Let me just start by saying, holy awesome time. Despite the challenges the day presented, it was by far the most enjoyable overall race experience I’ve had to date. For anyone contemplating racing IRONMAN in Chattanooga, I highly recommend it. The course is spectator friendly and the city has a lot to offer, without being overwhelming, and it’s very easy to get around. The course itself is awesome. Super fast swim, moderately challenging bike course and tough run.
I arrived in Chattanooga on Friday. Normally I would have come in a day earlier and had dinner with my teammates but I opted for one more night in my own bed versus a strange one. I got into town mid morning and met up with my Endurance Nation teammates at the EN 4Keys Talk. This is a free talk that my coaches provide regarding Ironman race execution and tips specific to the course. This is open to the public at all EN Key races.
I registered, and successfully bypassed the crack being offered up in the registration tent.
Then I went to the Athlete’s Briefing where they told us the current was so strong that someone had floated on their back down the swim course the day before in an hour and a half. Hope it wasn’t this guy they were referring to:
Yeah, glad I didn’t bump into that, though now I’m not 100% sure the thing I saw floating by the race exit on Friday afternoon wasn’t a big log. OMG.
So Friday night I attended the Athletes banquet with some local friends and my EN BFF Jodi.
The food was spectacular and Mike Riley (the voice of IRONMAN) entertained us with inspirational stories. We shared our table with the oldest competitor there. 79 year-old Herb. Herb was in his 9th IRONMAN and he did his first at age 72! That just reinforces what I always tell people. ANYONE can do an Ironman distance race if they commit to the training.
Saturday I met my EN buddies for a yummy breakfast and then got myself ready to check my bike and bags into Transition. After familiarizing myself with the in’s and out’s of transition, I went back to my loft for dinner with my family.
My support crew for race day consisted of my hubby Charming and Ironthing I & II, my sister-in-law and brother-in-law from Ohio, and my step daughter Giggles and her beau who we shall lovingly refer to as “Arnold”.
These peeps are my heart and it made for such an awesome race experience to have them there to see through out the entire day.
So here is how my day went (taken from my race report I sent to my team):
Race morning started at 3:00 am. I had gone to bed at 10pm and was tired but could not fall asleep. I know I saw 12:15am and then woke up at 3:00. My alarm was set for 4:00. D’oh! I didn’t fret about it though. I knew I wasn’t going to be at risk of falling asleep during the race;-) Race morning nutrition for me consists of a small cup of coffee, (2) 350 calorie Ensure drinks and a banana. The banana that I had brought with me was a little over ripe so I decided to skip it. I probably won’t skip it next time. Turns out that the binding affect bananas have on me is of importance.
I caught a ride to transition with my buddy and team mate so my family could sleep in a little. And sleep in they did. No one was awake when I left. No big deal people, just doing an IRONMAN here! My husband did wake up long enough to kiss me goodbye and to give me marching orders to go kick some tail. Setting up transition went smoothly. I rechecked my planned route from the changing tent to make sure it hadn’t been blocked off since the day before, placed fuel/water bottles on the bike, started my Garmin, checked tire pressure and even got a selfie with Mike Riley.
After the EN team picture, I hopped the bus with Jodi, and her husband Greg and and another team mate to the swim start. The busing system was fast and efficient. I got in line to make a deposit at the port a potties. Super smart Jodi let me use her head lamp because it was VERY dark in there. I will definitely bring one to future starts. Wait did I say “future” starts? The line for the swim start was loooong. Think new release day at the Apple Store long. I had decided to use my wetsuit because I am a back-of-the-pack swimmer. I have small arms and muscular legs which leave me at a buoyancy disadvantage. So I need all the speed advantage that I can get. The only bummer about this is that the wet suit swimmers had to start last and it seemed like it took forever for us to get in the water. We had about 5 seconds from the time we walked up to the opening to the water until we were made to jump in feet first off the dock.
I don’t like jumping in with goggles on because I’m always afraid that they will pop off or water will get in them. For a person who wears contacts, these are bad things. I held on to them as I jumped in but soon discovered some water had leaked into the left eye. I started to fret a little and was getting bumped a lot by all the elbows and bodies around me. I remember thinking “this reaffirms my choice to don the wet suit.” I surely would have entered into a bit of a panic with all this going on and having to work harder to stay afloat if I hadn’t had it on. But then I remembered my training and I quickly tried to close the sides of my “box” and focus on collecting my breathing and ease into an efficient swim stroke. At the same time I was trying to decide what to do about the water in my goggle. It had entered my eye and I wasn’t sure my contact was going to be functional. I am learning that a lot of times if you just wait before reacting, things work themselves out. And they did. That water found a spot to settle into and stayed away from my eye and my contact settled back into its correct spot. I chose to swim closer to the right hand side of the course (closer to the kayaks and the island) hoping to stay in the stronger part of the current and away from the crowd that seemed to be along the yellow buoys that bordered the left of the course. I’m not sure if it was the right thing to do but it gave me a lot of open water for a lot of the time. I do think it was a little less distance too based upon some data provided by some other racers. It was a quick swim and before I knew it, I could see the fountains that indicated I was at the swim exit. The swim exit stairs were tricky. A lot like IMAZ. My advice to future racers is to find the biggest volunteer you can to lift you out. Total swim time 1:05 (30 minute PR).
They told us there wouldn’t be wet suit peelers but as I exited the swim a volunteer told me that there were peelers waiting for us just down the way! Whoo hoo! Gift! I picked the biggest wet suit stripper I could find and in one swoop that baby was off! I then saw my family on the ramp hootin’ and hollerin’. It was great! I was all business in T1. Toweled off the feet, put sox, helmet and sunglasses on and lubed up the Queen. I asked the awesome volunteer to pack up my stuff and off I ran with my shoes in my hand. I had a long way to run to my bike and running without the shoes proved to be much faster. I saw my family. stopped and kissed my boys and got to my bike. I put my shoes on and started to run out when I noticed my Garmin was off. Uh-oh. WTF? Sabatoge? My husband’s ex-wife WAS racked only three bikes down….yes she races too. Like I said, bogies everywhere. No, she wouldn’t go there I thought to myself. I know I had started it before the race. I didn’t panic, it has been acting up on and off for over a year now. I calmly turned it back on and it fired up. Got to the very crowed bike mount line and a voice out of nowhere comes booming out, Darth Vader-like, “GET ON THE BIKE AMY” Oooo, it still makes me shudder. Coach Rich is watching everywhere kids. And I was hustling! I wish I could do a flying mount but if I were to try to throw my short little leg over my bike it would surely get caught all up in the water bottles and I’d be a hot mess. Oh well, anyway, off I went speeding away from that scary man with the deep military voice I call Coach. Total T1 time 6:16.
I was pleased to discover that all the railroad crossings had been covered on the first leg of the bike. Good call WTC. Shortly down the road I was thrilled to see Jodi. I decided to settle in to a pace that would keep her in my sights for the rest of the in-town leg since we are the exact same bikers. Well just about the time we finished the admin leg, I looked down at my Garmin and discovered that it was off again. No worries, I had my Bia watch on, I could track speed and time this way. (Que screeching tire sounds and turntable needles across an album) Um, nope, the GPS attachment for the watch wasn’t on my body. I forgot to take it off my goggles and put it on my shorts in T1. Epic fail. Turns out, the GPS stick is still missing. It may have fallen on the ground in T1. So there I was, up the river without a paddle. What really worried me was the fact that my Garmin alarm goes off every 15 minutes to cue me to drink my fuel. I didn’t want to booger up my fuel. I tried to do the mental math to calc when I needed to drink based upon mileage but the bike course mileage isn’t marked that frequently so it was strictly going to be a ride by feel day. Thank goodness my buddy Jodi was around so that I could prevent myself from going out too hard or backing off too much by roughly gauging my speed by her. We were very careful not to stay too close. It was harder to stay a legal distance from the other bikers because the course was just that crowded the entire time. I found it an issue mostly on the climbs because on the descents I would pull away from most everyone I was around. As it turned out, the loss of data tracking wasn’t going to be my biggest challenge of the bike. When I got onto Cove Rd. I committed the cardinal sin of trusting the fart. Yup. It happened. I pantsed a little poo folks. After my initial disbelief, I assessed the situation and decided that it wasn’t an issue that had to be addressed immediately (being in aero position has its benefits) but that I would try to locate an open porta potty at an aid station because this would not be something that I would want to accompany me on the run. Well, wouldn’t you know that every stinkin’ aid station had lines for the potties. Ain’t nobody got time for that! So I kept on rollin’. I was able to assess that I was not in jeopardy of getting a rash and I did not stink so it had to be tiny enough to ignore until I got to Special Needs where I needed to stop anyway for more fuel. And yup, wouldn’t you know, no potties at Special Needs. WTH?! I’m pretty sure needing to go potty is a qualifies as a special need. So I said, Okay girl, get your fuel and keep rolling! By this point I was still intending to stop but then on Cove Rd. I passed my husband’s ex-wife and well, there was NO way this girl was stopping now people so I decided I would clean up in T2! Aside from poo, I couldn’t believe how great I felt on the bike and my fueling seemed to be on target. I peed three times and had no real discomfort in my lower back like I often do. Total bike time: 6:49 for 116 miles. If I adjust for the additional miles, it works out to a PR of 16 minutes over IMAZ.
The start of the run course was all up hill and it felt hard. I was completely blind with no watch and had to go by RPE. I loved that the crowd was purposeful in calling out your name with encouraging words. I am not a fan of the Riverwalk section. It seemed to me to be a false flat and I kept looking for it to turn and be able to get my heart rate down and my running legs under me. The first 4 miles were tough, then it got better and I was able to dial in what I thought was race pace. Then it rained and I prayed the sun wouldn’t come out after and turn it into a sauna. I ran the entire first loop, only walking the aid stations and stopping to pee right before the climb up Lindsey. I saw a rainbow while in the hilly neighborhood section and apparently you could see it from the finish line as well.
When I came up the Market Street bridge I was met by my two boys running down to greet me. They ran with me to the end of the bridge and told me I was at 2hrs 21 minutes. What?!
I was thrilled but knew that I wouldn’t be able to hold that for the second loop. I had packed extra sox, tape and a head lamp in my run special needs bag. I struggled with whether to stop and get them because I didn’t want to stop my momentum but ultimately I decided to because I was afraid I’d get blisters with how wet my feet were from the rain. I taped my toes and put dry sox on, grabbed my light and started back out. It was shortly after that when disaster struck and the wheels came off. All my toes on my left foot started to turn numb and then by mile 15 stabbing pain started in under the ball of my foot. I immediately knew what it was. My Morton’s Neuroma came back. It showed up for the first time at IMAZ at mile 10 and I had no idea what it was. I hobbled through the remainder of that run and couldn’t feel my toes for a week afterward. This time I tried to run/walk but succumbed to a fast walk for the majority of the remaining 11 miles. I was and still am so disappointed. I was having the best race I’ve ever had. Today I am mad at myself for not making myself run/hobble like I did in Arizona. Maybe it’s because I met up with another teammate and he was walking because of blisters and that made it okay for me too. I’m not sure, but I have to accept that, for whatever the reason, during the race I made the choice to stay comfortable and in my mind I lose some badassery points for that.
While in the pit of despair of the second loop I declared that this was my last IRONMAN. Too much time away from kids, too hard on the body, too expensive, yada yada yada. Then when I entered the Finisher’s Chute high-fiving every person who asked for one, heard myself declared an IRONMAN by Mike Riley and was injected with the WTC crack that is IRONMAN, I said “Thank you very much, can I have another?”
Run time a pitiful 5:56. Total time 14:04. Overall PR of 9 minutes. Could-have time: 13:25.
I think it’s ironic that the biomechanical issue I worried about most (my bone spur/neck nerve) didn’t bother me at all and the issue I thought I had fixed turned out to be my race spoiler. I guess that is a testimony to what IRONMAN is all about. You just never know what the day will bring you.
Now that I’ve had some time to reflect on the race I believe that I will do another. This will require me to figure out how to manage this Neuroma and I have already taken steps in that direction by first getting an MRI and when the results are in, plans will be made accordingly.