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.