27 October 2013

Race Report - 2013 Beach2Battleship Half Ironman!

My awesome Ignite Endurance teammates Melanie and Brian!
Yesterday I had my final triathlon of the season - the Beach2Battleship Half Ironman in Wilmington, NC. I have very fond memories of this race venue, as it was where I did my first full iron distance triathlon back in 2008. I remember standing at the tip of Wrightsville Beach as the sun was coming up over the horizon and we plunged into the water as soon as it was light enough. At that moment there were so many unknowns - I'd never ever raced such a long distance and I could not wrap my head around doing all of the distances in one day. The race was a success and the next morning I had the most amazing (and gigantic) brunch and I've always wanted to return to race here again. I will say this - I was SO glad yesterday that I was only doing the half. I struggled to keep myself mentally plugged in over the past week. I was looking forward to racing, but at the same time, I was ready for it to get here and get done so I could get on with eating cupcakes already. I thought about cupcakes alot during the last few miles of the race.

I traveled down to the race on Friday with my teammate Brian and we stayed with our teammate Melanie and her lovely family, right near the race start. Mel's mom cooked up some awesome pasta and sauce and we had lucky ice cream for dessert (Ben and Jerry's Peanut Butter Cup and Red Velvet Cake - all in the same bowl, of course). A huge thank you to Mel and her family for opening up their home to us, cheering, and driving us everywhere we needed to go - you guys truly spoiled us! Getting up early to get a head start on the drive down made 8pm feel like 10pm so I had no problem getting to bed and going to sleep at a reasonable hour.

Pre Race: My alarm went off at 5:45pm and I took a leisurely hour eating my bagels and fretting about how COLD it was going to be at the race start (37 degrees, gross!). We left for T1 at 7am - the benefits of being so close to T1 AND having your wave go off at 9am. The logistics for this race were a bit tricky - T1 is 1.2 miles away from the swim start and there was no bag dropoff at the swim start so I ended up leaving my flip flops in my T1 bag and nearly froze my toes off walking to the trolley that took me to the swim start. Fortunately, the water was almost 70 degrees and thawed them out. I was still freezing cold and the thought of getting in the water when I was already shivering while wearing my full sleeve wetsuit underneath my throw-away hoodie was just so unappealing. Fortunately, this turned out to be the coldest, most unpleasant part of the day - once I got in the water and on with my race, things were fine.

The Swim: 33:55
The swim at this venue can be hit or miss - some years the swim times are ridiculously fast due to assistance from the current (case in point: when I did the full iron-distance race in 2008, my swim time was 59:59, which was a good 15 minutes faster than my subsequent Ironman distance swims). And some years there isn't a whole lot of assistance. This seemed to be one of those off years, which is fine, and my swim time was right around what I would usually swim. It was an in-water start and the water was a balmy 70 degrees, which was a good 25-30 degrees warmer than the air temperature. I had no problem finding clear water and a decent pair of feet to draft off of. I felt a little sluggish at first, but by the time we hit the left turn buoy, I felt like I got into a rhythm and was getting more out of my stroke. The course was really simple and it was easy to stay on track. I ended up with some really unfortunate chafing on my neck and my back thanks to my wetsuit (I rarely wear my full-sleeve wetsuit and I probably should've slathered myself in Aquaphor to avoid the chafing necklace I am now sporting. I'm going to be wearing alot of turtlenecks the next few days, the triathlete equivalent of a teenager with a hickey I suppose). I caught up to some of the waves ahead of me after I made the lefthand turn, but I had no idea how many purple caps were in front of me by the time I exited the swim.

T1: 7:51
Even if we had a current-assisted swim, any advantage would've been cancelled out by my award-winning slowest transition time ever. I got stuck in my wetsuit and then I put on multiple layers of clothing (I wore a jacket, I was that worried about freezing on the bike) and then realized my biking jacket had no easily accessible back pockets and I had to jigsaw puzzle all of my extra nutrition into my sports bra since my bento box was already full.

The Bike: 2:50:46
For much of the bike ride I was glad I had on my armwarmers, jacket, gloves, and cycling headband - I wasn't cold but wasn't too warm. The course was rather crowded at first, with the half Ironman and full distance racers sharing the same roads for the first 30 miles. People were courteous and I didn't have any trouble getting around people. I ended up taking in nutrition every 15 minutes for the first 90 minutes of the ride and taking in water + Skratch at 15 minute intervals for the whole ride and a salt table every 30 minutes. I went through just under two bottles of fluid, it was chilly and I just wasn't sweating that much. I ate a gel or two, a Clif MoJo bar, and most of two Feed Zone French Toast cakes (I spit half of one out when I just couldn't stand the idea of more food). We had a pretty decent headwind for the first 35 miles on the bike, it let up at times, but it was relatively consistent. Melanie zoomed by me around mile 28 and having a familiar face was exactly what I needed to focus and try to keep her in sight and we traded places back and forth until she zoomed by me for the final time with ten miles to go. My speed was consistently getting a little faster throughout the race and it certainly helped that we had a tailwind for the last ten miles of the race. I saw just a few girls out there in the half and had no idea where I was in the race, so it was helpful to have Melanie out there because trying to keep up with her forced me to really focus, work, and dig deeper than I would have if I was off in la-la land. While it would have been nice to have a bike PR on this course since it's one of the flatter ones around, the wind was a bit of an added challenge and it's just hard to compare times from race to race (even the same race from year to year can be drastically different). I like to focus more on racing the other girls out there, as we're all facing the same conditions and the times will fall where they will, as dictated by the race day conditions. PRs are great, but so is doing well in your age group and the rest of the field. As I came in from the bike course, I passed by the first half mile of the run course and saw a fair number of girls out there and knew I'd have to have a strong run if I was going to meet my goal of being in the top 10 overall or even place in my age group.

T2: 2:45
The transition area was inside the big convention center and I almost did a comical feet-fly-out-from-under-me slip and fall as I ran in my bike shoes on the concrete floor to get my bag. I caught myself just in time. I ditched my jacket and arm warmers, kept the same socks on (advantage of not peeing on the bike - that and my bike shoes don't stink), put on my shoes and headed out the door, a few minutes after Melanie. I had the plastic bag with salt tabs and a gel in one hand and my last smooshed French Toast cake in the other hand. Who knows what I was going to want to eat on the run, it's best to be prepared for anything.

The Run: 1:39:28
Let me start off by saying that I don't think I've ever gone sub-1:45 in a half Ironman run and it has always been a seemingly far-off goal of mine to break 1:40 in the half Ironman run. It has bugged me that my half Ironman run time is a good 12+ minutes slower than my standalone half time. And until yesterday, I just haven't had that breakthrough on the run.
The run was the wildcard going into the race yesterday. Some muscles in my left leg and knee had been bothering me since my long brick and long run extravaganza a few weeks ago and I didn't listen to the warning signs of my body in the days following those workouts and just tried to keep up with the level of activity listed out in Training Peaks. Things were feeling worse and worse and I finally said "uncle" about two weeks ago and completely ceased running. This was absolutely the right decision, as my leg felt substantially better with all the rest, but I still felt twinges all the way up until Friday and I just wanted to get through the run pain-free and not do any additional damage. But it wasn't any use fretting about this because it was going to be what it will be, I just needed to be smart and back off it things flared up.
As I headed out on the run, I immediately felt myself retreat inside my mind and just focus on the here and now, doing periodic mental checks of how I was feeling. Often I wave or cheer for others on the course (ask anyone at IMLP this year) and I don't retreat into my head until late in the race when things get really painful. And it wasn't that the start of this run was super painful, I actually felt really good, but I was also focused and I wasn't thinking much of anything besides just run and do nothing else. Maybe this is the key to better running? The first mile ticked by in 7:30, which was far faster than I've ever run that first mile in a half ironman. I felt good, but told myself to slow it down to 7:45s, as that would probably be more sustainable. But then there was another voice in my head that said - you've done decent training for this pace, it may hurt ALOT ten miles from now, but go with it and see what you can do. I had no idea where I was in my age group, and with my swim and bike, I knew a half Ironman PR was probably not within the realm of possibility, but I wanted to have a strong run if my left leg/knee held up. Mile 2 ticked by in 7:11, which I did not expect because I really thought I slowed it down. We went up a small hill and then down a slight downhill for the next mile, helping me put Mile 3 behind me in 7:10. Now I was getting a bit concerned because those numbers were not going to be sustainable for the full 13.1 miles. I was taking in water at every other aid station, but my stomach was feeling a little bloated and the thought of food made me gag, so I didn't try to eat anything. I figured maybe I'd want something by the halfway point, but I wasn't going to force it. Mile 4 went by in 7:26, which was much more reasonable. This was about the time that I really started to retreat inside my head. I was still feeling strong, but every once in awhile I'd feel the wind start to go out of my sails or a little nauseous and I found that if I focused on my breathing, the feeling would pass and my pace didn't slip that much. I saw my teammate Brian sail by, on his way to the finish. He was HAULING - he only started 10 minutes ahead of me and was a good 7 miles ahead of me by this point - amazing! The volunteers along the course were AWESOME, I cannot say enough good things about them. Mile 5 went by in 7:34 and this is when I started to occupy my mind with some mental math - only 8 miles to go, that's like running out to Tri360 and back on the bike path just to make the distance seem more manageable. I started to see a few girls trickle by on their way back towards the finish, but I eventually stopped trying to count them because it was taking too much mental energy to try and figure out who was an Age Grouper, who was in my age group, and who was in a relay - her hair looks too perfect to have gone for a swim and a bike ride before this run. I got to Mile 6 in another 7:37 and started looking for the turnaround point before figuring out that it was going to probably be past Mile 7, womp womp. I was still feeling decent at this point and started to let myself believe in the possibility of sustaining sub-8 miles for the remaining miles of the race. Mile 7 ticked by in 7:45 and I made it to the turnaround point, thank goodness. Now it became a self-pep talk session - you're past the halfway point, you have less to run than you've already done, JUST KEEP IT TOGETHER! I saw Melanie and she was looking strong. Right before the turnaround, I passed a girl in my age group from FeXY and she was super sweet and encouraging. I ran without looking back but with the mindset that she was hot on my heels and this helped me dig deeper and not slack off. Mile 8 went by in 7:48 and while I clearly was not going to negative split this run, I didn't really care because things were still sub-8, which I could hardly believe. I still hadn't eaten anything at this point and with 5 miles to go and my stomach REALLY not wanting anything, I didn't dare take a gel or a bite of my french toast cake. Mile 9 was a 7:48 as well and at this point I was breaking the run down into two mile segments - in two miles you will be at mile 11 and then you will only have two more miles and you can do anything for two miles. My leg/knee were still holding up fine, which was such a happy surprise. Mile 10 went by in a 7:57 and it was right about this point that I could feel my pace slipping. My legs suddenly felt a million times heavier and a 5k seemed like FOREVER to go. As I went through aid stations and by cheering spectators, the only acknowledgement I could manage to give was a shake of my head. I was in the zone, focused on doing as much damage control and positive self-talk and mental math that I could, anything to keep moving forward. Mile 11 was an 8:27 and the wheels were coming OFF. A woman passed me and the amount of relief I felt when I saw she was a relay runner cannot be described. I could not have answered her pace, not even close. Mile 11-12 were on a slight incline and I just focused on getting up to the top of the hill. I knew once I got to the top, I'd have a nice downhill and then flat finish, I just needed to make it to the top and I'd be home free. Mile 12 was an 8:36. At this point, I was also rejoicing to myself that this was the LAST mile of my LAST race of the season and BRING ON THE CUPCAKES, THE CHOCOLATE CHIPS, AND FORGET ABOUT EARLY MORNING SWIMS AND RUNNING IN THE DARK AND SITTING ON MY DAMN BIKE. I love racing, don't get me wrong, but I also love the end of the season when I can happily give my body a bit of a break. It's refreshing. The cheering spectators, including Melanie's sister Michele and her mom, carried me to the finish line. About 25 yards from the finish, a guy started to pass me and I tried to stick with him and outsprint him, but he was too quick. Mile 13.1 went by at an 8:09 pace.

Final Time: 5:14:43, 9th OA and 3rd AG.

Very honored to be on the podium! Awards were made from the teak wood from the Battleship North Carolina!

Post-Race Thoughts: I knew I'd had a strong run, based on the fact that I'd never seen those paces before during a half Ironman run. I have no idea where I pulled the 1:39 from and I didn't believe my Garmin was telling me the truth until I saw it etched in pixels on the race results site. Rest is NOT underrated. And today my leg is still feeling good, better than it has in 2 weeks, which makes me so, so happy. I'm really grateful that my last race, while not a PR, gave me the run that I've always dreamed about having but really didn't believe was possible this season. A huge thanks to Tri360 for ALL of their support this season and to Jen for her top notch coaching and wisdom. She is the best. And of course thanks to Mr. Sweetie for being an award-winning husband!

SO much congrats to my wonderful teammates Brian and Melanie! They both podium'd and had absolutely incredible races! Thank you to Melanie's family for hosting me this race weekend - it was so great of them to open up their home!

And now I have two awesome cupcakes waiting for me to eat them for dessert! Hooray off-season!


Beth said...

Awesome run!!! Congrats on a great finidh to your season. Enjoy the cupcakes!!

The Miller Family said...

Congrats!!!! Enjoy those cupcakes!

Dawn said...

I knew you had a big run PR coming--one for the half after one for Ironman. I've also had some of my best races after resting. Smart, bold race--congrats! So glad you seem to be healed--now recover for real rock star! I could help you indulge in desserts :)

ADC said...


Katie said...

AWESOME breakthrough on your run! Such a great way to end your season :)

Jennifer Harrison said...

What a great year for you - on so many levels, Caroline! Sub 4 hour Marathon in the IM and sub 1:40 1/2 Marathon in the HIM! ENJOY Your R&R!!!!

Gina said...

Congrats, Caroline! That is so awesome!!

Meredith said...

You're a stud!

feedingmypassions said...

I just found your blog through Tri360 because I'm interested in learning more about Ignite. Beach 2 Battleship was my first half Iron and we posted very, very close times (I was 5:13). There were few women ahead of us so I probably saw you out there, and wanted to say thanks for helping to push me to the finish even if you didn't know it! Congrats on a great race!

Caroline said...

Thanks everyone for the kind words!! It was a perfect day out there, even with the chilly start!