Monday, June 1, 2015

Why Would You DO That? (Raleigh IM70.3 Race Report)

A few years ago, I read about this peculiar event coming to Raleigh - an Ironman, where people supposedly swam 1.2 miles, rode their bikes for 56 miles and then ran 13.1.  Then Google told me that was "just" a half Ironman, and that a true Ironman was twice that distance.

Why would you DO that?  Why?

Certainly a question I couldn't answer, especially considering at that point I had not run one mile without walking, could not properly swim and did not own a bicycle.

I had no idea all that was going to change and that I would take on that very race a few years later.  And more important, I had no idea how my life would be forever changed by Andrea Peet, her ALS diagnosis and raising awareness and funds for The Blazeman Foundation.

Here is my race report for the Raleigh Ironman 70.3 race on May 31, 2015:

I was honored to wear #179 as part of my Team Drea Challenge.  Ironman now has an official process for applying to wear the bib at their races, and the very touching description of that can be found here.  I found out on the eighth anniversary of Jon's passing that I was selected to wear the bib, which made it even more touching.  His life, while cut short by a cruel disease, has a spirit that will live on indefinitely.

When I registered for the race, Mads was still a really awful sleeper, so I also booked a downtown hotel room near T2 and where the shuttles take athletes out to the lake.  I started to regret this for a few reasons, but it was a non-refundable room, so I stayed.  I was able to check out the finish line, and that was pretty exciting!

Finish line on Saturday Night

A HUGE bummer about my room was a lack of a freaking refrigerator.  Seriously?  I had no way to freeze my Gatorade for the run.  THAT sucked (will describe it later).


I woke up at 3:40 (no thanks to the Sheraton, who DID NOT make my 3:30 wake-up call!  Thank goodness my phone went off).  Made some oatmeal by using hot water from the in-room coffee maker. 

I also applied my "Be Brave" tattoo that Team Drea members wear on race day

Also made a cup of coffee, packed my bags and checked out (leaving my bags at the front desk).  Headed down to T2, where I started to set-up and heard "DO NOT SET-UP YOUR SPACE!"  Apparently, you cannot set-up your transition area, and instead must leave your belongings in the bag.  Well, poop.  I set-up things as much as I could within the bag itself and gently closed it.  In my bag was my race number belt, hydration belt with two bottles of Gatorade, three packs of Skratch gummies, visor, running shoes and clean socks, and my Gym Boss timer.  I also had a separate baggie with my phone, ID and bag claim check.  Then I headed over to the shuttle for Jordan Lake.

With my morning clothes bag and bike gear bag in hand, I was not exactly thrilled to be greeted by the words "No wetsuits today, guys!" as we filed off the bus to be body marked and finish bike set-up.  But seeing my amazing friend Lindsay made up for that.  She was a super volunteer at this race - volunteering every day!  She wrote my #179 on my arms - it was really moving for both of us.

Setting up the rest was fine (same rule for T1 - everything on the ground had to be in the bag), and was very happy I had stashed a second pair of goggles because sure enough - my goggles had a tear in the band!  Dropped off morning clothes bag with my poor wetsuit, and before I knew it, it was time to swim.


As my wave filed down into the water at 7:56AM, I was pretty nervous.  Ugh. UGH UGH UGH.  But, I felt confident I could do it, just very slow.


I was able to get into a nice, but slow, rhythm right from the start.  Sighting was spot on.  Pow, passed one sight buoy.  Pow, passed another.  And then... the younger men from the later-starting wave came upon us.  POW - hit in the leg.  POW - hit in the arm.  Someone actually grabbed my legs.  Grabbed my legs!!!  I kicked as hard as I could to get that a$$hat off.  From that moment on, my timing chip felt loose and I was afraid to kick very hard.  Passed the first turn buoy.  Carnage at the buoy, it felt like I was in a giant toilet with several hundred of my least favorite friends.  And poop.

This is where it got rough.  I had a hard time sighting, I forgot the buoys weren't yellow at this part, and I started to wonder if I was even swimming in the right direction.  POW - hit by a back-stroker.  Ugh.  Finally came to the last turn, and boy I knew I had to be cutting it close.

Total mayhem as we approached the boat ramp/swim finish.  EVERYone wanted to get the heck out of that lake.  I felt like I was finally swimming straight, but kept getting bonked by other swimmers.  Maybe I wasn't - or maybe they were off.  One guy appeared visibly annoyed with me and I wanted to say, "DUDE!  The exit is THERE!  You are swimming to TREES. HELLO McFLY."  But, I didn't.  The hardest part was trying to file all the bodies into the ramp.  At this point, I didn't see any other pink swim caps and realized I was seeing the youngest men and women, perhaps even a few relay swimmers.  Uh-oh.  How slow was I?  After I shook off the blows to the back from a fellow teammate, I stood up on the ramp and finally glanced at my watch.

1:09.  OH NO!!!!!!  The cut-off is 1:10.  Did I make it?  Did I?

I was in a sort of daze, when a friend, Ana (an experienced triathlete and full Ironman), said, "GO TO YOUR BIKE, HEATHER. NOW!"  I ran to my bike and stopped someone who was volunteering.  "Can you tell me if I made the cut-off?  My watch said I was so close..." He talked to someone and said, "If they didn't pull you out of the water, you're good.  Keep going."  My friend Ana also said it: "Go!"

So, I did.

Official swim time:  1:09:11


I felt slow and tired from the beginning of the bike.  It's a gradual climb the first few miles, but still.  Then I remembered, uh... you *did* just swim 1.2 miles. (Well, 1.3 actually, according to my watch.  Heh - bad sighting, indeed)   I saw my first "Team Drea" sign toward the beginning of the course and it made me SO happy.  I remembered today was not about me, not one bit.  Each time I saw a sign, I teared up a bit and pushed ahead.

I honestly didn't pay too much attention to my speed, it just "felt" like I was averaging around 16mph.  But, I had hoped to be around 17 for the first half. I passed the first water station and did not take anything, because I didn't need anything.  I did see Andrea, Julie and Andrea's parents - and it meant the world to me to see them!  I also saw Derek and the kids and our friend Gayle.  That really made me feel so happy and alive to see people on the course.

Hello, Team Drea!!

The second half was hotter and hillier.  I just didn't want to eat my Clif Bar - not sure why?  I did drink my two bottles of Infinit, a little bit of water, I took two salt tabs (not at once).  In other words,


I really just took it easy heading back into Raleigh.  There were two situations I should have passed cyclists on the way back, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it.  Instead, I took it easy to save myself for the run.  I would also like to point out that for the first time EVER, the farms by Lake Wheeler didn't smell!!!  That has always nauseated me in the past.  I also saw Derek and the kids holding signs when I was riding in. <3
Bike nutrition:  Two bottles of Infinit, perhaps 16 ounces of plain water, two salt tabs and 2/3 of a Cliff Energy Bar.

Official bike time:  3:31:15
Average Speed:  15.91 mi/h


My bike wasn't as fast as I had hoped for, and combined with a long swim, I was starting to worry about time.  I already knew my overall goal time from my coach was busto, there was no way I could make up fifteen minutes on the run.  To top it off, I had a very slow second transition, partly to do with the fact some a$$hat placed their bike on my number because another a$$hat had racked their bike on their handlebars instead of the saddle, and took up a crap ton of room.  I really hope that person received a penalty.  Someone helped me move the bikes over, and I finally got mine up on the rack.  I changed my socks, put on my running shoes and visor, sprayed on suncreen, jammed all the bike gear back into my run bag and gathered my belts.  With HOT, and I mean HOT Gatorade.  That is why I wanted access to a freezer at the hotel.

Seeing so many folks already completely finished, and nearly all the bikes racked, it took me down a notch.  Then I tried to run and was able to for a bit, but once I started up Hillsborough St., oh boy.

My Gatorade was hot.  I just could not stomach the chews.  It's not that they taste bad, I just didn't want to have that in my mouth, I didn't want to eat (again! Frown.).  I was dizzy, started seeing spots.  I could not run at all (and my stupid Gymboss, which I still don't know how to turn off) kept beeping.  SHUT UP, GYMBOSS.  Finally I took out the battery and stashed it in my tri top pocket.  Water station.  Water in my mouth, ice in my bra, ice in my shirt.  Drank the somewhat cool Gatorade at the station.

I couldn't run at all.  I was blown away by my total fatigue and all-around bleh.  What do I do, I wondered?  I started composing the apology letter to the Blaises, and to Andrea in my head.  My FB update saying, "I tried... Maybe next time..."

"You just need to finish." - Mary Ann Blais

I remembered her words in her email.

I came across my friend and first coach, Rebecca, who was volunteering on the course.  She gave me a big smile and said hello - then saw how rough I was feeling.  "Drink water, pour it over you, you are overheating and need to cool down."  So, I really drank cool water at the next aid station, the wind kicked up a bit.  I saw my friend Mariah and was THRILLED to see her on the run course.  She has a pretty bad knee injury and a few other sports injuries going on right now, and she wasn't even sure she would make it past the bike.  And there she was!  Running, even!  I called out to her, and her smile really pepped me up.  It was then I decided I was going to finish, no matter what - unless they pulled me off the course.

Laura is taking a picture - I guess I should pretend to run!

I came across my kids and Derek, and they were amazing.  They made me feel great.  Right before the second loop I came upon Mariah again.  We chatted a bit and passed through THE BEST aid station at the turn-around.  Dancing, wet sponges, music pumping - it was exactly what you need after you can see the finish line and have to run another 6.1 miles.  Mariah gave me her extra salt stick, and it saved me for sure, because the water I was drinking would have messed up my electrolyte balance.  I also saw Laura who took a few pictures and chatted, and was able to talk with my friend Robin.  Then I found a course buddy who I guess had chosen me to be his partner for the rest of the way.  That was a true blessing.

This is what I love about back-of-the-packers.  It's what I LOVE about triathlon.  He and I talked about everything and nothing..  It was his first half-ironman as well, and he was also new to swimming (but is a distance runner) - he and his wife are expecting their first child soon.  I talked about Andrea and Jon Blais.  We kept encouraging each other to run a bit - "this crosswalk to that parking sign," "crosswalk to the second light post."  My feet were really hurting at this point, I could feel blisters on my feet - big ones.  Dousing myself with water was a good thing, but apparently it's not so great for your feet!  I will have to research this next time - perhaps Body Glide?  Anyway - all of the other people on the course were doing a lot of walking at this point, and everyone was positive and friendly.  We all were feeling pain, aches, heat, sunburned - but we kept each other going.

Daniel decided to run all of Fayetteville Street when we came upon it, and I decided to just walk at that point, for a minute at least.  The crowds were gone from my first loop.  But...

I was going to do this.



I started to run, and nothing hurt anymore.  Then I saw Andrea, Julie and Andrea's mom.  The emotion of everything took over.

Thanks to Julie for these pictures!

I love this picture!

When I hit the carpet, I knew it was time to roll.  The Blazeman-Roll.

Run nutrition:  Water, Gatorade, oranges and eventually bit of salt.



I received my medal from my friends Sara and Caryn and then hugged my family.  What a day.  


My lovely friend Sara giving me my medal

Behind every married/dating triathlete, is a very supportive spouse/Sig-Ot

So thankful for the day.  So very thankful.

Stay tuned for a blog post soon with thank-you's!


  1. Loved the report Heather....and you hearing that you had #179 on the 27th had a bit of help from Jon...
    You are a great friend to up now for you next event!!!!!! Love bmom and bdad xxoo

    1. Thank you, Mary Ann! Looking forward to meeting you and bdad soon. xoxo

  2. Wait...WHERE IS MY COMMENT, BLOGGER?!?! I just re-read your race report and I don't see it. ARGH! I will attempt to recreate...

    I had to stop reading this because I was in public and was laughing out loud too much. You're hilarious...and a BEAST. Way to hang in there through the brutal heat -- we were sweating like pigs and we were SITTING.

    Here's how our spectator day went: we were at bike aid station #1 staring intently at every single helmet waiting for you to come by. Thank goodness YOU knew where WE were, otherwise we never would have seen you. But Julie, as always, snapped a great pic of you on the bike.

    After you passed by, my parents took 20 minutes discussing whether to transfer the rental Choppertrike to my dad's truck...then did it...then my mom tried to remember how to drive stick (on zero sleep). Then we went home to use the bathroom and get a snack. Then I nearly rolled the truck into the garage before deciding I can't really drive that truck anymore.

    Then we went downtown, through race traffic/detours, found a spot in a parking deck, found Julie (who was in a different parking deck). SAW DEREK and the kids, which was crazy, and very fortuitous because we could keep up with you better. Learned that the Choppertrike will actually fit in an elevator...

    Saw David J come in (whew, with only like 5 minutes to spare before he crossed), talked to him for awhile, got food, ate it, ran into a friend from high school, talked to a competitor whose best friend died of ALS (said he kept racing until he could no longer swallow), Mom took a conference call, then went back to the truck to get my walker so I could use the bathroom...


    So then we got kind of worried we'd missed you coming in but I checked FB and Lindsay (bless her heart!) had posted that you were 20-30 minutes out...20 minutes ago!! So we trotted over to the finish chute and saw you coming down Fayetteville Street not 5 minutes later.

    It was such an amazing feeling to see you, to give you a hug, and know you felt the same way. It was truly a special moment that I will NEVER forget. I know Jon was watching and he was proud, too.

    Love you!