Being a graduate student, I have always avoided Ironman branded races due to the high price tag. Every June for the past three years, I have seen Ironman Raleigh 70.3 roll through my training grounds, but had never signed up for the race. This year, I decided to go for it. I wanted to see how I could do on my home turf.
Race morning came and the taper left me not as confident as I had wanted. I was having knee pain that seemed to be on-going, I was having trouble sleeping, and none of my workouts felt “good”. My goals were 1. Not DNF and 2. Get to the finish line quickly. I didn’t want to commit to any time goals, although I had rough ballpark figures in my head. As my wave stood ready to go, I felt too calm. Was I even ready to race? Was my head in the right place?
Swim: The water was not wetsuit legal at >80 degrees Fahrenheit. Since I started at 8:12 (fourth-to-last wave), I had many waves ahead of me, which meant many people to swim through. The most notable detail of the swim, however, was the choppy water. Having swam in Jordan Lake many times before in training, I was surprised to see such conditions. The chop was enough to cause my goggles to leak and straps to get knocked off on multiple occasions. As things went from “great” to “okay” to “not fun”, I decided to just try and manage through the rest of the swim and not stress about it. I got out, looked at my time, and I knew it wasn’t a great start to my theoretical time goals. Desired time: ~30-31 minutes. Actual time: 37:36. Thankfully, I still felt good.
Bike: This was going to be the area I knew I’d be most comfortable with. I have ridden on these roads many times, since I used to live right along the course. I knew that it would be a fast start, with more hills towards the end. It’s not a flat course, but it’s also not what I would consider a hard course. I had a specific race strategy, including wattage, nutrition, hydration, and when to put in efforts, and it went perfectly. I personally love most of this course, yet congestion continued to be an issue for me (yet it was nice constantly having people around for motivation). Official split: 2:31:29. This was almost exactly what I was planning on, but I wasn’t sure if it was going to be enough for me to retain my run legs. I could tell it was getting hot. It was time to start focusing on the hardest part of the race.
Run: I hit the run course smoothly, and kept telling myself “jog, jog, jog… go slow… ease into this half marathon!”. Having ran most of this course before in local half marathons, I knew Hillsborough St. would take its toll with a slight rise and no shade. Knowing it was probably hotter than I thought it was, I started going slower through aid stations after the third mile, grabbing ice, sponges, and anything that would keep me comfortable as a precautionary measure. After about 6 miles I began walking through the aid stations, adding about 20-30 seconds per mile, but I didn’t want to pay the price late in the second lap for neglecting nutrition and hydration. Coming down Fayetteville St. the first time was great, as I got to see people I knew again, including my coach, which always helps during a race!
I started the second lap and immediately noticed that the weather was starting to really affect everyone around me. It was affecting me too, but I was still running at a good pace. I was motivated to start picking up the pace, but now running back up Hillsborough St., I could feel the cumulative fatigue. I knew this lap was about finding that limit, and staying there. I needed to continue walking through most aid stations, but in my mind, the race ended at the far end of Hillsborough St; Once I got there, I knew there was only about 5K to go, slightly down hill. I knew I was going to make it, I started feeling better, my stride was opening up, I was running quickly again, and yet I kept having to back off and recover from getting too ahead of myself. Coming down Fayetteville for the last time, I was elated. I had completed the race with no major issues, which was my main goal. My final run split was 1:36:24.
Total time: 4:49:30
It was a good feeling finishing my second 70.3. My main regret was waiting until the fourth year to sign up for this race. This was one of my favorite races to date! Hats off to the volunteers for being the unsung heroes of this race. Every aid station was full of volunteers who seemed to understand what you want as a racer (because let’s face it, some other races have volunteers who don’t know how to hand off bike bottles, fill up the cups too much, or only hand you one cold sponge instead of the three that you really want!). Additionally, I owe my family, friends, coach, and fellow racers a huge “thank you!” for helping me have a great race. Now it’s time for some recovery and return to shorter, faster racing!