This past weekend was the Chattanooga 70.3 triathlon and while it was not the race I had hoped for, I learned many lessons that I will be able to take forward in the future. I took Friday off of work to head to Chattanooga early with Rebekah. We were staying in a super nice condo in the downtown area with fellow Team Kattouf athlete and friend Mike Alexander. We were also staying with Thomas Gerlach, a Pro Triathlete who would go on to finish 11th in the race. I spent much of the weekend learning from these two and enjoying their company.
After a couple days of easy workouts and navigating an Ironman venue for my first time, Sunday morning had arrived. I didn’t sleep very well before the 4am wake-up time, but this is pretty normal for me and typically works out fine as long as I have had decent sleep leading up to the race. Mike, Rebekah, and I made our way to transition to set up our area and got on the bus to the swim start before too long. Upon arriving to the swim start, we found ourselves towards the back of a very large line leading to the water. We decided it would be best to move up in the line to avoid having to swim through large crowds of people since they would be starting athletes in a time trial format.
The start began at 7am for the age group athletes and the line started moving forward. It was about 7:10 when we crossed over the timing mat and jumped into the water. And just like that, the race had begun! It was amazing how many athletes had entered the water in just a 10 minute period. The first few hundred meters was up the river before a turnaround, and I was dodging athletes almost the entire time. I felt good in the water and kept a fairly straight line, but the crowded water definitely added another level f complexity t the swim. After the turn around, I was able to find clear water a few times as there were a few options for a straight line to the finish. I was still unable to completely avoid the occasional person stopping to sight or doing the breast stroke. Before too long, the ramp out of water arrived and I got out of the water after a swim that left me feeling pretty good.
I kept the pace heading through the large transition area relatively low as I was hoping to drop my heart rate some before getting on the bike. After running through a large group of people attempting to mount their bikes, I quickly hopped on and began making progress past more athletes. My heart rate monitor failed to read for the first portion of the ride so I was pacing solely off of power and effort for the majority of the bike. The beginning of the ride felt a bit too good and had me riding a bit too hard as I was eager to pass many of the athletes that I approached. The roads started to clear more as I went and by about an hour in, cyclists were appearing much less often. Just about halfway in, I reached back to switch out my bottles when suddenly I had a severe cramp in my mid-right abdomen! This had happened racing in Charleston as well and I knew that I would have to sit up and stretch it out to resolve it. After a terribly long 30-60 seconds, it had finally gone away long enough for me to resume a semi-aerodynamic position again. From this point on through the rest of the ride, I only passed a few amateur athletes and professional females. My power continued to decrease as I was beginning to feel the harder first half hit me. Eventually I made my way back into town and came off the bike with what felt like a solid bike, despite pacing a bit too hard initially.
As I headed out onto the 13.1 mile run, my goal was to stay as relaxed as possible and just let the race unfold. I told myself that the first half should be no different than a training run at home. Rebekah informed me that I was the 2nd Amateur athlete at that point, which was good news, especially considering I had started later. The first mile came through around 6:20 and while this was slower than the half in Charleston, I was hoping the legs would start to behave as I got further in. Unfortunately, this was not the case. The miles progressively got slower and slower and I knew I was beginning to bleed time. I made sure to get some liquids and calories down at the aid stations but it wasn’t seeming to help. By mile 6 I was in a world of hurt and wasn’t even halfway done!
As I struggled past the halfway point and made my way onto the second loop, something seemed wrong. There were a lot of spectators by the course and then suddenly, I saw what looked to be the finishers chute! After hearing the announcer, I realized I had taken the wrong turn at the halfway point and had added a good chunk of distance (later estimated at 0.75 miles). I immediately turned around and made my way up the hill I had just came down with a fire under me to regain that lost time! That fire quickly faded a couple minutes later as my delirium began to kick in again on the now crowded run course.
Around mile “7” I looked down at my hands to realize that they were completely dry. Upon examining the rest of my body, I noticed that I was hardly sweating at all! This was a very bad sign as the temperature was probably about 80 degrees which would normally have me pretty wet. The obvious conclusion was that I was badly dehydrated. While I had intended on drinking more on the bike, I was unable to grab a bottle from an aid station at 25 mph and had decided to just use the 2 I had with me. This plan had obviously begun to show terrible consequences as I continued on in my delirious state. The next remaining 6-7 miles included walking every aid station to take in water, getting passed by too many athletes to count (after not getting passed in the first 3 hours of the race), and desperately trying to hold paces slower than I’ve ran in years. On the course I saw friends Robert Vanderburg and Yorlirry Moreno which lifted my spirits a bit. I yoyo-ed with Robert for a while but wasn’t able to keep up with Yorlirry who was keeping a good pace.
Finally, my misery came to an end as I made my way down the finishers chute for a 2nd time and finished in 4:26:XX. The rest of the day involved laying around, feeling bad for myself, and attempting to eat and drink to replace everything I had lost during the race. It turns out that my time ended up being good enough for an Age-Group win. This was slightly surprising given my meltdown during the race but I was very happy for it! My original goal was to place as one of the top few amateur athletes and hopefully not be too much slower than the Professional athletes racing. This obviously did not happen, but I am still not disappointed in my result. Looking back, I posted what I would consider very solid swim and bike splits despite being caught in the crowds towards the beginning of the race. With a proper nutrition plan and a solid run, I am confident that my run time could have been 15-20 quicker which would have had me at the very top of the amateur field and dead in the center of the Pro field. I obviously did not execute on race day though and my time suffered because of it. This race has taught me that I still have a lot to learn and experiment with, but I am confident that there will be better races to come!
I am currently taking a super easy week off of training and finalizing my race schedule for the rest of the year. I will add another short post in about a week with the schedule and my decision of racing as a Professional Triathlete or not. Thank you as always to everyone for the support as it means a lot to me. Especially to Mike Alexander for racing with me and taking the time to listen to me rant about triathlon, Thomas Gerlach for putting up with my questions before the race, and Rick and Gail Kattouf for their continued support of my training and racing! I am constantly amazed at how nice and encouraging the Team Kattouf family is as I meet more and more of them! Thanks for reading!