B2B Ironman Race Report

Trish DowningRace Blog1 Comment

B2B Ironman Race Report (November 2, 2008)

I like to think that I’m not a quitter. So I guess that’s how I managed to get myself registered for yet another Ironman.

This time I headed to Wilmington, North Carolina for the Beach 2 Battleship Iron distance triathlon, a first year event. I decided to go to the race for a couple of reasons. First of all, the website said the course was fast and was a great place to set a PR. The other is that it was a small, low-key, first year race, similar to the Redman where I had my first shot of finishing an Ironman in 2005. I had hopes that the race director would allow me to continue through the bike time cut in case I was unable to make it. My goal: a chance to cross the finish line, making the bike cut or not.

Steve and I arrived in Wilmington on Tuesday, October 28th.  I could tell the minute we headed out of the airport that I was in trouble. It was 9:00pm and it was FREEZING outside. Not like Colorado freezing or 32 degrees freezing, but definitely not my idea of triathlon weather. Although I had brought some warm clothes for the race, I wasn’t sure I had enough to keep me warm in the current conditions.

We spent Wednesday and part of Thursday checking out the town and the course trying to figure out the logistics of this somewhat complicated race. There were two different transition areas to locate, the swim was a point-to-point and we had to figure out how everything would happen in between.

On Thursday afternoon, Roberta, my friend and swim guide, joined us in Wilmington, as well as my east coast cheering section—my sorority sister Sandy and her husband Marc, kids Kira and Kylan and her Grandma and Paw Paw. We all met for dinner and the last relaxing hours before race day.

By the time I was heading for bed on Thursday, I could feel a slight ache coming on in my throat and the feeling that I was coming down with a cold. I didn’t sleep well that night because I kept trying to concentrate on making it go away. No luck. I awoke and knew all my thoughts of keeping it away hadn’t worked. But we had a lot to get done so I sucked it up.

Friday was for last minute equipment adjustments, a short ride and the race briefing. Roberta offered to make our sandwiches that we’d take along for the day so Steve and I headed out to the parking lot to test out my racing chair and make sure it was working properly. I got in the chair and as I was wiggling down in, when we heard a “THUNK!” Steve was standing in front of the chair looking at me and we looked around a second, but didn’t really think much of it. Then Steve walked around the back of my chair to help fasten me in and that’s when he said, “uh-oh.”

“Uh-oh what?”

“Um, your frame just cracked.


“Yeah, it’s snapped.”

I tried to give the chair a push on the rims and I moved forward about three inches. It was clear then that we had a problem.

I had known the tubing was weak and compromised from all the airline travel this year, but there hadn’t been time or money to get a new chair, so Steve had taken it apart and packed it carefully in a box for the flight. Unfortunately, it was closer to the end of it’s life than we could predict.

 I jumped out of the chair and looked down and sure enough the back of the frame was snapped in half in the back corner and to make things worse, as I had gotten out, I had inadvertently dragged my thigh across the jagged edges of the metal. Fortunately, I didn’t feel the pain of the eight-inch scrape down my leg. Already stressed and on edge about the race, I took my helmet off, slammed it to the ground and began throwing a tantrum. After screaming, crying and finishing my rant, I yelled at Steve “what are we going to do now?!?! I didn’t not train all this time to not race!”

Steve said, “Well, we need a welder.”

“How are we going to find a welder?!?!”

I went back to the hotel room and immediately got on the phone. I made calls to see if there might be someone local who could help me out with a chair to borrow. At the same time, Steve was in the hotel lobby with the phone book calling local welders. On his third call he struck gold when he talked to a man named Don, who could weld the thin aluminum of my racing chair. Don gave Steve an address and said to come on over.

Steve, Roberta and I piled into the car and started driving. About 20 minutes later we were in a residential neighborhood. When we came upon the address that Don had given Steve it was a house with a welding shop in the garage. Don emerged from the shop, as Steve unloaded the racing chair. He handed it off to Don and the two of them headed into the shop. Roberta and I didn’t even have to get out of the van, we just watched as Don took over and spent less than 10 minutes fixing the problem that earlier seemed like the end of the world. He was a nice, no nonsense guy who did us a great favor. Didn’t even charge for his work, just said it was great that I could race and good luck.

After that we were back in business, but our running around didn’t give me time for a bike ride which I had hoped for, so we took the racing chair to our next stop where we would have the race briefing. We put the wheels on the chair in the parking lot and I took a couple of laps to make sure everything was working and then we went to the meeting.

It was a pretty typical race meeting except for the added surprise of seeing an old cycling friend who I hadn’t seen since before my accident and meeting two guy wheelers who were doing the ½ Ironman as their first triathlon ever!

When we left the meeting there was still a lot of driving around to do. First, we had to find the beach where the race would start. Then off to T1, where Steve and Roberta would later bring my bike, then back to the hotel so I could get my things together. I had a quick dinner and was in bed by 8pm since we had to leave the hotel by 4:45am.

Race morning was chilly and dark. I was full of dread. My cold had me feeling less than ideal and I was anxious about the day. Steve, Roberta and my friend Sandy and I piled in the van and headed to T1 to drop off my special needs bags and then headed to the beach. While all the other racers had to take a bus from T1 to the beach since there was little parking there, we got a special “P.C.” parking pass and could drive ourselves. As the busses arrived the athletes had piled out and stood shivering in the cold waiting for race time. All the while we had the heat cranked in the van and we sat in there relaxing (well, at least there are a few perks for the wheelers). We also go to the beach early enough that I could get an extra 30 minute nap in the van. We ran into Kelly Bruno, a super amputee athlete who we know through CAF, and her mother so we invited them into our little heated party. Eventually it was wetsuit time and it was quite a sight to see me, Kelly and Roberta in the back of the van trying to wiggle into wetsuits and make last minute preparations.

When we headed for the beach, Steve and Roberta started to carry me in a fireman’s carry, but we soon learned that it was about a ¼ mile walk to get to the edge of the water. So Steve ran back and got the van and four-wheeled across the sand, picked us up and dropped us at the water’s edge.

I don’t know what the worst part of the Ironman is. When I think about it, I think each of the events overwhelms me in its own way. For me the swim is stressful with the waves and other racers crowding me and not being able to see my way along the course. The bike is long and causes a great deal of anxiety because of the time cut. The run, if I make it that far is, well, it’s a marathon. Enough said?

The one thing this swim had going for it was that it was in salt water, but instead of being an ocean swim, it was actually a protected channel. And, we would be swimming with the tide. They said it would be fast and I was hoping that was true. The other good thing about the swim, was that it was mostly a straight shot, point-to-point. For some reason, that seems to be better for me. Also, not having the waves I had to fight in Hawaii or the turbulence of Coeur d’Alene, I was able to lie back and relax through the swim. I only had to stop three times during the whole swim, which is a record for me. One time was because I couldn’t figure out what Roberta was trying to tell me, and the two other times, I had to clear my goggles because I had salt water in my eye. Each time, Roberta would tell me my time and it would give me more motivation because we were going so fast! I couldn’t believe when we reached the dock and we had done a 1:10!! That’s 20 minutes faster than my PR, thank you very much, Mr. Current. Steve was at the dock along with a couple of other guys, to pull us out.

Then we had to get across the street to T1. Towards the end of the swim, my hands were cold and I was unable to keep my fingers together on my right hand to catch the water very well, but I didn’t realize until I got in the changing tent just how frozen my hands were. The air didn’t help because it wasn’t warm either. I couldn’t do a thing for myself. My hands just weren’t responding. Roberta literally stripped me naked, put on my jog bra, my long-sleeved shirt, jersey and socks. All I did was try to hold myself up. Then she pushed me to my bike and she and Steve got me ready to go and saw me off.

Too bad what I saved in swim time, I sucked up in transition time, but I still had nine hours to do the 112-mile bike course, so I pushed on. As I was trying to peddle with hands I could barely feel, I was trying to figure out how best to get through the beginning of the ride. I started blowing on my hands through my gloves, but that wasn’t warming them. Then I thought I could stop and try to warm them up on the pavement. I tried to wiggle my fingers; anything to get the circulation going. I tried to reach into my food bag to get a gel, but when I clinched my fingers together and pulled them out of the bag, I realized they didn’t pick anything up. I tried again and again and couldn’t get them to grasp anything. I started thinking of my right hand as ‘robot hand’ because it was like it wasn’t even connected to my body. Since that wasn’t working, I decided to concentrate on keeping my speed up and although I couldn’t get a good grip on the pedals, my speed was okay so I wasn’t too concerned about my progress.

After an hour, I could finally feel my fingers and get some food into my body. My speed was under control and I was still with the field of the ½ Ironman racers who had started behind us, so I wasn’t on the road alone. After a couple of hours though, the other racers thinned out and then finally were gone. Of course, it wasn’t a first, to be on the a race course alone so it wasn’t so bad, until I got to a fork in the road where I wasn’t sure which way to go on the poorly marked (actually UNmarked) course. Even though we had driven the course a couple of days before, the map on the website was vague and we ended up missing several roads.

I started to make a turn and then decided against it, then went up the road, then turned around and turned around again. I began to panic! I was on my time schedule and knew I didn’t have time for mistakes. Finally, I decided to go with my gut, but I kept watching the ground for empty gel packs, water bottles; anything that would signify that the riders had followed this road. Eventually I saw a clearing in the woods that I remembered driving by with Steve so I began to relax. But by hour three of riding into a breeze, up some slight grades and beginning to tire, my speed was slowing below where it needed to be. I was frustrated.

I was wondering where Steve, Roberta and Sandy were in the van and I was starting to get bummed that my day was going downhill.

By about 50 miles, the van showed up and my support crew jumped out and cheered for me. As I passed, I warned them that I was off pace and I wasn’t going to make it. In the back of my mind I was still hoping for a massive tail wind for my way back to transition, but I knew it would take a slight miracle to make it in 10:15 (this time cut was 15 minutes faster than the other races I’ve done).

As I passed my crew there was another fork in the road and I began to ride straight along the road. Behind me they said, “take a right here Trish!”

I was skeptical. “Are you sure?”


So, I took a right.

Wrong! Now I wasn’t just frustrated or bummed. I was MAD! I was mad about being off course, I was mad at the crew’s wrong call, I was mad about the lack of course markings, I was mad about being slower than I needed to be. I threw my water bottle down at the ground, flung my food across the road, yelled, screamed and threw a tantrum. How could everything about this race be so dumb!

That was the beginning of the end. Once back on course, mentally I was broken down. I was over it. The day wasn’t going where I had anticipated and I didn’t want to be out there. Unfortunately, I had a good five hours left of riding. I pulled over and told the crew I was quitting the race.

“Don’t do that, you’ll regret it,” they told me. So, I kept going.

At some point, we had another support vehicle from the race start traveling with us. Two volunteers, Lou and Jonathan, drove in a truck in front of me, while Steve, Roberta and Sandy trailed me from behind.

Even with all the support I tried to quit again. No sympathy. So I said, “fine I’ll keep going if you call the race director and make sure that I’m not going to get pulled from the course at the time cut or kept from doing the run.” They called and confirmed. I had the green light.

At this point there was not a positive thought going through my head. I was mad at everyone in the van behind me. I was mad at the road in front of me.

Finally, I thought, REALLY, I AM QUITTING. I DON’T CARE ABOUT THIS ANY MORE! When the crew got out to see why I had stopped, I could feel a blanket of guilt suffocate me. Like I was going to let everyone down if I quit. I know they worked hard to get me there, but I wasn’t feeling support at this moment from my crew. I rode off without saying anything.

“Fine. I’ll do it,” I thought. “But don’t expect me to be nice about it.” I just kept my eye on Lou and Jonathan and wondered what drove them to want to stay with me for four hours and 10mph.

Whenever they asked me anything from the van or when they stopped to give me warm clothes, I gave one-word answers, if I said anything at all. I was pissed off and wanted them to know it.

After 10 hours and 20 minutes on the bike (and almost 12 hours after the race had started), I pulled into T2. This was another fiasco as I still did not want to go on and I couldn’t get squeezed into my racing chair (apparently I’ve gained weight) and I was all sweaty and sticky. I got in there and was sitting totally crooked and couldn’t get straight and settled in comfortably and had 26.2 miles ahead of me to push.

But, I headed off. “I’ll do one lap,” I thought. As I left transition, Steve, Roberta, Sandy and her family were there cheering me on my way. In the back of my head I knew I should just suck it up, but I was just in a bad mood that couldn’t be broken.

It was dark and there were still runners on the course. I slowed to talk to a few and told myself if I could find just one person who was still on their first lap like I was (the run course was two laps), then I would stick it out. But everyone was on their second loop. Great.

We hadn’t pre-driven the course and I thought it was supposed to be flat. I climbed up and over two bridges and then hit a hill downtown that was so steep I had to go up backwards. Then I started settling in a little but there were so many turns and I was still so mad, that I wasn’t doing myself any favors. Finally, after much longer than I’d like to admit, I finished my first lap.

As I set out on my second lap I started to pick it up a little, but as I crossed the first bridge, I realized the lighted arrows that marked the course had been taken down. Although the 17-hour time cut had not yet expired, they had figured that no runners should just be starting their second loop so they started taking down the course. They obviously had forgotten about the lone wheeler out there.

The run course was dark. And empty. No people anywhere. I was literally scared and thought I had better just turn around. It didn’t strike me as being safe to head out in a town I didn’t know, that wasn’t well lit and with turns on the course that I didn’t know or remember from the first lap.

Fortunately, I had paid just enough attention to some random curbs, potholes, and turns to remember the beginning of the course, but I knew I better hustle because once I got to the park I would be out of luck if the arrows were all gone. The park we went through was pitch black and was more like a forest with a winding path through it and there was NO WAY I could remember the course. About mile four or so of my lap I saw a police officer and asked him if he had communication with the race director or anyone who could alert the marshals and aid stations to keep the course open. He didn’t but he said, “I’ll follow you the whole way until you get to the finish.”

I took off at FULL speed and chased down the course. Once I got to mile six or seven, there were still some remnants of the course, but when I got to the park there was a curb that I had to get over. On the first lap there were volunteers there to help me, but this time, there was no one. I turned around to find that even the policeman wasn’t behind me. At this point, I started to get angry again, “I have come this far and NOW THIS!”

Just then, my escort pulled up and got out of the car. I asked him to get me over the curb, so he did and I took off. He couldn’t follow me on the path, but he could keep an eye on me as he drove the perimeter road.

By the time I got to about mile 23, I saw a few straggling runners, so I knew I’d be able to find my way to the finish. The officer followed me up and over the final bridge and then pulled off as I headed toward the line.

It wasn’t the grandest finish line crossing because I was still feeling sour from the day, but it was a victory for my support crew who were all excited when I crossed the line at 16 hours and 20 minutes. I may not have made the bike cut, but I did make the 17-hour overall time, which is better than my 18-hour performance at the Redman three years ago.

It took until our van pulled up in the hotel parking lot that I was ready to say a word to my support crew. I was grateful to have had such a dedicated crew, but is it possible that they were just a little too supportive?

The truth is, they know me. They know my goal if I didn’t make the bike time cut was to finish an Ironman in under 17 hours. They know how disappointing a DNF is and how you can never go back and change it.

One of my biggest pet peeves is people who think they know me better than I know myself. Fortunately or unfortunately, this time my support crew thought they knew what was best and the amazing part was that they were actually right. I will not say this was one of the best races of my life, but it was truly a test. And it was a test for everyone involved. It took mental, physical and emotional strength for all of us to get through this race. I might have been the one who physically crossed the finish line, but I didn’t earn the medal. This one was for my support crew. If it weren’t for them I would have hung it up at 56 miles of the bike. Thank goodness not only for those we love, but for those who truly love us back!





One Comment on ““B2B Ironman Race Report”

  1. Carly Waugh

    hey girl, occasionally I get on here and read your blogs and am always so much more inspired by you from the minute I start reading. I just finished my second sprint tri last week. Needless to say I cannot even imagine doing an ironman, I don’t know whether to just think its totally nuts or to think it should motivate me, but you are truly an ironwoman!! By the way I loved the muscle fitness article, and it is awesome to say they are helping to promote wheelchair sports, there is not enough of that in the media.
    By the way, I have some tri questions for you if you get a chance and can email me back. Thanks!
    Carly Waugh

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