Wednesday, December 23, 2015

2015 Ironman Chattanooga Race Report

My last race on my 2015 schedule was Ironman Chattanooga. I had heard great things about the race after its first year and I was excited to race a course that sounded like it suited me quite well. With a down current swim and a rolling bike course that has an extra four miles on it, Chattanooga was right up my alley. I had convinced Joel to race with me and Steve Rosinski hopped into the race last minute. It's always fun to share the course with friends.

The weather in the days before the race was less than stellar. Basically it rained all day Friday and Saturday. I didn't do any practice swimming, which was abnormal for me. I was able to get out for about a 30 minute ride on Saturday afternoon to give my bike a quick run through after the flight. Friday I drove the bike course in the morning and then did the standard registration/meeting stuff in the afternoon. I was excited for the bike course with the small, rolling hills and winding roads. It was just the type of course I like. While we were driving the course my friend, Steve Ruffin, sent me a message inviting us to dinner that night. Steve lives in Chattanooga so he gave us the inside scoop on things. We ended up going to a great little Italian restaurant and, besides being joined by Steve and Karen, were also joined by Bree Wee and Neilia Bliss. Bree is a multiple time Ironman champion, so getting the opportunity to talk with her was really awesome.

Race morning I headed down to transition early to drop my gear bags off and set up my bike. Ironman was having us carry GPS for tracking information during the race, so I had to pick that up as well. My friends and family who were tracking the race online said having that was really great. It gave real time data from the course and showed them exactly what our progress was. Hopefully Ironman continues to develop the technology to help with the spectator end of the sport. After everything was ready I hopped on a bus to go up to the swim start. I was there pretty early, so I found a spot to lay down and try to rest for a bit.

The start of the race was a little chaotic. It was dark in the morning, so we were delayed getting in to the water. Then we were told we would have a little bit of time to warm up, but no one gave an exact time. Some of the guys were swimming back up the river (since we had to stay behind the start line). I stayed pretty close to the boat and held the rope so I would be right on the line. There was no count down or warning at all. They just fired the air horn to send us off. Some of the guys hadn't even made it back to the line yet. It was all a bit of a cluster. I immediately tried to get into a comfortable rhythm and stay relaxed. I've noticed that my best swims this year have come when I have done that. When I try to swim really hard and stay on feet I tense up and it's almost like I'm fighting the water. I kept telling myself to stay relaxed, roll, and keep a nice, long stroke. I swam by myself for most of the swim, which was pretty standard for the year. I never get comfortable finding feet and following them. I could tell I was having a pretty good swim, though, because I didn't get caught by any of the female pros until after the buoys had changed color, which meant I was over half way. For me, that was improvement. I didn't see the clock as I exited the water and I didn't wear my watch for the swim, but I did see a clock on my way out of T1 and noticed it was 54:xx. Even with the current I was a little surprised at my time. Best of all I wasn't the last male pro out like in Cozumel last year. I ended up swimming a 51:52. There is still plenty of room for improvement, but it was a good confidence builder for me for the day.

Onto the bike course and I was mentally in a very good place. I moved to the front of the guys I exited the swim with and rode away from them pretty quickly. The bike course takes you out of Chattanooga and into Georgia, where you complete two loops before returning back to transition. It is rolling hills on twisty, narrow roads. I really liked the course as it keeps your attention and is set up well for how I ride. At dinner the night before I told Bree I would cheer her on when I passed her on the bike because I knew she would outswim me. I caught her just as we went over a set of railroad tracks and lost one of my bottles. I decided to stop and pick it up because it had First Endurance in it and was a pretty good chunk of calories. I didn't want to lose that in the first five miles of the bike. Once I was moving again I passed Bree and gave her a loud cheer. The plan for the bike was to take it easy and stay comfortable so I would have a good run. I was averaging around 275 watts and felt very good. I caught a group of four guys at about the 35 mile mark. Steve was in this group, so I rode to the front and told him that we should try to ride away from the other guys. We put in a little surge and dropped them, eventually catching two other guys, one of whom was Doug MacLean. I rode on the front of this group for quite a while, until we went through Chickamauga. I made my biggest mistake of the day here, as I missed special needs. I was planning to stop to grab two bottles of First Endurance and a couple Honey Stinger Waffles that I had packed, but because of traffic and one of the guys in our group deciding to ride past me at this point, I was so focused on riding that I completely didn't see where special needs was set up. As we turned left to start the second loop I skipped an aid station thinking that special needs must be just up the road. As we rode a few miles and didn't hit it I started to get nervous. I was completely out of all food and nutrition at this point. Steve and I had ridden away from the other two guys by now, so I dropped back to ask him where special needs was. He told me we had already passed it. It was like getting punched in the stomach. "I'm f----ed." That was the only thing I could think to myself. I knew where the next aid station was, and it was still 10-12 miles. That meant it would be 25-30 minutes before I could get any more nutrition. That's not good in an Ironman. I did what I could do to stay calm and try to dial myself back a bit. When I did finally hit that aid station and I had completely stop to reload my supplies. I grabbed a couple bottles of Gatorade for some liquid calories, a Clif Bar, and a couple of GU gels. Basically the plan was to grab whatever I could quickly and then figure out what my stomach would handle best once I was moving again. I got separated from Steve a bit here since I had to stop. I rode to try to bridge back up to him, but at each aid station I would have to either slow way down or stop to make sure I got enough nutrition now. They were pretty crowded with age group athletes on the second lap, so I had to be careful not to get tangled up with anyone. I almost got wiped out at one aid station and then going up a small climb a woman fell over right in front of me as I was passing her. As I went to go by her on the left she just stopped moving and fell to her left. It was a close call. I decided to stop in Chickamauga the second time through to pick up one of my bottles and a couple Honey Stinger Waffles for the final miles back into transition. It was another complete stop while the volunteers got my bag for me, but it was worth the time. The ride back into Chattanooga for the final 20 miles or so after that was uneventful as I spent the time trying to eat and drink what I could without overdoing it. The nutrition mishap was certainly a big mistake on my part and it definitely cost me some time on the bike. I'm sure the lack of calories hurt me later in the day during the run as well, but incidents like that are bound happen in long course racing. Fortunately it wasn't any worse than it was and I was able to get some stuff on course.

Heading out on the run course I really tried to pace myself. My run at Cozumel was a PR for me, but I still felt like I should have been able to do much better. I had raced conservatively on the bike intentionally so that I could have a good run here. The run course in Chattanooga is tough. It is a double loop and the back half of each loop has some good hills on it. It is definitely the most difficult run course I've ever done. The miles ticked off one by one without much incident for the first loop. I walked a few aid stations to make sure I got enough water and nutrition and held a rather consistent pace. I felt decent heading into loop two, but around mile 15 I started to fade a bit. My legs were certainly feeling the fatigue from the day and I was having trouble making myself take in food. Nothing seemed appealing to my stomach anymore so I went to my go to items in that situation - water, Coke, and bananas. I drank as much water and Coke as I could at each aid station and grabbed half a banana to eat as I ran. I'm not sure what it is about bananas, but I always seem to tolerate them well late in a race. Somewhere around the 23-24 mile mark I finally saw Joel for the first time. He was having an awesome race as well and it was great to share the course with him. The support on the run course was great and I like loop courses and being able to see my family and Becky several times. I ended up running a 3:17:52, which took ten minutes off my Cozumel run. I was pleased with the improvement, but I still know I'm capable of better. My goal for next year will be to get that under 3:10. I did not do much run mileage leading up to Chattanooga, so I know that I need to find some ways to work more miles in next year to build up my running endurance. It is something my coach and I will have to discuss and plan out.

Overall I was pleased with my performance. I set a new Ironman distance PR by about 29 minutes. I think the current assisted swim and long bike course basically cancel each other out as far as time goes on this course. If anything I'd say you lose a couple more minutes from the extra four miles on the bike than you gain from the current on the swim. I wanted to break 9 hours very badly and am a little disappointed at how close I came but ultimately ended up falling short. I'll keep working and next year I'll give it another shot, although the plan is to do Ironman Canada in 2016, which is a very challenging course that is not designed for setting PRs.

That wraps up the 2015 triathlon season. My family, Becky, and friends have been amazingly supportive and I can't thank them enough for everything they do to help me. It was a very successful first year with my new coach, Peter. I'm excited to continue our work together for next season and hopefully we can keep progressing. A huge thanks to, Honey Stinger, Towpath Bikes, and Nuun for their support this season as well. The 2016 season is going to start early, but some time off for a few weeks will be very enjoyable.

Swim - 51:52
Bike - 4:47:36
Run - 3:17:52
Total - 9:02:31