I signed up for this race way way back before a 2016 Ironman was on my radar. I saw an ad for it sometime right before or right after my first half Ironman in October of last year, the Beach2Battleship half, and something about it jumped out at me. I had never been to AC but from looking at the pictures it looked like it would be a fun venue, and it would give me an excuse to go to New Jersey and hang out with Alyssa. Registration opened at noon on November 1 of last year, and an hour later when I remembered to register nearly half of the spots were already sold out!
After I signed up it was always in the back of my mind, but since it was so far away and I was preoccupied with other races this year (initially, Big Sur, then Ironman North Carolina), it got pushed to the back burner. It honestly didn’t hit me that I was really doing this one until I arrived at packet pickup the day before! I think I tried to avoid thinking about it the week prior because both of my feet started being total assholes and I wasn't sure I could trust either of them.
This was my first Ironman branded event and I was giddy when I first arrived at Ironman Village! As giddy as a sleep-deprived Ironman-in-training who got up at 5am and drove 3.5 hours to get there, anyway. It was very cool and I instantly felt…home. It felt right. You may recall that I had some inner conflict over whether my first half Ironman should/would be an official IM brand or not, and in the end, I went with not. I was happy about that decision at the time, but still curious what an IM brand race would be like so I’m glad I got to have both experiences! It was also nice to get a little preview of how everything will be set up for the real deal, the full.
I was immediately blown away by the organization of packet pickup. It was obvious that Ironman does this week in and week out and has the process down to a science. Not that I’ve ever really had a bad or difficult packet pickup, but this one was easy breezy and I had all of my necessary items (and copious swag!) in no time.
After I picked up my packet and racked and said goodbye to my bike, I headed back to Ironman Village to shop! There was no way I was leaving without some M dot merchandise, and I decided on an IM 70.3 AC coffee mug, and a t-shirt. Ironman makes t-shirts for every race with the names of all competitors on the back, which I think is a cool and unique thing to offer.
Alyssa and I spent the night about 5 minutes from the start line, so we were able to drive over and park in transition about 45 minutes before transition closed. We ended up having just enough time to get my transition set up, drop my extra stuff off back at her car, make a porta-potty stop, and get to the start line when the first waves were taking off. My wave didn’t start for almost an hour, so we stood on the banks of the channel and chatted while we watched the early swimmers making their way along the course.
Finally it was my turn to swim! I was still fiddling with my wetsuit - I hadn’t touched it since B2B last year so squeezing myself into it was a bit of a challenge - when my wave started moving closer to the water so I went and lined up. It was an in-water start so it was set up that the wave that was on deck got in the water a few minutes before their start time, while the other waves that were in the hole were lined up on the boat ramp. I actually hadn’t planned to wear my wetsuit and only did so because I thought it would be good practice for IMNC (where I will almost certainly wear it), but I noticed when I lined up that nearly everyone was wearing one - and for good reason! When we got in the water I was surprised at how much colder it was than I was expecting, and really grateful that I’d made that last-minute decision to go with the wetsuit.
I didn’t realize how small my wave was until we were all in the water waiting for the horn to go off. It looked to me like 30-40 people (turned out to actually be 56). The horn blew and we took off. I tried to get away from people as much as I could and just let them go. I was having a hard time getting into a rhythm at first, I assumed because my wetsuit felt so restrictive and I wasn’t used to it. After a few minutes I looked at my watch and realized that the distance and time just weren’t adding up - if it was correct, I was going really, really slowly, which didn’t make sense considering I did eventually get into a groove and felt like I was swimming perfectly well and normally. I was getting pretty frustrated because I have seen so much improvement in my swimming, and here I was having one of my worst swims, time-wise, ever!
The course was basically an out and back, but the finish was only about 2/3 of the way back to the start, if that makes sense. When I reached the turn around I was really confused - since I’d been keeping an eye on my watch I knew I hadn’t even made it halfway, and the way the course was laid out, I knew I should have had to swim more than halfway before turning. I started to wonder if I had turned too soon, or missed a turn, or…something??? I couldn’t really think of an explanation that made sense. After the turnaround I could see the finish line only a few hundred yards away, and things really weren’t adding up. I knew that even if I had made a mistake somewhere there was nothing I could do about it, so I just kept swimming and before I knew it I was being helped up a ladder and out of the water.
I was so preoccupied trying to figure out what the hell had just happened in that swim that I totally forgot about the wetsuit strippers! I almost ran right by them before I realized who they were and what their job was, and then I stopped at the closest one and had him help me out of my suit. When I got into T1 to my bike, there was a lady nearby so I asked her if her swim was also short. She told me yes, that they had shorted the course to a mile instead of 1.2 miles. That still didn’t quite add up for what I got on my watch, but it did make a little more sense.
[I found out after the race that the swim had been shortened, I think at some point after several waves had started swimming, because of strong current. I didn’t feel like the current was pushing against me, but given how sucky my swim was that made a lot of sense. I’m still not clear when or the decision was made to shorten it, but IM says that by the time my wave swam the course had been shortened to 1100m. That still doesn’t quite add up to what I got, even with my zig zagging, and I’ve heard some others say the same. I don’t think we’ll ever really know the true distance!]
I got out on the bike and felt surprisingly good, although I had a sneaking suspicion that we had a bit of a tailwind and that that was going to come back to bite me on the second half. I honestly don’t remember much from the first 10 miles or so. I think I was really focused on getting settled and following all the rules (Ironman has strict rules, especially on the bike, especially when it comes to drafting and how close you can be to other bikes).
The first notable thing I remember was a guy yelling at me when I made a turn around mile 15. As I came to it I looked behind me, saw no one, and swung out a little wide to turn. As I was making the turn I heard a guy yell to me, “Outside!” (meaning he was making the turn on the outside side of me). Well, considering he came out of nowhere and I had already started to make my turn, there wasn’t really any room for him and I guess he got a little jammed up because after that he passed me and yelled something snarky at me. I yelled back that I was just trying to make a safe turn, and he yelled back to me that I should have stayed inside. Um, thanks for the tip, a-hole. Here’s one for you: maybe don’t try to pass someone on a turn?
I was, very surprisingly, averaging over 19mph at that point and I was so mad after that happened and he passed me that I sped up as much as I could. Then I realized I was being stupid and backed it down a notch, but still held my fast (for me) pace! The second, related thing I remember was another guy who came and passed me and yelled something about flying. I couldn’t tell if he said, “You’re flying!” or “We’re flying!” so I just kind of smiled and nodded and then he said, “No, seriously, good job!” That was definitely motivating to keep it up!
The next notable thing was that I dropped my water bottle around the halfway point. I had gotten it out from the cage on my bike to refill the water bottle I have in between my aero bars, and as I was putting it back (reaching down, trying not to crash), it just slipped out of my hand. Ironman has a rule that you get a penalty for littering, even if it’s unintentional, and I felt SO badly that I had done something “wrong” (even though it was a total accident). I actually got really upset for a minute and thought maybe afterward I should tell someone, just so keep my karma in check? I also felt badly for not stopping and going back to get it, but I looked behind me when it happened and it didn’t appear to cause anyone trouble or cause a wreck or anything, and by the time I thought about stopping to get it it had been too long and there were people behind me and it would have been more dangerous to stop. I have never done that in a race before and there are people who get really bent out of shape about stuff like that (and understandably so, that could potentially cause a serious accident) and I just felt so horribly about it for several miles after that.
In related news, I also lost the cap that screws on to the end of my front water bottle (the one I was refilling when I lost my backup) with less than 3 miles left on the bike. I’d had trouble all day with the cap staying screwed on and water slowly leaking out of it (and I actually ran out of water on the bike), so every few miles I had to try to tighten it back up. I don’t know what happened but as I was tightening it toward the end somehow it slipped off. So that was my second unintentional littering of the day. I didn’t feel quite as bad about that one since there was no one that close to me, and I was so close to the end, but damn! So many water bottle issues!
The second half of the course had more headwind, as I predicted, and I was slower during the second half than the first half. I held 19.7mph for the first half of the bike but still finished with 19.1mph average for the whole thing, which I am still in shock over. Last year my goal was 18mph and I was just shy of that. This year I had an almost 15 minute PR on the bike and was shocked when I finished well under 3 hours! I was worried my legs would be dead for the run but I honestly didn’t care - the bike has always been my weak link, so to finish with that strong of a bike leg was a confidence boost and worth whatever hit I took on the run.
Rolling back to the airfield for the end of the bike felt good, although when I passed the penalty tent I was slightly worried they were going to make me stop, but they didn’t. I’m just paranoid.
So my run did take a hit, but I’m not sure my fast bike was to blame so much as the scorching heat. When I signed up last November for a mid-September race in New Jersey, I never even considered the possibility that 80+ degree temperatures and equally high humidity would still be hanging around.
The main hub of the race where transition was, and also where they held packet pickup and the expo, was a giant, old air field. The first 3 miles of the run were held on the airfield - we ran a half mile up, half mile down, half mile up, half mile down, then made a big loop around it for about a mile before we headed out to the boardwalk. It was hot and sunny and there wasn’t a cloud in the damn sky, and running on asphalt in that was pretty brutal from the start. I could see the runners already on the death march when I came in on the bike, and it wasn’t pretty.
Surprisingly, there were a couple upsides of the ant march that was the first couple miles: we got to pass the first two aid stations twice (and they were giving out sponges from ice-filled baby pools, god bless), and I also passed Alyssa 4 different times! I’m sure that part wasn’t any more exciting for her watching than it was for me running, but it was a boost for me since I knew I wouldn’t see her again until the end.
When we finally left the airfield we headed over to the boardwalk about half a mile away, and the remainder of the run was held entirely on the boardwalk. I didn’t realize this when I signed up for the race but the boardwalk is made out of…boards. Yes, really. The boardwalk in Virginia Beach is concrete so that’s normal to me. Boards are not. Alyssa and I had gone out there the day before so at least I didn’t find that out during the race. It was weird at first to run on it and I was worried the board would be creaky or something, but they really weren’t and I didn’t even notice after a couple minutes.
My pace was around 9:15 for the first few miles but started to slow as the race as we ran almost 3 miles south on the boardwalk before turning around to head north. On the way back north we made a little detour out onto a pier - it was fun to run over the water and there was a nice breeze up there, and although it was short it was one of the best parts of the race!
My feet had been bothering me a little bit and around mile 6 or 7 I finally decided to stop and adjust my shoelaces. I’d put in Lock Laces the night before but never actually put my shoes on with them until the race, so they were still a bit tight. My feet felt much better after that and I wish I had realized that sooner!
Around mile 7 or 8 I made a friend with a woman who told me she’d been using me as a pace bunny and had finally caught me. I was walking a water stop when she passed me and told me that, so then I started running with her for a bit. We passed the finish line around mile 9, although we didn’t actually go past it and instead made a little detour onto the beach where we ran on a little carpet that had been laid over the sand.
Once we had gone around the finish line area we jumped back on the boardwalk, and shortly after that we went out on this long…um, I guess it’s basically a big mall on a pier? It’s 3 stories so there’s a platform in between the first and second stories, and that’s where we ran, which was awesome because SHADE! I think that made up three quarters-ish of a mile total (since we ran on it twice) and was the only time there was any shelter from the sun on the entire run course. I didn’t love running on it because the concrete was a bit wet and I was afraid of slipping, but the sole fact that it was shaded made it another favorite part of the course.
So that was all near the finish area, and after we passed that we had about a mile and a half to keep going north before turning around and heading south to the finish. Those miles were getting tough and I had no shame about taking walk breaks and extended water stops when needed! It was so hot and I was already a little dehydrated from running out of water on the bike that I just wanted to stay as hydrated as possible, and I took just about every fluid that was being offered at every aid station. I even took Coke once just to see what it was like. It’s offered because it’s supposed to calm your stomach and since I might take it at some point during the Ironman, I figured that this low-stakes race was probably a good time to try it out to see how my body reacted. I honestly don’t think it did much, good or bad, but it tasted good!
I knew the last half mile or so was on that shaded pier and that the finish was right after that, so for those last couple miles I was just focused on getting back to the pier! Finally it was in sight and before I knew it, I was turning off the pier and heading toward the finisher’s chute! Although I didn't have very specific (or, really, any) goals for this race, I had hoped to finish the run under 2:10 (just under 10:00/mile) so I picked up the pace a little bit at the end to try to get it back down!
It was so fun to run on the red carpet! I’m actually a little sad that I didn’t save that experience for my first full Ironman, but either way, it was cool (and I’m sure it will still be 1000 times cooler for the full). There were tons of people out at the finish line and I tried to look for Alyssa but I didn’t see her. Fortunately she saw me!
Last year my reach goal for B2B was sub-6, and I ended up beating that by 7 minutes. I had no time goal for this year since I really wanted to treat it as a practice run for the full. I definitely had no delusion of beating my time from last year, and was expecting to finish around 6:00-6:15. Adjusting for the full swim, I think I would have finished right at 6:00, give or take, which was a surprise (and largely due to my fast bike split)!
The finish was a little weird - there was a very small athlete-only area where the post-race food was, and the post-race party (with the important part, the beer) was a couple miles away, closer to transition. I really wasn’t hungry but knew I needed to eat, so I grabbed a piece of pizza and a banana or grapes or something and went out to meet Alyssa. I was SO so hot that all I could think about was getting out of the sun, so we found a hotel overhang to sit under for a bit until I was ready to leave. We took the shuttle back to transition and I got all packed up and changed clothes, and then we went to the post-race “party”. It was actually in a tent at a little restaurant/brewery and there were like 20 people there, which surprised me given how many people had done the race! I got my one free beer in my brand new finisher’s pint glass (I also got a nice insulated water bottle at the finish line as well), and then we parted ways and headed home!
I loved this race! I don’t know if I was just more confident and comfortable doing my second 70.3, but I felt a lot more relaxed and like everything was taken care of. The weather definitely wasn’t ideal - Alyssa told me afterward that the heat index was up to 87 degrees, which would have made my eyes bug out of my head if I had known that before or during the race so I’m glad I didn’t know - but it wasn’t so bad that it was a horrible experience. It sucks that the swim was shortened, but considering the swim at my race prior to this one was completely canceled, some swim was better than no swim! I thought the bike course was super fast (and I heard others say the same), and it was pretty at times when we rode out through farmland. I the had never been to AC but a lot of it reminded me of Virginia Beach, or at least the run course did, so even though it was a new place it felt kind of like home to me. Ocean views on the run get me every time. I would absolutely do this one again (and maybe hope for more seasonally-appropriate weather next time)!