Monday, October 6, 2014

Ironman Chattanooga - RACE DAY

   This is part three of my Ironman Chattanooga adventure.  For part one, click here and for part two, click here.

   Sleep, of course, did not come easy the night before my race. I tossed and turned all night. I think I ended up with about 4 hours sleep total, with only three of those being of any quality. Transition opened at 4:30, so I set my alarm (ok - three alarms) for 3:30. That way I could eat a bit, stretch and mentally prepare for my day before heading down to transition. Not that I needed any alarms because I woke up around 3:00 anyway. Who needs sleep when you're about to take on the longest endurance event you've ever done? Apparently, not me.


   Dudley and I headed down to transition around 5:00. Honestly, I didn't have a whole lot to do in transition because we dropped everything off, except our special needs bags, the day before. I got body marked and checked out my bike one last time and then headed over to the shuttles that would take us to the swim start. Unlike any other race I've done, Ironman allowed friends and family accompany us to the swim start. I can't tell you how much better it made me feel to have Dudley there with me. I've done a lot of races, but this was my first Ironman. I needed all of the support I could get.
   After what seemed like a WAY too long bus ride to the swim start, we got in line to wait with the other 2,300 athletes for the race to begin at 7:30. It was probably 5:45 by now. The start was first come - first in, so the the earlier you got there, the earlier you could start your swim. I was probably about a third of the way back. Not too bad. I knew my friends Kathy, Meg and Sarah were volunteering at the swim start, but I wasn't sure exactly where. Dudley did a little recon lap and found Kathy, so I went down to say Hi. 

Swim Start Selfie!  

      I got back in line and waited for time to pass, nervously chatting to Dudley and the other athletes - most of whom were first-timers, as well. But before too long, we heard the cannon go off! This meant that the pros were in the water! Then a second cannon! The female pros were in! Finally, a third cannon, which was for the Age-Groupers! My race had officially started! I put on my goggles and swim cap, and quickly moved down the line. The race organizers said to be ready once the line starts moving, because it moves faster than you think. You didn't want to be "that guy" holding up the line futzing with your goggles on the starting dock. They weren't kidding either. The line moved a lot faster than I thought it would. I think I heard they got all 2,300+ of us in the water in 25 minutes. Crazy. 
   The swim start was one of the two times I really got emotional during my race. Specifically, it was when I was saying good-bye to Dudley. I almost LOST it. I just couldn't believe what I was about to race an Ironman! I was scared to DEATH! Knowing how bad it would be to cry with goggles on, I turned away from him and focused on my race plan. Less than a minute later, I was jumping into the Tennessee River and my race had officially begun.

Seriously about to freak out here.

   Once in the water, I immediately moved away from the dock, so other swimmers wouldn't jump on top of me. I then took about 10 seconds to regroup and check my goggles, and I was off! I knew I could swim the distance, because I had covered over 2.4 miles in training several times. Granted, it was never in open water, but with a very generous current, I wasn't too worried about missing any time cut-off. My main concern with the swim was how hard to push myself. Unlike biking and swimming, where I'm generally energized by the workout, swimming really wipes me out. And the last thing I wanted was to be worn out so early in the day. So, I took the swim pretty conservatively. I tried to draft when I could, but I had a hard time finding good feet to follow. They were either too fast, or too slow. Most of the time, I just cruised along solo. I knew I could swim faster, but I didn't push at all, and I still made it out of the water in an hour flat. Thank you current!!  

Thankful I didn't drown.

   There was a bit of a run to transition, part of which was uphill. Normally, when I get out of the water, I'm a little dizzy and need to get my bearings. Not this time, though. I was able to start running (jogging) immediately, get to transition, grab my gear bag and head over to the changing tent in just a minute or two. I guess I was pretty early out of the water because there weren't many people in the tent yet. I had been warned that the changing tent would be crazy packed, but I was able to find a seat easily. I took out my cycling shoes and helmet out of the gear bag and put them on, then threw my swim cap and goggles back into the bag, handed it to a volunteer and I was off for the bike! It all happened so fast that I thought for sure I forgot something, but fortunately, I didn't. Now, I just had to get through 116 miles of cycling.
   
I'm on my way!!
   
   Coach Andrew made it very clear in my race plan that I was supposed to take it easy for the first 13 miles, and then increase speed. However, even after the first 13 miles, I really never supposed to hammer it. The key to Ironman is pacing. Go out too hard on the bike, and you'll pay for it on the run. So, even if I could ride faster, I had to rein it in. And I did. It was hard, because I got passed a lot, but I stayed within my assigned zones for the entire bike leg.


   The ride itself was pretty uneventful for me, thankfully. I had been able to ride the course several times prior to the race, so I knew exactly what to expect. It's a two-loop lollipop course. We rode about 13 miles out of town, then rode two loops of the course, and then the 13 miles back to transition. There are only two hills of any significance, with a bunch of rollers thrown in throughout the course. Fortunately, I live in an area where the terrain is hillier than what we experienced on race day, so I didn't think the course was too bad. Don't get me wrong - I felt those hills, especially on the second loop. But considering we literally could have been climbing mountains, I was very happy with the layout of the bike course - even with the extra four miles. I was also really happy with how IM shuttled out friends and families out to Chickamauga (a little town about half-way of the course) to cheer us on. I now know what it feels like to be a professional cyclist because the crowds in Chickamauga were AMAZING! They were screaming, ringing cowbells and just generally going crazy. It was fantastic.
   What I wasn't happy with were the jerks who decided to spread oil and tacks throughout the bike course. Yes, we were sabotaged. The good news is that the Ironman staff saw the oil and police were able to divert the racers around the oil by the time we got there. The bad news is the about 30 racers got flats from the tacks. Seriously, I don't get people. Who sabotages a race course?
   A mere 6:07 later, I pulled back into transition and got ready for my run. Ironman is really efficient with bike-to-run transition in that they take your bike for you. So, after I got off my bike, I was immediately greeted by a volunteer who took my bike and racked it for me. That allowed me to run over, grab my run bag and head over to the changing tent. I quickly changed my shoes and swapped my bike helmet for a running visor. This was also where I made the biggest mistake of my race...I didn't apply body glide before the run. The volunteer who was helping me actually said "Do you need Body Glide?" And I said, "No, I think I'm OK," and ran out of the tent. Remember this for later.
   When you started the run, you had to first run back down the hill you ran up after the swim. Yeah - I almost bit it here. Big time. Wouldn't that have been the worst? For me to sprain my ankle not even five minutes into the run? Fortunately, that didn't happen and I made it onto the run course safely.

Only 26.2 miles to go!  
 
   Considering the longest distance I had ever run consecutively was 15 miles, I really had no idea how this marathon was going to shake out. As with the bike course, the run course was two-loops. It started out on the flat greenway, then we turned onto the Anmicola Highway, which was hillier than I expected. After Anmicola, we ran up to Veteran's Bridge, which led us to North Chattanooga. This is where the REAL fun began. There are hills, and then there are North Chattanooga hills. They were truly awful. Not crazy steep, but they lasted FOREVER. We then headed back over the Pedestrian's Bridge and started the second loop.
   As with the bike leg, Coach Andrew had a pretty detailed race plan for my run. I was to start out with an 11:00/mile for the first 6 miles, and then speed up or slow down, depending on the terrain. Though I got passed a lot that first 6 miles, I stuck to that plan a close as possible. I knew if I went out too fast, I would really pay for it on the hills - especially on the second loop. And I have to say, during the first loop of the course, I felt pretty good. Well, my legs felt good.

All smiles here!

Still smiling!! :-)

   Though my legs were OK, what I did have an issue with was chafing. Remember how I refused the Body Glide in transition? That was a really stupid thing to do. I'm not going to go into any graphic detail here, but I will say that I was in a lot of pain where my kit was rubbing. Like "Oh My God, I have to get this fabric off me NOW!!" kind of pain. Since removing my kit wasn't an option, I had to stop and grab some Vaseline from the water stops every couple of miles. The Vaseline helped some, but the damage was done. I'm still kicking myself for being so stupid and not applying Body Glide in transition.
   Mile by mile, the race went on. Though the crowd was sparse on the greenway and on Anmicola, they were out in full-force on the rest of the run. It was great seeing so many of my FTP teammates, and other IM friends on the course. It seemed whenever I was hurting, I would see a friendly face, and that was awesome. I think between athletes, coaches, friends and family, I knew about 100 people in Chattanooga that day. To have that level of encouragement on the course was unbelievable.
   I did have some dark moments though. Crossing the Veteran's Bridge for the second time (mile 21ish), I was really hurting. EVERYTHING hurt. And I knew I was about the enter the hardest part of the course again. I saw Dudley on the bridge and he was yelling and clapping and being the best cheerleader ever. I think I worried him because I wasn't the smiley person I had been the last time he saw me. I told him I needed was a hug, which he obliged. And even the hug hurt. But it kept me going.
   Almost five hours from when I started the marathon, I hit the 25 mile mark, and I got emotional again. That was the first time that I truly realized that I was going to finish. And not just crawl over the line, which I would have been happy with at the start of the day. No, I was going to finish strong. While I wasn't exactly sure of my time, I knew I had surpassed any time goal I set for this race.
   The Ironman finish line is a crazy place. It's really noisy. There is loud music playing and people are screaming, clapping, and banging on the signs that line the finishing chute. It has just gotten dark when I finished, and they have the finish lit up with the lights right in your eyes. As I was running down the chute, I couldn't really see anything beyond the finishing arch...until I looked up an saw the shadow of someone at the finish line jumping up and down with their arms in the air. It was my friend, former neighbor, and FTP training partner Kathy. She not only volunteered at the swim start, but she was also the volunteer who put my medal around my neck. So freakin' cool.

I DID IT!! 

Serious smiles here!

  My final time? 12:16:42. I was ecstatic. Though I really had no idea what my time would be since this was my first Ironman, I assumed I would be in the 13-14 hour range. I never thought I'd be sub-12:30. Granted, I know a lot of that was weather. We had PERFECT race conditions on Sunday - overcast and 70's. It even rained a bit on the run. If it had been the 85 and sunny, this would have been a completely different race for most of us.

I'm an Ironman!  

   It would take an entire blog post to list everyone I need to thank for my race experience. I, obviously, need to start with my amazing IronSherpa Dudley. Though I know the 4:00am weekend alarms got old for him, he was my biggest supporter and cheerleader throughout my training and on race day. I have no idea how I would have done this race without him. Thank you so much, Honey.
   I also need to thank Andrew and Jessica from FTP Coaching. Their guidance over the past five months got me to the point where all I needed to do on race day was execute the race plan. Any questions about pacing and nutrition had already been answered - all I had to do was race. I can't tell you how much that helped my stress level. Plus, they were all over that Ironman course. With 20 FTP athletes out there, I'm sure they were like proud parents on graduation day.
   And speaking of parents, the only thing that would have made IMCHOO absolutely perfect is if my parents would have been able to be there. Unfortunately, they were across the country and couldn't make it. But their support has been tremendous. 
   Thank you also to my FTP Teammates and the Nashville triathlon community. It was an honor to train with you all the past few months. We suffered together frequently over the past few months (HOT 100, anyone?), but I loved every minute of it. You all rock.
   And to everyone who was cheering me on either on the course (EAST NASTY!), or following me at home - THANK YOU. I was truly overwhelmed by the outpouring of support I received. I'm truly blessed to have such wonderful friends and family. 
   I have no idea what's next, other than a week or two of relaxation. I've been asked if I'll sign up for another Ironman, and I think it's safe to say that I will. Although, I'm a little hesitant to. Chafing issues aside, IMCHOO was such a great experience that my next Ironman would probably be a let down. Maybe I should stick to shorter distances - I did see the Goat Gallop 5k this Saturday in Lewisburg. That might be interesting...  
   See you on the roads! 

Ironman Chattanooga:
Swim: 1:00:55  
T1: 6:14
Bike: 6:07:53
T2: 4:47
Run: 4:56:53
Total: 12:16:42

Photos courtesy of: Dudley Lightsey, Derrick Rice, Kathy Roeder, Glenda Crowder, Joy Howard, FTP Coaching and FinisherPix.