“I’m doing a FLIPPING IRONMAN!” went through my head the entire day. Despite the stressors and logistics issues leading up to race day, I was ecstatic to be doing it. Because….if life had gone differently I wouldn’t be here. I mean on this earth. But it did, so my mindset is “I GET to do this!”
Because….if life had gone differently I wouldn’t be here. I mean on this earth. But it did, so my mindset is “I GET to do this!”
For that reason, I dedicated this season to Team Fight/ Ulman Cancer Fund and raised money to support young adults dealing with cancer in the Baltimore, Maryland area.
(For those that don’t know, an Ironman is a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mike bike and 26.2 marathon).
My history in triathlon:
I guess I should give some history of myself and triathlon before digging into this post filled with GREAT tips!
I am 9 years cancer free and a mom of five children. I was a competitive swimmer, and my athleticism stopped there. In 2014, while pregnant with #5, an Ironman friend of mine sent me a pair of running socks and said “go run”. So I started. Yes, this all started with a pair of SOCKS. I started running but didn’t run the whole pregnancy. Gave birth in February 2015, two-weeks post-partum (early I know!!) I started back to T25 workouts and light running. Shortly after, restarted c25k application, got a re-sale shop road bike, and started swimming again. June 2015 I did a mini-tri with a pool swim and enjoyed it. August 2015 – I finished IronGirl. November 2015- My first half marathon.
I trained through that winter and completed my first half Ironman June 2015 (Eagleman). Before I even finished that race I had signed up for IMNC.
I share all this not for accolades. Not to show I’m this great athlete (trust me, athleticism doesn’t come easy to me) but to show you that there is no timeline to your dreams. At all.
Before the Race:
Leading up to race day I was getting antsy, scared, and downright just ready to do it! My work as a business consultant (helping small business owners) takes me traveling around the world speaking – and of course, I didn’t even consider all of this when I signed up for IMNC on a whim (Note: after a few glasses of wine) in June. So things got a little hairy leading up to IMNC but everyone kept saying “better to be under trained than over trained.” At this point, I had done a fairly good job of sticking to the Be Iron Fit Intermediate plan. Although this was my first full Ironman, I wanted to do more than finish and knew I could do better than my Eagleman 70.3 (June 2015) performance had been.
Taper was pretty crazy to be. I’ve tapered before but NEVER like this. All the doubts start creeping in. These phantom injuries popped up – which is so crazy because I was relatively injury free my entire training. I started to feel flu-like so I was sucking down vitaminC like crazy and keeping my kiddos at arms length (germ factories I tell ya!)
Tuesday before the race we get this notification that the bike course had been changed from 112 miles to 50 miles due to lack of first responders. These first responders were busy in the counties helping to clean up since Hurricane Matthew had just come through two weeks prior. This was really disappointing as this was my first race -and my disappointing doesn’t negate the sympathy I have for the community – but I had poured my life into this all year. It had been a therapy after my grandmother had died, and I had learned so much. I finally embraced the change and headed on my way.
The race was Saturday, so on Thursday I loaded up my Craigslist entry-level tri bike and headed south to North Carolina. On my way there I saw a friend, whom I had competed in Eagleman with, was ALSO on her way down. We ended up passing eachother on highway, pulled over and were able to give hugs. We spent pretty much the entire race weekend together after that. Tip: Get a race buddy!
Friday is mandatory athlete-check in, mandatory bike drop off and mandatory gear bag drop (MINUS special needs, those are dropped the race morning). However, I’m glad we didn’t skate into town Friday morning as it would’ve been stressful. IMNC is a point to point race. Meaning your swim start, T1, T2 and Finish were all in different locations. This was super stressful and required more running around town. Once getting grasp of what needed to be dropped where it was much better.
SIDE NOTE: This race used to be B2B- or beach to battleship – this is the first year that Ironman had ahold of this race so you will see that there were major growing pains.
If you haven’t done an IM before, you’re in for a treat to learn about “The bags”. You get 5 bags. This may vary depending on race!
Morning clothes bag – for your swim start clothes to go into
Bike bag – the bag you will retrieve with your T1 bike stuff (helmet, gloves, kit, shoes, socks, etc)
Bike special needs – the bag you will see at mile 56ish of 112 (favorite treat, notes from friends, arm warmers.) Be careful, you do not get SN bags back at most races!
Run bag – T2 bag with your run gear. For me this included socks, shoes, glide, notes from friends (for encouragement), arm sleeves, sunscreen, glasses, visor, race belt and headlamp.
Run special needs – same thing as bike pretty much – you get it at mile 13.1. I wish I had put a snickers, instead I had a rice krispie treat. It worked either way. I also recommend, since you’re not getting it back, to put in throw away socks and make arm warmers out of old mens tube socks with the toes cut out.
I can’t believe I actually forgot to take pics of “the bags” during this whole process. But alas, I don’t have any.
Here you can see the bike gear bags laid out – some races have racks. IMNC did not. One thing I do want to point out, I was so stressed trying to remember where my bag was. But the volunteers can be amazing – and they were for me. As I ran in from the swim, I had a volunteer going “375, right here, right here” and showed me my bag. I also did put “superman” tape on it -but that didn’t help.
BIG TIPS ON BAGS: I recommend packing all of your gear at home in 3-4 huge ziploc bags. I did swim, bike, run, and then an extras bag with extra junk. Within the bike/run I already had my special needs prepped in a gallon ziplock. So when I arrived I just had to take out of ziploc and into my bag.
That being said, if there is any inkling of rain, keep the stuff in these ziplock bags and put them in the IM provided bags. I’m so thankful I checked the weather and did this – because NONE of my gear was wet, while others started the bike/run with soaked shoes. As you see, they are the ground so I feel like they collected water even more so.
Another big tip – although non bag- Learn whether you’re grabbing/racking your bike or not. For this race, when we swam IN at t1 – we had to grab our own bikes after the changing tent. BUT for T2 (bike in) volunteers took them and put them away. I will remind you here, please make sure that when you do mandatory bike check in you have them take a photo of your bike AND remember exactly where your bike is COMING from Swim In/ Changing tent. My bike was misplaced for five hours after I returned from the bike and it was “fun”.
Since we checked in Thursday and I had all night to obsess over my bags, we had time to putz around in the expo Friday morning. I dropped Stitch (my bike) off to get his RaceDayWheels on, and I headed with my friend to get a Normatec treatment. Seriously ya’ll, get a buddy.
Oh yea, we also went to the athlete meeting. STRONGLY suggest you do this. We also found out that the course would be 56 miles instead of 50, I guess 6 more miles is better than nothing!
I picked up Stitch, headed out to my car and obsessed one last time over my bags. Then it was time to go drop them suckers off. Nothing was going to change. I had been packing these suckers for weeks in my large clear ziploc bags – nothing was going to change now!
My biggest recommendation is to go into the expo with a limited time frame in mind (to get off your feet) and a budget. It’s easy to go overboard with the Ironman shop stuff!
- Print out the most updated schedule
- Check that schedule 50 times
- Order Tri tats – and apply the night before
- Glide ALL of your clothing the night before
- Have contingency plans for clothing etc in mind before that day. One thing with the bags that you will get back, you can put more than you need just in case. I’ll walk through my plans below and what I ended up doing.
- Don’t try to put your race tats on with the plastic still on them :-/
Race Day (T1):
Race day start wasn’t too bad. I slept “ok” and I really wasn’t that nervous. At dinner the night before I had started having that feeling of when you’re going up the big roller coaster hill and “want off” but morning of I actually was way better than for my half. I think I just knew that I had work to be done. I woke about 5:00 and the last shuttle was 6:30 from T1. Not bad timing. We had stayed off Market street closer to T1 – which worked for swim start time but was a pain, as I’ll share later on. Breakfast was a banana, oatmeal and my thyroid meds!
I got to T1, dropped off the special needs bag, said good morning to stitch, loading him up with 4 bottles of tailwind and ice. One big mistake I made here was not to fill up my speedfill right then. I thought I’d do it once I got on the long stretches, the wind didn’t allow for this to happen so it was quite hairy trying to get my nutrition going. I also put in my frozen uncrustables. Note: OPEN your sandwich packages – it makes it easier to cram into your mouth without having to open them.
T1 is also where the shuttles to swim start left from. This is one of my biggest frustrations with this race specifically, the swim start is in Wrightsville beach, with T2 and Finish in Wrightsville – (Beach to Battleship… get it? it’s pretty cool when you think of it that way! We ended by the battleship). However, for spectators, unless they want to pay $250 or break the rules, you really can’t get out to swim start. Yes, I knew this ahead of time but didn’t really consider how nice it would be to have my hubby at the start with me. As we were standing in line for shuttle, I saw they were using trolleys and LOVED it because it as a “piece” of Wilmington. Finally hubby pushes me and goes “get on the trolley. good luck.”
This man, I swear. I’m so thankful for him. I have these hair brained ideas, and he just hangs on for dear life.
The trolley ride was about 10 minutes, not too long but long enough to get to know others on the ride. I had forgotten to glide my neck so I bummed some off of another athlete.
Once we got to the start area, we had to walk probably 1/3 a mile – then we waited in the cold. I had on pajamas, 2 shirts and a visor with my wetsuit in my arms. I sat huddled on a curb listening to others talk and occasionally chimed in on their discussions. I was one of the few females it felt like – but that was empowering feeling!
Finally, it was time to wetsuit up. We did, put our clothes into the morning clothes bag, tossed them into the back of a U-haul and made this long, cold shuffle across the beach (prob 1/4 a mile) to the water. Note: I should’ve brought throw away socks. That sand was COLD as it was 50s out!
Along this trek, I ran into a fellow triclub member and veteran IMer. He had such good words of encouragement. I was just excited to get in the water because it was 74 degrees and the air temp was 50!!
But one of the most beautiful things was sitting on that point watching the sun come up – it turned from aqua to pink as the sun rose. It was incredible. It made you really realize – you’re alive and DOING AN IRONMAN!
As I was standing there I burst out crying and said “I’M DOING AN IRONMAN!” out loud, not thinking ANYONE would hear me. This lady about half my size asked if this was my first, I said yes and she JUMPED ON ME…and gave me the biggest hug and was squealing.
It gives me chills to write this because how the community of triathlon is. WHERE do you get people who cheer the hardest for last place and literally give the shirt off their back for you or shoes off their feet in a race? Seriously. If you’re not a triathlete reading this, consider it. These are some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met.
This little lady’s genuine enthusiasm for me was intoxicating. It made me smile bigger through my happy tears.
(yes that is me in the middle right! A spectator got this pic and shared in the IMNC group for us! and it happened to be me!)
Then the canon went off. The smell of it came through the air.
They started pumping an Eminem song, and the rolling start began.
I had told myself not to fight with “the boys” but I ended up near the front…Baywatch styled jumped in and I was gone! As a swimmer, the swim is my best part. However, I have an issue with salt water. Having done aquathlon nationals two weeks ago in Cali, the water was way warmer and didn’t taste nearly as bad – so I was happy for that.
I did end up gagging a few times – and just like at Eagleman – I had a boarder as me if I was okay – and I told them I just hated salt water and they laughed. I never throw up..cause you know..that would be chum. Chum = sharks.
However, for IMNC, you’re in the channel with a great current so not much wildlife to be concerned over.
This swim is one of the biggest pulls (pun intended) to this course. It is fast. I am a good swimmer, but at one point when I was kicked in face (my fault, I was right on these guy’s feet) and had to adjust my goggles – I sat straight up and felt the current pushing me. It was awesome too because as a right breather I could see the sun rising over the houses lining the channel. More changing color of sky – lots of awesome view. Definitely a course plus.
Before I knew it, it was time to get out! I WANTED TO KEEP GOING! I had swam 2.4 miles in 1:05. (Kicking myself because I could’ve beat an hour if I hadn’t stopped to gag + goggle fix).
With a pull, volunteers pulled you up the ladder and you are off into the 1/4 mile run on concrete (with curbs) into T1. There were wet suit strippers, then WARM/HOT WATER SHOWERS. It was kinda nice, but couldn’t stick around of course!
- Before the 50 mile cut -Swim suit/tri kit for swim and then was to switch to bike shorts with a new tri top and throw on bike jersey over.
- After the cut – I did a full change from a wet tri kit to dry, and threw on a long sleeved jersey over. I also added on gloves and socks, which I had NOT trained with, due to the cold.
- I left on the same sports bra.
I came into T1, and the volunteer helped me find my bag. I ran into changing tent and expected help, especially since I was one of the first women out of the water. I also had read many race reports that said there are more than enough volunteers – there were NONE to help me. In fact, there was no where to sit at all. I was struggling to get wet kit off and new stuff on solo. I ended up having an 8 minute transition due to this. Comfort and warmth were priority for me- but on a warmer tri with less wind I might consider not doing a full change like I did.
As I ran out of the tent I couldn’t get my stuff back into my ripped bag – and a volunteer told me she’d put my wet suit in. I thought “how nice!”…until later they put my stuff in someone elses bag and then someone else got my wetsuit. (Logistics were a mess).
Ran to stitch, gave him a pep talk and we were gone!
I really was NOT a fan of this bike course. One of the reasons I had chosen the course was the flat and fast feeling – I just love hammering it out and constant pedaling. To start, you have these parking lot twists and turns filled with gravel. About 1/2 mile there is a bridge with large metal grates to go over. These are HUGE “no passing” signs – and what does one dude with a full disc try to do? Pass me when it says no passing, wind catches him and he hits a cone. He almost ate it. That was only the first of many times people disobeyed the no passing rules, or we had very little room to pass. The wind was insane. It was reported to be 20-25 MPH with 30 MPH gusts once we got on the highway for about 40 miles. Seriously, we earned every mile of that. People were struggling.
It was so scary I was starting to second guess my 404/808 zipp combo, not filling my speedfill with Tailwind, and wishing I had crammed food in my mouth in T1. For a good 30 minutes I was too scared to let go of the bars because the wind was pummeling us.
Another part of this course that I didn’t enjoy was the “too openness” it had to cars. Yes, many IM races are open course and I understand that – but cars were so congested and held up – so that when they COULD pass they were pissed and sped off. In fact on one bridge, the cars had been stopped so long – car drivers were yelling obscenities at the bikers. It was sad. I also saw a guy, whom I thought was dead, as he had been just hit by a car.
Another strike for this course, there was next to no bike support. I saw an official once, and SAG once. That’s it. When I saw this man down, other bikers had stopped to help him but we can’t carry communication devices. I cycled up a few minutes until I saw some spectators and yelled for them to call 911. It still took another 10-15 minutes before I heard sirens.
Another strike, which could’ve been due to course change I don’t know..but the lack of aid stations. Yes, I admit it, Gerry at Eagleman/IMMD had spoiled the hell out of me. Up there we had 4-5 aid stations for 56 miles. This race, we had 2. And in these 2 – they were super close together and limited on portapotties. I didn’t stop – but I could’ve used the regular water sooner than 27ish miles into the ride.
Another strike was the overcongestion on the course. I’m not sure if I just happened to be with the big packs but there was literally a feeling of a paceline. You couldn’t help but draft. I tried my hardest not to – but the wind made it almost impossible to pass on such a small area + congestion. It just wasn’t optimal.
Another strike – I promise I’m almost done – again, I don’t know if this was typical but that 25-30 mile stretch where you could see NOTHING and feel NOTHING but pummeling wind was a mind screw. And it wasn’t flat. It was one long low grade incline. It just was a total mind game – I love flat and this isn’t hilly by ANY means but even some flat courses have some “give” – and not one long incline. Perhaps if the wind hadn’t been so bad I wouldn’t have noticed.
Once we hit the turnaround point, it was like HEAVEN. This tailwind was incredible. The remaining 16 miles back I was telling myself “easy strokes” and was still going 24-26 miles per hour. At this point we were with wind to back and going DOWN that incline. It was incredible. I felt like I was flying. Unfortunately, it didn’t last very long.
It was so weird, I wanted to sing but I couldn’t remember a SINGLE song. Instead I repeated the same TWO phrases I know in hungarian, over and over and over….so strange!
Some bike course notes: There was a train track and it was reported that if you were stopped by a train there would a timer to subtract your time. I don’t know how true this is, I didn’t see a timing mat. I heard that SAG ran out of tubes – interesting, huh?
Okay, my last strike for the bike course. Bike in was HORRIBLE. We come into this 90 degree turn down a hill that has gravel and debris – you can see in the video how steep it was. Of course, volunteers were telling us to slow down but it still was dangerous. And once you got off bike, you had to run through dirt/gravel with thin pads on the ground with your bike.
The bike catchers were great and I had to giggle at them wearing gloves. For you non-triathletes, some people don’t stop to pee and just go on your bike. It’s a skill to master for sure. So….if you ever volunteer and they offer gloves..take the gloves.
Running through the grass in my shoes was “eh” – no big thing – and a volunteer helped me find my bag. Into the changing tent I go.
This time, I pointed at a volunteer and went “YOU, can you please help me?” I took a seat and started ripping stuff off. As I did that, she was amazing, she started laying everything out for me. Glide, socks, shoes, race belt, head lamp, visor. She started putting everything back into my bag for me and off I went. The one thing I had done at Eagleman was LOST my BASE salt on the run – so I told myself I wasn’t going to this time. The volunteer handed it to me, I took it and somehow I STILL lost it in the tent. (No worries, I picked up someone else dropped on run course, gross, huh?)
I stopped for a slight porta potty break as I hadn’t stopped on bike course (I don’t think I could’ve gotten back up in that WIND!) and then off I went!
As I ran out of T2 for my little marathon, I saw my family again. I, tell ya, Official Tri Dad has it down. However, he rates this race as not very spectator friendly. They had to wait hours in one spot in order to be able to see anything. Which is often par for course on bike course, but it was the entire race it seemed.
One thing to keep in mind, your spectator comfort. I had done a gift bag of shirts, snacks, socks, sunscreen, water, and toys for them to have! Poor E was so windblown but she was a sport!
The run course for IMNC is quite beautiful. He has a few hills but nothing that can’t be tackled. Since this was my first marathon and didn’t know how I’d do, I wanted to be conservative. I went in with a goal of X per minute and told myself “this is just 2x 10 milers and a 6.2”. Somehow that worked for me!
Like most IM courses, this run course was 2 loops of 13.1 So actually, we got to run past the battleship 4 times but I missed it completely on race day LOL I didn’t notice until the next day when I went down to the water to reflect.
The run course is a definitely plus for this race. The support was also spot on. Every mile there was an aid station. My goal was to run as long as I could and only walk aid stations.
I tell you…at my first half (Eagleman) my legs were DEAD coming off the bike. This time, I FELT AMAZING. I kept going “damn you’re fit! Yes you’re doing this, you’re doing an Ironman!” I felt like I flew through the first 10. My strategy was to stick to those first 10 miles at X pace and reassess at 10. I did the same for the next 10. Then last 6.2 and it worked well.
I got choked up on the course as I ran through the streets and at one point people started chanting “team fight” and I had other athletes ask me about it. My goal was to raise awareness as I was the feet of the cause for this race. This thrilled me to no end.
One of the best things about this race course, besides being BEAUTIFUL, that no one tells you – THERE ARE REAL BATHROOMS AT THE TURN AROUND POINT ON THE LOOP. Yes, friends, I went and peed in a regular bathroom and WASHED MY FACE. I know, I know – but my eyes were burning from salt water and wind.
At the turn around was the BASE salt crew, these guys are so awesome. If you don’t use their products you need to check out the salt at least. I use one lick per mile to keep cramps away. Remember when I said above I snagged one some stranger had dropped on the course? That’s how much I believe in the salt! (And no, they aren’t telling me to say this!)
Getting back into town meant that I was going to start on loop 2, get special needs and be almost done. I was hoping to see my family again as well.
Unfortunately, and this is just a thing to races, but the turnaround point was literally at a fork to the finish. Right, finish. Left, go for another 13.1
Since IMNC was also being run as the NC 70.3 (which made for a super congested course), you got to see people finish but still had 13.1 to go. It didn’t mind screw me as much – but it was still there.
Here is a total side rant, but people – if you ever do a race where there is a full and a half at same time. and you’re doing the half. PLEASE stay out of the changing tent and let the FULL people have it. Most 70.3s dont have it, and IMO you don’t need it.
I circled back out towards for my second loop and knew I had it in the bag. I still felt GREAT. One thing that was cool, as I passed the turnaround I had this volunteer going “are you rachel?!” and she gave me a huge hug! We are in online groups together! That was such a good boost!
As you round the corner for SN bag, they call out your number and have it waiting. For me, I had a diet dr pepper and a rice krispie treat. I also had a little pack of cards of encouragement that I had friends leave on a thread on FB – my husband then made them into cards (tape over paper) and put them on a little ring for me. I expected to be in a bad mental place and I wasn’t – so it helped me to smile and laugh. I also had the same ones at swim start – it was fun to know my friends and family were “with” me.
Two drawbacks to the run course – as you go through town theres cobblestones and uneven pavement – pay attention! And….YOU GO THROUGH THE RESTARAUNT DISTRICT LOL so you can smell the fries, burgers and the beer. I wanted one so bad!
I didn’t get to see OTD and the baby again – which I was sorely disappointed but figure it was time to get going and come home.
My second half was pretty consistent but I unraveled a tiny – I should’ve pushed harder but looking at results wouldn’t have moved me up anymore. I was #22 and to beat #20 I would’ve had to run 31 minutes faster. So I was okay where I was. I had never run a marathon before, so this was so much fun.
As I came “home”, I was leapfrogging with a few people. We would walk/run past one another. You get to know other athletes. Or you should. One of them we chatted back and forth – come to find out we follow one another on IG already! How fun!
Near the end this guy yells out “team fight, you got anymore fight?” I look over and he has this eat shit grin. I wondered if I knew him. And he starts running. And told me (and his wife that was next to me) to move it. He brought us home. That was super cool.
As I came around the corner to the last .5 mile people are shouting “congratulations!” The tri community is badass.
I came into the chute, immediately saw my family – and just ran to the end. I had done it!
I was excited, but I was sad. While I slowed to allow other people have their moment, some guy came from behind and charged in front of me so Mike Reilly didn’t have time to say “you are an ironman!” to me. This was how I pictured my first IM. I wanted it. And it didn’t happen. I’m still disappointed over this.
As I came through the end, they do the usual chip taking, medal giving. I was kinda put off because I finished and these volunteers stood there. I was felt rude going “…can I have my medal?” but it was like they completely were ignoring the athletes finishing. So I get through, get my shirt and pajama pants (best swag ever those pants are!).
As I came out the end of the chute, husband met me and gave a huge hug and shoves TACOS IN MY FACE!! I was thrilled! God, I love that man.
Then he quietly goes “I have to tell you something…” I was thinking “OH crud, something really bad happened.”
He goes “they lost your bike.”
Great….so off we go to T2 to hunt it down. At this point it had been MIA for over 5 hours.
Then husband goes “by the way, they gave your wetsuit to some guy, he saw your number inside and called me. So we have to go to his hotel.”
So we go to do that.
Then we realized we forgot my bike/run bags. Back we go….neither can be found. Seriously. I’m like WHAT?! It isn’t such a big deal as thats a full tri kit, etc etc. Finally, they get one bag. And the other is still MIA. I gave up for the night and headed back to the hotel. (I did get it back the next day after I dug through bags. I was really not happy they left high school aged kids to man our stuff and didn’t have a clue who to talk to about lost and found).
This is partly where it is not spectator friendly. The truck was forever away from the finish line. And the finish line wasn’t really situated in the best part of town.
Took a hot bath, shampooed, changed into the pajamas – and we headed back to the finish line to cheer in the final finishers.
Overall – it was a great first Ironman. I didn’t let the course changes throw me, and I still made it my day. I mean, I did a freaking Ironman*. It’s not the full 140.6 I wanted. So I’ve signed up for IMMD next year! whoop!
I’m happy to report that I had no chaffing (except neck of wetsuit), no blisters, no injury and I felt amazing. I took 3 days off then did a recovery ride Weds, and a recovery run Thurs. So far, so good.
I still can’t believe my body did this. I can’t believe my husband dealt with our five kiddos while I spent enormous hours training. Seriously, training and balance is the hardest part.
Just like my husband asked “which is worse? Childbirth or an ironman?” Childbirth, hands down. Let’s see if I say that with 140.6 next year!
Would I do IMNC again? Perhaps – the point to point stuff is stressful but I’ve learned it now. and the “Beach to battleship” thing is really super cool. Maybe. The answer is maybe, if Ironman can clean up the logistics stuff.
p.s. The finger up is to God and my grandma whom I lost to cancer. Miss you air-ma!