Following my trend for 2014 of only doing races I’ve never done; Ironman Chattanooga was an easy choice. It was expected to be a non-wetsuit swim and a hot, humid race with a rolling bike course (no major climbs). The course looked to fall in line with my strengths but I was greatly mistaken.
When driving the bike course pre-race I realized this course was far from flat. There were no long climbs but there were also no flat sections. It included many short punchy climbs, I knew a hilly course would be challenging for me as I’m a terrible climber. The bike course was also 4 miles long which would make for my first 144.6 mile race. When pre-riding the run course I found miles 8-12 and 21-25 included some steep climbs. Our homestay lives right in the middle of these hills so we were perfectly situated to test them out.
a little pre-race fun in the Chocolate Milk tent
After miscalculating my nutrition and hydration leading up to Ironman Boulder I was determined to properly load for this race. I worked with my coach to calculate exactly what I needed to consume the days leading into the race.
After a restless night’s sleep I rose ready to take in the day and put my best foot forward. Unfortunately my body was not as Aunt Flo came to town race morning, caused by taper leading into the race. I thought this would be a minor issue which may require 1-2 bathroom stops but nothing to fret over.
We headed down to the race venue and upon arrival at my bike I found my back tubular tire was completely flat. As usual I had glued a new tubular on prior to shipping through TriBike Transport and the tire was fine during my pre-ride so I must have ridden over something causing a slow leak. Luckily my husband, Owen, packed a spare tubie and glue so he quickly glued another tire. Stressful; YES but better before than during the race. Now it just had to dry before I took my first corner. We quickly hopped on the bus transporting us to the swim start. I ran into a friend and training partner, Lucas, who was spetating. Told him about my tire issue, he generously took it upon himself to check the tire when he returned to transition while we were swimming.
The swim was called non-wetsuit due to the 77° water temperature, YAY! Although the damn was open, therefore we would be swimming with a strong current, BOO! Our swim start was delayed a few minutes while we waited for the sun to rise. Our start gun eventually shot at 7:25am. The women took off in a pack, staying together longer than usual due to the strong current. Anna was able to break away, as I tried to stay on her feet we rounded the 1st turn buoy and somehow my ankle chip got stuck on the buoy rope. I was able to break it free quickly but lost a few important seconds and now Anna was ahead in the distance. I settled back into the chase pack and found myself right in the middle. We were moving at a quick pace but I was getting a nice draft off Malaika. I trusted her endurance and sighting skills so was content with my draft. I had to fight some others off as those around us changed positions, veering off course, etc. I was able to cruise through the swim while exerting little to no energy. As we neared the last turn buoy Kaitlin next to me tried to push and take over the lead, Malaika reacted and they were sprinting for the exit. Had they not noticed Anna was already ahead and would be first out of the water? I’m still unsure, but I sat behind them both and ended up passing them both as we ran up the stairs since I hadn’t burned a match sprinting towards the line.
I kept my heart rate low running through transition, I ran past my bike by a few steps having to go back losing a few seconds but ended up exiting transition with a few of the ladies I swam with. Mailaka was within sight and Laurel Wassner was between us. We began riding together, legal distance apart as we began our 116 mile ride. At mile 2-3 I rode over the 1st set of railroad tracks and my front bottle ejected from it’s cage. I made a quick decision not to retrieve it, wanting to stay with the girls. Riding this long solo can get very lonely as I found in Boulder. Losing this bottle usually wouldn’t be that big a deal but I was trying a new nutrition plan; to avoid special needs I start with 2 x 500 calorie bottles which I need to take with water and 1 x 250 calorie bottle to take during the 1st hour. I lost my 250 calorie bottle so now I had nothing to drink until I hit the first aid station. I figured this was only 10 miles and shouldn’t be detrimental to my race. I rode along just concentrating on form, the miles ticked by and soon we were past mile 10, no aid station.
UHOH, Now I was getting really thirsty, I tried a taste of my heavily concentrated bottle twice but knew it would screw with my stomach if I took it without water so I waited. I asked the camera guys if they knew where the next aid station was, they didn’t. At mile 15 I approached the 1st aid station and grabbed the 1st bottled put in front of me. I was so happy to quench my thirst and more importantly start getting down calories. Now I was way behind in my hourly nutrition plan so I made some mental adjustments and began taking gels and my heavy mixture down with the new found water. I was back on track.
We were popping up and down short, punchy climbs which was actually nice because it gave me a chance to get out of the saddle for a few seconds saving my lower back from exhaustion. My legs felt surprisingly good, I was 3 watts over my 1st hour target average which felt easy and I was not struggling to keep up over the climbs which is usually the case for me. Angela caught and passed us around mile 25-30, she was pushing much higher watts than us but Laurel tried to stay with her. As I was contemplating what to do I shifted too quickly to my small ring up a hill and my chain dropped, I was left hopping off my bike readjusting it while my small group rode away. I hopped back on but they were gone and I was left riding alone. I continued on, sticking to my updated nutrition plan and target watts. I knew I was still in the race because every 10 miles or so the race spotters would be waiting on the side of the road for me and would take off after I passed letting me know I was in 6th place. My legs were feeling strong and my tire seemed to be holding but I still took the sharp corners slow just to be sure.
A few amateur men caught and passed me as well as many pro men who we’d passed in the swim. At mile 75 Jennie passed, she was riding strong and at this point I couldn’t stay with her. I began to fall into the Ironman lull, my lower back began to ache, my watts were dropping and my motivation was lacking. At mile 85, I heard, “Hey Gorgeous” it was none other than Timex teammate Bruce Gennari coming by. Bruce I can ride with, so I decided to latch on riding the legal distance behind him. This pulled me out of my funk. I was careful to stay my distance behind him as I know how this could look to officials, us riding together in the same kit. I boomeranged with him back and forth whenever he would eat I’d take the lead, but majority of the time I was steadily riding behind him. Each time we entered zones with dashed center lines I realized I was riding too far from Bruce. I closed the gap to get the maximum legal draft I could. We had a motorcycle riding with us, keeping us honest. We were now lapping first loopers and there were also cars sprinkled in on the roads. Many of the cars were sitting behind the slower riders so we had to pass cars on the left causing Bruce and I to bunch up some climbs. As we finished the 2nd loop and back in on the final stick we had a tail wind and were flying. I was being extra cautious not to get too close to Bruce so I left a larger gap then needed, just in case he slowed down. Somehow Ruth came flying by even faster because she passed me and dropped between Bruce and I. I sat up and slowed down to allow a gap open when I was handed a red card by the official. I immediately made the decision not to run. I would be done when I returned to transition, but now I had 5 miles to think about it. Here’s what went through my head;
On one hand I don’t want to destroy my legs for nothing. I’m already in 8th place, it’s cold, these girls will run fast.
On the other I would gain fitness by running the marathon, even if I don’t run fast.
I’d regret it if I quit now
I’m already here, I may as well finish
There’s a chance I could break 3:15 after a 4 minute rest
Teammate Kelly Fillnow couldn’t race due to injury, I’m healthy. I owe it to her
I would disappoint my homestay if I quit, they have bets with their neighbors of who’s pro will win
It would be really cold spectating
AHHHH, fine I’ll do it.
I rode up to the penalty tent and served my time, noting my bike split was 5:20 for the 116 prior to the penalty. Not so bad on this hilly course for me. Afterwards I ran through transition with a new goal in mind. I would attempt to catch Bruce during the 1st run loop.
The run out of transition was up a slight incline which is a dirty trick to play on us after that long of a bike, but it soon flattened out and I came into my stride feeling good. I was still completely alone, to the point where I wondered numerous times if I was still on course. I received a split from a spectator which I immediately knew was wrong because he said I was only 3 minutes from 3rd place. This was the only split I received all day, there were also no out and backs so I was literally running against the clock in the hopes that I’d catch up to someone. I ran past my team manager, Tristan, and laughed telling him this was just not my day.
I passed back each amateur man who had passed me on the bike which showed some progress.
As I entered the hilly section I concentrated on short quick steps and not letting my heart rate spike too much. I made it through keeping my mile splits in check. As I rounded the 1st loop I realized I had passed Bruce back in transition. Somehow my penalty+transition was still quicker than his transition alone. During my 2nd loop my pace decreased as it usually does in an Ironman, but the difference here was I didn’t have the motivation to push past a reasonable comfort zone. I didn’t make this conscious decision but looking back, I wasn’t willing to put myself into a dark place to hold onto 8th place. I regret this. I would like to work on pushing to my limit no matter where I stand. Around mile 18 Kaitlin passed me running at a much faster clip. At this point I just wanted to finish, I thought there was no way I could keep up with her.
I entered the hilly section again and kept to my short steps, my legs were now fatigued as they always are during the last 10K in an Ironman, but they felt much better than in Boulder. I had taken all my planned calories down which made all the difference. At mile 22 Kathryn passed me and again I didn’t care. I stuck to my slower pace just waiting for this race to be over. A few miles later I caught her back, she was walking up a hill. As I passed she began running again, she really wanted to stay ahead of me. I had no problem with that and stuck with my own pace. This happened several more times until she settled into running just slightly ahead. As we crossed the final bridge the crowd started cheering us on for the finish. I really didn’t want a sprint finish for what I thought was for 9th place (later I found out someone dropped so it was actually for 8th place) but either way. I did have some punch left in my legs so on the final turn I picked up the pace and passed Kathryn, bumping into her, I apologized but she wouldn’t have it. She looked forward and started sprinting as I ran into the finish shoot behind her.
Owen finished only 2 minutes after me (starting way later) and as soon as I saw him I started crying. I held it together all day but it finally caught up to me. I never thought so much could go wrong in one day. Admittedly, most was self inflicted, but I’ve never experienced anything like this race. I am proud of myself for finishing when many pro’s would have pulled the plug. This course was not well suited for me but I’d like to think if all went well, I could have still been in the mix. I learned a lot about myself during Ironman Chattanooga and I look forward to applying my fitness and knowledge towards Ironman Cozumel after another training block.
Thank you to our generous homestay Jamie and Beryl. Congratulations to Jamie on his finish!
Thanks to my sponsors; Timex, Trek, Shimano, Blue Seventy, Castelli, Powerbar, Lululemon, and Rudy Project
To my Coach Curt Chesney, my fitness was there, I just need to get my head in the game.
And to my husband for always being my number #1 fan