Sunday, December 21, 2008

Battleship Race

Here is the tale of Jimmy McCleary's latest race

Beach 2 Battleship
Iron-Distance Race



The University of Notre Dame football team made its first trip back to Chapel Hill this year after a 33 year absence. Their last trip was on 10/11/75 and I was there as a witness, when an unknown quarterback became Joe Cool.

It was my senior year at UNC and I missed the first half of the game because I took the LSAT exams that morning. I thought I would go to law school and save the world because you can’t have too many lawyers. At that time, the south end of Kennan Stadium was not enclosed, and if you were a student, you could merely show them your id card and stand in the trees and watch the game.

With 6:04 left in the game, Carolina was leading 14-7, when a back up sophomore came off the bench and lead Notre Dame to 2 touchdowns and a 21-14 victory. That was the day that Joe Montana started on his journey as Joe Cool.

Joe and I went our separate ways after that day. God saved me from law school and sent me to Wilmington NC, where I drank beer, played rugby, got married, floundered in the fast food industry, had a kid, floundered some more in the fast food industry, had another kid, (for the love of all that’s holy, won’t someone please stop that stork?!) stumbled into the Insurance biz, finally landing in Raleigh NC.

Joe on the other hand, was regulated to a Pro football hall of fame career, 4 Superbowl rings and millions, and millions, (did I mention the millions?) and millions of dollars in salaries and endorsements.

As I was standing on the beach, waiting for the start of this race and the light from the eerie glow of a peeking sun; I thought about Joe Cool again. I guess after all these years it turned out about even for us.

Well, except for maybe the molla. Did I mention the millions?


It is good to have this race in NC. The state has not had an Iron-distance race since the demise of the Blue Devil in 2005. The people at Set-Up productions, based in Wilmington NC, have done a great job in bringing this race here.

It is a point to point race, which means that the end of the race will be at a different location from the beginning. The start will be at Wrightsville Beach and end will be at the Battleship in downtown Wilmington; hence the name of the race: Beach to Battleship.

The 2.4 mile swim will be in the Intercoastal Waterway at Wrightsville Beach. The 112 mile bike will loop north of Wilmington in a counter clock wise loop, going through Brunswick, Pender, Blandon, Sampson, Duplin and New Hanover counties. The 26.2 mile marathon will be a double loop run through the city of Wilmington.

I am accompanied on this trip by my trusty side kick, number 1 daughter, Dr. Crystal Edwina McCleary Watson. She has volunteered for the race and has jotted down some notes that I will intersperse in the story with “quotation marks” under the heading of “Crystal’s Shenanigans”.


At the banquet, it was announced that the water temperature was 68 degrees making this swim wetsuit legal. (USAT rules allow this when under 78 degrees) I decided to go with a sleeveless long john because the arm motion is easier and 68 degrees isn’t too bad. The swim is going to be with the current, so everyone will have a fast swim. I swam part of this course years ago during the Wilmington Triathlon.

The racers are taken by trolley to end of the Island, the National Anthem is played and on very large speakers, (my kind of sound!) very loud music is piped in, getting all the athletes pumped and the horn sounds.

Nothing, but nothing, beats the adrenalin rush that occurs with the swim start in a triathlon. Nothing.

Crystal’s Shenanigans

“So once again my Noble Father is competing in a feat that only a small percentage of the human race can even imagine…yes, he ate an entire pizza in 5 minutes flat! It was amazing! Ok, ok, he didn’t quite eat a pizza…but now that I have your attention, I’ll tell you about his latest Ironman race.

“It was really cold the morning of November 1st. The swim start was not near the first transition area, so all us spectators had to walk down Wrightsville Beach (about 1.5 miles) to see the beginning, or just miss the beginning of the race. I, being the smart person that I am, came prepared with my Noble Husband’s bike that my Noble Father had fixed this summer. It was the only bike in the garage with air in the tires.”

The air temperature was 40 degrees and within a nanosecond of hitting the water, I knew I had made a big mistake on the wetsuit. I should have used the full suit. Many of the athletes had botties and ear warmers (legal). We had to swim out into the Ocean, take a right at the first buoy and swim up the waterway. The water was so cold that I could only swim the breast stroke because the water temp was making it difficult to breathe. I slowly settled into a rhythm after the turn and could swim freestyle after that.

Crystal’s Shenanigans

“Prior to the race start, we noticed several Hokies from Va Tech participating. They did some dumb little chant before the swim. Right after them, Dad and I cheered, “GO HEELS!” I’m sure they appreciated that. Stupid Hokies!

Swimmers are different from you and me. They dedicate themselves solely to this one discipline and have the training and coaching to match. In order for swimmers to get fast, they have to go fast.

Their coaches have endless drills with repeated sets and numerous options. They have floating drills, kicking drills, breathing drills, endurance drills, speed drills, interval drills, flat body position vs rotated body position, high elbow vs straight arm pull, tempo vs distance drills, built up speed, half speed, optimal cadence and always with a proper warm up and cool down.

And you thought it was as simple as jumping into the water.

Crystal’s Shenanigans

“Noble Father gave me his wedding ring to hold for safe keeping, since it can easily slip off in the water. I popped it on my thumb as he was putting his wetsuit on. When I wiped out my camera out to take pictures of the race start…fling! That ring went flying into the sand with all the shells! D’oh! But, don’t worry trusty readers! My keen eyes spotted it prior to all the racers running down! Thank goodness for contact lenses! Oh, and don’t tell my Dad! That was a close one!”

As the swim went up the waterway, there were people on their back decks and boat docks, drinking coffee and waving to the swimmers. A neat touch. The mayor of Wrightsville Beach was at the opening banquet and is scheduled for the awards ceremony. The swim finished at Sea path towers where there were ladders for us to climb out of the water. I looked at my watch and it read 1:19 and change. Unbelievable, my fastest swim by over 15 minutes. It was also my coldest and I was shaking nearly uncontrollably. A volunteer told me not to be embarrassed because the water temp was actually 62 degrees when measured that morning and in the mid 50’s in the middle of the waterway.

But the race organizers did a great job in thinking ahead because the locker room at Seapath was open and hot water showers were available to bring the body temp back up and fight off hypothermia. I spent several minutes in there.

Transition 1

Even with the fastest swim I’ve ever had, I’m still one of the last out of the water. Looks like everyone else had a fast swim also. This was the slowest transition I’ve ever had because I can’t get warm. I double layer for the bike and head out. Look, there’s the Doc.

Crystal’s Shenanigans

“The athletes have a ¼ mile run from the water to the transition area. Really long in this cold weather, barefoot and wet. Noble father looked liked death froze over. This, come to think of it, is not a bad description.”


The bike is a long loop through Southeastern NC. It is mostly flat to small hills. It should be a good record setting course, but I’m still shaking from the swim. There was also a head wind going out, which considering we are on the coast is to be expected.

Cyclists are different from you and me. They dedicate themselves solely to this one discipline and have the training and coaching to match. In order for cyclist to get fast, they have to go fast.

Their coaches have endless drills with repeated sets and numerous options. They have high-cadence drills, 30-30 drills, muscle-tension intervals, 2 x 30 minute test, long endurance rides, steady state intervals, power intervals, high intensity intervals. maximum intensity intervals, power profile training, recovery rides and always with proper warm up and cool down.

And you thought it was as simple as getting on a bike.

Crystal’s Shenanigans

“After Dad finished the swim, I wandered down to the volunteer check in. I offered to volunteer for the race weeks prior and was assigned the time slot of 10am-12pm to clean the swim to bike transition area. I emailed the coordinator several times to change my slot to an earlier time since I wanted to be downtown by noon for the run portion. The coordinator never got back to me. So by 08:45am (ish) I went to the tent to check in. The lady there found my name and gave me my volunteer wristband, but they had moved the t-shirts downtown already! I was like, “What? Oh no you didn’!” Anyhoo, I called my Noble Mother who was at Aunt Beth’s house helping to take care of my cute, little, baby first cousin once removed (Charlie). She convinced me to head back to the house instead of waiting over an hour here by myself. So off I went!”

All the aid stations have a port-a-john and are fully stocked with water, snacks, gels and very helpful volunteers. Heed energy drinks are available. This is a watered down version of Gatorade and it is being passed out like it is going out of style. Which I can only hope to be the case.

The loop goes into the part of the state that is infamous for the large hog farms and the pleasant odors that come with that but the smell is quite small during the race. The bike also goes through some of the winery’s that are used by the Duplin winery groups. These roads are also used on the Whiteville ½ Iron Triathlon every spring.

Crystal’s Shenanigans

“I pressed on downtown in search of my shirt! When I arrived at the new volunteer check in, the same lady from the morning was there. I showed her my shiny wristband and stated that I was in search of a shirt.! ‘Oh yes!’ said the lady, ‘Here you go!’ ‘Thanks!’ said I. ‘No, Thank YOU!’ said the lady.

“Oh, it was the least I could do! Ok, so I didn’t really “volunteer”, but I tried to. So there! Hey, I got a shirt out of it! Ha! And this shirt and wristband got me free food and drinks while I was waiting for hours by myself. Speaking of which, I can’t help be feel that I’ve forgotten something. Oh yeah, right, what ever happened to what his name? Noble Father?

Over the years I have developed a real soft spot for roadies. These cyclists are hard core but I admire their dedication and incredible endurance. I have done a number of charity rides with them and their hand- eye coordination while traveling in tight spaces, inches apart, at incredible speeds, where one wrong move can bring down the entire pelaton is simply amazing. And they make it look so easy.

One MS training ride this summer was called the Cup ‘n’ Cone ride (we got ice cream at about the 35 mile mark. Ummmmmm….Bannnnnnnaaaaa….Even now I can still taste it!) And it was held on a balmy July day when the temperature was only 900 degrees. It felt like the Sun was 2 inches from my head.

This ride prides itself in going up a steep climb they have dubbed: “Col De Lystra”, named after the road. It is a vicious climb and although my cycling has greatly improved (I had the 2nd fastest bike split in my age bracket in the Kerr Lake Triathlon) it is this kind of ride that brings me back down to earth and I realize how good those roadies really are.

As the climb was going up the hill, everyone was straining, spinning in small gears, snoot coming out of our noses from the stress and heat and on my left I see a single file group of roadies charging up the hill. They were in matching orange jerseys, serious men, men in their lower 30’s who have resting heart rates that match their ages and they were in a destructive mood, take no prisoners; there are no gifts coming from these kind of men.

As they powered up the summit, I latched on the back wheel, hoping to be the caboose on this freight train and for a few moments it worked. They towed my up like Grandpa’s tractor on a Sunday hay ride and then it was over. They hit the dump button and I was dropped off the back end, left to fend with paupers of the world, like so many nickels and dimes that fall out of the back pocket of Bill Gates, not missed and never mourned.

Depressing thoughts come out at that point. Legs are zapped and the mind begins to wonder: What’s next old man? What is your next stop in life, a Wal-Mart greeter? “Welcome to our organization, Mr. McCleary. You should know that all employees of your advanced age receive a 10% discount on all dental adhesive products. Here is your name badge and walker. Now go out there and make this company proud!”

No thanks, not for me. The pain I endure now, is better than enduring that pain later. Time to power home. This has been a disappointing ride. The cold from the swim put me in a hole and it took much longer on the bike than I wanted. I was shooting for under 6 hours on the bike but hit 6:37. And, I did bust some blood vessels in eyes from the strain.

But that’s ok. No Wal-Mart name badge for me yet.

Transition 2

We are officially on the battleship and this is really a beautiful set-up here. It is a picturesque view of the entire city from one side of river and the battleship on the other side. Very unique. The volunteers are great. They take the bike and helmet from the racers and rack the bikes for us. I keep on the same socks, put on running shoes and I have my fastest T2 ever in an Iron race.


The run is the same as the Wilmington ½ marathon run, just done twice. It is a scenic run though the city, waterfront, Greenfield lake and back to the battleship. But, I can’t help feeling that I’ve forgotten something. Oh yeah, what ever happened to what’s her name? Noble daughter.

Crystal’s Shenanigans

“They had ‘water taxis’ there to carry people across the river to the race end. These two little boats only fit about 40 people and the line was long! I waited in line for over an hour, just to get to the second transition area. I missed Dad get off the bike. When I was in line, there was a family ahead of me who obviously had never seen a triathlon before, let alone an Ironman.

Woman: I think the swim is like 3 miles, the bike is about 100 and the run is around 30 miles.

Me: (Dude! You are way off!!!)

Man: Huh, how long people train for these? Few months?

Me: (Where are you people from?)

Woman: What if the people have to use the bathroom? They can’t just stop can they?

Me: (Yea, they call it a “timeout”) :-P

Just then the man turned around and I caught a glimpse of his hat. He was a Dookie!!! No wonder!”

Runners are different from you and me. They dedicate themselves solely to this one discipline and have the training and coaching to match. In order for runners to get fast, they have to go fast.

Their coaches have endless drills with repeated sets and numerous options. They have VO2 max drills, speedwork, ( Aka fartleks, and no, as in my previous story, this does not mean what it sounds like it would mean. You do not go faster with more gas!) hill repeats, mixed-interval workouts, recovery runs, long runs, short runs, threshold workouts, negative splits, plyometrics training, emphasis on muscle activation potential and always with proper warm up and cool down.

And you thought it was as easy as lacing on your running shoes.

This is the first Ironman race that I haven’t cramped on the run. I stopped at every aid station on the bike to take in at least 2 gels and 4 salt tablets and coupled with the cool temperatures have really helped with the cramping. I did the first ½ marathon in 2:20, which is within 5 minutes of my goal.

Crystal’s Shenanigans

“While waiting for Dad to finish, other racers who finished prior (most being the ½ Iron racers) were collecting their things. I was wandering around the bike transition to take some pictures when a random racer stopped me.

Racer: Ma’am. Do you know where I can pick up my bag from the swim start?

Me: (Why’s he asking me? Oh right! The volunteer shirt! I must look smart with this thing on!) Ahh, I believe the bags were brought to the other end of the transition area, closer to the road.

Racer: Thanks.

Me: Anytime! (It’s good to help people!)

This run is sure bringing back memories for me. I lived in Carolina Beach/ Wilmington for 10 years and I left a small part of my heart in this town when I left. It impacted my life in many ways.

The run crosses over into Greenfield Lake which has a boarded up chicken restaurant on the corner. Thirty years ago that was a Hardees’s restaurant and I was the manager there when my son was born. I was walking on air when I returned to work. This ended up being a good thing, in light of all the grease that was on the floor!

There is a contest during the race on the aid stations. At the end of the race the athletes will get to vote on their favorite aid station. I’m voting for run station 5, which is sponsored by an Evangelical church in Wilmington they are blasting the airwaves with tunes from Mercy Me and Third Day et al. Righteous sounds to keep tired legs pumping.

The run goes over 3 bridges twice each, for a total of 6 big hills. Other than that it is a fair run and the sight of the USS North Carolina on the final loop is a sight for sore eyes, just as she was in 1942 in the South Pacific.

Crystal’s Shenanigans

“While we were waiting for the athletes to finish, the announcer said, ‘We’d like to take this time to thank all our volunteers! If you are standing next to someone wearing the green volunteer shirt, give them a hug and thank them!’ I had 3 people come and hug me! It’s good to volunteer! Anyhoo, my Dad finished the race with flying colors! Take that Hokies!! Peace out! Crystal”

I had my best run yet; 4:55 and although it wasn’t close to being the race I wanted, it was still my best Ironman by 22 minutes. Finish: 13:16:18.


Bill Scott and Jeremey Davis of Set-Up Events did an unbelievable job with this inaugural race. And they did it without the huge resources of WTC . With the community support that was evident during the race, it has the potential of being one of the premier races in the Southeast. The race organizers leased out the Henrietta III for boat ride around Wilmington the day after the race. We had a brunch and awards ceremony on the boat. While I was standing in the buffet line, I heard a lady say to her companion, that she couldn’t do this kind of race. She couldn’t make the commitment.

Commitment. Just another word, right?

I thought back to April, 1988 and Mrs. Mc and I were in the Caribbean for a cruise and the boat docked at St. Thomas for one of its port of calls. My buddy John Hughes and I dashed off the vessel for a day of bike riding and banana daiquiri drinking. Mrs. Mc went for a day of site seeing with some friends. When I was poured back in the boat that afternoon, I went to find her. I couldn’t find her anywhere.

I went back down to the loading dock and checked the last passengers that were coming on board. Mrs. Mc was no where to be found. I saw a red phone on wall. I picked it up and did what any American would do. I dial 0. To my surprise, the Captain himself answered the phone.

I explained my dilemma to him and he explained in broken Italian/English that he understood my problem and would have the Purser’s office immediately look for Mrs. Mc. As if out of thin air, as soon as I hung up the phone, two men the size of Texas appeared in front of me, folded their arms and glared menacing at me. They were a not to subtle message from the Captain that this boat was making its next scheduled stop on time. There were more destinations for these tourist to be fleeced.

I knew instantly that this was a defining moment in my life. And yet, I wasn’t remotely concerned, nervous or worried. I knew something those two long-shoremen wannabes didn’t know. I knew they were just doing their job. But this wasn’t a job to me. I had a made a vow to Mrs. Mc. some years earlier that I would never leave her. Ever.

I knew that boat wasn’t leaving that dock without one of two things happening. Either the Pursers office was going to be successful in finding Mrs. Mc. Or the blood from all three of us was going across that gangplank. There was no other option.

A commitment means that there is no Plan B.

When we returned to NC, we relieved my parents who had Grandparents duty and Mrs. Mc. remarked on how embarrassing it was to have employees from the ship screaming her name down every level until she was found. But I saw the look in my father’s eye when the story was told. I did the exact thing that he would have done.

A commitment is not training for a marathon or a triathlon. Any idiot can do that, just look at me. But think back at the people who made a difference in your life. It is never a politician or some boob from Hollywood. It is always someone personal, who went out of their way to touch you in some fashion. A family member or friend who touched your life when you needed help. That’s a commitment.

The least we can do is pass it along to somebody else.

Until next time,
Thanks for listening.
I’ll see you on the trial.

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