Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Ironman 70.3 Raleigh Race Report

Phew!   That was a hot one!  [Health warning"  this is possibly the longest blog post ever!]

On Sunday June 2nd I completed my second "half" distance triathlon - the inaugural Ironman 70.3 Raleigh event - along with about 2,400 of my closest friends.   Well, maybe not, but as it was a local event I did know several dozen fellow lunatics who signed-up for this before they realised that they would be running in Dante's Inferno!

To cut to the chase, it was an incredibly well organized event; the support along the course was awesome (both at the aid stations and from people who lined the course to watch); it was brutally hot, but I ended up with a new personal best time for the 70.3 mile total distance by about fifteen minutes.  The City of Raleigh did us proud!   Here's how things played out......

Because the race course was "point-to-point" the logistics of the event were pretty complicated.  The 1.2 mile swim took place at Vista Point State Recreation Area on Jordan Lake; the bike course was 56 miles through rural Chatham and Wake counties from Vista Point to downtown Raleigh and then the run was an out-and-back course from the city center, past the NC State Univesity Campus, through Meredith College and then turn back after two loops of a very hilly section on the greenway through the North Carolina Museum of Art grounds.   Very scenic, but as we will see, also very tough!

I picked Compass up on Friday afternoon and we drove to the Raleigh Convention Center where we were to register and pick-up all of our race gear.  The registration process was smooth and efficient.  After signing our lives away on the numerous legal disclaimer forms and proving that our USAT memberships were up-to-date, we had our participant wrist bands firmly attached and then picked-up race numbers, timing chips, race shirts etc. before taking a look around "Ironman Village" and the various vendor displays.  Race number 345...   nice and easy to remember!  Ran into Jon Anderson, Julie Paddison, Rachael Houp, The Coachman, The Otter and others before finally finding "the dynamic duo" of Snort and Flipper Ass.   Chatted for a while before heading home to get my race numbers attached to The Slut, bike helmet etc. and finally starting to think about laying out all of my race gear.

On Saturday bikes had to be dropped at Vista Point between 10 am and 6 pm.   SWMBO and the Junior Sassoons agreed to take the 45 minute ride from home with me and to drive the bike course afterwards with a promise of a trip to the Farmer's Market and lunch!  

The Slut in position.

Clearly we were relatively early arrivals!   It would look very different the next morning!
Bike drop-off was very well organised and it just took a few minutes before we wondered over to take a look at the swim course - the buoys were still being put into position, but the triangular course was clearly visible.  I guess it comes with a little more experience of longer open water swims, but I had absolutely no jitters or nerves when thinking about the swim, in fact.....    I was positively looking forward to it!!  This is a pretty remarkable transition from where I was just a couple of short years ago, struggling to pull together even a few laps of freestyle in the pool without having to stop to gasp for breath!   I was positively looking forward to the swim even though, based on information provided by the race organisers, the water temperature was likely to be too warm for wet suits, so no added buoyancy was going to be available.   No problem - Compass and I had swum a liesurely 1.2 miles in Falls Lake the previous Thursday "sans wetsuit" and it felt good.  Wetsuit?  We don't need no stinkin' wetsuit!

Vista Point:  Swim start - the calm before the storm.   You can see the first yellow sighting buoys being put in place.  

The Junior Sassoons and SWMBO survey the swim exit.
 We were soon driving the course and following a guy with Pennsylvania plates who was clearly doing the same thing.  I think SWMBO (who named him "Big Daddy" for some obscure reason) freaked him out a little with her stalking and tail gating, as he eventually swerved violently into a strip mall, much to the amusement of the Junior Sassoons.  I already knew the course pretty well and had ridden much of it, but I have to say that it seemed like an awfully long way!

I tried to "rest up" for the rest of the day and watched the NHL playoff game before turning in relatively early.  Surprisingly, I didn't lie awake thinking about the next day's race like I usually do and I was out like a light!  This was just as well because......

       .....the freakin' alarm was set for 03:10 am!!   This was all Compass' fault.  She's apparently paranoid about getting to races "in plenty of time" and insisted that I pick her up at 04:00 am to make sure that we had sufficient time to leave our run gear bags in "T1" outside the Progress Energy Center for the Perfoming Arts in downtown Raleigh and to board a shuttle bus for the swim start.   It could have been worse I guess - on Friday she was suggesting that I pick her up at 03:30 am!   She is certifiably nuts! 

As usual I woke up a few minutes before the alarm was due to go off (how does this always seem to happen?) and was soon drinking coffee and eating a Breugger's bagel (onion with honey walnut cream cheese - yum!); banannas; and a bottle of Ensure - my standard race day breakfast.  I also took a Lava Salt capsule (as I had also done the evening before) because I knew it was going to be a hot one. 

After double checking that my three color coded gearbags were in the car [green for street clothes; blue for bike gear (and to receive wet swim gear) and red for run gear] and getting my three nutrition bottles out of the fridge (each with one scoop EFS; two scoops CarboPro and the contents of one Lava Salt capsule) I headed off to pick-up Compass.  I was surprised that her hubby Gerry was up at such an un-Godly hour to see her off and wish us luck - another good "Iron Spouse"!

It took us no time to find a parking spot and drop our run gear in the T1 transition area before heading over to where the shuttle busses were lined-up.   Well, what a surprise!  We seemed to be on the first of about fifty that were waiting to leave.  I could probably have had at least another 30 minutes (probably an hour?) in bed....  thanks Compass!  She clearly doesn't realise how much I need my beauty sleep.  Actually, now that I think about it - beauty sleep?  I need a coma!

On the bus.   Me snoozing.  Compass apparently delerious (or drunk again?)
 Once we arrived at Vista Point I got "body marked" with my race number and age and quickly got tires pumped and set out my bike gear - helmet, shades, shoes (not allowed to be clipped to the pedals for this event), socks and Garmin set on bike.  I did have my wetsuit packed in the blue bag just-in-case, but after the announcements of the previous day I was 99.9% sure that the water temperature would be greater than 76.1 F and that it would stay in the bag until I picked it up later in the day.  I was far from the only person who was surprised then, when the PA announcer informed us that the water temperature was 76.0 F and that the race would be wetsuit legal!   This prompted giddy excitement from many who had been dreading the swim and groans of despair from those who left their wet suits at home.  One of these was Snort, whose husband had driven her to the race start, but had left again with the wet suit because the aforementioned Snort was too lazy to carry it!   A few frantic calls later and "Awesome Iron Spouse III" returned and delivered Snort's rubbery saviour.

T1 was just a little bit busier than it was on Saturday morning!   Organized chaos!
 Because of my advancing years...   oops, I mean vast experience, I was due to start in the fourth swim wave (men 50-54 orange caps) at 07:10 behind only the male and female professionals and the men 55 and older groups.  Never-the-less, because of Compass' paranoia I now still had a couple of hours to wander around and chat with some friends and fellow athletes.   I ran into The Coachman and asked him whether he thought that I should wear my wet suit and we agreed that it made sense if only to save my legs some for the bike and run to follow.   Pretty soon I head a yell of "nice hair Vidal" and knew that the dynamic duo of Snort and Flipper Ass were some where among the 2,400+ lycra clad maniacs....
Flipper Ass smiling as usual.  She wore that sh#t eating grin even through the pain of the run from hell!

Snort - apparently applying sun block with a carrot....
 It was nice to also run into Casey Bombien, who would be successfully finishing her first 70.3 that day and Chris Roberts, who is one of the guys from the Outer Banks Tri Club who I had swapped messages with but never had the pleasure of meeting before.  Good as always to also see Rabbit and to chat with some of the One Step Beyond athletes like Angie McDonald.

Chris Roberts - photo blatantly stolen from his wife Kelly's facebook page - thanks Kelly!
 I even brushed fame at one point when I was interviewed by a local news crew.   It seems that they didn't understand the Queen's English, but Compass was obviously more eloquent/coherent because part of her interview made it to the local news!

Yours truly and the WRAL reporter guy, who is clearly trying to work out what the hell I am babbling on about!
 OK, so 07:00 - race start - was now starting to click closer.   Time to get serious!   At about 06:55 I pulled my wetsuit on half way and took my place alongside the other orange caps in my age group.  At this point the skies were overcast and the temperature pleasant...   how that would change later in the day!  Once the lady pros went off at 07:03 I pulled the wetsuit on the whole way and was soon waist deep in water waiting for my wave start at 07:10 and enjoying the usual good natured nervous banter that always seems to precede the starting gun.  It was nice to chat for a while to Mike McConeghy who was in the same wave.

Male pros lined-up for the start

The start of my "orange cap" wave....   I'm in there somewhere!

...and they are off!  
 [Photo credits for the above three pictures:  Jack Tarr.  WRAL News]

OK - enough of this preamble nonsense....   time to get on to the real race report!

Swim.  1.2 miles:  

00:39:46  (02:03 per 100M)
Division rank 55/179
Overall (male & female):  503/~2,400

Overall I was very pleased with this.   Clockwise triangular course with the second leg being the longest.  Being out of the water in around 40 minutes if the swim was wetsuit legal was my target and I managed things well.    I waited a few seconds for the "scrum" to subside at the start and pretty quickly found myself some clean water.  I took it easy on the first leg and just focused on "long and steady".  A few bumps along the way as usual, but I'm well used to this now and managed to take them all is stride (or should that be "in stroke"?).   Found feet to draft on a couple of times, but in both cases I seemed to be faster and so went around them.   Soon found myself catching some "red caps" from the previous wave, which is always a good confidence booster.  On the second (longest) leg the wind was in our face and it was significantly choppier, but again no issues.   I sighted well and passed adjacent to every buoy.   On the final leg there was a slight "surfing" effect from the wind driven chop.   Was happy to see the timing clock at the end and knew that I had managed a respectable swim (for me at least!)

Exiting the swim

Swim exit....  where's that damned zip?
Transition One:  03:00

My first experience with "wetsuit strippers".   As you exit the water there are a group of volunteers who yell at you to lie on the ground and then basically rip your wetsuit off you - awesome!   :-)

Smooth transition with no issues.  Steady mount on the bike.

Coming out of T1 and looking awkward running in bike cleats....

Bike.  56 Miles.  Rolling course.  Official elevation gain:  1,230 ft.  My Garmin elevation gain (corrected on Training Peaks): 1,933 ft.

02:58:51  (18.79 mph average)
Division Rank at end of bike:  51/179
Overall (male & female):  582/~2,400
I was again pleased with this - anything around three hours was my target.  Would definitely have taken a sub three hour bike at the start of the day.  Nice course - very scenic.  Long drag uphill out of transition and then "rolling" throughout.  As usual I had a pretty consistent flow of speedsters from later (and younger!) waves passing me throughout (including The Coachman, who flew by me very early in the bike and yelled that something was rubbing on my bike - luckily it was just a "click" that only manifested it self when I was in the small ring and the highest gear!).  I did manage to chase down and pass quite a few people myself though.  Kept aero and steady throughout and feel that I kept a good cadence and pace.   Drank/fueled regularly.  Had a little wind assistance in places, which helped.  The support through rural Chatham county and into Holly Springs was fantastic!   All sorts of banners, yelling and waving.  I did think that the giant cut outs of dog's heads was a bit weird....   I guess they meant something to someone!

On the by-pass in Holly Springs (I think...  maybe it's Route 64?).  Note that it was still overcast at this point.
Transition Two: 02:45

No issues.  Ate a gel and took some fluids before heading off on the run.  By this time the sun was blaring down and it was getting noticeably hotter!

Run.  13.1 miles.   "The Run From Hell"!   Official elevation gain:  226 ft (yeah right!).  My Garmin elevation gain (corrected on Training Peaks):  421 ft.  Some people measured as much as 800 ft.   Whatever it was, Ironman lied to us!!   :-)

Heat index:  98 F

02:23:07  (Slow as heck!  10:55/mile average)

Holy crap this was a tough one!   Coming off the bike I thought that I had a pretty good chance of smashing the six hour barrier, but it didn't take long to realise that this wasn't going to happen!

The course started downtown and the went out on Hillsborough Street (a steady incline) past the NCSU campus, into Meredith College and then onto the Raleigh Greenway for two laps around the gounds of the NC Museum of Art before returning along the same route to an awesome finish past the State Capital and down Fayetteville Street.  Very pretty in parts, but also MUCH hillier than advertised!   Coupled with the heat this made the run extremely difficult!   I pretty soon found myself having to walk up the steeper inclines and though every aid station to put ice down my shirt; take iced sponges; drink everything in sight (including some puky orange sports drink that didn't agree with my stomach - a mistake) and take on fuel.  The volunteers at these aid stations were nothing short of awesome!  So much help and encouragement.   I wasn't happy to be moving so slowly, but took some comfort in the fact that virtually everyone else seemed to be having to walk too.  After the race it was interesting to see even the pros talking about how tough the run course was (see the very end of this post).

Picture shamelessly stolen from Rabbit's facebook page showing the forced death march up one of the hills coming back out of the NCMA and into Meredith College.   There are some seriously fit people walking up that hill and that was far from beeing the longest/steepest!

Thanks (I think!) to Jen Bauldree for this picture of me in an hour of need.
Who thought it was a good idea to do a double loop featuring one of the steeper hills?   And why was the official elevation given by the organizers so far off?  Oh well, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger I guess!

Things got a little easier once I escaped from NCMA and Meredith College.  It was still hotter than hell, but at least it was mostly slightly downhill.  I still walked through the aid stations, but otherwise managed to keep up a plodding run to the finish.

The closing half mile down Fayetteville Street was absolutely fantastic!   Talk about a good boost to finish.  The sidewalks were packed with cheering supporters and the finishing chute was a zoo!   Great setting too, with the State Capital behind you and the Performing Arts Center ahead.  Raleigh turned out in force and put on a great show!

One of the pros heading down Fayetteville Street to the finish

Some annoyingly super fast guy in the finishing chute.
SWMBO and the Junior Sassons were cheering me on at the finish.  I looked for them but almost missed them.   Thankfully something made me turn my head and I caught sight of them out of the corner of my eye.   I added a few yard to my run as I turned around for kisses all round, but it was 15 or 20 seconds added to my race time that was very well spent!

Final stretch.
The exact moment that I realised that I had run past SWMBO and the Junior Sassoons

Oh there you are....   give me a kiss!
Last few yards!

Done!   Started 10 mins after the pros, so chip time was 06:07:29
What a relief to cross that finish line - definitely one of the most brutal runs I have ever done.  I'm guessing that there are a couple of thousand others out there who agree with me!   I'm obviously not going to beat myself up over it - difficult, difficult, difficult!


Well what do you know?  Despite the Run from Hell I managed a personal best!   Overall I finished in 06:07:29 - a full 15 minutes faster than I did Rev.3 South Carolina last year.   Final placement was 55/179 in my division and 777/~2,400 (men & women) overall.  In the top third - I'll take it!  Very happy with this and what an absolutely fabulous race!   I will be back for more punishment next year.

Pleased to be done!

Hanging with the Junior Sassoons!
Got. To. Sit. Down!
I need to close this waaay too long post with a few thank yous.

Firstly, and most importantly, a huge thank you to SWMBO and the Junior Sassoons who were there to cheer me on and put up with my long hours of training and obsessive tracking of stats!  I love you all!

I LOVE the optimistic "you run like a lightning bolt"!   :-)
I seem to be doing back stroke!
Awesome M-Dot blueberry & vanilla pie that I was served fro dinner.  I'm a lucky guy!
Next shout out goes to the City of Raleigh and the absolutely phenomenal supporters and volunteers, police and emergency services throughout the course.  Words are not enough.  Proud of the city and great to see so many out-of-towners raving about what a great event it was.

Finally, thanks to The Coachman for his guidance and wisdom and to all of my training buddies and fellow members of the OSB team for their support and encouragement!

Here are a few more pictures "just because".....
A well deserved beer with super speedy OSB athlete Audrey Schipprack 

Bike collected and heading home
The Otter sporting her OSB kit and concentrating on the race to come... [Photo: WRAL]
As a kind of post script I though that I would add some quotes from Melanie McQuaid, who is a lady professional and finished third in the event.  Pleased to see that even the pros suffer sometimes!

"My race on Sunday was pretty darn good.  First off,  lets discuss how hard Ironman is for a second.  It was horribly humid and you need to keep moving for hours and hours.  I recognize it could have been hotter and the bike portion of the race was somewhat cool due to cloud cover but by the time we got to that bear of a run it was stinkin hot."     
"Out onto the run I was expecting something resembling the course profile.  Notsomuch.  Here are some of my thoughts:  Where the heck did all these mountains over by the art gallery come from?  Who turned up the heat?  Why is the whole way on the way out totally uphill when the profile says it is flat?  The run was really really hard.  When most of the pro men are in the 1:20s range you know it is hard.   I was spending the entire run trying not to do my classic southeastern chicken dance instead of finishing.  I walked aid stations, took 4 cups of ice cubes and generally went into meltdown protection mode." 

"I saw none of the beauty on the run course since I was blind with suffering but the bike was incredibly awesome.  So green, best roads in the world, most fans on the side of the road ever, best aid stations ever, most interesting point to point journey, you name it this race is awesome.  I loved it. Want to come back."


  1. Hello

    I'm in the middle (or towards the end, I guess) of training for Raleigh. Reading your race report was SO helpful! I did an extremely hot, hilly 70.3 in CA - Wildflower - about 4 yrs ago and throughout this training I've been telling myself Raleigh could not be as bad-well....apparently it can. At least I know!
    I'm with a group from the Ann Arbor Triathlon Club. Will you for you - and especially the junior cheering Sassoons - in a few weeks.



  2. I'm terrified about the swim. Can you stand in the water? What safety measures do they have for the swim? Also, congratulations!