I literally had nightmares about this race…that it would take me 6 hours to finish the bike…that everyone would be finished with the race and I would just be starting to run…that I couldn’t find the start line…that I couldn’t find my bike in transition..that I showed up and forgot all my gear…that I ran the run course backwards and then had to start over…You catch my drift. I’m talking weeks of bad dreams. Why? I was scared. This race was the unknown for many reasons. For one, I never did this distance. Two, due to multiple running injuries this year, I wasn’t properly trained for the run. And when I say improperly trained I mean I ran 3 miles once outside in July and that was my longest run. Most of my runs were on the Alter-G an anti-gravity treadmill that takes body weight off of you and creates less impact. With any race there is usually fear and anxiety, which is normal. But for some reason this time I felt I had so much to lose. But I also knew deep down that if I did finish it would be so glorious. And yet I kept myself from thinking too much about the feeling of finishing because I didn’t want to psych myself out.
I really put myself out there with this race I felt vulnerable and scared. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone, but more importantly I didn’t want to disappoint myself. I knew all of you readers would be watching and I felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders. I had been dreaming of this race and talking about it since that day in November when I signed up. I was in Boulder standing in a coffee shop waiting for the clock to hit 12:00, refreshing my page over and over. My heart was racing and then…I was in! There is always good and bad when you put yourself out there but in doing so I realized that I am not in this alone. We all go to the start line with the same emotions, whether you are elite, amateur, veteran….Everyone is second guessing their training, trying to think of what they forgot in transition, praying they don’t get a flat and all the while keeping an eye on the finish line.
And that was my goal – the finish line. I spoke to my mom leading up to the race and almost went into tears telling her how badly I wanted this. I haven’t really raced healthy since 2014 at the NYC Half Marathon. I am not sure why I was doubting myself so much, but she told me “if you want it – and I know you – you will do whatever it takes. And that is exactly what I did.
As the official health coach of the race I was sending out monthly recipes and tips to the athletes. It also meant arriving to Atlantic City early. I drove in Thursday night to meet the Delmo team who would be hosting the race. They gave me a run through of the expo at Bader Field and showed me where my talk would be. Once I arrived to AC my nerves slowly started to unwind. I relaxed a bit, realizing that I was in such good hands with the Delmo crew. I met with Stephen Del Monte the race director who has been just incredible during the whole lead up to the race. He had spent months listening to the athletes and covering just about every issues we may have had — placing a rubber sheet over a dangerous lip in the road, covering sand with a walkway so we didn’t have to run over it…He had gone above and beyond to make this an incredible experience for everyone involved.
The night before the race I spoke to my coach, Jonathan Cane. He knew how nervous I was. I am not sure if he was nervous for me but in any case he never showed it. He was confident I would finish. I told him I just wanted it to be Monday already and he told me no you want it to be Sunday morning you will do the best you could do on that day and not worry about anything more. He advised me to go hard on the swim and bike because he knew they were my stronger sports and we agreed that if I had to walk the whole thing I would still finish. We knew we would learn from this race and walk away with a better understanding of where I shine as an athlete. I spoke to him about John Blais and what he overcame and I thought, if he could do an Ironman, I can do surely this half. I turned my lights out and,before I knew it, my alarm rang.
Everything was packed from the night before. My overnight oats were in the mini fridge, I filled my water, put on my clothes, packed my nutrition for the race and off I went. Thanks to DelmoSports, there were several shuttles from local hotels that were going straight to the race. Never in all my racing experience have I ever had such a service offered by the race director. One less thing to stress about!
I got to transition and started to eat breakfast while setting up my gear. And in that very moment I decided I would not let my nerves take over. I would enjoy every moment of what was happening. I looked around me and took in the thousands of bikes and people everywhere. We were all in this together and I felt so comforted in that. I saw so many of the people I have trained with (they were racing as well) they came up to me to wish me luck on my first 70.3.I set up my transition area with all my bike stuff together and my run stuff together. I left my nutrition on top of my cycling shoes because I knew that is something I can easily forget.I found my parents who had woken up so early to watch me start the swim. As soon as I saw my mother I started to tear up and so did she. Not because I was nervous but because she knew how badly I wanted this and I knew she was nervous about me finishing. I put on my Roka Wetsuit and stood in line as I waited to swim.
- Nutrition: Overnight Oats one and half hours before the race, coffee and water.
The swim was cut short due to dangerous currents. I didn’t let that get to me – I was used to swimming in all types of conditions. One of the perks of training when the weather isn’t exactly on your side is that you can be confident on race day, no matter what. As we made our way into the water I saw Stephen, the race RD, gave him a hug and said thank you. We got to the first bouy and treaded water for a few minutes. I heard the announcer say we have Lottie Bildirici in the water racing her first 70.3….I had a huge grin on my face. I couldn’t believe I was here! The gun went off and the swim started.
Coach told me to draft in the swim (which is legal) because drafting makes it significantly easier, especially with a strong current. This is something I practiced during training. Once I got in a groove I found someone and drafted off of them. I knew there was a crazy current so I spotted a house on the right of me and made sure I was moving forward every couple of minutes, and that I was. I quickly realized that the woman I was drafting with was swimming slower than I wanted to. I swam a few hundred yards and found someone else. On the turn-around the current was pushing us so I went off on my own and gunned it, making up for the time I had lost fighting the current.
There were a few ladders to get out of the water with tons of people helping everyone out. Next thing I knew someone unzipped my wetsuit and I pulled off my sleeves. I looked at the wetsuit strippers and said “who’s my stripper?” found a nice guy and laid down as he ripped it right off. Wetsuit in hand I said “thank you! That was just a warm up. Now time to bike!” I quickly whipped off my lovely “‘stach” from the bay. Helmet, sunglasses, socks, shoes, bike gloves, nutrition and off I went. 1 down, 3 to go. This is happening!
- Nutrition: I knew I would have a salty taste from the swim so I kept a piece of gum and mints by my shoes.
I would enjoy this part the most out of all three disciplines. I love my bike – Cannondale Slice – a great triathlon specific bike offering speed and comfort. The course was just beautiful – flat and scenic, shaded country like roads, beautifully tree-lined. I was flying 20mph no problem. I knew that meant that the wind would kill me on the turn around. So I took advantage of it and kept a high cadence and went for it. The first 30 miles I averaged 19 mph – keep in mind I don’t think I ever went this fast in training, maybe only when I was drafting off of someone but max of 20 miles. I felt great. Every 15-20 minutes I drank and ate something. Although the ride was shaded and cool, the humidity levels were through the roof. I didn’t feel it at the time but I knew I would on the run. I set my Garmin 520 to alert me every 20 minutes as a reminder to eat.
Throughout the ride I noticed an unusual amount of support, cops and aid….I knew that if something were to happen I would be in good hands and I had nothing to worry about. I had the most amazing conversations on my ride. One woman came up to me and said, “Are you really 22? My daughter is as well but she’s in bed sleeping!” I chuckled and realized how insane this actually was being that there were only maybe 14 girls in my AG out of 2,800 people. Then a few people recognized me and said hi, told me what they ate for breakfast and that it was from my recipes…how cool is that? As we passed the 30 mile mark I knew I was more than half way done with the bike and felt amazing. I was waiting for the dreaded wind to hit. I ate a piece of the RXBAR I cut up as a woman passed me. She looked at me and said “passing” …but not for long! I ate the bar and zipped right past her, these little words of encouragement getting me through. At mile 40ish, once we finished the loop and had a straight way back to transition, I felt the wind pick up a little but nothing too crazy. I am used to training at the shore so what felt like a cool breeze was nothing compared to the wind I trained in. I went from an average of 19 mph to 18.4ish.
To put things in perspective I thought I would finish the bike in 3:30, averaging around 16 mph since it would be 56 miles! Maybe on a good day 3:15. When I got off the bike and saw 3:04, average 18.2 mph I was in total shock. And super excited! I dismounted and headed into transition. My fear of not making the cut-off disappeared as I saw my total time of 3:38, giving me 4 hours and 30 ish minutes to run 13.1 miles
Note: For all newbies or ladies who simply need more cushion on the bike like me, this is what I did: I slipped bike shorts over my tri shorts after the swim, giving me a little extra comfort for the 3 plus hours on the bike. This is something I practiced in training as well. And it works wonders!
- Nutrition: 1 RXBar (maple sea salt) cut into 4 pieces. 1 piece every 15-20 minutes, 1/2 Larabar, 1 water bottle finished every hour ( 2 bottles with Nuun, one with water) 3 cliff shots in total, about 1 every 20 minutes or so at the end of the ride.
All solid foods such as bars should be eaten within the first half of your ride. Your body is working very hard and after a while it will need simple sugars. That’s why its important to get the food in in the beginning and switch over to gels for the second part of the ride in order to prepare for the run. You don’t want to start the run on a full stomach. It’s also important to eat small bites of food, which is why I cut up my bars. (Same thing with water – you don’t want to drink a bottle of water all in one shot.) Your stomach will fight large doses of food so cut up the bar and take one piece at a time throughout the ride.
Run 2:37:20 12:00 PW (personal worst)
I got into transition and there was a volunteer there. Did I mention how awesome these people are?! He told me I looked great and that I just had a quick jog left. As I took off my cycling gear and laced up my sneakers I asked him if I was forgetting anything. He looked me up and down and said “you’re good.” I shuffled out of transition and heard someone scream “GO LOTTIE Running On Veggies,” I had no idea who this person was. The love and support I felt during this race was like no other – it was just the boost I needed and off I went. I knew the race would start right now. Having only run a few miles outside prior to the race I knew if my mind stayed in the game so would my body.
I needed something to make the time go by. I looked at the woman next to me running at mile 1.5. I asked “how do you feel? Wasn’t that a fast bike course?” We spoke for a minute and then she looked at me and asked, “Do you swim at Long Branch in the summer?” I nodded and then I looked at her face and it all came back to me. Last summer when I did my first tri and fell in love with sport, I went to a lot of open water swims after that race. One of those swims that I went to was ridiculously dangerous but being the person that I am, I showed up and was ready to go for it. As soon as I got into the water I realized how rough it was. Thankfully we were a large group but this one woman and I swam together and now I was running side by side with her! She had looked out for me and swam with me the whole time. We had spoken about Ironman, both agreeing we would never do one, but she told me she had done halfs. I said maybe one day I would do a half. And now, exactly one year later I find myself among over 3,000 athletes running beside this woman! I screamed and said, “Oh my god! Can you believe I am here doing this!”I won’t sugar coat this – it was a sufferfest. The only thing that got me through were the athletes who were suffering side by side with me. It was hot and humid with no shade. I knew they were hurting like I was and I mentally gave myself permission to visit every aid station if need be. I got to mile 3 and all my friends were volunteering there. They gave me a cold sponge and water. At every mile there was an aid station and at every station I told myself to just get to the next one. I ran under the showers on the boardwalk and that felt amazing. I looked down at my Garmin and saw I was running an 11-12 minute pace – I didn’t even know that was possible. But I knew that I was moving forward and that’s what I had to do. The run was an out and back on the boardwalk so you were never alone and always surrounded by people, which was so nice. One lady passed me and said, “I saw you on the bike – you were a beast.” But she quickly passed me. I looked for any and all signs of encouragement and they sure did lift me up. I saw people struggling and I told them to smile but deep down I knew the smile on my own face was slowly fading. Then I reminded myself – I am so lucky to be here. I wanted to be here so badly. So I’d better smile because I am actually happy to be here! At mile 8 it seemed real the miles were slowly but surely passing by. Before I knew it I was entering that famous finish line. Lined with red carpet and hundreds of people on both sides, the noise got louder and louder, my legs got faster and faster…I was crossing the finish line. My eyes filled with water and my lungs maxed as out I sprinted as fast as I could and I heard my name being announced. I did the impossible! Well, at least what had once seemed impossible.
Total time of 6:19:54
- Nutrition: water and ice at every single aid station! Yes, every mile it was hot. I have never done this before. At past half marathons I never stopped to get water. This time I drank frequently and had a cliff shot every few miles. Towards the end of the run I ate pretzels that I was given on the course…..I made sure that for the run I trained with the food on the course because I did not want to carry anything. And I’m happy I did!
Completing this race was so much more to me then just a half ironman. I wanted to inspire others. Before last year I had never swam in a pool, let alone in open water. Before last year I could barely ride my bike. But I loved the sport and wanted to achieve something I wasn’t sure was possible. I believe that when doing any type of race or setting a goal it is important to feel a bit scared. To question yourself (and your sanity!). I don’t expect to always succeed but at least I can be sure that I will always walk away knowing I did whatever I could to reach my goal.
What’s next? Well that’s the big question. I loved this race so much and I hope to come back and race it again, this time with a more competitive edge. I will do shorter races throughout the year but I haven’t picked my A race for next season just yet. I hope to see more familiar faces next year at the Atlantic City Half Ironman. My legs are numb, I can’t walk up or down stairs, but none of that matters. I will forever remember this day.