It has taken nearly a month for me to finally start this blog about my race. Needless to say, between returning to work after several days off, parenting (including a super fun 4-day weekend with my kids), and recovering and training for a half marathon, life has kept me busy. I'm excited to take some time to write about my 70.3 experience.
The days leading up to leaving for Wrightsville Beach were busy. I think I was just as stressed (or more) about prepping for the trip and the logistics of the trip and pre-race as I was about the race itself.
On Thursday, I woke up and got my children ready for school. Emma typically only nurses at bedtime, but I offered her some Mama milk since we would be apart for several days. After getting lots of hugs and kisses, knowing I wouldn't see them in person again until I was in the middle of my race, I got one last swim, bike, and run in. All three were nice and easy and focused on having some fun and enjoying my time outdoors. While I ran around trying to get all my gear, clothes, fuel, etc. packed, Jonathan took a break from work and cleaned and lubed my bike chain so I wouldn't have to stress about doing it at the hotel. In case you didn't know, I have the absolute best, most supportive partner ever.
As I packed up, I made sure to include the posters that Jonathan's cousin Rachel's kids made for me. They absolutely made me smile and were great to have in my hotel room with me!
Car loaded, lunch eaten, I headed to the Wilmington Convention Center. I headed straight to Athlete Check-in. I got my bib and packet, my shirt and backpack, and my event bracelet, As I was leaving the check-in area, entering the shopping area, I saw Kitty, whom I had met during the triathlon camp I had done during the summer. It was great to see her. She let me know she'd be at the last turn buoy in the water and on the run route.
As I was shopping around, picking up allllll the swag - jacket, long sleeve hooded shirt, short sleeve shirt (all with participant names on the back), BOCO gear hat and visor, and a NC 70.3 sticker - I ran into some of the women I met during tri camp. It was great to see them. As I was checking out, Lee, one of my Coeur teammates, arrived. We found each other and decided to go to the Athlete Briefing. As we headed out of shopping, I stopped by and said hi to the mechanics from Inside-Out Sports, who just recently switched out the stem of my road bike to a shorter one.
After the Athlete Briefing, I headed to my hotel, checked in, and got settled in. I fixed my dinner and relaxed. On and off all afternoon and evening, I was dealing with some tummy issues and nausea. I kept thinking it was nerves. That evening, I realized it wasn't just nerves - I also started my period. I did my best to fuel through the issues I had, and I was grateful that it wasn't race day.
I got some good sleep Thursday night and had a relaxing morning on Friday. I made a batch of Kodiak cakes and ate those along with a banana, per my dietician's directions. Loading up with lots of good carbs for race day! I headed out and met up with my Coeur Sports teammates. It was so funny seeing Lee and Kendra again and meeting others in person for the first time!
While eating lunch back at my hotel, I got a message from one of the ladies from tri camp about meeting them at T2 (bike-to-run transition) so they could braid my hair for me. I put the finishing touches on my run bag, including putting my running vest into my cooler bag with ice packs, and I packed up my car for both transitions. Unfortunately, I hit some traffic, and they were ready to leave T2, so we decided to meet at their house before dinner.
I found a parking spot and headed to Wilmington and T2. My spot was in the middle and towards the end away from the run start. I hung my bag on the post and noted my spot. On the way out of T2, I saw Kitty again. She told me about how the chute from bike to transition would be set up and let me know I didn't need to pack everything up at T2 when I headed out to run. We chatted a bit, and I felt confident about T2. I hopped back in the car for the drive back to Wrightsville Beach to drop my bike of at T1 (swim-to-bike transition).
T1 was pretty uneventful. Having already added air to my tires at the hotel, I just had to rack my bike. I saw Natalia, Lee, and Christine while I was there.
Time to head back to the hotel and get ready for meeting up with Bev, Janna, Sarah, and Jackie for my race braids. After my dinner, I stopped by Natalia's room and got a super sweet goodie bag that she had prepared for me. Then I headed to the girls' place. I had a lot of fun laughing with them while Janna did my hair. When they started prepping their bike and morning bags, I started to get a little anxious and decided to head back to my room.
In my room, I finished getting everything ready, put on my Normatec boots, and Facetimed with my family. It was time for some good sleep before race day!
Thanks for reading this far! Now I'm at race day! I slept hard. When my alarm went off, I woke up ready to prepare for my day.
As planned with Stevie, the dietician I work with, and with my coach Lisa, I was up 3 hours before the race for my first breakfast. I got dressed, grabbed my morning bag and my bike bag, put a hoodie on, and started the walk to T1. I saw Natalia and said hi, and she headed out of T1. At T1, I unpacked my bike bag - put Skratch hydration in my front hydration system and put it on the bike, put 2 bottles of Skratch in the cages on my frame, and put my bike computer on the bike. I then took my bike to check the air. I found someone with a pump and borrowed it to add air to my tires, then I took it back and racked it. About that time, I saw Bev, Janna, Sarah, and Jackie again. It was so good to see friendly faces to ease the nerves. The five of us finished up at our bikes, masked up, and headed to the shuttle to swim start.
I am forever grateful for summer tri camp for bringing these awesome ladies into my life. I could not have imagined a better pre-race experience. I joined them at their coach's house where we had constant access to a bathroom, took our time applying Tri Glide and Vaseline and Zealios Betwixt and got into our wetsuits, all while having so many laughs that I forgot all about the race nerves.
We decided it was time to head to the swim start. We decided we would all start together. We are within a few minutes of each other. I am so so so so so glad that I was with them at the swim start. So many laughs. And when I would start to get in my own head about what we were about to do, I would just make sure I pulled myself back into the group (mentally and physically). We talked about triathlon, about peeing, and about non-triathlon related things like children and Hamilton. It was a fantastic way to pass the time. After my final photo, I put my phone into my Coeur fanny pack and put that and my bottle of Skratch into my Morning bag and dropped it at gear check. Back at the group, I realized I hadn't taken my inhaler so ran back, took two shots, returned my bag, and rejoined the girls.
As we made our way to the start, I realized my goggles were fogged up, so I grabbed a random jug of water that someone had discarded, and several of us rinsed our goggles. When we got down towards the water, where there were 3 people going off at a time, we saw Sami, the race director. It was fun to see her there and get a final word of encouragement. They were sending 3 athletes every 5 seconds with a tone, so I kept moving closer and then it was time to go!
We were warned multiple times to NOT swim towards the first buoy but to swim straight as the current would take us towards that first buoy. The current was definitely moving!
I was surprised how quickly I got into a rhythm. In my open-water sprint and mini sprints, it felt like it took 100m at least to get a rhythm and calm my breathing, but I very quickly got into a rhythm for this race. I felt very at easy and focused. Part of it may be that although this was BY FAR the largest race I had run, the rolling start gave me lots of space. Don't get me wrong - there was the person who accidentally grabbed my arm during their stroke and others who crowded me, but I generally had space and could keep my rhythm. There was one guy near me for a lot of the race who seemed to keep struggling and having to roll onto his back. Somehow, I kept finding myself near him. I drafted off a couple people's feet and a person or two's side as I swam, but I never really found someone the right pace and with good sighting. I seemed to be moving pretty well. After the first turn, I became a little worried that I wasn't sighting well and was off course. There seemed to be several people a ways from me. I kept going forward and tried to just swim my swim. I was convinced I must have taken a long route, but looking at my Garmin chart, I swam some pretty straight lines.
The swim seemed to be going by pretty quickly. I was feeling strong. I kept reminding myself to reach out and to pull all the way to my hips. Just as Coach Lisa told me, it was pretty easy to not kick while swimming in my wetsuit. I let my arms do the work until after the final turn when I started kicking to get the blood flowing through my legs. I was aware enough and sighting enough that I saw Kittie on her paddleboard at the final turn. It made me smile and also know that I was close to the finish of the swim. How had it gone by so fast? I was having fun but also ready for the next step.
Just like in my short races, that final stretch was the longest. I was pushing harder and harder, and the dock was slowly getting closer. I could see people starting to climb up the ladders onto the dock, and it was getting a bit more crowded as everyone funneled in to find their spot. I chose a ladder and just swam in to it. I totally forgot Natalia's recommendation to take a moment to wipe off my face before getting out of the water - I was focused on making my way up the ladder. I got onto the dock and joined the line of athletes quickly walking down it. I was already thinking to what's next and had my goggles and cap off by the end of the dock.
T1, the transition area where my bike was, is a ways from the dock. According to my Garmin, from the dock to transition, down the row to my bike, and then out to bike start was half a mile. Despite my coach insisting it would be carpeted, there was no carpet. However, I never found myself wishing I had stashed some shoes. The ground had little pebbles but it wasn't too bad, and I had plenty of race adrenaline. Also, in my wetsuit, having just finished a 1.2 mile swim, about to bike 57+ miles and run 13.1 miles, I didn't need to run much faster than I was running barefoot. I didn't realize it at the time, but the large archway that led into and out of T1 had the timing mat a little too far and for those athletes (including me) who ran too close to the side of the in archway, which bordered the side of the out archway, the timing mat registered them as finishing T1 and heading out on the bike. My friends thought I had an incredible transition (especially given the distance) - and my first bike split was slower than it really was. Nope - that was just the time to get to the entrance of T1 - then I had to run all the way down and around T1 to get in and across to my bike, actually transition, and head back out of T1.
I made my way to my bike, getting the top half of my wetsuit off as I went, per Scott's instructions. I got to my bike and quickly got the rest of my wetsuit off. I had a bottle of water there and squeezed water over my head and body quickly to rinse off some of the salt water. Socks on. Shoes on. Helmet and sunglasses on. Wetsuit shoved into the bag and bag tied for transport to Wilmington where it would be retrieved at the end of the race. Bike off the rack, and I was gone.
As I quickly walked my bike through the bike out archway and went to mount, I realized that I hadn't started my bike computer. Despite all my visualizing of me turning it on as soon as I got to my bike, because it's always the thing I forget, I had forgotten. Oh well. My watch was still going, and I just hit to turn it on while I mounted and got started.
I got started on the bike. As expected my heartrate was up from transition, so I just worked to settle into a pace. The start of the bike isn't very wide, and there were a fair bit of riders. Shortly after leaving transition, someone commented that I was about to lose my Nuun, and indeed, one Nuun bottle fell out of my pocket just then, and I secured the other two deeper into my pocket. Luckily, those were just my extra Skratch just in case I went well over 3 1/2 hours or needed extra hydration. With my GI issues, Stevie and I had an exact plan for me. Between the hydration bottle between my aero bars and the two large bottles on my bike in bottle cages, I had enough Skratch for 3 1/2 hours. If I needed more than that (because I lost a bottle, because I was drinking a lot more or taking a lot longer, whatever), I would need to get water from an aid station and add my Skratch to it. I had enough Skratch bars and chews in my bento box on my bar to last me a little more than 3 1/2 hours, with some extras in my back pocket, and I had some salt and some Imodium on my bento box as well.
I am super proud of how my bike went and how well I executed our plan. I settled into low Z2, my aerobic zone. I found my groove and was riding. I was a little surprised by all the elevation at the beginning (on ramps and bridges), but it was not as hilly as riding at home. The drawbridges weren't too bad and were very short. Once we were out of town, it was very flat. The road out was pretty long and on a major road without much to look at. I saw a couple of the ladies I hung out with that morning and a few Coeur teammates. There were stretches where I was riding by myself for a while, and stretches where it was hard to have distance from other riders because there were so many of us. I paid attention to my heartrate, I followed my nutrition and hydration plan, I thanked the volunteers and police officers along the course, and I said hi, gave words of encouragement, and enjoyed being out there with the other racers.
As we went, I started increasing my heartrate. I was feeling great. I was excited to get to the back half of the route since I had ridden some of that during tri camp and it was a little more interesting. I passed a fire station and smiled thinking of my good friend and "gear guy" Scott who helped me in so many ways prepare for this race. There was one stretch of rough road that was not particularly fun. It was a bumpy ride, and I (along with everyone around me) was happy to be off that section of road when we finished.
As I hit the main road heading back towards Wilmington, I increased my heartrate again. As planned, I was still within Z2, but now I was at the top of Z2. I was feeling good and enjoyed pushing a little harder. My left lower back and right knee both bothered me a bit here and there, but overall, I felt good. I started passing people who had passed me early in the bike leg. At one point, I heard a familiar voice, and there was Sami again, cheering for me. I got a huge smile and felt good. On that home stretch, I was focused, I knew the bike course was long so was not surprised to hit 56 miles and not be able to see downtown quite yet, but it just made me push harder, while still respecting my heartrate. I had someone ride up behind me and mention that I was riding so strong and looked really good. I acknowledged her, but I really was dialed in and focused at that point. She then said she couldn't keep up and dropped back. I just kept on going, heading as fast as I could for T2. Once I hit some familiar streets from athlete check-in and dropping my bags at T2, I knew that I was close. With the extra turning here, I let off the effort a little and quickly found myself approaching the chute for T2. I hopped off my bike very close to my time goal for that leg and feeling good.
Off the bike and on my way to my spot. I have pretty good spatial sense and knew right where to go. It helps that I talked to Kitty the day before to orient myself to where I would be coming in from. Bike racked, helmet off, running vest on (and could feel the Skratch was still cool - given I had to put it out the day before in the midday heat, I put it in a cooler bag with ice packs - worked perfectly!), swapped bike shoes for running shoes. Only hiccup was there was something strange when I put my shoe on - had to take it off and investigate. The pill container with Imodium that I couldn't find when I was packing my transition bags had fall into my running shoe! Dumped it out, slipped my shoe on (yay, Caterpy laces for easy slip-on ability even with my picky lacing), and was ready to go. I wanted to just go straight to the run course, but I knew if I had hydrated properly on the bike (which I really tried to do), I wouldn't last the entire run without needing to use the bathroom, so I made a very quick stop in the portapotty on my way to the run course. Then, it was time to run!
I started the run excited I had made it through the swim and bike so well and was now in familiar territory. I've run half marathons before! I was smiling and feeling good, my pace was good, my heartrate was good, and I was passing a few guys who were not looking so good coming off the bike. Now was the time to settle in and run. I did notice that the right side of my lower back was tight, but I figured it would loosen up. The first aid station was great. I saw Beth, the coach from my summer training camp, and saw Kitty again.
It wasn't long before that good feeling was gone. That tightness in my lower back was persistent. Throughout the run, I would stretch with my arms high overhead to relieve some of the tightness, but it bothered me all 13.1 miles. I also quickly realized my legs weren't there. I couldn't keep my heartrate up in my tempo zone - I just couldn't get my legs to turn over and push the way I needed them to. By Mile 2, I was thinking about what a l-o-n-g run this was going to be. I was thinking about strategy. How was I going to make it through it? Around Mile 3, I saw Jonathan and the kids. They had signs and were cheering, and I was SO happy. That was what I needed. I got a little more pep in my step. I never felt good running, never got my heartrate to progress like I wanted it, but I knew I could do it. Being an endurance runner kicked in - at this point, I knew I could make it "just" 10 more miles.
I was hot on the run. I have never done the "throw water on yourself" thing, but I also usually didn't run half marathons in the afternoon or after swimming and biking! As I ran, I stuck to my fueling and hydration plan, and at aid stations I would grab a cup of water at the start to throw over my head and one at the end to throw over my chest/back. This was great for cooling me down, but sadly, I did end up late in the run realizing that my feet were getting wet in the progress, and I had developed quite the blister on my right baby toe.
I got to see Jonathan and the kids around Mile 5 as well. It really was what I needed in those early miles. Also, the run is an out-and-back, so that meant I got to see lots of my Coeur teammates and the ladies from the morning. I loved seeing familiar faces and cheering them on. I focused on making it a mile at a time, on making it to my next bit of fuel or hydration, to making it to the turnaround, to making it to the next aid station. Around Mile 4 or so, my heartrate monitor went wonky. It wasn't picking up and reading. I got frustrated. That's the point when I gave up trying to push into my tempo zone. Instead, I had a new goal - to run the entire 13.1. I knew I could do it. It would be much slower than I wanted, but I could run it all. One foot in front of the other, keep moving forward.
At one point, I remember thinking, "I guess it's good I already bought a tri bike. I don't have to think about if I ever am going to do this again. I am committed to doing it again. Even though this sucks right now." I knew this was not the run I wanted to have, but I also knew that it's not just about race day. I enjoyed the training, the challenge of pushing myself, and despite my run, I was having a great day.
I made it to the turanround and came back around the park. At that point, you leave the shade and head out into a stretch that doesn't have great scenery, but you're also getting near downtown. Just. Keep. Moving. Forward. As we hit downtown Wilmington, I started trying to push a little more. This was it. I was almost done with my 70.3 (plus a couple) miles! There were more people here - spectators and triathletes who had finished. As I got close to the finish line, I heard one group of people get really excited cheering for me. Then I realized they were calling me Natalia, one of my teammate's names. I thanked them and let them know Natalia was on her way (I had seen her as I came back up the run course).
A few moments later, and I could see and hear Barb and Heather cheering for me. It was so exciting to see them as I came to towards the finish. I was picking up speed, my natural "kick" kicking in. I remember wondering what it was that let my body have enough to both pick up the pace to finish and have a strong kick but be so heavy and hard to push up to that point. I definitely had some work to do before next time.
And then I was crossing the finish line and getting hugs from Jonathan, Caleb, Zoe, and Emma. I remember just leaning on the fence separating the finishers and the spectators smiling big and saying multiple times, "I did it," to Jonathan.
And now, it is just over 7 months later. I'm a week away from my second 70.3. I came to review this and realized I never finished it and posted it. So I'm calling it a wrap. Overall, it was a great day. I had so much fun, even when I was struggling on the run. I am super proud of my swim and bike, which were the two new disciplines for me. I have some work to do on my triathlon running. I am happy with how the day went and with my training and excited to keep doing this. And I am SO thankful for all the people who supported me on race day but also during the journey. Training for long course triathlon is a lot, and I couldn't do it without such amazing friends and especially my super supportive and awesome husband and children.