Ironman Chattanooga

"Find out what it is you want, wake up each day and work towards it, and surround yourself with people that think what you’re up to is just as brilliant and beautiful as what they are doing." ‪#‎workhardbebrave‬

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I honestly thought I had a shot at top ten.

Call me crazy—my previous race day performances this year would hardly hint at that, maybe not even suggest that I could crack the top twenty in this deep field. Thorsten certainly didn’t (Thorsten, love your analysis... but love proving you wrong even more!)

I’m getting ahead of myself but to cross the finish line as #12 in 9:41 was amazing and redeeming and a bit shocking, but at the same time—not at all.

It’s validation that I’m on the right track to achieving far more than your standard back-of-pack pro. That despite a kind of rough year—in work, in training/racing, in life, stepping up to race as a professional was not a foolish decision. I didn’t really start my season until May. I was burnt out and bored with training and honestly sinking in a challenging new job that took over far more hours of my life than I really wanted. And then I started working with Brian Stover and I am the happiest I’ve ever been in my triathlon career despite not even knowing really what changed. Maybe I just needed a different perspective, to shake things up—but Chattanooga was validation for one of the hardest decisions I made back earlier this year.

But enough with the sentimentality—I’m going to make this one quick (as far as navel-gazing Ironman race recaps can be...) because this race was awesome but I know I have so much more ahead.

The Swim

I didn’t do a practice swim on Saturday. Big, big mistake.

I brought the goggles I had worn in IMMT but haven’t worn since. I remember during the swim they were so tight I had a headache and bruised eyes so just before the start I loosened them up, just a bit.

Apparently “just a bit” was way too much. They were leaking before the start. I was doomed. The men’s start was totally botched with guys still warming up when the cannon went off so I swam right to the rope and made it my mission not to get left behind. After creeping up and trying not to get swept down river, we were off and I found myself in a solid pack. But I could not see a thing with the goggles partially filled with water.

As long as I sat on feet, I could kind of feel the bubbles but every 200m or so I was stopping to dump out the goggles. Doing this I realized the feet I had been sitting on were not bridging the gap to the even-larger pack ahead. Frustrated, I tried to pull ahead but with my swerving and goggle-fixing, just could not make progress.

Finally, about halfway through the swim, I got so frustrated with the goggle situation, I just ripped them off and tried to stuff them down my swimskin. This would have been perfect in the fresh water—it really didn’t bother my eyes and I could see just fine—but I also ripped off my cap accidentally at the same time. I didn’t want to get DQ’d for littering so it took me a few seconds to find it floating, before grabbing that too and shoving it down my top.

Now I was swimming in no-man’s land, matted hair across the eyes and doing this funky stroke to keep the tendrils of hair from masking my entire face each time I sighted ahead. But I ended up catching one girl in the final stretch and coming out of the water in an okay time but definitely marred by the goggle snafu. I was pissed and charged hard out of the water and into T1.

The Bike

During the Chattanooga bike, I decided I LOVE big professional fields. I was very much in the mix of the race within the first 20 miles of the bike. I came out of the water and was on a mission to make up time and positions. The 116 mile bike was just up my alley—not a hard course, only a few rollers and the extra length played to my bike strength.

I only had company for the first 15 miles or so when I caught up to a female pro who I knew had a legitimate shot at top 5. I took a bit of a gamble and went with her, sitting legally and starting to pass a few folks. Fellow First Bourn friend Kelly flew by in her Timex kit and the other pro went with her but it was beyond my comfort zone so I settled in and enjoyed my own race.

I passed nearly a dozen girls on the bike (the site says 9 but some dropped out, another apparently DQ’d for drafting—FYI I have some good insider gossip about that situation). Most were in the first 50 miles and each time I caught a girl in my sights, I would let out a mini cheer, internal fist-pump and power through for the pass. This was SO MUCH FUN. But soon, sitting in 16th place or so, there was no one else in passing distance. It was very lonely, and didn't see anyone other than the occasional age grouper to pass on the second loop or Devon (apparently doing the "Chattanooga Gran Fondo") flying by me with some great news around mile 80 (“you’ve got a great cushion on the girls behind you”).

The second loop was also bad with the open course. On the fast descent I got stuck braking behind an 18-wheeler and was slowly watching the lead I had established over the chase pack behind me disintegrate. There were other times, like biking through the town, where I was slowed to a creep as traffic backed up behind slower athletes ahead. An official even motioned for me to pass on the left, oncoming lane to get around them, which I felt very uncomfortable about. I loved this bike course but the traffic situation really made for an unfair bike depending on what scenario you ran into. I probably lost about 5-minutes total on the second loop due to these shenanigans.

The Run

I got off the bike and out of T2 in 13th or so place. I was in SUCH a good mood. Normally I’m in the hurt box and uncommunicative for most of the Ironman marathon but in this case I was joking with people around me and with spectators. I saw Dynamo coach Matthew Rose and after he cheered, I yelled to him, “you’re not going to stalk me on your bike again, are you?”, a nod to last October when he yelled at Erin and me and pushed us to some great last few miles of the Kona run.

And then it was just down to business. I ate more than I’ve ever eaten in a race and pounded way more Red Bull and Cokes than my heart and stomach probably appreciated. My splits were scary even, even on the hills on the North side of the river (talk about brutal!) and even headed through my second loop. Just tick ‘em off, keep them under 8-minutes, I kept telling myself.

With four miles to go, the quads started shutting down. I eased up a tiny bit, knowing I had a pretty decent lead but then still caught a few more female pros. I counted places as I moved up each time, silent dance party as I knocked them off.

With two miles to go, one of the QT2 coaches rolled up on his bike (SERIOUSLY PEOPLE?!) and started yelling at his athlete to go with me. Without looking over my shoulder, I assumed it was a female pro and so put on the burners. I was able to outkick the athlete who turned out to be an age group male and end up with a very speedy finish. Side note: one of these days these sprint finishes will be for the podium or paycheck and it’s nice to know that I can always whip out a sprint at the end of a ten-hour day.

I crossed the line, not exactly knowing my time or place, but ecstatic. Finally, a race indicative of my ability and hard work! I am especially proud of that 3:25 marathon, though even more excited to keep bringing that down. I went hard, but not to the well, for Ironman Chattanooga so excited to see how far I can go in 2016 now that I have a new benchmark and goals as a new member of the sub-10 club.

I might have not been able to walk normally (from the race/dancing) or speak normally (from all the cheering) for the week after Chattanooga, but it was worth every second. I couldn’t have asked for a better day. <3 2016, I'm coming for you!