6 weeks prior, I PR’d NOLA 70.3 with a 5:52:06, and yet, I was going into Raleigh, shooting for a 6:15 due to the difference in the courses. The race started with the Pros at 7AM, and my swim wave wasn’t scheduled to go off until 7:56. About 7:15, I drank my 3 scoops of Ucan.
They were telling us as soon as we had arrived that the swim was not wetsuit legal. I was disappointed in this since swimming is my weakest event, and I need all the help I can get. I did have a new swimskin though that I brought, and what better time to try it out for the first time than on race day. 😉 Pfft…. nothing new on race day takes the adventure out of things. The time went by pretty quick, and before I knew it, it was go time on an absolutely gorgeous morning to race. For the swim, you walk down the beach under the timing arch to an in water start by waves. I lined myself up to the inside of the course which was a triangular shape. I found a bit of room here where I felt like I wouldn’t be immediately swam over by others in my wave. They sounded the horn, and we were off. I actually remembered to start my watch for the first time ever in a race at the start. I tried to hug the inside of the course since it was pretty open space there for the first section. As we rounded the first turn, I moved a bit wider since people moved to the inside on the turn, and I stayed out a bit for the first 200 yds or so of the back stretch. The water had been pretty smooth until this back stretch, and suddenly, I had waves smacking me in the face, and I was getting mouthfuls of water. I switched my breathing to the right for a few strokes and it seemed better, then the big waves seemed to disperse. The next issue was the younger & faster men that started behind us were starting to catch me about this time, and I was in the middle of the course instead of either side now, so I made my way to the inside right next to the buoys because it seemed pretty open until a guy came from inside the buoy line and sideswiped me. I stopped and let him go then continued on. The back stretch seemed to go on FOREVER, but I finally reached the second turn buoy and headed into the final stretch. Going down this stretch, a fast guy came up on my left, and as he bumped me once or twice and I moved to my right, he continued and then pushed me, so I switched to the breaststroke, and yes, I did try to kick him. There was no sense in how aggressive he was being, and there was plenty of open water. I caught his arm a bit, but I wanted to catch his face at the time. Approaching the final two buoys, I caught up to a guy who was backstroking, and I left him plenty of room if his stroke was anywhere near where it should have been, but rather he grabbed the top of my head when I was in line with his shoulder and pushed it. I’m still not sure if that was intentional or not, but it seemed to be as he practically dunked me, and the position would have been a REALLY awkward spot to be able to grab someone’s head in the backstroke unless you were just skimming the top of the water with your stroke all the way through. The swim exit was up a boat ramp that had mats on it and was easy to exit. I was simply glad to be done with this swim that seemed to take a lot longer than normal.
I stopped by the wetsuit strippers who now had very little to do, and one of them unzipped my swimskin for me, and I headed to my bike. Arriving at my bike, it looked like everyone in my age group had already left…. geesh, I must really suck at swimming is what was going through my head. My swim time was 49:00, and I was 86th out of 151 starters in my age group, got to work on that.
I grabbed my bike, headed to the mount line, remembered to press the correct buttons on my watch, and was off. Goal was warm up and ease into 80-85% FTP. Again, that seemed a bit high, and my quads had definitely not recovered because they were feeling tight for some reason, but I figured I’d just see how they loosened up. 56 miles was a long way to go, no need in getting in my head this early. We had a little bit of climbing in the first 5 miles that seemed to help loosen up my quads, and I quickly found myself settling into a good rhythm and feeling better. The next 25 miles or so had more elevation loss than gain and was an extremely easy ride. I had been told that the second half of the course was a lot hillier, and the elevation profile showed that it should have a total gain of 2700 feet, so I was prepared for the course to get difficult. The next 5 miles presented a bit of a climb, but nothing that I thought was significant, then the final 21 miles had more loss overall than gain again. The bike course was fast! Yes, there were some hills, but they were rollers and not hard climbs. I kept looking for the hills that people were referring to, but I didn’t see them. I know there were some changes to the course this year due to road construction, so perhaps that was why it was easier than expected. I ended up with an elevation gain of just over 2200 on the bike instead of the 2700 shown on IM’s site.
If you are from Atlanta, this ride was easier than the Silk Sheets route, so train there, and you’ll think it’s a breeze. Silk Sheets’ hills are definitely longer, slower climbs than this.
The only issues on the bike course I had was traffic. The officers did a great job of stopping and directing traffic for the riders, but there was one stretch where cars were really backed up coming towards us, and a driver(seemingly annoyed) whipped out in front of us going in our direction. The driver then proceeded to ride right on the back end of a slower cyclist, but they stayed towards the right edge to prevent us from passing him and the other cyclist.
I came in from the bike with a time of 3:02:12, and I headed into the somewhat weird transition. Transition is split into two sides by a bit of a zig-zag due to shrubbery. Odd, but it wasn’t that big of a deal. I racked my bike and proceeded to put my socks and shoes on. As I was putting my stuff on, I was rather annoyed when I saw a fellow age grouper run in while a male volunteer pushed her bike and racked it for her as she started putting on her shoes. After getting her shoes on, he told her to go, and he then put her gear in her bag for her. I guess volunteers aren’t technically outside assistance, but I think this goes against what the rules allow. Volunteering so you can provide unequal assistance to someone you know is cheating if you ask me….just my $.02. I will say that I was very pleased with the lack of drafting I saw by competitors on this course. I never saw any groups fly by who were obviously drafting.
On the bike, I consumed 50 ounces of water mixed with 6 scoops of Osmo and a 200 calories Kind bar.
Out of transition I headed, and up a hill…… a hill that lasted 3 miles. Ok, there were a few breaks, but overall, the first half of the loop was uphill. I HATED this. There just wasn’t a good chance to get your legs to relax off the bike and find them for the run in that first 3 miles. With my calves getting tighter by the minute and trying to cramp, I took some Base Salt (ok, I took a quick triple dose). The aid stations were all well stocked with ice, water, Gatorade, Coke, pretzels, oranges, bananas, Gu, sponges, etc. I have to say, the volunteers and race rocked at keeping the supplies going on the course! Kiddie pools had ice in them with sponges, and many of us were grabbing ice by the handfuls out of the these. The volunteers were on point with keeping cups filled and offering stuff to you as you passed. I hated the run course, but LOVED the crowd support and volunteers! As I got close to the 3 mile mark, my calves were starting to loosen FINALLY! After the turn around, the course was more or less downhill back to the loop start before having to start the wonderful climb again. Around mile 8, I ate an orange slice (again, new stuff, why not?) because I was just starting to feel hungry. My left hamstring started tightening up on me on this uphill, so again, I took a bit of Base Salt ( http://www.baseperformance.com/ ) and lots of water to wash it down, and soon enough, my hamstring loosened back up. Base Salt rocks! After the turn around, I again picked up my pace on the way back, but continued to walk the aid stations to make sure I got water, ice, and other needed items. Feeling hungry still, I grabbed pretzels around mile 11 before my last push to the finish. My run time came in at 2:10:31 which was 1 second faster than NOLA.
On the run course, in addition to the Base Salts, orange slice, and pretzels, I had 2 Gu’s, 1 Roctane, and 2 scoops of Osmo along with lots of WATER. The run course had very little shade and the weather was pretty hot, but the humidity and temperature didn’t seem as bad as the NOLA 70.3.
Another great race in the books thanks to the guidance of Coach Charles Sims. I couldn’t do it without his help! My overall time came in at 6:09:01 which was below 6:15, so I was happy with my performance. My “A” race this year is the Augusta 70.3, and I look forward to testing my limits with that race. Go big or go home!