Before I begin my race recap, I want to send out a heartfelt thank you to my coach, Jennifer (Jenni) Jageman Keil and the awesome team at E11even Athletics. Jennifer said that she would train me, work with me, and help me so that not only would I finish my first attempt at a Ironman 70.3, but that I would finish strong with gas still in the tank. She was not kidding! If anyone needs a coach for running, triathlon, swimming or biking, I strongly advise you to check out Elevenathletics.com. It was the best move I made in this adventure.
To anyone considering triathlon, join a triathlon club in your area. I belong to the Des Moines Triathlon Club, and they have been a Godsend. Between the advice, tips, camaraderie, and group workouts, they will have you up to speed in no time. Also get a sports massage therapist, and go at least once a month. My therapist, Amanda Lundstedt with Active Edge Orthopedic and Sports Massage, is not only a friend but also a fellow triathlete. She asks what I’ve been working on, and knows where I need the most work. Trust me, it feels good too!
I also want to thank everyone who cheered us on, helped us out, kayaked for us, or assisted in some way to make this dream a reality. You all know who you are.
So onto the race report. We arrived a week early to Raleigh, so we could get acclimated to the conditions, and to have a vacation (my wife Julie was attempting her first 70.3 as well). We were getting used to the warmer temperatures, both on land and in the water, but started to worry that the race may not be wetsuit legal. On Friday we attended the athletes meeting and our fears were confirmed: the water temperature was 79ºF. We left the meeting, toured the expo, and called our coach Jenni to see what should we do. Do we try it without the wetsuits, or go to the back of the groups and swim with it? We made a decision that if the water temperature did not lower by race morning, we would do our best without them. Jenni warned us that we ran the risk of overheating in the wetsuit with water temperatures that high.
Saturday: We went to Jordan lake for a quick 20 minute swim, 20 min bike, and 20 min run. We swam without our wetsuits and it felt pretty comfortable. However, the lake was calm and still, nothing like it was about to become. We finished our workout, dropped off our bikes in T-1, along with our biking gear, and proceeded 56 miles into downtown Raleigh to T-2 to drop off our running gear. The bike was a 56 mile one-way ride, thereby needing the two transition areas.
We decided to leave everything (bike gear or running gear) in their individual bags, because a storm was going to move through the area bringing a lot of rain. We made sure that the bag openings were turned down, so they wouldn’t catch the rain. We hoped that maybe the rain would cool things off, including the water temperature at the lake.
That night, the storm rolled through, dumping a large amount of rain. We knew that the officials would make the announcement at 5:00 am Sunday, so we bagged our wetsuits to take with us just in case. Now to try and get a little rest before heading to T-1 at 3:30 am Sunday morning.
Sunday: It’s race day! We ate a light breakfast, grabbed our carry bags (stuff for before the race and wetsuits), and headed to downtown to set up T-2 and get on the bus for the trip to Jordan Lake. Even with all the rain, everything in T-2 was dry. We set up our stuff and then got on the bus for the ride to the lake.
When we arrived at the lake, we found a very different situation: our bags were moved slightly, and the openings were left upward, so they were full of water. My transition towel, socks, shoes, even my bike gloves were soaked. I tried wringing them out, but they had adsorbed too much water. They would never dry in time. I decided to try my best getting dry and getting my socks on so I wouldn’t blister during the ride. I wasn’t so sure that I wouldn’t blister because of the wet socks. At 5am the official announcement came: the water temperature was 81º! It actually rose two degrees even with all the rain! That made the decision about the wetsuits an easy one: we were not going to wear them.
The Swim: For some reason, Raleigh Ironman 70.3 lines up the swim groups by age: oldest first. That meant I was in wave 4: first two pro waves, one 55 and older wave, and then mine. Being nervous not having my wetsuit was hard enough, now I had the worry of all those 20 somethings swimming over me. The lake, which was calm on Saturday, was now choppy and rough. I tried to remain calm as we entered the water. Suddenly the horn went off, and we were swimming!
It was a free-for-all. People banging into one another, swimming over top of one another, no concern for others at all. I tried to pace myself and stay out of the way, but seemed to get drawn right into the mix. We had not reached the first buoy when someone’s hand went up, signaling for help. All I could do was get out of the kayaks way and keep moving forward.
I made it around the first turn, and noticed that I had a little room to myself. I knew it wouldn’t last long, so I enjoyed it. The water was going in swells now, so I timed my breathing to be at the low point of the wave. I would try to sight the buoys on the crest of the swell. This worked until I was in another pack of swimmers, then I just did the best I could.
I finally made the second turn and headed for home. A mad rush of swimmers started picking up the pace, and once again they were swimming over the top of me. I actually had to shove one off of me! During this, I tried to remind myself to stay calm and not freak out, but I don’t think anyone would have blamed me if I did! I finally reached the shore, saw that someone hit my Garmin watch, pausing it. I clicked it on for T-1 and made my way to the bike: 1.2 miles – 53:39
The Bike: I got to T-1, tried to dry my feet off, and finally got my very wet socks and bike shoes on. I ate a HoneyStinger gel and drank a little before applying sunscreen and donning my helmet and wet gloves and heading out of transition. I mounted my bike at the designated spot and took off. The roads were amazingly dry already, so there were no concerns about it being slippery. The course was not too bad, lots of rollers with a couple challenging hills. But with every hill there was the opportunity to fly downhill, which I seized. 32 or 33 mph was easy for me to hit on this course, and would help boost you up the next hill. I followed my coaches game plan to eat or drank every 15 minutes, trying to intake 250 – 300 calories an hour. I was pretty close to that per hour, and could almost tell without looking at the time when I was due to eat or drink. Before I knew it, I was in downtown Raleigh racking my bike and lacing up my running shoes. My pretty bike ride had come to an end: 3:12:28. Average 17.4 mph for 56 miles!
The Run: The temperatures and humidity started to rise as we were on the bikes, but it wasn’t noticeable until we got off the bikes and started the run. It was now up to my two feet to finish this. I started out, and noticed that downtown Raleigh doesn’t have a lot of shade. This course was deceiving, as it was a two loop run that showed going up and then down twice in stair step fashion. It was anything but that. It was a steady up, with rolling streets that made it feel like you were going up/down, not stair step. Even the “downhill” had up and downs to it! By mile three, I noticed a lot of people walk/running, and after a few miles I saw that logic in that. Walk up the hills, run down the hills. Stop at every water station, drink Gatorade, get ice for your core, front of shirt, back of shirt, and under your hat, and move to the next water station.
After the first loop, you turned down a long street. In the distance you could see it! The finish line was there! But, as if they were playing a cruel joke on you, there was also a sign that redirected people finishing their first lap around so they could start their second. It felt like they were saying “You can see it, but you just can’t get to it!” So around the corner I went for my second lap in the heat.
On the second lap, I saw runners dropping out. The paramedic carts were flying back and forth, carrying people to the medical tents. I felt bad that those people made it so far, only to fall out on the last portion. I continued my method of stopping at every water station, walking up the hills and running down them until I got to mile twelve. I decided that I would build up my strength for .1 miles, then run the last mile in.
The Last Mile: When I turned the corner, there were people sitting at patio bars, drinking beer and cheering runners on. They would see your name and cheer you on as well, and it felt good to hear it, even though you knew they were only goofing off. Then came the sign, the one that told runners on their first lap to turn. It also told runners on their second lap to move to the right. That’s when you noticed the chute you were to run in, and the hundreds upon hundreds of people standing in the heat along the fence line cheering on the runners. These people were not merely goofing off: they were there with a purpose in mind; to get you to the finish line. As I made my move over to the right, a large roar went up in the crowd. “Here comes one!” I heard, and I almost started crying! Then I told myself to get it together, you have to get to the finish. The people in the crowd, none of them which I knew, were calling out my name, telling me how awesome I was, and that I could do it! “Only a few more feet to go!” “You are amazing!” “You’ve done it!” were just some of the encouragement the crowds shouted to me. It became deafening, and I smiled as I ran past, but tried to focus on that black square finish area, and that red and black carpet with the red “M-Dot” symbols I had longed to be able to run across.
I hit the carpet, I heard the announcer call my name and where I was from. “Travis Kneale from Des Moines, Iowa” and I threw out my arms as if being welcomed by family. Actually it is a family of sorts, and a very exclusive club as well. Suddenly I was across the finish line, I was done. I received my medal and finishers cap, took a photo, and got some water and stretched while I waited for my wife to cross. I watched the volunteers catch people as they fell, or walk them immediatly to the medical tent, and I couldn’t help but thank Jenni because I felt like I could have kept going. I felt good, tired yes, but good.
I finished the Raleigh Ironman 70.3 in 7:09:06. Not exactly the time I wanted, but with the heat and humidity, I will gladly take it. I didn’t get any blisters from the ride or the run, even with wet socks! My wife Julie crossed the line in 8:03:25.
That’s it! Eight months of blood, sweat, and tears came to a conclusion in 7:09:06. Hard to believe it’s over, that we did it. Now, we have a recovery period and then a sprint triathlon at the end of the month. Hopefully it will seem like a short workout! Then it’s time to discuss with my coach what lies next. I trust her wholeheartedly, and know that whatever we decide to tackle next, she will make sure I not only finish, but finish strong.
Live healthy, be happy!