Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Ironman Chattanooga Race Report

You know it's going to be a good race when you are greeted with a swiss cake roll and oatmeal cream pie at the expo!  My second attempt at Ironman Chattanooga proved to be my a great race and an encouraging result as I continue to focus on longer distance racing.   I came away with a 4th place finish after leading the race into T2 and maintaining the lead halfway through the run.  I still have some work to do on the run, but finally breaking the 3 hour mark for the marathon was a good mental boost heading into winter training.  My time of 8:12 was a 13 minute improvement over last year and my best time for the Ironman Distance.

I spent a few enjoyable, relaxing few days in Chattanooga prior to the race with my good friends/family/sherpas Jeff and Therese and prepared myself to tackle my second Ironman in six weeks.  I was lucky enough to swim a few times with Dimond Bikes Boss TJ Tollakson at the beautiful Baylor School pool (where the High School 500 Free record is 7 seconds faster than my COLLEGE record!).  Bike transport was easy and problem free thanks to TriBike Transport, so everything was on cruise control as the weekend approached.  I went to bed on Saturday confident and ready to race.  The only bump in the road was that I was missing the UCI World Championship back in Richmond! 

Why did I miss this???
The race started out on a bit of a chaotic note as the pro men jumped into the water for a quick warm up.  "Quick" turned out to be quite the understatement as the cannon fired unexpectedly only a few minutes after I jumped in.  If there was a warning, I missed it because I was about 25m (seemed like 100 at the time) behind the starting line when it fired!  The first 400m or so was a mad dash through the field to get to the front and join the lead pack.  Once I made it through, I settled in and spent the rest of the swim nicely tucked behind the lead swimmer.  I am very lucky to have years of swim speed banked (plus the great BlueSeventy PZ4 TX), because I definitely have not been training for that type of starting effort on no warmup!  By the time we hit land, I was completely at ease and ready to roll.  In fact, during the later stages of the swim one of my favorite Good Will Hunting clips popped into my head... I was confident and in a good head space! (warning, explicit language).

I took charge early on the bike because none of the lead swim pack seemed to want to keep the pace honest.  Knowing that there were some great runners in the field, I reluctantly pushed to the front.  My goal was to ride just hard enough to keep the chase group at bay, but not so hard that others wouldn't come forward to help.  About 30 minutes into the ride, TJ came through and I gladly let him set the pace.  I dropped back to 5th and kept an eye on the group while conserving my power as planned.  Unfortunately,  everyone seemed to be content to let TJ pull away instead of matching his pace.  I saw what he can do last year at Mont Tremblant, so letting him go free wasn't an option.  I put in a pretty big 4 minute effort way over my wattage cap (380 for you data geeks) to close the gap and it was enough to break up the lead group to just TJ, Matt Chabrot, and myself.   

Dimond Bikes were 1-2 for much of the ride.
Everything went smoothly until just before the halfway point of the ride.  I had planned to pick up two bottles of First Endurance EFS Pro at the special needs stop and finished my first two bottles accordingly.  My long course nutrition has never been a problem thanks to First Endurance and utilizing the special needs bag allows me to keep my fueling 100% the same as I practice during my training rides.  Sadly,  we flew through the special needs area before I knew what was happening!  I was stuck with no fluid or calories until the next aid station and was forced to rely on the on-course nutrition for the remainder of the ride.  I stayed calm and grabbed what I could from the aid stations moving forward as we started to catch the age group athletes on the second loop of the course.

Leading into T2
I did my best to stay calm and focused with the derailed nutrition plan and increased bike traffic.  Both my power and heart rate were under control as I did my best to fuel my body and ride defensively (it got dicey with the age group crowds!) I had been riding conservatively for most of the day and heading into the last 20 miles I actually found myself feeling itching to push the pace despite my plan to ride conservatively.  Perhaps it was my insecurity about my run or perhaps my habit of aggressive riding dies hard, but I took the lead and managed to grab a 90 second lead heading into transition.  I hopped off the bike still feeling confident I had executed well and was ready to unleash a solid run.
Out of T2 before anyone came in
Leading an Ironman sounds glamorous, but in reality it gets pretty lonely.  I'm not complaining to be sure, but miles of solo running wondering what is going on behind you can be tough to manage.  Fortunetly, I've been in the position now a few times and I managed the opening miles of the run well.  I was relaxed, confident and very happy to find that the patient bike riding paid off.  My main focus for the weekend was to put together a sub three hour marathon and by the half way point I was on pace to do just that.  I was continually getting splits from the athletes behind me and knew that the gap was closing, but not too quickly!  I took on fluid, sipped on my First Endurance Liquid Shot, and clicked off the miles one by one.

Leading can be Lonely!
Matt Chrabot caught me at the end of the first loop and I did my best to match his stride for a few miles.  Unfortunately, my alternate nutrition on the bike started to come back to haunt me.  At mile 17, I had to make a pit stop at the Port-a-Potty.  Bad news:  I lost Matt.  Good News:  I came out still in second place and feeling like a new man!  I set off to salvage my pace and quickly dipped back under 3 hour pace.  Unlike last year, the second time through the hills I was prepared and ready.   Two European athletes came by me looking strong, but I was able to hold my pace and stay positive.  I had visions of making a charge in the closing miles but in the end I didn't have the leg speed to break into the top 3.  Despite coming up a bit more than 4 minutes from the win, I am pleased with my race and feel like it was my most complete effort to date.

After the race, I enjoyed the Urban Stack with Jeff and Therese.  My normal post-race burger was accompanied by one of the best milkshakes I've ever had.... can't put my finger on the secret ingredient but I highly recommend one the next time you're in Chattanooga!   The city and community are fantastic and, similar to Mont Tremblant, their enthusiasm really make the race a positive experience.  If I'm not toeing the line on a certain Hawaiian Island next year, I'll be back to continue my move up the podium.  

Next up for me is Challenge Florida, but for now I'm going to enjoy a bit of down time. I'm now in full recovery mode from the past two races and enjoying a bit of time catching up with my girls.   Despite a rough early season of racing (and crashing), the last few races have made for a pretty good salvage of the year.  Thank you to all of my sponsors and supporters for getting me to this point.  Finishing with a win in Sarasota would be icing on the cake before a long off season of being a runner.  Of course, before my next trip I have some serious work to do... my FaceTime skills make Sidney cry!

Thanks for Reading!


  1. FREEDOM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! "the-blazeman", (alswarriorpoet-spirit).

  2. Excellent race and race report! I especially enjoyed the Good Will Hunting attitude finishing up the swim! I hope Challenge Florida goes well for you.