Monday, October 3, 2016

2016 IRONMAN CHATTANOOGA RACE RECAP – CHARLIE JOHNSON

This was Ironman #8 spanning the years of 2010 - 2016.  I’ve raced IMFL twice, IMTX twice, IMCDA twice and IM St. George once.  Chattanooga would be my eighth go at a full Ironman distance.  Intensity and training load this season was similar to years past with the exception that this was the first one I’d trained for a race in early fall.  The others had been in late fall, late spring or early summer.  So the heat I trained through for this one was the most brutal.  And my data showed it.  My speed was noticeably slower in both the bike and the run (swim not really a factor being first sport and in cooler water).  But you can’t ask for “better” conditions to train in than north Florida in the summer if heat acclimation is needed.  Additionally, Tallahassee and Leon County’s topography have a lot of similarities to what the Chattanooga course offers up.

RACE LEADUP & TRAINING SEASON
Earlier in the year I’d competed in a marathon in February, and I’d raced the IMChoo 70.3 back in May.  So I had kept my run strong and had a preview of most of the course in a race format.  I felt like I’d prepared quite well for this race both physically and (more importantly) mentally.  In years past, I’d hoped to have the magical day where I qualified for Kona.  But since my last Ironman in Texas in 2015, I’d become a bit more realistic.  My training for IMTX felt to be pin point accurate and as dedicated as I could manage.  I felt fully prepared and in the best shape of my life.  But on that day, I was broken by the heat and humidity.  Over the next year, I realized that I really wasn’t going to be heartbroken if I qualified or not, because I came to see how much I truly enjoy just getting out there to race with others and take on the challenge that is presented by a race of this distance.

In prep for IMChoo, I tallied around 8 rides over 75 miles (4 over 100) and 7 runs over 15 miles (2 over 20).  This was lower than I’d done in the past, but it seemed they were beating me down more than normal.  Heaviest weeks carried up to around 15 hours of workouts including 3 hours swimming, 8.5 hours biking and 3.5 hours running.  It would be great to get more, but life is too busy.

I’ve always kept a somewhat healthy diet, but my wife Sandy has really helped to keep me on the straight and narrow.  I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that beer and ice cream are part of our diet.  But as with anything, we try to enjoy these in some form of moderation.  So getting in the right nutrition played a big part.  And me being a South Georgia boy, let me tell you, I cannot wait to eat some fried chicken now that the race is over! But in the final month or two leading up to the race, I really cleaned up my diet with no ice cream and very little alcohol.  That can be as much a mental boost as physical.

FINAL PRE RACE DAYS
Sandy set us up with a hotel within a block of the Ironman village, which was massively important in making life easy on us.  There was no driving required to check in, to get to transition or to visit the downtown of beautiful Chattanooga.  It was all walkable as any well designed city should be. And we took our boy (dog) Hitch with us.

We got in town on Thursday.  Ate pizza at Lupi’s which was really good.  We slept in until at least 7:30 am which we never do.  Friday I did a 30 minute easy run to loosen the legs and see parts of the course I knew would be rough on the body.  I also drove the run course twice to visualize what I would do on race day.  Otherwise, I hung around in the hotel and did nothing much.  Again, we slept in until 7:00 am or later.  As they say, the sleep you get two nights before your race is most important, so this was key.  Saturday, I took the bike out for a 10 min spin to check the gears and make sure all parts were working smoothly.  I also did a 10 minute run with some pickups to break a sweat.  Then the team met up at 9 am on the other side of the river and we swam for about 10 minutes.  The first half was upriver and second half downriver.  There was a solid current pushing downriver which was great news.

Everyone dispersed and I hurried back to the hotel to get my bike and race day bags checked in by noon.  Then I sat down to watch my Georgia Bulldogs get annihilated by Ole Miss.  That was rough, but at least the pain was over quickly and there was no time to stress.  It helped having Robby, Brad, Morgan and Sandy there to small talk with and pass the time.  That night, Sandy made a wonderful dinner of fettuccini pasta with broccoli and real cooked meatballs.  That was really, really good and a perfect pre-race dinner.  We were in bed by 9:30 pm.

RACE DAY
I got up at 3:00 am.  We had coffee (I drink a lot of it) and walked Hitch.  I was in line for transition setup by 4:20 am which opened up at 4:30 on the dot.  I placed my Garmin 910 quick release onto my bike, turned it on and calibrated it for power.  The plan was to do the swim and bike wearing the wristband and then place the quick release back on for the run.  I pumped my tires to 105 psi assuming the heat of the day would take them up towards the normal 115 – 120 psi I like.  For nutrition, I had three scoops of Accelerade in my aerobottle and three more in my bottle in my cage for 700 calories.  I put in a few ice cubes to keep the taste from getting too rank in the heat.  In my bento box, I cut 6 Shot Blok packages (1,200 calories) in half and placed them with cut side facing up.  I got in and out of transition within 15 to 20 minutes and went back to the hotel to use the bathroom and get in the truck with Sandy who drove me up to the swim start 2.4 miles upriver.  She had made oatmeal for me with strawberries, granola and milk.  I’ve found this is the best breakfast for me before a race.  I ate as we drove to the race so that I’d finished it by about 5:30 am.  That is about 2 hours before race start, so I ate a package of Shot Bloks (200 cal) at 7 am.  Otherwise, I was drinking coffee and Gatorade while waiting.  It is a rolling start, so it is first come, first serve.  I got there early enough to be in the first 500 or so people in line.

RACE START – SWIM (2.4 MILES DOWNRIVER): 51:18, 1:19/100m
The pro men started at 7:20 am.  Age groupers started about 5 minutes afterwards.  I think I hit the water maybe 4 or 5 minutes after the gun went off.  The water temp that morning was 83 degrees, so it wasn’t close to wetsuit legal.  I wore my speed suit on top of my tri shorts with no shirt. It was fun walking down to the start and feeling the excitement build.  I had studied the course and seen the river had a big bend in it.  The course required everyone to keep the buoys on their left.  The river bent to the left and then curved back to the right.  So as soon as I hit the water, I sighted and kept a direct line forward to where the buoys were very far to my left and I kept a straight line as best I could.  It seemed a lot of swimmers stuck to the buoys which I thought added a lot of distance and was busier water.  I had mostly clear water and was able to maneuver around lots of people without banging.  As I reached the first bridge, my left foot totally cramped up and I had to point my toes to work it out as I kicked.  I started kicking with my right foot only and eventually it cramped up, too.  I swam for a time with no kicking and then the cr
amps subsided and returned as I went.  I just kicked as I could and worked hard with my arms.  It wasn’t too concerning knowing the river was pushing me in the right direction already.  Soon enough, I reached the red turn buoy and it was up to the steps.  When to the transition bags, I got a volunteer to zip down my speed suit back.

TRANSITION 1: SWIM TO BIKE: 04:55
Inside the transition tent, I opened my bag.  Two young kids maybe 15 years old were there to help.  Before I knew it, they’d pulled everything out of my bag without asking me.  It was a comical scene. First, I look up and they’d pulled the socks out of my bike shoes where I’d carefully placed them.  The other one has my bike helmet in his hands trying to jam it on my head!  I said, “Wait guys!  Slow down.”  I was laughing out loud at the situation knowing they were trying to help but had no clue what to do.  Then one grabs my bike shirt not realizing I’d carefully packed it with nutrition, salt and sunglasses and they all go spilling to the floor.  The other one grabs my transition towel and starts trying to dry my head off. At this point, I got them to drop everything and asked if they’d just open my Gatorade bottle for me.  I got everything on, ate a Shot Blok package (200 cal) and chugged about 10 ounces of Gatorade before I took off.  I ran probably a football field length or more in my bike shoes and was surprised at how fast I was able to move.  I grabbed my bike, ran across the mount line, clicked the start button on my quick release, clipped in and off I went.

BIKE (116 MILES WITH +4,000 FEET ELEVATION GAIN): 5:29:29, 21.1 mph
CLICK HERE for bike file
The bike route is somewhat of a lollipop, where you do the loop twice and then return.  The forecasted temperatures were expected to peak at 94 degrees later in the day.  They actually topped out at 96.  So knowing that, I made sure to hold back quite a bit from what I had originally planned.  The course is a mix of rollers throughout.  There really aren’t any hills that are brutal.  There are some that are hard and a bit long, but all are manageable with the easy gears.  This course is one of using momentum to your advantage, so in some spans it was worthy to push a bit out of the comfort zone to get up over the next hill and carry down the backside with speed.  Within about 30 miles, I was riding by myself for the most part.  I had a fast enough swim that I passed a few people but mostly got passed by a lot of uber cyclists.  It was great to be riding solo and not at a similar speed to anyone so that I could zone in on my plan.

The first aid station was a solid 15 miles out, so I timed finishing my first aero bottle of Accelerade by then.  Just before the station, I poured my other bottle of Accelerade into the aerobottle and drank down the rest out of the bottle before tossing it at the first station.  I grabbed a Gatorade, chugged some, and stuck it into the cage made empty by tossing my original bottle.  I also grabbed a water bottle and sprayed myself before tossing it.  I never stop my bike at the aid stations.  Throughout the bike, I took half a shot blok packet (100 cal) every 30 minutes.  With the heat, the bloks were soft and easy to chew.  The course has some magnificent views of the countryside.  Traffic was well controlled and I had no incidents.  The town of Chickamauga was a big lift, too, with all of the community out and cheering the competitors.  My goal power was around 200 to 220 watts and heart rate aiming for around 140 BPM.  On the uphills, I tried not to let power go over 300 watts when possible.  On the downhills, I tried to keep it from dropping under 175 watts.  This worked well to my advantage in that I never went too hard or too easy.  HR only once fluctuated all the way up to middle 150s, but held in the mid to upper 130s for the most part.  Overall, I could have pushed the bike a good bit harder, but that would not have left much in the tank for the run.

Over the day, the heat continued to rise and by the second loop, it was out in full force and baking.  I’ve had a problem with hot spots in my bike shoes all season (and for years).  In training, it typically kicked in around 60 to 70 miles into my rides.  This time, I was lucky enough that it didn’t start until after 80 miles.  By the 95 mile mark, it was hitting the very bothersome point.  Over the remaining 20 miles, it got worse to where it was borderline unbearable.  As I made it through the City and down towards the dismount line, it was probably the greatest moment of the race when I took my feet out of my bike shoes for the flying dismount.  By the time I finished the bike, I’d taken in 2,000+ calories for around 360 cal/hr.  This was made up of 700 calories from Accelerade, 1,000 calories from shot bloks, and the remainder from Gatorade I picked up along the course.  I felt quite good coming off the bike, but hesitant to expect a strong run with the heat.


TRANSITION 2: BIKE TO RUN: 05:00
I handed off my bike to a volunteer after dismount, ran down grabbing my bag and headed to the change tent.  Once in the tent, I changed from my bike shirt into my tri top, drank 10 oz of Gatorade, put on my headband/sunglasses/race belt and headed out.  I made sure to get sun block from volunteers when leaving the tent.  It was nice that they had spray on vs the rub on lotion.

RUN (26.2 MILES WITH +/-1,300 FEET ELEVATION GAIN): 3:32:12, 8:05/mi
CLICK HERE for run file
Immediately out of transition we were taken up a long ascent.  Holding back was the key.  By this time, it was just after 2 pm and the temperature was well into the 90s.  There were already people walking up that first hill, so I could tell who had pushed the bike too hard.  Every mile or so, there were well stocked aid stations.  As one ran through, they had ice, ice water, Gatorade, pretzels, gus, fruit, coke, Gatorade, ice water, ice and ice sponges generally in that order.  The volunteers were nothing short of amazing, and I cannot say enough how helpful they were.  I stopped at every single aid station and dumped about three cups of ice into my shirt and shorts, dumped ice water on my head, drank ice water and drank some Gatorade.  Doing this throughout is what saved me in the long run.  It was so hot that I saw the pros doing the same thing.  By the time I was on the run course, the lead pros were going by on their second loop.  I ran with the pro Matt Hanson for about 2 or 3 miles.  I could tell how tough the day was with the fact I could hang on with him for so long.  Eventually, he dropped me like a bad habit!  Going up the highway was totally exposed for the first 4 miles or so.  Then coming back on the Riverwalk provided shade and some general downhill which was nice.  Then there is a short, steep hill that was quite brutal.  Soon after, we were spit out onto the bridge that took us across the river to the torture otherwise known as Barton Avenue.  Running up that was brutal.  Once over, you have a nice downhill and wind back into a beautiful neighborhood and come back out to Barton Avenue.  At this point, the previous downhill is a nasty uphill.  But once over that, we carried down to the river and crossed over the wooden pedestrian bridge.  That is probably the coolest part of the course with the feel of the wood underfoot and the views across the river basin.

At the end of this pedestrian bridge, the second loop starts (it is also where one turns home to the finish line after their second loop).  I still felt pretty good, but my quads were starting to pulse a bit.  Heading back up the highway, I caught and passed first place in my age group.  It was pretty funny actually.  When I passed, I was walking and dumping ice into my shirt while he was standing still doing the same.  It was like a race in slow motion, very slow motion.  I think both of us were more concerned about keeping ourselves cooled than what the exact place was at that point.  I kept on and when I hit the 19 mile mark, my body started with the classic Ironman fade.  I could feel my systems wanting to shut down and sleep.  I made it up that nasty short hill and back onto the bridge to cross the river.  Sandy was there and said I was in first place but it seemed like some guys were right behind me.  After telling her I was fading, she said, “Just run hard.”  That lit the fire and I started pushing harder.  I made it over Barton Avenue and back barely holding it together.  Once I crested over Barton for the final 1.5 mile stretch home, both my calves locked up with Charley horses.  I literally ran through them which was pretty excruciating but bearable.  I skipped the final aid station and just kept pushing.  I saw Brad and Robby on the pedestrian bridge cheering, but I had no energy to even smile at that point.  Finally turning down the last hill to the finish line, I felt a wave of relief for the first time of the day.  I made it down the finish chute and crossed in a final time of 10:02:54.  I had to go to the medic tent afterwards to be observed and given water, coke and chicken broth.  They took good care of me.  It was one of the tougher days I’ve faced, but in the end, holding back was the key to success.


Seeing all of my friends out there played a massive part in keeping my mind positive.  My wife Sandy was the reason I was so well prepared, and she has been the biggest supporter of me from day one through the finish chute.  She is my rock and always will be.  I am so proud of all of the friends and athletes who headed up to Chattanooga to take on this wonderful race on a very tough day.  Whether you crossed the finish line or didn’t, you are a champion in my book for toeing the line at this great race.  Chattanooga, a city Walter Kronkite once called “the dirtiest city in America”, has rebuilt itself into a destination city that knows how to “put on the dog” so-to-say.  I will definitely be back to this community to enjoy what it has to offer.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

TRIATTICs take on IRONMAN Choo

RACE day is tomorrow!!!  As they say, the hay is in the barn. The race is simply a culmination of all the work put in the prior months. We have 10 athletes/coaches competing in IRONMAN Chattanooga and Coach Stephanie taking on IRONMAN Augusta 70.3. Each and everyone has earned their spot on the starting line. The conditions are forecast to be hot; however, we are ready! All those months of training through the Florida summer heat has prepared everyone well!



IRONMAN Chattanooga

Becky Cahill - 914
Robin Bennett - 904
Michelle Harrison - 1651
Charlie Boyle - 1118
Wayne Thumm - 230
Alison Glass Thumm - 150
Melanie Rhodes - 1603
Jo Curry - 1027
Charlie Johnson -526

IRONMAN Augusta 70.3

Stephanie Liles-Weyant - 1295

For those who are racing, when you are on course, reflect back to all the days you were out on the roads earning it. Think about the sacrifices you made to make it to the starting line. Remind yourself of the support that family and friends gave you through months of training. Best of luck to our athletes and everyone else on race day!

Live tracking will be available during the event at: http://www.ironman.com/