Monday, November 3, 2014

The Dawson's Creek Half Ironman, AKA Beach2Battleship Half!

Back in the late 90's, my favorite TV show in my high school days was about four teenagers who were awkwardly tackling high school and hormones...just like me. Dawson's Creek featured Dawson, Joey, Pacey and Jen. (In real life, one of the girls would go on to marry Tom Cruise and the other would marry my teen heartthrob, Heath Ledger, who unfortunately got into the wrong crowd with one of the Olson twins. RIP Heath!) Joey was my favorite (played by Katie Holmes), as she was the athletic tomboy-ish one who had a secret crush on her clueless best friend, Dawson. I watched the show pretty religiously those first two seasons, then went off to college, where I didn't have a TV and got into triathlons. The show started to go downhill anyway, but before that happened, I was christened with the college nickname "Joey" and it stuck. (There were two of us girls in the same dorm that went by "Jo" growing up, so we had to differentiate.)

Of course I had this behind-the-scenes book of the TV show!

The show's been off the air for over a decade now, but every Dawson's Creek fan knows that the show was filmed in none other than Wilmington, North Carolina...home of the Beach2Battleship triathlons!

Thus the theme song to this race report is obviously the theme song to Dawson's Creek! Cue Paula Cole...

I don't wanna wait for our lives to be over,
I want to know right now, what will it be?

The Beach2Battleship half ironman would be my first long-course triathlon in several years where I actually had a time goal. Since I "retired" from the pro ranks 3 years ago, I've been bumbling around with what to do athletically. I did Ironman Louisville in 2012 as an age grouper "for fun" and realized that I don't like to do triathlon "for fun". (I guess because doing it "for fun" meant not training very much and secretly hoping to still be fast...) I like to GO FAST. Fast is all relative, of course. Part of me figured I'd never get as fast as I used to be, because now I work a real job over 50 hours a week. Instead

But at 32, could I really say that I was past my prime? Most of my female teammates on teamTBB were over 32 when I trained with them in my late 20's. Female pro triathletes race well into their late 30's and early 40's. Was I going to wait until my life was over to realize that I had wasted my younger years afraid to even try?

Well, going into 2014, I did not have triathlon on my mind. I sat on my butt for about 6 months over the extended off season, pouting that it was too cold, and not sure what I wanted to do. Somehow I got inspired to race triathlons again with the help of old and new teammates, cracked 2:30 in a couple local Olympic triathlons, and figured I could double that and have a crack at breaking 5 at the B2B half ironman. Because if I could break 10 hours in an ironman while training full-time, certainly I could break 5 on much less training, right?

Carmen and I had signed up together, so the four of us (+Kevin +Hiza) drove down to Wilmington on Thursday after work. Of course we had to eat North Carolina BBQ...

And would we be swimming in the creek that Joey Potter rowed across to get to Dawson's house??

Our pre-race dinner was at Dockside restaurant, which was where they filled the outdoor shots for "The Icehouse"--where Joey worked with her sister at.

I know, I was such a Dawson's Creek nerd while we were there! I would ask the souvenir shops if they had any Dawson's Creek memorabilia (they had One Tree Hill shirts and Sleepy Hollow), but alas, nothing.

At the expo, I met in person another reminder of my teenage triathlete self--Michellie Jones was the honorary host of the race! I was 18 during my first summer of triathlon racing in Southern California, doing a few sprint distance triathlons (Carlsbad, Newport Beach), and Michellie Jones was the super fast Australian pro triathlete who was living in San Diego and winning them all. She would go on to win the silver medal at the 2000 Olympics later that summer (the first year they had triathlon in the Olympics) and then win the Kona World Championships 6 years later.

But before that, she was my teenage triathlon idol!

I was so excited to meet her and have a few encouraging words from her. I mentioned my background with TeamTBB and Brett, and she laughed at how he tried to recruit her back in the 90's (when Dawson's Creek was on the air!). She told me it was great that I was getting back into triathlons and racing, as she herself is retired now and still does some coaching and age group racing.

Then I made sure to have some ice cream after dinner, watched some World Series, and went to bed early...


My digestion was awesome! I had some more ice cream for breakfast with my oatmeal and have discovered that it helps "move things along!" The boys dropped us off at T1, and then we took shuttle buses to the actual swim start.

My plan for the swim was to follow some "insider tips" from a local triathlete we had met the day before. Everybody knows this is a "downhill swim", where you are going with a nice current. But our insider also mentioned to aim for a red post in the water (he pointed it out from the swim exit dock), stay in the middle of the channel as much as possible (not too close to the docks as you might get stuck in some cross-currents), and then aim for the big white building attached to the yacht club.

I felt great in my Project X (2XU) wetsuit and the swim currents were definitely favorable! By the time our half ironman wave lined up (the 5th or so wave at 8:50am), the full distance athletes had all swam past already, and we could see the stand up paddleboarders cruising along with the current at no effort. I believe the first ironman swimmer did it in 39 minutes! Surely I could hit my 30-minute goal today!

I lined up at the front in the water, and we all had to turn around and keep swimming back to the start as the current would carry us away from it. Nice! When the whistle blew, we actually had to turn around and GO... I felt strong and tried to be aggressive (for me anyway). Although I never know quite when to stay on someone's feet or to forge my own path in clean water. I actually prefer to go on my own, as I don't really trust other people's speed or navigational skills. Gotta work on that...

...because I would follow my "insider information" and went way off course. Oops. I aimed for the first big yellow buoy, being sure to stay in the middle of the channel, where it was fastest, hit the orange turn buoy, and then spied the red post in the water. YES! While everybody else kept following the yellow buoys, I aimed straight for the red post. Suckers! Swimming alone, I reached the red post, only to find that there was a second red post...which was more than likely the one our insider was pointing out from the dock of the yacht club.'s okay, get to the next red post... So I got to the next red post and aimed directly for the big white building. But I couldn't see the swim finish. Because I had completely overshot it. As I popped my head up in frustration, a SUP volunteer yelled at me to "GO RIGHT, GO RIGHT!" I was by myself and waaaaay of course. Somehow I managed to swim to the far end of the big white building!

I cursed myself and tried not to let any negative thoughts get to me (although there were some "there goes your sub-5, way to F*** up your race already!"), instead reminding myself that the swim was only a short part of a 5-hour day. Damage control, damage control! I aimed to join up with the rest of the swimmers, and as we approached the swim exit, I found that it took FOREVER. It seemed like there was a cross-current those final 300 meters in the swim. So evil, like a huge uphill at the end of a running race!

When I finally dragged myself up and out of the water, the wetsuit strippers did their thing and I glanced at my watch. 9:18am. WHAT?! Running to transition, I kept trying to do the math in my head (18+10...18+10) and couldn't believe I was only in the water for less than 30 minutes even though I went off course. Maybe the fastest kids did it in 15 minutes?! But who cares, I was still on pace for my goal time splits! I had given myself a 30-35 minute range for the swim, and my official swim split ended up being 30:xx as they count the 400-yard run from the dock to the transition area.

I got onto my faithful steed, White Tiger, and away we went! The first 5 or so miles were on a busy road leading up to the freeway, and it was about 9:30am on a Saturday morning, so there were a good number of cars out. The right lane was supposed to be reserved for us bikers, but two cars cut into the lane right in front of me in a congested section. The first one made a right turn immediately, and the second one...didn't. I think he was just impatient?? I couldn't tell if he was going to make a right turn or not, so I stalled a bit as I tend to err on the safe side since getting hit by a car while biking during a race (Ironman Korea 2011). At this point two women blew by me, going to the left of the car and into the car lanes. GRRRG. Ok, to the left it is! They'll burn out and I can catch them later...

We got onto the interstate, which was kind of a surprise to me. I mean, I've had the course maps printed on my dresser for the last 3 months, and it didn't connect in my mind that what looked like "country roads" on the map was actually a freeway. I was really impressed, as the police actually blocked off an entire on-ramp...and the whole let us cyclists get into the LEFT HAND LANE of the freeway! Holy crap! There were cones blocking off the left lane. It was kind of frightening...and exciting at the same time! This section, and most of the race, I was clocking 20-23mph and feeling pretty smooth and quick.

Nutrition-wise, I had two boxes of Hello Panda cookies with a full tank of Gatorade in the Speedfil. I ended up running out of Gatorade about 2:20 in...of course right after passing the second (of two) aid stations on the bike. I modeled my nutrition on what I used to do for Ironmans, as all I take during Olympic tris is Gatorade only. You can kind of get by in Olympics without overthinking the nutrition, but I would soon find out that halfs need a bit more planning...(foreshadowing!)

I was hoping to get under 2:40 on the bike--I told Kevin 2:30 to 2:40, although 2:30 would've been a huge stretch. The last mile I really slowed down, not because I was tired, but because we were back in town, and the course wasn't as obviously marked heading back into T2 (there weren't too many bikers around me). I did end up clocking a 2:40. T2 was in the convention center, indoors, and I ran my bag into the empty women's changing tent, and took the time to put on my trusty old compression socks. Then I ran by the men's tent (almost went right through it, instead of around it) and back outside.

Onto the run, and my quads were on the verge of cramping right away! Ouch and yikes! Later Michellie Jones would chastise me on not taking any salt during the bike, and I think running out of fluid the last 20mins didn't help. I also hadn't trained enough to run off a very hard bike ride. So I blame some preparation, and some execution. The run was really frustrating, as I felt strong cardiovascularly but limited by my ability to move the legs. Going too hard would push me over the edge of cramping, so I just tried to focus on turning the legs over as smoothly as possible without getting the quad cramps. I was bummed that this meant 8-minute miles and could feel my sub-5 slipping away. I tried to grab some salt pills at some of the aid stations to see if they would help (not really--too little, too late!).

Unlike in my Ironmans, I didn't run with a Camelbak. I had actually planned to, until I realized that with a split transition, it was mandatory to drop off your T2 gear the day before the race. I didn't want my awesome Frappuccino electrolyte drink to get warm sitting unrefrigerated for a whole day, so I decided to go without. Plan B was to take some GU's during the run and drink at aid stations. Mind you, it's been 7 or 8 years since I've "eaten" energy gels, but why not. I didn't have any problem stomaching the gels, but in the end, I realized that I would prefer to run with a Camelbak again, since it ended up being fairly warm, and stopping quickly at aid stations is not my forte.

Still, I kept chugging along on the run. I was surprised and disappointed that there were so many women already on the run course. As much as I say I'm slow and retired now, I always secretly want to win! (I just need to back up that desire with more preparation...) Approaching the turnaround, I was somewhat relieved that half of the women in front of me were on relay teams. I decided to hit a porta potty at mile 8, and when I got out was really fired up, since there was some lady in her mid-forties totally kicking my ass right in front of me! (More assurance that my best years have yet to come!) That got me moving a little quicker for a few miles, still not quite sub-8 speed though, and then she ended up getting further ahead as I was doing my slowpoke thing at aid stations.

There was a rather short and steep downhill back towards the downtown Wilmington area (I remembered going up it on the way out). Being on the edge of quad cramps means that downhills are treacherous! So I carefully went down that hill, and soon heard the music from the finish line festival. I was really happy to hear that, and ended up breaking into a sprint! I was close enough that if my legs locked up, I knew I could still finish!

And there it was! And Kevin in his red Team RWB hoodie there to catch me at the finish! I ended up missing my sub-1:40 run split by 4 minutes, and only missed breaking 5 hours by 88 seconds...argh. 5:01:28. Overall, it was a fast course with a solid women's field that weekend. I missed my AG podium by one spot, taking 4th in women's 30-34 and 14th overall.

A pre-race photo but he was still wearing his hoodie at the finish :)
Despite not breaking 5 hours, I'm pretty darn pleased with how I did for my first half ironman in over 5 years. I did some digging into my results archives for half ironmans, and here's some stats: it was still my 3rd fastest time ever out of the 17 I've done since 2002, my fastest as a "self-coached" athlete (by at least 30 minutes), and only 10 minutes off my fastest ever (the 4:51 I did at Florida 70.3 to take 2nd amateur and qualify for my pro card 5 years ago--that's the last one I ever did).

My preparation was never amazing. Since May, I had a few weeks where I got about 12 hours of training in (the biggest weeks), and then I had a few weeks of maybe 2 hours (vacation and being sick). It was rare for me to get over 10 hours, which I would've liked. I do remember feeling like I was in amazing shape at General Smallwood in the middle of August, and then felt like I've just been tapering since Labor Day. I raced a few road races since Labor Day, and racing sometimes helps boost your fitness, but I actually felt my fitness slowly decline. Racing isn't quite a good substitute for solid training. But I will say, I have been training semi-consistently since May 1st, which is nearly 6 months or half a year of semi-decent training, which is more than I've done in the last 3 years. So, not amazing, but not too terrible!

As for the other component to going fast, race-day execution, I could've done better too. That would include better navigating in the swim, quicker transitions, and a better nutrition/hydration plan (salt!). I think my pacing and effort were pretty good. Mentally, I could've pushed a bit harder on the run, and not given up so easily on my sub-5. But I think even though my goal has been sub-5 all along, I didn't ever quite believe I could get that close to it until it actually happened.

And all the finishers got pajama pants!!
And now that I've only missed it by under 90 seconds, and my PR by 10 minutes (!!!), I am actually pretty motivated to crush my PR next year! So after beating myself up over the last several years feeling like I'll never be as fast as I used to be, I actually have hope again. HOPE. Somehow I had it in my head that I could only get super fast if I didn't work a full-time job, because that's how it happened before. (But that also got old, and really didn't pay the bills.) I didn't see the point of racing triathlons if I couldn't be super fast any more, but now I have hope that I could train just a little more, without it taking over my entire life, and still get a bit faster.

I do have my dear fiancĂ© to thank for always supporting me in my recent return to triathlon craziness, and always believing I could still go faster. He's always thought it was dumb that I refused to get back into a sport I obviously loved, and also saw no reason I couldn't get faster again. So THANK YOU KEVIN! Also special thanks to Carmen, for being my partner in crime, signing up together for all these races, and congrats on your second half Ironman and PR! :)

Thank you also of course to my Team RWB friends who have motivated, inspired, and encouraged me, and my mentor Beck Preston for the same!

More photos from after the race:

Indulging in a "Mug of Bacon" at Front Street Brewery...

Cheering on the SF Giants during the World Series in my new pajama pants...GO GIANTS! WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS!!!

And checking out the "battleship" part of "Beach2Battleship"!

Until next time, it's the OFF SEASON now!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Hi Cortney! Sorry my reply took so long, but awesome job at B2B! I am so impressed and humbled whenever I'm beat by someone your age. Hope you have a great off season and thanks for the encouragement. The best is yet to come!

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