What can I say about IRONMAN Chattanooga 70.3? First of all, I loved it! It was a great course, the city was incredibly hospitable, and I got to share the weekend with friends and teammates. What more could a girl ask for?
As for travelling, I drove up on Thursday (the race was on Sunday) and stopped in Chickamauga, GA for an hour’s spin on the course before arriving at my friend’s house in Signal Mountain, TN. I was hot, sweaty, and had lots of bags, but my friend was so nice and I had a lovely evening with her, her husband, and their new puppy to kick off the trip.
On Friday, I had a leisurely breakfast and got a bit of work done before heading down to the IRONMAN Village for athlete check in. Once there, I met up with my two teammates, and housemates for the weekend, Stephanie and Danielle. It’d been a whole year since I last saw Danielle at TriMarni camp so it was great seeing her. Steph and I raced together in Florida a few weeks ago and it was great to be staying with her again. We caught the athlete briefing, got lunch, and then headed to our AirBnb in the North Shore of Chattanooga. Teammates Thomas and Alvaro would join us that night so there were 5 TriMarni’s all in a 2 bedroom cottage. Around 5pm, Steph, Danielle, and I headed to the downtown YMCA for a quick swim and the TriMarni pizza party. There were close to 30 TriMarni’s racing so our pizza party was an opportunity for all of us to catch up, and hear the wise words and race tips from coaches Marni and Karel.
On Saturday, us girls did a short spin heading north from our AirBnb. We didn’t know where we were going, and there was lots of climbing, but we survived! Danielle then headed out to get some items on her bike checked out, and Steph picked up some gear left at TriBike Transport. The rest of the day was fueling and relaxing on the great big porch at our rental. We all headed back to the IRONMAN Village to check our bikes around 4:30pm. Dinner was made at home and we were all in bed by 9pm with a 4am wake up call on race morning!
We left the rental house at 4:45am, and were parked and in transition by 5am. With over 3,000 athletes racing, the transition is huge! We planned to meet at the TriMarni team tent after setting up our individual transitions. That took 10-15 minutes, plus pumping up tires. My transition was a little different this time – with anticipation of the heat, I brought a small lunch cooler with a freezer pack in it. I had my frozen run bottle + my new cooling neck gaiter and a bottle of plain water ready for T2. Besides that, the rest of my transition was my usual set up. We were all at the TriMarni tent by 5:30am to drop off our bags, and get in line for the shuttles to take us across the river.
Once on the other side of the river for the swim start, we found our other TriMarni teammates and a kind friend who watched over our morning bags while we did a light, warm up jog around the area. We went up on the pedestrian bridge so we could check out the swim course and see the buoy line up. We passed a few pros during our warm up, none of whom I recognized so I’m going off of my teammates’ word here.
With the warm up jog done, it was time to put on the wetsuit and seed ourselves for the rolling swim start. Danielle and I, as well as a few other TriMarni teammates, put ourselves around the 33-35 minute swim mark. Our faster teammates – Karel, Marni, Thomas, Alvaro, and Stephanie – seeded themselves up at the front.
At 6:50 I heard the cannon signaling the pro men start. 3 minutes later and the pro women were off, too. The pros swim upstream first, then diagonal, and then downstream. They made the call that the current was too strong and that the age group swim would be shortened to 0.75 mile and all downstream. The first age groupers were in the water around 7:25am, giving the pros an opportunity to get further down the course.
Danielle and I had seeded ourselves honestly in relation to our usual 1.2mi swim time. Unfortunately, the rest of the field didn’t. It seemed to take forever for the mass of swimmers to move forward, and then we were standing in the piss section before going down the ramp (lots of triathletes pee in their wetsuits as they’re waiting in line to start. I have not mastered this skill yet.). Danielle and I didn’t get into the water until 8:02am, which was a lot later than I expected. In my head, I’m thinking about how much longer I would be out in the Chattanooga sun and heat on the run, but it’s too late now to change anything so just do the best you can.
I jumped off the dock and into the water for a fast, downstream swim. As mentioned, no one around us was honest with their swimming ability so the biggest challenge was getting through traffic. I’ll know to seed myself much further up next time. I can’t complain too much as the shortened, downstream swim gave me a swim time of 17:24.
Volunteers helped us out of the water on the boat dock steps. I skipped the wetsuit strippers and ran/walked my way through the very long transition. I took off my wetsuit at my rack, and spent a little extra time putting on sunsleeves as well as my helmet and bike shoes before heading out to the bike exit. I came out of T1 in 21st place in my age group.
The first 5 miles or so of the bike are through the city of Chattanooga. I knew it was a bumpy ride with poor road surfaces and railroad tracks to contend with. I took extra care to prevent losing any bottles (it looked like there were about 50 dropped bottles at the railroad tracks alone!), and I reached back behind me frequently to make sure they weren’t slipping out. I’m happy to say I made it out to rt. 193 with body and bottles intact.
Remember the piss section in the swim line up? I’m thinking this is a skill I need to acquire as I felt like I needed to pee for the entire bike ride! That’s a pretty uncomfortable feeling, and I considered stopping at an aid station, but decided against it. It was simply motivation to go faster to get to T2!
The terrain played to my strengths as it was very similar to the rolling hills where I live and train. I broke the ride up into 20 minute chunks with the idea that there’d be only eight 20 minute sections. This helped me focus and keep the effort up. I spent a lot of time leapfrogging guys, which is frustrating. I’m sure I’m not the only woman who experiences this – a guy doesn’t like getting passed by a girl so they put in a hard effort to pass you back and then slow down when they pull in front. This is especially frustrating in IRONMAN triathlon where drafting is illegal, and as the person who is passed, it is my responsibility to drop back 6 bike lengths behind. By the 40 mile mark, I’d dropped most of these guys, thank goodness. There was also a lot of yelling “on your left!” to clear out the folks riding in the middle of the road. Remember, pass on the left, ride on the right! I couldn’t help but think that if I had seeded myself up further on the swim, I wouldn’t be dealing with so much slow traffic on the bike course.
The scenery on the course was beautiful, at least when I took a moment to enjoy it. The folks in Chickamauga were nice and cheered us on as we went through their town. When we got back on rt. 193 for the final 10 or so miles, I turned it up and went all out. I continued the hard push back in the city. At this point, I didn’t care if I lost a bottle as they were all empty. I lost a CO2 cartridge instead. As I rolled into T2, I was happy to see my first sub-2:40 HIM ride – 2:39:33 with an average speed of 21.4mph, and in 14th place in my age group.
I got my bike back to my rack, put on my cooling gaiter, Naked Run belt, frozen water bottle, hat and shades. Then, I had to do it – I had to stop at the porta Johns before leaving T2. I wanted to have a controlled run and I knew that wasn’t going to happen while I was so uncomfortable. And there was a nice surprise – I got my period a week early so that was certainly adding to the pain in my lower abdomen! I came out of T2 in 15th place in my age group.
The run – I really wanted to execute this well after having a disastrous run (or at least it felt disastrous) at Florida 70.3. My coaches and teammates had discussed the run course a lot in the previous days. Advice like “don’t go out too hard in the first mile” was ringing through my head. The first 1.5 miles of the run course is an out and back close to the finish line so there are lots of cheering spectators. With the rush of getting off the bike + the cheering crowds, it would be so easy to go out at a fast clip, but I knew there was a long uphill to get through, and 12 more miles to run. This was the time to shut everything out and pay attention to me and my plan.
My plan – keeping an eye on my heart rate, I didn’t want it to get over 175bpm. If I was going uphill, I knew it’d get up there a bit, but I would use the following downhill or flat section to recover and get the HR down. I had my watch set to auto-lap every mile, and I focused only on the mile I was in. I would walk for 30 seconds at each mile buzz to take in two gulps of NBS Hydration from my Naked Running belt. I would walk the aid stations and get (1) water to pour on my arms and sunsleeves, (2) water to pour on my head and down my neck, and (3) ice to put in my hat a distribute to my sports bra, down my back, and in my front pockets. Focus on form and running well. Use my cooling gaiter to keep my neck and face cool.
Every mile that I accomplished this I congratulated myself in my head. Soon the miles were just ticking away. One mile done, feeling good. Second mile, ran into my teammate Alvaro on his second lap and cheered him on. Third mile, saw my teammate Danielle at the turnaround and cheered her on. Fourth mile, ran through the “Kona-nooga” section of the course, which had a Hawaiian theme with volunteers dressed up in grass skirts, Hawaiian shirts, and leis – the best vibes! I loved this part and couldn’t wait to do it again on the second lap! I also saw my teammate Thomas and cheered him on.
In the fifth mile, there is a big, steep hill and I chose to walk this because I knew it would really get my heart rate up there. As I was walking this hill (with purpose), a spectator said “this hill isn’t going to run itself”. I told him that I had a plan to keep my heart rate low and I was following my plan. In the sixth mile, I turned a corner and saw my friend who I stayed with on Thursday night cheering me on. That was a great feeling! Then over the pedestrian bridge and wouldn’t you know it, halfway through! I was feeling great, but knew I still had to keep it within myself. There was still quite a few miles to go. On mile 8, I told myself “I love mile 8!”. In mile 9, I had my second trip through Kona-nooga. Mile 10 and 11 were about keeping it within myself. I will not blow up with less than 3 miles to go! Feeling great at 11th mile marker, I knew I could pick it up a bit. The big hills were done – now it’s time to bring it home. I had my fastest splits for miles 12 and 13 – 8:39 and 8:28 respectively. Spectators were cheering me on saying I was “flying”. I had to make a silly face at the photographer on the pedestrian bridge in the last mile – I knew it was all downhill from here.
I brought it home with a final half marathon time of 2:00:43, 9:12/mi pace, and a total time of 5:08:10, finishing 20th in my age group. That’s a 70.3 PR, although the swim was fast and shortened significantly so I don’t think I can call that a true PR. What I can celebrate is a 70.3 bike PR, and my best 70.3 run ever. It wasn’t my fastest (1:57 at Florida 70.3 2018 is my fastest at this point), but it was the first time that I enjoyed every minute of the run, it felt controlled and I didn’t find myself walking and dejected at any point. I want to build on that feeling and execution, make that my new normal for a 70.3 run, and I know the speed will follow.
After the Race
Teammate Erin finished a few seconds before me so we found each other in the finishing chute and got our photo taken together afterwards. We ran into teammate Reid at the athlete food tent and recounted our race experiences. All of us were pleased with our times and performances. Then we headed over to the TriMarni team tent to cool off, eat, relax, and cheer on our other teammates still out on the course. There is no better feeling than finishing a big race and being pleased with your performance.
Coaches Marni and Karel did amazing with Karel finishing first in the M40-44 AG and Marni finishing fourth in F35-39. Our team picked up another TriClub award – 3rd this time. I was lucky enough to be able to collect the award so I finally got on an IRONMAN podium of sorts. One day I’ll be on there for an individual performance! IRONMAN Chattanooga 70.3 results
After Chattanooga 70.3, I’d love to follow that up with another good performance at a 70.3, but my schedule turns to short course racing now in preparation for Age Group Nationals in Cleveland and the ITU Age Group Worlds in Switzerland. I’ll do Augusta 70.3 at the end of September so here’s hoping I can take what I learned and accomplished at Chattanooga with me into that race.