Beach2Battleship 70.3

Beach2Battleship 70.3 Race Info

Packet Pick-Up: Quick, easy and organized. The folks that run this event have got this down to a science. You just show up at the convention center with your picture ID, USAT card and medical form. Also have your T2 gear ready to drop off.

B2B Courses:

Swim: Entry for the half is from a deck at Wrightsville Beach with an in-water wave start. It’s a saltwater bay swim and wetsuit mandatory. There is one turn marked by a large orange buoy. Kayakers and paddle boarders have you covered all the way from entry to exit. Exit is a dock at Seapath Marina.

Bike: It’s a a relatively flat bike course. It includes city streets, a stretch of I-140, Hwy 421 and some two-lane country roads. The course has two aid stations: one at about mile 20 and the other about mile 46 with water, HEED, fruit, Shot Bloks & portajohns. There are three bridges to cross. The first at Wrightsville Beach has about 50 feet of steel grating. The second, midway through the bike over the Cape Fear river, is a tall, four-lane bridge and the biggest hill on the course. The third, the Isabel Holmes bridge, has about 100 ft of steel grating. The bridge gratings are not a big deal, you just get your speed up a bit before the gratings and then just stay straight and pedal gently across.

Run: The run is a mostly flat, out and back with one short hill from the river walk up to North Front Street. There a few gentle rollers through downtown and then you’re running around Greenfield Lake. There are aid stations roughly every mile with anything you need. Volunteers and spectators are upbeat, energetic and in some cases, colorful.

Course Markings & Signage: Beyond excellent. I knew where I was at all times. Local law enforcement was at every turn on the bike and run courses.

Volunteers: Plentiful, knowledgeable and upbeat.

My B2B Race Report

My wife, Barbara, dropped me off at T1. Once there I pumped my tires, put my two water bottles filled with a double thick mix of Infinit on the bike, put my Shot Bloks into my bento box and checked to make sure that my 40-ounce Speedfil hydration system was full of H2O. Then I paused to take in the bustle, chaos and commotion that was going on around me. If you haven’t stood around watching triathletes with their wetsuits half on, wearing jackets and winter hats, dancing for all their worth to The Cure, you need to get out more. I pulled my wetsuit on up to my waist to ward of the chill of the 55 degree morning and got in line for the buses to the swim start.

After the short bus ride I found myself in the parking lot that serves as a starting corral for the B2B half. Here I ran into Tamy, Kathy and Debra, some of my local triathletes, and we chatted to keep our pre-race nerves at a dull roar.

Shortly it was time to cross the street, discard my old running shoes & fleece jacket into the Salvation Army bins and get on deck for the swim. Then I heard “White caps into the water.” I was surprised to find that the water didn’t feel very cold at all. I stood in the shallows rather than fight the current waiting for the start. Then the horn sounded. Showtime!

Swimming Is Winning

I started swimming, concentrating on exhaling into the water and keeping a smooth, measured stroke. I waited for the signs of panic that sometimes come during open-water swims. There were none. I was good to go. After a few hundred yards I noticed there weren’t swimmers near me. Then a friendly kayaker redirected me toward the turn buoy. I had apparently set out on a self guided tour of the intercoastal waterway. This was first swim with currents so I guess it’s not surprising that I got off course. My Garmin data later showed that I had swam 1.4 miles. Guess I needed the extra challenge.

Once I got past the turn buoy sighting became easier. You could basically look for the kayakers and paddle boarders on each side and aim between them. I seemed to be the only white cap in a sea of yellow caps, the wave behind me. Soon I sighted the dock and climbed one of the ladders. A woman unzipped my wetsuit as I climbed out. I pulled my arms free as I walked off the dock. Once I was on the concrete walkway I picked out the largest wetsuit stripper. He had me out of that wetsuit faster than you can say “It’s 2015, where are the hover boards?” Then I was running with my wetsuit over my arm into the warm freshwater shower. Then a short dash across the highway, and I was in T1.

Taking It toT1

I had no trouble finding my bike using the landmarks I had noted the day before. I quickly toweled off, changed from my tri top to my NC State cycling jersey and put on the rest of my gear. Then I bagged up everything that wasn’t leaving with me on the bike including my wetsuit. As I unracked my bike the thought “fair fight” rang through my head. I had just completed the longest open-water swim of my life with no panic whatsoever. However the rest of the race went, I had already chalked up the biggest victory of my triathlon career.

Head Down, Pedal Hard

I ran my bike out of T1 to the mount line and started weaving my way through the short maze of turns that gets you out onto Eastwood road and over the bridge. I powered up the short incline to the bridge and shot across the grating no problem. I settled in for what would be the biggest challenge of the day beating the bike cutoff. I monitored my heart rate and speed on my Garmin. I was just a bit faster than the pace I absolutely have but my heart rate was way higher than my target.

Then the passing began. From T1 all the way to Hwy 421, I was passed by just about everyone doing the half. No big deal, I’m used to it. I trained hard this year and set distance records but the speed just never showed up to the party. Many of the spectators and some of the cyclists shouted “go pack or go wolfpack” when they notice my NC State jersey. I wound my way out of town making it to the I-140 interchange where much to my delight we were given the left lane of the interstate. We rode 12 miles on an interstate in the left lane on a bike. How cool is that!

Eventually I came to the Dan Cameron Bridge on I-140 which I considered the second great hurdle of my race. I don’t like tall bridges where you can’t see the other side. I avoid them if possible. I spent quite a bit of my mental training getting ready for this obstacle. I used a strategy given to me by my friend, Nate, “head down, pedal hard” to which I added “and breathe.” I geared down, increased my cadence, fixed my gaze on a spot about 20 feet ahead of me and repeated the mantra. Head down, pedal hard and breathe. When I topped out and could see the other side of the bridge and Hwy 421, I figured I had this race in the bag.

After the turn on 421 northbound, things began to look dark. Between the slight but near constant incline and a unrelenting wind out of the north, my speed dropped below the minimum needed to make it to T2 before the cutoff. There was no way around it: I was digging a hole. And given that my heart rate on the bike had been at least 20 beats per minute higher than planned for the entire bike, I began to wonder how I would manage the run. By my seat-of-the-pants estimate, I would have to be almost twice as fast southbound on 421 to make it.

A millenia or two later my northward odyssey came to an end, and I made turn onto the short loop that would take me back to 421 and Wilmington. The turn onto a tree lined, two-lane road got me out of the wind, and I concentrated on picking up my pace. At the next turn I crossed a timing mat and fell back in with the B2B iron distance athletes coming in from their much larger loop. They streamed by me on their razor sharp tribikes, most of them giving me a word of encouragement as they pass. Two men pass me in quick succession each saying wolfpack as they go by. It sounds like a whispered echo.

Finally I came to the turn that put me back on 421, and this time the grade and the wind were with me. I pedaled hard on the flats, put it in the big ring on the downslopes and held all I could on the inclines. Watching the speed and time elapsed numbers on my Garmin, I saw that I was climbing out of the hole and moving into positive territory. Barring a flat or a spill I would make the bike cutoff.

I traveled through the outskirts of town and arrived at the turn for the Isabel Holmes bridge. I climbed up the hill onto the bridge. As I came to the grating I realized that I was a bit under the 14 mph the athlete’s guide recommended. I decided to chance it. I was a bit wobbly but I made it across, down the ramp into downtown and through the turns to the convention center. I dismounted, grabbed my Garmin off the handlebars and passed my bike to a volunteer.

T2 Hand Off & Head Out

T2 is inside the Wilmington Convention Center. I took off my bike shoes and ran inside in my socks. I was directed down a path and a volunteer asked me my number. I called out 1838. She relayed the number to another volunteer who repeated it. Then I heard a voice say “1838 got it.” As I rounded a corner she handed me my T2 bag, and I ran into the changing room. I took a couple extra minutes to change my socks and trade my NC State bike jersey for my UA Relentless t-shirt. The socks were to protect my feet. The shirt was to lift my spirits. I figured I’d need both out on the run course.

High Fives & Blues Guitars

I went out too fast on the run. Rookie mistake. The same blankety blank mistake I make every triathlon. At one point in the first mile I looked down at my Garmin, and it showed a heart rate of 178. Briefly I was horrified. Then realized that number was impossible. Then I walked until it came down about 30 beats per minute. Better safe than sorry.

As I was struggling through this minor crisis a triathlete running by whispered “you got this” and then I was running, and I had it back under control. Thanks tri brother. The first three miles I went out too fast. I was traveling right at my standalone half marathon pace. As I ran through downtown I took in the festival atmosphere. A woman holding a “free high fives” sign gave me a high five. I saw a man sitting a doorway playing blues guitar. Everyone was cheering or clapping or waving.

Somewhere in the space between downtown and the turn toward Greenfield Lake, I saw Tamy headed back in to the finish. We exchanged high fives. Then a bit later I saw Kathy also heading back. Good times. The next couple miles were magical. I dialed the pace back and ran effortlessly. I was well ahead of pace and things were looking up. Gradually the running got harder, my pace dropped and my legs began to ache. I felt like the run turnaround was somewhere past the arctic circle but finally I got there and turned back toward town. I had been walking through the aid stations and alternating drinking water and HEED. At most of the aid stations I also poured water on my head. I cannot describe how wonderful that felt. I added a short walks about halfway between aid stations.

I begin to bleed minutes. My pace continued to slow but I was closing the distance. I stumbled my way back through downtown. Then I saw the turn back down to the river walk and knew for the first time that I had this. Two or three corners later I saw the finishing chute and heard the music. Then I was in the chute and accelerating toward the finish line. The crowd went wild: yelling, cheering, whistling. I thought this must be what it’s like to be a rock star. Then I crossed the line, the timing mat chirped, and they gave me my finisher’s medal. I walked out of the chute and hugged my wife. It’s been an amazing journey from 5K to 70.3 since I started back running in 2009. The possibility of succeeding beyond your wildest expectations is one reason to find the strength, the stubborn and the expertise to stumble on.

My Academy Award Speech

Some thank yous are in order. First and foremost I have to thank my wife, Barbara, for putting up with endless nonsense in the form of races, training, injuries and the eternal quest for a slightly better bicycle. Thanks to Triathlon Coach, Jamie Church for getting me to the starting line uninjured with enough fitness to cross the finish line. Given my race and injury history this should easily get him into Ripley’s Believe it or Not and/or the Guinness book of World Records. Special thanks to Triathlon Coach, Janine Pleasant who fixed most of the flaws in my swimming. Thanks especially to the triathletes that let me train with them in South Carolina and Tennessee. Thanks to Frank, my partner in crime, for listening to me obsess about this race for, oh say, six months. Shout out to my coworkers for those lunchtime strength and core workouts.



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Al Dockery is a PTA (physical therapist assistant) based in the Upstate of SC. He is a former award-winning writer and editor, who has worked for publications including Textile World and Furniture Today. He is a NC native and a NC State graduate.

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