Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ironman Chattanooga Race Report

This weekend, I finished off my season with a ‘second’ Ironman debut at IM Chattanooga (I’ve decided to forget that I even attempted the Mt. Tremblant race).  After a second place "record-setting" swim and a solo 116 mile bike ride, I wasn’t able to close the deal on the run but was able to hold on to 5th place with a respectable 8:25 finish.  It was a solid end to the year and a good start to the long distance phase of my career.

Not sure who posted this on Facebook, but nice shot!

After a relaxing drive and low-key race prep, I was mentally and physically ready to race.  Even after seeing the challenging hills on the run course, I was confident that my body would perform well.  I wasn’t exactly pleased at the down-river swim that would negate my swim strength, but I knew I had the legs to pad any lead that I had coming out of the current.  Barrett Brandon and I broke away right from the start and stayed clear the entire swim.  I did approximately zero work and thanked him afterwards for setting the pace (I don’t feel too bad for him as he ended up passing me the last mile of the run!).  We came out of the water in just over 38 minutes and quite possibly set the Ironman swim-segment world record.  Sadly, the rest of the group was able to keep us within 2 minutes thanks to the current so there was no time to waste once we hit the bikes.

The first 10 miles I settled in and paid attention to not over-riding despite my desire to get out of sight ASAP.  Barrett rode a bit hard as a first time Ironman and it took me all of those first 10 miles to reel him in.  Once I made the pass, I did my best to ride my own race and hit my numbers.  The bike course was twisty and rolling, but I was able to keep my effort steady and follow my nutrition plan from First Endurance.  It was a 2 loop course and I came through the first loop in 2:18 and a 3 minute lead… But the split was given with the comment “On a HUGE group… good luck”.  Roughly 15 of the contenders were benefitting from the group dynamic, which was aided by a swim that failed to create any separation.  Of course it wasn’t ideal, but I put my head down and went to work.  By the end of the ride, I’d pushed my lead out to 6 minutes and came away with a negative split ride at exactly my targeted wattage.  I hit the run in just over 5:15 total time feeling good and confident in a sub 3 hour effort.
 Great Nils Nilson Shot!
The first few miles of the run were uneventful as I was very careful not to push the pace too early.  I clicked off 6:45’s and by the 10 mile mark was confident that I would be able to hold my lead… until Matt Hanson flew by me like I was standing still.  I actually had to check my watch to make sure it was right.  He erased 6 minutes in 10 miles and I was moving well.  Yikes!  Congrats to him on his well deserved win, but I now had to second-guess my position in the race.  I focused on what I could control and kept clicking off the miles.  Despite the insane hills on the back half of the first loop I was still confident at mile 20.  

It’s a long race and I was in the last 10k in podium position.  The day had gone to plan and all I needed to do was close the deal.  It seemed like a reasonable task until I came up to the hills for the 2nd time around mile 22.  My confidence seemed to disappear along with any strength left in my legs and my chance at a top 3 finish.  I was suddenly in full damage control mode as Daniel Bretcher and Trevor Wuertle came by me on the inclines.  My body didn’t feel terrible, I simply ran out of legs.  Up the last hill, my shoes felt like they were filled with sand and the subsequent downhill was like a mean joke on the quads.  With just a mile to go, Barrett came past me and I had no response.  I ended up finishing the day right where I started; right behind him.  The last mile seemed to last forever and I was happy just to see the finish arch and finish with a Blazeman Roll.

It’s amazing how quickly the body can go south, but I put my best effort out and can’t complain about the result.  I was just 4 miles short of a perfect day, but being relatively new to the long distance scene I feel that my performance was solid.  My bike was especially encouraging riding solo off the front with a negative split and nailing my power plan.  A 4:23 112 mile split coupled with my normal swim and a successful run should put me under the 8:20 mark and at the pointy end of most fields.  Looks like a bit of marathon training coming up this winter and big things to come next year!

Here are a few great galleries from the race:

The city of Chattanooga was fantastic and I enjoyed hanging around after the race to cheer on the many RVA athletes and friends on the course.  The race venue was terrific and the inaugural event was a great success.  I’ll wrap up the season in a future post, but I want to thank everyone who made it such a great year.  My sponsors, my newly-extended family, and the great Richmond triathlon community have all made this year one to remember.  I’m heading into the off-season healthy, motivated, and excited for 2015.  Thanks for reading.

Obligatory Sidney picture to drive web traffic!


  1. Way to go Eric! Very impressive! Congratulations on 5th place. Those hills were no joke the second time around. I love reading your blog. Thanks for sharing.