My first experience at Beach 2 Battleship (B2B) was last year (2014) when I supported my friend Julie completing the full ironman distance race (which she did once again this year, with a huge PR!) I had such a good time just being in the race environment that when she told me she had signed up for the full again this year, I signed up to do the half. It did not disappoint!
The volunteers and staff from Set-Up Events make this is one of the most well-run, streamlined race experiences I’ve had the pleasure to encounter. This is a logistically complicated race because of the point – to – point course, but from the expo check-in to bike and gear pick-up, they have made it work. Can’t thank them enough! I had a blast doing this race and ultimately it reminded me why I love triathlon.
So without further ado, onto the typically long-winded recap!
I drove out late Thursday evening before the race and checked into a hotel halfway between Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach with Julia and Nicolas (another friend from the Asheville Triathlon Club.) We made our plans for the next day and went to bed. The next morning we met up with a fellow Asheville triathlete, Hope, who was staying at our hotel and we all had breakfast together. We were supposed to have another friend come help with support but unfortunately she had to bail out last minute for totally valid reasons. This complicated the logistical planning just a little bit, but we figured out we could leave my car at the convention center downtown overnight and drive Nick’s car to the start race morning. It also meant that after I finished the half distance race, I would have to pull support duty for the others. We organized all our gear, packed up our vehicles and headed downtown to the convention center which served as the expo, T2, and finish area. We went through the expo and Julie bought new shoes to race in, (seriously, for a 3 time ironman you would think she knows better than to try something new of race day!) Then we actually got weighed on a scale, (so they knew our pre-race weight to compare to in case you end up in the med tent for any reason…) before leaving the expo area.
We packed up our T2 and post race bags, handed them off to the respective places, and then headed to grab lunch on our way to T1! Time goes super quickly when you’re dealing with a point to point race, I’m glad I was with race veterans and that I was able to spend all of Friday prepping! We got to T1 in the early afternoon and decided to ride our bikes 10 minutes up the beach, get in a 10 minutes swim, and then bike back and do a 10 minute run.
Confession. I didn’t train or race in any open water this year. In fact I only did one super-sprint triathlon over the summer because of all my travel on the weekends, but really it was the swimming I was worried about. I had also pretty much avoided ocean/salt-water swims up to this point. My 3rd ever triathlon was in brackish water in Rhode Island and I had a slight panic attack in the cold briny water, since then I’ve opted only to race in over a dozen rivers and lakes. That being said, my pool swimming was the most consistent it’s ever been because of having a swim buddy in Chapel Hill (Thanks Mary!) I felt stronger in the pool, just not confident in how that would translate to open salt water (I really don’t like the taste of salt water in my mouth!) Fitting in this pre-race swim was really important to me.
We packed up our wetsuits, donned our cycling shoes and helmets, and biked towards the half ironman distance swim start. Moment of truth: I squeezed into my wetsuit (always a battle) and waded in. The water temperature was great, cool, but perfect for wearing a wetsuit as was required by the race. We swam with the current to start, and it was swift, knew it would be a harder swim back to where we started. The salt water wasn’t too bad, not pleasant to catch a wave to the face of course, but the extra buoyancy of it was nice. I got a good rhythm both with the current and going back against it. I really appreciated being able to get in the water before the race, it made me a feel a lot more comfortable going into the next morning. We biked back to T1, set up our bikes, and Julie and I went on a short run – our pre-race swim, bike, and run were complete, gear was dropped off, now it was time to chill out for the rest of the day! We picked up Thai food, spent some time in the hot tub, watched some Harry Potter on ABC Family, and got an early night.
Race morning started too early, around 4:45am. The full swim started at 7:30am but mine wasn’t going to start till 8:50am, leaving me a little extra time to eat and chill out once Julie and Nick took their shuttle to the start. I even found a quiet place to meditate and work on some deep breathing. I finally finished setting up my bike transition, put on my wetsuit, and hopped on a trolley to the swim start.
It was a chilly morning, made colder by the fact that I wasn’t wearing shoes or sleeves of any kind. I had throw away socks, gloves and a beanie on, but once we were out near the water, the wind was cold and I was actively shivering from a combination of nerves and cold. It was a long 45 minutes to an hour wait. Finally they called the light purple caps to get in the water – a huge relief as the water was much warmer than the outside air. I swam out to the “starting line” and had to tread water backwards to counteract the current. Finally we were off. The current was strong but the wind was going the opposite direction, creating tons of chop and waves right in your face when trying to sight the buoys or breathe. I had trouble sighting the buoys because they were so far apart so I mostly followed the caps in front of me – I’m pretty sure this put me off course a bit. Finally I found a good rhythm and figured out a good head angle for breathing against the waves. I started to see the buoys better and keeping a much straighter line. The swim didn’t seem to take too long in my head, but I never know what that actually means for my time. I pushed it towards the dock, was helped out of the water and ran over to the wetsuit strippers, who very efficiently pulled my wetsuit off my legs as I sat on a bench. I said thanks, grabbed my wetsuit from the volunteer, ran under the shower tent to rinse some of the salt off my body, and ran the 300 yards to my bike in transition. The weather had warmed up a bit but I still spent wasted time trying to roll arm sleeves on before deciding against them and throwing them into my T1 bag (that had to be fully packed up). Shoes, sunglasses, and helmet on, I took my bike off the rack and ran out onto the road.
Most people say they want a flat bike, but I’m not sure they understand that at least with a hilly bike you use different muscles, change up your bike position, and have downhills to coast. Between how flat this course was, and the headwind, I would have opted for an all uphill course over the discomfort of the aero position for this long. The idea of being uncomfortable is something I want to get into in another post but lets just say pushing it 54 miles on a bike in a time trial ride with no music, no variations in terrain, no time where you aren’t pedaling, and in an aerodynamic position is a mental and physical test of finding that discomfort and giving into it. To really push yourself you have to find that edge between being uncomfortable and being in pain and just breathe into it. You know that you have to run a half marathon when you’re done, so you calculate how much you can push your legs and body with enough leftover for a decent run. I read a recent study about how triathletes have a higher pain tolerance than everyday exercisers- I would reframe that and say we have a higher threshold for staying in physical discomfort.
After almost 40 miles of head and crosswinds, we finally had a bit of a headwind heading to downtown Wilmington. I pushed it so I could finish the bike in under 3 hours. I crossed one more sketchy grated bridge then the final overpass, then coasted to the convention center, dismounted and handed my bike off to a volunteer and crossed the timing mat just several seconds under 3 hours! I found my T2 bag, put on socks and my running shoes, grabbed my hat and race bib and ran out.
13.1 miles isn’t very long for me anymore. At this point in my endurance ‘career’ I could go out and run just over a 2 hour half marathon any day of the week. That said, no matter how many brick runs I do or how many triathlons I’ve completed, it still sucks to get off the bike and start running.
The first mile went really quickly, too quickly, I was running too fast and on pace for a sub 2 hour half marathon. The day had gotten much warmer and the sun was out with little cloud cover so I was just trying to get to the shaded part of the run alongside a lake. Despite the bike being flat, the run actually had some nice little rolling hills so it wasn’t completely monotonous. My feet weren’t happy though. 75 to 80% of my runs these days are on trails and not pavement and that plus having the bottoms of my feet roughed up from barefoot running earlier in the day meant that my feet were taking a beating. Like Jens Voight saying “shut up legs” during a bike race, I told my feet to shut up. I wasn’t having any muscle, tendon, or bone pain that meant something was actually hurt, they were just sore feet I could soak in the hot tub later. I readjusted my laces to give my feet some more swelling room and compartmentalized the pain. I focused on my breathing mantra, I engaged with and thanked the aid station volunteers (I made a few of them laugh when I asked them to put ice in my hat as I held it out to them!) I smiled at and encouraged fellow runners. I absorbed the atmosphere when running back through downtown towards the finish. I stayed in the moment.
When I crossed that finish line and stopped my watch I saw a six minute personal best. I saw that I crushed my goal of “just doing a sub-6 hour.” I remembered why I love triathlon, why I love knowing what my body can accomplish. I reveled in those feelings for a short couple of minutes, then I went to T2 to retrieve my phone and update my parents (and Instagram and Facebook of course!) While I missed having someone at the finish line to cheer me on, there was something nice and different about having that moment just for me.
My body needed a few minutes of sitting on the floor of the convention center but then I got to work retrieving all my bags, my bike, and then Julie’s bike (she was onto the run course!) and loading them into my car. A nice man in the parking garage helped me secure the bikes and then I drove to the hotel, unloaded Julie’s bike, took it and my stuff to the room, showered, heated up food, drank a beer, and chilled out for 45 minutes. Then I was back in the car to find Julie on the run course! I spotted her just as the sun was setting and dusk was settling in. Cowbell in hand I cheered her on and got a time estimate about when she’d finish. I drove back to the convention center, packed up her and Nick’s stuff and got both of their post race stuff ready. I had time for a quick phone call to my parents before I saw Julie turn into the finishing chute! Wildly cheering I saw her finish her second ironman distance race of the year, what a beast!
Now it was officially support crew time – getting her fluids, warm clothes, junk food, etc. I loaned a fleece jacket to Hope, who had finished the full as one of the top master’s women! We all waited for Nick to finish (well Julie was also trying to pee for the first time all day which required some talking to the med tent people and me making sure she was double fisting liquids at all times.) We saw him come down the chute just after Julie gave me a thumbs up coming back from the port-a-john, I confused people when I cheered for her… Then we all cheered for Nicolas, another two-time ironman in 2015! We didn’t stick around for too long, just to snap some pictures.
Then all of us headed back to the hotel making it in time to spend about a half hour in the hot tub before the pool closed at 11pm. Back in the room we recapped our days and didn’t actually go to sleep till around midnight – what a long day. The next morning we were all up around 5:30am, starving, sore, and tired – with no idea which feeling to address first. I opted for another hour of sleep. Waking up a second time, I needed food (I’ll call this first breakfast since we were meeting friends for breakfast/brunch.) Then it was packing up time. Race weekend was over far too quickly. Who would think that a race that takes a half day or a full day could ever go by so fast? We went to brunch where the delicious giant omelet didn’t even make me feel completely full! Then we hugged our goodbyes.
I know that as usual this post is enormous, but I just want to get sentimental for a second. I fully believe that you are the average of the people you spend the most time with. Even though I don’t live near Julie anymore, she still pushes me to explore the boundaries of endurance sports. She is my triathlon partner in crime, she is an inspiration. And, she finally convinced me to do my first full Ironman so I am happy (and nervous as hell!) to say that she and I will be doing Ironman Chattanooga in September 2016! I’m scared already but I know that with her by my side on race weekend, it is sure to be an incredible experience!