Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Ironman Chattanooga

When I decided to enter IMCHOO, I thought I knew what I was getting into.  I’ve done the race each of the past two years and feel like I really had the course dialed in.  My first year I was 8:25 for 5th.  Last year I was 8:12 for 4th.  Following the trend, why not a top 3 knocking on 8 hours?  Sadly, this year definitely did not follow the pattern as the day ended with record temperatures and my slowest marathon to date.  I came away with an 8th place finish and a new respect for just how quickly things can go wrong in the heat.  Here’s how it went down:

Hotel or Disney World... hard to tell!

The weekend started with an enjoyable drive with Ed and Sidney.  This was Sid’s first IM race and she handled it better than perhaps any of us!  We visited a fantastic nature preserve for a few tune up workouts and took care of check in and the pre-race meetings.  I installed a new Ice Friction Chain, along with new tires/tubes/rim tape on the Alto Wheels.  Everything was smooth, but it was definitely HOT.  We visited with Reed from Dimond and chatted about some great things coming soon in the pipeline.  By the time race day rolled around, I knew I was going to have to be cautious but I also felt like I had done everything necessary to be successful.  I was (mostly) recovered from IMMT, I was (mostly) over a head cold, and I was (mostly) ready for whatever the day would through at me.
I think this guy has won an IM or 13...
Race day started early with a quick bike check in and shuttle ride to the swim start.  Sidney insisted on coming along so she and Ed kept me company while we waited for the sun to rise.  Once there was enough light, we were given a few minutes to warm up and then it was time to race.  Just like in 2014, fellow BlueSeventy athlete Barrett Brandon and I quickly broke away from the field and slowly built up a lead over the current-aided 2.4 mile swim.  I was comfortable in the draft despite the 82 degree water temperature.  We hit land in just over 42 minutes with a pretty sizable lead.  The temperature was still comfortable so I knew I could put in a bit of work early in the bike before backing off as the heat rolled in.

On the way to Swim Start
About 10 miles into the bike, I took over the lead from Barrett and maintained a solid pace.  I didn’t push it too much knowing there would be a few strong bikers coming along to share the load soon enough.  I focused on not screwing up my nutrition and taking in plenty of First Endurance EFS PRO.  Just before the ½ way point, Marino VanHoenaker and Matt Russell came through and the three of us rode the next 30-40 miles together.  On the last 1/3 of the ride, Marino started to push the pace and I decided not to chance following him.  Matt and I rode together the rest of the way in until I started to back off the last few miles to get my legs ready to run.  I had no interest trying to run with those two and wanted to give myself a shot at a controlled marathon to take the 3rd place podium (and secretly hope that they would blow!).

Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press.
The Garmin read 95 degrees as I hit T2 and I knew it would be slow, tough run.  Through the first 10k, I was convinced I would be able to hold on to my podium spot even tough I was hovering just below the 7:00/mile pace.  With the brutal heat, I didn’t think anyone would run very far under 3 hours.  I turned out to be right about the number of guys under 3 hours, but sadly very wrong about my ability to hold on.  By the ½ way point, I had been passed by Matt Hanson, Justin Darr, and Jeff Symonds and I knew they weren’t coming back.  I wasn’t even sure I was going to be able to complete the 2nd loop and my pace was little more than a crawl… but I was still in 6th place and I knew survival would be a reward in and of itself.

Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press.

I slogged along with the age group field on their first loop and enjoyed talking with some of the guys on the course.  Usually, I’m not one to visit on race day but I was desperate to keep my mind off of the overwhelming urge to throw in the towel.  Somewhere during the 2nd lap I was passed by two more athletes to put me in 8th place.  I can’t tell you much about it other than I had completely switched from competition mode to survival mode.  The last few hills on the course were almost comical as I focused on simply putting one foot in front of the other.  Luckily, the volunteers on course were FANTASTIC and I took plenty of time to stuff my Wattie Ink kit and hat full of ice.  By the time I hit the finish shoot, I knew I’d earned my finisher medal more than any other race before.  I definitely have taken for granted my ability to race at a high level and days like this one remind me that success is not a given.  I am obviously not pleased with the way the day played out I definitely gained some very valuable and hard earned experience.

Photo by Keith Arimura
"A few weeks ago at Mont Tremblant, I had a bad mental lapse on the bike and had a few nutritional issues.  This time around, I stayed focused and rode well.  No nutrition issues to report even on the hot, hot day thanks to First Endurance!  Each race brings it’s own lessons and as I head into the offseason I have plenty of things to work on (namely, avoiding heat indexes over 100).  I know I can swim and bike with some of the best in the world but my run is still far from where it should be.  Last winter’s foot surgery set me back a bit more than I would have liked and I’m looking forward to a full season of running heading into next year.  I may never run a 2:40 but a 2:50 off of a 300w bike and sub 50 min swim is definitely within my ability and I’m looking forward to proving it!

How I felt at mile 16... Long day!

Thank you to everyone for making this season another great one.  My family, friends, and sponsors are truly the best around and I feel very lucky to have their support.  Stay tuned for a post-season wrap up and a few updates for the 2017 season.  Thanks for reading!