North Carolina 70.3 Half Ironman Race Day
Race day morning began dark and early! Ryan, Ross and my dad were awake first, as they all had much longer events on the horizon and wanted to stretch, eat and get ready for the race. I opted for a little more sleep and woke up about an hour before the start of the race which worked well for me.
I ate a bowl of oatmeal and joined the guys and my mom and sister who were also up early. My mom then said she saw Chase and Ryder’s bedroom light on so I peeked into their room and Chase said, “MOM! I thought you were already racing!” They were up early and super amped about spectating. Seeing them before the swim start was a great mood booster!
When I came back downstairs, I found Ryan getting into his wetsuit and suited up alongside him. The race ahead suddenly felt very real!
My sister and brother-in-law have an awesome electric bike with a bucket seat on the front and brought it to Wrightsville Beach. It ended up being clutch for race-day transportation! Ross biked me and Ryan to the start of the swim and we had about 10 minutes to spare before the national anthem began.
The Swim: 1.2 Miles
The swim start is a self-seeding start similar to many running races and Ryan and I planned to begin together. Ryan is much better than me at 99.99% of anything athletic but swimming is an area where I am a little stronger. We still felt like beginning together would work well for us as this was my first race and I didn’t have a time goal in mind; my only goal was to simply finish.
Groups of three swimmers entered the water every 5 seconds or so and within 5 minutes of the race start, Ryan and I were off! That’s the last I saw of Ryan in the swim, as it’s impossible to differentiate people in the water. (All men have green swim caps and all women have hot pink caps.)
I felt strong in the water but fairly quickly into the swim, I got stuck behind a man who must’ve started several seconds ahead of me. His pace was very similar to mine but only slightly slower making it hard to pass him and if I had to guess, I can only assume this was his first race, too. I could not get around him as we were both very far right (too far right, honestly) and there were a lot of swimmers to my left.
We seemed to be stuck on the right side edge of the race course and I ended up swimming with my head out of the water WAY more than I would’ve liked, as I tried to spot the course ahead and get myself around the man I could not seem to shake. I think we were both trying to course-correct for being too far right for most of the race which resulted in me feeling cut-off by him time and time again as I’d have to slow down and swim breaststroke to avoid running into him. As I type this out it seems like it would be something I’d be able to work around but it was just a bit of a mess in the water and everything felt chaotic. I felt like I was swimming way too far out of the way of the course and picking up a lot of unnecessary distance.
(This amazing photo of the swim is from @KevinCollieCreative — so, so cool!)
I think a LOT of this could’ve been avoided by familiarizing myself with the swim course before race day. I didn’t pay too much attention to which side of the buoys I needed to swim on before the race as I assumed I’d just know since my only race experiences have all been running-related and not knowing where to go was never a concern. Swimmers were all over the course and it was really hard for me to tell which way people were turning around the buoys until I was close up and then had to course-correct and swim around them. (I really wish the buoys would’ve had large arrows on them so you could tell well in advance which way to turn but I also know this was majorly on me as I should’ve studied the course and known this myself before the race. This was a major newbie move for sure!)
The whole experience was a major learning experience for me as I felt like I spent almost the entirety of the swim too far off course, struggling behind a swimmer I could not get around and confused about where I needed to go. I just never felt like I really got to put my head down and just SWIM and really focus on the race which bummed me out, mainly because it would’ve been nice to feel like I did my best for my fellow relay members and I don’t feel like I had the chance to do that on race day due to my own errors.
If I were to do the swim in another triathlon, my main takeaway from this race would be to really make sure I know the swim course before hand, as it was very easy to feel confused about where to go in the water. I’d also make sure to swim down the middle of the course versus way on the outside to avoid picking up unnecessary distance.
Oh! Also worth noting for anyone curious since I asked Ryan about this after his finish last time: I couldn’t see anything in the ocean! No fish, no sandy bottom, no sharks! Visibility was decent enough that I could see my hands in front of me and the swimmers who were very close to me but not much else.
T1: The Transition from Swim to Bike
A truth joke I told to my family after the race is that the hardest I worked during the race was running from the swim exit to the transition area to meet my dad. I’m definitely not a natural runner and it was farther than I thought to reach T1! When I saw my dad, I yelled out for him and excitedly hurried over to our spot. I then asked if he saw Ryan and he said he saw Ryan come through right before me. I was so excited!!!
As a relay team, our transition from the swim to the bike was naturally faster than Ryan since I just had to pass off my ankle chip timer to my dad whereas Ryan had to get out of his wetsuit, put on shoes and socks, etc. Ryan’s head start in the transition area meant my dad and Ryan got to begin the bike portion of the race together which was so cool!! My sister got it all on video (I was still in the transition area at the time) and I loved watching them take off together once we reunited!
The Bike: 56 Miles
Once Ryan and my dad were off on the bike portion of the race, I met up with my sister who biked over with Chase and Ryder to cheer for me, Ryan and my dad. They dropped my dad off at his spot while Ryan and I were out swimming and then stayed to cheer and scoop me up after I was done with my swim.
Hearing Chase and Ryder yell out for me and wave at me was such a boost!! I’ve always said spectators add so much to a race and really energize those participating and having two of my boys out there with my sister yelling for Mom, Dad and Pop was awesome.
After an 8-minute bike ride and a pit-stop for lattes and hot chocolate to go, we were back at the house. I gave a quick race update to my mom and Ross who were hanging back with my nieces and Rhett and then grabbed a shower to get the saltwater off my body before changing into dry clothes. (I must give a major shout out to my mom and sister for helping to rally five kids during this race. They are the ONLY reason we were able to do this race together!)
My mom, Leslie, Ross and I were constantly checking the Ironman Tracker app to see how my dad and Ryan were doing on the bike course and could not believe my dad’s pace!! He said he thought he’d average somewhere around 15mph and he was out there crushing it at 20mph for the first 11 miles of the 56-mile course! WHAT!?
We thought we would have more time at the house than we did because Ryan and my dad were speedier than we anticipated so our turnaround time after the swim was quite fast. We wanted to get to the next transition spot (T2) a little early so Ross could warm up and we wouldn’t feel stressed so we loaded up the kids into two cars and headed off to T2 to look for our bikers.
Before we knew it, Ryan was flying into the transition area, hopping off his bike and running to his spot in T2.
We cheered our heads off for him and then I sprinted down to the bottom of T2 with Rhett to cheer some more and watch Ryan begin his run. Rhett kept yelling out “Ah Daddy! Ah Daddy!” (his version of “There’s Daddy!”) and loved it when Ryan ran over to give him a quick high-five before taking off to tackle 13.1 miles.
(Rhett would not drop the race sign he made for Pop so Ryan got a race sign for my dad to kick off his run. Haha!)
With Ryan off on his run, we turned our attention to tracking my dad.
A little less than 20 minutes later, we saw my dad’s red helmet in the distance and started cheering like crazy! We yelled out for Pop as loud as we could and even had the people around us cheering for him. Watching my dad come through the bike finish was so incredible. I could see the emotion on my dad’s face as he entered the transition area and knew from his time that he gave this race everything he had. My dad averaged 18.77mph for 56 miles and absolutely blew all of us away.
I have not shared this on the blog but earlier this year my dad was diagnosed with stage one prostate cancer. We fully believe my dad will be okay but no one ever, ever wants to hear the word cancer associated with someone they deeply love. It’s been an emotional year and seeing my dad’s strength and determination on full display as he rode 56 miles like a complete superhero was something I will never forget. I know this race was very special to him and it was beyond special to those of us cheering him along. I am so, so proud to call him my father.
The Run: 13.1 Miles
As we cheered for my dad, he headed to our relay team’s spot in T2 to meet up with Ross and pass off our ankle chip timer one final time. After a quick hug, Ross was off and we rallied our crew of kids and made our way to the finish line.
All of the snacks and crafts I picked up at the Dollar Store the day before the race came in handy at this point since we had more than an hour to spare as we waited for Ryan and Ross to finish their run.
We relied heavily on the Ironman Tracker app to know when to rally the kids to head over to a more visible spot to cheer. We had everyone chanting Ryan’s name the minute we spotted him! The end of the run had the runners doing a weird little loop thing which allowed us to spot him three times as he approached the finish.
Chase and Ryder loved giving Ryan big high fives and joined me and Rhett as we quickly made our way to the exit area of the finish to give Ryan a huge hug and congratulate him on an incredible race.
I’ve had a front-row seat to Ryan’s training for this race and am just so in awe of his dedication to his training. As his wife, I am honestly even more impressed with the way he incorporated his training around family and a demanding job, always making us feel like his priority even during his extra-long training mornings. This looked like 4 a.m. start times for his training workouts sometimes and his commitment to fatherhood and being a present husband above everything made me realize for the one millionth time that marrying Ryan is the best decision I’ve made in my life. Watching Ryan cross the finish line of his second Half Ironman and accomplish something so physically and mentally demanding was nothing short of incredible and I’ll never stop being in awe of him.
Here are Ryan’s race day stats:
I could not run a half marathon even close to that time let alone running at that pace after a 1.2-mile swim and a 56-mile bike! Phew!
Once Ryan was done with his run, I brought his finish line bag over to him and he used the water we packed to wash himself off (something he was dying to do after his first Half Ironman and remembered this time around) and then changed into fresh clothes and sandals.
We then turned our attention to the Ironman Tracker app and knew Ross would be crossing the finish line soon! I was SO psyched for Ross because I knew his goal was to beat 2 hours and he was on pace to completely crush it!
We cheered hard for our third and final relay team member as he high-fived his daughters and crossed the finish line with a run time of 1:51!
Here are our relay team’s stats:
With our relay team reunited and Ryan done with his race, we donned our medals and took a few pictures together before diving into the food from the athlete tent.
Ironman races know how to do food right and supplied athletes with barbeque pulled pork, veggie subs, fresh rolls, cookies, assorted drinks, chips and more. We had a little time to kill before Ryan could pick up his T1 bag and enjoyed lounging in the grass, snacking and talking all about the race until we were ready to go.
The entire race experience from start to finish was something I will truly cherish and remember forever. We all gave Ryan a hard time for roping us into this crazy idea of his but he officially earned the right to gloat as much as he wants now because we all absolutely LOVED IT. Who would’ve thought this reluctant relay would’ve turned out to be the greatest gift?
As we drove home from Wrightsville Beach on Sunday, I could not help but feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my husband, my family, our health, our relationships and our love. Spectating Ryan’s first Half Ironman last year was an incredible experience and participating in the race this year with my family was emotional and exciting and only served to strengthen what already felt like the strongest family bond. This “gift” from Ryan was truly one of the best gifts we’ve ever received.
Wow!!! Congrats to all of you. What an awesome accomplishment on all of your parts! I loved your tributes to Ryan and your dad. Super impressive half marathon time by Ross too! And of course, congrats to you on your swim. I used to be a triathlete and after my first, always wound up training and swimming breast stroke bc I got too scared/off course in the water doing freestyle. You’re not alone in finding that a really stressful experience-but-you did it! This was so fun to read.
thanks for sharing your experience with me — i did not anticipate everything feeling so chaotic in the water and felt like it was definitely a HUGE learning experience for me to feel so disoriented/off course in the water.
Love reading your posts but they don’t show up in my Feedly anymore, I tried unsubscribing and re-subscribing but still nothing. Do you know of any ways to fix this?
ah! i’ve heard this issue from a few people and fellow bloggers. i’m not sure what the deal is! the same thing was happening to me but then all of the sudden a bunch of my posts showed up in feedly again one day. if you want to be sure to get them, you can subscribe to blog posts via email for free here: https://follow.it/peanut-butter-fingers-living-a-life-fueled-by-healthy-food-and-fitness
Okay Julie…I wasn’t prepared to cry at 5:30 in the morning while drinking my coffee😉 What a beautiful tribute to your dad and prayers to him on a speedy recovery.
Glad I wasn’t the only one crying!
thank you, hillary. <3 <3 we so appreciate the prayers!!
Brooke derner says
Whew! This is wonderful! First that feeling race day already gives but then everything behind this has me all emotional! Such a cool experience, especially in this time! Prayers to your family!!
Kori Daniel says
So incredilby proud of you all and very much in awe of your accomplishments! While not in the same level of difficulty or intensity, when I ran in our marathon relay and covered a 10K in 1 hour at a 9:30 min. pace, I felt so elated. I finally experienced a “runner’s high”, and I have never experienced anything quite like it again exercise-wise. You are right that the spectators really amp up the adrenaline and excitement. Thank you for sharing such a thorough recap, and I wish your dad the best on a full recovery!
that’s an incredible time!! the runner’s high is so cool — it’s only happened to me a handful of times and was such an awesome experience.
Wow!!! Congrats to all of you on finishing this beast of a race! Your emotion and energy came through in your writing, and had me teary eyed, both happy and sad at times. Health and family are truly the best gifts, and you got to celebrate both all weekend! Amazing accomplishment, you will kill on the swim next time 😉 haha
Reading your blog posts for several years now I always feel like one of your best character traits that shine through your writing is cherishing every phase of life you are in an cherishing the NOW. Not many people are aware how lucky they really are as long as their parents, their husbands and small children are with them so reading about your love for your family makes me smile every time. My own dad is unfortunately no longer with me but knowing that I cherished every moment I had with him often times gives me strength when a wave of grief hits again even after several years of him being gone. All the best wishes for your dad and his health and what an accomplishment, he can be really be proud of himself.
This was such a kind thing to say — thank you, Julia! I truly do feel immense gratitude and love for my family every single day and I fully believe feel this love which is very important to me. I am so sorry you lost your dad; it’s so, so clear from your words that you two had a wonderful relationship and that he felt your love. <3
What a huge accomplishment! I feel so inspired to do an Ironman relay after reading this. I may have missed this, but where did you train for the swimming part? Did you practice in a lake or ocean before race day?
I went into more of my training in this post: https://www.pbfingers.com/north-carolina-70-3-half-ironman-weekend-shakeout-swim-race-expo/ I trained exclusively in the pool and my one attempt at swimming in the lake by myself resulted in a complete freak out!! Thankfully the shakeout swim I did in the ocean the day before the race did wonders to calm my nerves regarding the open water swim the next morning!
Love this times 100! Congrats to your whole family! I hope it becomes a tradition.
Haha! I mean I would definitely be down for it again but my dad said it was a one time thing for him — he definitely had the longest, most demanding leg of the relay!
Wow what a wonderful time with your family. I could feel the emotion come through in your writing. Prayers for your family and your dad.
I also loved reading this as I’m considering doing my first 1 mile open water swim next year. I only have a pool to train in so I know the open water will be quite a different experience. Thanks for mentioning getting familiar with the course as well.
I definitely think familiarizing myself with the course would’ve helped SO much!!! I had someone on Instagram describe the first open water swim experience as a “washing machine experience” and that was so true. It was a whirlwind but still very cool!
Yolanda McLean says
Oh my gosh this is such a great recap. I cried when you were posting on Instagram, but I’m undone reading this. I’ve always admired your families closeness, but this is next level. Your Dad hugging Ross, come on now – pass all the tissues. You running to be closer to cheer louder with your baby. OMG. What an accomplishment for you all! Continued prayers for your precious Dad!
my dad + ross’ hug was one of my favorite moments from the whole race <3 and thank you so much for your prayers for my dad. we truly appreciate them so much!
Ahhh! I’m glad I’m not alone to tell you I got emotional reading this post, too! Congratulations to all of you! What an experience and a day full of memory-making! ♥️
I never leave comments but your words about your dad made me cry! I find his zest for life inspiring and I now feel a little more motivated to start taking better care of myself postpartum after seeing his example, thank you so much for sharing!!
okay now YOUR comment made me tear up. postpartum life is HARD; please give yourself all the time and grace you need. but i really do love that you took something so positive away from this post. my dad absolutely inspires me in his commitment to a healthy lifestyle throughout his life and it’s really cool to me that you can see that through this blog post, too. sending you love as you juggle motherhood with a new little one!
SO emotional reading this. Thanks for sharing. What an incredible gift from Ryan!
You all are amazing for doing this, but MAN was I exhausted reading the racer/kiddo logistics that your Mom and Leslie nailed!
oh yes the logistics with young kids are super intense!!! they were total rockstars with everything!
Such an amazing experience you were able to have with your family. I got tears in my eyes reading your post! I love reading your blog. Thank you so much for sharing it!!
I’m emotional reading this! I’ve been lucky to participate in races with my father and husband and can say the feeling you’re experiencing is so familiar and makes me want to do it again! Amazing job to you all!
WOW!! You all did amazing. Congrats to you all. You had me in tears reading this.
Wow such an amazing recap! I got so teary seeing your updates on Instagram and it happened all over again here. Hearing all about the support and love and gratitude that you have for each other is incredibly inspiring, thank you for taking the time to share!
This blog post is truly inspirational! I have completed a couple of 70.3s myself and I can tell you I still get nervous before the swim start! Congrats to you and your family for conquering such an amazing goal and creating wonderful memories to look back on!
The strong bond all of you have in your family is such a special one. I always appreciate you sharing family activities with us. Ryan’s gift to all of you was one you will all always remember. Prayers for your dad.
Catherine l. says
Prayers for your dad Julie. Praying for complete healing, that God would allow him to live as long as possible to spend more time with his family and watch his children grow and get married. God’s blessings to you and your family.
Catherine l. says
I meant watch his grandchildren grow and get married.
Janet pole says
Sending love and prayers 🙏 to your dad…glad that they caught it at stage 1 …hug him for me
I live in Wilmington and usually volunteer at this race. Congrats to you and your family on your finishes. It really is a well run race and I am so happy to read such a positive review from someone who is not affiliated with it. We were visiting the Highlands so missed it this year, but I am glad you loved the experience. My best running friend sang the national anthem and we had just returned the prior week from running a half marathon at the Crazy Horse Memorial in SD. Hopefully you will continue to enjoy the relay experience and maybe dip your toes in a sprint trip sometime.
Long time reader here~This post made me feel ALL of the feels!! I’ve run for close to 15 years now but a triathlon has been on my bucket list! The swim part terrifies me though! Congratulations on you & your family’s accomplishment–nothing can replace that immense feeling of pride & joy that happens post competition! Suddenly all the training & anxiety that had built up feels so worth it!! & thoughts, prayers, & best wishes for good health to your Dad. I have always admired how close your family was & I know that strength will help you all in this journey <3