Race Report: 2018 Ironman 70.3 Gulf Coast

I originally signed up for this half before the accident because I wanted to have a chance to do all three sports rather than a duathlon like last year. I don’t get the Ironman Insurance policies for halves, so there was no way to get my money back; might as well race it despite being severely under prepared, both physically and mentally.

It’s a nice, long drive from Atlanta to PCB. You go through some of the most boring rural highways in the South. You start to question why anyone lives out here because I couldn’t think of any industries that’d be the lifeblood of the towns. The route is littered with Title Pawn Shops and PayDay Loan stores, but parts of Eufaula are very pretty. I guess some of Sweet Home Alabama was shot there.

The first stop upon arrival in PCB was athlete check-in at the Edgewater Resorts Convention Center. Boy let me tell you how underwhelming that was. The amount of swag you get or vendors you see has dwindled to almost nothing since Ironman was bought out by that Chinese investment group. They’re managing to kill the experience all for the sake of more profits. I get that’s what you want for a business, but if Ironman had any competing series in the US I’d switch over from branded races. (Rev3 shriveled up over the last few years and Challenge doesn’t do much in North America). And what’s the deal with Ironman giving us weird, shitty backpacks? The ones from last year are completely useless!

I’m going to take the opportunity now to rip Ironman for their lack of communication. I received ZERO emails from them about this race until I complained two weeks before race weekend. I received ZERO emails about being an All-World Athlete this year either. They DON’T respond in a timely manner. It’s been a month and I’ve heard nothing about the All-World Athlete [update: it took until July to hear back, so three months]. They have become even worse at this since the takeover of the race series. There are companies out there with outstanding customer service, like Garmin, and then there is Ironman at the other end of the spectrum, which is starting to rival Comcast’s customer service.

At the athlete meeting they said there would be no wetsuit strippers since it’s a 70.3. It irked me because most of the 70.3’s I’ve done had them except for Ohio. The expo had less than a handful of companies. NormaTec, Base Salts, Muscle Milk, 2XU & Orr Carbon Wheels. Base used to have free product samples, tubes and even a water cooler mix – well, not anymore. Muscle Milk used to give you a free bottle or two, they used to even do it after the race. Now you get a Dixie cup sample. 2XU had some close-out sale where D got more work compression socks. Orr is only there to sling their product. So the only things left to do is buy shit at the Ironman store or go sit in the boots for 15 minutes. The boots are kinda nice after driving for nearly six hours.

Next stop – hotel check in at Legacy by the Sea. This is our third time in this hotel, so we knew what to expect. What we didn’t plan for was tons of middle schoolers who knows where storming the joint. Needless to say it got very noisy by Friday. It’s easier to forgive that when you’ve got a view of the ocean from the 12th floor, just below the penthouse.

Friday was a chill day. Danielle and I woke up early and did a three-mile shakeout. Then we went to First Watch and Publix. After that she headed to the beach while I sorted all my race stuff into their separate bags. Then I shaved down before dropping my bike off at transition. It would be my first race with the new P5.

Now that all the race stuff was done for the day I went down to hang out at the beach and drink beer. I don’t take these races as seriously as most people, especially this one knowing the swim gets canceled more often than not here. When you know you’re not ever going to be someone who places high up why not enjoy yourself? If you end up with a hangover just keep a flask in transition to re-up. I’m not advocating this, it’s just a solution. Usually when you race with a hangover it disappears halfway through the swim, if not sooner depending on how cold the water is.

I had few beers on the beach. Danielle had half of the frozen margarita I brought down. It was a left over from last summer, but it hit the spot. After it had sat out for about 20 minutes it melted enough to where could break it up with a spoon to make a slushie. The West Stride cup kept it cool much like the Yetis.

Friday night I took Danielle out to this dive bar called “Sandbar”. She had found this place a couple of years ago and loves their bacon wrapped shrimp and a drink called “green tea” that Gerald the bartender makes. It was a good night other than my scallops being kind of bland. I’m one of those people who can eat anything before a race and usually be fine. I once ate leftover chicken wings the morning before an Ironman…actually I’ve done this twice. Shit I never realized how many times I ate leftovers the morning of the race.

There were some people who were booked in the room next to us that evening. Why on a floor of vacant rooms they had to put us next to each other I don’t know. Throughout the night I kept hearing knocking sounds (Danielle did as well), but I could never figure out what it was. Danielle didn’t sleep as well because I had the temperature a little too high for her.

The morning of the race I ate eggs and a muffin (not leftovers for once). I couldn’t mix my Perpetuem with the blender because I forgot it at home. I brought all of the components except for the fucking blender itself. I had to water it down a little more than I liked to make sure it all dissolved. The nice thing about separating all your stuff into three separate bags is its less stress race morning. It’s why I keep the gear bags from previous races. The three bags all fit nicely in my beat-to-shit Adidas duffel bag.

As I mentioned earlier in this report there was zero communication from Ironman about this race. Had there been I would have ordered Tri Tats. However, whenever I have extra numbers left over I hold onto them. When I went through them at home I was able to make two sets of my bib number, which was cool – it saved me $15. I just didn’t have the numbers for my age on my calf, but who gives a shit about that, no one is looking at my awesome calves anyway.

Before we even get to the nitty gritty of the race I’d like to state how overweight and out of shape I was. I was one corpulent mother fucker. Before the accident I weighed 160 lbs. and that was right after Ironman Chattanooga. I was in awesome shape. At this race I weighed 185 lbs. I had shed none of the weight gain I put on at in the first few weeks after the accident. It was so much weight Danielle asked me if I still fit in my Nuun racing kit. (Yes, I was able to fit in it and my wetsuit too).

We arrived at the transition area at about 4:40 am. We had a pretty good parking spot over in the strip mall plaza across from the convention center. Transition set-up was quick and painless Saturday morning. I laid all my things out on a hotel towel in order of what would go on first. My rack was on the end facing the fence. I couldn’t hang my bike on it by the saddle because the curb was too close, which meant I had to rack it by the handlebars. The day before the race director said he’d take care of this problem but never did. Then I looked around for Thiago & Marcos. I ran into them on my way out. I still had twenty-five minutes to kill before the swim start, so Danielle and I hung out on a deck by the beach.

I picked the corral for 27 to 30-minute swims. In the past I was more than capable of doing sub-25 minute swims, but that day I had no idea how fast I’d be; I had only swum nine times in last five months. I was just going to do this at a comfortable pace. I learned the day before the water was piss warm, yet still would be wetsuit legal. I did like the rolling start and self-seeding, it made things go very smoothly.

Excluding Beach2Battleship, this was my first race with an ocean swim. I wasn’t used to salt water, but I managed. I wasn’t used to the sand either, but what do you expect from someone who grew up in Northeast Ohio and hadn’t been to the beach much. You know what another thing I managed? I got stung in the face by jellyfish three times, and it probably would’ve been worse had I not had a wetsuit on. From 600 meters to 1600 meters there were tons of jellyfish. I’m not experienced with ocean swimming but I’m pretty sure it was a huge school. There was other sea life that didn’t sting me, like the stingrays I saw. My face burned a lot for the rest of the swim. On my way out of the water I wanted to stop and ask my fiancé if my face was fucked up, but I kept going.

I was out in 32 minutes and some change. That wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either. I couldn’t expect too much with how little pool time I put in. In transition I had a hard time getting off my wetsuit. When I stepped on it to pull my legs out it had become stuck around my timing chip. I was still out in 4 minutes.

The bike was absolutely terrifying to me, but it’s not like I had an easy way back to town on an out & back course. It had only been about seven months since I was hit head-on by an SUV while bike commuting to work. Excluding an early 6:30 am ride on a Sunday with Charlys (no one was on the road) I had no true road experience since my accident. I was much slower than I’ve ever ridden in a race. All my senses made me cognizant to my surroundings; everything scared me and left me feeling apprehensive. Even my friend, Marcos, saying “Yo! Yo! Yo!” as he passed made me tighten every muscle in my body like I was bracing for impact. I felt the rush of air every time a car whizzed by at 65 mph, it made me tighten up my grip on my aero bars. My grip was so tight that if I sneezed I could have ripped the aero bars off of the stem.

At mile 18 I heard “PING! PING! PING! PING!” It’s the sound only metal makes when it strikes the asphalt. I instantly freeze up trying to figure out what happened. The bike was brand new, what could I have possibly lost? The sun was directly to my right, so it cast a shadow on my left. I tilt my head slightly in that direction and saw one of my CO2 cartridges is missing from my X-nut. There was still one barely hanging on, so if it didn’t drop I’d be okay if I had a flat. When I got home I’d solve this by putting Loctite blue thread-locker on the threads of the cartridges. FYI, if you know nothing about Loctite thread-locker, blue means it’ll hold without coming undone, red is meant to be permanent, and green means you’ll never get it apart. Fun fact: The blue thread-locker label is red, the red thread locker label is blue…kind of a dick move.

Every time I had a car pull out of an intersection as I was passing through I began to sweat profusely as my chest tightened and my heart began to race. Intersections were the worst thing about that ride. I kept having flashbacks and seeing it happen as I went through.

I was able to make it through the bike despite being scared shitless. I had to do it all on feel since my power meter didn’t pick up (that’s the second time it’s happened in a race). The massive tailwind propelled my ass back into town and really shaved some time off an otherwise slow bike. Two legs down, only the run to go.

I could hear my number one fan, Danielle, cheering as I made the turn towards transition. I typically do a flying dismount at T2, but I hadn’t done them since before the accident and I was on a new bike to boot. As I swung my leg over I almost lost my balance and crashed. To save myself I hopped off 25 feet before the line and ran in. I was out of transition quickly, at least compared for my typical transitions.

My plan was always to do this run based on feel. I had started to work on that at Storm the Fort last year and had success. Now I didn’t have any other option as I didn’t know what time I could put out on the half marathon. By mile one I wanted to quit and told Danielle as I passed her. I was over this race, but she told me I can’t quit now. She was there to encourage me in two spots on every loop of the three-loop course and at the finish line. I ended up seeing her nine times that day. That’s probably better than if you bought the Ironman VIP package. Goes to show you it pays to scout & research the course to get the best viewing experience for your fans. Seriously, it does. She picked the same spot as last year on the run course that had a short street to get from one side to the other, and this year it was even shorter because we cut through the water park.

Anyway, I pushed on. I walked the only aid station that was shaded, and that was only for a hot minute. It was 90+ degrees, no overcast and nowhere to hide from the sun beating down on you. I started to regret the decision to not reapply sunscreen before leaving T2. You don’t have many options to thermoregulate. They did away with the cold sponges as they were deemed an environmental hazard. I kept throwing ice in my trucker hat and putting it back on my head since ice wouldn’t stay in my singlet.

After going through the shaded aid station the first time my paced settled in at about 9:50/mile. I felt like I could hold that pace other than slowing to the walk through that aid station each time. By mile 6 my feelings about the run changed; I didn’t want to quit anymore and wanted to walk less. I kept holding that 9:50/mile pace for the next two loops.

I picked up the pace for the last mile and a half, dumping everything I had left into it. The last mile was at 9:38 pace, I ran as hard as I could up the pedestrian bridge and used the momentum from coming down it to haul ass to the finish line (video). At that point I was running at sub-8 pace. I saw Danielle coming in and smiled at her. As I made the turn for the line I could see Marcos at the end of the chute cheering and holding his GoPro up. He got a really awesome shot of me crossing the line!

Looking back on the run and seeing the pictures I couldn’t see my bib number on my back. Somehow it managed to get tucked into the back of my tri shorts. Can’t explain that, but I also lost one of the clips that hold the number onto the belt. It’s actually pretty funny because I saw a clip to a number belt on the course, but never thought it’d be mine.

I ran the race I planned and came away with 5:33:25. I was happy with the result given the amount of preparation (or lack thereof) that went into this race and the fact that I was coming off a motor vehicle accident. My number one fan managed to get to me faster than I expected after I walked through the finish. She ran a lot that day herself and even managed to make a new friend to run with that morning to keep her company.

There was no wait for a massage after the race. Unfortunately, the volunteer seemed to not know much about giving massages, but it’s okay, it probably wasn’t his day job.

That night we were going to try to play miniature golf, but the line was extremely long, so we walked back to the hotel on the beach and watched the sunset. Something I forgot to mention…With the influx of people for the weekend there were tons of people renting scooters, golf carts and miniature crotch rockets. They don’t care about rules of the road and they don’t ride with helmets. They’re very loud all day and all night.

The long ride home hurt my legs and hips. The longer I drove without stopping, the sharper the pain impulses down my right leg got. These feelings and sensations have intensified since my accident. At this time, I decided I would take more rest before starting back up. I also decided this would be the last time I participated in this race. Fuck jellyfish.

Click here if you want to see the 3D course mapping video.

2 thoughts on “Race Report: 2018 Ironman 70.3 Gulf Coast

  1. Man, those jellyfish were so lame. I agree with you too about how underwhelming the event was. It kind of felt like “oh, what, you want us to do something for you?” Also, that run was utterly miserable. So hot.


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