For the last race of the season this year, I ventured down to Wilmington North Carolina for Ironman 70.3 NC. I had a DNF at Barrelman in September after dealing with some chest pain which was due to a muscle strain in my chest, not heart or lungs relates, but leading up to Barrelman and after Barrelman leading up to NC, I did not really have the training I would have hoped for, especially for the run.
There were a couple of firsts for this race. The first time I have traveled outside of Ontario for race and first time with a salt water swim. With a 14-15 hour drive, I decided to split the drive down and stopped for a night in Altoona Pennsylvania. My daughter was with me for the trip but not old enough to drive, so I did not feel like driving straight down in a day then have to race. The drive was uneventful, and really quite easy. We left late Wednesday afternoon and drove until around 10PM. Spent the night, then hit the road 8AM on Thursday putting us into Wilmington around 5PM on Thursday. Should have mentioned race day was Saturday.
This is a point to point race with two transitions and you do need to drop your bike off in T1 and your run gear in T2 on the Friday. It is also a point to point swim that uses a shuttle to get racers from T1 to the Swim start.
I was able to make it in time to register on Thursday, but not in time for the race briefing. For any one doing this race, if you can register and attend the race briefing on the Thursday, I would recommend it. A lot less crowded and you want to visit vendors in Ironman Village a lot shorter lines. I did go back on Friday when I went to attend the racer’s meeting, but I would not have stood in line that long.
The other reason to go Thursday is partially dependent on where you stay. My hotel was almost in the middle of T1 and T2. I think my preference in the end would be as close to T2 and Finish line as possible. Having your registration on Thursday night can save you some traveling back and for between T1 and Swim and T2 and Finish.
The Thursday and Friday morning there was an organized swim practice. It was run by the head volunteer for the swim and he is a coach for the Tri Team at the university. You got to get into the water, feel the push from the current, and get used to salt water. He also gave some tips for race morning as what you were swimming in the practice was not the same as race day. The other key thing I learned for race day was vision in the water. I have been trying to work on drafting in the water, but you cannot see feet in front of you unless they were about to kick you. I was also able to get a short ride and run completed close to the swim start after the swim.
Race Morning was an early start, around 3:30-4:00AM and cool about 10 degrees. As a point to point race there was not any available transportation from the Finish area back to T1 after the race. So you had to drive and part downtown close to the finish, and they had shuttle buses to take you to T1. The drive downtown and parking were very easy at the time of the morning and there plenty of buses, so getting to T1 was very easy. Once in T1, completed the set-up of my bike gear and nutrition, and then on to another shuttle bus to get to the swim start. Another piece of advice for anyone that may do this race is that at T1, they were encouraging everyone to go to the swim start as soon as possible, there are plenty of porta potties. But that really was not the case. You are held in a parking lot until you self-seed yourself for the swim start, and I stood in line for about an hour to go to the bathroom. That being said once the 1st swimmers started to go, the line-up disappeared, but being a slower swimming I started about 40 mins after the 1st swimmers.
The Swim: This was my 1st rolling start self-seeded swim. They suggested you seed yourself based your expected swim time assuming a flat no current swim. Based on previous races, I lined up in the 40-43 min corral. Slowly they brought groups from the parking lot across the road and then down a boat launch ramp and off you went. The rolling start really seemed to spread swimmers out right from the start which was nice. It was suggested that the strongest current was in the middle of the channel so that was really my only focus. As a point to point swim and not really being able to see the end of the swim from the start, I found the only real option for sighting was the buoys marking the course. The 1st 9 buoys were yellow with the 1st turn buoy being red. That made finding the turn easy. They next group of sighting buoys were orange and with tinted goggles, I found telling the difference between the sighting and buoys from that point a little difficult. I think I did add a few metres trying to get to turn buoy so I passed it on the correct side only to find out when I got there it was not the turn buoy. They rest of the swim went smoothly until the end. When you hit the exit you had to exit the water by climbing a ladder onto a dock. There were plenty of ladders, (14 of them), but there was still a real bottle neck of swimmer and trying to work through them was not easy. Once up on the dock I glanced at my watch and the swim was just under 32 Minutes. Almost 12 minutes faster than my previous best swim. I am hoping that improvement is partially I am getting better and from the current.
T1: The run to get into T1 was long!! Once on the dock you had to run through what felt like a little maze on the docks, there was a warm shower to wash the salt water off, but they were not really working properly. After that you got out to the road, down and across the road, and then into T1, which had a little aid station set which was nice to get a little water to get the salt water taste of my mouth. You had to run all the way around the transition zone to enter it. I skipped the wetsuit strippers as I find that actually slows me down, so got the wetsuit off, and you want to put you swim stuff into a bag that would be brought to the finish. I fumbled with that, and battled to get arm warmers on with wet arms, and then off on the bike. My 6+ minutes in transition felt real long, but did make up a number of places in transition.
Bike: I think the big thing for this bike is it is flat. I actually felt quite good on the bike. The course seemed to be a little crowded. I am a decent biker, so being a slower swimmer I seemed to spend most of the bike on the left passing a steady stream of slower bikers. As the time and KM’s ticked off, I was thinking I was going to have a fairly decent time, even dealing with a headwind coming back in on the mainly out and back course. I was starting to think my Sub 5:00 goal was in sight if I could have a good run. I was hoping to be in the 2:40 Min range for the 90KM, and when I hit 90KM I was at 2:35, however I was not at T2. They coursed and up closer to 93KM, but still managed to finish the bike in 2:40.
T2: Uneventful, for me. A little slower as well, but my parents and daughter were just outside transition and were talking to me so got a little distracted. Another piece of advice for anyone that my do this race. T2 is on a hill. As you enter T2 and are heading to your rack, you are going downhill. I take my feet out of my shoes and run barefoot to my rack, but if you run in your bike shoes be careful that you don’t slip going down the hills. My parents did mention that they saw a few people slip trying to stop or turn a rack.
Run: Out on to the run, I needed to have a BP run by about 5 mins to get to my sub 5 HR goal, which I thought was doable with a mainly flat run course. Things were going good for about the first 7KM’s, but my lack of run training started to catch up, and I slowed down a lot. Finished the around 1:54. The run course was nice, lots of aid stations that were well stocked and great volunteers. There were lots of supporters along the run course and definitely down to the finish.
Final time was 5:15:38 which was a BP by just under 20 seconds.
The Good: Very well organized. Lots of volunteers that were enthusiastic. Very nice city, we spent the date following the race at the beach and downtown with my daughter. I enjoyed the race course, no complaints with it.
The Bad: Book your hotel early, it was a large race, and my hotel left a little to be desired. I had to change my accommodation a month out as the hotel I initially booked was closed for renovations and did not open on time.
Advice and Recommendations for others thinking about doing this race:
I would recommend this race to others, especially if you preference is a flat course. The Swim is fast with lots of support out on the water.
Be prepared for any weather. I was expecting this be fairly warm or hot, and it was in the days leading up to the race. The day prior to the race and I went to the practice swim it was 8 degree and 10 degrees on race morning. It may not have warmed up to 20 degrees at all on race day.
Be prepared for wind. Apparently people that were slow then my time dealt with more wind later in the day. The head winds on the way back into Wilmington just got stronger as the day went on. The night after the race into the next morning, there was the back end of a tropical storm hit. Windy enough to the point the race would have in question for the next day.
Book a hotel downtown, nice downtown and boardwalk along the river, lots of restaurants to choose from. It is close to Ironman Village and T2 and Finish. A close 2nd would be booking in Wrightsville beach, which is close to swim start, and T1. This is good if you have support with you that will drive to the T2 and finish on race day. Try to avoid being somewhere in the middle.