I’m probably of the 1 in 1000 people (including non-triathlon folks) that enjoys reading the lengthy race reports that triathletes like to write…which is why if I write them, I usually try to keep it short and sweet. BUT I’m currently stuck traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike on a 13+ hour car ride home to Boston so figured why not have at it! This report is neither short nor especially sweet, but neither was the race itself! To the 0.1% of social media followers that may read this, here’s to you!
Ironman 70.3 was my first official 70.3 and my first ever Ironman race. When I signed up for it, people kept saying “Ooohh! North Carolina in June?? Good luck with that!” but I never really took their warnings seriously… until I arrived down there a few days before the race: 88 degrees, 70% humidity, water temps IN THE 80S! Eeeeps! This northerner was not prepared. I stopped thinking about a goal time for my race and started focusing more about my fueling/hydration plan.
I started hydrating extra the week before and basically cut out fiber all together the days leading up to the race as I am prone to GI issues, particularly when it’s hot out. I use a great smoothie mix made by Field Work Nutrition Company that allows me to still get the important nutrients even while cutting out vegetables (too much fiber) during race week. My race day breakfast included a smoothie made from Primo mixed with 1 banana, cinnamon applesauce, water (though normally I would do almond milk) and ice, plus half a bagel on the side for a few more grams of carbs and some solid food in my stomach.
I basically had one goal for race day: respect the heat and stick to my race plan. Shout out to my Coach Karen Allen Turner for giving me some great guidelines to adhere to for race day. I stuck to them the best I could. Here’s how it went:
So, because I’m from New England, I didn’t have a chance to open-water-swim before the race (aside from a quick dress rehearsal the day before). However, I kept telling myself on my pool days “yeah, but on race day you’ll be in a wetsuit”. Of course with 81 degree water, Raleigh was not wetsuit legal. I did have a friend lend me her Blue Seventy Swim Skin the day before the race. While swimskins don’t offer the buoyancy (read: security) of a wetsuit, they do keep your kit sucked in nice and tight to you, which cuts down on drag. The swimskin worked great and I was lucky to have it!
The Raleigh swim starts in Jordan Lake, about 40 miles outside of downtown. We boarded the buses from Raleigh around 5:00 am. Transition closed at 6:45 which gave me PLENTY (maybe too much) time to get in the water and warm up before my wave went off at 8:15
Jordan Lake was much nicer than I was expecting. There were a lot of nay-sayers on the Internet talking trash about the water quality but the lake (other than being like bath water) was fine. My swim wave ended up combining 3 age groups, so it was pretty large. As instructed by my coach, I seeded myself closer to the front of my wave so I could hopefully find a faster swimmers feet to hang onto. I may have been a little overzealous in this as when the horn went off, I found myself hanging on for my life in a cluster of swimmers WAYY faster than me. About 200 yards out, I started panicking that I had gone out too fast and felt myself start to hyperventilate. I’ve never had a panic attack in the water before but felt it coming on this time. I started breaststroking to calm myself down and eventually, after a few moments, I passed the first turn buoy and got back into my rhythm. Just as I thought I was in the clear, the men from the Relay wave caught me. As they crawled over me in the water, I wanted to shout at them, “YEAH, BUT YOU DON’T EVEN HAVE TO DO ANYTHING AFTER THIS”. But instead I waited until someone who seemed closer to my ability swam near and tried hanging on. This time I was much more successful. The last 1000 yards or so yards went by without any more drama… but I was still more than happy to finally get out of the water. Averaged 1:59/100 yard, which is slow for me, but considering my few hundred yards of breaststroking, I was okay with it.
Aside realizing I couldn’t take off the swimskin by myself, T1 went pretty smoothly. The only unique thing about Raleigh is you had to pack your swim gear into a bag so it could get transported back to the finish for you (since it’s a point to point bike ride). That wasn’t a big deal and only took a few seconds to do. As I ran to “BIKE OUT” I saw two, younger boy volunteers holding enormous sunscreen bottles and shouted “YES! Get at me, boys!” They thought that was funny and did a great job throwing massive amounts of sunscreen lotion on me. Time in T1 was 4:50.
My heart rate was a little high from the anxiety of the swim so I took the first 5 miles of the bike to get my heart rate down. I drank the first half of my speed bottle right away to catch up on fuel and hydration. I got on the bike around 9:00 am and it was smoking hot out already. About 15-20 minutes into my ride, I settled in aero and basically stayed in that position most of the course. My new Shimano Dura-Ace wheels had me feeling like I was flyyying on the flats and downhills. The course was basically rolling hills the entire way, which kept things interesting. I rode fairly conservatively – spun up most of the hills, tried keeping watts below ~220, even on the hills. I had a power target in mind to average but focused more on my heart rate than power. More than anything, I knew I had to be super smart about hydration during the bike. Because it was SO DAMN HOT, I just kept drinking. I started with 3 bottles of First Endurance EFS. I refilled my speed bottle with Gatorade Endurance at every aid station. After the first one, I managed to refill “on the fly”, which I was pretty pleased with myself for. I also had 2 energy gels and a protein bar (broken up to have about 1 portion per hour). Since it was so freaking hot, I also dumped a water bottle over my helmet and into my bike shorts at every aid station to try and stay cool. Volunteers didn’t seem too weirded out by it.
I ended up averaging a little low for normalized power but was SPOT ON for my heart rate target. My bike split was almost exactly 3 hours (3:01) which was faster than I was planning for actually! Averaged closer to 19 mph, which was solid for 2800 feet of elevation. Felt good and was even happier to finally pee as I came into transition (yes, in my chamois), which was my goal indicator of hydrating okay on the bike. YAY!
So, the distance between the bike dismount zone and the entrance to the actual transition area was ridiculously long. There’s almost nothing more awkward than running in bike cleats while pushing your bike along on pavement so I was not impressed with this aspect of the race. Other than that, T2 went fine. I practiced in my head during the bike what I was going to do during transition. Took out my cooling towel, wet it with an extra water bottle, chugged half the emergency RedBull I had in my transition bag, grabbed my Base Salt and Clif Bloks and was off.
My coach warned me not to go out too hard on the run and to instead use the first mile to get my heart rate in check. That’s exactly what I did. My first mile was exactly on target at 8:14 min/mile pace and heart rate low Zone 2. The run course was two loops and contained (without exaggeration) at least 6 out and back U-turns. So… it was pretty congested out there. The tight turns made it difficult to get into a rhythm and, of course, that mother f**king heat. I knew from feeling the strength of the sun on the bike that the run would be brutal but there was no way to really prepare for it. I took a salt lick every mile or so, had an energy chew every 2 miles, drank Gatorade at every aid station. Around mile 3-4 I got an incredible stitch out of nowhere. You know the kind where it’s hard to even stand up? Yeah, like that. I ended up walking the next aid station and drinking extra Gatorade and water this time. I forced myself to start running again and was surprised to start feeling better.
By the second lap I actually felt pretty good so tried to start picking up the pace, but as soon as I did the stitch would start to come back. So instead of pushing it, from then on I just took it from one aid station to the next. The heat had me a little nauseous so I ditched trying to eat anything solid and went straight liquid calories. I started drinking cola in addition to water and Gatorade around mile 7 and the caffeine seemed to really help. I also followed a cooling protocol given to me by a friend (thanks Sam!) which included water over my head, plus handfuls of ice in my sports bra and chamois at each aid station and that (plus the cooling towel) really saved me. Running in nearly 90 degree heat is no joke! At mile 10 I thought to myself “Just a 5K left. Anyone can do a 5K” (a mantra given to me by a friend) and decided to actually pick it up. This was the first time my heart rate went out of Zone 2 all day. Mile 10-12 was a long steady climb back into town so my final splits were not anything special but I was able to get back down into the 8s and finished the run course in 1:57.
Raleigh 70.3 was a tough battle that tested both my mental and physical fitness in a way that it hasn’t been before. The course was mostly well designed and very well supported. The volunteers were INCREDIBLE. But by far my favorite part of the day was seeing my brother, who also raced, on the course and my husband cheering me on.
My goal for this race was sub 5:30 and/or top 10 in my age group. I ended up finishing in 5:48 and 14th in my age group. For my first official 70.3 and the race day conditions, I think I executed it nearly as best as I could have. I’ve been going back and forth like “Man, should I have ridden a little harder on the bike? I probably could have pushed harder on the run.” but then I remind myself that this was just the warm up: I’m still gearing up for the Big Dance in Lake Placid on July 22nd. This was the last year Ironman Raleigh 70.3 will be held so I was happy to help send it off… but will probably stick to racing above the Mason Dixon line from now on. Bring on IMLP!