Ironman North Carolina: The Run

Just like with T1, the first thing we did in T2 was grab our run gear bags and head into the changing tent. I immediately sat down on a chair and started digging through my bag. I’d packed shorts, capris, long pants, a short sleeved shirt, and a long sleeved shirt because I had no clue if I was going to want to change or what I was going to want to wear. I decided to keep on my tri kit and just throw on a long sleeve top - the one I purchased at Walmart for $10 two days before the race, intending to put it in my special needs bag as a throwaway (those bags are available at mile 13 of the run, and you don’t get them back), but at the last minute put in my run gear bag thinking it might be the perfect weight for the temperature. Turns out, it was! It wasn't fashionable and I hate my pictures from the run because my whole outfit looked so stupid, but it was functional. Other than that all I changed were my socks (at least I think I changed my socks?). My toes had been frozen for the entire duration of the bike and all I could think about for the last several miles of the bike was getting to the changing tent and warming them up! 

There are volunteers in the tent who will actually help you change and get your stuff out of your bags, and a woman came over to me and immediately started helping me. I didn’t need a ton of help since I wasn't changing al my clothes, but she helped me go through my bag to find what I wanted to wear, and when I had a pile of clothes and bike stuff I’d taken off piled up in a chair next to my bag, she told me to go ahead and that she’d take care of packing it back up for me. For some reason I was totally taken aback and I asked her, "Are you sure?" And she said, "Yes." I asked her her name to thank her, and when she told me her name was Cindy, I started laugh-crying and told her that’s my mom’s name and then I was crying trying to tell her that my mom wasn’t there, and she gave me a hug before I left the tent. It surprised me that I was so emotional, although it probably shouldn't have - it had already been a long day and I was about to go run a marathon and I knew I would get to see my family when I got out on the run and I just had a lot of feelings! And all day I was so thankful for all the volunteers and tried to thank as many as I could, and in that moment I was so emotional and just so grateful for her being there and it was honestly one of the best parts of the whole day. 

We had to run around the field where transition was before jumping onto the riverwalk, which is where the finish line was last year (the start and finish of the run course were a little different than last year). I was surprised to see that I was running an 8:45 pace and was like girllll, you need to slow your roll! During that time all I was thinking about was how I couldn’t wait to see Ben and maybe talk to him for a second and tell him about Cindy, and I was originally thinking I would tell him that I was probably going to take my time and run like a 4.5-5 hour marathon so he probably shouldn’t expect me too soon. As soon as we got out of the field area I heard my name and it wasn’t Ben (I realized later he was still up the hill waiting for the others to come in on the bike) but it was my sister-in-law calling me! It took me by surprise and I waved to her and kept running, and then I was like but wait, I want to talk to her! Should I go back? I don’t want to go back! And I didn’t go back, but like a minute later while I was still kicking myself for that I heard her again and could see her running up a little behind where I was, so then I DID go back to hug her and thank her for coming. For a split second I was worried I was going to get in trouble - I don’t know what the rules, if any, are about hugging spectators but I know we aren’t allowed to take anything from them (like water or whatever) - but I really didn’t care, I was just so emotional and happy to see her! (And I didn’t get in trouble but she said she did get the stink eye from a race official, oops) 

From there we got out onto the riverwalk and I realized the braid I braided that morning before the swim was finally starting to come out. I was mad that I didn’t fix it in transition because now that time was going to get added to my run, but I slowed down to walk while I re-braided my hair. There were spectators all along the riverwalk and it was so nice being next to the water, and soon after I finished with my hair and got to running, I saw Mike Reilly again! He was standing on the side high fiving people, and as I passed he said, “I’ll see you at the finish!” and I said, “YEAH, you will!!!” (except I think I actually said, “Yeah, I will” - it had been like 5 hours, words weren’t really my strong suit at that point). 

 The run course is not what I would call hilly, but it is most definitely not flat like people who should apparently not be using that word claim it is. It’s an out-and-back course that the half people run once and the full people run twice. The first couple of miles after the initial halfish mile on the riverwalk are what I guess I would call slightly rolling hills, then there’s a gentle but long decline, then a turn into a neighborhood with a couple hills that I would say are more up than down, and then into a park which also has some gentle inclines and declines and for the most part is more up than down (and it’s out and back, so the opposite of all of that is true on the way back). My watch has recently stopped tracking elevation for some reason so I honestly don’t know the elevation gain or how it compares to other, hillier runs I’ve done, but like I said - it’s definitely not pancake flat except for maybe a mile total. 

Ben and Alyssa had camped out at the bottom of the first hill (about a mile into the race) last year so I was half expecting to see my family at that point, but then I remembered I had just seen them and I was a little sad about not getting to see them then. My first mile clocked in at 9:40 and I was pretty surprised by that given the fact that I had stopped to hug my sister, braided my hair, walked a water stop, and climbed a small hill all in that first mile! But I felt great and my pace felt perfectly comfortable. Running through town was SO fun and there were tons of spectators out cheering and high fiving and I would have been perfectly fine just running that first mile or two over and over and over again until I hit 26 because it was really that much fun. And I think that was the first time all day that I was really able to articulate that this was FUN! The swim had been super fun. And okay, fine, the bike wasn’t really fun but it was over so who cares. And now I’m running and there are people everywhere and THIS IS SO FUN!!! I wanted to do an Ironman every day in that moment. 

This was about 5 hours into the day and my longest race previously was just under 6 hours, and I felt really good being in such good spirits and still so happy! I actually felt better the longer the race went on. I really think having run this course before was a big advantage for me mentally. Not that it's a hard course, but I knew exactly what to expect and how the scenery would change and that helped me mentally break it up into different sections. There was the town section (first 2 miles), lame section through an industrial area and a neighborhood (mile 2-3.5ish), then there was the park (miles 3.5-6.5), then the turnaround was in the park and you have to do a little loop around an amphitheater so you don't really leave the turnaround area until mile 7. All totally doable. I told myself it was roughly about an hour to the turnaround in the park, then an hour until I’d see my family back near transition, then another hour out to the park, then another hour and I’d be done! 

The first time heading out to the park went by really quickly. My calves were weirdly crazy tight for the first couple of miles, but other than that I felt pretty good. I knew I still had a long way to go but I was surprised by how good I felt, both mentally and physically, and felt completely capable of continuing to run. (Of course, this recap comes with a caveat that this most likely would have been a very different story if it were 3 hours later and I’d had to spend 56 more miles on the bike, especially on that course and on that day.). But I also remember seeing the mile 15, 16, 17, etc mile markers and thinking oof, it's going to hurt when I see those again! 

As I was coming to the turnaround to loop around the amphitheater, I saw my friend Tracy coming out of the amphitheater! He was maybe 3/4 of a mile ahead of me and I was surprised to see him. We all started at the same time and I'm a slightly better swimmer but he's a much better cyclist so I should have expected him to pass me because he always does. I never saw him pass me on the bike but obviously he did! On my first loop heading back to transition and the finish area, I remember thinking, "Wow, I only had to do this once last year?!" It just felt like it was going too quickly for that, although the 6.5 mile trek back definitely felt longer than it had on the way out. But for the most part I was surprised at how quickly the miles were ticking by. 

 Since I was heading back I was seeing people heading out on their first loop on the other side of the road, so I looked for my dad and my friend Leah and that kept me occupied for a while. Too long, actually - I was starting to worry if something had happened! Finally I saw my dad when I was almost to mile 9 and we both said we were feeling good as we passed each other. That was a relief for me since he wasn't too so hot when I saw him on the run last year. I remember thinking to myself that while I still had a ways to go, I couldn't believe I was at mile 8 in the marathon! And then I had another recurring thought I'd been having all day: it was cool that I was out there, but my dad was out there too! 

I saw Leah around mile 10 and not that these things are related, but I also used the porta potty for the first time all day at the aid station right after that. I had thought about going to one about a mile or two back but there was a line and I didn't want to wait, but luckily the next one had no line (although there were two and one said occupied and the other said vacant but my brain at 6.5 hours in could have sworn it saw someone go in the vacant one...a kid working the aid station had to convince me it was open). I have forgotten to mention the aid stations before now, but since there was one at mile 10 I will go ahead and mention that I walked every single one (there's on every mile, PRAISE) and they were freaking AMAZING. Another tradition from B2B is that the youth groups, schools, etc. who run each aid station all compete to be the best one, so each one has a different theme and some of them really go all out! I took water and Gatorade from every one, but since I'd had issues accessing my nutrition on the bike (really should have mentioned that in my recap) I was getting pretty hungry. So I think around mile 10 I started taking a handful of grapes from some of the aid stations. I don't usually eat grapes for fuel, but I do eat raisins (which I had, I just didn't want to eat). I don't normally advise trying anything new on race day but the grapes just looked delicious and refreshing and they were. 

So after the mile 10 porta potty and aid station I just had a couple miles left of the boring/lame section before I got back to town, then to transition and started my second lap. I could totally do that! As I made the turn away from downtown to head downhill back toward the river walk and transition I saw all my family cheering at the top of the hill! It was awesome to see them and even more awesome knowing I got to turn around soon and then come right back and see them again! Ben told me Tracy was just a few minutes ahead of me and that I could catch him, and I don't remember exactly when or where but somewhere around the turnaround I did. The turnaround had a couple of weird short out and back things before going within probably 50 yards of the finish line. I think I had caught up to Tracy by then though because I remember heading back out away from the finish line area with him. Our names were on our bibs, which is nice because spectators would often cheer us on by name, and they really got a kick out of us having the same name (fun fact: we were the only people named Tracy spelled T-r-a-c-y in the whole race). 

There was an aid station around mile 13.5 and as we were walking through it we saw Ben just up ahead, right at the bottom of the hill where he and Alyssa had been last year. This year they actually used the bottom of the hill for porta-potties and special needs bags, so the rest of my family was at the top of the hill, but I guess he had run down to see us. Tracy had to pee so while he did that I rambled to Ben about a bunch of random stuff that had happened out on the course.

We got back to the park around Mile 15 and I realized I had misjudged how far we had to go to the turnaround. We kept telling ourselves just to focus on getting there and then it would be all downhill from there, and I thought it was only 2.5 miles away but it was actually more like 4, so it felt like to get there. We definitely slowed down in the second half - we continued to walk all the water stops but it got harder and harder to get going again! Literally running into Tracy was awesome and definitely helped me keep my spirits up. He told me to not let him slow me down but I really don't think he did, and I really wanted to stay with him anyway! We talked a lot and it really helped the miles go by a lot faster.  

We finally made it to the turnaround and things were definitely getting painful around that point (mile 20), but we just kept talking and encouraging each other and we kept going step by step, minute by minute, mile by mile. We saw Leah somewhere around Mile 22 and then my dad when we were almost out of the park, when we were just about to get to Mile 23, I think? He had just entered the park on his second lap and was keeping it slow, but steady. We stopped for a second to chat (as you do) and he said, "Come here, I have to tell you a're about to be an Ironman" and it was the sweetest and my dad is the BEST (also not just saying that because I think he secretly reads this). As we continued on our separate paths Tracy told a woman behind us that that was my dad, and I was just beaming. I seriously was so proud of him all day. Every time I thought about him being out on the course and wondering where he was or when I saw him, it just made me feel so happy! 

Shortly after that we FINALLY exited the park and I vowed to never run there ever again. It's a nice course but after 3 loops of it between last year and this year, I don't feel the need to ever do it again. We had some ups and downs and then we hit the slight but long incline back into town, and I remembered how I'd thought on my first time heading back into town that I'd probably walk it on my second lap...but I didn't (and I'm proud to say I actually didn't walk any hills, or at any time other than aid stations from what I remember)! I probably would have just given up on that last incline if I'd been alone, but since Tracy was there I just focused on talking both of us through it. There was an aid station when we got to the end of it, and then we started to get back into the downtown area. 

Getting back to town was a bit of a let down because the spectators had definitely thinned out - guess they were mostly there for the half. There were still plenty of people cheering though, and they were awesome! The same thing happened to me this year during this section that happened last year - once we got there, with only a couple miles left to go, time started to move really fast and I almost wasn't ready for it to be over! I would have been a lot more emotional if I'd done the full 140.6, but it was still an accomplishment to get there and I really couldn't believe my 9-hour day was almost over. 

At mile 25.5 or so Tracy told me he needed to walk for a bit (his Achilles had been acting up the few weeks leading up to the race so I think the was the reason, if I remember right). I really didn't want to leave him but I also just wanted to get it done and get to the finish, and he is too nice to make me stay with him so he told me to go ahead and I did. That last half a mile or mile or whatever it was was kind of a blur...I remember getting back onto the riverwalk and hearing the loudspeaker as I got closer so I got excited because I thought it was Mike Reilly at the finish line...but it was actually the award ceremony for the half, which was being held basically adjacent to the finish line. 

As I was coming off the riverwalk we had to do a weird little out and back thing like we had done on the first loop, and I noticed someone standing there wearing her medal and her pajama pants (PJs at the finish line are another B2B tradition that Ironman thankfully carried on) and I was like oh, yay, I get those in like 2 minutes! Right after that I heard someone yell my name, which wasn't unusual since people had been doing that all day because it was on my bib, but as I looked up I noticed it was Lisa's boyfriend Brian! I got SO excited, like OMG that wasn't a random voice, that was a person I know! Then he started running along the course but ahead of me and I wasn't totally sure why, but I think he was the lookout and was calling Lisa at the finish line to tell her I was coming in. That was at the last little weird out and back thing which leads straight to the finish line! 

So, before the race, I had really conflicted feelings about the finish line. I didn't want to take a medal. I didn't want to be called an Ironman. I wouldn't be an Ironman. But although it wasn't what I wanted it to be or the 140.6 I trained for, when I got to that red carpet, it was still overwhelming to be there. It was still the longest race I'd ever done, by 50%. It was still 83% of an Ironman. There were still spectators lining the chute and cheering and Mike Reilly was still at the end calling in finishers, and in that moment the thing that felt right to me to do was to just honor that experience for what it was. So as I approached the red carpet, I slowed down a bit. I took it in. I smiled because I was there, even though there was a part of me that thought I'd never even make it through 83% of an Ironman. But I did. 

Official Run Time

Definitely not a PR but considering the hillier course (my PR is from Shamrock), the amount of fun I had and the times I stopped, not to mention the 4.5 hours of exercise I did beforehand, I am so proud of this! Only 10 minutes off my PR and my second fastest marathon ever. I had 4:30 in my mind as kind of the dividing line between "good effort and close enough to my PR" and "something went wrong and/or who cares". Like basically under 4.5 had the potential to have some significance but if I finished over 4.5 hours it didn't really matter if it was 4:35 or 4:40 or 5:00 (although I was really hoping it wouldn't be over 5 because then it would be my worst marathon time ever...but given the other events of the day I was certainly open to that possibility!). So getting in a sub-4:30 felt really solid and out of the whole day I'm probably most proud of my effort on the run. 

Overall Finish Time
Swim - 1:05:36
T1 - 10:27
Bike - 3:17:21
T2 - 5:48
Run - 4:28:19

I'm trying to finish this up so I'll skip some of the post-race stuff, but I just have to get to the part where my dad finished because he is such an important part of this story and my story. I finished first in our group and Tracy was right behind me, then Leah about an hour after us. The tracker had stopped working so we had no idea how far back my dad was so we waited..and waited...and waited...and for a minute I started to worry something was wrong because I didn't think he would be coming in that late. But finally, two hours after I ran down the red carpet, he came running down it and the look on his face was absolutely priceless. I know he was disappointed about the shortened distance at first but he got over it pretty quickly and by race day he didn't give a flying flip about not being a "real" Ironman. He was going to do the race and he'd be an Ironman, damnit. And he did and he was and I know we didn't do the full distance so I can't bring myself to say I'm an Ironman, but my dad is 100% Iron as far as I'm concerned. It took me a minute to get myself together to walk over to meet him after he got out of the finishers chute, but as soon as I saw him I started hobbling as fast as I could. I jumped on him as soon as I got near him and then he was crying and then I was crying. As great of an accomplishment as this was for me, I'm so happy we got to do it together! How many fathers and daughters have that in common?!


  1. I have been checking your blog daily for the run post. I knew it would be good - 9 hrs!! WOW!. I feel like I went on this journey with you through these posts. How cute when you stopped to ramble with Ben and Im really glad you had Tracy for a significant part of the run portion.

    Proud of you girl. I know how accomplished I felt after running a 5k the other day (never thought I could do that) so I cant even imagine the sheer joy you must feel even weeks later. Oh and that photo with your dad - FRAME IT!

  2. Oh gosh - I teared up so many times in this post!!!!
    I truly believe people are there for a purpose on days like this so I LOVE your story about the volunteer in the tent.
    3 loops - yeah, I'd be over ever wanting to run that ever again.
    Oh girl - you totally DESERVE that medal - & I will still call you an Ironman - a REAL Ironman!!! you did an amazing thing!!!
    So glad you took that moment to take in the finish line & that chute & red carpet.
    & that picture of you & your dad? ... yeah, twist my heart. That's just PRECIOUS in every way.

  3. Ahhhhhhhhh that last picture of you and your dad. Alllllll the chills and maybe a few tears. What an awesome thing to share!!

  4. I can't think all that straight about things, but I just want you to know I read this gushing with pride and welling up at the mention of your dad. You guys are SO lucky and amazing to share this together and I'm so happy. Also, love that Ben got those videos so I could feel for a moment like I was there like I should have been. Congrats, Ironman!

  5. wait, you aren't allowed to take water or anything from spectators? crazy! so many rules!
    at least you got 2 out of the 3 yeah you will/i will words right haha. i had to lol at you wanting to do an ironman every day at one point. that's so awesome about the different aid stations competing to be the best, that would make it so fun! also, so cool that you have a friend with the same name and you were the only ones with that spelling. i love watching the videos haha. i'm gonna have to watch them at home because i can't use sound at work and so i am missing all the rambles lol.
    i totally got teary about what your dad said. so freaking cute. he is the best! and he was so nice for the like, 2 minutes i met him haha.
    i am sorry you aren't calling yourself an ironman.. good thing you have louisville booked! but that really is amazing about you and your dad sharing this amazing experience, and that photo is priceless!

  6. I've been so busy, I haven't had a chance to read your Ironman recaps until today. (I've been saving them!) I am so, so, so, so proud of you (and your dad!). It may not have been a complete Ironman, but dammit, you're a champion. You are such a badass.

  7. It was so fun watching those videos of you during the run! Those will be fun to look back on later. That's awesome you had a running buddy for some of it. And hello amazing time! Super impressed. I am really REALLY glad you got excited about the finish. When I read that you weren't sure how you were going to feel and even if you wanted to finish, obviously that's your own decision but I was hoping you would feel better about it when it happened. It's such an amazing accomplishment no matter what. Congratulations!