PPD B2B held in Wilmington, NC has been rated as one of the top 10 triathlons to compete in. Having just completed the half iron distance this past weekend, I can confirm that it was an amazing race, well-organized, tremendous community support, outstanding traffic control, volunteer armies and a beautiful flat and fast (for some) course. This was my second half iron distance, my first occurring 5 months prior. It gives me pause to think of those having done the full distance … which would have been the equivalent of me doing both of my races on the same day. [I still can’t quite wrap my mind around that concept… though I had better soon figure it out as I have a full distance on my radar planned for the fall of 2017.]
As with any triathlon, there are the swim condition considerations, transitions, the bike course and whether it is hilly or flat, and then the run course. I’ll take you through my perspective of the experience. Keep in mind that I am not an elite athlete, but rather a full-time corporate manager with a huge passion for triathlon. What I lack in speed, I make up in determination. All that being said, let’s start at the beginning.
Packet pick up is usually first on the list of activities for any triathlon. Additionally there is usually some type of athlete meeting or briefing prior to the race, either the night before the race or race morning. For this race, because of the size of the race and complexity of transitions, the athlete’s meeting was available online weeks prior to the race. Before coming to packet pick up, athletes were required to view the video online, take a short test and print out verification that they had viewed the video and passed the test. Packet pick up occurred at the T2 (bike to run transition) location, the Wilmington Convention Center. It was incredibly organized and took me less than 5 minutes to retrieve my packet. There was a nice though smaller than expected expo. Inside the packet were my race numbers for run, bike and helmet, my body marking sport tattoos (very cool), my timing chip and chip strap, and my transition bags.
Transitions for the B2B were a little complex as the bike was a point to point ride, which meant that T1 (swim to bike) and T2 occurred in two different locations, versus the traditional T1 and T2 occurring together. This required some planning and organizational skills as the equipment that I needed for T2 had to be placed in one of the bags provided in my packet and left at the convention center the day before the race. In my T2 bag, I placed my running shoes, my gels for the run (though these weren’t necessary as they had Cliff Shot gels at about every 1.5 miles on the race course), an extra pair of socks, a visor, and my race number belt with number attached. I opted to keep my GPS watch with me and put it on at T1 after the swim.
After I checked in my T2 bag (hung my bag on a designated numbered rack where it remained until I showed up off the bike on race day), we headed over to check the bike in at T1 located at Wrightsville Beach. This was a mandatory bike check in. All bikes were checked in the evening before the race, and were guarded by police officers until race morning. Upon arriving at T1, the size of the race became clear as there were over a thousand bikes racked. It was amazing to see. I checked my air pressure in my tires and then pushed my bike to its designated rack. Each bike rack was numbered to hold 6 bikes. Once finding my proper rack, I racked my bike. There was no designated numbered spot on the rack, it was first come first serve. Athletes had the option of leaving their T1 bag with their bikes that evening or bringing the bag with them on race morning. I opted to bring my bag with me on race morning. I walked around and looked at all of the awesome bikes and met some athletes. After I said good night to Merlin (my Kestrel TT bike), we headed over to the water where the swim was to occur.
The swim was an inter-coastal water swim which meant that it was a salt water swim, but not out in the ocean. The race is such that the swim is in the direction of the incoming tide, so there is a fast current in the center of the channel that makes for a fast swim. The swim was also a point to point swim, which meant that on race morning they bused us over from T1 to the start of the swim and then we swam to the exit point and ran to T1. The distance from the exit of the swim to T1 was quite a long way (nearly 500 yards). Athletes were allowed to place shoes along the dock at the water exit so that they could slip them on to make the run back to T1. Highly recommend doing this if you are considering this race. The parking lot and road were very rough and with wet water-logged feet on a cool morning, this would have been painful in bare feet. The day before the swim, at the swim exit, a member of race support was there with a detailed diagram of the swim and personal knowledge of the water and swim. He was very helpful at describing visual cues for the swim, landmarks and ways to avoid unnecessary extra swimming by cutting corners around siting buoys. His input was unbelievably valuable.
For me, race morning followed a restless night of sleep, and I dreamt of the swim course, over and over and over. As I have never been a strong or fast swimmer, the swim is always one of the most challenging aspects of any triathlon for me. Needless to say, when the alarm when off I was happy to end my dream misery, get up and choke down my standard bowl of oatmeal and some coffee. I double checked my T1 transition bag and made sure I had all of the necessities:
- Bike helmet
- Bike shoes
- GPS watch
- Heart rate monitor
- Fuel for the bike
- Gatorade for my water bottles on the bike
- Body glide (Desitin)
- Ear plugs
My bag equipment confirmed, I then began the application of the sport tattoos / self-body marking. They were very easy to apply, though a little hard to read as when you placed them on your body you had to remember they were backwards until you pealed the backing off. Once they were on, they stayed on perfectly (for days!).
The drive to T1 was easy, not much traffic. There were buses that departed from downtown Wilmington to Wrightsville Beach for athletes only. Tickets were required and had to be purchased prior to race morning to secure a spot on the buses. My supportive husband who acts as bike training partner, SAG, photographer, cheerleader and chef also acted as taxi on race morning. I entered T1 just as the announcer was calling for all full distance athletes to load onto the buses that were headed to the start of the full swim. I fill up my water bottles and fuel bag on the bike, laid my helmet on my aero bars with heart rate monitor, sunglasses and GPS watch. I placed my socks in my shoes neatly beside my bike (as flying mounts are not in my wheelhouse yet). With everything set, I carried my wetsuit, goggles, earplugs and swim cap out to catch one of the trolleys heading to the swim start for the half.
The athletes only were allowed on the buses to the swim start. Spouses rode bikes or found other means over to the swim start (which was about 1.5 miles from the T1 area). It was very chilly and windy. Folks were bundled up in old clothes that once shed, would be collected for the Salvation Army.
Finally, the long-awaited call for the athletes to make our way to the water. The water was 72F and actually felt warm after standing out in the chilly 55F morning air. The current was very fast in the middle of the channel and once each wave made their way to the start (in water / treading water start) – they had to struggle a little to keep behind the starting line.
It was a good swim, lot’s of visual cues to help with siting. Lot’s of lifeguards on paddle boards so it was very easy to keep track of where to head. It was, though a fairly fast swim, still a challenge for me. Swimming is not my strength and such I had to work initially to not panic when I drank my first mouthful of salty water and then settle in to my comfortable pace. As a solid middle of the pack triathlete, I am very comfortable with my abilities and recognize that the race for me is vastly different from what some of the elite / front-runners are experiencing. Everyone’s motivations for racing are different; everyone’s challenges in racing are different; everyone’s outcomes are different; but always your race is your own.
Making it up out of the water is always a joyous event for me. At the top of the ladders, there were volunteers assisting with wetsuit removal. They were incredible. My wetsuit was off in 2 seconds flat. I ran to my shoes and slipped them on and then continued my 400 yard dash back across the street to T1. Once I got to my bike, I put on my bike gear and placed my wetsuit, cap and goggles into the T1 bag, tied it, and left it on the ground by my bike rack.
On to the bike next. It was a little windy, with an 8 – 10 mph wind straight out of the north. Mile 10 – 35 was due north, so I knew I was in for a grind. The ride did not disappoint.
Triathlon is a lonely sport. In the water there is only you and your breath. On the bike, often for miles you will ride alone only seeing someone long enough to pass or be passed, the quick “good job” and then back to your bike computer and your breath. It was a beautiful roll, the roads were in great condition. Mostly flat, there were a few overpasses and some small rollers but nothing challenging. Having cooked it on the bike in my first half this past spring, I purposefully took a slower pace on the bike in hopes of saving my legs a little for the run.
Coming into T2 at the Wilmington Convention Center was a really cool experience. As we dismounted and headed up the ramp into the center, a volunteer took your bike. I continued around the hall in the convention center as other volunteers were announcing my number and retrieving my T2 bag that I had hung in the Convention Center the evening before. With bag in hand, I headed over to the women’s changing area which was super nice. I changed out of the bikes shoes and took the helmet off, put on running shoes, placed all the bike gear back into the bag, tied it up and handed it to a volunteer as I exited the Convention Center onto the run course. The transitions were very long, but the facilities were super nice.
The run was a relatively flat course with a wretched hill at about mile 1.5 (up) and again at mile 12 (down). It was an out and back loop with the majority of the run taking place on a nice trail around the park. The town was super awesome to run through as many of the restaurants and shops had folks outside cheering. The aid stations were super entertaining and had wonderful, friendly, supportive volunteers.
For me the run was super challenging as I struggled with my left IT band starting at about mile 3. Dealing with the pain every step was rough, but with the encouragement from the volunteers and spectators, I kept with it and completed the race in 6 hours and 33 minutes.
PPD Beach to Battleship is truly an amazing experience! If you haven’t yet… TRI it!!!