The decision to do a full Ironman distance race arose when discussing post 70.3 World Championships race plans with my coach, David. Knowing that I wanted to try one at some point in the foreseeable future, David suggested prioritizing some longer sessions over the next few weeks, competing in Ironman Louisville, and then taking a much needed training break.
The 2017 season had its ups and downs, as is life, but overall I was feeling good about the results. There was not much time to ponder over the decision to race (typically a good thing for me!), so I figured why not cap it off with a new experience.
On race day we jumped in the just-barely-non-wetsuit temps in the dim light before the sun had risen. The gun went off and while I did my best position myself on some fast feet, the strongest swimmers pulled away and I found myself in a familiar spot within the first few hundred meters: swimming solo.
The swim course was more challenging than I expected. From the description and the fact that 2/3 of it was downstream, I was expecting more of a Ironman Chattanooga course: a glass calm river water with an easily navigable current. In reality, there ended up being some choppiness and what felt like some cross-currents as well.
Once I made the U-turn to head downstream I had to focus on calming the mind, swimming straight and sighting, due to the somewhat choppy water, (what appeared to be) non-linear buoys and low light. I chose to keep it simple and low risk by not taking the advice I had heard re: swimming 30m out from the buoys in a faster current, thus I stayed oriented. The handful of 10x400m swim workouts completed leading up to this race supplied the confidence that I had the stamina to swim strong until the end, and after exiting the water, I had a surprising amount of energy. (But that does not mean I want to do that workout every week!)
This is where I had the most uncertainty leading into this race. I had done a couple longer-long rides leading into the weekend, but “racing” 112 miles is an mind-boggling thought until you actually do it.
After heading out of T1 and settling in, I kept an eye on my numbers, especially the first half of the ride. While there should always be a go-by-feel component relative to the conditions, how you feel that day, etc., I knew that if the numbers were too high the first half, and namely if they were shooting up on the climbs, I would pay for it later in the race and there was a long day ahead.
The second half of the ride I upped he effort a notch while still staying cognizant of the pacing. The weather conditions ranged from hot and humid to chilly with strong wind gusts carrying in the impending storm. The last 20ish miles was into a headwind and I was officially ready to get off the bike and run.
2) Consistent Nutrition // Hydration. Don’t get too far behind, don’t get too far ahead.I did not break any course records, but overall I was pleasantly surprised that it was not the maddening grind I had expected.
The run was quite the learning experience, more so than the rest of the race. First off – call it pre race nerves or just a space cadet moment – I forgot to put my flask of INFINIT nutrition in my T2 bag. I stayed positive by telling myself that while this was far from ideal, I would just have to accommodate with the aid stations.
I started out a notch too fast because at the time it did not feel hard at all. The miles seemed to click off relatively effortlessly until around mile 11, when both of my lower legs and feet started locking up and I started feeling ‘woozy’ (i.e. the road appeared to be moving under my feet). It dawned on me that while I was able to grab gels and drink at the aid stations, the TripWire – INFINIT’s concentrated fuel in the forgotten flask – has a much higher sodium/electrolyte content. I made it to my ‘special needs’ bag, downed half of the flask of INFINIT waiting there, and immediately felt myself coming back to life.
From then on I struggled with the lower leg pain on top of the general aches of exercising the whole day, but just kept telling myself what a friend said to me before the race about running a marathon: whether you slow down or not, it’s going to hurt either way. The weather kept things interesting as similar to the bike, we experienced humidity all the way to chilly, strong storm winds. So much can happen during such a long race and it took a type of mental strength that I had yet to experience in racing. At some point, the positive talk simply turns into: Stay smart and JUST KEEP GOING.
I held onto 2nd place, and the cheers heading into the the finish were the loudest I have heard at a race. I am sure many participants would agree that it made the finish exceptionally rewarding! I felt so thankful for the community of support that surrounded this race, from the participants to the spectators to the city in general.
Now time to figure out 2018 …