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
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.
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
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
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
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.