Michael’s Ironman Chattanooga Recap

Ironman Chattanooga September 2017

Race morning officially starts at 3:30 am. It was a restless night, but I got more sleep than I had anticipated. The bike and our gear bags were dropped off the day before, so I have much less to worry about than usual. First thing on the to-do list is to put our tritats race numbers on. Due to the sleeves on my tri top I decided to put my race numbers on my legs. I stagger the numbers because that is more legit than putting them in a straight line. Studies also show it increases aerodynamics and adds 10 watts on the bike, #science. 😉

Putting my numbers on goes quickly but unfortunately Krista’s age number gets messed up and I stupidly put on the backup number upside down. O well, she will get it written on at the race.

Surprisingly my nerves are calm and most of my focus goes into making sure I didn’t forget anything. I usually feel that I am forgetting something race morning, so this was nothing new. While running through the checklist of race day nutrition and other tasks that need to get done I work on getting breakfast down. I have been trying to eat more before long training days and races, so I have a sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit, 2 bananas, and a half cup of cottage cheese on the menu.

We have all our stuff together and we head out to the truck, pulling out of the driveway at 4:15, only 15 mins late. The roads are empty so the 30 min drive down Lookout Mtn. to Chattanooga goes quickly. Unfortunately, 15 mins into that drive my uneasy, did I forget something feeling, is realized. I forgot my Garmin head unit for the bike in a small inner pocket of my duffel bag. One thing I have learned with Ironman is that you must adapt with whatever situation is thrown your way. I still have my Garmin 920xt and that should suffice. It will only make it slightly more challenging to stay on my power target since I won’t have the numbers displayed right in front of me. Parking is a breeze and we found a spot in the parking garage right behind transition! A huge plus because we had to walk quite a bit after completing Ironman Texas in 2016.

We make our way through the crowds, past the body markers once Krista is marked, and head to our bikes to put our frozen bottles of hydration on. Once that is done, we walk through our bike and run gear bags to drop nutrition there, and we are done and out of transition in what seems like no time. We load up on the buses for the several mile drive to the swim start. This seems to last a long time. I am running through things in my head and I take time to pray for a good and safe race day for all participants. As soon as the bus stops I get adrenaline shooting through my system as I think about the day ahead. While I am fighting my adrenaline back we walk past the already long lines for the port-a-john city and we find the line for the swim start. Unlike most Ironman races, Chattanooga has a time trial type swim start. It is first come first serve and some of the people at the start of the line have arrived at 4 am. We start walking to the back of the line that seems to just keep going and going. After a brief chat with Mike Porter we exchange good lucks and continue down the line. We finally come to the end at what seems like 1/4 to 1/2 a mile back from the start. Now, we wait… on the concrete sidewalk. At least we have a rail to lean on. 1.5 hours until go time!

I pass the time resting and drinking a sports drink (again in an attempt at staying well hydrated and fueled). Before we knew it, the race began for the pros. We start pulling on our swim skins, consuming our gels, and putting on our swim caps as we file to the start. The nerves hit now but they quickly turn into excitement as I reassure myself that I have done this before and think of all the training I have put in. The line moves a lot more quickly than anticipated because there is a large group of wetsuit swimmers that are bunched up near the front making the length of the line deceiving. Wetsuit swimmers must start last because the water is so warm wetsuits are optional. We rush to say bye to our friends and family, take a quick picture and practically run to the dock where there is no more line for non-wetsuit swimmers. I give Krista a quick good luck kiss and rush to get my goggles on as I make my way onto the dock. There is much commotion going on around me, but I am focused on getting my goggles on and visualizing what is before me that it seems as if Krista and I are the only ones on the dock. I take a few deep breaths and jump.

SWIM – 2.4mi – 58:06 – 1:30/100m – 78/181 30-34 Age Group

As I come up and my head bobs out of the water I realize that my right goggle has not sealed well. I try to re-adjust it and I ask Krista if she is okay. After she nods I turn and start my swim. My adrenaline has my heart racing, so I must breathe every other stroke. This usually results in a lot of breaststroke to calm down, but I am thrilled as I continue to push on. Every so often I must stop and re-adjust my right goggle to empty out the water as it continues to leak. My left goggle has now fogged up, but I make it work. Some goggle adjustments last longer than others before water fills my right goggle but despite the frustration I am feeling pretty good as my heart rate comes down. I focus on trying to find someone swimming a bit faster, so I can get a good draft. My efforts are occasionally rewarded, but it takes constant adjustment as some people are swimming too fast and others end up slowing me down more than I want. After reaching the halfway point I am in disbelief. I couldn’t already be that far along. I continue counting down the distance in my head for each set of buoys I pass. I pass another swimmer on my right and I realize that I am passing Mike! While I continue past, I focus on not swimming too close and think, don’t cut him off! For some reason it seems like the more I focus on not doing that the more likely it is to happen. Sure enough I feel his hand hit my foot. I hope that I didn’t ruin his concentration and that he didn’t know it was me. With several hundred meters to go I start to feel the fatigue in my arms and shoulders build and I realize I am nearing the end. We swim under the bridges that we will run across later in the day and I imagine myself running on them. Shortly after passing the bridges, I look ahead and realize that I am coming up to the last set of buoys. I make a hard left towards the stairs where volunteers are pulling people out of the water. Finally, it is my turn and I take the LARGE step up out of the water and immediately my right hamstring cramps up. I stumble up the stairs and out of the way to stretch the protesting hamstring. The locked-up muscle finally relaxes a bit, so I try to start walking but it locks up again. I stop, bend over to stretch it some more and it releases again. This time when I walk it doesn’t come back! My slow walk turns to a jog as I head up the ramp to my bike gear bag. I wave to family and friends before grabbing my bag and I head into the changing tent. My excitement is hard to contain as I think about the fact that I had just completed the swim 20 mins faster than I had hoped!

T1 – 14:01

Once in the changing tent I sit down to start going through my bag. I am always a little woozy after the swim and this time is no different. I struggle through getting the skin-tight jersey on with the help of a volunteer and with a bit more tugging I get the sleeves in the right spot. I put my race nutrition in my pockets, spray sunscreen on, put my socks and bike shoes on and I run out to my bike after handing the volunteer my bag. The hamstring feels great now as I grab the bike and run past the racked bikes to the mount line, struggle to get clipped in, and begin my favorite part of triathlon.  116 miles until I return.

BIKE – 116mi – 5:35:54 – 20.01mph – 27/181

bike course

I try to start easy, focused on getting my legs warmed up before settling into my targeted power. There are a lot of people already on the bike though and I spend most of my time passing people on the left. I have several occasions where I end up putting out more effort than I want to, but I don’t want to get penalized for drafting. So, I continue to pass people with the occasional spike and hope that I don’t pay for it later. At around 40 miles into the bike I start to feel like my legs are more tired than they should be. My power spikes have been minimal and haven’t gone that high, so I think that maybe I am just climbing a false flat. Unfortunately, the feeling persists, and I make an adjustment to the power number I am trying to target. As I turn onto the backside of the loop and hit some downhill sections my legs begin to feel better and I am flying past people even at my lower power target. It feels good to be going 30 miles an hour so effortlessly. I soon find myself approaching special needs and I stop, trying to figure out how everything is organized. A volunteer asks for my number and relays it to people grabbing the bags. She is very helpful as she assists me with filling my bottles and my pockets with my nutrition. As I survey my current food and hydration situation I realize that I am a bit behind on my fluids but and on track with the food. I have an entire 32oz bottle of PowerAde that I had intended to put in a water bottle. Since I don’t want to leave it behind I stuff all my food into one jersey pocket and stuff the bottle in the other. With my pockets bursting at the seams I thank the volunteer and head over to wait in line for the restroom. Once I get tired of waiting I resolve to make it to an aid station further along the course where I hope there will be no line. I see our family and friends as I near the edge of Chickamauga and I wave and am quickly back out onto rural roads. I am disappointed to realize that I had not given the thank you wristbands the participants were given during sign in to the volunteer that had helped me in special needs, but I look forward to giving it to someone else. The course is fairly rolling but has a lot of good downhill sections and has great scenery. I am enjoying myself as I start the second loop. The first part of the loop has a lot of climbing and I start to feel a bit exhausted as I climb the hills. Time to get into the Haribo gummy bears I put in my special needs bag. I think, if it is good enough for Peter Sagan it is good enough for me! I make a quick stop at an aid station to use the restroom and refill my water bottle with the PowerAde that has been jabbing me in the back for the last 20 miles. Around mile 70, about halfway on the backside of the second loop I start to feel what I have been dreading all day. The slight twinge of a muscle cramp coming on. I get frustrated as I think about all the races where I am limited by leg cramps on the bike. Nothing I have tried seems to help. I end up pedaling and coasting through the cramps as they come and go. I back off the power to try and let the muscles relax, which doesn’t seem so bad because I had started to feel like I was having to give descent effort to hold onto my already adjusted power target. The rest of the bike ride becomes a balancing act as I focus on pushing as hard as I can but not so hard that I cause the cramping to return. Finally, in Chickamauga I am surprised to see my family and friends again and it gives me the boost I needed. I feel energized as I pass the 100-mile mark that I had been focused on reaching. I then think to myself, I am coming to get you 116 miles! I can stay steady as I head back into Chattanooga since most of the people around me are now moving around my speed. I am ready to be off the bike as I round the turns in town meandering back to transition. I ease up and coast down the last hill into transition and hand my bike off to the volunteer and awkwardly run to my gear bag.  116 miles on a bike will make anyone’s run look pretty goofy. 118.4 miles down… 26.2 to go! This is one of the rare times I am looking forward to a marathon.

T2 – 6:49

My hop off the bike is more like a stumble off the bike as I stretch upright for the first time since in 5 ½ hours. I hand the bike off to the volunteer and head towards my run gear bag. The bag is easily spotted, and I race off to the changing tent. As I enter the tent, I find a chair, dump my stuff out and start working on changing my socks and shoes. I have to decide now whether I want to take my left over nutrition from the bike ride with me on top of my run nutrition and I figure that I’m better safe than sorry and stuff it along with my run nutrition in my jersey. I stuff all my bike gear back into the back and run out of the tent carrying my hat and race belt. I hand off my run gear bag to the volunteer outside the tent and immediately start working on getting my hat and race belt on. Only a marathon left now!

RUN – 26.2mi – 4:30:31 – 10:19/mi – 29/181

As I head down the sidewalk towards the river when beginning the run, I pass some family and I get a shot of excitement as I cruise past. I start working on getting my pickle juice down to keep the cramps that started on the bike away. The run soon heads into the first uphill where I notice that my legs might cramp up, but I am able to keep pushing on. The first lap I knew had a lot of sun and I was out on the course early enough that I was running in full sun for the first several miles and it started to take its toll. My focus turned toward trying to stay cool, but I keep up my pace and stick to my intervals. Mercifully when I start to really feel the heat setting in I enter the greenway section of the run course. The downside is that I am trading the heat of the sun for the stifling humidity. Despite the conditions everything is going to plan as I leave the greenway and hit the first major hill. The hill is so steep that my run slows to what would be a walking pace, so I choose to walk and conserve my energy. The run then takes me over the river and as I pass it I think about where I was this morning, swimming down below. I start up the infamous Barton Avenue on the north side of the river and discovered why people hate the hill. The hill seems to go on and on, but I crest the top and continue down to the bottom. The rest of the north shore part of the run course is up and down and I think about how much the hills took out of me as I pass over the walnut street bridge to start my second lap. During the first part of my second lap the heat, cramping, chafing, and fatigue starts to get to me. Starting my run back up after the walking intervals becomes increasingly challenging. Soon enough I make it to the greenway to only be met with discomfort in my lungs. For some reason I am getting a sharp pain when I breathe deeply from what feel like my kidneys. Concerned about what is going on inside me, I start to walk and hope for it to go away. I decide to press on despite the discomfort and it eventually wears off, but my legs are feeling heavy and I focus on just continuing to move and do my intervals. As I finish off the greenway and start up the hill that leads to the second part of the course I run up behind Mike Porter and talk to him a bit. He is not feeling well but seems in pretty good spirits despite the situation. I find out that Krista is ahead of him, so I have something to look forward to as I leave Mike behind and start the second loop of hills. At the bottom of the worst hill of the course my hamstring decides to lock up on me and my run slams to a halt. After stretching for a bit, I attempt to run again but it won’t let me, so I settle for walking up the hill. Once at the top I start to run down, and I spot Krista coming back up the other side! I am so excited to see her, and we hug and kiss. Another athlete jokes with me asking if that counts as outside assistance. Krista is also having a hard time and feels very nauseated. I remind her how strong she is and as we part ways I feel energized by getting to see her. As I continue through the hills that energy fades as does the daylight. It is very near dusk as I run through the back side of the course. With only a few miles left I start to get excited and I force myself to quit taking as many walking breaks.

swim TN

When I turn onto the walnut street bridge for the last time I feel my adrenaline hit and I pick someone out ahead of me and run them down. He catches me after I pass him, and we talk for a bit. I find out he is also racing his second Ironman. He starts to fade as I push to the finish line but after some encouragement to keep up we enter the finish chute side by side. His mother rushes out from behind the barriers to hand him a flag for his country and runs with him a bit before leaving him to finish. I think back to my first Ironman when another athlete let me finish by myself and I decided that I wanted to be that kind of athlete as well. So, my companion finished ahead of me with flag waving overhead and I followed right after getting a wonderful sunset view right behind the finish line. I was thanked for letting him finish and am reminded how great the other athletes and volunteers are at this race. I am elated as I think about finishing another Ironman and the excellent finish time that I wasn’t expecting. As the day turns to night I change from athlete to an excited cheerleader and spectator as I wait for Krista and Mike to finish.

M at finish line


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