So at the time I’m currently writing this it’s been about a week since Ironman Chattanooga and I’ve mostly spent the time sitting around being lazy, with the occasional very-short workout mixed in. haha!
Note: Now, at the time I’m publishing this it’s been six weeks… I’m still being lazy with my post-race training, but I’m still getting out for a short work each day ;)
That being said, let’s get to my recap!
My mom, my step-dad, and myself all raced in Ironman Tahoe in 2015 – I’ve written about that in the past I think. And back during that timeframe we talked about one day doing Chatt because my step-dad, J, is from Tennessee. Well, turns out it was actually my mom who eventually brought up that idea again a year or so back in conversation with J. They decided to race it, reached out to me to see if I’d be interested and of course my response was “That sounds horrible. I’m in.” Because how many chances will I get to race with both of them in a full Iron? This was probably my last one.
We had a few friends there, too.
My family will occasionally train with the “Team in Training” group in the SF Bay Area. I don’t really train with them, nor do I see them often, because I live down in SoCal… ok, I’ve lived down in SoCal most of the last 12 years. I bounce around a lot. But you get what I mean.
But there was going to be a few familiar faces at this race who I’d met in the past. Rebecca and Tyza being the main two I’m familiar with and had see often. Rebecca’s daughter Katie was also joining the trip to support her mom. We all met back in Arizona during Iron AZ when my mom raced in 2016!
Training for the Race:
At this point my training for races tends to almost be, well, lazy.
I look at so many events and gauge them by Ironman Tahoe when it comes to what fitness level I really, truly, feel I need to be at. Which in turn means that I slack off wayyyy more than I should. I think a lot of people do that after their first Iron though. You train incredibly hard for the first if you don’t exactly know what you’re getting into. Then on following races you think “I’ve done this, I’ll be fine… whatever”
My summer was also complicated by an impending move that was going to be timed for a few weeks after my race. This meant that while I could/should have been focusing on my training and working toward putting down some new PR’s on this distance of an event, I was instead distracted by job-hunting outside of SoCal and focusing on finding new leads back home in the SF Bay. So there were certainly days that it was easy to convince myself to modify or cut workouts short because I was just too distracted, or even stressed, to focus on getting a great workout in. I may not have pushed myself as hard on my run as I could. Or more often then not, I simply didn’t swim.
Actually, I barely swam.
Coming from such a long background in aquatics from Swim Team, Water Polo, Lifeguard Training for the Red Cross, and working as a Lifeguard… and having done other triathlons.. I wasn’t worried about the swim distance.
The entire month before the race I actually swam one time. LOL.
Flying out the Wednesday before the race.
Traveling out to this race was going to be a little tricky. My family flew in a couple days before I did. But because the race was in Chattanooga, and the sheer size of luggage I needed to bring I decided it would be easier to fly to Chatt instead of Nashville. The money saved by not having to rent a car and drive in from Nashville justified the increased cost difference of the ticket to Chattanooga.
So I flew out of LAX, connected through Charlotte (because hey, that was the cheapest flight that fit my schedule with a reasonable overall travel time) and landed in Chattanooga a little before midnight.
Arriving in Chattanooga they had a massive sign on the ground welcoming the athletes, too! Cool
Trying to figure out how to pack my bike into this bag.. I had to collapse my stem, handlebars, seat, and aerobars cuz I have a tall bike
Whew, done! Always bring gear from your coolest past-race.
A long evening of flying ahead
Welcome banner in Chatt!
It poured. Most of the day.
I woke up about an hour earlier than my family, so I quietly assembled my bike and got that all together. They got in the afternoon before so their bikes were already done.
Once we were all up and showered we grabbed breakfast there at the hotel. And headed to Ironman Village.
The plan was to Check In and do the the whole packet-pickup, then go ahead and buy our “name shirt” and maybe a jersey or something, then catch the first Athlete’s Meeting. We got through the Check In process without much trouble. Well, other then the entire Village being muddy and flooded, haha! And after you’re done checking in you do the typical “exit through the gift shop”. We all grabbed name-shirts and jerseys.
As we started walking around toward the Athlete Meeting we realized that the area we were in was completely fenced in. So we had to walk back through the muddy village, and then around it, to get to the Athlete Meeting.
We missed the first two minutes or so of the meeting.. and when we did get within earshot of what they were saying they seemed to be talking about some strange start procedure for the race. I stood with J just outside the tent listening and my mom went to sit down. I was slightly confused at what exactly they were saying about the start procedure for race morning, but honestly just played it off in my head thinking “None of what this lady is asking the speaker makes sense, but I have two days to figure it out”. As the gentlemen leading the meeting started to speak again he said: “..and let me repeat for those who joined and missed the beginning of the meeting. The swim has been cancelled..”
IT’S FLORIDA ALL OVER AGAIN, MAN!
I think I just laughed in shock with J as we stood there. Disappointed? Hell yes we were. Surprised? Taking a look just past the meeting at the river condition.. Not at all. There were literally tree branches and garbage floating by – at very high speeds – during the meeting.
People were upset. Some probably were pissed. And i’m sure a few were happy. I honestly DON’T get why people are happy when part of the event is cancelled. You trained for it… why would you be happy it was cut?
We stood and listened to the rest of the meeting. Suddenly that weird-start-procedure thing he was saying made sense. I was in Florida in 2014 when they cancelled the swim 10 minutes before we were to get in the water, so I knew what this guy was trying to describe. I’ve been through it before… albeit a much much messier version I’m sure.
They said they were going to start everyone numerically. Two at time. Every five seconds. Suuuuuure you are, guys. I’ve done this dance before. It’ll start going MUCH faster by the end as you just start rolling everyone onto the course. I tried to reassure and explain that to everyone the next two days before the event, too. That it won’t be nearly as long as “the math” says it will. Because it wasn’t like that in Florida with 3100 people. it won’t be that way here with 2800.
We left the Village after the race disappointed with the news. And soaking wet.
Oh well, we have our jerseys and shirts from the event, and we’re all finishing regardless
The rest of the day we had a few errands to run. Had to go to the bike shop for a few things. The grocery store, etc. And that afternoon we were going to drive the course.
Driving the course is something I’m personally torn over depending on the race. In Florida I didn’t drive the course because “it’s Florida and it’s flat and it’s just highway”. But in Tahoe I trained on the course because “it’s mountains and it’s technical and I lived there for a month to acclimate, too”.
Heading out on the Chattanooga course was a little confusing. We followed a Garmin GPX route that J was able to locate from someone online. But following your Gamin 1030 cycling computer while in a car, with family, while chatting, and forgetting to pay attention to the tiny Garmin… is a little difficult. And we were not 100% positive we had the exact route.
There were a few streets we were on that seemed as though they were side-streets taken by someone who rode “most” of the course, but may have been one-block over to avoid major traffic.
However on this trip driving through the course was probably more helpful on race day than I realized. I had a reasonably good idea about how long there were going to be rollers the first 30 miles. I knew ahead of time just how sharp the hairpin turn is. Details like that..
Then we stopped for lunch.
We ate at the Pigeon Mountain Grill – which was excellent. And as much as I would have loved to try their ribs, which apparently is one of the things they’re known for, I played it safe and got the chicken. I’m not superstitious about what I eat before races. However I keep my diet pretty much the same leading up to an event because I know how my body will react to different foods. So I’m not going to suddenly eat a bunch of red meat when I’ve eaten mostly chicken the last month with all my heaviest training, you know?
After lunch we headed out to drive the rest of the course.
And about 20 or so minutes into the drive back to the hotel it started pouring. And by pouring I mean “slow down it’s hard to see out the window” pouring-rain. So I think it’s safe to say most of us were paying attention to “the road” as we chatted on the way back versus paying attention to “the course” if that makes sense. I recognized plenty during my race that we drove through in the rain, though. Which means that even driving that course in bad weather still helped with visuals and a general feeling of where on the course I was during my race.
Getting back to the hotel later that afternoon I went for a quick jog. I needed to get something in because I’ve exercised every day this year so far (which is a huge pain in the ass, by the way). I joked with my family that I was only going to do a mile and keep it short and quick since that’s typically only 7 to 8 minutes for me. haha!
When I got back Rebecca and Katie were at the hotel, checked in, and with my family in the hotel room discussing what we were going to do for dinner.
We decided on Feed Co. Table and Tavern since it was only a few blocks from where we were staying. We met up with two other TnT friends, Jon and TC. TC was going to be racing with us on Sunday. Jon had taken time off from full distance races for a bit and said he was waiting for that feeling to push him toward signing up for another full again. It’s a massive time commitment, and anyone whose done one would agree with that “I’m not ready to commit” feeling.
Friday was going to be a short ride day for us. The weather was nicer, and already quite a bit drier out.
J had mapped out a cycle course for us that went around part of the running course – and he also threw in some climbing on the route. I just took the climb as “let’s shock the legs a little bit for a kick before the event” whereas the rest of the group saw it more as “WTF J? 900 feet of climbing in this little ride today?” Honestly I’d been doing a ton of my cycle training at high speeds on largely flat areas, so I welcomed a bit of climbing since I don’t do much here in Orange County and “flat SoCal”, haha.
Anyway, we got our bikes, met up with Rebecca, and headed to Iron Village to meet up with Tyza.
When we started out on the course it was a lot of stop and go. But that’s what shake out rides are, right? They’re there to figure out if your bike is actually back to 100% and you’re ready for race day. I actually had to adjust my seat before we even left the hotel. At Iron Village Rebecca had to adjust her derailleur. Once on the bridge J had to adjust his hydration pack and Garmin. And then while we were trying to navigate the course we had to keep stopping make sure we were going the right way.
And anyone who knows me knows that stop and go drives me up the wall. haha. Hell, my family even knows this.. that I’m not a fan of stopping in general. But this is one of those necessary things to do before Sunday – especially when you breakdown and then reassemble your bikes like we did.
So overall our shakeout ride was a mixed bag of getting lost on the route, and stopping a bunch. During one wrong-street U-turn Rebecca stopped quicker than I realized causing me to slam my own brakes and fall over into her ahead of me. Fortunately not too hard, and I didn’t do any damage to my bike thank god. But I did hit my wrist pretty bad and slightly sprained it.
definitely prettier than the SoCal rivers I was training on
That afternoon we headed back to the hotel, I iced my wrist, Mom rested, and then J and I went to buy some athletic tape so i could tape myself up for the race on Sunday.
Afterward we picked up Mom and headed to the college to grab ChickFila for a late lunch. And then went back to Iron Village to meet up with everyone and watch the opening ceremony for the race. They were going to have a few people speak, etc, so we decided to attend and see what was going on.
much nicer weather today
racks waiting for bikes
group shot from Katie
Dinner that night was at Beast and Barrel – which honestly had great food. But the service was incredibly slow. I don’t know if they were just understaffed or if they somehow just forgot to check on our party (which would be odd since it was a massive table), but it took nearly at hour to get our food that night and a few of us were at a point of nearly falling asleep at the table. And while most of us aren’t the type to “be that person who complains to the manager” as soon as we voiced concern there were suddenly several people tending to our table, all our drinks were refilled, and our food was suddenly on the way out.
Again, great food. But not getting our order til 930pm when we had an 8pm reservation was irritating. oh well. Sometimes you just have to deal with that on busy weekends during events.
Saturday morning for us started with breakfast once more downstairs with Rebecca and Katie. And then everyone was going to do a shakeout walk/run. For me, when it comes to short runs, I prefer to do those myself. I’m really just a very solitary person with training and triathlon. And I rather just go run my own pace and get it out of the way.
I also thought they were just going to do a jog around the hotel area. Turns out they were meeting everyone back down at the Village and doing their workout around the water. And while that sounded nice, and probably scenic, I’m just too much of a “get it done here and have time later” person. So I opted to stay at the hotel and a run a couple miles around the blocks.
After my short workout I got started putting my Transition bags together. It was actually surprisingly hard and a little annoying trying to plan out only one Transition bag. Typically you have your Bike Bag and Run Bag. But due to the swim cancellation, we only had a run bag. But there was also the “problem” of figuring out how you wanted to set up your bike, too, for drop off.
For example, figuring out your nutrition planning and differences and adjusting what you had on your bike or in your bike bento-box/pouches/whatever was the big change.
One bag kinda race
After my family arrived back, and we had our bikes and bags ready to go, we headed down to the Village once more for drop off. J and I rode our bikes the mile and Mom drove hers in the car so we would all have a ride back afterward. This also gave me a chance to tape up my wrist and see how it was feeling that day, while riding.
Bike drop off was quick. I was right at the very end of the rack. And bag drop was simple enough as well. One of the Ironman reps was standing there answering questions and telling people how the race was going to work. They would be collecting our bikes for us with a volunteer re-racking it. And then as we walked down the bag line, they would have volunteers there, too, to find our bag and keep us moving.
Photo from Mom
Afterward we wandered over toward the Aquarium to grab lunch at Puckett’s. Relaxed a bit that evening. And later on grabbed dinner at City Cafe Diner, which worked out really well since it was a short walk down the street and we were all able to get breakfast food. For some reason we all found breakfast appealing to have the night before the race.
Sunday – Race Day
Had temporary tattoos and a Little Debbie tattoo to add to my legs for race day
Getting up at 6am on Race Day was a bit of a weird feeling.
Knowing that typically we would already be up and down at the water, likely waiting in line for the busses to take us to race-start if things conditions had been normal, was a strange way to start the day. We got up and got dressed and headed toward the Village.
I had J’s Special Needs bags to drop off, and a few things to drop at my bike, and in my Run Bag. I had no Special Needs bags since I had no plans on stopping during the Ride, nor Run. Getting to my bike I taped an extra tube to my seatpost (I typically only have one taped to it. And I don’t use a seat bag since electrical tape is cheap and easy). I taped a Cliff bar and Uncrustable PB&J to my top tube on my bike. And as I was chatting with the person racked next to me, I asked where they had bike pumps so I could pump my tires. He offered me his to use since he was about to take his pump back to his wife who was waiting outside the bike pen for him. Awesome. He saved me the trouble of waiting in line for the pumps.
After making sure my bike was all set, I walked over to my Run Bag, dropped off my spray sunblock figuring I would want more later in the afternoon. Then headed out to meet up with everyone.
would be probably another hour until the race would start at this point – and likely 90 minutes before I was on my bike. Mom and I made our way over to the furthest row on portapoties… I’m tellin’ you, race morning avoid any and all of the closest bathrooms to the race start. Wayyyy too many people using those and you’ll be happier to walk the extra 200 yards to the “far away” ones no one has been using, even if you just gotta pee. haha!
Back outside the Bike pen I found everyone had met up with some of the TnT people. We all sat and were chatting, waiting for the race start just outside the bike paddock entry.
It was probably about 15 or 20 minutes before it was clear that we needed to all head to our bikes. We handed off out bags and shoes to Katie, and all headed in.
Standing at my bike chatting with the guys around me I realized my sunglasses were covered in water spots and I had nothing to wipe them down with.
I hustled over toward the portapotties – where there was a huge line – to grab a paper towel from the wash basin. As I cut the entire line I said “I’m not jumping the line! Just need a paper towel!”
“The way you were moving, I was about to let ya!” the guy at the front laughed. “You looked like you might really need to go..”
I laughed and said “No, fortunately not. But thank you!” That’s the great thing about every triathlon I’ve been to. Everyone is incredibly understanding when it comes to other athletes.
As the racks began to all clear and shuffle out the bike chute we were told to line up two by two.
Walking down the chute to the start line things were moving pretty quickly. I was correct in my guess that once the race started things would move much faster than “every five seconds”. about 100 feet from the start line we were told to put one leg over our bikes and scoot/waddle forward standing over the top tube. About 50 feet from the start we were told to clip in one of our feet. This was a surprisingly smooth way to do it.
Projected Time: 7 hr to 7 hr 30 min
“Good day” time: 6 hr 30 min (this was a target if I rode hard, but risked my legs/energy)
Actual official clock time: 5:49:54
At the start line they had us “get ready” and then “go” about every three seconds if I had to guess. Once people were a bike length or two ahead they were telling the next pair to start, getting everyone on the course quickly.
And we’re off!
The sidelines were crowded with people all through the chute and right after the start line.
We had a short little climb out to get going. People were cheering and yelling for everyone. It was cooling down really quickly with a slight breeze.
My ride in those first few minutes started like any “this is going to be a long ride” bike ride. I shifting around cracking my joints… rotating my shoulders , ankles, flexing all the muscles in my legs, and rolling my back. It’s a weird pattern of stretching I do to kinda loosen up as I get ready to relax down into aero and find my pace.
And then the rain started.
The rain started pouring.
This was right before the rain got REALLY bad
I was probably less that a mile in, certainly less than two miles, when it started to rain. And after the first sprinkle of rain it started pouring. Hard.
“Ok, I can do this for the whole ride” I thought. I was calculating possible speed, finish time, and how I would have to adjust my ride if it was going to rain the whole time.
That’s about when the temperature dropped. It wasn’t going to be a warm and muggy rain. It was cold. “Well, crap.. and I didn’t bring my vest since I didn’t think I’d need it”.
Fortunately the rain only lasted about five minutes.. maybe slightly longer, but not terribly long at all.
The first few miles was full of rough roads, some rough train-track crossings, and a few sharp turns. I saw several people lose their water bottles and pulled over with flats in those first several miles.
Heading south out of Chattanooga and toward the border to Georgia the overall crowd size was both thin at times and crowded at others. I had wondered how bad it would seem during the race due to the no-swim start. Florida was horrible for large packs of riders years ago with that swim cancellation, so I was ready and expecting the worst in terms of huge crowds and peloton style riding going on.
Once out on the main highway things started to speed up. We had a great overcast sky and cool breeze. Far too easy to go out too fast – which is my most common problem when I ride. But I stayed focused on my heart rate and pacing at a point that I felt strong without feeling like I was actually putting any hard effort on my legs just yet.
There was a lot of leapfrogging back and forth with certain people. Everyone watched others numbers, read their jerseys, and said hello. It’s a race, yes, but everyone was still pretty friendly on the course. And I really feel that due to the start, everyone was a little more understanding of others trying to find their own pace and place on the course.
I would say that a large amount of the riders all yelled “Left!” when passing, as well as “go ahead” and similar things when someone was glancing over their shoulder checking if they had room to overtake someone they were approaching. I did quite a bit of that as well. And a lot of people were also saying “Thanks!” when everyone else was giving verbal cues.
Such a friendly race!
I was about 20 miles or so in when I passed my mom! I was able to pick her out of the crowd since she was wearing bright pink. I yelled “Hello mother!” As I passed. “Hi son!” she replied. Haha! I asked how she was doing and if she was on schedule – “I think so!” was the response. And I tucked back into aero and continued on my way.
I kept an eye out for Rebecca since she would be somewhere in that section, too. But never saw her. So I’m assuming I passed her during one of the rollers when I was powering through and paying less attention to the riders themselves and rather just focusing on passing safely with enough room.
The first 30 miles or so of the bike was fast, cool weather, and definitely crowded at several points. I saw the refs go by on motorcycles at a few points, but only once did I feel like they watched me even remotely close. And I think that’s only do to a slightly slower over-take on my part on an incline. They were on their way along the course pretty much as quickly as they came up on me from behind.
Approaching the hairpin turn at the south-most part of the course was almost a little surprising. I didn’t realize I was so far along in the ride, and I was also still feeling pretty good. I had been watching a lot of people pull off at stop at aid stations, bathrooms, etc. And overall I was feeling pretty solid. But I realized that at 90 minutes into my race I should be drinking a bit more fluid and starting to eat. I didn’t want to risk cramping up – but I also was trying to balance out not drinking so much I would feel the need to stop on my bike.
During the rollers of miles 35-40 I sat up, stretched a bit, and used this time to eat. I had one Uncrustables sandwich, which I ate first. I also made sure to drink more of my electrolytes and water, with plans to get a new water bottle at the next aid station. Actually when I first started to eat my sandwich I crossed over some rougher road, shaking my bike, at the same time a female racer was. “Whooooaaa!!!” I laughed and reached down to grab my handlebars. She laughed as well, and I just said “Almost dropped my sandwich!”.. I adjusted my position, kept eating and drinking, and focused on the rolling hills in front on me.
A few others were doing the same at this part of the course.
I had caught up to another age group of women at this point. It looked like the 35-40 group or 40-45. And a lot of them were moving pretty quick. So while some of these other riders I passed quickly on any previous section that was rolling or flat due to my speed, I backed way down on hills so those on road bikes quickly caught up and some re-passed me on these climbs.
I complimented quite a few people I saw with bright colored kits. Several were just awesome, and everyone likes hearing if/when another person likes their kit. I got a few comments on mine due to “Ironman Tahoe” being somewhat of an infamous race.
I passed the restaurant Mom, J, and I ate at days before. And tried to enjoy some of the rolling fields and view while taking in as much of the ride as I could. I grabbed water at one of the aid stations, and attempted a banana at another… however the dude kind of cross-armed his pass off and I missed, dropping it. “Sorry!” I yelled. And kept going.
Passing through the town of Chickamauga was both great, and terrifying.
There was SO much support out of the road for the race. People cheering and waving and supporting the athletes.
But, like a lot of towns, you still have all the people who decide to drive somewhere… on the main road… with the cyclists racing.
It was actually a mile or two of dodging traffic and weaving around cars.
Completely unsafe (in reality) but I ended up in the opposite lane so I could avoid the SUVs that were weaving around the racers. There were also a few points on the course getting stuck behind cars driving on the streets. The worst one for me was approaching, then passing, a diesel pickup truck. So while I only had to inhale those fumes for a couple minutes, I passed a girl who didn’t look to have the speed to get ahead of the truck and was going to be stuck like it for who knows how long.
This was also the section of the course, around mile 41 for me, that the first-place racer passed me. Dude was hauling ass.
Bike Lap 2
After the turn around and heading out on to Lap 2 of the course I tried to get a feel for where my legs were at. The sun was coming out a bit here and there and breaking through the clouds at times.
Gotta remember to have fun racing..
The main thing I kept thinking was “J must be miserable right now depending on how far back he started from me…”. But fortunately there was a lot of the loop in the shade.
At about the 65 mile mark I was passed by two men in the 45yr old age group riding as a pair, peloton style, passing everyone. Where’s a ref when you need one, right?
I tried to start eating more of my food and drinking more liquids this part of the race. And while I could have stopped to use the bathroom if I reallllly wanted to stop, I figured I could balance the rest of my water intake the remaining 50 miles as long as it didn’t get any hotter out. Hotter weather meant I would def need to drink a LOT more and then definitely have to stop at some point.
Then I passed two dudes, about 25 feet apart, peeing on their bike.
Just…. why? You’re not fast enough to be an Age-Grouper or contender for your bracket. And I know that because 1. I caught you. 2. I’m passing you. and 3. You two are chatting with each other while taking a leak.
I moved wayyyy over into the oncoming lane cuz I wasn’t about to let any of that splash on me nor my bike as I passed. And then all I could think of is “You could have stopped for 2 minutes to use the bathroom but instead you’re going to have piss-pants the next several hours (if you even have a change of clothes in T2), and a urine-covered bike to wash now, all to save a couple minutes off your 6.5hr+ bike time (based on the speed you appear to be moving). Eww. Just eww.
Use the bathrooms, people. Almost none of you/us are fast enough not to. And this isn’t Kona, homie. We’re in Georgia.
The back half of the loop is when i started to feel more of the ride in my legs. I used my leg-cramp pills, drank a bunch more water, ate my dried fruit I brought, and munched through some more energy gummies.
I blew through town a second time and this one was more crowded than the first pass.
I heard Katie yell and looked over just in time to see her waving on the side of the road! And it was great to hear someone cheer, since I didn’t expect to see anyone on the course since I figured I was a reasonable distance ahead of her mom – who of course was the focus of her support that day. But Katie managed to see pretty much everyone on the bike course and cheer for them it turned out!
I hit the 96 mile mark at about 4:50 into my ride. Damn. I realized that without trying I was alllllmost on pace to do a sub-5 hour Century as part of my bike ride that day. But the part of the course I was in was hilly. Even if it was completely flat I probably wouldn’t be able to crank out 4 miles in 10 minutes.
I was heading into some rollers. I pushed a little bit harder but could immediately feel the threshold between “John, you’re cruising on this bike ride” and “John, you’re pushing hard now and this is going to burn your legs a bit”. I kept my pace nearly the same and over the next two minutes kept looking at my Garmin calculating if I could manage the distance in that amount of time without having to reallllly burn up my legs. It wasn’t worth it to me if it totally killed my run.
After another mile or two I was closing in on both 100 miles, and 5 hours cycling. I could tell I was just barely going to miss it.
100 miles, 5 hours and 45 seconds.
I. Barely. Missed it. Oh well. That was still damn good. And honestly I needed to focus more on drinking water, eating what I could next 16 miles, and getting myself to a point I felt ready to run.
That last section of the ride was hot. The sun was out, and we were back on the highway away from a lot of the trees. It was wide open. Still fast and flat. But warm. My thoughts again went to J and hoping he wasn’t “riding annoyed” at his start position in the rolling start, and stuck in the sun for too long.
The last 10 miles back into town I tried to cruise. My pace dropped a bit on this stretch and during anything remotely close to a climb, I willingly dropped down in the 13mph range/pace. I saw zero value at this point burning any energy beyond what I needed to climb just to save a couple minutes. I was already way ahead of my planned finish time and going to easily finish sub-6 hours.
The weaving through town was a bit slower, and it looked as though everyone was pacing themselves right at the finish. Plus the broken cement and train track areas were there to slow everyone down whether you liked it or not.
My final approach in the last two miles of the course saw my leg cramping just a bit. I was a little pissed. I had done great up til that point and couldn’t figure out why my calf was cramping up. I tried to stretch it a bit and continue pedaling to not drop back too far in speed.
When I did hit the bike arch to finish and stepped off my bike my leg was feeling mostly better. The dude collecting my bike was yelling for me to hurry, and move, and also trying to rip my bike from my hands as I was trying to turn off my Garmin. Dude… gimme TWO seconds to make sure I can stand before you shove me down the line. haha! I just did a 5:50 bike course, which is fairly hard-ish, homie..
Transition was pretty straight forward. You walk down the chute and pick up your bag – they also have volunteers working there to help you find your number quickly and the girl in my section had my bag ready for me as I approached.
I headed into the change tent and found a spot on the back side to sit and change.
I didn’t plan on doing a full change of any kind – nor did I even bring clothes for that.
But I did want to take my time and give myself a moment to rest and make sure I was ready to focus on the run ahead.
I was no longer feeling stiff nor was I cramping up at all. I took off my cleats and stretched my feet. As I was putting my running shoes on I said hello to the guys across from me also changing. I emptied out my pockets from the wrappers and garbage from my ride.
Talking with the guys across from me I realized that they were the tandem pair of racers. One blind racer, and his assistant-racer who was his “eyes” on the course. So they rode the bike portion on a tandem bike and where now getting ready to go run a marathon. Ryan was the “eyes” for David.
I had a Pickle Juice shot/drink that that J had given me when we packed our bags for the race. It didn’t sound too appetizing, to be honest. And I thought if anything it would probably be a lot better if it was cold rather than warm from sitting in the sun all day. But hey, if it helps even the smallest bit as I’m about to head into my marathon it would be worth it. Took a few big gulps to drink the whole thing – and yep, it was exactly like you would expect warm pickle juice to taste like. And I’m positive if it was cold it’d go down easier.
I grabbed my spray sunblock and covered myself as I got in a few more stretches in my ankles – I did NOT want to risk burning and it was still hot and sunny at that point in the day.
I offered my sunblock to Ryan and David, too, since they were about ready to hit the course, also.
Packing up my bag, double checking the clips on my run bib, I got up and headed out.
This is also the point in the race I try to hit the bathroom. I personally don’t like affecting my “race” times to use the bathroom, so I do my best to only bother with that in transition.
Projected Time: 5hr 20 min
“Good day” time: 4 hr 30 min to 5 hr (based on my training I figured a 4:50 marathon was within reach if my legs held out)
Actual official clock time: 5:39:29
The start of the marathon course was apparently changed just slightly due to the high water level of the river. I guess there is/was a lower bank that we were supposed to run on briefly.
So instead (?) our route kicked us up and onto the highway almost immediately. And it was immediately hot in the direct sun, running on the hot cement.
I had a water bottle with me, but what I really wanted some shade.
My original plan was to try and jog the first half the course, and walk most of the second.
The first mile I was feeling pretty decent, despite the heat.
Just like in Puerto Rico they had plenty of ice available right away on the course. I took a few cups and poured in my tri top cool down. It was immediately a noticeable help – not in a “I suddenly have energy” way, but more of a “wow, I suddenly don’t feel as sluggish and tired” kinda way.
As I tried to gauge my energy level and pace the first couple miles I was maintaining around a 9min per mile average. I was pretty happy with that since I wasn’t sure how much my faster-than-planned ride was going to affect my ability to run anywhere near my target-pace of 9-10.
I started doing the math in my head and trying to determine what my new pace should be. A sub-9 pace was feeling just a tad quick in the heat.
In the first 3 miles I drank most of my water. I grabbed ice two or three times. And I think I grabbed Gatorade once.
It was Mile 4 that I started to have anything resembling a problem.
Right around Mile 3.5 or so my feet started to hurt. It was immediately evident that my suspicions in the month leading up to the Ironman that my shoes were past their running life were correct.
And that was incredibly frustrating because I had energy to keep jogging and maintain a reasonable pace. But my feet were just sore. I had noticed a bit of this on some of my longer training runs, but those days were only runs. I didn’t do a 115 mile ride beforehand.
I hit the water table at about 3.8 miles and decided to walk to through the Aid Station, water-up, and gauge how my feet really felt.
I decided to walk Mile 4.
Mile Four was a hard left and walk through the park – literally, through the park. It was shaded and I dare say a little breezy. So it turned out to be a great time to kinda reevaluate how I was feeling and maybe determine a new race plan.
Maybe I can run 4, walk 1.
Mile Four ended up feeling incredibly long. My pace for that mile was in the 15min range. But that only dropped my cumulative to around 11:30/mile for the five I had so far completed. So maybe I’ll try to jog-four-walk-one for the race… that could work.
Hitting Mile Five I started jogging again. Not a particularly amazing pace for me – somewhere around a 10:30 or so.
This part of the course was along the water, through parks, and had a surprisingly large amount of support. It was also in the this stretch that the first-place woman passed me. I was tempted to pace for a few minutes well behind her escort just to see what her run pace was… but then realized that wasn’t worth the energy it would cost me to do so.
Along Mile 7 you pass oncoming runners on the street, racing parallel. I saw J on this part of the run and was able to say hello briefly and ask how his run was. I was in a slow jog so it was a short conversation.
Heading out across the first bridge the first time I finally started to really feel the race in my feet again.
And immediately after the bridge was the first major climb on the run course. It may as well have been Mt. Everest at that point. Nearly everyone was walking up. Fortunately I have long legs so even my walk-pace is reasonably quick.
“Tahoe. Did you actually do that race. Or was it the year that it was cancelled?”
Are you fucking kidding me? Are you really that rude?
Honestly I couldn’t believe the nerve of this woman asking something like that in the tone she chose to ask. I went the polite route and said “was at the cancelled race, but went back and raced again the year after”. The woman kept going.
I turned to the guy next to me who was speed-walking up the hill about my pace and said “Well that’s pretty fucking rude… who asks that??” He kinda laughed and said “Yeah, I thought the same (as you).”
Here’s a tip everyone – adding the phrase “actually do” to your question makes you sound like an asshole.
I had started my walk up the hill around mile 8.7.. So feeling guilty I tried to jog the downhill to balance out my “Jog Four/Walk One” plan…. because I hadn’t jogged all the way to Nine.
But mannn, did that downhill jog hurt.
I was starting to realize my feet were going to be really sore the rest of the race. How.Annoying.
I knew the next part of the course was going to be very hilly. We had cycled it a few days before that.
But this part of the course was beautiful. Huge houses. View of the river… well, one of the rivers. And view of a huge golf course. Rich-ville, basically.
There was also a lot of downhill in this section, too, after the climb. I did my best to jog the downhills, again, trying to average out my pace.
But my feet just continued to hurt. Even though I had made great time on the bike, the run course was still a mix of joggers and walkers where I was at.
I jogged the downhills best I could but decided to just walk the flats.
Making my way back up the hill on Barton Avenue was a slow process. A woman was sitting her front yard with the sprinkler on, aimed out onto the course for racers to run through. I thanked her and she waved. It was still pretty warm at that point.
Crossing the second bridge I knew I was approaching the halfway point – I remembered seeing the 13.1 marker on the ground when we had gone cycling two days before.
I jogged and walked parts of the bridge, but the second half of the bridge was full of people cheering everyone on… so of course I ended up jogging since everyone was so encouraging. I passed Jon who was standing on the sides taking photos and yelling. He cheered for me and I waved.
Run – Second Lap
Heading out on to Lap 2 I wanted to give jogging another shot. I started a slow pace as I passed the Special Needs bag area. There was a girl going about the same walk/jog speed who had just said hello to a friend on the side of the course. She said she was exhausted but surviving. I laughed and pointed to her leg saying “You’re 24.. you’re supposed to be making us all look bad right now, right?”. She said it was her first Iron, and that she was just trying to get through. Then she started jogging and went ahead on her way.
I maintained a jog/walk/jog combo for another mile or so. Met up with a guy around my age who I talked with for a few hundred yards. Like I had previously joked with a few people that afternoon, I said “I went too hard on the bike and it’s costing me right now. I’m beat..” He laughed and agreed “we all did” and then he followed with “My stomach is….. I need to find a bathroom is what I need right now..” and laughed. A short distance ahead was a bathroom stop, and of course right as we approached at our speedwalking pace a woman jogged up behind, passed us, and stepped right in to the available port-a-potty. Poor dude had to stop and wait even longer.
My second pass through the Tennessee River Walk path was quieter this time – but no less beautiful.
The “pack” of the race I was in at this point was definitely the “we’ll walk or whatever and chat and enjoy the race” attitude part of the group. And that’s not a bad place to be in a race. People are friendly, they know they’re going to finish and they’re just enjoying the time out there.
I was fortunate enough to have my walk along the Tennessee River be exactly at sunset.
As much as I would have loved to be able to run the whole marathon – or even just more of it – being able to slow my walk to a stroll for a couple hundred yards and enjoy the sunset was gorgeous. And worth it. And taking even the shortest moment to enjoy the breeze, the colors, the trees, and the way the light was hitting everything right then I could totally understand the appeal for everyone who can afford to live right there on the water in that area.
My third bridge crossing I thought “Ok, only that terribly hilly part of the course, and one more bridge and I’m done… Awesome.”
That’s only five miles away and it seems so damn far!
There were two very brief moments on the bridge I jogged, slightly, to see how my feet felt. Still not-awesome. Bummer. I was doing the math in my head of how long it would take me to finish at this pace, versus how long it would take me if my feet were ok and I could keep a quicker pace. Always annoying, right? Thinking “Damn, 5 miles would normally be 35-40 min jog if I was just out enjoying my afternoon. Even now if my feet were good I could probably do it in an hour. But really, I’ll be out here at least another 80-90 minutes at this rate..” (I actually did manage to only take 1 hour, though)
My third pass up and over Barton was just as annoying as I expected. The sun had set now and it was getting darker out.
I grabbed a cookie and some water. But now was avoiding ice and had removed the sponges from my shirt a few miles back. Obviously staying cool was important, but not knowing exactly how fast the temperature might drop I was being careful.
I jogged down the other side of Barton best I could, and started making my way around the loop… that Rich-ville loop.
There was a turn where you make a hard 90 degree left.
And there was a very small Latina racer who I was catching up to. I was walking, quickly, taking large steps. My walk pace when I do that is about 12:30 a mile. This girl was slowly jogging, but was probably about 5 feet tall.
I passed this girl thinking “oh man, I’m speed walking and passed her…” almost slightly embarrassed because I could tell she was focused on her jog. She looked over at me as I passed and kinda snorted/scoffed/laughed and then said “Your legs are sooo longgg!” and laughed again. I just kinda laughed in agreement and said “Yeah I can walk pretty quick when I try..”.
This backside loop (I guess technically Northside loop) was really dark. I was back in the residential area. Before turning off into the neighborhood there were still people sitting on their porches watching the racers. But this section was pretty dark, with mostly just lights from the homes to light the way. A few random street lamps. But that was all.
I passed a few small groups of three or four racers that were talking and walking together.
Coming out of the neighborhood I knew I just had the climb over Barton, the pass through the town, and the bridge, and I was pretty much done.
Climbing over Barton that last and final time wasn’t particularly a “yay!” moment as much as it was a “holy crap, what a horrible section of the route to do twice..” moment.
I jogged down the other side. I remember startling one guy I ran past even though I was staying far to the side away from the aid station as I jogged. I apologized and he quickly responded with “No no! You’re good!” and let me pass before he tried to cross the road.
I sped walked through town trying to determine how much energy I had and if my feet could handle jogging it in.
There was only a mile left so I thought “I’ll try and jog in the last mile-ish” starting with the bridge.
But as I got about 1/3 of the way over the bridge – which at that point was still an incline – I realized I didn’t have the energy to desire to run uphill in any capacity. I slowed to a walk. An older guy who I had just jogged past came slowly jogging by me now that I was walking “Ugh, Longest bridge ever!” he laughed, a bit out of breath. I laughed and agreed saying “I was trying to jog it, too!”
As I hit the halfway point of the bridge I passed a guy and girl walking and talking together. “This run doesn’t end!” the girl said. “Yeah, but, almost there right? Home stretch?” I replied. “Only one more lap!” she said. Then I felt bad. I had assumed they were on their last 3/4 of a mile like me. They still had another half marathon ahead.
Coming to the end of the bridge there were still a lot of people cheering. They got louder as I approached and I smiled and said “I guess I should be running?”
So I started to jog it in.
That last loop around and under the bridge was deceivingly long. I kept my jog pace though since I was trying to distance myself within the several of us that were making our way toward the finish.
Coming down the chute was bright as hell. A very dark approach followed by a ton of flood lights for the finish – similar to when I raced Florida, versus Tahoe that had a lot of ambient light from the ski village we ran through.
Katie right there on the sideline cheering!
I finished with an official 11:39:07
I was able to mostly space myself out from other runners for the finish, but a few slowed down a bit to enjoy their pass down the chute.
I crossed under the arch. Hit my Garmin to stop my time. And waited for help turning over my timing chip. I was given my medal by one of the younger volunteers, and waited while another went over to get me my finisher t-shirt.
Katie was standing by the wall and yelled for me to come over, saying congratulations and handing me a water bottle. “Here’s your drink.” she said, matter-of-factly in a way that just confused me. What drink? I had completely forgotten that my mom had given recovery drink mix to Katie for the finish. And Katie had made me mine as I approached the finish line. “Your recovery drink!” she said. “Ohhhh! Thanks!” I could feel how out of it I must have looked. Because I was definitely confused and just know it was showing on my face.
I slowly made my way through the finish area. Took my picture against the Ironman backdrop, and then started looking for food.
I could see everyone walking around with food. And drinks. I wanted whatever food they had for us. And a water. And a coke. I was sweaty, sticky, and tired. But I knew there was food somewhere.
Passing by a volunteer with food I stopped and asked where to find some. “Over there, that white tent, that’s for athletes!” she said. Perfect.
I headed over to the food tent, grabbed some fruit, and four slices of pizza. I first asked for 3, then said “could I actually have four?” “Sure! you can take a whole box if you want..” It crossed my mind briefly to be honest. But I decided four was reasonable.
Grabbed a water and coke, and made my way over to the finish line to wait for J, Mom, and Rebecca.
I waited at the finish watching people cross and eating my pizza. At one point I dropped my coke – luckily it was closed and didn’t break open. But as I stood there looking at it on the ground trying to determine how I could bend down and pick it up, someone saw me and realized I likely couldn’t easily grab it. Smiled and reached down and picked it up for me. I laughed that they understood my problem and said Thanks.
After I finished eating I tapped Katie on the shoulder… except when she turned around she wasn’t Katie. Ha! I had been standing behind the wrong person the last 10 minutes. I wandered around trying to find where Katie was actually standing.. turned out not to be too far away.
The next 45 minutes or so until J crossed the finish I hung out with Katie and Trish – her friend who was there supporting another person. We talked about the race and I was giving a bit of insight to what J, Mom, and Rebecca were dealing with as Katie told me where, approximately, they were based on the map online. I had to alternate between standing and sitting as my legs would cool down and stiffen up a bit.
J crossed in 13:29:24, officially.
Mom at 14:26:45.
Rebecca at 14:31:50.
J’s sisters and brother in law had actually been able to make it to the race unexpectedly, which was awesome. So during the 45 minutes or so between J’s finish and waiting for Mom, he was able to chat with the two of them for a while.
After Rebecca crossed the four of us all took a group photo together at the Ironman banners, along with family shots as well.
As the night itself began to wind down we said our goodbyes to J’s family who had to get back on the road home. And we went to collect our bikes and bags.
The hilarious, slightly annoying, but mostly funny part of the night was that J and I were going to have to cycle back to the hotel.
Photo from Mom
We had the van in the parking lot waiting for us, but that of course was going to be for Mom to drive home. The hotel was only a mile away, so not bad to be honest. And I was laughing with J because by the time we got to the car it was around 1am. This workout would now be a Monday workout. And since I’ve been doing “at least one mile” workout every day this year, this meant I could kinda bend the rules and not have to get up and run a mile the next morning before my flight.
The short ride home to the hotel was surprisingly nice. And tired as I was from the event, I actually felt good on a casual bike ride back. And I took a little pride in “being those guys people saw cycling back to the hotel after doing an Iron”, haha!
Once back at the hotel we all showered and cleaned up a little bit of our stuff. The next morning would be busy, and it was already nearly 2am. I made plans with Katie to get up early and go buy Finisher jackets for Mom, J, myself and Rebecca.
Five hours of sleep… always great. Especially after an Iron.
I slept fairly decent. I was on the pullout couch and had used the cushions to lift the edge of the bed up so my legs were elevated. That seemed to help quite a bit.
After waking up I texted Katie a few times, who I think was still asleep, and then headed down for breakfast. She met me downstairs looking about as excited as I was to be up early after a long day and night. We headed over to the Village to pick up jackets.
We arrived at the Village around 8am or so I think. So the Village/store had already been open a while. When we walked in the racks of jackets were already looking a little slim. So we hurried to find jackets in the sizes we needed for everyone. And it’s a good thing that we did since the sizes we grabbed were the last of each from what it looked like.
I ended up picking a cycling jacket for myself instead of the North Face styled coat. The cycling jacket was slimmer and more form-fitting, and also half-white. I preferred the fit and bright colors.
We headed back to the hotel where everyone else was now up and eating breakfast.
After we ate and spent too long sitting there talking we headed up to our rooms to pack. I had to get everything completely packed up for my flight that afternoon. Mom and J had to get their stuff mostly-packed as well, they were staying an extra day in Tennessee, but not at that hotel.
For lunch we headed back to Puckett’s again – and oddly enough ended up at the exact same table we were at the previous time. We all talked about the race and our travel ahead. We talked about what next races we might want to do and if another full Ironman was ahead for anyone. I said that unless things changed significantly work-wise for me, that next year I would be doing smaller races. J said he’d be waiting probably two years before another full, and my Mom and Rebecca were uncertain another full was in their future.
On the way out we bumped into Jon and TC who were having lunch, too. They told us that they hit the store a little after Katie and I were there that morning and “spent wayyy too much money” on apparel and souvenirs. But hey, that’s what you do at big events.
We said our goodbyes and headed to the airport to drop me off for my flight.
Chattanooga Airport is pretty small, so getting through security and to my gate was pretty quick. I was early and had plenty of time to kill. So I found a comfy chair and sat down on my computer. There were quite a few other racers that I saw pass through the airport. And in the area I was sitting were several. I chatted with them to pass the time before my flight. We all talked about different Irons we’d done and experiences with weather or cancellations.
When I boarded my flight for that first leg of my trip I walked onto to the plane and totally forgot my posters that I got at the Village. I’ve reached out to Ironman and they said they’d do their best to send me one if there are some left – so hopefully there will be.
My second leg of my flight was great also – just long as it was completely cross country. I flew East to Charlotte before heading West back home to LAX.
When I got home I ended up waiting at baggage claim for 40 minutes for my bike. I was a little pissed by the time I got it. They had manually brought my bike out to a different area without notifying me, while telling me to wait somewhere else.
I caught the shuttle to my car and was just ready to head home at that point. I had been up since around 430am California time, and it was now Midnight. Plus I was on about 5 hours of sleep after raceday… with maybe an hour nap on the plane. I was beat.
I got to my car. Remote didn’t work. I realized one of my doors was slightly ajar. It hadn’t latched all the way when I had parked it there almost a week ago. My battery was dead.
I loaded up all my gear and then walked down to the office, praying that they had a jump kit and I wouldn’t have to wait on AAA. Fortunately they did. It was a massive rolling battery jumper. I had to leave my ID with them to borrow it. I went back upstairs, jumped my car, loaded the battery pack in the back, drove down to the office, got my ID, and headed home. Another 35 miles and 40 minutes of travel or so and I was finally home.
Overall it was an amazing trip, and a lot of fun with family and friends.
I’m glad I did Chattanooga, of course, but would have loved the opportunity to swim as part of the race. While I hadn’t spent any time really training for the swim portion, a full Iron would have been preferable to a modified one. But, that’s just what happens with the weather. And over the next two weeks after our race I have watched as other events have been modified or even cancelled due to the weather around the East Coast.
Following the cancelled-swim at Chatt for us, Ironman had to completely cancel the North Carolina Half Iron. They shortened the swim in Louisville. And they had to completely relocate the Florida Iron out of Panama City Beach due to storm damage.
My plans for 2019 is the Chicago Triple Tri Challege – three races in two days. That will likely be my “big” race in a cost-related sense. My next full Iron will probably be 2020. Maybe Canada since J has interest in that race, and I said if he’s doing it I’ll join him.