I signed up for this race before the end of 2015, not sure if I would actually be able to do it, but it was fairly inexpensive (especially compared to Ironman-branded races, even if I can’t legally call this a 70.3…) so I went ahead and signed up anyway. Plus, it was staged at a small Episcopal conference center. Mostly I was nervous about the bike course. According to the website, it was “flatter than people imagine in the mountains,” but what does that mean?
Throughout my training cycle, I was diligent about seeking out hills and not shying away from climbing. I pushed myself in new ways, including a group ride with my cycling team that was challenging but doable. The week before my race, I asked my dad to take me on a route with a bunch of the bigger hills in Williamson County, and that ended up being a great confidence builder.
Driving from Nashville to Western North Carolina, the scenery changes from small, rolling hills to mountain forests as Interstate 40 climbs into the Smoky Mountains. The temperature dropped ten degrees from Knoxville to North Carolina, and the quality of the air changed – drier, cleaner. On my way to packet pick-up, I drove the last 20 miles of the bike course, including the largest hill on the course – a 1.2 mile climb averaging 6% (but peaking at 11-12%) at mile 41-42. Otherwise, the course didn’t seem any worse than what I rode at home, and there were beautiful sections along the river through the countryside.
Packet pick-up went quickly, and I stayed for the short informational meeting. As they warned us in an e-mail, there was limited connectivity at the race site. Most remarkably, the setting was beautiful. The lake was clean and clear, nestled among the mountains. I walked through the transitions and found where I would rack my bike in the morning. With a much tougher course profile than my first half-iron distance race, I didn’t think I had a chance at beating my time, so my intention for the race was to enjoy and soak it in.
I was awake before my alarm went off at 4:45 AM, made coffee in the hotel room, and ate a banana while I French-braided my hair and got into my kit. Packing up everything I would need for the next 8 hours, I was out the door by 5:15. The air was foggy and damp as I picked my way through the winding mountain roads in the pitch-black early morning. The race site was abuzz with activity when I arrived and parked, staying in the car to eat an RxBar, drink some water, and organize my nutrition. Smarter, more experienced people had flashlights and headlamps, but the guy next to me helped me pump up my tires with his flashlight.
After racking my bike in transition, I went to get my chip. Unlike the softer ankle straps I’d seen at other races, they had those plastic adjustable bracelets that you might get at a water park or beer festival. I secured it snugly to my ankle without too much thought, but it would come back to haunt me during the run.
Swim – 1.2 miles, 34:51
At packet pick-up, they announced that the lake temperature was 77 degrees. The morning of the race, they said it was 71, then later admitted they took the water temperature at the start and the finish (upstream in the river) and averaged them. I didn’t want to mess with a wetsuit, but I was one of a few people without one.
I was in the 4th wave, and we started right on time. It was helpful that my wave was all in bright pink caps so I could keep an eye on them. The swim was really enjoyable, perfect actually, definitely the best swim venue I’ve ever seen at a triathlon. I felt strong and confident as I passed buoy after buoy, eventually making the turn to head for the exit.
We were fighting a little bit of a current, swimming upstream into the river, and the water temperature dropped about ten degrees. Without a wetsuit, it was COLD, but it also signaled to me that I was close and to pick it up. When the person on the dock pulled me out of the water, he exclaimed, “Wow! No wetsuit!” I saw my mom, and she asked me, “Are you okay?” That was a little bit concerning since I figured either I had swum really slowly or I looked terrible. Really it was just that there were some other very fast women and they were expecting me to come out closer to the front. My time was 3 minutes faster than Route 66 and with a 1:40/100 yd pace, not too shabby!
When I got to my transition area, everything was covered in dew – my sunglasses, the Garmin on my bike, everything. I had to wipe down my sunglasses while I was readying the rest of my stuff, and I still didn’t manage to get my bike Garmin started on time. We had to run our bikes a little ways to the road where the mount line was, and then I was on my way.
Bike – 56 miles, 3:20:29 (16.8 mph)
I knew the bike course was net downhill and FAST for the first half, so my strategy was to watch my power and not crush any of the early hills. Per usual, a lot of people passed me, especially early on. After the first 10 miles, I was able to relax and get comfortable. As we climbed and descended some ridges, we got some beautiful mountain views.
For me, the bike course was ideal – enough climbing so that it was challenging but also broken up with some fast, flat sections. When I hit the water bottle exchange at 36 miles, I knew that the tough part was just beginning. Not surprisingly, the big hill at 41-42 miles was tough. I passed several people who got off their bikes and walked. While that was tempting, I knew I could grind my way up it and still have enough left for a strong finish.
We had to climb up and over another steep hill into transition, and at the top of it, I saw a cyclist stopped by the side of the road. I was about to ask him if he was okay, when I realized it was my dad! I wheezed out a “Hi,” and he cheered me on, chasing me back into transition.
T2 was a little rough. I messed up lapping my watch, so it told me to begin running when I still had my bike. Then I got through transition but quickly realized I forgot my race bib and had to go back and get it (not bad but still cost me time).
Run: 13.1 miles, 2:18:51 (10:36 pace)
The run course was two loops of an out-and-back course with the “out” being net uphill and the “back” net downhill. Fortunately, it was mostly shaded, but the first 3 miles or so felt brutal. I wondered if I would manage to finish. Once I hit the first turn-around, my mood improved dramatically as I seemed to float downhill for the next few miles. Coming back into the transition area, I caught up with a woman in my age group, and we encouraged one another. I was happy to see my parents and the other spectators, which gave me a huge boost, especially knowing I was going to be heading back uphill.
I kept telling myself to make it to the turnaround at the top of the hill. By this point, everything hurt. The aforementioned plastic bracelet was digging into my ankle with each step. I could feel chafing developing in my underarms and along my heart rate monitor strap. But all of that was dull noise compared to the screaming in my legs. Coming up on mile 11, I started to get very emotional. I was going to make it, probably even PR, in this beautiful location with my family and friends cheering me on. “I get to do this,” I thought. “I get to do this.”
I passed the last aid station and tried to put the hammer down, but there was nothing to hammer. The gal I had been leapfrogging passed me and then I passed her and then she passed me. Coming into the final stretch, she found a gear I didn’t have and left me in the dust as we rounded the field toward the finish line. After she crossed, she immediately collapsed with cramps, and I patted her on the back and congratulated her before getting a water bottle and my metal.
Total: 70.3 miles, 6:20:11
Overall, this was a great race, and I would definitely come back and do it again. However, if you have spectators, they need to be prepared with their own food, drinks, seating, and entertainment (books, card games, etc.) as the setting is extremely isolated (but beautiful!). I hope that I’ll cross that finish line at Lake Logan again some day, maybe even faster next time!