Monday, October 28, 2013

Race report: PPD Beach2Battleship - 1st Masters

I thoroughly enjoyed my season finale at the PPD B2B half-iron distance triathlon this past weekend in Wilmington, NC - about a 5-1/2 hour drive from the house. I had no expectations for this race other than to have some fun, so it was certainly the icing on the cake to finish tenth overall, in 5:15:26, and receive the engraved plaque for first place female master's winner at this distance. The plaques were made from the original teak deck of the Battleship North Carolina -- which was moored right across the water from my hotel room -- and engraved by the "Kids Making It Woodworking Program." How cool!!

view of the Battleship NC across the river from my room

Now to backtrack and recount the details of this really cool and unique race voted the fifth-best iron-distance triathlon by Triathlete Magazine. Friday was spent attending to pre-race details. I checked in at the Wilmington Convention Center around 10 am when it opened, then browsed through the vendors and merchandise at the expo. It was very well-stocked and you could pretty much find anything you might have things maybe you didn't know you needed but "had" to have!

I also got a photo courtesy of Cape Fear Land Rover with my Tri-Sherpa for the race - my good friend Bryan, owner of Solar Connexion and a race sponsor. I'm not sure he was fully aware of just how busy he would be when he said he would come and help!

Tri-Sherpa means a certain amount of carrying/holding

At the expo I had the chance to meet some people in the triathlon community with whom I work, but had only previously corresponded with online. I was so glad to put faces to the names and meet these great folks in person!

We attended the required athlete meeting to go over details of the race that were outlined in the athlete guide. With T1 and T2 in different locations, and both half and full-iron distance races involved, the logistics were quite a bit different than at our local sprint and olympic races. It was at this meeting that I met up with Roanoke triathletes Karen Bowers, also doing the half, and Ron Bell and Nancy Hans doing their first fulls.

I first met Nancy at the Y in Salem Sprint Tri in 2011 and was immediately
drawn to her positive energy.  This was her first full iron distance and she cranked it out!!

Karen finished IMKY in August and came out to B2B to do the half.
She juggles tri training and racing with med school!

Athlete meeting (one of the three offered)

We checked in numbered Bike-to-Run transition bags at the convention center. Mine contained my running shoes, socks, running hat, and my race number belt with two gels. It was a little strange relinquishing "control" of those vital pieces and I had to squelch a few wildly irrational "what ifs" that popped into my head.

After the meeting Bryan drove the bike and I to T1 in Wrightsville Beach with an emergency "I'm STARVING NOW" lunch stop for me along the way. I racked the bike, then spent the requisite amount of time obsessing about silly details before saying goodnight to the Roo and leaving.

Tri-Sherpa loading Roo on Yellow with Battleship NC in the background. 

Off-loading Roo at Wrightsville Beach

Tinkering with hub orientation. I like it a certain way. (Look at that blue sky!!!)

I returned to the Expo to meet up with the CEO of the fortyninegroup, John Jones, and some work associates and it was past 5 when I wrapped things up to get ready for race day.

Like every race morning, this one came all too quickly. Bryan and I met up to drive me to T1 where I pumped my tires, checked the bike over, and set up my bike gear and my Swim-to-Bike bag. At 7:45 I took the shuttle from T1 about a mile or so up the road to the swim start - a set of docks on the channel.

Race morning was only in the upper 30's but thankfully I had prepared well, unlike many others. Per B2B instructions I knew to wear clothes to the swim start that I did not need back, and I had plenty of layers for the lengthy wait until my swim wave, which was the last wave at 9:25. I had on my wetsuit, insulated pants, a thick hoody sweatshirt, a windbreaker, socks and my kid's old outgrown shoes, a hat, gloves, and chemical hand warmers! (Just what you think of for "swimming"! I wish I'd had a picture, I looked pretty funny I'm sure.) In contrast, I saw people standing around in nothing more than a wetsuit, flip flops, and a garbage bag. I watched them shake with chattering teeth for an hour or more. Not smart!

I watched the full iron swimmers go by and then wave after wave of the half iron racers left the beach. There was a really neat "drone plane" with a camera filming the starts. Finally it was time for the over-45 women! We stripped down to wetsuits, left our clothes in the Salvation Army donation truck, and got in the water for our 1.2 mile swim, which at 70 degrees felt OK. I had two swim caps on for a little extra warmth. We saw that the rising tide had indeed brought the current and we had to swim upstream to stay in line with the start. Then the airhorn went and we were off!

I saw a few women sprint off and the swim crowd thinned. I found myself beside another swimmer who seemed to be going my pace so I tucked in off her right hip for a while. The only buoy we had to sight off of was the turn buoy at about the half way point. After the turn, it was hard to know the best path to take toward the finish that I couldn't quite see, so I just tried to position myself so that there were swimmers to either side of me. I lost my "swimming partner" a few times but we always seemed to end up back together. I think without speaking a word we were just helping each other to find our way and as we exited up the short ladder to the dock, she turned to me and said, "good swim!"

(I was SUPER excited to discover that my swim time was ranked 40th out of the 331 women who completed the swim -- percentage wise I am very VERY happy with that!!)

This was my first experience with a "wetsuit stripper." Yeah, that is what these great volunteers are called! I was unzipped, told to sit down and grab the back of the bench, and the next thing I knew that wetsuit was yanked right off of me!! I ran through the warm shower zone but did not stop. At my bike I put on arm warmers and full fingered gloves but opted out of the extra long sleeve jersey I had in my bag. I also had toe covers on my shoes. I shoved all my swim stuff into my T1 bag, tied the top as instructed, then off I went into the bright but cold morning.

In the first mile and again in the last mile of the bike course we rode over drawbridges which meant riding over about a 100' section of metal grating. We were told to keep between 15-20 mph and just go straight and indeed it was fine.

I quickly found my groove and just dialed in a 154/155 heart rate per Coach Jim's instructions, trying to keep my cadence in the low 90's. Easy speed was what I was after, and even so, I was passing cyclist after cyclist. I felt really good and had a blast picking people off on the smooth, wide roads. I also knew I had made the right call on what to wear for the bike. I saw some very overdressed/overheating athletes and others who had worn very billow-y, parachute-like very non-aero tops and jackets. Always plan for cold weather contingencies!! I gave a shout-out to the PPD heroes I saw out on the course including Eric and Garrett Miller on their tandem bike!

While I was out racing, Bryan's Tri-Sherpa responsibilities extended to helping out the drone helicopter pilot/photographer who was getting aerial shots. I watched this helicopter at the swim start and was fascinated by how smooth and steady he kept it.

 the drone helicopter "pilot"

There was one cyclist with whom I found myself in a game of "cat and mouse" - Len from Cincinnati. We must have passed each other 20 times, with each pass having a brief little non-drafting conversation. The back of his trisuit said "Mojo" so of course the "Buttercup" in me kept thinking of Mojo Jojo (Powerpuff Girls reference). I figured it was a good omen!! The 56 mile bike ride flew by and I averaged about 20.3 mph but even better, I finished feeling awesome and fairly fresh!

After all those miles of quiet introspective cycling, it was a little bit of a shock to come up on the convention center, where the bike course narrows, spectators are thick, and runners are headed out. It was a bit of sensory overload.

I dismounted the bike, and just after I crossed the timing mat the Roo was whisked away from me and I continued running the perimeter of the room. A volunteer with a megaphone yelled my number to another volunteer who found my bag Bike-to-Run bag and handed it off to me. I continued around, making a left for the rest room rather than the changing room, where I put on running shoes while having a pee! (Hey at least I was hydrated...but that accounts for the less than stellar T2 time.) All the bike gear went into the bike-to-run bag, and that was tied off and handed to another volunteer at the exit. (There were legions of volunteers and they were fantastic, truly fantastic).

trying to get my race belt on

still messing with my race belt

The run starts with a short out and back section toward the PPD building, then we headed out for the main part of the run along the river boardwalk and toward a park and lake then back again. I had a hard time getting my cadence up and watched my pace start to slip a few miles in. I knew it could be a tough run, particularly since I hadn't done 13 miles since last spring and had only recently had the healthy legs to be able to ramp up my running at all. My heart rate was higher than I wanted for the paces I had, but I was reluctant to slow even as I saw my desired run pace slip away.

This guy showed up on the run course. I thought the signs about
not feeding the alligators were a joke! Guess not!

At the turnaround, I found myself behind a guy and girl who were running easily, chit-chatting and encouraging other runners all the while. I tucked in behind and asked if they'd mind if I ran with them for a while. (Drafting!)  I just needed to tune in on someone else and tune out the negativity of my own head and I stuck with them until the final mile. I listened in some and then he brought up the Bone Island Tri in Key West. We chatted about that for a while since it's the "sister race" to B2B and another great race we work with, but mainly I listened, and marveled at how easy this run seemed for them! At the final aid station, I must admit that I wimped out and walked while I had some water. I should not have done that, I caved. But I got rolling again and as soon as I saw the finish I burned up whatever was left in the tank and sprinted through the chute, passing another woman as I went. I was so, so happy! Yeah the run was tough, but it was all-over body tough, not injured-leg tough!!

I found my running buddies and we exchanged some high-fives. I walked off with my finisher's medal and my finisher's PJ bottoms (awesome!) and met up with John and Bryan for the post-race debrief. After being so quiet for 5+ hours, I get especially chatty.

Love the top and PJ bottoms - really nice and soft!! Unlike most race stuff, I'll be wearing this a lot.

I headed off to shower and return for the awards ceremony where I sat with John, Bryan, and Karen. I have to say it was one of my greater racing surprises to be sitting there and hear for the master's awards...."from Blacksburg, Virginia"

With John Jones, CEO of fortyninegroup

A sun-bleached photo of a shocked and super-happy me on the podium.

Here are the stats if you are interested (full results online)

Swim - 0:35:21 (40th out of 325)
T1 - 0:4:38 (11th)
Bike - 2:45:31 (8th)
T2 - 0:03:35 (45th)
Run - 1:46:23 (26th)
Overall - 05:15:26 (10th)

I enjoyed the whole post-race party and the continuous flow of athletes across the finish line. I was treated to a celebratory Solar Connexion dinner in Wilmington and afterward the athletes were still coming through to the finish! I'm still not sure I'm up for an entirely FULL day of racing but if that's to your liking, Wilmington and the PPD Beach2Battleship race is the place to do it.

I can see why this race has such a loyal following. It's a really fun point to point race, with more than one volunteer for every two racers. It has tremendous support from PPD, the Wilmington Family Y, and the involvement of the PPD Heroes who race having overcome tremendous medical conditions through medical trials and the work of PPD. The courses are lovely and the city is extremely welcoming. It's easy to see why racers LOVE this race and return year after year.

Congratulations to all the finishers including local triathletes Karen, Ron, Nancy, Janet, Gary, and my One-on-One Endurance teammate John King who had a fantastic debut iron distance race with a 10:49:03 finish!! Congrats also to newly minted iron distance woman Emily Read!!

Giant THANK YOUs go to Coach Jim McGehee of One-on-One Endurance; beloved family Robert, Spencer and Grant who allow me to train and race; Oma who fills in admirably while I am gone; my mom and dad who have always encouraged me; Bryan Walsh and Solar Connexion; and all my friends and fellow-triathletes who make this sport so welcoming and meaningful.

Let the off-season/out-season begin!!