Ironman North Carolina: The Swim

If you're just picking up here, it's IMNC day and I've already checked in and racked my bike!

As I raced on Saturday and thought about writing this recap I thought, “Hmm, I don’t think I have that much to say. I can probably fit it all into one post…” Um. NOT. Here’s part 1/3: 

We arrived to T1 when it was still dark and had just enough time to put water bottles and nutrition on our bikes, drop off our run special needs bags, and get in line for the bus to the swim start. The swim is point-to-point, with the start about 2.5 miles away from T1 at the southern tip of Wrightsville Beach, so the race runs shuttles all morning for the athletes. As I was standing in line I realized that we’d had to jump out of the car so quickly when Ben dropped us off that I hadn’t even said goodbye to him! I was pretty sure he would be at the swim start but I didn’t know that for sure. Luckily Tracy had his phone with him so I was able to call Ben and leave him a voicemail telling him I loved him and I was thankful for all of his support and I hoped I’d make him proud.

We ended up on the last shuttle, which I think was actually one of the charter buses used to take athletes from hotels in downtown Wilmington to T1, and I don’t think was intended to take athletes to the swim start as well. Because the bus was larger than the shuttles, we actually had to be dropped off a half mile or so from the swim start, so we got a bit of a warmup walking down there!

As we approached the swim start I could see Ben and our friend Benson waiting for us! Because the start is so far away from transition they try to discourage spectators from trying to get down there (you aren’t supposed to drive), so Ben and Benson rode bikes from the beach house so that they could come see us. That was a learning experience from last year when Ben, Alyssa, and my mom tried to walk the 1.5 miles to the half swim start but didn’t make it in time. I was so relieved when I saw them and we were able to chat with them for a few minutes while we got our wetsuits all zipped up (I did mine all by myself thankyouverymuch) and headed out to the beach. 

We had a 5ish minute walk from the beach road out onto the beach to the actual start line. As we approached the start I could hear Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” over the loudspeaker, which is a B2B tradition I was happy to see (er, hear?) Ironman continue. It was motivating for sure, and when we got to the shore we took a couple minutes to get our goggles and everything ready. The swim is a rolling start, so you kind of just get in the water when you’re ready. We were a few minutes late getting there so most people were already in the water.

(Oh now it’s been 4 paragraphs and I’m not even in the water yet, oops!)

I actually really liked the rolling start for this race as opposed to a wave start, because it meant we all got to start together! We crossed under the big swim start banner a few years from the water’s edge, and right after that Mike Reilly was there giving high fives! It was awesome to see him, and I was pumped! I love swimming and I was finally excited to get the day started. I was so excited I forgot to start my watch - I assumed I’d see a timing mat but I didn’t so I wasn’t exactly sure when the time started so I said to my dad as we were getting in the water, “When does the timing start?” He said, “It already did!” So then I was like ah, okay, crap, and started my watch! We only took a few steps into the water before the bottom dropped a little and we were able to start swimming. I was first in the water and I just wanted to get going but I also didn’t want to leave everyone, so I turned around and swam backward for a few seconds and told them all to come on! 

(That's me turned around and jumping like a lunatic)
(and leading the charge into the water)
(Okay, 6th paragraph and now I’m finally swimming!)

So I finally started swimming, about 5 minutes after the first swimmers got into the water. The water felt great - it was warm and there was no chop and maybe some current? There was a lot of chatter about the current leading up to the race since it’s famous for the swim being with the current, but there was talk that we would probably get little to no help from the current this year. As long as it’s not against us, I don’t really care. After I’d been swimming for a few minutes I looked at my watch and saw that the distance it was measuring was well over where I’d expect to be for the amount of time that had elapsed - this was good because it meant I was getting some help from the current, but bad because I could have sworn it had been like 30 minutes but it had been less than 5, so I was worried I was in for a long day!

The sun was coming up as we were swimming, and it was a gorgeous morning! I luckily breathe to the side away from the sun so it wasn’t in my eyes at all, but I could see that morning glow over the marsh on the other side of the channel every time I looked up to breathe and it was beautiful. The course goes straight for a long time and the channel is pretty wide so I wasn’t too concerned about following the buoys, and instead picked a water tower way off in the distance to sight off of. That seemed to work out fine and I never really felt like I was off course or swimming the wrong way. I looked at my watch pretty frequently to see how I was doing, and my pace was much faster than it had been in training - that’s always a good feeling! I know it was the current pushing me along but I really felt great.

I could hear the announcers at the half start as we passed by, so I checked my watch because I didn’t think we had been swimming long enough to be at the halfway point yet. My watch was reading 26 minutes and 1600yds, and it should have been more like 2000yds so I was kind of confused. 

The course definitely got harder after that and was similar to what I remember the half being like last year, but not as choppy. It was still one of the easiest swims I’ve ever had, but not as easy as the first half had been! I was actually surprised at how great I felt - my breathing wasn’t labored at all and I had been able to get into a nice rhythm for the majority of the time. There were a few times I got run over or run into, or came upon big groups of people and had to stop and maneuver around them to find another open pocket to swim in, but for the most part I felt like I had as much space as I needed all to myself. 

Things got a little rough, literally, at the first turn. It’s a 90-degree turn where you have to cut across the channel for a bit, and it was choppy and hard to swim straight without the current taking me further out than I wanted to be. Still, I felt like that section went by faster than it had last year. Then there was another turn and that’s where I took in a huge gulp of water last year and had to stop to cough it out, so I was happy that that didn’t happen this year! One thing that did happen though was that I started to notice that my wetsuit had been rubbing my neck and it was really starting to hurt! I thought I might have an errant piece of fabric so there were a couple times when I just put my head down in the water to try to adjust it, but then I realized that I probably looked dead floating there like that and that the lifeguards probably wouldn't look too kindly on that if I did it for too long, so I just gave up messing with it. I remember being at around 50 minutes in and 3200 yards in at that point, and based on where I was I was guessing I had about 10 minutes or so left?

All I really remember about the end was being surprised at how good I felt. I had been swimming for nearly an hour but it honestly felt like it had been 5 minutes, and I felt totally fine, not tired or fatigued or anything. I remember making the last turn and I couldn’t really see where the finish was, and couldn’t remember which building was at the marina where we finished, so I wasn’t exactly sure how much I had left. I kept putting my head up to try to figure out where the finish was, then I realized it didn’t matter and I’d know it when I got there, so I put my head down and just kept swimming. Soon enough I thought I could see people getting out, and then I was finally able to make out the dock and see the ladders. When I got to them I had to wait while a couple people in front of me got out, and then I was being helped out of the water by a volunteer!

It’s a bit of a hike from the marina to T1, and most people were walking and taking their time out of the marina, so that’s what I did too. I started jogging a little bit after a minute or so and then I got to the wetsuit strippers and got my wetsuit off! They had showers set up right after that and as I ran over there I remember thinking ugh, did my shorts stretch out?! because they were looser than I remember, even after swimming in them. But anyway, the showers were a nice surprise because I’d heard they wouldn’t be there due to water restrictions in the area. 

From there I jogged the rest of the way around the marina and across the street into T1! I knew Ben would probably be waiting there since that’s where I saw him last year and I looked and looked and looked and didn’t see him until I was almost into transition and I heard him call my name! 

Swim (2.4 miles)
(Goal - 1:07)

T1 and the bike coming up next!


  1. This fascinates me! There are showers at the transition area??? I'm so glad you felt so good in the water! That's a great feeling!!! Can't wait to read Part 2!

  2. Girl, you know how to create a cliff hanger! I can't wait to read about the rest of your race experience. I'm glad that the swimming part went well and that you weren't too tired/worn out from swimming for an HOUR straight. That's crazy. Go you for beating your goal time! :)

  3. yay! so incredible. the only thing stopping me from doing this is the fact that i'm a terrible swimmer...unless it's possible to doggie-paddle the entire way?

  4. oh my goodness, that video of you getting into the water made me laugh so hard! in fact, i love both the videos, so fun to actually watch you do stuff.

  5. you jumping up and down before going into the water is precious! I love reading these. So cool. Love that Ben got video too. Im glad you put these in more than one post, one day reading this back you will absolutely re-live each detail. So proud of you and go you for swimming under your goal - and not being exhausted at that!

  6. i'm so glad it felt so fast for you & not the full hour.
    I love your entry is in the sand. Our entry here in Louisville is off a dock that you have to jump in off of.

  7. Oooh, good thinking by Ben and Benson on the bikes! Glad they were able to make it to see you guys hit the water.

    I love the look on your face in the last photo before you get in the water--kinda looks like you're thinking "uh, I guess I'm gonna go do this thing now or something?"

    That is definitely the advantage of rolling starts, being able to start together! I definitely remember being more than a little grateful for it at City of Oaks (minus the human wall that started walking 10 feet into the course, but I digress...) OMG, your excited swim hop is so great in that video, haha!

    Such an awesome feeling when you can be like "wow, that was...great!" and know you're setting the rhythm and pace you want to start your event on. Way to have an awesome swim!