70.3 miles later: Ironman Raleigh race recap

I’m an Ironwoman (or at least half an Ironwoman!)

After 1.2 miles of swimming, 56 miles of biking, and 13.1 miles of running, I finally got to claim that label after months of hard training and less than three years after doing my first sprint distance triathlon.

This being my first half ironman distance race, my hard goal was just to finish this race, my soft goal was to finish under 7 hours. I finished in 6:43:55 – over 15 minutes faster than my soft goal! To say that I am elated is an understatement. That I ended up 4th in my age group leaves me even more thrilled!

Am I tired? Of course. I’m sunburned, sore, sleepy, and still working hard to get myself back to proper hydration levels! But I am beyond excited to have worked so hard and achieved this goal!

Below is my race recap followed by a gallery of photos, enjoy!

Raleigh, NC was ready for this sold out inaugural event! Spectators were camped out on lawn chairs on the bike course and lining the main streets of the run course! Volunteers were abundant and enthusiastic! And cute firemen set up sprinklers on the most brutal and hottest parts of the run! So as always, to start my recap I have to say thank you to all the police officers, volunteers, and spectators!

My race weekend started earlier than usual since I was in town for a family friend’s graduation outside of Raleigh on Friday morning. After the graduation I headed into town to the expo to pick up my race packet and check out what was on offer. I talked a lot with the Generation UCAN folks about clean fueling and with a nice guy from Orbea bikes about upgrading to a better road bike or tri bike. It was pretty crowded for a Friday afternoon when the race was still two days away, but it was a sold out Ironman branded race so I guess that is enough people to have a crowd on both Friday and Saturday.

After catching a movie and just chilling out on Friday night at my friend’s sister’s place near NC State, Saturday morning I went to Lake Jordan where the swim and T1 were, to hopefully get in a nice open water swim, a quick bike on the first part of the course and to drop my bike off at T1. Well, this is probably the only flaw with the race organization that I can point out, but we weren’t allowed to swim on the swim course. If we wanted to swim any in the lake we had to drive to a different part of the lake and pay a park fee to swim on a life-guarded beach. Not willing to put too much effort into finding this other place and go through the hassle and park fee, I decided to just do a quick 20 minute bike and 10 minute run around the hottest part of the day to get a feel for what race day would be like. It was hot. My car heated up to over 100 degrees so it was probably at least 90 degrees outside with no cloud cover from noon to 2pm, which is exactly when I would be running the half marathon portion the next day.  I have run in 90 degree weather (like the Boston marathon in 2012) so I knew I could do it, but I also knew it wouldn’t be a very fast half marathon. I went to check into my hotel (yes I stayed at three different places three nights in a row,) shower and relax before dropping off my stuff at T1 so I wouldn’t have as much to do on race morning. I took a little rickshaw ride around Raleigh to learn a little bit of history about the capital which was a fun little side activity I wasn’t expecting to do! Soon thereafter I knew I needed to eat some dinner and get to sleep early so I could wake up and leave the hotel by 5am.

(My mother actually flew in late Saturday night and got to the hotel while I was still asleep, and was a trooper to wake up less than 5 hours after getting there to drive me to the buses that took the athletes out to Jordan Lake. She then parked and got on the buses they had to take spectators to the lake, which was pretty awesome for the race organizers to do! I am very thankful for having my mom there to support me and to finally learn how to use my camera to take pictures!)

Once I got to the swim start/T2 I finished setting up my bike, including having my shoes already attached to the bike which I had been practicing but hadn’t done in a race yet. We had to be out of transition by the time the pros lined up to start, so 6:45 am, but my wave was the dead last wave at 8:18am! I had over an hour and a half to wait around! (The only other race flaw was the order of the swim, I’m not a fast swimmer but I was swimming over some of the much older men and women who my wave of women 18-29 had to go after.) The water was the perfect temperature for a non-wetsuit swim, which I really don’t like swimming in unless I have to.  We got a few minutes to get in the water and get accustomed to it and then the final wave was off!

I had a strong and consistent stroke with bilateral breathing from the start. I didn’t even have to go out at a sprint like some races, just a little faster than usual to find some space and then get into a rhythm. The course was a triangle and therefore it was pretty easy to divide up the race into thirds. The last third had some strangely choppy water that made me veer off course and have to sight more often, breaking up my stroke rhythm and slowing me down. But I still felt really solid through all 1.2 miles of it. I got out of the water and ran into T1 to my bike, sprayed off my feet with an extra water bottle I set up for that purpose, put on my sunglasses and helmet, wiped my feet dry with a towel and ran my bike to the mount line. I was out of the water and out of T1 in under 2 minutes, my set up worked really well!

While on the bike I slipped into my shoes, and put on my bike gloves. (I am a stickler for bike gloves after having a mountain biking accident without them and having to have a doctor scrape dirt out of a peel up strip of skin on my palm!) I had a bottle of water and a bottle of water mixed with Nuun on my bike, knowing that I would have to replace electrolytes and I don’t like the sugar content of whatever powerbar product they were giving out on the course. My plan was to drink from the Nuun bottle every 5 miles no matter what and to drink water as needed and when I ate an energy bar. I had a couple of Salt stick caps packed into my saddle bag with my spare tube and CO2 cartridge in case I really felt like I was getting dehydrated and needed extra salt, but I had never used it in training before so was hoping I wouldn’t feel the need to use them – I didn’t, but I had the comfort of knowing I had them on me.

Even though there were lots of rolling hills, I was in the aero bars for at least 75% of the 56 mile course – something I am never able to do on hills of Asheville. The only little hiccup I had on my bike was that my rear tire, which I had let a little air out of because of the heat, was a little more deflated than I would have liked, and I know I could have had a smoother ride. This bike course was fantastic and well designed. I think I only took 2 or 3 left turns the whole time, the rest were right turns meaning less worrying about surroundings like cars on open roads. There were tons of volunteers at the aid stations and at every intersection, and spectators hanging out with signs, cowbells and cheers on almost every stretch of the course! As always I smiled and thanked all of the volunteers, spectators and police officers on the course, eliciting extra cheers, ‘good luck’s and ‘keep it up’s in the process.

The miles flew by faster than I imagined. It is amazing that in a world where we are constantly inundated by noise and distraction, spending three hours on a bike with no headphones isn’t boring at all, it is a welcome relief and a blessing to find yourself so completely in the moment.

I got into downtown Raleigh and T2 feeling good, but I could definitely feel the lack of cloud cover as the sun beat down (and I have the sun burn to prove it!) This was where having the last swim wave time absolutely sucked – it meant that I was going to run my half marathon in the middle of the day and therefore the hottest part of the day. I got off my bike, ran it in and put on my socks and running shoes and grabbed the port-a-potty before heading off on a long, hot and sunny 13.1 miles.

The sun drained me. Any energy I brought into T2 was sapped from me within the first two miles of running. It was the only brief moment during the entire race that I doubted my ability to finish it. But then a spectator cheering us on yelled out “Keep it up, over 57 miles down, less than 13 to go!” There was absolutely no way I was already this far and not finishing! Then I looked at my watch and did some time calculations – I had a huge cushion in which to finish the half marathon and still finish in under 7 hours! I definitely could walk/jog it out until I adjusted to the heat and didn’t feel like I was going to throw up. So I gave myself two minutes to walk, and made myself walk through every water station.

Cold water soaked sponges were never a more welcome sight! I threw ice in my hat and back onto  my head exactly like I had during the 90 degree Boston Marathon. The only thing I didn’t have that would have helped to mitigate the heat was shade. I think I found every tree’s shadow on the road or path that I could! The brief moments of cloud cover were enough to make me say a thank you out loud.  Miles 5-8 were the toughest because of some Asheville worthy hills to run up and down, including a part of the course where we had to do two .9 mile loops of a hilly section! But I knew it was downhill for the last couple of miles into downtown, so I gave myself one more 2 minute walking section and pushed it out for the last 4-5 miles.

Still without shade I could feel the sweat evaporate off of my arms. I chewed on ice to make sure I didn’t drink too much water. Actually I did something new and spur of the moment, I poured out energy chews into my ice cup to make them less gummy and to chew on them with the ice (don’t berate me for chewing ice pre-dental friends!) This helped me spread them out over the course and made them more palatable instead of being a gooey mess (which is one reason I don’t like energy gels.) This worked really effectively as I actually increased my pace over the last few miles and didn’t feel a dip in energy!

When I got back to downtown I knew there was a right turn into the main street running downtown that made a natural finisher’s chute lined with athlete’s friends, families, and curious spectators. When I got to the start of this street my breath shortened as I got choked up and teary. I was not only about to finish this race, a huge goal I set for myself, but I was about to decimate my time goal by over 15 minutes! As I ran down the street I raised my arms in the air to get the crowd cheering! I saw my mom and gave her a big wave as I churned my tired legs and pumped my sunburned arms to the finish line.

“Congratulations to Elizabeth Sager from Dallas, TX!” said the announcer.

I was an Ironman.

“Only those who risk going too far, can possibly find out how far one can go” – T.S. Eliot

I received my finishers medal and official hat and took my shoes off my sore feet. I walked around the crowd in socks looking for my mom, with a silly grin on my face. We went to the merch tent and my mom bought a cute “Ironmom” t-shirt and I got a 70.3 decal for my car! I finally started to feel hungry after a bit so went to the food tent –  thanks for the vegan pizza Ironman Raleigh! – And split a beer with my mom before going to get my stuff from transition.

Somewhere in all of this we pulled up my timing results online and it said I came in 4th place in my age group! I wasn’t sure how accurate it was but decided to go to the awards ceremony just to see since the top 5 age groupers get prizes. The awards person I talked to had a print out that said I was 6th – I was really not bothered by it, since I wasn’t expecting anything, but yesterday I emailed the timing person to find out for sure for my official records. It turns out that I did get 4th in my age group! Now I am kind of bummed I didn’t insist to the lady at the awards to double check so I could get a cool Ironman prize, but still, 4th in my age group at my first race of that distance, that’s crazy!

The T.S. Eliot quotation above is a reason I love triathlon. I had to push myself training for this race and in the race itself, but now I not only know what I am capable of, but also how to set future triathlon goals. This is not my last or only half-ironman distance race, I am only at the beginning of this beautiful journey in a sport I am only more and more passionate about with every race!

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7 responses to “70.3 miles later: Ironman Raleigh race recap

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