For almost an entire year, I painted a picture in my head about what I wanted to accomplish at Ironman Chattanooga based on my effort there in 2014. I had a solid race there, going 8:39 as a culmination of what I would consider a lackluster Ironman build. I knew I was capable of more on that course, and I was confident I could lop off close to 20 minutes from that time this year.
That was, of course, if the weather conditions played nice. The week of the race, forecasts called for race day temperatures in the mid to upper 90’s with little cloud cover, so I mentally prepared myself and readjusted parts of my race strategy so that I could thrive more successfully in the heat and humidity.
Looking back at IM CHOO 2014, I had been right with the main pack for about 10 minutes when the string broke and I lost contact. Once I was off the group, I wasn’t strong enough to latch back on, and I ended up swimming the 30 remaining minutes of the swim solo, losing a few minutes to the main group. I was surprised at how long the group pushed the swim at the beginning of an Ironman. Well this year, I came into the race fully prepared and ready to get after the swim and do what it took to stay with the group. I was confident and aggressive at the start and put myself in great position. I worked with Chad Holderbaum and Matt Russell towards the back of the group, but I stayed comfortable and relaxed, and I was so pleased that I had made the group! As the swim came to an end, the group definitely shifted gears a bit, and the tightly knit group spread out just a bit. I was still with the group, but exited the water last, close to 15 seconds after the first guy in the group.
Running through transition, I did my best to be efficient and get on my bike as quickly as possible. So I hopped on my bike, and all of a sudden, where was everyone? I saw Justin Daerr about 50 meters up the road and that was it. I knew I didn’t beat everyone out of transition, so I knew they all had to be just up the road. So I focused on catching Justin, and figured if I could bridge up to him, then I would be able to see other members who would be regrouping. So I rode at close to 90% FTP through town. Only problem was, not only was I riding well over my target pace, I was losing ground fast to Justin, and still couldn’t see anyone else up the road. So I kept on the gas, and ended up riding close to 85% FTP for 40 minutes. Eventually I couldn’t see Justin anymore, and at that point, I decided that riding at essentially HIM effort any longer would be severely detrimental to the long term outcome of my race. So I scaled back and started riding within myself. From that point until mile 50 I didn’t see another rider. Once I started my second loop, I could at least key off of the riders starting their first loop. Around mile 80 I was passed by Jozsef Major who was absolutely flying. Then at mile 105, I was passed by Colin Laughery. His pace was a bit more in my wheelhouse, so I stayed in contact with him the best I could, as I weaved through wave upon wave of age groupers and vehicles on the road to and from Chickamauga. Once we took a right on 193 and headed back into town, I was able to really put my head down again and finish the bike strong.
The heat was an absolute beast today. I have done 5 out of 7 Ironman triathlons in hot, humid conditions: 2007 IM Louisville, 2009 IM Kona, 2012 IM Texas, 2012 IM Kona, and now 2016 IM Chattanooga. I never thought anything would top my experience at Ironman Texas, but this past weekend came awfully close, and was certainly equal to, if not more difficult. I just really struggled almost from the start to balance how much fluid/electrolytes I needed to take in to compensate for what my body was losing. I could feel my head cooking in my ventilated aero helmet, and the water I poured on myself through the aid stations didn’t provide a cooling effect that lasted very long.
I started the run right beside Colin, but quickly I pulled ahead and made my way down the first, long stretch of the run course. I’m no stranger to running alone in long course triathlon, so I focused on staying relaxed and staying cool. I really had no clue where I was in relation to those up ahead of me until I reached the other side of the river, where I was passed by several pros who were in the neighborhood of 20 minutes ahead of me. I stayed confident that if I executed a solid run, at least a couple of those guys would come back to me. When I crossed the pedestrian bridge right at 13 miles, I got a split to 10th place at 1:30. Yes! Finally someone to chase down!
Unfortunately two miles later, I was halted in my tracks with a debilitating side stitch. The stitch would dissipate after stretching so I could run again, but 50-100 meters later it would return, and I would have to stop and bend/stretch it out all over again. This process happened from mile 15-mile 21. It was a really rough section for me, and for a few moments I thought that I would have to walk/jog all the way in. As I came up to mile 21, I finally decided to walk for 200m straight, take a huge bottle of electrolyte drink, and slam the entire thing before I even thought about running again. So I did, and when I got back to running again, I was able to hold it together much better. The last 5 miles of the race weren’t the prettiest miles I’ve ever run, but I did run and managed to salvage what I still consider an extremely subpar run, even in the conditions I was operating in. I finished in 11th overall in 9:06 and change.
I am very conflicted with my result from this race. On one hand, I am extremely disappointed with how I executed certain parts of my race which may have had a large impact on my finishing outcome. My tactical error at the tail end of the swim/T1/beginning of bike cost me quite a bit I believe, and staying on top of my sodium better would have potentially prevented that bad 5 mile stretch of the marathon. On the other, I had a great swim, and when things weren’t going my way, I continued to fight.
Overall this was my worst IM for the kind of shape I was in and it was my worst overall placing ever in a pro triathlon race, but I remain confident that I can produce my best IM yet in the near future.
The volunteers for this race were nothing short of spectacular. The vibrancy and enthusiasm of the run course aid station volunteers blew my mind. I know it was hot for everyone, not just the racers, and they just gave so much of themselves all afternoon.
I was so thankful to have Tori, Cassidy, Greg, and my dad there to support me. I am proud to represent the Snapple Triathlon Team and its sponsors – Xterra Wetsuits, First Endurance, Garneau, Sweatvac, Rudy Project, Trainingpeaks, and Diamondback Bikes.
With a handful of solid results culminating with a 2nd overall at Eagleman 70.3, I feel that I’ve turned a corner this year, and I am absolutely looking forward to building on my momentum in 2017!