03 October 2018

Ironman Chattanooga 2018 Race Report

What a day we had! Another Ironman is finished. The swim was cancelled a few days prior due to very unsafe conditions so the race was a bike and run only. I took 4th in my age group (pure speculation but might have moved up a place if we’d swum.) I’ve already forgotten some things but it’s fairly complete and VERY long at over 4000 words. I’ll write a shorter, separate post that gives some additional triathlon tips but here goes...

Chattanooga is a great place to hold an Ironman. The area and natural surroundings are beautiful. The riverfront, rural farmland and woods, and urban area are all a pleasure to experience. I raced here for the 1st one in 2014 and was looking forward to coming back to a familiar course. It rained until Thursday night but then cleared. When I checked in that day I learned of the swim cancellation. It was a big disappointment, to the point that some people decided not to race. It eliminated one of my strengths but I didn’t dwell on that because it’s not in my control – I just had to adapt and move forward. I was already rethinking how I would race it before I’d even finished the check-in process. 

For the first 3 nights I stayed at the comfortable and spacious lake house of my sister- and brother-in-law’s 40 minutes north on Lake Chichamauga. I spent Wednesday night and Thursday by myself, including 2 hours trying to remove a loose part from my race wheel. It was stressful, energy sapping, frustrating, and ultimately a failure. The next day I gave it to teammate and bike expert John Sheridan and he fixed it in a ½ hour! Relief! Linda and Mom, Stephanie and Scott, arrived in Tennessee on Friday. I won’t go into other details but it was good to be with family and supporters. 

Saturday morning I drove into the city for a final, short bike ride before racking my bike for the race. We had a Team Challenge brunch where Kat, the National Triathlon Manager (and fearless leader), ran the show. I was recognized as the top fundraiser for Ironman Chattanooga with $12,370! Unfortunately it’s not the highest for allof this year’s Iron Team but I am so very grateful to all who donated to my efforts. During the race I thought about those who donated, especially when I was struggling and felt like quitting (although I was never truly close to giving in or giving up.) I met some teammates at the pre-race ride and the brunch (some for the first time). Linda gave a moving, emotional speech about our experience with ulcerative colitis that startined in 1985. She did a great job, as she always does. We also heard from a local family whose 12 year old son has had IBD nearly his whole life. He is why we need cures!

We had an early dinner on Saturday after checking into a hotel to be close to the race. It’s amazing how much I needed to do and to think about after dinner but before going to bed the night before race day. And I came to Chattanooga well-organized! I applied temporary tattoos that one of our athletes, Kelly, made for me, laid out my stuff, organized my nutrition, and went to bed. Race morning was completely different from any others I experienced. The typical 3:45 or 4am wake up wasn’t necessary because of the cancelled swim and the 8:30 start time. 

We arrived around 7:00 instead of the usual 5 or 5:15. I didn’t need to be there earlier so there wasn’t much point because there was no need to prep for the swim, take the shuttle to the swim start, or warm up. It made for a seemingly much more relaxed transition area and race start. The pros started at 8:00 and first age groupers at 8:20ish. Because I was on Team Challenge I had a very low bib number and started very close to the front since we went off in numerical order, 2 by 2. It was fun to be amongst teammates.

The ride goes south out of town 11 miles, crosses into Georgia, and then gets into a 47 mile loop that’s done twice, mostly through rural farm country and woods. It is beautiful. Starting early kept it cool and under cloud cover for most of the ride. The road is undulating with a couple of steeper hills that don’t last long. The view is beautiful and peaceful with an occasional car on the road but few spectators except when rolling through the small town. There was lots of gear shifting to find the right resistance on the pedals, which makes it easy to “drop your chain” but I fortunately didn’t. 

The terrain variation helped keep my back from rebelling too much and I tried to stretch it frequently, and before I ‘needed’ to. It only started to inhibit my effort towards the end. I took a water bottle at 3 different aid stations, filling the reservoir on my bike before I tossed the mostly empty bottle at the “last chance” trash drop. Sorry if this offends anyone but… I managed to pee not once but 3 times on the bike! That was a first for me. It helped keep me from compromising my hydration out there because it’s very easy to stop drinking if you have to go. And it kept me from ever stopping for the entire ride.

It was very quiet out there for the most part. It only took 45 minutes to send off the couple thousand riders but I stayed ahead of most of the age groupers behind me except for the faster women and ridiculously fast men. At different points during the race I could not see any other riders. That felt a little odd and probably meant a slower ride time for me. I get energy from others and also am a little competitive in trying to pass people, while avoiding overdoing that because I always have to think, “There’s still a marathon to run after this.” Still, while I VERY much enjoyed this ride and this course, having a few more fellow athletes out there near me would have been nice. And even though it was a 2 loop course I only passed 4 slow riders because of how quickly behind me the last riders were able to start the race. At Ironman Arizona, where there are 3 loops and some people take nearly an hour and 20 minutes longer to complete the swim than me, I will start lapping people on the 2ndloop. 

What happens in your head has a huge effect on performance. I thought about my donors a number of times out there and how appreciative I was for them supporting me (and the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation cause).  I was truly grateful to every single person who donated, no matter the amount. Something I did this time was to purposely get a specific song stuck in my head in preparation for the race so I wouldn’t be singing to myself some annoying songs that somehow are either kids’ songs or what are rightfully called earworms. I had snippets of the song Hall of Fame by Script playing off and on in my head during the entire ride.

I also thought about the person with Crohn’s whom I’ve been concerned about most lately: Brooke. She’s a 20-something woman with a bright, bubbly personality, who is loving and caring and a bit of a free spirit as well. If I, as a geezer of 62, was to prejudge her based on her appearance, I think I would respond somewhat negatively. From afar you see that she “decorates” herself in ‘interesting’ ways, with a nose ring, ear gauges, tattoos, and medium length purple hair with some of it as a buzz cut. Fortunately I’m aware enough to know this about myself so I try to temper my preconceptions. Good thing or I would have missed out on getting to know and love this special person. She was on our San Diego tri team this summer and raced her first triathlon. Well, she’s been in the VA hospital for over 2 weeks with a “flare” up of her disease and has struggled with lots of pain, uncertainty, malnutrition, lack of sleep, and (in my opinion) sometimes some pretty poor medical care.  I hoped she was at least able to be following me while I raced because distraction can sure help get you through the day, BOTH as someone who’s sick in the hospital and as a triathlete doing an Ironman!

I took in about 250 calories an hour while riding. I was short of my intended 300 but I wasn’t too concerned; for one thing I wasn’t starting at a calorie deficit from an hour swim. I kept up with hydration and electrolytes so I felt like I was in a good spot. Nutrition on the bike not only fuels your ride but even more importantly sets you up for the long run. Underfuel too much on the bike and you risk burning through you stored muscle glycogen (carbohydrates) and also risk not being able to easily access your energy source of stored fat. That can come back to bite you on the run and force you to slow down, walk, or even stop moving forward.

At 96 miles I suddenly felt like, “Okay, I’m done now!” Unfortunately there were 20 miles to go. My back was hurting more frequently and the fatigue was noticeable and concerning. I happened to look down at the bike ‘computer’ right when I hit 100 miles (and the sun started to appear) and it was right at 5 hours. From there I tried to distract myself with calculations on how long it would take to get off the bike. That number in my head, if I’d done the math right, was disappointing as I would be about 15 minutes slower than my goal split, plus I felt more fatigued than I’d wanted to be. But that was where I was with it. I backed off in effort towards the end in preparation to get out on the run.

On the ride back to town I saw the minor league baseball stadium and knew I was very close to the end. The Chattanooga Lookouts are a Cincinatti Reds AA team. I’d parked there before to go to the race venue but forgot that the course circles way around. At this point I took my feet out of my clipped in bike shoes and pedaled with feet on top of the shoes in preparation for the dismount. I probably should have waited for at least another ½ mile before doing that! So much for my ‘knowing the course’!

The dismount went well as I handed off my bike to a volunteer without falling, tripping, or hurting myself. Another volunteer handed me the bag with my run gear in it and I walked, and jogged a little, barefooted to the change tent. I sat in a chair, took off the helmet, sunglasses, and bike gloves. I’d worn some “arm cooler sleeves” on the bike – they’re thin, white, fast-drying fabric that cools you off when you wet them with water. The ride was cool enough that I never poured water on them but with the sun now out and the temperature rising, I decided to leave them on for the run. Forgetting to squeeze Aquaphor on my toes, I put my socks on and quickly slipped on the running shoes, which have elastic “speed laces”, while another volunteer filled my water bottle that contained carbohydrate (fuel) powder. Hat on, race belt (with bib number) and nutrition in hand, I walked out of the tent.

Instead of going where the volunteer pointed, I laughed and pointed the other way, heading to the portapotty! Once inside I wasted 20 seconds doing nothing besides deciding I didn’t actually need to go! After all, I’d just wetted myself 15 minutes ago while riding back on the bike.

Out I came, walking out of transition, trying to get my back to be upright, straight, and ready to run. I threw in some slow running but I know it takes me time to get moving. And besides, perception is all messed up because I’ve been moving at 20 mph for the past nearly 6 hours so even when I run it feels slower than it actually is. I know that my first mile ALWAYS feels great but also terrible. It’s great because, hooray!, I’m off the bike! It’s terrible because I just rode 116 miles and I have 26.2 miles to go on my feet! Even on my training runs, even during a 3 miler, it takes a good 5 or 10 min. or more before I can find a groove, not hate running, and not want to quit.

The first mile has an uphill that really sucks but makes it easy to justify walking. I didn’t know what place I was in because of the staggered start but another 60+ year old in my age group passed me during the first mile or so and I knew then that I wasn’t in first place. It was a little disheartening, especially since I was barely starting a 26.2 mile run and felt pretty crummy. Gradually I found my running legs and did some version of 10 minutes running, 45 sec walking. This run/walk method is actually faster and more efficient than forcing yourself to just run. Sometimes I’d walk twice as frequently and always on the steep uphills where my running speed (and efficiency) is slower (and worse) than purposeful walking.

The run course is 2 loops and each loop has 2 distinct loops within them, one on each side of the river. The one on the south side of the river is fairly straight, partly on a highway and partly along parkland along the river. The 2nd½ of each loop is on the north side of the river. It’s more of a residential area and old Golf/Country Club. While it has some beautiful homes and views, it’s also pretty hilly. Running up most of those hills is a waste of time and energy so I walked up and ran down. Running down takes a toll on the quads but I’d trained for that.

I did the best I could getting nutrition in. Calories were probably in the 175/hr range, which was pretty good. I kept the liquid coming in too, getting about 4 oz. at most aid stations, along with a cup of ice. Since I left the arm coolers on, I asked volunteer to pour water on each arm, which felt good and helped keep me cool. I also grabbed a cup of ice almost every time so I could chew it into an “ice slushy in the mouth” and swallow. Finally, I also got a volunteer to dump a cup of ice into my hat to help keep my core temperature cool. During the 2ndhalf I also started taking in Red Bull, which is on the course. It’s a legal boost that helps keep me going.

I made jokes with, and thanked, volunteers, and high-fived kids who were out there trying not to be bored. I asked people who were in front of their houses cheering (and usually drinking) what was for dinner or where the BBQ was. I confused one 10 or 11 year old aid station volunteer when I asked him for a cigarette! By the look he gave me I immediately followed with an “I’m kidding!” 

I kept pushing myself to keep going, knowing my pace was not nearly the 9:35 or 10:00 miles I’d aimed for. I knew my heart rate was good, falling into zone 2 to low zone 3. I also felt that I was pushing at an appropriate perceived effort. So I stopped paying attention to my mile pace because it was going to be what it would be! It made no sense to push harder and then be forced to walk all of the final few miles. I got into a good flow for a number of miles at various points out there. The good feeling would come and go though. Sometimes I would think about not letting my donors down, who might be ‘watching’ from afar. Again I thought of Brooke and her struggles. I also tried a different mental game technique for the 1sttime: an alter ego. I had created a character in advance, called Razorblade Slade, based on some of Hank’s (my dad’s) characteristics, trying to call upon his strength and relentless persistence to push through the long run. Let’s just say that it’s still a work in progress, though worth continuing to work on.

I only ended up stopping once to pee during the run, only losing about 90 sec. for that. Maybe I was a little more dehydrated than I thought when I was in the moment. However, I think I took in the right amount. And fortunately I saved at least 5 minutes not having to make a sit-down portapotty stop, which is always a bonus. My aim is to burn through my calories as efficiently as possible so I don’t have much “waste” to eliminate. I think I was successful.

Besides all struggles to keep running, I didn’t know how my fellow 60-64 year old men would fair. How would they handle the heat, humidity, and hill? I always seem to have strong self-belief in my ability to handle hotter conditions and I did prepare for them. What if they paced it wrong and had to walk most of the run? I knew to just keep going, give it my best, and get to the end, tolerating as much discomfort as I could. It helped to see Linda and mom (both great spectathletes and personal support crew) on the course, as well as national TC triathlon team manager, Kat Gunsur-Smith, who yelled and cheered my along in multiple random spots and who reminded me that I like to suffer. (Truthfully I don’t know if I can say I LIKE it but it makes the finish and after-race so much more satisfying knowing I gave it my all). And Genna, a great spectathlete in her own right who I told in advance what to yell at me, and of course, my teammates on the course. 

As I neared the finish line, doing my fastest mile, Genna was near the beginning of the chute, holding out the Team Challenge flag I had had made 4 years ago for this race that I carry across the finish line whenever I can. I quickly grabbed it, looked around to see that no one was close behind me, and ran to that line with the big orange flag flying behind me. I was very exhausted but not dehydrated or ready to pass out so no medical tent visit was needed. Finding out time and place could wait. I was just relieved to be finished!

As usual, when I saw Linda waiting there, all my held-in emotions fell out. We had our traditional sweaty-wet hug, kiss, and cry on her shoulder moment. Tear ducts were try but, crying, I told her we did it again and that I loved her (DUH!). And then I hugged and kissed Mom. I felt unsteady and a little out of it: not unexpected! Got my picture taken, met back up with Linda and Mom, and eventually sat down at the Team Challenge tent and ate some food and drank, waiting to see Kat, and waiting for teammates to finish. 

There are so many people I owe a THANK YOU to! Hopefully I won’t screw up and you’ll hear from me separate from this race report. I want to thank all who worked to put on this great race, from race director to amazing volunteers; all those who donated; all who watched and cheered from near or far; my sister-in-law and brother-i-l and their generous hospitality; my mom, who is so enthusiastic and supportive (and fun to have with us); and of course, my chief enabler, partner for all of time, love of my life, Linda. Ironman’s catch phrase, “Anything is Possible”, is only true if you have support, especially support like mine!

Below are the numbers from the race as well as a concluding paragraph. But 1st I’d like to give this thought. It’s one of the first I had when I started thinking about how the race went… You are capable of so much more than you think, if you just KEEP GOING. If you tend to give in to physical discomfort and back off or stop, then it will be more challenging to KEEP GOING because you brain can be your enemy. KEEP GOING anyway! I’ve heard it said that if you KEEP GOING, one of two things happens: you either succeed or you learn. Both of those sound pretty good to me!

The numbers and the concluding paragraph at the end of this. Here are the splits, times, heart rates, cadences, stride rates, and places, with the 2014 race results and 2018 best scenario goals listed for perspective.
Swim – 0:00– (2014 – 49:46; 2018 goal 55:00)
Transition 1 – 0:00– (2014 – 9min55sec; 2018 goal 7m00s)
Bike (116 miles) – 5:50:58(2014 – 5:39; 2018 goal 5:35)
Transition 2– 5m57s (2014 – 7m33s; 2018 goal 5m00s)
Run (26.2 miles) – 4:52:15(2014 – 5:05:47: 2018 goal 4:23)
Final – 10:49:11 – 4thof 74 in my age group- (2014 not including the swim – 10:51:12 – 22ndof 104 in my age group; 2018 goal without swim 10:02)

BIKE 5:50:58(elevation gain 4800 ft), 116 average heart rate, 129 max h.r.; zone 2 h.r. = 85%, zone 1 h.r. = 15%, average cadence = 86.
Splits (5 miles each), Average MPH, Heart Rate Ave., HR Max.
1 – 14:32, 20.6mph, 111HR ave, 120HR max,
2 – 13:25, 22.4, 115, 120
3 – 14:29, 20.7, 113, 117
4 – 15:54, 18.9, 114, 119
5 – 14:32, 20.6, 110, 116
6 – 15:02, 20.0, 108, 115
7 – 14:55, 20.1, 109, 120
8 – 14:44, 20.4, 113, 120
9 – 14:41, 20.4, 116, 124
10 – 14:11, 21.1, 121,128
11 – 15:35, 19.3, 123, 129
12 – 13:10, 22.8, 121, 128
13 – 16:33, 18.1, 121,124
14 – 15:01, 19.3, 119, 125
15 – 14:59, 22.8, 117, 122
16 – 17:17, 18.1, 117, 125
17 – 15:34, 19.3, 118, 123
18 – 16:22, 18.3, 117, 123
19 – 14:42, 20.4, 118, 125
20 – 16:23, 18.3, 118, 122
21 – 15:43, 19.1, 119, 123
22 – 16:20, 18.4, 118, 124
23 – 15:43, 18.3, 115, 121

RUN 4:52:15(elevation gain 1,175ft)128 average heart rate, 145 max h.r., Heart rate in zone 2 = 51%, zone 3 = 49%; 80 average cadence 80/minute; 
1st½ Marathon (13.1mi.) = 2:25:02
2nd½ Marathon (13.1mi.) = 2:27:13
1 mile splits, Heart Rate Aveage, HR Max
1 – 11:26/mile, 122 H.R. ave., 129 H.R. max
2 – 9:53, 128, 133
3 – 10:53, 128, 133
4 – 10:50, 130, 135
5 – 10:48, 129, 133
6 – 10:29, 130, 134
7 – 10:34, 129, 134
8 – 10:19, 132, 137
9 – 11:54, 128, 135
10 – 10:23, 129, 135
11 – 11:44, 124, 131
12 – 12:34, 124, 132
13 – 11:03, 128, 138
14 – 10:40, 129, 136
15 – 10:49, 130, 136
16 – 11:01, 131, 136
17 – 10:43, 127, 136
18 – 10:48, 129, 135
19 – 11:43, 127, 132
20 – 11:46, 124, 134
21 – 11:19, 129, 135
22 – 11:28, 129, 135
23 – 11:45, 128, 135
24 – 11:18, 122, 132
25 – 12:39, 123, 132
26 – 9:59, 134, 140
0.2 – 9:09 (pace), 137, 145

After looking at the numbers it tells a much more consistent and stronger effort than I recall. The more I look at the data the more heartened I feel that I did indeed put out the effort I needed to and that I actually did execute my plan pretty closely to expectations, even though my finish spot fell 3 spots short and my time didn’t live up to expectations. It is very probable that my time goals were not quite realistic. However, keeping in mind my performance effort and execution, my ambition to perform well in 6 ½ weeks at Ironman Arizona is still intact. The competition will likely be even tougher there than it was here but achieving a personal best time is still within reach and something I’m motivated to achieve. Thank you for reading to here!

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