It seems that my posts are getting more delayed as time goes on. But I suppose that’s what happens when you keep busy and don’t have a fully functioning computer. Either way, my experience at IRONMAN Chattanooga was another memorable one. It honestly went better than I would have expected earning me a solid performance and a personal best 6th place result!
After IRONMAN Canada I had about a 2 month window to recover and then build for this race. Things would seem to go okay in training before running into a road block every couple of weeks. Whether it was less than ideal sleep or being worn down from work, something seemed to pop up to occasionally impact training and recovery. This is sort of expected with everything I have going on, and I generally just attempt to roll with it and do the best I can. Unfortunately, I did end up getting sick about 2 weeks prior to the race which forced some extra rest and an early taper. While I was still confident I had good fitness for the race, I couldn’t help but know that the lead up wasn’t quite what I had hoped for.
Rebekah, Charleigh, and I headed out for the race that Thursday after I front loaded my week with a hefty amount of hours at work (travel nurses don’t get PTO). We used a variety of methods of travel including the Denver rail system, a flight to Atlanta, a short Uber ride, and finally the remaining drive to Chattanooga. We had an amazing homestay in Chattanooga and are so thankful to Andria for letting us into her home. We were located just a few miles along the bike course and even had a Pack’n’Play available for Charleigh! The next couple of days involved finishing up and prep for the race, some tune up workouts (some with Joe Nagy!), and just trying to get adequate rest.
At the Pro meeting prior to the race, some interesting details were announced that greatly impacted the race. We had known that the swim was to be cancelled due to the weather in the days and weeks prior. They then announced that the Pros would be starting in a time trial format on the bike with 60 seconds separation between each athlete. We drew numbers to determine the random start and I ended up drawing #13. It turned out, though, that only about half the guys on the original start list showed up to race! So my original #13 ended up with me getting the #4 position in reality since most everybody drew even higher than me.
The morning of the race I woke up at 5 am so I could eat my breakfast before heading back to bed for a short nap. With the cancelled swim there was a lot less logistics to deal with race morning which seemed to make everything more relaxed. I rolled out from the homestay around 6:30 and rode my bike to the transition area/start line. Everything felt smooth and while the temps weren’t exactly cold, it also wasn’t too warm out yet. I had plenty of time to take care of logistics and socialize some before getting lined up for my 8:03 am start.
The time trial start ended up being awesome as the crowd would cheer and count down from 10 for each of the Pros as their time came! When it came my turn the announcer asked what my claim to fame was, to which my response was “Nothing” initially considering the prior guys had touted their impressive IRONMAN resumes. Definitely left me feeling in a different category than some of these guys from the start! But then the countdown was on and I made my way to start IRONMAN Chattanooga!
I attempted to start pretty conservatively on the bike making sure to never spike my power unnecessarily. The pace was a little hot, but everything seemed to be coming easy to me and I was carrying good speed, so I went with it. After the first 20-30 minutes of riding smoothly at just over 290 watts, I noticed a motobike pull up next to me. I knew some media coverage was a possibility since I had started 4th, but actually having it happen is always awesome! I attempted to just keep right on pace and not let it effect my race at all which I think I succeeded in. I never rushed anything in the opening parts of the ride and made sure to take in my calories and grabbing extra fluid as planned.
Eventually the motobike pulled away after about an hour so I assumed that it had someone else to go cover and I was no longer in the top 4 according to time. Somewhere around mile 50 of the ride, I saw 2 riders approaching me from behind. I continued to ride my plan as they came by and I saw it was Kirill Kotsegarov and Colin Laughery. The speed differential seemed to be low, so I decided to keep them in striking distance. Just a couple miles after that, I saw another couple of riders up the road that we were gaining on. Seeing it wasn’t Cody Beals, I knew it had to be Joe Gambles and Jim Lubinski. Everybody seemed to come together at once for what was one of the hillier parts of the course finishing first lap. My goal was to stay somewhere in this group as I didn’t want to have the burden of leading through the age group field on the second lap. Jim started to fall behind a bit and I surged to pass him on one of the hills. As I did, he seemed to have a shifting problem and was immediately out the back because of it. Brutal, I know.
I had to ride pretty hard for the next couple of minutes to close the gap back to the other 3, but was able to do so before we started lap 2. As we made the turn, I was immediately glad that I had as most of the cyclists became aware of us passing by the time I came by. We consistently had a motobike behind our group of 4 making sure we had plenty of distance, but I was glad to not have to continuously yell “on your left” for every pass.
Around mile 70, I saw Matt Russell approaching from behind and moved over to let him by. Our group was starting to dissipate at this point as Kirill had ridden off the front and Joe Gambles followed Matt as he went by. When I found a good spot, I made the pass on Colin and found myself riding solo again other than the athletes on their first lap. After 5-10 miles of this, I spotted Joe Gambles again who must have fallen off the pace with Matt Russell. I was still feeling great at this point, but allowed myself to slow as I was starting to be concerned about riding too hard as my power was still around the 280 watt mark. Shortly before the turn off to end lap 2, I decided to go for it anyways and made the pass on Joe!
Making the turn back on the highway heading towards town was amazing as I was finally able to just tuck and ride steady again. I was completely alone as I could see nobody down the highway ahead or behind me. I love the feeling of just being able solo time trial and really enjoyed the last section of riding. While my ride wasn’t a negative split, it was apparent I had some of the most even pacing on the day looking back. According to the tracker, while everybody else seemed to lose positions in the last parts of the ride, I was gaining ground even if I didn’t know it at the time.
In the final mile into transition, it became apparent to me that I hadn’t yet peed during the ride. I made sure to coast for a short section to let it out before finally rolling into transition. I had a decent transition which put me 4th on the road (later to learn I was in 5th position due to the tt start). Running didn’t feel particularly great to start, but I’ve certainly felt a lot worse in the past! My hips felt a little closed off, and after about 2 miles of running I got the familiar feeling of needing to stop at a port-a-pottie. I was able to resist until about the 3.5 mile mark and then made my move. I timed myself at 1.5-2 minutes, and when I came out I saw Joe Gambles had made the pass and was shortly up the road. I knew that technically I was still “ahead” of him, but I also know how good of a runner he is. At this point, my hips had loosened up and I was really able to find a decent stride.
At this point, I knew it would be a case of how well I could hold up with hydrating and fueling while not falling apart. The sun was now showing itself and I was being reminded of the humidity of being back in the Southeast. I kept plugging away doing what I could, but was definitely hitting the upper limit of how much fluid and nutrition I could take in at the time. Arriving to the backside of the first (of two) loops I finally found the real hills. Barton Avenue was a monster to get up and then proceeded to smash my legs on the descent down. The hills only seemed to get steeper and I soon realized this run course was at least as difficult as IRONMAN Canada, if not worse! On the way back in while climbing Barton Avenue again, Adam Otstot came by looking strong and consistent as he always is. I was actually surprised it had taken him this long to bridge up to me, but it was apparent that he was not interested in holding a conversation.
Over the next few miles, I played a little cat and mouse with Adam as I would bridge back up on a flat or downhill section, and he would pull away on the ups. He eventually stayed away for good when I slowed for an aid station, but I now had the company of the athletes on their first loop. At the halfway mark, there had been a board with places on it which was the first time I could see where I was really at in the race! It had me listed in 7th place as I was just now passing Joe Gambles who had slowed considerably. Considering my original goal was a top 10 placement (“in the money”), this was very good news to me! The bad news was that there was not more than a few minutes to all the athletes after me, and I still had a long way to go!
Running consistently became more and more difficult as my nutrition and hydration status was likely getting worse. But knowing there were a lot of athletes behind me trying to close that gap pushed me to keep going harder than I otherwise would have. The worst part was the fact that they could “virtually” pass me without me even knowing! The final hills on the backside of the course were miserable, but I could finally see the end coming near. At 3 miles to go, I passed some people playing Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” on a stereo which got me revved up again and ready to finish this thing out. I made it up Barton Avenue the final time, and after the descent, held a strong pace determined to not let anything slow me down.
I hit the bridge to cross the river to the finish line and just refused to slow in case somebody behind was closing. I practically sprinted the final downhill, resulting in not only my fastest split of the day, but the fastest final section for any of the Pros. I crossed the line in 6th place in 7:45, ecstatic with how the day had gone and soon began looking for Rebekah and Charleigh! It was so great to have them there at the finish line as Rebekah had not yet been able to spectate one of my IRONMAN’s. It was also great to have my mother as well as my dad and his girlfriend Laura there at the finish to share the day and that moment with me.
I later learned that my final miles had been quick enough to keep me in 6th place by just a couple minutes. While I am super happy with my result, I still want to do better and was a good bit shy of my goal of getting under 3 hours on the admittedly very tough marathon. I know I still have a lot of room for improvement in executing an IRONMAN marathon run, and I think it is one of the factors that will help bring me within striking distance of one of those top spots.
Next up is IRONMAN Louisville which is just 2 weeks after the finish of Chattanooga. My only job now is to put my feet up and rest in the meantime. That, and continuing to actually work at my nursing job! Thank you so much to everyone that tuned in to watch me race, track me, or to congratulate me before or after. I often feel out of place racing against the athletes that I compete against, but I’m feeling more and more that I belong on that start line as a true competitor!