Two years ago I ran my first stand alone (non-70.3) half marathon. It was a particularly emotional race for me since many of my team mates were racing and it was in the city I had called home for the last 3 years. To add to the fun the marathon and half run concurrently. It takes place each year around the 2nd weekend in chilly November starting in the heart of downtown. Richmond is called the River City and it was really special to finish along the James River that holds so much US history in its past.
Clearly, if you run the full you get a much more scenic view of the greater Richmond area. For me however, I got to run down Broad St. Past some of my favorite restaurants and bars that held such happy memories for me. The concrete jungle is broken up by a run through Joseph Bryant Park. There are some elevation changes here but its barely noticeable. One of the best features of this race are the people of Richmond. The crowds are everywhere with signs cheering you on. The last 1.1 miles are the best as you run back through downtown close to the finish. The last little bit down to the finish line is a steep down hill which is fun to let your legs fly.
The start was CHILLY in 2016. The air temperature was in the upper 40s and I was super cold waiting around by myself for the start. The year I ran we started right in front of the National theater. A really cool concert venue that I had seen a lot of incredible shows at over the years I lived in RVA. A few minutes before the start I ran into my teammate Graham and felt a wave of excitement.
It was great to get that boost of confidence from some who you’d raced and trained with over the last year. Graham in particular has been such an inspiraiton to me throughout my triathlon career because he really can do it all. Great Dad – never seems to miss an event that his kids have going on. Loving Husband. Loyal Friend. Involved community member. AMAZING athlete. I could go on – Graham, you’re the coolest. We ran together for the first few miles before he blew me away!
The first 10K I was cooking along at an 8:15 min/mi pace. Mostly to keep warm, but also because I was feeling gooood! It was so fun to get to run a race with music finally! I am not one of those runners who can just run along with their own thoughts. Music makes me run faster, smoother, and makes the time fly by. It actually makes me love running more because I feel more alive with a soundtrack. I was enjoying the sights and sounds of the course more with every step.
Around mile 9 or so I started having pretty sever pain in my sacroiliac joint as well as my right hip. I’d badly injured my pelvis twice – the most recent time a severe snowboarding accident that earlier February. The entire year of 2016 I’d been working closely with my doctor, chiropractor and coaches to manage my pain and strengthen my pelvic girdle. Within two miles of each other my phone battery died and I was in a lot of pain. Luckily, the crowds were there to keep me going. Teammates posted up near the finish line really helped with that last mile or two push.
I finished my first half with a 1:52:29 coming out to a 8:34 min/mi average. Couldn’t have been happier. I felt so accomplished and it felt like the perfect way to say good bye to my Virginia home. My hip was screaming at me as soon as I stopped running. I felt a little lost since I was there alone. Unsure of where to go and what to do next. Luckily, Graham was right there at the end waiting for me to introduce the wonders of the post-race party. Massage in a heated tent? Yes, please. Bananas, hot pizza, gatorade, coffee? Yes, please. Finishers blanket?? YES, PLEASE.
We had a fun time chatting about our races and wandering around the Finish area which was located on Brown’s Island. The post-race party vibes were going strong and the craft beer that Richmond has an abundance of was flowing. Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better first half marathon experience. If you are in the Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina area I highly recommend the Anthem Richmond Half or Full. It is a really well put on race, tons of race frills, scenic easy course, and the best spectators you could hope for. I would definitely run it again if we find ourselves on the East Coast.
IM New Orleans 70.3 went array on so many levels – some in my control, some not. I visited NOLA 4 years ago and fell in love with the architecture, charm, characters, and food in the city. As the name of the blog suggests – location is a huge factor to me when choosing races. My dear friend Jayme (featured in many of the Guam & the Taiwan posts) moved back to the mainland around when we did. She mentioned she & her husband were going to do New Orleans and I was sold. She was worried about the water being gross; I was just happy it was warm!
We arrived on the Friday before the race and got situated in our hotel at the Hilton Riverside. Friday night was filled with some confusion as the information on the Facebook page conflicted with the information in the athlete guide. We tried to deduce what was the closest to the correct times and make a plan for the next day. This was just the beginning of the disorganization of this race.
Pre Race Prep
We started Saturday by heading over for the practice swim. Since the swim was taking place in Lake Pontchartrain where there is boat traffic there were very rigid approved swim times. To me the water wasn’t too gross. It didn’t have a taste it was just brown. We spent about 15 minutes swimming before getting out to go check in. After we had our packets we decided to ride the run course a bit. You could feel some wind but it honestly was not that bad. How fooled we were. The course had 3 bridges that honestly had short mild climbs. It felt great to be riding with my friend again. Jayme is such a strong cyclist I’m always in awe of her bike times.
When we were done with everything we had to do at the race site we drove over to the garden district. There’s an amazing donut place called District Donuts that is absolutely worth a detour if you’re visiting. We spent a little time walking off our lunch (donuts) and window shopping in all the cute boutiques. Afterwards we returned to the hotel to shower and enjoy a little down time. The hunt for a safe pre-race dinner restaurant was much easier this trip than it was in Taitung.
We didn’t want to go very far and so we chose a restaurant within walking distance called Marcello’s. HIGHLY recommend. Not only was our food fantastic but they had the coolest wine selection. You were allowed to walk through their vast collection from different countries and pick a bottle. They’d serve it at the table and you could cork it after to take home. It was hard to be with so much nice wine and not be able to imbibe! I had the lasagna and Jayme ordered the bolognese. The two dishes were really delicious. We walked home, prepped some gear, and got in bed. All by 7:30pm 🙂
Race Morning: 4 am
Coffee & breakfast in the room. I was a total mess. I hadn’t slept all night tossing and turning stressing about the race. A huge bundle of nerves was all I was. We were packed & ready to roll to the race site by 5am. We got to transition around 5:30 am and the weather had certainly turned overnight. A cold front had come in strong bringing some frightful winds with it. Mark my words – this is the last race I go to where I don’t bring a wind breaker or something warm for the bike. I had more than enough time to get set up and get some serious worrying done. We were racked with our age group and like usual I was intimidated as hell by the fancy bikes around me.
Transition closed at 6:45 am meaning I had to leave my sweatshirt behind and shuffle barefoot and frozen to the waters edge. Jayme, smartly, had a shirt to throw away but I think she’d say even that wasn’t enough.
Swim Start:7:00 am7:15 am 7:30 am
We waited at the dock’s edge for over 15 minutes before we got the first announcement that they were reviewing the swim. I was just praying at this point that it wasn’t cancelled all together. By the time they decided they were going to shorten the swim to 600 yd it was 7:30 am. It was another 15 minutes by the time they sent the first people into the water. I seeded myself aggressively this race and was one of the first women in the water. Having been shivering for 45 minutes the water felt super warm. The protected area was easy but when you turned right into the open water it was a washing machine. Waves were hitting you in the face each breath. People were flailing left and right needing aide. I felt great however. Strong and smooth. Like a badass.
T1 : 7:40 am
A quick smooth transition. No wetsuit to take off. No need to pee. Just putting on some socks, shoes, a helmet and jumping on my bike. Thankfully, this transition area was close together and an easy in and out.
Bike Course: 7:43 am
The bike, how do I even recount this leg? Wind. So – much – wind. This was the only bike ride I’ve ever done that literally sucked out my soul & my will to live. About 15 miles in I knocked off my visor while trying to wipe my nose. I’d been pretty sick with a wicked head cold & cough the week leading up to the race. When I stopped to get my visor I realized my back bottle cage had lost a screw. Luckily, I had some tools with me to tighten it back up and be on my way. But no!
That was also when I realized my back bottle had inexplicably been punctured? Sabotage? All of my nutrition had been leaking out the back of my bike which was now very, very sticky. I think I only burned maybe 3-4 minutes on this whole endeavor so I wasn’t too worked up. I spent the next hour battling straight into 18 mph winds. It was unrelenting and there was no relief. This was a two loop course and the portion where you got that nice 25 mph tailwind was quite short in proportion. This bike was so hard for me.
The pain I had in my sit bones from pushing down so hard on the pedals was excruciating. I would have done anything to get off that bike. It was misery. People were passing me left and right like they weren’t even working. Was I in a personal wind tunnel? Why is my bike so weak? Why am I so weak? It was dark, DARK, 3 hours. Getting only more bleak as I passed the 3 hour mark making this my worst 70.3 bike to date.
3 hours and 20 minutes I was finally able to get off the damn bike.
T2 : 11:00 am or so
I felt my 2nd transition was pretty smooth all things considered. Mentally, I had thrown away the bike ride. It was done and I was moving on to the part I’m actually good at. Running.
Run Course: 11:04 am
My pacing goal was sticking to 8 minute miles which I’d been able to hit in training. That is where I started out for the first 5 miles or so. I felt pretty good and my form was looking strong. Then I began to slip 8:30’s but I accepted it and was still happy. Mile 8 – the wheels fell OFF the bus. Total system failure. I’m still not sure if this is what “bonking” is but literally everything took a turn for the worse.
My stomach was cramping so bad and I was extremely nauseous feeling like I needed to puke. I felt weak and light headed. My legs? They no longer worked and my left leg decided to tell me exactly where each and every tendon is located. I was hurting in so many locations worse than usual. Really, it was when I was passed by a couple girls in my age group and didn’t feel that fire to catch them or hang on I knew I was done. My normal competitive streak just stopped caring. It was ugly. I knew this course should have been perfect for me but I just lost all of my internal battle ready shield maiden.
I was drinking water and Gatorade at every aide station. I wish there had been more ice but there was only ice at the first aide station by mile 1. It felt hot that morning but not too bad. My head was all over the place and I think this was hard to have both physical & mental break down. Literally, I felt like the last racer on the course which was breaking me.
Med Tent Finish: No podium, But Alive
I finished weakly and feeling terrible. As soon as I stopped I knew I was going to puke. The kind volunteers got me to the med tent where they gave me some oranges and offered me an IV. At first, I refused but I felt so weak & sick I finally changed my mind. I spent probably 30 minutes with some blankets getting 1000 ml of fluids back into me. Man, those seasoned nurses are incredible. Those ladies got a IV in me on the first stick with minimal pain. Hats off! I didn’t stick around for awards as there wasn’t much of an after party going on. Getting a shower and some quiet time in the hotel room was exactly what I needed before we celebrated in the French Quarter.
The Traveling Triathlete’s New Orleans Recommendations
** My Faves are linked **
Eat Me Drink Me See Me
Cafe Du Monde (Bignets) Pat O’ Briens (the OG hurricanes) Jackson Square \ Church of St. Louis
I never envisioned myself being a “serious enough” triathlete to need to transport my bike & gear to a race. I also never envisioned myself racing a full Ironman. Yet, Ironman Boulder 2019 is fully happening. After experiencing some FOMO (fear of missing out) when my teammates were all racing 70.3s in 2016 I started looking for a race for me! I knew having my family there with me was a must as was an interesting location. This was the beginning of my #racecation and traveling triathlete dreams.
Originally, I wanted to race Ironman 70.3 Miami because I could drive down from Virginia. After doing some more research into it I was realizing that it was going to be pretty pricey to fly 3 people from Chicago with hotel rooms. Next, I started looking for races in the Midwest which wasn’t where I wanted to race but my family support meant more to me. After selecting Ironman 70.3 Steelhead I decided I needed to figure out how to logistically get my gear there.
Your bike flight options…
As I am sure many of you know, flying your bike is PRICEY. I about choked when I found out most airlines charge $150 each way for a bicycle. Apparently, it does not count as luggage (due to the dimensions) and has a separate fee … 3x the luggage fee! In researching how to safely send my bike to races I looked at a couple companies. Bike Flights, Roadie, FedEx & UPS, and finally Tri Bike Transport. Bike Flights uses FedEx or UPS to pick up and ship your bike but at a rate that’s typically 30-70% less than if you went through them directly. They will also help you with paper work and give you the supplies to box it up. Trick is you have to do it yourself. You can get an easy quote on their website usually between $100-250.
I was a very inexperienced cyclist (still am I believe) and the thought of having to disassemble my bike put me in a panic. So I started looking more into Tri Bike Transport after I saw an ad for it on the ironman.com page.
Tri Bike Transport
The biggest selling point to me was that you drop your bike off at your local bike shop and it arrives assembled AT THE RACE. They have a list of bike shops that they work with in your area on their page https://www.tribiketransport.com/. How far you are shipping your bike will vary how far in advance you have to say good bye to it. For me it was 10 days ahead of time to get the bike from Virginia to Michigan.
I dropped my bike off at Endorphin Fitness in Richmond, VA fully assembled with only the pedals removed (by the guys at EF of course!). It was put on a mostly empty truck and off it went! After the race, it couldn’t have been easier! I got my bike from transition and walked it over to the TBT tent and they checked it back in to go home. A week later it arrived back at Endorphin ready for me to take home. Couldn’t have been easier, the people couldn’t have been nicer, and the process couldn’t have gone sooner. Now while at $350 a trip it isn’t saving any money from checking your bike but it had so many other positives that outweighed the costs.
I didn’t have to worry about buying or renting a bike bag or get it boxed.
I didn’t have stress about putting it back together wrong.
We didn’t have to worry about how we were going to get the bike from Chicago to Michigan. Bigger car? Borrow a truck? How do we fit the whole family plus the bike?
I didn’t have to worry about the bike being damaged by TSA.
I didn’t have to worry about my bike being lost in transit.
Less gear to shlep around after the race – I could just bask in glory of my finish.
Friendly staff looked over my bike and gave it a free once over before I walked it to transition. Just to make sure everything was still in working order. Great for a bike rookie like myself.
Don’t let the fear of transporting your bike keep you from racing in a cool destination! Trust your bike with Tri Bike Transport until you feel confident enough to travel with your bike on your own. Just don’t forget to pack your pedals like I did! You actually need those to race… 😉
Racing in Asia may at first seem very expensive, confusing, and intimidating. Really, the airports aren’t that challenging as long as you prepare for all the hiccups you might face along the way. In fact, the flights locally (jumper flights) can be quite inexpensive with the local airlines. Below I outlined some nuances I learned both after traveling with my bike for races and on holiday with my husband.
Leave Extra Time
There are so many reasons you will need extra time in Asia. The wildly unpredictable traffic. The very small local airports with a large volume of people trying to move through. The actual flight desk closes and the people are simply gone as soon as they’ve started boarding. I’ve experienced it all – missed a flight due to trains not being on time, ran like a banshee for a flight because the customs lines were so clogged, and gone to the wrong airport because of a language barrier.
While the people in Asia are very friendly and want to help the language barrier and not being able to read can really slow down your navigation. Typically in the states I arrive at the airport 1 hr before a domestic and 2 hrs before an international. I know everyone has different comfort levels with this. In Asia I would recommend at least 3 hrs from when you want to leave your destination.
Call the Airlines Ahead of Time
One big factor about racing overseas that I learned from my friend Jayme is that the smaller jumper flights have a weight limit. So they will only take so many bikes and then cut it off because they can only handle so much weight. So if you are flying say, into Seoul, and then taking a small plane down the Jeju for Ironman 70.3 Jeju, I’d recommend calling the smaller airline and making sure they can accommodate both the size and weight of your bike. It was so cool watching all the triathlon bikes get unloaded in Taitung when I was in Taiwan in March 2018. This is also a good opportunity to ask about hidden bag fees.
Long Slow Lines
Like I mentioned before the lines at the airports in Asia can be EXTRA. There isn’t the same sense of urgency and efficiency there like there in the USA. In the US, everyone is go, go, go and move them through! Then add in the language barrier and it can take a long time to get your boarding pass and bags checked. We’ve also found security can take a longer time than you’re used to because each country has different standards. In many countries in South East Asia you can expect to go through security at the entrance, before your gate, and before you board the plane! It’s a lot.
Your Bike Is To Big For… Everywhere
Your bike bag is too big for pretty much everywhere in Asia. The trains, the elevators, the hotel rooms, the cabs… see the picture above haha I have never been so stressed. Luckily, I knew we didn’t have too far to go. Try to ask your hotel concierge to order you a mini van if possible. Or do like I do and make new friends by asking a fellow English speaking triathlete to share a cab because chances are you’re going to the same place. I made friends with the most lovely Laura Jane Dennis, an Aussie Pro, this way! And saved money in the process!
Expect Asian Food!
Most triathletes are pretty clean eaters. I typically don’t eat meals on flights but when you’re flying 11, 12, 14 hours you must. If you’ve chosen an Asian airlines such as ANA, Korean Air, or Asiana Airlines expect your menu to be different. A lot of times you’ll get noodles or rice with a meat (usually chicken). You’ll also typically get a miso soup, kimchee side, maybe a side salad and a dessert. So, if you love these foods – you’re in luck! If you don’t (like me!) be sure to pack a heavier snack load or buy a meal to pack ahead of time. Snacks, lots of snacks.
The night before the Sandman I was at work. We weren’t that busy with equine patients requiring care so I spent a good chunk of time researching my biggest worry. Great. White. Sharks. In June, two dozen juveniles had been spotted in the bay. July, a dead white shark washed up on shore. Last summer, a man was bit and killed in the bay. That’s it. I’m not swimming. Then there was the cold water temperature. I was informed after looking online that this time of year was warm between 65-70 F. Spoiler Alert: it was not. It was 58 F.
However, I had roped my college friend Ben into doing this race with me and he was going to be at the house by 5:30am to head up to Santa Cruz. Peer pressure wins again. Honestly, I would have thought I’d be more exhausted after having worked a 10 hour shift. I came home changed clothes quickly and Paul helped us load the bikes and gear into the truck.
Race Morning: 5:30 am
The drive from Monterey up to the state park where the race was being held took us about 45 minutes. This race does have a $10 cash parking fee so be sure someone in your group has some money! On the drive up I ate my usual race breakfast of oatmeal and a banana. There was an intense fog when we arrived, which is very typical for this part of California, and part of me wished the swim would get cancelled. It did not. We squeezed into our wetsuits and then tentatively went for a warm up swim.
Swim Start: 8:05 am
I thought I had warmed up sufficiently, I had not. Looking back this is obvious but the water was so numbingly cold that at the time I could barely stand the 5 minutes I was in it. The men went off first and we started 5 minutes later. We ran into the water from the beach and fortunately it got deep enough to swim comfortably very quickly. I felt like I started out okay but immediately the cold water takes your breath away. Still, I knew what was going on and remember to just take a slower stroke and breathe deep.
I made it to the first turn buoy which was at the end of the historic sunken cement ship. Then my world slid “off screen” like I’d been drinking all night. The horizon was moving all over my field of vision and I felt like I was going to vomit. It was scary and I tried to look around for help but couldn’t see anybody. I felt a little scared but floated on my back for a bit and hoped for it to pass.
Nothing changed and I told myself I had to make forward progress so I tried to continue on to the next buoy. I couldn’t sight for the life of me because everything was spinning. Yet, I made it to the 2nd turn and started heading back towards the beach. It was such a struggle that between the nausea and cold the last thing on my mind was Jaws. Which, is a win. You made a right and swam along the beach for a while. It wasn’t until this point I started to get my stride together. That being said, I still came out of the water pretty disorientated and with my classic calf cramps. I miraculously finished in 19:51 (1:46/100m) … who knows?
T1: 8:29 am
T1 was a little bit of a struggle. The air temperature was sitting around 60 F and it never warmed up after that. I had a hard time up through the soft sand and an even harder time getting my wetsuit off. Ben had been racked next to me so I could immediately see he was out on the bike already when I got there. I was a little disappointed with my transition time of 4 minutes.
Bike Course: 8:33 am
The bike course felt like a climb the whole time. It started out with a steady climb and continued into one continuous climb-flat repeat. There were plenty of other ladies to give me people to chase which made the beginning go fast. Fortunately, there wasn’t bad wind to deal with but it didn’t warm up either. In the future I will definitely pack a wind breaker or sleeves. Something to help warm me up and keep the cold air off me.
You spend much of the second half of the bike heading back down your big climb which is great for making up some time. Just be aware that right before you come back into transition you will face an incredibly steep downhill that can be clogged with car traffic. They will make you slow way down since there are large speed bumps to go over. If you’re not careful I could see people going over their handle bars. I felt like I was going to!
Overall, the bike course is not closed but you don’t really have car traffic to contend with. It isn’t until the very end that you feel like you’re avoiding cars some. I was lucky in that I fell in with a guy who I was leap frogging with most of the race. I’d pass him on the climbs and he’d pass me on the downhills. It always irritated me when he’d fly down by me and encouraged me to work harder on the hills. I finished the bike in 48:47 averaging 16 mph. Not great.
T2: 9:21 am
I felt great flowing through T2. I made it in a great 1:35 but it also helps the transition area was super small.
Run Course: 9:23 am
Newsflash – it was still cold at this stage of the game. I thought the run was going to be through soft sand and I was dreading it! While I was SLIGHTLY relieved to find out that there was a nice hard pack shoulder to run on I was still apprehensive on how it was going to go. Once, I hit the hard pack I was good to go. It’s a simple out and back run (my favorite!). You start going under the pier you swam around and it was especially exciting to see Paul up there cheering. I finished the 4 mile run in 30:33 (avg. 8:15/mile) for a total time of 1:44:55. The run actually went by pretty fast and you run over the ups and downs of the sand & surf. Just look out for any dead marine life like the seal I passed!
Post Race Party … or Nap
I didn’t feel like this was my best race and I finished frustrated that I could have done better. Ben and I posted the exact same finish time… okay fine Ben, you beat my by 30 seconds! I still made it on the podium for my age group which was exciting. I wanted to finish higher overall but I’ll take this for my first and maybe only race in this region. For a cold day filled with cold water and cold air it was fun looking back on it. After awards Paul, Ben, and I went to brunch at Avenue Cafe. There was a bit of a wait and I promptly fell asleep waiting for our table. I was in such a zombie state during brunch I can’t even remember what I ordered. Paul and Ben told me the food was very good however! We highly recommend it for a post race refuel.