After three hard months of training, it was time to get to work. While I was actually treating this race as a preparation for the Miami Man long course triathlon in November, I still wanted a very good performance. I mean, what’s the point of going if you aren’t going to go hard?
Race morning started early. We had an Air BnB just outside of the city, so we budgeted a little extra time to get to the race site and find parking. Fortunately, everyone else decided to arrive about ten minutes after us, so we got a great parking spot and made our way to transition. Like most Ironman-branded events, everything was set up and running smoothly. I got right in, put my nutrition on my bike, and practiced my route to the bike exit and the bike entry to the run exit. The race was a “clean transition” race meaning that all transition gear was in two bags and nothing at the bikes. It adds a little bit of time, but I prefer this method of transition. It limits the stupidity that can happen in the transition area. Some participants bring so much crap that I half expect them to install a recliner and fridge! Not the case today.
Once I finished in transition, we headed back to the car to drop off some of the cold weather gear that I had on, as race time was rapidly approaching. I say cold weather gear because the temperature was in the high 50s to low 60s. For the wife and I, it felt like winter. As the sun began to peak up over the horizon, the temperature began a slow but steady rise that would last through the day. By race time, I was stripped down to my race kit and my swim skin, but I looked nothing like most of the other competitors. No, they wore wetsuits, and I had on only a swim skin. Prior to leaving home, all of the reports were that the race would not be wetsuit legal. I had planned to still bring my wetsuit, but I was a bit out of space in my bag due to having two more weeks of travel for work following the race. Thus, I took a calculated risk. Yes, it was poorly calculated, but what’s a boy to do.
Like most races, this was not a mass start. Not only was it a wave start, though, it was a rolling wave start. That is the first time I have ever been in a start like this. It was interesting. Instead of having us continuously flow into the water, we entered in groups of eight or so (I didn’t count but it looked like eight lines) through gates like you see at Disney World to get on rides. This ride was soooo much less fun than Space Mountain, by the way. Every five or ten seconds a new group started. Being not the fastest swimmer, it did make the start a bit easier. There was a lot less fighting for position as only about eight of us jumped off of the dock at a time. I am conflicted, though, because the aqua mixed martial arts is part of what makes these races very difficult. I am much better at the water brawl than I am at the actual swimming part, so I felt a little disadvantaged. I also prefer in-water starts, as it provides a few seconds for a last pre-race pee. Unfortunately, I did not have that opportunity, and I did not want to pee myself right there, as the poor ladies at the gates had to be there for a few more hours. Beyond the clean start, we got underway and headed to the first buoy, made the turn, and started the 850-meter slog upriver, against the current. It wasn’t a very strong current, but it was enough to notice.
About halfway through the upriver leg, I was feeling good. I was catching some folks and getting caught by others. Not sure if it was a predator or prey, but someone got on my feet and began to grab. Normally, a quick flick of the feet lets the trailing swimmer know to watch the hands. Not this guy, though. No, he proceeded to grab my timing chip on my ankle and pull. Not once…not twice…no, this jerk did it three times. I slowed briefly and caught his head with my heel. That got him off of my feet, but the damage was already done. I could feel my chip strap moving around on my ankle. So, I swam off to the edge of the pack to assess the situation. Sure enough, it was loose, and I had to fix it. Too easy, right? Wrong. As I stopped, I began to drift backwards. Not cool. A safety kayaker came over to see if I was ok, as it probably looked like I was cramping and on the verge of drowning. You see, I had to duck my head under water to see the chip on my ankle and make the adjustments. I also had to do this while avoiding getting swam over by the other racers. About a minute later, I had it safely secured again and got back to the task at hand. Two more turns later, and we got to swim with the current for the last 400 meters. That flew by! Finally, I saw the exit stairs and hastily got out of the water.
He’ll be coming ‘round the mountain
Out of the water and through transition, it was time to tackle a very hard bike course. Right away, I noticed an issue. My bike computer had turned off (or was turned off by someone) while I was swimming. Not sure how that happened, since I had turned off the auto-off feature, but it was off. That meant that my Best Bike Split power profile for the course was gone. Not catastrophic, but it wasn’t ideal. Oh well, I had an idea of the profile I needed to hold. Time to adapt and overcome. Shortly after mile two, I had another small event. I hit a bump in the road, and my spare kit ejected from the rear bottle cage. Being that I had 54 more miles to go, I did not want to risk being without my spare tube and repair kit, so I stopped. Fortunately for me, this bump was a known bottle ejector, and two awesome volunteers were there to help. Ok, back at it.
Six miles into the bike, I reached the hardest part of the course, the Category 3 climb up Lookout Mountain, followed by a Category 4 climb to the peak. Awesome! Just before the climb began, the course turns off the main road and cuts through a neighborhood. The grade pitches up right in front of your eyes, and it is a bit intimidating. The strangest part was that I could only see a small handful of riders in front of me until I made the turn on to the first climb. Once on the climb, it looked like a death march of cyclists. Skinny people on really expensive bikes were strewn across the road, looking like they were inhabiting various planes of Dante’s hell. Some guys weaved across the road, mashing their pedals, and giving the impression that they would soon be pushing their bikes. Others slowly made their way up the climb spinning at a variety of cadences. A few, like me, smiled and began hammering up the climb. Seriously, it was fun, hard, but fun. I caught and dropped so many people on that climb that my body could not even feel the pain that I was putting it through.
I got through the first climb and made my way through the rolling hills on my way to the second climb. There, I passed another bunch of riders on the way to the left-hander off of the mountain. The crowds on that turn were great. Lots of people were there to cheer us on before we made our way down 1100-foot drop in 5 miles. This was a test of wits and handling. As a stronger climber than flats riders, I knew that I had to take some more time on the bigger guys or at least not give it back. So, I decided to take some risks. I put my chest on my bars, sat on my beam/top tube, and bombed down the mountain. That was so much fun. I hit well over 40 MPH and covered ground very quickly. At mile 30, I hit the little out-and-back portion and ran into my next equipment failure. The poor quality of the road on this section combined with my speed shook my aero bottle mount loose, causing me to slow down to fix it. A minute later, I had it tightened down and put power back to the pedals. The next 24 miles were fairly uneventful, passing some, getting passed by others, but I wasn’t too focused on that. I dialed back the power to save some energy for the run, knowing that my gains and losses on this portion of the bike would not mean much if I blew up on the run. At mile 54, the same bottle-ejecting bump got me again, sending my spares kit flying. At this point, I didn’t care and left it. I had work to do coming up and didn’t want to lose any more time. A few minutes later, I flew into T2 and handed my bike off to one of the volunteers.
The prey turns into the predator
Once I dropped my bike, I grabbed my T2 bag and made a quick detour to the port-a-potty. Yes, the inability to take advantage of an in-water start for a last pre-race pee came back to bite me in the butt. Normally, I can just pee on the bike or on the run, but the bike course really didn’t afford me a good opportunity, and I had to go too bad to wait for the run. As I stood there in the john, my feet started to warm-up, so at least I had that during my Austin Powers-length pee.
After finishing up, I ran over to the change area and put on my shoes, hat, and race belt. At this point, I allowed the rage to flow. I tend to race well when I race angry. I ran out of T2 like a crazy person, way faster than my plan. I looked at my watch as I rolled through 1K and just decided to go with it. I was fast, about 30 seconds fast. Ride it ’til she blows became the new motto of the day. I stormed by runner after runner. I took the uphills a bit conservatively and hammered the downhills and flats. Some guys’ bodies expressed hope that they could stay with me, as they either held me off or slightly closed on me going uphill. As soon as we crested, I hit the gas…every time. A couple of guys tried to stay with me but soon found their quads locking up on them after a few iterations of this. Halfway through the run, I still felt pretty good. Yes, I was fatigued. Yes, my legs wanted to stop. But, I really felt like I could hold it. In fact, I did hold it for the most part, aside from a little more aid station walking to get some fluids in the body. Over the last four miles, I just dug deep and tried to keep the wheels on the cart. With one mile to go, I decided to put the gas all the way to the floor with whatever I had left. The run ended much better than either of the other two events. Sure, I got passed by a few guys, but I took significantly more scalps than I gave. Unfortunately, I don’t have too much more detail to share for the run. I was hyper-focused on putting all of my energy into the run that I paid very little attention to anything going on around me only having a few instances of interaction with the wife and a couple of spectators break my concentration.
There’s really not much else to cover. I pushed pretty hard and gave the course everything I had. While I would have liked to have gone faster, I am pretty happy with my results. At the end of the day, I had fun. I got to see my wife a number of times on course, as she was running around damn near as much as I was trying to get pictures all day. She’s a trooper. All of the guys I met in the post race food area were great, and everyone was sharing their experiences. As we made our way back to the car, we ran into Sam Appleton, who just happened to have finished fourth overall on the day. Based on our brief interaction, he seems like a pretty good dude. He asked how the day went for me and even humored me by agreeing about the difficulty of the course and congratulating me on my run split. Of course, he ran it 16 minutes faster and biked and swam a lot faster, too, but he was pretty humble about that. Like I said, it was only about ten minutes, but he seemed like a great guy. He even took a picture when asked by some other athletes as he was trying to load up his bike in the rental car. After getting cleaned up, the wife and I went for a celebratory sushi dinner and Clumpie’s ice cream, which was awesome. I highly recommend it if you’re in Chattanooga. That’s it from Chattanooga and IM 70.3 Worlds. It’s time to focus on Miami to close out the season.