Monday, January 17, 2011

Race Recap: Beach to Battleship Triathlon, Nov. 13, 2010

While running with my buddy Tony Read the other day I realized I hadn't talked to him yet about his experience at November's Beach to Battleship triathlon.  It was Tony's first full Ironman triathlon and a huge accomplishment for him not only physically but spiritually.  Tony was kind enough to send me his account of the race, which you can read below.

Beach to Battleship Ironman
A Reflection
140.6 Miles
November 13, 2010
Sunset view of USS North Carolina from Downtown Wilmington

At 6:50am on November 12, 2010 I was walking the 500 yards though the dunes at
Wrightsville Beach to the start of the 2010 Beach to Battleship Ironman in Wilmington,
N.C. I was just about to start a race and finish a journey. The race was the before
mentioned B2B Ironman and the journey is one that started 5 years ago and both would
hopefully be culminated at 8pm or 13 hours later at the USS North Carolina docked
across the Cape Fear River from downtown Wilmington.

The sun was just rising, air temp at 39 F and the water was announced at 64 F. My
wetsuit kept me warm except for my arms and feet which were exposed. The sand
held the cold and a north wind only aggravated the exposure. For sure next time, if
so destined, footwear would be a must. The singing of the national anthem and some
announcements (including the recognition of a 70-year old first timer who tragically
finished missed the midnight cutoff by 28 minutes) and the 531 participants were ushered
into the Atlantic for the 2.4 mile swim.

Final preparation for the race started in May. It included a “base period” in which focus
on building endurance and economy and getting to race weight. It was to culminate at
the end of August at the South Carolina Half Ironman. The goal was to lose 25 pounds,
increase daily training and to do as many races as possible to acclimate to race conditions
and dynamics. This would be followed by a “build period” lasting 40 days which focused
on carb building, weight maintenance and increasing discipline distances to Ironman
length. Finally prior to “race week” was 2 weeks of “taper” to allow the body to prepare
for the big push. I wish I could take credit for this plan but a combination of input from
my nutritionist, books and friends’ experiences shaped the plan.

My weight dropped from 175 to 145 pounds, competed in 26 races - besting previous
performance in 15 of 19 of those races, completed my 50 triathlon before my 50th
birthday, religiously followed an Ironman distance schedule and topped off the “base
period” by placing first in my age group in the South Carolina Half Ironman.

South Carolina Half Ironman – August 29, 2010

In retrospect, I think the biggest impact was going to a nutritionist. By balancing my diet
and monitoring my intake I lost weight and aided in recovery. By doing this I was able to
train more and improve performance/stamina. More training and improved performance/
stamina meant more weight loss and increased confidence. A virtuous cycle was created
and to validate its effectiveness when the diet was altered for weight maintenance and
carb build the results were as predicted. I believe that the nutritional lessons learned will
be incorporated in my life going ahead. As Yoga Master Swami Sivananda states, “The
way to be always happy is to feel a little hungry.”

Although nutrition had the biggest impact and triathlon books offer great guidance, the
foundation of such an endeavor is the support, encouragement, inspiration, leadership and
teamwork of friends, family and fellow participants. Hillary Clinton (sorry Jake, Sarah
was not so inspirational) said it takes a village to raise a child and I believe the same to
be able to do an Ironman. I said to a friend who just did the Chicago Marathon that I was
with him during the struggle of this hot weather race and I felt the same as I competed in

The Race Plan
Knowing that the race would be over 12 hours, planning was critical to ensure there
wouldn’t be any added obstacles above the time, distance and conditions of the event.
This included equipment for swimming (like goggles, cap, wetsuit, chip band, etc.),
biking (clothes, glasses, socks, shoes, spare tubes, etc.) and running (clothes, shoes,
socks, hat, number, etc.). If you’ve done a triathlon you know the drill.

Aside from equipment was planning nutrition, hydration, salt replacement, stimulants,
medicinals and lubricants. Assuming using 12,000 calories the goal was to consume
3,500 calories with approximately 85% being consumed prior to the run and no solid
food after the bike. Hourly hydration and salt replacement with over 8000 mg of sodium
over the course of the event. Stimulants and medicinals were delivered in Guarana,
a natural caffeine source, and Motrin 3 and 2 times during the event respectively.
Lubrication was planned with Glide for the all needed locations except for Vaseline
between the toes.

The Swim - 2.4 mile ocean swim
When the horn went off all participants entered the water and swam probably 100 yards
out into the channel before turning north to swim 2 miles along the shore before turning
left for ¼ mile to the swim exit at a local marina. As stated earlier the water was 64 F but
the wet suit did the trick along with the physical activity. Unfortunately, unlike in years
past we did not have the advantage of the incoming tide and swam into a headwind that
caused choppy conditions. This led to a longer swim for all and personally, due to the
chop, I got a little disoriented. This led to more location verification to ensure I stayed
on course. Also at about mid-swim I felt a calf cramp coming on which in the past has be
debilitating. But the wetsuit’s buoyancy which allowed minimization of kicking and the
focus on relaxation allowed cramp to not fully materialize. My swim time ended up being
1:22 hours, slower than a goal of 1:07 hours, but the conditions were the same for all and
I was generally happy with this leg. Unexpectedly, the wetsuit and salt water had caused
two raw chafed areas on the back of my neck and at the right hand wetsuit armhole. They
ultimately scabbed up after the race and if done again I would have added Vaseline to my
pre-swim routine. I had never swam so far or so long in a wetsuit so live and learn.

Upon exiting the water we had to run out the marina, across the street and to the swim-to-
bike transition area. It was about 500 yards and along the way I stripped my wetsuit to the
waist and stopped at the showers for a quick rinse. They had a changing tent which was
great so we could completely strip down, dry off, apply Glide and Vaseline and change
into biking clothes. 400 men, naked, with jars of Vaseline was incentive to get your
business done quickly. Out to the bike rack and salt tabs and Gatorade got me on my way
out on the bike after 17 minutes in the swim-to-bike transition.

Running after swim to bike transition

The Bike - 112 mile bike
We left the Wrightsville beach area and headed inland. For the first 40 miles we headed
northwest and then 30 miles northeast before turning south for the last 40 miles back to
downtown Wilmington. The goal was to average 16.8 mph and to complete the leg in

6:40 hours. The roads were fantastic and the traffic minimal. Over the first leg, miles
1 to 40, the wind from the north was building so it had little effect and I was able to
average over 17.5 mph ahead of the goal but the second leg, miles 41 to 70, was directly
into the wind and the pace was reduced. There was also a special needs stop at mile 51
to replenish supplies that we were allowed to leave prior to the race. So by the time I
reached the apex of the ride and started to head south, my overall pace had dropped to
16.7 mph. But now the ride back to Wilmington was with the wind at our backs which
led to a faster pace.

When I started the ride there was an attempt at discretion in relieving myself during the
ride. But with constant hydration it became a regular event, 10 times during the ride, that
I had to stop and use the bathroom. By halfway I had given up on stopping at aid stations
and tried to pick my spots with some level of privacy. I was buoyed by a female police
officer who, when asked if I could go, said, “when you gotta go, you gotta go.” Bless her
heart. Also at the mile 51 special needs stop a guy said he lost all his supplies on a bump
at mile 20. I provided him with my extra salt tablets and Gatorade but was unable to
spare any food. After reflection I waited for him at mile 54 and gave him one of my Clif
bars. I’m sure it helped him and I think was the right thing to do in the spirit of the event.
Hydrating and eating went as planned as the bike provides an easy opportunity to eat and
drink as much as needed.

When I arrived in Wilmington at the bike-to-run transition the wind aided return to town
had increased my average speed to 17.4 mph and total time of 6:23 hours, about 17
minutes faster than plan. My goal was to finish the bike by 3pm and I got to the transition
at 3:02pm. Happy camper. Volunteers took my bike and directed to the bike-to-run
transition bag rack. Glen was there and I think just happy I was alive. In reality I felt fine
and I think getting off the bike on a regular basis during the ride actually was beneficial. I
went to the bike rack with my transition bag as opposed to the changing tent by mistake.
Duh! Back at the changing tent it was again off with the biking clothes, on with the lube
and back with the running clothes, new socks and running shoes. I bypassed the Glide
and went exclusively with Vaseline which was the way to go – highly recommended.
Another bathroom break, 2 gels (last solid food), Gatorade, Motrin, Guarana and salt and
I was ready to go. Remember the chafing on my neck from the swim? Well, I thought it
was sunburn and had Glen spray sunscreen on it and that is when I found out how raw
it was. As Ed Grimley would say, “that is a pain that will linger” (for those who don’t
remember look up Mr. Grimley on Google.) It was short lived and after deciding to leave
my drink belt behind I was out for the run after 15 minutes in the bike-to-run transition.

Biking through Coastal Carolina

The Run - 26.2 mile run
The bike-to-run transition was at the USS North Carolina which is across the Cape
Fear River from downtown Wilmington. The run route leaves the Battleship area and
spans 2 bridges to cross the river. The run then goes down and along the water front
before heading up and out to Greenfield Lake. To Greenfield Lake it is 6.55 miles so by
retracing the route to the Battleship it is half the run or 13.1 miles. Duplicating the route
makes up the marathon distance. There are hills on the course with the toughest being the
first bridge and when leaving the water front going both directions. The trip through the
downtown is great because of all the people and support there and over the whole race
was superb.

My goal was to run an 11:30 minute per mile pace and finish the marathon in 5 hours. By
electing not to carry my drink belt all my sustenance and hydration would have to come
from the aid stations on the course. I carried salt, Guarana and Motrin and continued a
regular regiment. I had on my Garmin and was determined to keep my pace slow as I
have a tendency to go out too fast. I did the first 2 miles at a 10 minute pace and had to
ratchet back my pace. I wanted to get to the halfway point by sunset when I would get
another special needs stop. I made it to the special needs by sunset but bypassed putting
on a long sleeve shirt and gloves and only replenished my salt and drank some Gatorade.
After leaving special needs and recrossing the bridge I decided to turn off my Garmin
and run the remainder of the race by feel. The sun had set and I was at the 14.05 mile
mark and my pace was 10:48 minutes per mile excluding the 3 minutes I spent at special
needs. This was well ahead of my goal pace but as advertised the Ironman starts on the
second half of the marathon. But I felt fine and when I came back through the waterfront
in Wilmington my sister Emily was there with Glen and they both had cow bells – seeing
them great – cow bells not so great.

In running marathons I had always reached a point where I “hit a wall.” I waited and
waited to hit this point in the race but never did. Not sure if it was the slower pace,
the avoidance of solid food (drank only chicken broth and flat coke on the run) or the

weather but as the race went on I got stronger. The last 12 miles was faster than the
first 14 with my pace at 10:39 minutes per mile. I do think that comfort played a role
and by not wearing my drink belt and using Vaseline on my feet versus Glide for better
coverage, it certainly improved my disposition. Or as some of you have noted, I might be
a little obsessive or as I prefer Calvin Coolidge’s explanation that “nothing succeeds like
persistence.” In the end the run took 4:44 hours and a 10:48 minutes per mile pace, well
below my goal.

B2B Marathon and Ironman Finish

I arrived at the finish at 8:02pm at full sprint and my total time was 13:02 hours. Glen
and Emily were there at the finish and took care of me by collecting my stuff and
transporting stuff and racer back across the river. Emily walked my bike back which was
3 miles – thanks Em. A quick trip to Waffle House for some hot chocolate and Em was
off to Raleigh and Glen and I back to the hotel to end the day.

The Journey
The race had ended in the span of 13 hours but the completion also marked a point in a
journey that started 5 years earlier on April 11, 2005. That is the date Jake and Tim took
me for a non-smoking treatment. From there small steps from doing a triathlon grew to ½
marathons, marathons, 50 triathlons by the time I was 50 and finally the Ironman. In a
span of 50 months there were 158 races, 13 ½ marathons, 3 marathons, 4 Half Ironmen
and on August 21, 2010 my 50th triathlon 2 days before my 50th birthday. I had lost 60
pounds and quit drinking along the way in May 2010. Not sure if journey or
transformation is the correct term but over this span of time by deciding to change and to
act my life had completely changed. I have come to the conclusion that happiness is a
choice and there are two paths we can choose. In the song “Racing in the Streets”, Bruce
Springsteen describing this choice in the lyrics “Some guys give up living and start dying
little by little and piece by piece, some guys come home from work and wash up, and go
racing in the street.” I believe this is a choice we make throughout our lives and
depending how vigorously we pursue our choice determines the life satisfaction we will
achieve. It’s easier to make those choices when you are young but as you get older
responsibility, risk and fear become deterrents to making life changing moves. My goal is
to overcome these deterrents and continue this journey, to decide, to act, to risk, to change
and to grow.

I think as time has passed since the race the accomplishment has sunk in a bit. I think on
that day I thought of it as another race but have come to realize it means more than that to
me. A quote I cut out this year and have pinned to my board is from Arthur Brooks who
says, “The key to happiness is not being rich; it’s doing something arduous and creating
something of value and then being able to reflect on the fruits of your labor.” Previously
I had referenced the foundation of such an endeavor being the support, encouragement,
inspiration, leadership and teamwork of friends, family and fellow participants. I believe
that these aspects or virtues are also the things of “value” that have been created that all
of us can reflect upon. Thank you to all for your help and inspiration and allowing me to
help and inspire as well.

Angel’s Triathlon 9/17/06: Snake and Shark help the Pony finish


  1. Awesome story, Tony. You've definitely convinced me NEVER to do a triathlon!

  2. Awesome! I am headed to this race for a HALF. Thank you for your recap!

  3. Dear Davidson Area Running Team,
    Please add the Santa Hustle Smokies 5k & Half Marathon to your race calendar. The race is on December 10 in Sevierville, TN and will be a great winter themed race for all who participate. For more information please visit our website.
    Thank you,


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