Ironman 70.3 Raleigh took place on Sunday June 1st. This is the second year of the event, though it seemed like a long standing event given the superb organization.
Packet pickup and the Ironman village were set up at the Raleigh Convention Center. Parking was convenient and the lines were a breeze on Friday around 4:30pm. The athletes’ briefing lasted about 45 minutes and was helpful to plan for Saturday and race day.
Saturday lent itself for a little training and the mandatory bike drop off at Vista Point in Jordan Lake. Jordan Lake offers multiple recreation areas to park and swim for $6. The roads were a little busy for cycling given weekend recreational traffic at the lake, but nothing too stressful. Vista Point was closed for swimming to allow for bike drop off between 10-6pm. The parking lot was a bit of a circus, but finding a spot was not impossible thanks to the volunteers on site directing traffic. Gabi and I dropped off our bikes, checked out the layout of T1, and didn’t stay any longer than we had to. In the afternoon we drove part of the bike course to get a flavor for the rolling hills and check out some of the railroad track crossings.
Race day started at 3:30am in Durham. Out of the house by 4am and in Raleigh by 4:30am. Parking again was super convenient, one block away and free. We went to T2 to drop off our run gear, use the porta-john (no lines) and hop on one of the 60 luxury buses taking athletes and spectators on a 40 minute ride to Vista Point. Perfect opportunity to take in pre-race nutrition. Once at Vista Point we finished setting up our transition gear. There was a bike support tent with lots of volunteers and pumps to inflate tires. Next stop was the porta-johns, which unfortunately had 20-30 people in line each (about a 30 minute wait).
The pros went off at 7am. The swim start consisted of about 20 age group/gender waves with a few dozen athletes each. Each wave went off 3 minutes apart, with the older folks going earlier than the younger athletes. My start wave was #15 at 7:54am. This allowed time for a swim warmup in a designated area off to the side of the starting line. Morning air temps were pleasant in the mid 60s.
The swim course was a triangle, with highly visible buoys and lots of support personnel in the water. The lake was calm and water temperature was 75 degrees, which made it swimsuit legal and put a big smile on lots of swimmers’ faces. I didn’t find a need for it and swam in my tri kit. The first few minutes of the swim I was surrounded by the 30-40 or so athletes from my wave, but eventually the waves mixed in with each other into a steady flow of swimmers. Swim exit was a nice boat ramp, though a little crowded to get out. Wetsuit strippers on the left upon exiting the water. Not much to say about T2 other than age groupers were not allowed to clip pedals onto bikes for flying mounts.
The start of bike leg is a ~3mile uphill that looks more intimidating on the elevation profile than it really is. The rest of the course is rolling hills. Every turn was clearly marked and staffed by police and volunteers. I’d say about 95% of the bike course was closed to traffic (with a dedicated lane for cyclists). Occasionally, however, a few cars found themselves sharing the lane with a steady stream of cyclists which made for dangerous situations. In fact, one cyclist unfortunately crashed against an SUV and had to be taken to the hospital. The driver was charged with reckless driving and disobeying police officer instructions. On a more positive note, spectators were fantastic all along the course. There were four aid stations on the bike course, which was plenty for the 56mi bike course.
The run course in Raleigh was lively with lots of spectators as well. It was a two loop course with a slight uphill on the way out. Temperatures mid day reached the upper 80s. Perhaps my favorite thing about the run was the ice-cold sponge I picked up at an aid station and put on my head under my hat. I re-wetted it at each aid station at every mile or so. Not every runner benefited from these however, as the aid stations ran out later in the day. The last quarter mile or so is an exciting run down Fayetteville St. (ie. main street) with lots of spectators and the finishing chute in sight. On the other side of the finish line there was food available, including chocolate milk, sodas, water, pizza, fruit, cookies, and pasta salad.
Post-race gear pickup was a breeze. Morning bags and T1 bags left behind at Jordan Lake had been brought over to T2 for athletes to collect.
Overall review: do it! I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Pros: great course, great spectators, easy pre-race parking and packet pickup, almost flawless logistics and organization.
Cons: long porta-john lines at Vista Point, and the occasional vehicle in the way of cyclists.
It was great to see fellow DC Tri Club athletes at Ironman 70.3 Raleigh. Together we helped the DC Tri Club take 3rd place in the IM Tri Club competition!