Raleigh 70.3, Or Why I Haven’t Posted Since February


I’ve been a little bit busy in the past few months. Last fall, after doing a few sprint triathlons, I decided to go big, and work up to a half-Ironman. Although, I’m in agreement with Logan, who said about one of these: “That’s not Half of anything!” Anyway, a half-Ironman is composed of a 1.2mile open water swim, a 56mile bike ride, and then 13.1miles of running, and the training, as you might imagine, takes awhile. I started officially training in mid-February, on my 49th birthday, actually, basing my schedule on Chris Carmichael’s book “The Time-Crunched Triathlete.” His book, I quickly realized, is for people who can bike and swim quite a bit faster than I can, but I took him at his word, that his training plan would get me to the finish. Like I had for my first marathon, I had two goals: to finish, and to not hate life during the race and its immediate aftermath.


Multi-sport training is exponentially more complicated and tiring than single sport training. It takes a lot more planning, a lot more careful scheduling, and a lot more eating! I started losing inches, then pounds, and started taking multivitamins and adding coconut oil and chia seeds to pretty much everything. The fatigue isn’t the typical soreness of a hard run, it’s a full-body, go-to-bed-by-8pm-on-Friday kind of tired. Thanks to a part-time work schedule, and a social circle composed almost exclusively of runners and triathletes, I still had a decent social life. And I was still able to go skiing with Chris, and spend a weekend in DC with Laura when she got back from deployment, so I wasn’t deprived. And I was able to work a race with my sister Jenny and friend Teena into the training schedule. And just in the last month, I got to meet some amazingly cool, people, like Sarah and Jon Potterton, who are super-encouraging and mellow, and Brian and Rachel Jastrebsky, who are awesomely talented and totally down-to-earth.

The two shorter races I had leading up to Raleigh didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. I made quite a few mistakes in planning and execution, but they were good learning experiences. In Charlottesville’s Olympic distance race, I had minor nutrition mistakes, and a big-time learning experience in the swim. Cold water in the ear canal causes vertigo. I should know this, but somehow I forgot, and when I got vertiginous, I panicked. Fortunately, rules allow for hanging in place on a rescue craft, so once I got my composure back, it was all good. At Kinetic, the single biggest mistake that I made was not having coffee in the morning. There were other things, but that was the start of it all. But both races gave me a chance to practice gearing on hills, and both gave me a healthy dose of reality-check.


So, anyway, Raleigh! The course was beautiful. Getting up early (and having coffee), getting to the swim start and seeing the buoys out, with all the kayaks and paddleboards along the line of the swim was a religious experience, especially once the sun beams pierced the clouds and lit the water. During the swim, I prayed throughout, with each pull. I didn’t have words, other than a paraphrase of St. Patrick’s Breastplate: “God be with me, God before me, God above me, God beside me.”

The bike course was beautiful, crossing Jordan Lake with a strong tailwind, over rolling hills, through rural and suburban areas, and into the skyscraped center of downtown Raleigh, where I was happy to see Dai and Denise Roberts at transition. It felt like I was coming into Oz’s Emerald City at the end, although at that point I was quite ready to be off the bike. I’d only done one 50+bike ride in preparation (I’m all about under-training), and had only just learned to safely get my water bottle out and drink while rolling. I was so excited to successfully snag water bottles from the volunteers at the water stations. Maybe a race wasn’t the best place to try this for the first time, but it was actually very easy.

The run was tough. It was hilly, and hot, especially starting at noon, but Raleigh organizers did an absolutely amazing job in placing water stations (with the most cheerful and helpful volunteers ever!) at every mile, with ice, cold sponges, different kinds of drinks and snacks. I was slurping salt off pretzels at one point. I had already planned to run-walk, but my plan to run 5minutes/walk 1 minute quickly turned into walk up hill/run everything else, which meant that I walked at least a third of the course. It was still fast enough to move me up the standings. I’ve experienced heat injury before, and I had no wish to replicate that miserable experience. Here’s a trick: cool your palms. It’s a fast and safe way to lower your core temperature and heart rate. I’d carry the ice in my hands until it melted. I’ll get around to doing the research on this trick eventually, but seriously, it’s gotten me through two heinously hot and humid races so far.

And then the finish line. The Raleigh fans were wonderful. One woman at mile 11.5 must’ve had a different and hilarious comment for every single person who went by her. And along the last quarter mile chute, there were the Wolfe family, Jessika, Jason and Cindy, and two blocks later, Jenny and her two boys. So motivating! I felt like I was just floating to the finish!




  1. mwhuntley · · Reply

    Wonderful post, Mary; great description of what it means to do an Ironman. You are definitely a princess warrior! So proud of you. Love, Mama

  2. Susan · · Reply

    Congratulations on your amazing accomplishment!

    I’ve melted ice in my hands to cool off. It works great. I’ve read that if you’re having heat exhaustion, you should put ice on your armpits or groin. But under more normal circumstances, that’s a little awkward. 🙂

  3. And you looked great at the finish!

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