Saturday, October 24, 2015

Ironman Chattanooga 2015

Not even sure where to start with this race except to say that overall Ironman #6 was another amazing experience.   And unlike my Flying Pig experience earlier in the year, this one was done with family and friends surrounding me the entire time.  Close to 50 athletes went down and raced Ironman Chattanooga this year from the Columbus area  and we had these shirts made, a navy one for the supporters and teal for the athletes.   Pretty cool to see people sporting these the entire weekend!  In addition to my Columbus friends, there was also a number of other friends racing that I know through various other IM groups, primarily via FB, so was also fun to actually meet some of these athletes while I was in town for the race and then see them again during the race and after the race as well.

 Chattanooga is a cool town, that I have really come to love in the past year.  The people are wonderful and so welcoming, lots of outdoor activities, beautiful area, and tons of great eating places.  Part of the charm of this race definitely lies in the community that surrounds it.   And although it is probably a little boring, as part of my race report, I am just going to include a little account of each day there.

Day 1:  Pretty much can be summarized by driving down from Columbus to Chattanooga with my friend Amy.  I made her leave early, stop for coffee before we were even out of Columbus, stop again for coffee half way into the trip and then eventually make it in town early enough for dinner with our friends Becky, Bruce, and Erin,  but just late enough that we couldn't check into the race that night.  And prior to dinner, I did a quick spin on the bike to make sure everything was working.   Glad I did, got to see the one part of the course I hadn't ridden.

Day 2:   Slept in and woke up to pouring rain.   Picked up Jeanne from across the hall and went down to check in, get the official IM "blue bracelets" and hit one of the mandatory athlete meetings.

Jeanne, checking into her first IM!

After check-in, I drug Amy to a pretty awesome local restaurant, The Feed Table and Tavern,  and met up with some more friends that I had met through IM training groups.   Fun to see Catherine (who lives in Chattanooga) and Dash (who lives in Florida) and catch up for a bit! 
Dash, Catherine, and I just after lunch

Returned to the hotel in time to get ready for The Underwear Run. For those not familiar with the Underwear Run, they originated at IM Kona 18 years ago and is a short,fun run that takes place a few days prior to the race event.  People show up in undies, run a few miles, and donate money to a local charity.     Not all of the IM's have an Underwear Run, but fortunately, IM Chattanooga had one this year, and fortunately, it also stopped raining in time for the run and we had almost perfect weather and a great turn out.    Only 5 from our group went, but we had a blast!

Greg, Jeanne, Patrick, myself and Ken

After the run Jeanne and I hit the opening ceremony for the race.   In other races they will have a sit down dinner and a welcome ceremony and it can last 2-3 hours.  In Chattanooga, the dinner was replaced with a $25 voucher we could use in town at participating restaurants  and the ceremony was condensed into an hour.  I love going to them because they will introduce special interest stories, stats about the race, etc.   From there we went to the Big River Brewing Company and met up with several of our group and our supporters from Columbus.  

Michelle, Lynne, Jeanne, Will, Brian, Ken (back row)
Stephen, myself, Wendy, and Amy (front row)

Day 3:   Slept in again, got up and took our bikes down to the waterfront, where we also set up our club tents for the race supporters.   Big thanks to Chet from Bikesource for coming down to help support the racers.   He actually bought tools and set up "shop" for a few hours for us all to bring bikes down and have him look over for any last adjustments.  Pretty awesome that we were able to have that personal attention at the race.   

Jacque, Todd, Dawn, Carrie, Wendy, Anne, and Karen of Just Tri

Tent set up

Chet, working hard on the bikes

After getting the bike worked on and making sure it was working well, I headed over to transition and dropped it off, looked at my spot, and then headed to eat before going back to the room and getting my bags ready to drop off for bike and run.    Then went  back to transition to drop those off and walk through to make sure I would know the flow of things for race day.    So generally after I drop the bike off and look for landmarks, then do the same with the bags, I will then walk back through and really pay attention to the flow of the race.   Where do I exit the water, then enter transition, to the point where the bags are, etc.  Where is the bike out, then bike back in, then run out?   I like to visualize how I will come through and go over the process in my head?   I feel like if I can do that, it is one less thing I have to worry about on race day.   I also found my friend Katrina and walked with her through the transition as well, helped me too, to do it a 3rd time.  
Run bags, took a picture to help capture where mine was, notice the double yellow line on the ground?  My bag was next to that, yellow tape on the bag...

Found Katrina! 

Down at transition I ran into more friends, including my highschool Geometry teacher, Mr. Kevin Guilfoyle!   I knew he had been doing triathlons, but had no idea he had signed up for IMChoo, so was pretty fun to see him down there! Found out later that Kevin actually placed in the top 3 of his AG, but missed a Kona spot by a few sounds like he had a great race!

Club member and VP of COTC, Patrick

Found a matching shirt!  Karen of Just Tri 

Last stop before heading back to my room to rest a bit before dinner was meeting up with another friend, Claudia, who had traveled to town to spectate and cheer at IMChoo, from Atlanta...she would be going on to complete her first IM in a few weeks at IMLou
Claudia and I

Dinner was spent with my Mom and Aunt Debbie, who had just arrived in town that day.  We headed out to a fantastic place called 1885, also the same owners as Feed Table and Tavern.    My friend Nathan had suggested both places, as his sister Leslie and brother-n-law, Miguel were the owners.  Leslie and I had been texting and talking on the phone prior to the race and I finally got to meet her when we went for dinner.   All I can say was the food was delicious (would highly recommend to anyone visiting or living in Chattanooga) and the company was great as well.  Definitely a great place for a pre-race dinner! 

Leslie and I at 1885

Day 4:  Race Day  -  I had two primary goals for the race going into it.  #1 was to get through the race without any GI problems, especially on the run.  #2 was to break the 14:00 mark, which would be a PR for me (up to that point my PR was set at IMAZ 2009 with a 14:11:26)

Alarm clock always comes early on race day, and this was no exception.  3 athletes up, ready and down to transition by 6am where we added nutrition to the bikes, checked on our bags, made some pit stops, and then reconnected to head over to the swim.  At Chattanooga they actually bus you out to the swim start, which is 2.4 miles upstream.  Once there, everyone gets into to line, which is first come, first serve, to wait until the race starts.   This one is a time trial start, which basically means you start on land in one big line and then run out to a dock and jump in one right after another.   Was nice to have a posse to hand with prior to the start of the race, and also to see some of our sherpas/supporters out there to cheer us on and give last minute tips.  We got there a little later, electing to sleep in longer vs be at the front of the line.  The best I can estimate is that it took us about 20 min from the start of the race to actually get into the water...
Chattanooga's swim is by far the easiest I have done. It was wetsuit optional, but I elected to go without one as the water temps were in the 77 degree range and I was afraid I would roast!   Almost no contact getting started and everyone spreads out pretty quickly, after all, we have the whole river to swim in!   Also, the buoys are pretty visible, and it is downstream...both of which made a huge difference.  I went at a moderately easy pace and overall felt pretty good in the water.  And when I finished, I had a 1:07:24, PR for the swim by about 11 minutes!  

Long run from the water to transition, but much to my surprise I was able to run most of it..most of the time I am fairly SOB when I get done swimming and it can be hard for me to get my breathing under control initially.  For some reason I didn't have this problem during this race.   Once into transition, I wasn't able to get a volunteer so was trying to do things on my own.  Fumbled around, but finally got everything on and headed out to the bike.   Spotted my new friends Leslie and Miguel as soon as I came out, so stopped to hug them, then moved into transition.   My one mistake was not practicing a portable GPS unit that I had rented in order for my family to be able to track me easier.   I had never used one before and thinking it would be easy to figure out, hadn't practiced turning it on prior to the race.   Well, for some odd reason, I couldn't get the darn thing to turn on, even though I know I charged it the day before.  But I probably stood there several minutes trying to figure the thing out, prior to finally giving up and hoping I had gotten it on by accident somehow (which I didn't).   So my transition ended up being almost 11 minutes long.   Longer than I would have liked, but not terrible considering I felt like I had been in there forever.  

Next up was the bike.  My plan was an easy pace for the first loop, then moderately easy until mile 80 and then increase to moderate pace at that point if I was feeling good.  I opted not to use HR for the race and to go by feel instead.  Through the years, I have trained with HR and have really tried to focus on how I feel at the same time.   So this year, I have slowly gone away from HR and wanted to see what I could do with RPE.  The other reason I stopped HR training is because I was getting tired of constantly chafing from the strap, no matter what I tried.  The other was just to race a little more free and and see what I could do...

Chattanooga's bike course starts in town then heads out into an area of rolling hills, churches and some flats.   Very pretty land and I very much enjoyed the course.   I also loved seeing so many of my friends out on they all passed me.  But I kept with my plan and focused on consistent eating/drinking on the bike.   Switched my nutrition up on the bike this year and used osmo for electrolytes and then used picky bars and power bar wafers for calories and water whenever I ate.    Had an alarm set for every 10 minutes and tried to make sure I either drank or ate something every time it went off.   By then end of the first loop, I was feeling pretty good, so I picked up the pace just slightly.   By the time I finished the second loop, I had caught back up to and passed 5 people that I knew from Columbus that had passed me in the first loop.    I had also finished off 4 bottles of osmo, 2-3 bottles of water, 2 picky bars and 2 wafer bars and the stomach was feeling good, although I had to pee like a race horse!   Bike time:  6:56:03 (Technically, not a PR, IMAZ still holds that at a 6:50, however IMAZ course is 112 and IMChoo is you be the judge)

Got to ride with my friend Ken for a little bit before we eventually split up

Once off the bike, I changed shoes quickly in the tent, re-applied sun screen (where I quickly realized my neck had chafed at some point from the intense burning sensation I felt right after the sunscreen hit my neck), hit the bathroom and then finally found my Mom and Aunt for a quick hug and update. Then it was off onto the run course.   T2 was about 8 minutes.   Again, longer than I would have liked, but taking the time for sunscreen, my family and the loo...I wouldn't change.   

Chattanooga's run is a  hilly, 2 loop course.  It is probably the hilliest and toughest of the races I have done.   Elevation gain on the run is close to 1,300 ft and most of it is on the back portion of the first loop.   There is also a huge hill in the first mile as you are coming out of transition.   My plan for this race was a moderately easy pace for the first loop and then see how I feel.  I also planned to walk all the water stops and the hills so my HR wouldn't get too high.   Nutrition was osmo in my hand held bottle, cliff shot blocks (one every aid station), water with cliff shots, base salts (one lick every mile), and coke starting the second half or when I felt like my energy levels needed it.   2 miles into the run, I randomly met Eric, who recognized me from a FB group we are both in on-line.   Eric is from New York, so I found it hysterical that he recognized me during the middle of a race, especially never having met him before!   Eric is on his second loop and I my first,  I quickly realized I could not keep up with him and let him go, although I appreciated the company for a bit.    Not long after that my friend Bruce catches up with me...which totally confuses me as he had passed me on the bike and I couldn't recall passing him again.   But either way, he somehow ended up behind me.   We ended up running together for a few miles, which was really nice and helped me take my mind off things for a bit.   Bruce is looking for his wife Becky, who had also passed me on the bike, and hoping that they can finish the race together.   At this point it is looking like Becky has a different idea.   Bruce, did not train for the run, which is evident by the fact that he even ran with me for a bit.   But eventually we separated at a water stop...I kept running and Bruce walked a bit longer at that point and I never saw him again until the finish.   Shortly after I left Bruce I saw his wife and over the next half mile proceeded to catch up to her, let her know Bruce wasn't far behind, and then moved on...Becky hadn't trained much for the run as well.   And Bruce eventually caught her, and they did finish together!
Bruce and I on the run,  thanks IM for capturing that!

Hit the hills and kept up with my run/walk plan.  One great thing at this point is that many of our friends that came down to support us on the course, spread out across the toughest part of the run.  So not only did I get to see many more of my friends that were racing in passing on the out and back sections, but I also had friends cheering me on and shouting encouragement from the sidelines.    Around mile 12, climbing yet another hill, I hear "I hate you" all the sudden.   I look over and I am passing my friend Will.   He is struggling , but I know he will finish at this point.   I keep up with my pace and lose him as well.  Shortly after this, I spot his wife on the sidelines and she is asking where he is.  I tell her "behind me"  and she then asks "you caught him?"  and shaking my head yes, she just says "excellent" and I keep moving.    Second loop comes and I am feeling decent as far as energy and legs overall feel good except my right knee has been hurting, right where the IT band attaches.  An old injury, but one that hasn't bothered me in almost 2 years. I am not limping, but almost every aid station from about 6 miles on, I have to stop and stretch to keep it from getting worse. But, still was able to chug along at a pretty consistent  pace despite this.  

Just a sampling of the great support system we had out on course...they were awesome!!!

  About the time the sun is starting to set  I catch up to my friend Stephen.   He also is struggling on the run, but we end up running a few miles together.   Fun talking to Stephen as he is planning on proposing to his girlfriend at the finish...has it planned so that she has VIP access and is the one to give him his medal.   He tells me about how they met, the proposal plan, etc.  Definitely helps to pass the time.  Can tell my energy is starting to dip a little, but so far no GI problems!  Coke started at this point and  by about mile 20 I have dropped Stephen as well.  Felt bad about it but at this point  I can almost start to taste the finish line, so I keep moving, at what ever pace I can.   At about mile 24 I catch my friend Barb.   Barb, who had blown past me on the first loop of the run, is now doing a fairly steady walk.  Her first IM and she is kicking butt, but hurting.   We talk a bit as I slow down my jog to see how she is doing.   And I know she will finish, so wish her luck and keep moving.  One more big hill and I know I will be good to go.   Last mile I pick up the pace as much as I can.  And I am smiling the whole way.  And crying.   Thinking about my Dad and what a year it has been.  And I know at this point that I will have not only a PR, but also a sub 14 hour race.   All the hard work, the long hours, the belief in myself this year, paying off.   And even though he isn't physically there, I know my Dad is there with me, guiding me, looking out for me.   And I finally reach the finish-line!   #6 complete!   Run time:  5:27:27 (not a PR, but only 4 minutes slower than my IMAZ run PR at 5:23) and an overall time of 13:50:08!! 

Me knowing I have a PR and spotting my Mom and Aunt Debbie just before crossing the finish line

#6, how sweet it is!  

And crossing the finish line I spot a group of my friends that have traveled down to Columbus and cheer us on...they have also signed up as volunteers so they can "catch" us at the finish line!   Pretty sweet to have my medal placed around me by my friend Dawn and get a hug from a group of women that I know and love, making the end of my race even more special than it already had been!   Finished out the evening by staying at the finish line and seeing all my friends (except 2) finish, including Stephen (who did propose to his GF), Becky and Bruce and my mentor an inspiration, Jeanne (complete #1).   All and all, I wonderful race, made even more special by having my Mom, Aunt Debbie, and multitude of friends there for the event!