Ironman NOLA 70.3 10th Anniversary Edition

When I moved to New Orleans a couple years ago, I was excited that I was going to have a 70.3 distance race right in my backyard.  Do my favorite distance without having to travel?  Sign me up!  And so I did.  Last year.  Unfortunately, because the universe is cruel, my race involved 30 of us huddled under our tent in an insane thunderstorm.  The race was ultimately cancelled which was really a bummer, though understandable.  But there’s always next year, right?  Fast forward to, well, a month later and I signed up again for the 2018 edition!

Pre Race

Hey, cool, it’s the 10th anniversary of the race!  Hey, less than cool, it’s the last anniversary of the race.  I’m not exactly sure the reasoning but NOLA 70.3 has run its course (so many puns there) and will not be back after this year.  While registration is low for an Ironman sponsored event, it’s hardly a small race with over 900 finishers.  I’m not privy to the financials involved but I have to imagine it’s a low margin endeavor.  But at least I’ll get my one shot at this.

The day before the race was a little rainy but nothing major as a minor cold front blew through.  I don’t think it even rained in the area of the race that much since my bike’s pads were pretty dry when I got back to it the next day.  I was keeping an eye on the weather and while it looked like it would be windy on the bike with around 15 mph winds, overall the weather was looking pretty great since it was going to stay cool and heat is my kryptonite.

Race Morning

Like most mornings, I woke up.  Then I snoozed my alarm.  That’s when Melanie reminded me I had a race to go to.  Oh yeah!  I actually did a good turnaround at that point of getting up, dressed and a solid breakfast of oatmeal, banana and an espresso before getting out the door.  Melanie was a bit surprised when she found out I had a full breakfast before leaving.

I got to transition right at 5am when it opened.  I’ll never stop saying this but don’t get to transition late!  You’ll never know what you need to deal with on race morning and the lack of stress from having plenty of time to check equipment and fully set up is so key to race day.  There’s enough to stress over, don’t add to it.

There was one thing I noticed when I got to my bike and starting setting up and that was how windy it was.  Uh oh.  I’ve lived this story before.  It wasn’t as cold as Florida was but it was almost as windy.  The promised 15mph winds were more like 20 – 25 and then I heard an official walk by discussing shortening the swim over the radio.  

Sure enough, at around 6:30 or so, they started making announcements about the swim.  Basically, we were in a holding pattern until safety vessels could get into place but they had to cross the lake from where they were and it was a 4 – 6 ft chop which the small craft couldn’t cross to get to the harbor we were in.  Finally at 7 we got word that we’d start at 7:30 with an abbreviated swim.  Most of the participants seemed to take the news pretty well as we laughed about the swim which was maybe 1/3 of the original distance.

Swim

Well, given how slow I am at swimming, I try and start as early as is feasible in a rolling start since I don’t mind a little bumping during the swim.  I just want to get to my bike as soon as I can.  The NOLA swim start is pretty congested and slow to get through though it’s actually fairly organized as they send you off 3 at a time.  Just getting onto the pier itself is a bit of a drag.

The shortened swim had us swimming between the docked boats for about 150 meters, then turning right in the harbor for about 300 meters, and then swimming back to the swim exit, another 150 meters.  I got out to a decent start and the swim between the boats was really calm.  Once I hit the turn though, I entered the washing machine.

Wow, I’m not at all upset that they shortened the swim.  That water in the harbor was choppy!  Definitely the roughest water I’ve swam in in a while and that includes Alcatraz this year.  But I was also only out in the chop for about 10 minutes so it wasn’t very difficult to manage.

My final swim time was pretty disappointing but not unexpected.  I was doing really well in the pool until I broke my elbow earlier in the year and for a variety of reasons did not do a good job of getting really back to it.  With such a short swim I wasn’t really worried about my overall time at this point.

T1

I need new bike shoes.  Mine are already starting to wear out from heavy use and really slowed me down in transition.  I also need to start practicing transitions.  There is no reason this should have taken me 4 minutes.  I took too long putting on everything from shoes to gloves.  I should have done this in half the time.

Bike

The bike leg is usually my favorite leg.  I’m still fresh and I love being on the bike.  NOLA 70.3 wasn’t going quietly into the night though so I knew this ride was going to be oscillating between fun and grinding.  We started off with the wind which was actually a good thing to just loosen up.  This was my first race on my P2 and I was excited to see how I did even if the conditions weren’t great for an awesome ride.

First problem (fortunately only problem) struck at around mile 3.  New Orleans isn’t known for having the best roads and some rough patches shook my aero bottle right off of the bike.  I was moving around 26 or 27 mph at that point so there was no way I was going to try and stop and recover it.  It was a 2 loop course so I considered maybe grabbing it on my way back around.  (I did not…I never felt it would be safe to do)  My only real concern was losing 1/3 of my EFuel so early.  Fortunately the weather was so cool that 2 bottles were more than enough for the remainder of the ride.

The rest of the ride was fairly uneventful.  I ride these roads frequently on my Saturday morning rides so I’m very familiar with the route.  The stretch by the lake was the only really nice spot since it’s actually very scenic.  But that’s a very short section of the ride so mostly I just was focused on grinding through the wind.  My overall time was fine given the wind.

T2

Same as T1.  I was just too slow here.  My legs were pretty tight coming off the bike and I had a tough time with my shoelaces.  I should have set them up a little better than I did.

Run

I have never done a 70.3 distance race and had a good run.  Just hasn’t happened.  My best was 2016 in Chattanooga where I had a 10:36 min/mile pace.  Given my standalone half marathon pace is sub-9, I’ve always been very frustrated by that.  And it doesn’t have anything to do with the bike.  I just don’t do well running in heat and by the nature of the sport, the run will be much warmer than my usual runs.

A few things happened this year that gave me some hope though.  I’ve just been faster all year.  I’ve set PRs at the 5k and half marathon distances (significant PRs too) and my runs all summer have just been MUCH better.  And this race was not going to be a hot afternoon.  So what happened?  I finally got much closer to what I think I’m capable of and I felt very unprepared for this race.  I had a 9:55 min/mile pace for the run which I’m very happy with.

The run itself was great.  It was definitely the most scenic part of the race and there was, to my surprise, pretty good run course crowd support.  There were lots of Lions out of the course cheering on the team (Go BNG Endurance!) and given how many of us were running the race, you basically couldn’t go more than a few minutes without seeing someone on the run wearing our kit.

Final Thoughts

Well, I only managed to do this race once which is a shame.  The venue was really mediocre to be honest and the swag this year was really weak.  But having a 70.3, Ironman branded or not, in your backyard is incredibly valuable.  Usually it’s such a big deal to get to one of these races, even if they’re only a few hours away so losing this one is really a bummer.  The challenge with New Orleans, ironically, is there isn’t really anywhere to swim in the city.

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