No, I didn’t do an ironman, but I did support my friend a few weeks ago while she completed her 2nd ironman distance race at Beach to Battleship in Wilmington, NC, and I was inspired by my friend and other racers, exhausted by my support crew role, and learned quite a few things.
Julie is my good friend and racing buddy from Asheville. She and I did many of the same races this summer, including traveling to Colorado for Ironman 70.3 Boulder. The month before Beach to Battleship she was in a walking boot and restricted to aqua-jogging due to an Achilles issue. She ran a total of 7 miles in the month before running a marathon at the end of an ironman. Talk about being nervous before a race, and I’m just her friend, she’s the one who actually had to do it! She had asked me if I wanted to come to the race a few months ago and I found it more paramount to go as support once I knew she was walking around in a boot, and so did her friends Sam and Meredith who were the other members of her support team.
I met up with them at dinner Friday night in Wilmington, NC the night before the race for some delicious Thai food. It was a really strange feeling to not have to lay out my race clothes, freak out about having forgotten something, or even worry too much about what I was eating (I could get my thai food spicy!) because I wasn’t racing the next day. Side note: I thought about signing up for the half ironman distance of this race but I wasn’t sure what my grad school schedule would be like, and by the time I knew my schedule, the half distance was sold out!
After getting back to our nice and crowded hotel room with four people now occupying it, we settled in for an early morning wake up. As soon as I woke up I knew there was a different energy radiating from Julie. It was race day. She freaking rocked this race, killing the swim in under an hour (that’s 2.4 miles!) crushing the bike in 5:46 (112 miles) and then pushing through the marathon on a bum foot to finish sub 13 hours, 12:54!
It was a privilege to be part of it, I told Julie the next day that she is as inspiring as she is stubborn (or vice versa!) Below are a few of the things I learned from Julie’s race.
- If you are support, bring your bike. I logged a decent amount of miles between riding from transition to the beach where the race started and back, and alongside Julie on the run course. We wouldn’t have been a very good support team without our bikes.
- Support needs to plan their fueling/meals too. I kind of forgot to really eat anything other than breakfast. I grabbed a smoothie in the afternoon and ate a clif bar I had in my backpack, but when I was riding beside Julie during the marathon, one of the aid stations kindly asked me if I needed anything too, so I happily took a banana after realizing how hungry I was. Thanks aid station!
- It’s really fun to know one of the top finishers in the race! Another friend from Asheville, Kit, was competing in the half iron distance race and finished in the top 5 women overall! I was in the finish area and got to see her right after she finished and then was back there when they did the awards ceremony and got a picture of her getting an award and hug from a the 2006 Ironman World Champion Michellie Jones! So cool!
- There are some really cool teams and coaches supporting competitors: I made friends with a coach who was on her bike and cheering on her athletes, plus others she came across like Julie. We ended up chatting a bit and it was fun to see her all over the course while I was biking around.
- The overall importance of a support crew or cheering squad: Julie had her three member support crew before, during and after this race, plus some other people around cheering for her. She repeatedly thanked us after the race and told us she really couldn’t have gotten through this race without us. I’m not sure how people can do an ironman without any kind of team, supportive family or friends. While it is a solo sport, a few encouraging words, some company, cheers with your name, and a shoulder to lean on while hobbling to the medical tent or massage tables are important.
Julie raced through three meals, started her race before sunrise and ended the race after sunset, and she finished the race before most others. It’s an incredible race to be a part of in any capacity because you see people giving everything they have physically and mentally for some cause – whether that cause is charity, or something more personal like proving that you can push yourself to this 140.6 mile limit.
After Julie was finished, and I had transported her back to the hotel where she was somehow wired and awake and drinking all her recovery drinks – some alcoholic and some not- I was exhausted and my mind was buzzing. Was I ready for a full Ironman? Which race should I do? And most importantly, who should be part of my support crew?