2014 Beach2Battleship Half Iron Triathlon Race Report

This is the 4th year I’ve been at Beach2Battleship, and I’m afraid I’m just a lifer there. Each year, this fun, fast and 100% awesome race changes just a little, but stays the same in almost all the right ways.

Seriously. I'm starting to hoard B2B relics.
Seriously. I’m starting to hoard B2B relics.

This year, I did the half again (did half in 2011 and 2012, did the full in 2013), and unlike most of the past years, I signed up in December of last year because I was that sure that I wanted to end my season with this race. In fact, I purposely waited until about 110 people had signed up in hopes that I would be the 111th, and in turn would receive bib #1111 come race day. I have no idea if they assign bib numbers in the order in which one registers, but just in case I figured it couldn’t hurt. (My evil scheme did not work out, I got #1086, a random and easily transposable number that I would not once, not twice, but three times tell a volunteer incorrectly and almost a.) race as #1068, b.) put my running shoes in #1068’s spot in T2, and c.) take #1068’s stuff in T2). Thank god for those plastic bracelets. Turns out they serve more of a purpose than simply providing an ID if you’re found in a heap on the side of the road.

Anyway, my year leading up to this year’s B2B was filled with injury, upheaval, (very temporary) unemployment, and a much stricter budget than in years past. It’s all good, really, but this year I wasn’t able to stay multiple nights in a hotel or buy anything at the expo or really enjoy anything other than the race itself and about 4 hours in the hotel room the night before eating mediocre pizza and watching  Say Yes to the Dress (sigh, some things never change… see 2013 race report).

So, let’s get back to the story.

We (hubby and I) headed down to Wilmington on Friday morning. I got up early, made my famous sourdough pancakes, fed the critters, and finished packing. I also bundled up (it was 38 degrees that morning in AVL) and drove down to the local park with a velodrome to do a prerace opener workout: 10 minute run with 3×30 seconds at what I thought seemed like race pace followed by a 10 minute ride with a few 30 second or so intervals. My legs felt like poo during this hardly worth the time workout, so I just decided that I was doing myself good by working out the poo so they’d feel good the next morning.

We got in the car about 9:30 AM, when it occurred to me that I better double check how long the drive was so we’d make packet pickup. I also definitely wanted to check in my bike before dark, having done it in the dark in 2011 and having remembered how much that sucked. So I checked, and going via Columbia and Florence SC would take about 5 1/2 hours, per the gospel according to Google. So we stopped by my workplace for coffee, loaded up on French Roasts to go, and hit the road.

The drive down was not noteworthy, other than it was Jesse’s first time seeing Pedro’s South of the Border. Being all budget-wise, we had put all the cash we alotted for food, gas, and various sundries in an envelope, and that ensured we didn’t spend too much. We split a footlong subway along the way, I’d brought an apple and hard boiled egg from home, and we also got a beef jerky strip to split later in the journey. Good times.

Packet Pickup

We arrived in Wilmington about 4PM on Friday, and traffic was not that bad. We got a parking spot close to the convention center, where they do packet pickup and also where T2 is located on race day. This year the packet pickup process was almost scary in its efficiency. I knew the basic routine from having raced before, but they had volunteers at checkpoints along the corridor stopping you to damn well make sure you had your ID, medical form, proof of having endured the cheesy informational video online, and USAT card before you attempted to get your packet. I can totally understand why.

Anyway, there were a couple of things missing from this year’s packet pickup that I missed. First, you had to put your own plastic bracelet on. It was just sitting there in the manilla envelope that also contained your bag stickers. Boo. Having a volunteer “bracelet” you always felt sorta like I was being officially inducted into the race, as though this meant I was now not Kit Hayes, dork of inconsequence, but Kit Hayes, VIP athlete. Second, they didn’t do the mandatory athlete meeting. While it was nice to not have  to arrive at packet pickup at a certain time, I always found these meetings to be pep-rally like and a good way to get excited about the race.

Anyway, I got my packet, promptly assembled my T2 bag, which had to be checked in then and there, to include my running shoes, race belt with number attached, and sunglasses. Very simple. With volunteers’ help, l found the peg to hang it on with my number, which was 1086, not 1068.

After that, I figured I’d check out the expo. I needed one more goo for the bike ride, and thought I’d chance it that I’d find free goo. I did! Clif Bar was one of the sponsors, so they were giving out one free gel packet to each athlete. Score! I semi-drooled over a few other items (I really need a new swimsuit but the cheapest one they had wasn’t my size) but honestly without money to spend, it was more depressing than fun.

Next, we headed over to the T1 area, which is located by town hall in Wrightsville Beach. You have to park your bike it its spot the night before, which seems scary (poor bike, what if it gets cold and wet and has to sit next to ugly mean bikes all night???) but really is a huge relief. Much less shit to carry around on race morning.

This too was uneventful, and I was super excited to see that my designated bike rack was in a primo spot (Jesse would call it pornstar parking). I was on the first general row of half participants, so the sign color changed right after my rack, and easy thing to spot in a sea of 2,000 bikes. Also, my rack was very close to the aisle and only about 20 feet from the bike exit. I guess having #1068…grr I mean #1086 was a good thing after all!

I set up my bike after pumping the tires and lubing the chain (my drivetrain was disgusting, and I really should have cleaned my bike better before the event. Really.) and parked him in his designated spot. I told him to be nice, I gave him a pep talk and a fist bump (fist to the bar end shifters), and left. I decided to go by my friend Julie’s bike to give her bike a pep talk and a fist bump. She was #135 and had already set up her bike and helmet. I gave it a once over to make sure the brakes weren’t rubbing, told her bike to ride fast and happy, and gave it a fist bump. I think it made a difference, because she had a killer ride.

Next, we headed to the beach for a brief visit before checking into the hotel. I hated that we had to leave the next day, because the weather was phenomenal for October and would continue as such. So these 15 minutes on the shore were all we had. We waded into the ocean and I resisted the urge to just dive in and play in the waves.

Finally, we checked into the hotel and I showered before we prepared for our traditional pre B2B dinner: ordering a pepperoni, mushroom, jalapeno, and green olive pizza and going to Harris Teeter to make a monster salad. However, as I exited the shower I heard my husband on the phone with our cat sitter. Her husband had left town with her set of keys and she was locked out. We have 4 cats, so just leaving them there for 2.5 days wasn’t an option. Long story short, after a brief freak out where I thought we’d have to literally hop in the car and return to Asheville after I finished the race Saturday (rather than stop in Raleigh to stay with my sister) and then talking to the douchiest locksmith on the planet, we got things worked out. On to Harris Teeter.

WTF? The salad bar was non-existent. Having just endured a meltdown, I was really upset. I wanted my stupid salad. So I did the most logical thing possible and pouted for about 10 minutes before just sucking it up and getting some ugly boring premade salads (I needed two to have enough) and agreeing to just order the pizza and get on with it. Normally, we just go for Domino’s, but I figured we ought to give something more local a try. We ended up going with Brooklyn Pizza, which was okay but nothing to write home about. Not enough red sauce and too much greasy cheese. And no green olives.

But all in all, I was back in good spirits, watching TV and eating pizza and drinking an IPA, in that pre-race state where you realize just how enjoyable watching TV and eating pizza and drinking an IPA can be, and wondering why the hell you are going to ruin this by swimming, biking, and running for 5 hours or so.

Race Morning.

I woke up at a leisurely 6:00 AM (the perks of doing the half instead of the full!), drank a glass of water, and put the coffee on. I then got dressed, body glided up, and ate my bonk breaker and banana. It was nice having time for a few cups of coffee, and at about ten of 7 we headed over to T1. As expected, traffic was at a standstill, but folks, that’s why you should always do B2B with at least one support person. I just hopped out of the car, walked my T1 stuff over to fix up my bike and get bodymarked, and let Jesse park the car.

I’d opted to place my shoes, helmet, and bottles on my bike race morning, so they wouldn’t get dewy and/or knocked off my bike somehow (you can’t trust those stranger bikes, can you 😉 ) so I just set up my stuff, checked my tires once again, and that was it. I put on my wetsuit legs before getting on the bus shuttle to the start area to help stay warmer and so I wouldn’t have to carry it.

The bus ride over was easy going, I had plenty of time and arrived at the start area about 7:45. I had my headphones to jam out to, I peed twice, and when Jesse arrived he helped me get the rest of my wetsuit on and I put my game face on. (Actually I put on a few game faces….pick one:

DSCN1613 DSCN1612 DSCN1611

My wave was the 7th to go, and this was the first year I wasn’t in the first wave of women, a situation that I don’t like at all. It puts me at a small but significant disadvantage on the bike, because I’m getting out of the water behind that many more people, and I’m that much further separated from the faster male bikers, whom I like to pass to help my pace my race. But there’s not much I can do about that except order a new birth certificate, and that just seems like it would involve shady people.

The Swim.

We got in the water about 8 minutes before our wave started, and it was slightly chilly. But mostly in that I’m nervous and shivering chilly than really cold. Once we really got it, it felt great. The current was nice and strong this year, and they’d set out a couple more sighting buoys (well that was the word on the street). And soon we were off! I thought I was having a decent swim, but as I have every other year I got a little disoriented around the weird half-turns toward the end. There’s only one true “turn” on the point-to-point course, but the channel is so wide that it’s shaped more like a drunk person trying to draw a straight line. Anyway, I still felt I was doing okay; hard to tell but I was passing some purple caps who’s started before me.

Um, the start.
Um, the start.

I’ve worked really hard on my swim the last two months. I took a swim clinic, tried real hard to incorporate the coach’s suggestions to improve my technique, and I still can’t really “catch” the water, whatever that really means. But still, I’ve been swimming 3-4 days a week, 3,000-4,000 yards per workout, and convincing myself that I was improving. Not so, it seems.

My swim split was 31:03, a whopping 60th among the women. My slowest half swim at B2B by 3 minutes. In 2011, I trained in the pool literally 3 times before the race and swam a 28 minute split with a similar current. Swimming is really stupid.

T1

I got out of the water and decide to make use of the wetsuit strippers. They were great, reminding me to hold onto the back of the bench so I wouldn’t fall off and break a tailbone while they pried the neoprene off my giant clown feet. I then proceeded to jog down the pier, into the showers where I briefly rinsed my face, and onto the long, painful pavement run to T1.

Running into T1. Those aren't jowls. No they're not.
Running into T1. Those aren’t jowls. No they’re not.

I feel pretty good about my T1. With the warm, dry weather, I didn’t fool with arm warmers or gloves or anything, but I did put on socks. I chose my lucky blue and orange Foxy socks. All in all, the T1 process took me 3:14.

The 56 mile bike ride.

This ride is flat but for the most part entertaining. After doing a few tight loop de loops under and over a bridge on Wrightsville Beach, you ride out a four lane road called Military Cutoff over to a portion on Interstate 140, then to Highway 421.

As with any race, I knew the bike ride was my time to shine, but I was disappointed to find my legs felt a little flat. Still, I was passing people left and left (you can’t pass on the right in triathlon…against the rules). I don’t use a bike computer, watch, or anything, so I always ride by feel. And I was riding slightly uncomfortably hard the whole 56 miles. Seemed about right.

when the visor goes down, it gets real
when the visor goes down, it gets real

Whether it was my craptastic swim or having to start a wave later this time, the bike congestion seemed thicker than ever. I was about 30 miles into the ride before I really got any time to just plow through on my own without having to pass down the left side of the lane. In several instances I had to hit the brakes and get loud with my “LEFT PLEASE”s because of other riders blocking (riding side by side rather than staying to the right). In fact, if I passed you and didn’t call out my pass, take it as a compliment because it means that I trusted your bike handling skills and that you were riding legally.

Still, in the grand scheme of things, the ride was smooth and enjoyable, except for about 10 miles along US 421, where it’s bumpy and boring. The winds were light and not really a factor this year. Throughout the ride, I had 3 gels one bottle of heed, and one bottle of plain water. I did not stop at the aid stations. That may sound like not much fluid, but it really works for me. Even with temps around 70 by the end of the bike ride, I was not feeling dehydrated and was well fueled coming into T2.

My total bike time was 2:32:28. A pretty good time, and 3rd fastest among women, but still a minute and a half slower than my 2012 time. Could have been the disgusting drivetrain, could have been the flat legs, could have just been. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little buzzkilled to learn that I didn’t have the fastest female bike split.

T2.

I really love T2 at B2B. You ride right up to the convention center, where the lane is roped off and there are spectators all along the sides cheering you on. You get to dismount, then run your bike into the building where a volunteer whisks away your bike. Then, you run this little maze in the building and shout out your number where a volunteer gets your T2 bag. It all feels very pro somehow.

I shouted out “1068!! no wait 1086! Yes, definitely 1086″….and yippee! I was given my bag after all. I ducked into the women’s changing tent, put on my running shoes (left the biking shoes on the bike) grabbed my race belt and sunglasses, and was off. Total time of 1:44, also 3rd fastest among women.

Coming into T2, foxy socks and all
Coming into T2, foxy socks and all

The Run.

I started the run as I always start the runs of triathlon. Quick but reserved, a little apprehensive about how this will all pan out. Would I settle into a nice pace feeling good, or was this going to be a struggle from start to finish? The first mile of the run is one of my least favorite periods of a triathlon for this reason.

Anyway, I started out on the first brief out and back that takes you back toward where you came in on the bike course for about 1/2 mile, then back around the back of the convention center. Here, I got my first glimpse of what I was dealing with in terms of other women competitors who were on the course ahead of me. I noticed about 5 women out front. Okay, cool. I figured most of them would have began in a wave ahead of me (see, it’s so tricky not being in the first wave if you’re one of the faster peeps) but wasn’t sure. I was sure that all of them looked like they were running much faster than me.

Beginning the run.
Beginning the run.

So, I concentrated on my race plan: run relaxed but purposeful through the first 4 or 5 miles, turn it up a bit for the next 5 miles, and then pour on the juice during the last 3 miles (a 5K is supposed to hurt anyway, right?). The funny thing here was that I kept passing people, mostly men, as the women were way up ahead of me, but slowly but surely I was reeling people in, but with hardly anyone passing me. This is highly unusual. Typically, I experience about 50/50 getting passed/passing others in a run race.

I chalked it up to “well, maybe I got off the bike in a pack of slower runners.” I tried not to overanalyze it any more than that, just running what I thought was a sane pace, but not too easy where I’d have wished I’d gone harder.

The first 2 miles are fun, running through the riverfront of Wilmington. Lots of old buildings and uneven brick road to keep things interesting. About mile 2, you go up this steep but short hill. I was expecting it, as it was the only portion of the course I walked last year during the full.

After that, it flattens back out, but soon you have to go through the barfiest part of the run course. About one mile is unshaded, industrial, and piped with bad music like Taylor Swift and some other lame country bands and some song that just says Bum Bum Bum over and over. Not sure if this is just for the race or if this is how Wilmington rolls. But I remember the music adding insult to injury, especially when I was running back on this portion at mile 11-12. The saving grace was some guy attempting to play the Vuvuzuela at the corner of 3rd street and something. Made me laugh, he sounded more like a dying hippo.

At the 4 mile mark, you cross a bridge and you’re on the paved back that traces Greenfield Lake for the next several miles. I really like this part. The path twists and turns and is shaded well. The aid stations rock (not just here but all over the run course). Every time I got to one, someone had water, heed, coke, or salt tablets for me, and I had a 90% success rate on the handoffs (only fail was a 6 year old boy….I’ll cut him slack 😉

Still, I was steadily passing people. Only at about 6 miles did it dawn on me that maybe I was just having a really good run today. At this thought, I felt reassured and actually picked up the pace. At the mile 7 turnaround, I saw my friend Jason Suhy, a really fast runner, and I was gaining on him! Wow. So, all I had to do was keep it up. Simple enough.

Yet, I’m wise enough to know that what feels awesome at mile 7 may not feel so great at mile 11, so I began the visualization and self-positive talk and all that cheesy stuff that really works. All in all, the run went by quickly, with the only really draggy part being the industrial Taylor Swift section at mile 11.

At mile 12, I picked up the pace big time, and running down the steep hill was painful! Toes! Toes! With the finish line in site, though, I had it made. I crossed the line when the clock said 5:14:something. I did the math. With my wave starting 24 minutes after the clock start, I was elated. A 4:50.

I’d hoped to go under 5 hours for a second time, but knew that this was a challenging goal. In 2012, when I’d done a 4:54, it was a tough race, and I felt like garbage at the end. I’d been in the best shape of my life, too. So to do a 4:50….wow. Better than I could have hoped for.

Finishing the race, side angle.
Finishing the race, side angle.

Even better – Michellie Jones said “congratulations” to me at the finish. She’s a real world class pro who went to the Olympics and won the Hawaii Ironman in 2006. I’ve never met a world class pro in person before, so this was really cool!

After the race.

I kind of stood there for a bit, and after two volunteers asked if I was okay with a concerned look, I realized they’d confused my disbelief and elation as a stroke, so I said “I’m awesome!” and walked off to get some water. I was tired, but notably not feeling like complete ass. I found Jesse and told him the good news about a PR. He brought up the live timing, and I saw that I’d ran a 1:42:00 half marathon. That is a HUGE PR….fastest I’ve ever ran that distance in any event, tri or running along. Also, it’s an 8 minute course PR. 8 minutes.

Shortly after that, my friend Lizzie, who was there supporting Julie (who was doing the full again) came up to say hi. It was so nice to see her, and I tell you what. Having friends and family at these events watching and supporting you makes the race so much more meaningful. I refused a hug so she gave me this fingertip “ewww” hug instead because I was disgusting. Salty salty salty.

After failing to use my beer ticket the previous year, my next mission was to trade in that little piece of paper for a cold brew. We found the tent, expecting to get something lame like Michelob Ultra, but sponsor Natty Greene’s was offering choices of good beer! I got an American IPA and it was delicious with my peanut butter crackers and trail mix (which make great post race food).

The biggest bummer was that we had to leave Wilmington that afternoon, but at least we stayed for the awards ceremony. I’d finished 4th place overall female, which I am very proud of, even if the first place female finished 17 minutes ahead of me. It’s not easy to go under 5 hours for a half iron triathlon, and to do it twice, earning my second podium finish at B2B half, makes me happy.

Even better, Michellie Jones handed out the awards! This time I got a real hug (I’d changed clothes and washed my face). Again, we got a block of wood, but this time I noticed it’s just some type of Cypress, rather than  the original teak deck of the U.S.S. North Carolina. I guess they’ve used up all the deck after 7 years. So that makes 4 blocks of wood. I’ll have to make a table or something.

Me getting a hug from Michellie Jones at the awards cermony.
Me getting a hug from Michellie Jones at the awards cermony.

So that’s my race report for the 2014 edition of B2B. I’ll be back next year if I have anything to do with it. I wonder how much I’d have to bribe them to give me #1111.

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