The short story is this: I am an Ironwoman! On a brutally hot day (a high of 97 degrees) and with an overall DNF (did not finish) rate of 26%, I was able to finish my first Ironman in 13 hours 51 minutes and 49 seconds- smiling. The long story is in three parts, starting below.
I wrote up much of my Triathlon Story while I was roasting in the sun at the athlete’s meeting on Friday afternoon, two days before the race. It was at that moment that I really appreciated the enormity of the endeavor that I had committed to, the triathlon that I was hearing the details about at that moment. I don’t believe you can fully train for your first Ironman, there are too many variables in a race of that length, a race with that many moving parts and bodies of water and road to cover. Sure, I had planned as best as I could, but as the race date crept up on me, the weather was a wildcard.
Every day in the 10 day forecast before the race tended to raise the temp another half a degree or so Fahrenheit. Five days till the race it was a high of 91, three days before it was 93, two days before, 95, then on race day – 97 degrees.
Race day projections were thrown out the window, this race was going to be about two main things: managing my body heat and managing my hydration.
My race buddy Julia and I left Asheville on Friday morning and arrived at our hotel to check in and haul in all of our food, gear and bikes. Then we headed to Athlete’s Village just down the road for athlete check-in. After checking in, getting our swag bags, and attending the athletes meeting, Julia and I did a baby 20 minute run along the river and around town to get used to the heat and then grabbed a late lunch. Post lunch was spent in and by the hotel pool. We went to the opening ceremony to watch the inspirational videos and speeches later that evening before going to dinner at a great restaurant (that accepted our Ironman $25 dinner coupon) called the Public House. Pretty soon it was an early bedtime on a Friday night!
The next morning we woke up and biked a good portion of the run course. It was a gorgeous morning to be biking along the river (and of course the heat hadn’t set in yet.) We went back to the hotel to grab our gear for check in. Mike got into town late Friday night so he was able to help us check in our bikes and transition bags in the athlete’s village. I went on a one mile shake out jog to keep my run streak alive and then we all went to lunch. Another great Chattanooga restaurant that was on our coupon list, the Feed Co. where I had a more than decent veggie burger.
That afternoon was spent trying to stay off of our feet and wait for my parents to get into town so that we could go to an early dinner! More time by the hotel pool, plus a nice visit from some friends who live in Chattanooga now but used to live in Chapel Hill. Soon my parents landed in Chattanooga, picked us up and we headed to dinner. Randomly, the week prior to the race, my dad had been at a work conference with a guy who co-owns a restaurant called the Boathouse along the Riverwalk, it resulted in a really good dinner, great service, a meal on the house, words of luck from the other co-owner and staff, plus a wonderful view of sunset over the Tennessee River.
5am came just as early as you would expect. I made my tea and oatmeal and changed into my Pearl Izumi Champion race kit. Around 5:30 am Julie and I walked down to race village to add our water bottles and nutrition to our bikes and transition bags. I filled two ‘throwaway’ water bottles with skratch mix and filled a ziplock bag with cut up pieces of two larabars, a bonkbreaker, and two packets of endurance gummies to put into my bento box. (Julie gave me the idea to pre-cut them and put them in one ziplock bag and it turned out to be a fantastic idea that worked out really well for me!) I took my bike to the mechanic station to fill the tires up a bit, but I was careful not to overdo it since I knew the heat would set in and I didn’t want any popping tubes. I ended up putting two pairs of running shoes in my run bag because I couldn’t decide which ones I wanted to wear during the run, then Julie and I met up once again and got in line for the buses to the swim start.
The swim start was about 2 and a half miles up river, and it worked on a first come, first serve basis without waves. This meant that we formed one big ole line that snaked along the Riverwalk with the first of the line getting to jump off the dock first, after the pro men start, and then proceeding pretty much single file from there. We visited the porta-johns first and tried to comfort a woman who was slightly freaking out in line next to us. Then, *Warning, TMI* I had a great PRD (pre-race dump) in this port-a-john, better than any other race in recent memory!
Mike and my parents were able to join us, line up with us, and walk us almost all the way to the dock. We heard the national anthem around 7:15am and then the pro men go off at 7:20am – the pro women were racing at the Augusta 70.3 race and the men were racing at Chattanooga. Then, at 7:30am, us mere mortals were off. Any by ‘us’ I mean the first athletes in line, we were about a half mile back in the line… It moved quickly enough though, I hugged and kissed my parents and Mike, walked the last 100 feet to the dock, heard my timing chip, and jumped from the dock into the Tennessee River at 7:52 am.
The swim – Alternately, “Just a pleasant day in the Tennessee River”
I can honestly say that this was the least anxiety producing, most pleasant swim I have ever had in a triathlon. The water was almost 83 degrees, and for those non-swimmers reading this, that’s almost bath water temperature. This also meant that the race wasn’t wet-suit legal, so those wearing a wetsuit had to wait in back of the line and wouldn’t be in contention for age group awards. I chose not to wear a wetsuit, finding them overly constricting most of the time anyways, and not wanting to overheat. I went wide to start, not wanting to get swum over in the first few buoys before the crowd thinned out. I found a nice rhythm almost immediately, bi-laterally breathing the whole time unless I had a person right next to me who I would breathe away from. I sighted myself back to swimming along the buoys and at a couple of points did have some very fast wetsuit wearing swimmers try to swim over/under/around me. I just chugged along, keeping a steady rhythm, enjoying the feeling of the sun rise on my back. We pass under three bridges towards the end of the swim and I was pretty amazed at how soon I was approaching them. Before I knew it, I heard the cheers from the swim exit, banked left, and headed to where volunteers were helping pull us up and out of the water.
I heard my mother’s voice over all the others and waved to my cheering squad before running through transition, grabbing my bike bag and heading to the changing tent. I ate part of a peanut butter and banana sandwich I had put in my bag that morning, drank a cup of water, put on my socks, cycling shoes, gloves, and helmet. Then I exited the tent, let the sunscreen spraying volunteers give a nice coating to my arms and shoulders, grabbed my bike off the rack, and jogged to the bike start/bike mount line.
Coming soon, Part 2: The bike –or Alternately “Understanding the true meaning of the phrase ‘blowing hot air'”