I had a GREAT time

2 November, 2011    I had a GREAT time

I got home to Richmond from the 2011 Beach2Battleship Iron Distance Triathlon (B2B) on Sunday afternoon a little before four. It was a perfect day for the ride home. And after spending nearly sixteen hours “racing” (I use that term very loosely) the day before, sitting in a car listening to music for four hours was precisely what I was in the mood for.

This was my fourth year doing B2B, held annually in Wilmington, NC. Wilmington is an exceedingly pleasant city and I enjoy my visit every year. The volunteers are excellent, the residents fantastic and the other athletes are wonderful. It’s beautiful every year. This was my third year having Mom and Dad come along down to visit; it’s great  having them there. This is amazing as well – Mom graduated from high school in Washington DC a long, long time ago. I’m 50 and I’m not even their oldest child, so do the math. Anyway, a friend of Mom’s from high school lives about a mile from the swim finish/bike start (a.k.a. “T1”) for this race. What are the odds? Mom’s friend’s name is Kay and she lives there with her husband. Kay fixed an absolutely superb dinner for the five of us Friday night and I was able to carb-load with abandon.

I got up at 4:00 Saturday morning to get ready. The swim start buses began heading for the beach at 5:30 AM and I had to be on one. Ironmans normally begin at 7:00 AM and end at midnight but sunrise in Wilmington on race day was at 7:28. And it was cloudy and gray and overcast and drizzly and the Coast Guard didn’t allow us to start until 7:25. It was fun standing out there on the beach in the dark in wetsuits chatting with other participants. People of similar intelligence and social skills, i.e. couldn’t find anything better to do on a Saturday morning in October than  swim in the freezing cold ocean in the dark.

This was the entrance to T1. Our bikes and bike gear were here. We got on buses and rode them 2.4 miles up the beach for the swim start.

T1, race day morning

From here there are no pictures for a long, long time, because Mom and Dad couldn’t find me until much – much – later. The swim was just incredibly fast. Unfortunately I didn’t realize that until I got out of the water and found I’d finished precisely one second faster than my all time best Ironman time. I did the 2.4 miles (3,800 meters) in 56:52. That amounts to 1:30/100 meters. By way of comparison, the fastest training swim I did all year was 2:10/100 meters. The current was amazing. My friend John, a lifelong swimmer and one of my early open-water mentors (I’m still wearing his old wetsuit) suggested the proper response to that swim is “what current?” The fastest swimmer of the day finished in an astounding 36:07. That breaks down to 57 seconds per 100 meters. Time yourself in your pool next time you swim. In a 25 meter pool like at my Y, that’s 14 seconds to get from one end to the other. For an Ironman swim, you have to do that 152 times. Unbelievable.

When I got out of the water I was somewhat cold, but not terribly. I have been much, much, much colder, as in one year ago at this race. Anyway, I get out of the water and I’m running across the dock and this person comes up and says “I’m a doctor, are you okay, you look a little blue.” I just smiled and said “no, I’m really happy!” and headed for my bike. Where I did in fact turn blue, but gradually thawed.

That bike ride was a grind. It was drizzling when I started out and didn’t stop for the first 20 or 30 miles. For the first half or ⅔ of the ride you’re going primarily north, and there was a cold front coming in. It was blowing the clouds and rain away, but it was blowing them hard and cold, right in our faces. According to my bike computer I did the first 56 miles at 13 mph and the second 56 at 16 mph. Including the last 2 or 3 miles when the wind was behind me and I was going downhill a little and going over 30 mph. Of the 8 ironman bikes I’d done before this, I’d never averaged under 16 mph. This year: 14.8. Oops. A spectator on the run course thought they were being cute and had a pre-printed sign that said “DON’T YOU WISH YOU HAD YOUR BIKE BACK NOW?” I guarantee you there was not one person in that entire race who wishes they had their bike back. It was a joy to finally be off it.

I’ve done plenty of windy bike rides. If it’s sunny and warm, everyone smiles and shrugs and complains in a good-natured fashion about wind. This was neither  sunny or warm. The best word I could think of was “grim” and there were no smiles or shrugs and the complaints were anything but good-natured. Athletes were very  happy to hand off their bikes at the bike to run transition (T2).

I thought I’d see Mom and/or Dad and/or one of their friends when I got into T2. But they were nowhere in sight. I’d stuck my phone in my bike bag before the race and didn’t want to leave it there while I was “running.” I thought I’d be able to hand it off to Mom or Dad but carried it with me instead. I’m relatively certain that carrying my phone with me wouldn’t make the difference between a first and a second place finish.

So I was overjoyed to take my helmet off and trade my bike shoes for running shoes and head out on the course. I’m guessing I took this picture as I crossed the first bridge on the first (13.1 mile) run loop. Judging by the time. It was pretty out:

I crossed that bridge when I came to it

The loop crosses a couple of bridges and goes along the waterfront then around Greenfield Lake. I took a couple of pictures on the first loop as the light was beginning to fade; here’s one:

Enchanting Greenfield Lake (watch out for alligators!)

There were a few signs spray-painted on the ground. Here’s one I’m particularly fond of; it doubles as a life lesson:

Stay on path

My friend Evelyn gave me great surprise gifts to open at various stages during my race weekend. I love m&m’s, and the first surprise I opened was at 7:00 Friday morning (they’re not just for breakfast anymore) with David before I left. I’ve been with David three mornings a week for around nine months and all he’s ever requested to drink was coffee, orange juice or water. The minute I pulled out the m&m’s he said “can I have a glass of milk?”

So anyway, I’ve done triathlons since 1987, I’ve done over 120 including sprints and olympics and half irons and ironmans. I’ve passed over a thousand aid stations where they hand out drinks and snacks and water and Advil and everything a hungry or tired or sore athlete could desire. And I have never seen an m&m. I stopped at an aid station on my second loop of the run and they had everything in the world you could want, including delicious trail mix, but of course no m&m’s. I said to one of the people working there “you guys really need to have m&m’s – everybody would eat them.” She said that would be fantastic, was in complete agreement. I jogged a few more miles, hit the turn around for the final loop of the run and stopped at the aid station just after the turn. 6.55 cold, dark, tired miles ahead of me. And they said “can we get you anything?” and I look on the table and there must have been a hundred packages of m&m’s. How does this even happen? It’s an endurance athletics miracle. People were taking pictures right there; I handed them my cell phone. I’m holding a pack of m&m’s in each hand. This is what a happy athlete looks like. Remember, when this picture was taken I’d been “racing” for probably fourteen hours:

134 miles behind me, 6.6 to go - refueled with m&m's!!!

I just cruised in from there. Mom and Dad were waiting for me in the cold at the finish after my 140.6 mile, fifteen and a half hour jaunt:

The best support crew EVER!!!

I want to write so much more. But I am pressed for time. I may elaborate later; the experience was so rich it’s difficult to get it all across in one blog post. This picture is the battleship itself, the finish line, the next day just before I left. It’s the USS North Carolina:

USS North Carolina

I want to write so much about the food, both before and during and after the event. I want to write about the music I listened to on the ride home. Another day. The day after the race, Mom and Dad and their friends and I had our traditional post-race brunch at the Boca Bay Restaurant. I ate everything in sight. But for some reason the lox they had there were absolutely out of this world. Everything else was delicious too but those lox were just indescribable. And when I got home Alex had made up a great card for me and gotten me two different kinds of dark chocolate I’d never had before! Including one with espresso in it, yay! And the music on the way home was astonishing. As I’m pulling out of the parking lot, the first song is Subterranean Homesick Blues by Bob Dylan.

“Look out kid
Don’t matter what you did
Walk on your tiptoes
Don’t try “No-Doz”
Better stay away from those
That carry around a fire hose
Keep a clean nose
Watch the plain clothes
You don’t need a weatherman
To know which way the wind blows”

What a way to begin that drive.

Maybe a little more later. Thanks to everyone for their support and good wishes and great food and all the great energy. I used it all up and then some! Have a great day,


PS I took this picture of myself when I got back to my hotel room after the race:

See you next year!

Check out this excellent finisher's medal!


About Jay McLaughlin

I am a rehabilitation counselor. I have many friends with autism and traumatic brain injuries. They help me learn new things constantly. I hike with dogs at the James River in Richmond - a lot. I've completed an Iron distance triathlon a year for 11 years. My most recent was in Wilmington, NC in November, 2013. I currently compete in mid-distance triathlons. And work and hike and take pictures and write and eat.
This entry was posted in Dogs, Endurance, Flowers, Fun, People, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!). Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to I had a GREAT time

  1. Evelyn says:

    It has been enlightening to observe this process from beginning to end. Your enthusiasm is contagious (and I’ve really enjoyed watching you consume calories!). Bravo! xo

  2. Colin says:

    Nice work Jay, never done 140.6 but cheered on my wife Dana through 2 of them, truly impressive and inspirational.

    Had lunch with Kent last week. His says “hi” to everyone in Richmond!
    Let us know if you ever want to talk about taking a trip to Seattle for a visit.

    Email me at: colin@fredschoen.com

    Regards, Colin and Dana Slote

    • Thanks Colin, great to hear from you! And great to be done, as I’m sure Dana can tell you. I get my life back! Please tell Dana and Kent I said hello. I’ll shoot you an email in a few minutes. Have a great day,


  3. Amazing that you still had the energy to sit upright on the bed and and hold a camera to take a picture after that race!! You have an endless tank, it seems…! Congratulations, Jay!

  4. Hi Patti,
    Great to hear from you. I always have a little reserve energy left immediately after the race. That dissipates quickly and for several days the only energy I have is what I use for putting food in my mouth, which I do a lot. Thanks for the note and have a great day,


  5. Anne Adams says:

    What a great blog. I enjoyed reading about your event. Great Job!!!!

    • Hi Anne,
      Sorry for the delayed reply – and thanks for the note! I think I’ve seen you between the time you wrote that note and the time I made this reply! Thanks again and I’ll talk with you soon,


  6. Sky Strickland says:

    Awesome blog. Congrats on your accomplishments. I am thinking about my first 1/2 Ironman, but just thinking at this point. I have several 1/2 Marathons and a Full Marathon under my belt, so maybe open things up a little. Not sure yet. Thanks for sharing your adventure.

  7. Thanks for the note – and glad you enjoy the blog! It’s fun. You’ll manage a 1/2 Iron just fine. Remember – since it’s your first one, all you have to do is finish and it’s a PR. If you’ve done a Full Marathon, a Half Iron will be a piece of cake. Quick swim, a few hours on the bike, jog for a few hours, you’re done. Then you’ll sign up for a Full – no doubt. B2B is a superb venue. Hope to see you in October! Thanks again for the note,


  8. Stephanie says:

    Hi there – I enjoyed your race report! I have done two 140.6 races, Ironman Florida in 2011 and Ironman Lake Placid this year in July. You say you are slow….well, my first Ironman was 16:17 and my second was 16:43 (much harder course despite the improved fitness), so I have you beat on slow…LOL. I am looking at races for 2013, and am interested in the B2B. My biggest concern is wondering what the finish line is like for us “late” finishers. That’s part of the draw of the Ironman races… the finish line is crowded with people just screaming you in. Not sure how the non-IM races for 10:00 and later finishers. Any insight would be appreciate!

    • Hi Stephanie,
      I’m glad you enjoyed my race report! I have a ton of fun racing and nearly as much fun writing about it. I love re-experiencing the race. B2B this year will be my tenth 140.6 race; I’ve done it four times at B2B, 3 times in Durham, NC and twice in Cambridge, MD. B2B is far an away my favorite. But – the finish line is not crowded late at night. It is by no means empty, and there is all the food and drink and medical care you could want or need. But the finish line is not crowded with people screaming you in. Lots of people, but it’s not crowded. Wilmington is spectacular, the course is incredible, the crowd and volunteer support are amazing, and the race organization (Set Up Events) is beyond compare. I recommend it 100% – but the finish is not mobbed late at night. I hope to see you there in 2013! Happy training,


  9. Karen Walker says:

    Thanks for the race report! I’m looking at B2B for 2013. It will be my first full distance 140.6 and I’ve heard this is a well organized race and a good one for a first timer. Your enthusiasm has me looking for my credit card and the registration page! 11 months to go…

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  11. Liz C says:

    Thanks for your race report and your advice to just keep breathing during the swim. 🙂 I’m doing this race in 5 days!!! My first full distance tri.

    • Hi Liz,
      And thanks for the note! You are going to LOVE B2B. I finished the full in ’08, ’09, ’10, ’11, ’12 and 2013 and it’s one of my favorite races anywhere. I’m so excited this will be your first full. Remember – all you have to do is finish and you get a PR! I looked at the course maps after you put up this note and it reminded me of every minute of that race. I LOVE the swim at B2B especially – such a beautiful course. Swimming point to point is great. The ride is fantastic, hardly a hill on the course, and the run is spectacular. Especially around Greenfield Lake. For me one of the great pleasures of being a slow triathlete is being in the course late at night. Enjoy your first full distance tri – it is going to be fantastic. All best,


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