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Race Report: Beach2Battleship Iron-Distance

Beach2Battleship Iron-Distance Triathlon
2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run
Wilmington, NC
29 October 2011

Swim (Garmin Data):
In what has become a ritual of the event, Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” played prior to the starting signal.  In any other circumstance, the scene would appear ridiculous: 800 men and women, clad in black wetsuit, standing in the sand at dawn, bobbing their heads, many with their eyes closed in prayer or concentration.  Looking down at my bare feet, I smiled as I realized I was one of them, and that was a comforting thought.  

Compared to the cool dawn air temperature, the water felt warm as I plunged in and began the swim.  To say I was undertrained for the swim leg would be an understatement.  Total swim sessions during training: 3.

Despite my lack of preparedness, I had the best swim of any triathlon so far.  A major selling point for this race is the strong, fast current that comes into the channel from the ocean.  The first few hundred yards had the usual scrum of bodies, each of us fighting for our own lane, waiting for the tug of that sweet current to help us along.  

The main portion of the swim was routine: stroke, breathe, sputter when you inhale salt water, repeat.  The only scare came towards the end of the 2.4 mile swim when my right calf muscle seized up and met any attempt at movement with biting pain.  I let my legs rest and pulled for a few minutes with just my arms, eventually the muscle released and I finished strong.

Climbing the wooden ladders at the end of the swim, I glanced at my watch and saw 47 minutes.  After shuffling the next two minutes and fighting to get my wetsuit off, I entered transition in 49.  Darrel Williams, the overall winner on the day, beat me on the swim by just 2.5 minutes.  He must have missed a turn, because I wasn’t even going hard!  

T1 (Garmin Data):
Should have seen this coming, problem getting my tri top on, again.  Need to wear this under the wetsuit as I must have wasted at least two minutes here.  Compared others’ times, I was still satisfied with my first transition.  Additional bonus that I didn’t have to fight my way through the tent of naked men; I simply sat on the grass and prepped there..

Bike (Garmin Data):
There is no such thing as bad weather, just soft people.”  - Bill Bowerman

While the rain held off for the swim, we didn’t have the same fortune during the bike.  I was unsure whether to pack my cycling jersey, as I certainly didn’t want to look like some novice out there.  Hindsight is 20/20 and I learned that in cold, miserable conditions like the ones we faced, you layer anything you possibly can to stay warm and functioning.  At one point, a guy wearing a trash bag flew by me like I was on my bike trainer and I smiled at how truly strange and wonderful this sport is.  

If the gusting 25-30mph headwinds didn’t dampen your spirit, the bitter cold temperatures certainly helped.  My fingers stop functioning somewhere around mile 30.  The only way to open the Gu packets was to rip off the top with my teeth, then jam the empty gel carcass into my back jersey pocket.  It was at that point that I found myself in a dark, lonely place, seriously contemplating pulling out of the race.  

That’s the point of an Ironman where it’s more of a mental battle than a physical one.  When fear and doubt begin to creep, telling you that your bike won’t make the distance, your body won’t make the distance.  With no crowd support or music, it’s difficult to silence those voices, especially when the only alternative is to simply put your head down and continue what you’re doing.

Perseverance wins out in the end, as we were rewarded at mile 70 with the sun breaking from the clouds, a newly paved road, and a fresh tail wind at our back.  The combination of those elements made it feel as though the parachute that I had been dragging behind me had been released.  My legs instantly came back to life and I found myself dropping people left and right, smiling once again.

Prior to the race, my longest ride was a mere 80 miles.  Clipping off my first century ride during my first Ironman was a nice little win and helped keep me motivated.  But without headphones, I was slightly unprepared for the monotony of a ride this distance.  To compensate, I talked (grumbled) to myself, sang songs, and played entire movies through my head, incorporating as many details as possible.  I must have made someone’s day as I was in the middle of Gandalf’s scene in Khazad-dûm, and yelled “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” as he came up beside me.  He did, however, and I sheepishly continued pedaling.

T2 (Garmin Data):
- Forgot to hit the Lap button, which threw off my distance for the run slightly.
- Switched into dry socks, shoes, belt with number, and visor.
- Good, could have gone faster.

Run (Garmin Data):
The course for the run was a two loop out and back that included fairly significant climbs up two bridges.  My goal at this point was to maintain an easy pace and not do anything stupid.  Even though this was advertised as a flat course, there was plenty of climb, or at least it felt that way.

Workers at the aid stations were enthusiastic and helpful throughout the evening.  I grabbed coke or water and would alternate between chicken noodle soup, pretzels, and gels.  

After heading back out for the second lap, I started pacing with another guy for a mile or two.  We started talking and decided after a while that we’d stick together, keeping each other motivated.  When you’ve been inside your own head for roughly 10 hours, simple conversation with another person can be a game changer.

I allowed my friend ahead of me and wove through the final labyrinth of twists and turns to see the finish line.  I thanked Jeff for staying with me, removed my time chip, collected my medal, and tried to stop my Garmin only to find that it was gone!  About a hundred yards before the finish chute, I banged into one of the metal railings along the side.  Scrambling back onto the course, making sure not to get in the way of anyone still running, I was happy to see it on the ground, a little worse-for-wear, but still running.  

The air was cold as I found an empty chair and was handed pizza by a volunteer.  Looking around at the other finishers, I felt completely overwhelmed by the emotions I had held in check the entire day. These are the moments when all that you’ve worked towards, all that you’ve sacrificed, comes into a bright focus.  

Above all, I felt a quiet sense of pride that for the rest of my life I can look in the mirror and know that once upon a time I was good enough.  Good enough to call myself an Ironman.


Total Time: 12:25:33, Swim: 49:55, T1: 6:58, Bike: 6:19:24, T2: 4:14, Run: 5:05:03.

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