It’s taken me a lot longer to write this than it normally does and there’s a reason for that. While I had a solid race, it wasn’t the race I expected of myself. I spent the week after the race trying to decide how I felt about the result. On one hand, I was disappointed I didn’t perform to my expectations, and on the other, I executed a very smart race on a tough tough course. I was torn and I kind of still am in a way. I also was quickly consumed with Ironman training. I’m actually writing this in a somewhat delirious state after a tough few weeks of training. Let’s get to how the weekend unfolded.
Mandy and I flew out Thursday morning which ended up being good timing as who knows if we would have gotten out on a flight Friday with hurricane Irma on the way. It was very hard to say goodbye to our dogs that morning. With the unknown looming and hurricane Irma was projected to head straight towards us at that time, I had no idea what was going to happen while we were away. Would the dogs be ok? Would the house be ok? Would we have a house to come home to after the race? Would I ever see our dogs again? All these thoughts rushed through my head as I gave our dogs big hugs and kisses at 6 am Thursday. I couldn’t help but cry a bit but I knew I had to keep it together as Mandy is the crier in the family and she would lose it if she saw me being emotional. I knew the dogs and house were in excellent hands as my brother in law Clay was staying at our house with his dog Kona and his gf Alex. I knew they could take care of them and make the best decisions needed during the storm. I just hated not being there with them and not knowing.
We got to Chattanooga around noon Thursday but found that one of my bags didn’t make it on the flight from Atlanta. No sweat as the bag was supposed to be on the next flight which was schedule to land a little over an hour later. We went and grabbed lunch near the airport and then swung back to the airport to get my bag. The bag did arrive and then we headed to our hotel to get checked-in and then do athlete check-in. For the first time ever, I decided to not fly with my bike. I absolutely hate not having my bike readily available and having to turn my bike in a week or more before the race. And then you don’t get it back for another week or so after the race. That’s just unacceptable in my book. Fortunately, Premier Bike Transport only required me to check in my bike Wednesday morning before the race and I could get the bike at the race sometime Thursday afternoon. And then I would have the bike back Monday or Tuesday after the race. PERFECT!! I can get all my pre travel bike workouts done, get my bike at the race realtively early, and get my bike back home just in time to start full IRONMAN training. So after getting situated at the hotel and then doing athlete check-in, I met Steve from Premier Bike Transport to get my bike. The bike is already built and its in the same condition as I left it….. its MAGICAL! This definitely alleviated a lot of stress for me as anyone who has flown with a bike can attest to the stress of flying with your bike. We spent the rest of the day Thursday lounging around and just staying relaxed.
Friday morning came and I went for a quick jog to scope out the transition area and get my bearings. With such as huge transition area (more than I have been accustomed to in other 70.3 races), I knew I needed to know the ins and outs of transition. I always try to know transition like the back of my hand but this one was a bit more challenging with the T1/T2 bags and the amount of ground it covered. We had a Team EveryManJack practice swim planned that morning so I also got to scope out the Tennessee river. The water was just ever so slightly above the wetsuit legal limit and I knew the next two nights were supposed to be pretty cool. I didn’t want to admit it, but I had a feeling this race was going to be wetsuit legal once Sunday came around. I thought maybe IRONMAN would “lie” about the temperature to keep it non wetsuit considering this was a championship race and they pretty much purposely designed the course to find the hardest course possible in Chattanooga. But that didn’t end up being the case unfortunately. After the team swim, we went to the expo to meet with our team sponsors and thank them for all their support. We really have the best sponsors in the industry and we are very fortunate for all they do for us. I then went for a 30 min spin on the bike and then the team met up for dinner together including all our loved ones.
Team EMJ Practice Swim
(Photos/video courtesy of Talbot Cox)
(Photos courtesy of Talbot Cox)
I got up Saturday morning and had a my normal big breakfast (pancakes!!) and then headed down to the swim start to watch the pro women finish the swim. I wanted to get a feel for how transition flowed with the “clean” transition and bags. I noticed that the wetsuit stripping was a bit of a mess and was actually costing people time. After 30 min or so, I headed back to the hotel to grab my bike for a quick ride. I did some short efforts and made sure everything was working perfectly on the bike. After the ride, I did a short run and then got my bike and transition bags ready for check in. During bike check in, I noticed my anxiety and nerves were pretty high. The week felt like is was dragging on and at that point, I was ready to race and get things underway.
With the rolling start within the AG, I wanted to be in the first group off the dock. It was a bit of a fight to get to the front but fortunately I got to the front as we were lining up and would be in the first group. The horn sounded and everyone sprinted off the dock. I knew folks would sprint the first couple minutes, so I just wanted to control my effort, keep them in contact, and sit on some feet. Within the first 30 seconds, 4-5 guys were sprinting like crazy. I sat just behind them, keeping them in sight, and keeping my effort steady. After a few minutes, I moved up to 3rd and sat on someone’s feet. I could see the lead guy a little further up ahead but figured the pace was honest enough and there was no need to bridge the gap. About half way through, I took over 2nd and starting reeling the lead guy back in and got on his feet. After a few minutes of sitting on his feet, he all of sudden just stopped and sat up. I figured he didn’t want to do the work anymore and I sure as hell didn’t want to stop either so I took over the lead. I led until about 200-300 yards left and then the original leader starting picking up the pace. I got on his feet and was content with him leading us to T1. I got out of the water, skipped the wetsuit strippers, and went searching for my T1 bag. I overshot my bag which cost me 10-15 seconds. After the race, my transition wasn’t that great compared to the top guys (I lost ~30 seconds). Something I need to work on for these big races.
I headed out on the bike and was feeling pretty good. The first 5 miles or so were extremely rough roads so I was a careful not to go flying over my handle bars or drop any bottles. I hit the Look Out mountain climb and went to work. I was torn for literally 4-5 months on what gearing to run in this race, specifically for this climb. After I changed my mind at least 8 times, I decided on an 11-28 (with a 53/39). Lets just say the 28t was the correct decision. I didn’t need more gearing but a 25t definitely would have taken more out of my legs than I wanted to. I started hearing a noise coming from my rear wheel and I thought it was my rear brake rubbing. I’m extremely meticulous about my gear and go through everything with a fine tooth comb before every race. I started freaking out that I would have to ride the rest of the ride with my brake rubbing and I was less than 10 miles into the bike. The climb started to flatten out and I ended up shifting out my easiest gear and the noise went away. I immediately knew what the noise was…. my ceramicspeed OSPW were rubbing on my disc when in the 39-28t. While this wasn’t ideal, I knew I wouldn’t be in this gear combo for much longer and once I got to the top of the climb, I would never use it again. I got to the top of the climb and spectators had lined up like we were racing in the TDF. I got a big boost of energy with their cheering as I hit the top of climb. I thought I managed my effort very well on the climb. I knew you had to push the climb a bit but not too much that you burned too many matches. The rest of the ride was rolling hills which I struggled to find any kind of rhythm. While I didn’t feel like I was struggling, I didn’t feel like I was in the zone as I just couldn’t get comfortable. At mile 35, my power started to drop. I just couldn’t keep the power up and saw my avg power and NP start dropping. I had a few guys in my AG blow by me but there was no question on what to do as there was no way I was going to ride with them and have a good run (I’m not even sure I could have stayed with them on the bike). I was feeling good but my power just wasn’t where I wanted to be. I kept fighting along and made it back to transition with a little disappointing bike split.
I started off the run with the hopes of running in the low 1:20s but also knowing that there were several big climbs and I needed the manage the effort over the 13.1 miles to have a good run. I started running with a group of guys about a mile in but once we got to the top of the hill out of transition, they started gunning it downhill. While I think I’m a pretty good downhill runner, I knew the pace was too fast to sustain especially with the major climbs still to come. I let them go and raced my race. A few miles later, I started running with a wattie ink guy (Dustin) and we stuck together for a few miles. I really enjoyed running with him and it was a good pace/effort. He started to pull away from me towards the end of the 1st loop as we crossed the pedestrian bridge. In hindsight, I should have went with him. I was too content running in my comfort zone. About a mile in the 2nd loop, teammate Jack McAfee passed me and then shortly after Yoni Doron-Peters passed me as well. I had no chance of staying with Jack but I was able to keep Yoni in sight after he passed me. Just before the major climb, I started to reel Yoni back in. I gave him some words of encouragement as I passed him and started the climb. My hips were screaming at me at this point and I was just counting the number of climbs left until the finish. Teammate Mike Vulanich came flying by me with less than a mile left as I ran across the pedestrian village. I tried everything but I could not latch on to him. I got across the bridge and made the turn for the downhill section into the finish.
OVERALL (4:22:16) – 11th AG/65th Overall
I crossed the finish already a bit disappointed. I knew it was a solid race but it wasn’t a great race which is what I was expecting. My whole year was built around this race and I honestly thought I had a shot at top 5 in my AG. Over a month later, I still don’t know why my power dropped so much the last 20ish miles. After comparing my strava file to others, I lost a lot of time after mile 35. A 2:24 bike split just isn’t going to cut it in my really fast and competitive AG. I needed to bike about 4 minutes faster in the 2:20s which I think I was capable of. As for the run, I ran too comfortably. I did not get out of my comfort zone enough to really push the pace. I believe I had a 1:22 in me but that means nothing after the fact. The good news is that this race has re-motivated me and lit a fire in me.
Up next is my very first IRONMAN!! (IRONMAN Florida) While I am extremely excited, I am beyond scared of the unknown and I know this is going to be the toughest challenge I have ever done.
Thanks for reading!