Once upon a time when I was 35 (well, 36 in triathlon years), I decided I would take on the biggest race of my life. It was a late day in August 2012 when my cousin, Wes, told me about an inaugural half iron distance race being held in Raleigh NC. I had just completed my first sprint triathlon at Pink Power Tri in Richmond. And, of course, this qualified me to do an Ironman 70.3. HA!
I registered. I didn’t know what the heck I was getting myself into. I didn’t have a bike, so I needed a bike. My shoes were worn, so I needed new shoes. I didn’t have a wetsuit, so I got a wetsuit. I slowly acquired all of the “things” I would need to make this training and race happen.
I knew I would need to get some more sprint races under my belt in preparation. To work on transitions, to get comfortable moving my body from swim to bike to run. I added in some extra training by racing two sprint tris with Jasmine as an assisted athlete team: Angels Race and Richmond Tri Club Sprint, both in April.
My bike was a mess. When I say mess, I mean, not fitted to me. I went to Jack Parker at Bikes Unlimited and he was able to get it to a better fit for me. I don’t ever recommend buying a bike off Ebay, unless you know a lot about bikes. I learned my lesson and will shop local for bikes from now on.
I never had the chance to get out on the road and do a 56-mile training ride. I thought this would be a significant disadvantage but I rode on my trainer as often as I could through the winter and cool spring. In fact, the longest I had been in the saddle before Ironman 70.3 was 3 hours at one time. This made me very nervous.
I took on an Olympic distance triathlon in May, the Columbia Triathlon, as a dress rehearsal to Raleigh. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy. I flatted in mile 2 of 25! And did I have supplies with me to fix it? Um, no. Another lesson learned. (I did get help from on-course support at mile 12 and was able to finish a half-hour later than I had estimated.) My swim was strong in the small lake despite the rain and fog that hid the buoys. My run was not great and that worried me; my feet tend to fall asleep after 3-4 miles.
I had two weeks to finalize plans and to keep my strength up for Ironman 70.3.
Saturday morning, June 1st, the whole fam traveled to the Raleigh Convention Center for athlete check-in. It was exciting and fun, walking around the Expo and the Ironman store. We figured out how to get to Jordan Lake (thanks to Susan, my fellow Iron Gate Tri Club friend) so I could rack my bike as required. It is absolutely GORGEOUS out there!! I met Wes out at Transition 1 (T1: Swim to Bike) too. We dropped our bike bags: contents included helmet, gloves, sunglasses, sunscreen, socks, cycle shoes, tissues, and towel. I said “Goodnight” to my bike – told her to rest well because we had a big ride ahead of us 🙂
We grabbed lunch in Apex afterwards, and then headed to our hotel to check-in. Spent a few hours resting and chilling in the hotel room, and then ventured out for dinner at the famous The Pit Authentic BBQ. I had the most delicious pulled pork and homemade sweet potato fries (it was literally a whole sweet potato sliced into fries!). My nerves were amping up so I had a beer to celebrate my training and my sweet family.
I slept fairly well minus the drunk woman in the hallway yelling and laughing obnoxiously at 1 a.m. Wake up call was at 4 a.m. We left the hotel around 4:45 a.m. to hit Transition 2 (T2: Bike to Run) to add a few things to my run bag; contents were shoes, sunscreen, water bottle, tissues, and lip balm. Then, we boarded the shuttle bus to the lake. (No cell phones were allowed, so no pics to post from the actual course.)
I am grateful that Wes lives in Cary because the bus driver had no idea how to get to the lake and almost took 3 wrong turns. Wes was yelling directions from the back of the bus and helped get us all to the lake in time for body marking and to set-up T1, take a few potty trips (OH MY WORD, the lines were so long!), and wait for our swim waves to start.
There was a lot of speculation about whether the swim would be wetsuit legal. This rocked my mind all day on Saturday. The prospect of wearing vs. not-wearing my wetsuit was a decision I struggled with. Fortunately, we heard that water temp was 76 and wetsuits were allowed!! Thank goodness too, because 8:10 a.m. finally rolled around and we were in the water. The swim is a triangle shaped course, so mentally I prepared for each leg.
As with any open water race, there is a lot of kicking and hitting and pushing and smacking that happens as people vie for position. I only got kicked in the chest once, and smacked on the head and feet a few times. Nothing too crazy. Leg 1 was great, I felt strong. I turned at the red buoy to leg 2, and the chop started to get rough. I had some issues sighting because my goggles were fogging but just kept my stroke strong. Turning the red buoy at leg 3, it all changed. I am glad I remembered to use ear plugs, as the waves were rocking me up and down. I sort of told myself, “Be one with the water. Swim the waves.” I also kept repeating in my mind a word with every single stroke, “I.Can.Do.This.All.Day.” I finally saw the small orange buoys signaling the ramp up to swim out. I kept my eye on swimmers in front of me to see when I could stand and walk/run. I quickly pulled off my goggles, cap, and ear plugs and started stripping off my wetsuit. I didn’t want to take time with the wetsuit strippers so just stepped out of it on my own in T1. My time for the 1.2-mile swim was 44:55 (I was hoping for under 40 minutes but still placed 50th in my age group out of 124).
I put my sunglasses on and my helmet, then sat on my towel and quickly put on socks and cycle shoes. I put my gloves on and then sunscreened (spray) the crap out of myself as fast as I could. Threw my swim stuff into the bike bag, grabbed my bike, and headed up to the bike out chute. I clipped in and off I went. It was slow going at first as I got my bearings and geared in. After the first 5 miles, we turned onto 64-East and I was cruising! I felt so strong!! My mph was consistently averaging 16-17 throughout the whole bike (much better than I had been riding at: 13-14 mph).
I had my ebbs and flows on the bike. Some hills I attacked and kept my speed high. Some hills I dropped it down into “granny gear” and quick-pedaled easily and slowly up. I started passing people and wondering how this was happening! I kept thinking “Leslie, be a cyclist. You got this.” Funniest moment was when this woman pulled up beside me and said she’d just had a bug fly into the back of her throat and couldn’t get it out. I saw many athletes on the side of the road changing flat tubes and saw a few in the penalty tents (for drafting most likely). I was singing the praises of Bikes Unlimited as I passed by each one. I also made 4 complete grabs at the aid stations of performance drink and water bottles! No botches!!
As we made the turn toward downtown (saw the high-rises and skyscrapers), my heart started getting excited. Two of three sports were almost done. I almost got duped coming into the bike dismount. Thankfully there was another athlete in front of me who I saw slow down (on an uphill) to dismount. I braked, jumped off and started walking into T2. I saw the smiley faces and heard the cheers of my cousins, Christine and Whestley. God, it felt so good to hear someone cheering me on! It was definitely the boost I needed. My bike rack was all the way in the back, so I stopped and took of my cycle shoes so I could move a bit faster through the transition area. In perfect planning, Tami (another fellow Iron Gate Tri Club friend) had chalked our bike rack with a pink arrow so I knew where to turn into. When you’re rushing to get into transition, these little markers are God-sends. The bike took me 3 hours, 21 minutes (WAY better than I thought I’d do!!) and placed me 74th in my age group out of 124.
And here is when things went to crap…
I quickly got my running shoes on, took off my helmet, threw on my race bib, and stood up. Phew! Suddenly this wave of dizziness and nausea hit me. I also had to pee so badly. I took a swig of water from my bottle but since it had been sitting out in the sun all day, it was hot and gross. I forgot to spray myself with sunscreen again before heading out, which gave way to unrelenting sunshine on my back (read: I got sunburned bad!). I contemplated not stopping to pee, and just pee on the run (yeah, people do this). But, the porta-pots were right at the run out and I jumped in. It felt amazing to sit down and pee. My T2 time was so long (7 minutes!) because of all this.
I came out of T2 and saw the most beautiful face, my friend Anne. She is due to have her baby any day now and her glowing, smiling face was right there. I jumped up on the curb and grabbed a quick high-five. It was exactly what I needed to get me going on the run.
I quickly realized that I was not going to be able to run like I wanted or had trained for. The heat and the sun were really affecting me badly and it was everything I could do not to throw up. I cleared mile 1 and took water, ice, and bananas at every aid station up to mile 4. Still feeling nauseous, I tried to pick up the pace through Meredith College’s campus where there was some tree cover/shade. This led to the greenway where there was lovely shade but horrible hills. It’s funny, living in the “Hill City,” and then having to feel like you’re running back at home. I made an agreement with myself to walk the ups, and run the downs and flats. We had to do 2 loops around NC Museum of Art which was icky. BUT, something cool happened at mile 6.4 – I met Scott and Ray! Scott and Ray were volunteering at the aid station and are my teammates with RODS Racing. It was so awesome to see their shirts and banner for RODS and to get some much-needed inspiration and motivation!
RODS Racing is why I was racing. To help raise awareness and money to support the adoption of orphans with Down syndrome. I am fortunate to have two children with Down syndrome who have been adopted. I pray for those who are waiting for families, and in my own way, this is how I choose to give back to the generosity that has been given to my family. Please give a donation, if you are able: http://www.rodsracing.org/leslie. You can see Brady’s story about how RODS Racing was started and his race at Ironman Kona through Kona Inspired: Video.
I was able to start running a bit more than the front part of the half marathon, and I think the bananas were helping settle my stomach. I didn’t feel so nauseous anymore. I made the trek back out of the greenway and even made some funny faces and poses for the photographer (can’t wait to see those pics!). I befriended a girl who did IM Louisville last year. She was encouraging and kept a good pace with me for about 2 miles. She eventually went on after the 10 mile marker. I thought about when I did the Richmond Half Marathon and, at the 10 mile mark, Endorphin Fitness had a huge banner that said, “5K for fun,” and so I just said to myself, “Only a 5K left. This is an easy jog, Leslie. Knock it out.”
It’s cool with the athlete tracker on Ironman’s website that Todd and the kids were able to follow me and see how I was progressing. My pace at mile 4.2 was 14:46/mile, at mile 6.4 was 14:39/mi, and at mile 9.3 was 14:25/mi. Slight improvement through the run (er, walk). I pushed myself back into downtown with a pace of 12:21/mi. Todd wasn’t expecting me to come down Fayetteville Street as soon as I did, based on my previous pace, but thankfully Erin (another Iron Gate Tri Club friend) was there to tell him I was coming. The run took me 3 hours and 3 minutes. Hard to accept when you’ve had a half marathon PR of 2 hours and 15 minutes, even considering feeling nauseous and overwhelmed.
Then, I lost it when I saw my family. Tears. Lots of tears. Seeing their smiling faces and screams that they loved me and were proud of me. I almost didn’t want to look at them because I didn’t want to be a blubbering idiot across the finish line. But, they were amazing and a major reason for doing this race. I am so glad they were there to be my “support crew” and for understanding when I needed to train. I think they were also cheering about getting their Wife and Mom back.
I hit the Ironman 70.3 chute to the finish line and made an attempt to Prancercise. Can’t wait to see the video of that! And then at the finish, I find myself surround by old and new friends, Lisa and Vonnie and their families, Scott and Ray with RODS Racing, Wes, Christine, Whestley, Todd and the kids. I couldn’t be more blessed!! My final time was 7 hours and 20 minutes. I am very pleased and happy with it for my first time at the 70.3 distance, and considering what I was battling on the run.
A HUGE thank you to the thousand volunteers out on the courses who gave me refreshment and food, ice and sponges, and hose-downs, and encouragement and laughs!! Raleigh, you were a welcoming City and one we will be happy to come back to visit. To my friends in the Iron Gate Triathlon Club, you are ALL amazing!! I have enjoyed getting to know you and training alongside you. We accomplished great things yesterday and know that I am proud of each of you.
And lastly, thank you to my beautiful family for supporting me in this endeavor. I pray that my example will help to inspire and motivate you to great things!! That no matter what, you can be whatever you want to be. When you start to think that just because you may not look the part, or be perfect at playing the part, you can still participate and move forward with courage. You can be brave and be who you want.
As for me, I am a triathlete.
Ironman 70.3 Raleigh. What an experience. Bucket List: Check!