After signing up for two different 70.3 races and getting too injured to even train two years in a row, toeing the line of my first 70.3 was something I’d been dreaming about for years.
I picked Atlantic City because the timing aligned well with my life this year — after a lot of weddings and bachelorette parties in the spring and early summer, I had most summer weekends clear for training before race day in mid-September. Plus, it was within driving distance and pancake flat, which was perfect for a non-intimidating first half Ironman. Even better, my friend Margaret decided to do this race too (and crushed it) – so fun to have friends on the course.
My sweet mom decided she was coming from Connecticut to cheer me on…then my brother was offered a free room at the Borgata thanks to some gambling luck at a recent bachelor party, so he was on board for the weekend, as was his girlfriend Lisa. Then DC friends Mike and Laura decided to come too. Next up, my college friends Mollie and Lauren decided to come from NYC and Philadelphia (respectively), and lastly my dad decided to join in on the fun. Woah! I was pretty much expecting to have Eugene cheering me on, which is what I am used to and it’s fabulous — so having a full on cheer squad was just amazing. Even thinking about it nearly brings me to tears!
The pre-race was fairly uneventful — Eugene and I drove up Friday morning, got into the hotel room early (thank you, Sheraton!) and worked remotely during the day. In my pre-weekend research, I had determined that Atlantic City is not exactly a foodie destination, so I decided where all of or meals would come from in advance which saved a ton of stress over the weekend, especially with me needing to eat specific things and with Eugene eating gluten free whenever possible.
Eugene squeezed in running and riding for Ironman Louisville training while I checked in, dropped off my bike, etc. Enjoyed using the Normatecs at the expo — definitely need to buy those at some point! We drove the bike course on Saturday morning – it was partially on the highway (cool!), extremely flat and not too scenic. The route was 2.5 loops which was a bit confusing, so it was really helpful to drive it and see what I’d be dealing with.
The entire group (minus Mollie and Lauren, who were coming in on race morning) enjoyed a pre-race dinner at the Borgata since my brother the would-be high roller had a $300 credit — thanks, Michael! It was a super fun and delicious dinner and great to chat with everyone before the race. Then it was off to bed nice and early to prep for the big day ahead! I actually slept really well which was wonderful.
I woke up at about 3:30am and immediately started prepping my breakfast — stuck to my usual pre-race/long ride meal of oats, egg whites, almond milk, banana, protein powder and cinnamon all mashed together & topped with a bit of peanut butter. I gathered everything I needed for the day (except my visor – boo! More on that later) and we met Margaret in the elevator bank at 4:50 to get to the race site at 5. The 2016 race had horrible traffic issues so we didn’t want to take any chances and have extra stress on race day. Luckily, no traffic problems!
Unlike Aquabike Worlds in Penticton, I had zero morning-of mechanical issues (thank goodness) and thanks to the world’s-best transition spot on a DC Tri Club rack, I could talk to Eugene (who was outside of transition) and Margaret (who was racked right next to me) while getting ready. Yay! One mistake I made that morning was drinking my bottle of Tailwind TOO quickly – I felt thirsty even after finishing it, but didn’t want to take in any more liquid than I already had. Note to self: take it easy, Lauren! Eventually my parents, Lauren and Mollie showed up ready to watch the swim start. I hit the porta potties, tugged on my wetsuit (so awkward, always), downed a gel, and smiled for a few photos before getting in line for the swim start.
The swim was a self-seeded, rolling start and I planned to get in the 36-45 minute category. My previous 1.2 mile open water swims in had been 47:51 in the ocean at Rev3 Maine and 48:28 in the bay in the Outer Banks tri, but I’d improved my swimming a lot over the past year and was confident in my placing. The water temperature was looking a bit iffy all week long, but luckily the race ended up being wetsuit legal.
The corrals ended up being a bit of a nightmare (the race director acknowledged that and says he is planning to improve for 2017), so I wasn’t even sure I was in the right place….but before I knew it, it was my turn to get into the dock (they were doing 6 athletes at a time) and hop right in. My first thought when hitting the water: um, this tastes like swimming inside of an oyster. Yup, the water was briny as hell and not in a good way.
I got used to the brine quickly and got into a nice rhythm, but noticed my goggles fogging up almost immediately. When I was pretty sure no one was behind me, I stopped for a hot second, got a little water into them to clear out the fog and started swimming again, crossing my fingers I’d be fog free. Luckily, I was — the 10 second stop saved me from 1.2 miles of frustration and inability to sight.
The rest of the swim was rather uneventful — the water was fine and I never felt crowded. One notable occurrence – for the first time ever, someone put their hand on my back and pushed me down, HARD. I’d like to think it was an accident, but the man who did it didn’t seem too happy about me passing him…so it may have been intentional retaliation. If so, yikes! Luckily, I don’t get flustered in the open water so I just thought “WTF?” and kept on swimming past him.
The swim was over before I knew it (helps when you do 3k in the open water a few weeks beforehand!) and when I got out and saw :39 on my watch I was ecstatic. What a great improvement! I jogged over to the wetsuit strippers and then over the timing mat, which meant the wetsuit stripping was included in my final time – no big deal but definitely would have preferred that be included in my T1 time.
After the race, many people reported feeling strong currents during the swim, but that definitely not my experience. Maybe I am used to them, maybe I am oblivious, or maybe they were more prevalent during the later waves, but I didn’t notice any currents at all.
Official swim time: 41:17, 15/74 in my age group 148/855 women, and 632/2467 overall. AWESOME! Garmin says 1:47 pace per 100 yards. 1 bottle green tea tailwind and 1 mocha Huma gel consumed pre-swim.
Boring – run to bike, note Margaret was already gone (YES!), down a gel, pop on my shoes and helmet and roll out.
T1 time: 3:44, had 1 mocha Huma gel and a swig of raspberry buzz.
After an uneventful T1, I hopped on my bike and got to see my parents, Eugene, Lauren and Mollie again (awesome!) before heading towards the highway for loop #1. I was feeling really good and really proud of my swim, which set me up for a happy ride – especially since the sky was overcast and weather was perfect for riding. I had a feeling the ride would fly by, and it definitely did. A few things worth mentioning:
- Lisa and Laura had joined the cheer crew by the time I got to miles 18 and 38, so I got to see them then. So fun! Apparently I was moving faster than the tracker predicted, because everyone almost missed me at mile 38 (post breakfast/hotel room checkout for them).
- The course was crowded, especially on the third lap. By that time, pretty much everyone in the race was out on the course (except for the very fastest racers) and it was annoying as heck. I was constantly passing people and could never get into a good rhythm. Slower cyclists are fine but the crowding made it challenging to ride safely while still maintaining speed.
- I wish there were more officials out on motorcycles – I did see a handful but there were a lot of people blocking for extended periods of time. Is that just what happens when it’s a race marketed to first-timers?
- While driving the bike course I noticed that the road was pretty ripped up right off of the highway exit…so I wasn’t too surprised that on my third time through that section (around mile 43), I heard some clanking as if someone’s water bottle had taken flight. Because there were about 10 other people riding within a 10 foot radius of me at that point, it wasn’t safe for me to check if it was mine, but once I got ¼ of a mile down the road, I checked the bottle cages behind my saddle and confirmed — yep, it’s my “dummy bottle” that holds my entire flat fixing kit. Oy! Luckily, no flat tire incidents AND I was able to drive back there and pick it up after the race – thank gosh since there was about $20 worth of gear in there!
- I passed Margaret at around mile 22 in the beginning of lap #2 – so fun to see her and cheer her on!
- I had my Alto wheels on (deep dish front + disc wheel rear) and had NO issues with wind, so would definitely consider this a disc-friendly course for those considering it in the future.
- My goal was to stay in z3, around 90rpm for the ride. My cadence felt great and while I rode strong throughout, my average HR was only zone 2.7 — something to work on for next time around and at least somewhat due to the frustrating third lap.
My big goal for the ride was to come in at under 3 hours — and the good news is, at the 56 mile marker, I was just under 3 hours. The bad news is, the course was about 1.2 miles long, which infuriated me (even though the goal was totally arbitrary). Hopefully I can do the sub-3 “officially” in my next race.
Twice during the race (once on the tail end of the ride, and once in the beginning of the run), random dudes complimented my cycling with comments along the lines of “girl, you crushed that bike course!” which felt amazing. Thank you, random dudes!
Bike: 3:02:39, 11/74 in my age group, 127/885 for women and 742/2467 for the whole race. Again – freaking awesome! I consumed 3 bottles of Tailwind (1 green tea, 2 raspberry buzz).
Again, uneventful. Short jog to the world’s greatest spot, swap out my shoes, put on my sunglasses, realize I don’t have my visor (UGHHHHH), pop on my hydration belt & race belt, swig some Tailwind and a gel and roll out.
T2 time: 4:41, had 1 mocha Huma gel and a swig of raspberry buzz.
Oh, the run. If you have been following my saga, you knew this was going to be a challenge for me. If not, the tl;dr version is that I broke my hip last year and have been easing back into running since December 2016, but taking it really easy and prioritizing swimming & cycling thanks to Aquabike Worlds training.
As I said in my pre-race brain dump, I was nervous about the run. And I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how the race went — I think this quote sums up the running portion pretty well:
My first few miles went fine – even though we were running on abandoned runways and the sun was starting to come out from behind the clouds (buh bye, perfect race weather), but my heart rate monitor wasn’t picking up (UGH, not AGAIN!) and I had to kiss my “stay in low zone 3” plan goodbye. Back to RPE it was.
To spare the entire play-by-play, basically, the lack of heart rate data plus increasingly hot weather plus my lack of confidence meant I began stopping to walk more than I would like to admit and my pace petered out throughout the 13.1. I’m not very proud of my performance on this portion of the race, but I AM proud that I persevered and made it to the finish line. I know there’s a lot of room for improvement in both my mental and physical fitness, but I did run a half marathon after riding 56 miles and swimming 1.2, so that counts for something.
Here’s a few fun highlights:
- Seeing my family was AWESOME! The boys had joined them at this point, so the whole crew was out and they were loud and crazy. I saw them first at mile 2, again around mile 7, and finally at the finish line. At mile 7, they were so loud when I was approaching that the guy next to me said “are you Lauren?” and when I said yes he started cheering for me too. So much good energy — and I desperately needed it!
- Since it was an out and back course, I saw Margaret around mile 5 and knew she’d pass me soon after. Not fun to get passed, but awesome to keep playing cat and mouse with her.
- The boardwalk was fun to run on — although it got boring at times, the northern part had some good people watching and lots of music playing from various storefronts which was a nice distraction.
- Around mile 12 my friend Marci spotted me as she ran past and shared some words of encouragement – so fun!
The day was getting warmer and warmer, so I filled up a bottle with Gatorade on my hydration belt at most aid stations in the back half of the run, always took ice and put some in my bra, held on to some, and chewed on some. Even though I felt really hot, my stomach did great and I had zero GI issues – something I’m really proud of!
As I neared the finish I was feeling a bit disappointed in myself but was finally running consistently again and picked up the pace a bit. I could hear/see my cheer crew which was awesome and felt pretty elated that I was able to come in under 7 hours even with a less-than-ideal running experience. Shockingly I didn’t burst into tears at the finish line and instead was just very ready for water and very scared I was going to drop the finisher pint glass they handed us!
Run: 3:05:43, 32/74 age group, 353/855 for women, and 1313/2467 overall.
Total time: 6:58:04, 33/74 age group, 359/855 for women, 1326/2467 overall. Shockingly not too shabby for a 14:10 pace on the “run.”
I was able to reunite with the crew pretty quickly, at which point we all took a Fireball shot (thanks Mom and Dad!) and snapped some photos and shared some highlights of the day. Most of the crew wanted to get on the road, so we bid farewell and then Eugene, Mollie, Lauren and I made our way to the shuttle back to transition.
Since this race, lots of friends have asked me if I’d do Atlantic City again. My answer has been: probably not, but I’d definitely recommend it to others! It was very well run and I have very few complaints — but I just didn’t love the course itself enough to have the itch to go back.
First 70.3: done. I’m so thankful to Eugene for coaching me and to the rest of my cheer crew for coming out to support me on race day — and for their support every other day of the year. Onward and upward to the next adventure!