It was an unbelievable experience and I’m honestly not sure how I can capture everything I want to share in this space but I’ll do my best! As I started to write about the weekend, I realized I have a LOT to say so I’m going to break this recap up into two blog posts. Today I’m going to touch on training and the days leading up to the race. I’ll be back soon with a full race day recap and I can assure you that one will be even wordier. Ha!
I think the best way to begin this weekend recap is with a little backstory. On Christmas morning last year, Ryan surprised me, my dad and my brother-in-law, Ross, with a relay registration for the North Carolina Half Ironman. Ryan completed the same Half Ironman in the fall of 2021 and registered himself to do it again this year, figuring the three of us would have a blast doing it alongside him. Ummm what!?
He really tried to seal the deal by booking a house for all of us and taking all of the planning out of the equation. He joked that he knew we’d all say no if he asked for permission and figured he’d be better off asking for forgiveness and taking his chances. He played his cards just right, apparently, because here we are!
Ryan knew my dad would be an easy sell, as he’s an avid road biker and bikes multiple times a week. My dad was the first to say he was all-in. My brother-in-law and I were reluctant relay members but as race day approached, the group text thread we had going showed me I was slowly becoming the only member of the relay who wasn’t into it. I figured it was time for me to dig around for my old swimsuit.
Here’s the thing: I LOVE swimming. I truly do. It’s something I’ve loved ever since I was a kid and swimming in any capacity — recreationally in the ocean or lake or laps in a pool — brings me joy. Ryan heavily relied on this love of mine as my “buy in” and it took all of one session in the pool for me to remember why I love the water so much. It’s a calm place that feels like an escape for me and I can just let everything go as I enter an almost meditative state while I swim laps. It’s the only athletic thing I’ve done that has ever felt truly natural for me.
My training for the race was really, really laidback. I had not swam laps in a pool since high school (nearly 20 years ago!) and the training I did mostly looked like swimming a mile of freestyle in the pool a couple of times a week for the 3 weeks leading up to the race. I honestly found myself looking forward to my sessions in the pool and any concerns I had about the distance of the race melted away.
Before I knew it, race weekend arrived!
Friday Shakeout Swim
The Friday before the race, Ryan and I had plans to join a local triathlon club for a shakeout swim in the ocean.
This was HUGE for easing my anxiety going into the open water swim as my only attempt at swimming in the lake ended in me flying out of the water in full-on freak out mode because I couldn’t seen anything. It was NOT pretty and increased my concerns about the lack of visibility in the ocean. I fully believed swimming with a big group of people would help dissipate these anxious feelings and thankfully that proved to be the case.
The shakeout swim did wonders to eliminate my concerns about swimming in open water. My wetsuit was helpful in keeping my body warm in the 71-degree water. The people around me made me feel a sense of security I did not feel when I was alone in the lake.
The shakeout swim also brought to the forefront some potential challenges I did not anticipate. I struggled big time with getting caught behind people and feeling like I was just stuck in the water. Unfortunately this feeling bled over into race day for me.
The shake out swim was 600 meters down the channel and most swimmers got out of the water at this point. There was an option to turn around in the water and swim back to the beach for a total of 1,200 meters and that’s what I did. It was night-and-day different in how the first 600 meters of the swim felt compared to the second 600 meters. During the first 600 meters, I felt congested in the water and could not just let loose and SWIM. It was frustrating but that went away during the second 600 meters since most people got out after the first 600 meters. With more breathing room in the water, I was able to actually put my head down and swim and it felt fantastic! The swim back to the beach was a straight line which also made it a breeze to know where I was going… a stark contrast to how I felt on race day. (Spoiler alert: Race day was a BIG learning experience for me!)
North Carolina Half Ironman Expo
After our shakeout swim, we showered and headed to the Wilmington Convention Center for the North Carolina Half Ironman race expo. Ever since I did a few half marathons pre-kids, I’ve loved race expos! There’s a sense of community and an undercurrent of energy throughout the expo that only serves to add to the excitement surrounding an upcoming race.
Like the year prior, the race expo was well-run with quick lines and an efficient packet, t-shirt, and bag pick-up. My dad, Ryan, Ross and I grabbed everything we needed for race day before reuniting with the rest of our family to explore the expo, ask questions at the info tables and listen to a little bit of an information session.
My main question that I had trouble finding an answer to online was whether or not I was allowed to start the race with the swimmers participating in the full Half Ironman or if I needed to wait toward the back and begin with relay swimmers. We asked a few people in charge and no one seemed to know for sure and all said the same thing: Do the self-seed start and start where you think you should. That sounded good to me, as I was hoping to start with Ryan.
After we were done at the expo, we walked over to T2 (the transition area from the bike to the run) where Ryan left a bag containing the gear he needed for his run. Ross and my dad also scoped out their transition spot, as this was where my dad would meet up with Ross to pass off our ankle chip timer.
With Ryan’s bag stationed in the right spot, we headed back to our VRBO and put the little ones down for a nap. Ryan, my dad, my sister and I then made our way to the first transition area where the swim transitions to the bike.
Ryan and my dad dropped their bikes off at their designated spots and I made sure to make note of where I needed to run to meet up with my dad after my swim to pass him our chip timer.
My sister came along because she was our invaluable transporter on race day morning and wanted to scope out everything so she was “in the know” as a spectator, too. (I did the same thing with the boys last year and cannot recommend it enough to anyone planning to spectate a Half Ironman.) I’ll share more about logistics in my race day recap but suffice it to say my mom and sister were instrumental in our ability to participate in this race!
Once Ryan and my dad had their bikes in the right spot, we headed back to our house and spent the rest of the evening relaxing, eating and chatting about the upcoming race. We also took some time to fully pack bags of snacks, water bottles, coloring books, crafts and toys for the kids which helped alleviate some kid-related stress on race day morning.
We tried our best to get to bed nice and early and before I knew it, Ryan was waking me up for the big race on Saturday morning!
Race recap to come ASAP!!!