Pre-Pre-race: I had some plans with friends on Saturday morning, so I didn’t head to Chattanooga until around 12:30pm. I rode with Richard and we split a room at the Chattanooga Choo Choo. Drew and George were there as well. Richard and I got to Chattanooga around 2:30pm and checked into the hotel room first. We left our stuff in the car and rode our bikes to checkin.
Packet pickup was dead and it took no time at all. I was surprised because the only IM 70.3 experience I’ve had before this race was Augusta last year and the line for packet pickup took forever. Maybe it’s the RD or maybe it was just that we waited until later in the day after everyone had already gone. Either way I was happy I didn’t have to wait in a long line out in the sun. Richard and I biked around the transition area a little bit making sure everything seemed to be in working order and then racked our bikes. I asked a few volunteers what the transition layout was going to be in the morning because I could tell that things weren’t fully setup yet. They explained where we were going to come out of the water, where we would run in, bike out, bike in, and run out. I physically performed two cycles of run in/bike out/bike in/run out to make sure I knew which aisles to run down. Transition was HUGE and I was concerned that I would get lost. At Augusta my bike was the first rack in from the swim and here I was smack in the middle of everything.
Ran back to the hotel without Richard to shower and unpack my gear. Drove back downtown to meet Richard at Taco Mac. I love the club, but $30 for a pre-race dinner was too much for me (I came in under $10). Back to the hotel for some pool swimming with the Wilkinson family (Drew named his kid after me). Swam around for 20 minutes or so trying to stay loose. George came by the room so it was cool to see him and give him a hug. Went to bed but was woken up by someone heavily vomiting at like 3am. Fell back asleep pretty quickly.
Pre-race: Richard, Drew, George, and I planned to ride together to T1 at 5am, so I woke up with enough time to hit the bathroom, gather my gear, and eat something. First mistake happened here: I didn’t eat enough breakfast. We didn’t have a microwave or a refrigerator in the room so I couldn’t keep anything over night or really prep anything in the morning. I had a banana, a Clif Bar, and a Gatorade instead of my usual bagel/oatmeal/yogurt/fruit combo. We drove and parked pretty much 1 block from T1 which was nice. T1 was pretty uneventful and I took my time laying everything out, checking my tires, and putting everything on my bike. I’ve been working hard to cut my transition times down drastically so I put everything on my bike I would need. The only thing not attached to my bike was my helmet. I pre-clipped my shoes and used rubber bands to keep them in place.
Grabbed pretty much the last bus to the swim start and began the wait with everyone else. I used the bathroom way too many times and even puked once a few minutes before jumping in the water. I was really nervous. I didn’t train for a month from February into March so my fitness level wasn’t where I had hoped. I’ve been battling an ankle “injury” for a few weeks as well so I wasn’t sure how I would be able to do. I thought I had solved my ankle problems by getting some new shoes a week or more before the race because I hadn’t been hurting since I got them. I was moderately confident in my swim, not confident at all in my bike, and moderately confident in my run if my ankle held up.
Warm-up: Some guy in the club keeps pushing us to warm up our arms. He’s kind of a good swimmer so I figure he might know what he’s talking about. I stretched and arm-circled before and after putting my wetsuit on. I put it on as the first cannon went off for the elites. I took a PowerBar Gel as we walked slowly toward the swim start. The line moved slowly to me and I tried to continue stretching to make sure I didn’t get tight again.
Swim: Two things happened as I jumped into the water: sank and shocked. I hadn’t done a dock jump in a while so when I jumped in I sank FAR. When I came up someone was on top of me and I got a huge nose full of water. I wasn’t prepared for the temperature either. I wanted to get in the water when I checked my bike to at least have some idea of the water temperature but it wasn’t in the cards. I had a hard time adjusting to the temperature and for the first full minute or more I tread water, dog paddled, and breaststroked until I could get a full breath. What seemed to help the most was when I pulled my suit away from my body to get the water inside. I can tell you for sure it’s not that I was afraid of the water. I enjoy open water and have never felt insecure about it. I’d be interested if anyone else has felt this temperature shock and what they did about it.
After I finally was able to take a full breath and get moving things started to move into my head. I have never been able to swim quietly as I’m always talking or thinking in my head. It tires me out. I used my usual technique of swimming in someone’s line until I tapped their toes. I started counting strokes and got into a rhythm of stroking and sighting. I tried to swim the shortest line and get from A to B as fast as I could. It was a wide open field so I tried to take advantage of it. I was passing people left and right the entire time and really had no idea where I was in the field or what my time was. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the swim either but I hoped for sub 30. I stood up on the platform to a 29:xx and felt great. I looked up and saw John ~25 yards ahead of me running up to T1 so I was happy about the swim. I wasn’t sure how our rivalry would ultimately play out, but at least we were close after the swim.
Swim Time: 00:29:45
T1: The first transition is a little bit of a blur. It was a SWARM of people and it was really crowded. People were WALKING up to T1 and I was having a hard time getting through. I’ve been making a point to kick harder coming up to the swim exit to get the blood flowing again into my legs so that they didn’t feel like lead running to the bike.
Because I practiced running through transition twice I knew right where my bike was even though it’s smack in the middle of everything and easy to run by. The wetsuit strippers were great but I kind of wish they were in a different location or something. The way people lined up to get stripped started to block the path because they were positioned on a corner. Annoying but not a huge deal. You just had to step over and around everyone when you got up.
Wetsuit, goggles, and cap on the ground. Helmet on. That was it. The majority of T1 was just running. There were like 25 people trying to get out of T1 with their bikes at the same time. Some walking and some not, but it was a dumpster fire. I could see John still about 25 yards ahead of me just running through everyone. I didn’t bother trying to mount at the line and ran about 25 yards past it before mounting. Jumped onto the bike and the entire left calf cramped incredibly bad. Stop in your tracks and not move bad.
T1 Time: 00:03:27
Bike: Everyone else has already described the bike in about the same words I would use: legal slingshot effect, foggy glasses, difficulties of passing, dodging and surging and shifting gears. I couldn’t find a consistent rhythm based on the number of people and the changing elevations. It didn’t bother me so much because I figured if I was having these issues that everyone else (fast) was too. I wondered how far ahead John was and kept pushing it to see if I could catch him. I honestly didn’t expect to catch him, but I wondered if I could keep the gap from widening too much. I figured if he had any kind of temporary mechanical issue that I’d be able to catch up and the race would be back on. I wasn’t wishing it on him, but I was okay with it happening. 😉
To be honest as well, I told myself I was going to DNF the race so it didn’t matter how hard I pushed it on the bike to try to catch John. I thought that if I did actually catch him either he’d pick it up and I would have motivated him to do better or we’d run together and it would go down at the finish line. I figured that my ankle was bound to blow up on the run and I’d end up walking or dropping out. I was ready to DNF. I was not going to go to the hospital again and I wasn’t about to ruin the rest of the season because I wanted to run and gut it out despite being hurt. The DNF forum thread was great and I was okay with not finishing because I think I had the right mindset.
So I pushed on hard wondering how fast I could go. I think this ended up helping me a little bit in a way I didn’t expect. It sort of freed me from over-thinking and over-planning how I was going to execute each leg of the race and really just let me full on race with no expectations and no boundaries. I was honestly shocked at my bike time and it probably showed me that my bike fitness is a lot farther along than I thought it was.
I don’t remember which mile it was, but George yelled “Sprinkles!” so loud as he passed it made me jump. I don’t remember anyone else from the club passing me but I think Joseph wasn’t wearing an ATC kit and I missed him. I think I was in this sweet spot just behind a group and just ahead of another while the super fast guys passed all of us. I saw Kristin and a few other people and tried to say some encouraging words. Some guy yelled loudly and cursed at Kristin for making a pass as he rolled up doing almost 30 mph. I’m sorry but you don’t get to come from 50 yards back and yell at someone for being in the middle of making a pass just because they are in your way all of a sudden. You weren’t there when she started so wait your damn turn or pass her and deal with the consequences. I gave him an ear full and I might have blocked him for a few seconds forcing him to slow way down and cross the double yellow. I’m glad I did it. I’d do it again.
Coming back into town I felt the same as Dr. Darden: “I was able to find some rhythm in the last ten miles after we turned off the loop. The road opened up and I was free to do my thing. I enjoyed the last twenty minutes or so of the bike more than I enjoyed the rest of it.” I practice my flying dismount every time I finish a training ride (even on the trainer — just kidding) so I wasn’t nervous at all. I was incredibly happy with my bike time because I honestly thought I would go close to 3 hours after I averaged less than 19 mph on a 70 mile ride in Augusta.
Nutrition: 1 bottle Infinite (I’m still getting started with it and didn’t want to rely fully on it yet), 4 Clif Bars, 1 GU, 3 bottle water, whatever Gatorade I could get down quick at the aid stations and then ditch the bottle on the ground, 12 Endurolytes (because of the cramping I was already doing getting on the bike).
Bike Time: 02:34:30 (PR)
T2: The flying dismount helped me pass a clump of people who had stopped to dismount and walk their bikes in. I didn’t get hung up by a small group and pretty much ran unobstructed back to my rack. I was evaluating my ankle the whole time running from dismount to run out and it felt okay so I decided to at least start the run knowing that I’d just walk back or quit after the first lap. Helmet off, socks on, shoes on, go. Even though it rained on the bike I was going to put my socks on for the run no matter what condition they were in. I had tucked them into my shoes so they weren’t that wet. I had my race belt and sunglass sitting inside of my hat so I didn’t need to waste any time putting everything on and did it all while running out of T2. I have to thank John again for that tip and it’s working really well. My T2 times are way down and it’s proven very helpful this season already (re: The Scream).
T2 Time: 00:01:36
Run: I started the run clocking just over 7:00/mi to feel out my ankle and my fatigue. Even though my goal had been to run under 1:45:00, I needed to figure out where John was to see how much time I had to make up. A few people said he was about 10 minutes ahead so I decided to just run my race and back off down to 8:00/mi. I was pretty confident that if my ankle held up even reasonably well that I’d easily run under my goal and go negative splits because I held back. It was feeling fine coming off the bike and I was just ready to put in a solid effort and come in just under 5 hours and ahead of Richard.
I made a little faux pa without realizing it when I decided to pee on the side of the run course. I knew that indecent exposure was a rule violation, but I did thought it was nudity in transition. I had tucked myself really close to the barrier on the first bridge and made sure no one could see my front. It wasn’t until after the race that someone said I was really lucky that a race official didn’t see me and DQ me.
The first 4.5 miles were pretty standard. I got my breathing right, looked for people on the switch-backs, and took some aid at every station. I flipped between water and Gatorade and grabbed ice for my hat and body. About 40 minutes into the run my pace slowed to over 10:00/mi because my ankle started to hurt a little bit and so did my lower back. I stopped and stretched a little bit before starting up again. Janke and I came off the bike at roughly the same time so we ran close for the first bit but I think this is maybe around the time he passed me for good.
I saw Oyler on the hill for the first lap and it was encouraging because I hadn’t seen anyone in a while. My splits started slowing from 8:00/mi to 9:00/mi and 9:30/mi. My ankle didn’t hurt bad enough to stop, but it was keeping me from running my goal pace. I started to walk each aid station and walk the big hills. I hated all of the turns, turnarounds, and winding paths and it was mentally draining as well to have to navigate them on the back half of the course. I ended up walking most of the last bridge and clocking a 10:30 min 12th mile before running it in to the finish with almost a 10:00 min 13th mile.
Richard, Nathan, Susie, Janke, and a few others passed me at various times and I was glad to see that they were doing so well. Susie looked really strong and Nathan had a nice pace going as well. Looking over my splits, I think Nathan passed me around mile 11 because I remember trying to hang with him for support and my pace dropped back close to 8:00 there before slowing up again. Richard, Janke, Susie, and Nathan all went on to bust 5:00:00 pretty much (I think Nathan missed it by 15 seconds?) which was really great to see after the fact.
I was began to get really disappointed with myself because I started to realized I wasn’t going to come in under 5 hours. It started to ruin my day and I was getting visibly upset. It took a lot of effort but I was able to convince myself that it wasn’t that big of a deal because I was dealing with some ankle stuff, it was really early in the season, and I was missing out on an amazing race going on around me. The 12th and 13th miles were PACKED with spectators and they were calling out the names of everyone coming by and telling them how great they were doing. Strangers started encouraging me to finish and it really lifted my spirits so that I could even crack a smile as I crossed the finish line.
Nutrition: 4 Endurolytes (dropped some on the bike so I ran out), 1 GU, flipping between water and Gatorade at every station, Coke every 3rd station, I also took a banana and some pretzels and some point.
Run Time: 01:57:09
Post Race: I headed to the medical tent to have someone check out my ankle a little bit. A doctor moved it around, said something about the ligaments, and told me to go see someone when I got back. We iced it for 20 minutes or so and then put a compression wrap on it which helped a lot. While I was sitting in the tent I heard them call Drew’s name and I knew he destroyed his goal because we started so close for the swim. That made me really happy. I got in line for a post race picture and ended up seeing Rogue and Lisa so we all took a picture, grabbed food, and sat together.
I walked to the ATC tent to get my transition bag and then walked to transition with John to grab my bike. I started hearing how people did and got to cheer a few more people in. I was glad to be done and I was starting to feel real tired. I called Amanda to tell her how I did and she was happy I didn’t hurt myself more and was excited to hear that I only finished 12 minutes slower than my Augusta time.
I grabbed a proper meal with Richard and his family and we headed to the awards ceremony for a little bit. From there we packed the car and headed home.
What would you do differently: If I were to do this race again I would test the water temperature and eat more breakfast. I feel like I could have swum a minute or so faster and I wonder if my light breakfast contributed to my cramping. I also wouldn’t come alone again. Driving and rooming with Richard was fine, but I really missed my family. I know it’s tough on her to sit around for 5 hours (especially with Avery) and barely get to see me at all, but I think this course is somewhat similar to Augusta and she seemed to think she saw me an adequate number of times there. I would have tried harder to make it work for Amanda and Avery to come with me. And that’s not to detract from the fun and support that comes with everyone in the club – you guys rock.
Rate your overall experience with this race: 4 out of 5. Overall I did like this race. I did not like the self-seeded TT swim start. I liked the bike course. I did not like how people clumped on the bike course. I liked the scenery of the run course. I did not like the winding, turning, switch-backs of the run course. I liked the transition area and finish line. I liked the city and attractions.
More thoughts: I’ve been talking with Amanda the past week and really doing some soul-searching about my career in triathlon. After this race I’m leaning toward giving up this distance and putting off going for a 140.6 next year as well to focus on Sprints and/or Olympics. We’re having another kid in November and we’ll have 2 under 2. I’m just not sure I’ll have the time to train as much as I would want to in order to be as fast as I’d want be at the 70.3 or 140.6 distance once the next baby comes.
I would love to think about doing a relay for a long or ultra distance because I’d get the benefit of the race energy, huge attendance, and club encouragement without needing to train 20 hours a week to feel good about going.
So for now I’ll train for IM 70.3 Augusta with gusto and give it everything I have as it may be my last long distance race for quite a while.