This is my story of my first 140.6 – the Beach 2 Battleship which starts in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina and ends in Wilmington, North Carolina. I went into this race completely convinced I could finish but even more completely naive about how hard that would be. It was an awakening.
I was not alone in this endeavor. Many of the New Mexico Outlaws of Albuquerque were there including the famous and amazing Dread Pirate Rackham and SW Tri Gal. They stayed at a fabulous house on the beach. I stayed in town and was joined Friday by my beautiful daughter Erin and her wonderful husband Marcus and also by their friends Anne (who was racing) and Wren (who was there to support Anne). The 5 of us stayed in an adorable little place that was way too close to the far turn around on the run course.
Race day dawned far too early as race day always does. I always have a moment where I wonder what is wrong with me that I would so fully embrace a pastime that has me up at that hour, needing to eat food. I get over that feeling as soon as I get to the start and find myself drenched in anticipation and adrenaline and loud music. I forget all about the insanity of 4 AM awakenings and strapping on the food bag when I couldn’t care less about eating and the cycle of race goes on.
It was really cold – so cold that as I walked from the street where we had pulled on our wetsuits and dropped our bags, to the beach where the race started, the sidewalk under my bare feet felt like the spongy stuff running tracks are made of. I was quite certain that the sidewalk was good old hard concrete so I knew my feet were frozen and the blood flow had pretty much shut down.
Once on the beach I decided to test the water which, at 69 degrees felt like a spa. Much better. I did the usual thing (and you KNOW we just about all do it!) and took a little swim and then got out and lined up behind the starting arch. Sadly, we followed the rules and our support people were not with us but they could have been. Others were there. I kept looking around for them to see if they had chosen to sneak down there because I wanted to give my daughter one last hug and wanted to hear one last ‘good luck’ from her but alas, Anne and I had to take care of each other which was okay. And then it was time for the national anthem (they had kind of a nice rendition) and then BOOM! It was time to head for the sea and discover what traversing 140.6 miles felt like.
The Swim –
This race is known for having a ‘downhill’ swim where you are aided by the current. In the athlete meeting the guy had said ‘if you can’t make the 2:20 cut off you have no business being out there because you could lie on your back and make it’ and he wasn’t kidding. I was moving so fast that when I put my face in the water and looked down I thought I could see the sand on the bottom. I knew that couldn’t be right because this is a deep water channel that provides open sea access to fairly large boats so I thought I was hallucinating and that was an uncomfortable thought. But I felt fine and I was swimming well and I was keeping the buoys in my sight (yay!) so I didn’t worry about it. I later figured out that it was the particulate matter in the water zooming past my glasses that looked like sand. The water was nice and for sea water reasonably clear. you could see your hand in front of you and see feet when drafting which I also did.
Here is the path I was supposed to take:
and here is the path I took (thank you NTPers for the Garmin 310XT – it rules!!)
It looks a little like I cut a corner but I was right by a buoy the whole time so no shame. The buoy situation was confusing because they seemed to have them on both sides of the channel and it’s possible that I went by one that was meant for the half and not the full – I don’t know but the big news here is that I did not swim off course! I bought brand new goggles and they performed flawlessly and so did I.
The swim ends at a yacht club where they have ladders going down into the water from the dock. As I headed for a ladder I realized the current was aggressively pushing me to a different ladder to the left so I aimed for that and pretty soon I had to fight to get to it. I climbed up onto the dock, looked at my watch and was beyond thrilled to see 1:00:something. 1 hour!!! I had thought I might see 1:15 instead of 1:30 but an hour flat far exceeded my expectations and I was one very happy woman!
I got stripped and then rinsed a bit under the showers and headed off for transition which was almost 500 yards away, and down the street:
T1 – Foolish Change of Plans
I had originally intended to swim with my arm warmers under my wetsuit and just pull on a jacket, my helmet, socks, shoes and sunglasses and go! It was quite a bit colder than I had anticipated, though so I decided to switch to “‘put on dry arm warmers, etc. and go!” but then, in the 11th hour (i.e. in the changing tent) I decided to also change my shorts. This was a mistake because it took time. T1 ended up taking 8 minutes and I could have stuck with Plan A and been out of there in 4.
The Bike –
The start of the bike took us off the island, through a bunch of stuff and out onto the entrance ramp to the interstate. That took about 20 miles and as I whizzed down the ramp (one of the very few places on this ride I rest my legs) who should be out there cheering but our people – Erin and Marcus and Wren!! That was such a huge boost and a thrill because it was totally unexpected. I was still on a happy high from the swim and seeing them ratcheted me up a few more notches.
Off I went, cruising down the highway and getting passed a lot. I wasn’t too bothered by that because my swim time had been so good. In fact, nothing was bothering me – I was on my way and it felt good. I stopped at the rest stop at mile 30 to use the port-a-potty and low and behold my shorts were now wet, having absorbed water out of my top. That’s why changing t hem was just a big waste of time. Whatev. I got back on the bike and kept going.
Shortly after that a woman rode slowly passed me and started a conversation. “Where y’all from?” and we established that I was from California and she was from Durham, NC and we chatted for a bit and then off she rode. I thought little of it.
There was another aid station at mile 48 and I stopped again for a second and when I started up who should I see but Ms. Durham. I got a better look at her and realized I needed to figure out her age. It wasn’t easy because her leg marking was really faded but I soon discovered that she had the number “55” on her calf – crap. This was one of the 3 women I was competing against and off she rode. Damn! She seemed really steady and strong and I knew I had to stick with my plan (to hold 17-19 mph) so I just hoped I would see her suffering on the run (what an evil thought but that’s racing for you).
Special needs was at mile 64 and I stopped, put water in a bottle that had powdered nutrition, ate a banana, used the port-a-potty, took the sleeves off my jacket, took my over gloves off and off I went and who should come cruising past me but Ms. Durham. Hmmmm… she was working way harder than me but not really making much headway. I stuck with that thought and stuck with my plan.
Not too long after that the wind picked up. It was a cross wind so that wasn’t so bad and it wasn’t so strong – maybe 10-12 mph. I was getting a little tired but I was still in good spirits. My favorite part of the ride was somewhere along here. Painted in the road it said, “caution – big chicken crossing” and I thought, “what the hell – do they have herds of chickens in NC?” and then there it was – a giant sculpture of a chicken. Too funny.
At about mile 70 Durham lady picked it up a bit and I started to lose it. I was getting really tired and I had forgotten to put on more Aquaphore at special needs and my lady bidness was starting to suffer. As we rounded the bend at about mile 75 we started going straight into the wind and it had picked up a bit by now.
I hate wind. I am never very successful at fighting it and so it demoralizes me. My speed had dropped by 2 or 3 mph and I was frustrated and tired. I also didn’t seem to be able to keep up with my nutrition. I was drinking from the bottles every 15 minutes but I wasn’t getting through them which meant I wasn’t getting enough calories. I had only managed to eat 1 little piece of PayDay so things started going south for me.
At mile 77 my dear friend DPR showed up. She passed me and we chatted for a bit and then I encouraged her to take back her pace and get on with her race so off she went. I was just dying and praying for the rest stop which didn’t come until mile 84. So that was 20 miles of suffering with my saddle killing me and my hatred of the wind and frustration mounting. And with that I went to the dark side and felt overwhelmingly cranky which is not a good place to be.
I hated triathlon in that moment. I made a firm decision to drop out of Oceanside because there was NO WAY I would ever sign up for IM Canada and what’s the point of racing in March if it isn’t to sign up for something. I decided that I would just train with my friends because that’s fun but I WOULD NOT even CONSIDER EVER, EVER, EVER doing another 140.6 – NEVER!! Hate this sport; hate my bike; SCREW YOU WIND!!! I HATE YOU!!! I HATE ME!!! I HATE EVERYBODY!!!!!
I was in no doubt of my ability to finish, though so I focused on how I was chipping away at the miles. The internal dialog was “you’ll soon be at mile 80 and then you’ll only have 32 miles to go. You’re at mile 82 so just 30 to go and when you get to 92 it will only by 20”. I stopped at the last rest stop at mile 101 and ate a banana and got more water and then the U-Haul truck pulled up. There is nothing much worse than the U-Haul truck showing up because it means they are starting to shut down the course. That made no sense from a time perspective but it still freaked me out.
Back on the bike. “You’re at 102 – just 10 miles to go!!…… 105, just 7 miles to go!…..110 just 2 miles to go! You’ve got it!!!” and I was happy to be almost done but not happy. I pulled into T2 and saw my crew and when Erin asked me how I was doing all I could say was “Suffer-fest, baby. 50 miles of wind – ugh”. Handing off my bike felt really good, though.
Into the changing tent and again I was deliberating what to do but I stuck with my original plan to just change my shorts, change my shoes, put on my hat, take off my jacket, swap sun glasses and go. That took about 6 minutes which was not great but not horrible.
The Run –
My plan was to run at a 10:45 – 11:00 minute pace, run to the END of the aid station and get what I needed, get it down and keep running. Oh I crack myself up. First of all I have the Garmin set to the wrong ‘smoothing’ so my pace doesn’t really record properly in real time. Second of all I had just ridden 112 miles, 50 of them in misery. I soon abandoned the plan and just motored on as best I could. I did find myself at a 10 minute pace and had to slow down but that was short lived.
I saw Anne heading back in not too, too far after I started. We had a hug and a moment and off we went. I had no idea what Ms. Durham was wearing and I didn’t care. I had started on the run roughly 9 hours and15 minutes into the race which meant I had almost 8 hours to finish and I new I could do that. I never had a doubt.
This run was 6.55 miles out, turn around and head back, repeat. I had already decided that the first 6.55 miles would be just that and the 2nd 6.55 miles would be what got me half way through and the 3rd 6.55 miles would be what got me to the last 6.55 miles and I was okay with that. It was a good way to break it down.
I really felt like I needed to pee so I stopped at the 2nd set of port-a-potties and nothing happened. Hmmm…. Off I went and stopped again in another 2 or 3 miles. Same story. Weird. I knew that was a sign of hypothermia but it wasn’t cold so I figured that wasn’t it. It was getting dark and cold and I really wanted to get back to special needs at the turn around so I could get my jacket and head lamp and sushi hat so I just focused on that goal but I found myself walking way more than I wanted to. I had time, though. I also had a stitch in my side from the automatic urge to ‘hold it’ even though nothing seemed to be happening. I tried to take deep breaths, let go of the muscle tension and just keep going.
I saw DPR out there somewhere near the 1st turn around – I can’t remember if it was before or after but I had this crazy idea she was only about 2 miles ahead of me. It was more like 5 but I wasn’t thinking all that clearly in that moment. It was just nice to see her and she looked fabulous. I was also very happy to be heading back to the T1 area.
At the turn around I got to see Erin and Marcus again and expressed my predictable sadness at having to head back out but also noted that 1 more loop and I’d be done – yay!! I told her I had given up on my goal and was in survival mode but that I would definitely finish. I got my clean jacket, my sushi hat and my head lamp on and then Erin ran with me for a while until she sent me off so she could go back and wait for Anne. I had seen her again and I knew she was probably only about 20 minutes from being done.
I had given up on the whole pee thing by now and I was really struggling to take in calories. I didn’t feel sloshy but I was starting to feel sick. I tried to consume some Gu from my gel flask but that wasn’t working at all. The chicken broth came out so I tried that and it was great. At the next aid station I had some Coke and made a decision to just alternate – chicken broth, coke, chicken broth, coke. Notice something missing? Water. I quit drinking water which was undoubtedly a mistake. I did eat orange slices from time to time and I managed to get down a few grapes. I couldn’t handle anything like bananas or bagels, though.
I did take in some water with some Tylenol and that helped the pain and I was really motivated to finish so I picked up the pace and I ran more. I even managed to run without stopping between aid stations a couple of times and that felt really good. “Really good” was all relative at this point.
I saw DPR about 2 miles or so before the turn around so I knew she had 5 miles or so on me and she was still running and looking great. I was managing but not thriving.
This is the part of an Ironman where what you see on the course is sheer carnage. People who are sick, people who blew up on the bike, people who are limping. It’s kind of a parade of misery but it was almost over so on I went. As I approached the turn around for the 2nd time it seemed like it had moved. I even asked some guy where they were hiding it and why did they move it like that and that was good for a laugh.
The turn around was very, very close to the house we were staying in and I was so glad I didn’t have a key or a phone on me because if I had I would have been sorely tempted to head for home and call in the troops. As it was I ran around that cone with my arms spread like an airplane and every time someone at an aid station said, “you’ve got it! You’ve got this one” I replied ” you bet I do – I WILL finish! This race is mine!” I thought it was kind of crazy that they were saying that because I couldn’t imagine not finishing at that point and it was with that thought that I headed in.
The last thing you have to do in this race is run up over a very long bridge that, like the turn around, had gotten quite a bit longer. Very few people run up this thing so it was a walk to the top and then wheeeeee….. run down the other side, run down the road, get directed to the finish and DONE!!!
I look pretty good in that picture! That didn’t last long, though. I finally understand how someone can run across the finish line pumping his or her fists in the air only to collapse to the ground or start barfing on the spot. I lasted a little longer than that but not much.
To be continued……..