enough momentum to slip my feet into the shoes and I was off. (3:23)
I spent the first few miles warming up the legs and settling into the ride. As we rode north out of town, I locked into my bars and began a steady push that I intended to keep for the remainder of the day. It was hard to tell how I was doing at this point as the course contained participants from the full and half distance. What I did know was that I felt strong and I was in my box racing my race. For nutrition, I brought 5 gels, a bottle of water, and an aero drink filled with Perform. The plan was one gel every 30 minutes and Perform every 10 minutes in between. If everything went as it should, I wouldn’t have to stop at any aid stations along the way. About mile 35, the half distance course turned to begin the loop back into town. Riders at this point became sparse and for the first time I began to think I might be doing pretty well. Turning back towards town I made my final push. Up in the distance I could see the causeway that would take me back into transition. Large rubber mats were provided to make the ride across the metal grates of the bridge safer and easier. That’s the closest I came to crashing all day. Coming into T2, I got my feet out and on top of my shoes. Stepping over my bike, I had a perfect dismount and headed into the convention center. (2:29:15)
Volunteers took my bike and directed me to the racks that housed all the gear bags. A bright blue survey ribbon signaled which one was mine. Socks and shoes went on first. I took my own gels and sodium tabs so those went in my pockets next. Finally I threw on two patella straps and a visor. With that, I was on my way out the door. (2:57)
The start of the run was pretty quiet. There were very few spectators on the back side of the convention center as most were up front greeting racers coming into T2 and I could only see two other runners nearby. It was time to get back into my race box. At the first mile, I checked my pace and it seemed a little hot. Rather than slow down though, I trusted that my body was giving me the right signals and I was fine. The most difficult piece to manage at this point was getting enough fluid at the aid stations because for whatever reason, the cups only contained about a shot glass worth of liquid. You work with what you have and adapt. I went back to my strategy of walking the aid stations and instead of taking a lone cup from a volunteer, I just made my way to the actual table where I could grab several at once. With hydration under control, it was now just a matter of staying relaxed without compromising pace. Nearing the turnaround, I had begun to see a few runners making the return trip in. In all honesty, I wasn’t even thinking about counting them or seeing how far back I might be. Rather, it simply again occurred to me that I might be doing pretty well overall. My original goal had been to shoot for sub 5 hours and at the turn I found that goal well in hand. Doing the quick math I figured I could slow things down to 9 min/mi pace and still make it. But I didn’t want to just make it. I wanted to finish what I had started. Coming back into town I felt the physical exhaustion began to give way to the adrenaline surge. The crowd is cheering and I’m yelling right back at them. I see my wife as I reach the finish line and I don’t even need to see the clock. The expression on her face tells me I kicked some ass out here today. (1:43:11)
The final results for the day would show a finish time of 4:50:09, 23rd place overall (out of nearly 1000 entries), and 1st in the Men’s 40-44 AG.
“Think I could trouble you for that chicken broth now?”
“You betcha sweetie…coming right up.”