When I first heard that the Ironman 70.3 World Championships were to be held in Chattanooga, Michael and I immediately thought we would try to qualify and make a trip home to see friends and family. The location was announced probably 18 months out from the race date, and our decision to shoot for the trip waivered. I let a slot roll past me at Vineman 70.3, and my friend and training buddy Carrie took one. That was the first thing that made us reevaluate and then evaluate some more. There were so many events taking place that weekend and the surrounding weekends that would require travel.
Ultimately we decided that Michael would not plan to attend as a spectator or competitor, but I would strive to earn a slot. Neither of us thought it made sense to significantly alter our race schedule for me to qualify, so that meant that I’d have one chance, at Ironman 70.3 Coeur d’ Alene, just 2.5 months before the Championship events.
I’m competing in a new and very large age group this year, so there were quite a few championship slots, spanning most of the top 10 in my AG which enabled me to earn one at my single shot in Idaho. On the way home, I spoke with Carrie and we coordinated travel. At the time, I thought the women’s race was on Sunday so was not concerned with arriving on Thursday to Atlanta.
Traveling to the Race
Fast forward to September! I stayed at Carrie and Steve’s house – both competing, too – on Wednesday night so that we could be en route to SFO airport by 3 AM on Thursday for our 6 AM flight. Vomit, but the plus side is that I got sleep at all, which doesn’t happen on a red eye for me, and that we’d be on east coast time and able to fall asleep early Thursday night!
We landed at 2 PM on Thursday in Atlanta, and drove to Chattanooga. I later realized that the women’s championship race was on Saturday, so we were aiming to get to Chattanooga by 4:30 or so to allow us to check in for our races and then attend the athlete welcome dinner and race briefing. In retrospect, we all decided that we’d change two things: 1) arrive a day earlier to give us two full days on site before race day (the only positive here is that if we’d have left early, I *might* not have packed my wetsuit, as I thought that this race would not – in a million years – be wetsuit legal and I even posted that on the event’s Facebook page 2 – 3 weeks prior ha ha!) and 2) use Tri Bike Transport! Item two is particularly important given how close we arrived in proximity to the race date; not a lot of time to rebuild bikes and trouble-shoot, which adds stress. And the costs aren’t that much more to use TBT – worth the extra cash to reduce the effort of lugging bikes through airports, hotels, etc; allowing us to rent a smaller car; and not having the headache of lost sleep to build bikes and stress to make sure they’re functioning properly.
We were on the road to Chattanooga from the Atlanta airport right at 2:30, but given all the North-bound traffic from Florida escaping Hurricane Irma, it took us nearly 3.5 hours to make the ~100-mile trek. We missed check-in, but made to the athlete dinner and were able to see some other friends there. The dinner did not disappoint, it was so nice to have southern food again! I instantly felt at home.
We stayed up until midnight Thursday night rebuilding bikes and then tried to get a little sleep ahead of our long day of prep on Friday. Friday was b-a-n-a-n-a-s! We went to race check-in and were planning to squeeze in a practice swim. I needed to buy some items from the bike tent and was hoping to have time to buy some race merchandise – I always love a good water bottle and mug! The line at the bike tent was suuuppppperrr long and not moving because there was only one person running check-out *insert eye roll emoji*. After a few minutes, I had to put all my items back so that we could make it to the practice swim before it closed, so no time for merch *sad face emoji*.
I went back when the men were racing and got some goodies, but they were already out of water bottles and didn’t have my size anymore in the cute grey hoodie I wanted, dern!
There was a line to get into the practice swim area before it closed and the officials manning it were pressuring people to jump in really fast. It was more chaotic than a race environment and fast guys in wetsuits – I was just in my swim skin – seemed like would-be pummellers of girls in swim skins. It was a little unnerving but the water felt good and I felt good in the water!
After that, we hit up a bike shop for the items I was trying to get at the expo and I also had them take a look at my bike, as I was concerned with a couple of things, to be brief. Soooo glad I did, my rear derailleur was bent, eek! The guys at the trek store, were quick and efficient while also being friendly and thorough and totally getting my bike straightened out – so grateful! After that we walked across to the Whole Foods to stock up on nutrition and ran into the legendary Dave Scott, who wasn’t racing because Ironman “would have to pay him a lot” LOL. I’ll gloss over the rest of the other things that happen on race day eve: shakeout ride and run, bike and gear drop/check, eating all the carbs, putting on all the tats and so forth and so on.
Race morning felt fairly easy. I had snagged an English muffin and banana from the hotel breakfast the day prior, so I added some caffeinated almond butter (found it at Whole Foods, I’m now HOOKED!) and honey to the English muffin and had that with green tea. I opted to save the banana until closer to race start, which was almost 8 AM for me – a long time after our 4:30 AM wake-up call to get to transition when it opened at 5:30 AM. I had been off caffeine for a couple of days, and after that almond butter and green tea, I felt like a million bucks and was ready to get the party (race) started at 7 AM!
Since we’d dropped everything off the day before, there was very little to do race morning; just add bottles and nutrition to bike and pump tires. I took my time putting on my wetsuit, which is a cardio event in and of itself, and went to meet my parents and relax with them pre-race. I was happy to run into some Atlanta friends and my coach during this time for some good race day vibes.
My age group was – I believe – the fourth to start. We got into our starting corral and then lined up to get onto the starting dock. The starting dock had ten “lanes” like you file into when you’re waiting to board a roller coaster car, and that’s just what it felt like. Every 15 seconds, a row of ten girls jumped into the water, and suddenly it was my turn, so exhilarating! I jumped in like I jumped off the boat at Escape from Alcatraz – in chair pose so that my goggles didn’t come off (I have a small head).
Immediately in the swim, competitors had to cross the river to hit the turn buoy, with a current trying to push us downstream. This was also like the Escape from Alcatraz swim in the sense that I aimed up the river a bit while swimming across it so that I didn’t get pushed downstream. The long stretch was into the current and it didn’t feel as tough as I was expecting based on the long stretch into the current in the Russian River at Monte Rio Olympic. I focused on finding some power for my stroke and my arms didn’t start to feel tired until the last 300 meters up stream. Surprisingly I was even passing people on the swim, like a lot of them, at the World Freaking Championships! Full disclosure though, I seeded at the back of the swim because the last time-seeding sign was 38 minutes, my typical swim time on a course with no current … file that under “things that aren’t intimidating.”
After that, we crossed the river, again trying not to get pushed downstream. This turn was confusing since it was a downward angle instead of being straight across and I saw at least one person in my age group cut across before the red buoy, going straight across to the first yellow buoy and cutting the course by 200 meters. Kayaks were trying to alert that person but I don’t think they were able to, which is irritating because it’s technically cheating if you don’t go back and complete the course and that person should have been disqualified.
The rest of the swim was uneventful and the buoys came really fast with the current! I was happy to hit the swim exit stairs still feeling pretty good.
T1 – Swim -> Bike
Immediately out of the swim, we grabbed our transition bags from a line of blue bags. Fortunately my race number was amazing – 1000 – and it was at the very end of a row! Steve was also stationed nearby pointing it out to me, great to already see a cheerleader immediately out of the water.
We then ran up a steep slope to a changing tent where I ripped open/into my bag instead of taking the time to untie it, grabbed my sunglasses and helmet to put them on immediately and then ran to my bike carrying my cycling shoes. I was trying to adjust my helmet and make sure it was on straight during the hustle, but I don’t think I did a very good job of that in looking at my bike photos, ha!
I remember hearing shouts of my name that I was pretty sure included my coach – again nice to have (!) – as I ran to my bike, which was the last one left on my rack. I kind of expected this. Typically I am in the top ~25% of my AG out of the water in a 70.3, but at Worlds “38 minutes” was the tail end of the swim seeding.
I grabbed my bike and headed out of T1, still carrying my bike shoes and not putting them on until I got to the mount line – it was a long T1 and I’ve learned that transitions matter.
This is a good opportunity to mention nutrition. For this race, I kind of ended “winging it” as much as I ever do that, which is not much. I usually make my own potato gels and drink custom Infinit mixed with flavored Red Bull (Blue, Red or Yellow). Our accommodations got mixed up a bit, so I didn’t have a way to make potato gels how I usually do. My back up plan was to buy some roasted or boiled potatoes from the Whole Foods hot bar, and mash them up, adding veggie broth. I did this and added about ½ – 2/3 a vial of Base Salt but the potatoes smelled strong like they contained a lot of spices. The second thing was that instead of worrying about buying Red Bull, I just took the free Red Bull that was being given away at athlete check-in. The problem with all this is that the potatoes were very spicy AND salty (evidently they’d already been salted before I added loads of Base), and they kind of tasted like bacon, or what I would imagine bacon to taste like as some who has never eaten it and doesn’t care to. What I’m trying to say with all these words is that the potatoes were pretty gross and they were also pretty spicy! It doesn’t help that I don’t drink regular Red Bull because I drank too many Jaeger Bombs in my early twenties and now it usually elicits a gag reflex. On top of all that, it was the end of the season so I didn’t have much custom Infinit left, and probably shorted myself 1 – 2 scoops of calories and liquid nutrition. I’m just proud that this combination didn’t result in any vomiting on the bike, projectile or otherwise. And I guess the spicy potatoes were good because I have never drank so much water in a race!
The first five miles didn’t feel very fast due to turns, rail road tracks, etc but I suppose they were, and after that we started a steep pitch that began the climb up Lookout Mountain. The climb was not longer than anything I normally do, but it did represent some of the steeper sections of what I climb. Overall, I really liked this portion of the race and was sad when it was over, which seemed very quick. The climb was followed by some fun rollers and then some less fun rollers that felt like legit climbs.
Climbing Lookout Mountain! Sometimes you have to look around and smell the roses 🙂 I was really trying to take it all in!
There was an out-and-back section and I was trying to be mindful of proximity to other bikes and their draft zones. I saw officials at the turnaround and was nervous that I’d be judged to be close to the bikes ahead of me, so I attempted a pass. Not a good idea to pass on a super tight u-turn on a tiny two-lane road when your bike handling skills are not up to speed (I mostly ride outside on my road bike). I didn’t make the turn and wiped out. The top of my draft box broke off, spilling my flat kit. The bottom was wedged against my wheel, so I had to take off my wheel, and then pile my flat kit into my tri top since there were still 20 miles left on the bike.
The cage holding my aero bottle broke, so the bottle was un-secured and flopping around, spilling a sticky mixture of Infinit and Red Bull all over me. It had gotten on the back of my knees, and with the pedaling motion, I could feel them developing a chafing burn. I had also banged up my left side and back with the fall, so the final 20-miles were pretty uncomfortable, not to mention the wicked headwind that had picked up.
I’ve had a lot of awkward chafing situations, but this was defiinitely one of the weirdest!
Just scrapes and bruises along my left side, not real road rash, phew!!
I was a little worried what the lower left back pain would mean for the run, especially since my left hamstring had been bothering me during some runs for the final four weeks or so leading up to the race.
On those final 15 miles, there were two other girls that I was constantly leap frogging with and it helped provide a mental distraction, wondering when one would pass or when I should make a pass on one of them (i.e., after I’d backed off for long enough in between surges).
I felt like my time on the side of the road after wiping out at the turnaround had been an eternity, but Strava and Garmin suggest that it was only about 90 seconds, or no more than two minutes.
T2 – Bike -> Run
I handed off my sticky bike and yelled for my transition bag. The volunteer asked “one thousand and what?” … “just one thousand!” I had thought my race number was pretty killer right up until that moment, ha ha!
I collected myself quickly and headed out to run, trying to stay focused.
The first mile or two of a triathlon run is always dicey. I always find myself evaluating if I really want to do this or if I want to turn in my timing chip. In this instance, I realized I wouldn’t get the event t-shirt unless I crossed the finish line, so I reluctantly pressed forward and was surprised to see that my first split wasn’t too slow at all and it didn’t feel like much effort to generate despite some early climbs. It made me think that I could continue and see how the next couple of miles felt.
I was intrigued by the course, to see what it was like, and excited to see so many cheerleaders out from ATC (Atlanta Tri Club) and other Atlanta groups. On the super-tough back half hills, our friend Tom from San Francisco was blowing his taper for his Sunday race by cheering hard. He selected a GREAT cheer spot ? I also saw some of our friends local to Chattanooga out on their golf cart riding the hills and cheering. It actually made the toughest part of the race really fun! Following the hills, the pedestrian bridge takes competitors back to start the loop again, and there were also a lot of cheering spectators on this stretch. The spectator scene on the run was amazing, such a great energy.
I wore what Michael calls “the run turban” and was stuffing sponges in it throughout the run – it has a cooling effect when wet 🙂
After having done the first loop, I was mentally able to break up the second loop and didn’t mind it at all. I heard some strong cheers from my coach on the final mile and really tried to finish hard and bring it home running my best.
This pretty well captures my elation at finishing and having a fun day on a tough course!
This was a really amazing course and event, and the organizers in Chattanooga did a phenomenal job. I was uncertain how I’d feel about different race days for men and women but I really loved racing so many fast women and then getting to cheer on the men on a different day.
I raced more competitively than I thought I would, and it left me feeling excited for what I could do in 2018 with a focused but dialed back off season. Onward!
Official [free] event gear and finishers swag!
In our welcome packets, we had letters from the local school children. It was so sweet! I seriously took this advice about hydrating, ha ha!