Ironman Chattanooga was my last chance of 2016 to reach a finish line of a triathlon. After a bad bike crash in March that left me sidelined for weeks and handicapped my training until August, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to do a race this year. I thought maybe taking the rest of the summer off and refocusing on next year might be the best thing. After many, many talks with the wife, I was determined to go to Chattanooga and reach the finish line and most importantly, enjoy the process and race, while rediscovering why I love to train and race triathlon. Once I mentally committed to toeing the line, I had a fantastic 3 weeks of training leading into the race. Not an ideal buildup, but I was as perfect as I could have been during those weeks and hoped it would be enough to send me to a podium spot in Chattanooga.
We hopped on a plane Thursday afternoon and finally arrived in Atlanta late Friday morning after 3 flights and multiple layovers. From there we picked up our rental car and drove 2 hours to Chattanooga where I picked up my race package and went to our rental house that Kayle found on Airbnb to unpack my bike and get some early sleep after being up for over an entire day. It was so hot in Tennessee the entire time we were there! I’m not sure if it ever dropped below 30 C. Saturday morning (the day before a race) is when I will get in my last swim, bike and run sessions. I was planning on doing this on Saturday, but when I woke up at 11:30 am after an incredible 12+ hour sleep I figured to just leave it and spend the rest of the day doing some light foam rolling and just staying cool in our air conditioned house while watching Netflix (Gotham season 2 is great!).
Up at 5 am, 2.5 hours before race start. Had a quick breakfast and decided to go for the sleeveless top instead of my sleeved race kit. No reason for this, just a personal preference I had on race morning. I figured as long as I remembered to hit up some volunteers for sunscreen before the bike, I would be ok. Once getting to transition, I made sure all of my gear bags were correct and headed to my bike to put on my bike computer and make sure all my nutrition was ready to go for the long ride ahead. After that I hopped on the shuttle with all the other athletes to take us to the swim start 3.8 km away.
I knew this swim would be fast as it’s a point to point swim straight down the Tennessee river. With my training pool being closed for most of the month before the race, I didn’t have any goals for this swim other than limit my deficit to the main pack as much as I could. The water was very, very warm, making it wetsuit illegal. Luckily I had my Xterra Valor Speedsuit to help give as much advantage as possible without wearing a wetsuit. The swim went by quickly. I dropped from the main pack within the first few hundred meters and swam the rest of the swim by myself, coming out in just under 52 minutes, about 6 minutes back from the main pack. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of exiting the change tent in transition in the wrong place and upon correcting was too out of it to remember to put on sunscreen for the ride. A mistake that I’m sure cost me some time and made the next few days very painful!
Easily the most beautiful and fun bike course I’ve ever rode! Most of the bike course is two laps through the rolling countryside of Georgia. Just under five thousand feet of climbing, this course has no real long sustained climbs but lots of rolling hills that will take the snap out of you if you attack too many of them. I had a great few weeks of cycling before the race and was planning on it being enough to take me through the extra long 186 km course in about 4:45. I knew that would still put me back 15+ minutes back from my main competition, but for this race I was comfortable giving up that much time, confident I could run it out of them. I felt great for the first two hours and hardly felt the heat at all, cruising right on pace and even bringing in some of the guys who were ahead out of the swim. It wasn’t immediate after that, but slowly and surely I was gloriously blowing up in the sun. Once I hit the 3.5 hour mark, I was pretty much cooked and did my best, but could hardly find the strength to turn the cranks with the same force as I started with. I love racing in the heat, but on this day it got to me. The last couple hours on the bike was mostly focused on getting as much water and fuel into me as possible so that the run wouldn’t turn into the Ironman shuffle. I came in after 5:15 on the bike and 30 minutes slower so far than where I wanted to be. I flew through transition as fast as I could, hoping I would see Kayle on the run course soon. I found her immediately after leaving transition and went over to her and was quite emotional. My last chance of the year to make something happen and I was light years back from the podium. After a quick conversation with her, she convinced me to sack up and run down as many people as I could. She told me most of the pros who were out there so far looked like they were dying. With that I was off to see what I could do. My nutrition on the bike was very simple and it worked fantastic for me, on a day where lots of people were having GI issues due to the weather. I had a 1000 calorie bottle of carbo-pro and a gel flask full of Hammer gel and a couple of emergency gels taped to my bike for those use in emergency cases (they were used!). For electrolytes, I would pop 2-3 Hammer Endurolyte pills about every hour. I’ve never had an electrolyte issue and have always used Hammer Endurolytes. They work fantastic for me.
After Kayle telling me that most of the people in front of me looked like they were dying, I shot off like a rocket. At least until I reached the first hill less than a mile away and realized I was completely cooked from the bike and there wouldn’t be a thing I could do about it. When you’re cooked, you’re cooked. I spent the rest of the run taking my time at every aid station, getting in as much fuel as I could and multiple cups of ice down the shorts, top and hat. Staying cool was the key on the run that day. The first half went by fairly easy, unfortunately, my body wasn’t letting my legs run any faster than they already were. The second half got bit harder, I would have long stretches where I would start to find some sub 4 min/km pace (usually after taking some coke at the aid station) followed by some high 4 and even 5 min/km pace stretches. I would flip flop like that, riding the highs and gutting out the lows, all the way to the finish. I crossed the finish line in 9:40 after 3:27 of getting ugly out on the run course.
On a day that felt like 40 C with the humidity, I was the 16th pro to finish and far back from where I was expecting, but was pumped to finally get to a finish line after such a long absence and I had a lot of fun racing out there (minus about 80 km on the bike). After having a year with lots of things testing me to the point of considering taking this year off to prepare for next season, I have to thank all my supporters and sponsors for helping me in one way or another and believing in me. If it wasn’t for you guys, I’m not entirely sure I would have stepped on the starting line in Chattanooga. I have to thank my massage therapist Bethany for keeping my muscles happy during my training and racing, Samantha and everyone at Xterra Wetsuits, Ryders Sunglasses, Zoot Sports, Four Sigmatic and their mushroom goodness, Dawn and the ladies at Raw Elements, the Academy of Culinary Nutrition for completely changing my eating habits/skills for the better. Lastly a special thanks to my family and Kayle. You all had to put up with me and all my complaining, contemplating, etc. after all the struggles this year and convinced me to go to Chattanooga and get back to a finish line, because at the end of the day I love triathlon and that’s why I do this. Next year, I’d love to make some winning happen, but either way I will still love this sport. Another big thanks to all the volunteers who stood out in the ridiculous heat to help our sweaty butts get to the finish line. A record heat day in Chattanooga when the DNF rate was through the roof, your volunteering efforts are much appreciated!
I’m looking forward to writing much more race reports in 2017 and in the meantime, I’ll be filling up this website with lots of great info, triathlon and food related. I’m also taking 12 athletes on for coaching, so if you’re interested, send me a message before I’m full and we can get started. Thanks for reading!