Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Ironman Chattanooga 2016 Race Report: Hot as ....
Many have said not to sign up for an Ironman if I’m signed up. The inaugural IM St. George in 2010, water temperature was 52 degrees (http://wassdoc.blogspot.com/2010/05/st-george-ironman-race-report.html). IMStG in 2011, temperatures in the 90’s(http://wassdoc.blogspot.com/2011/05/ironman-st-george-race-report.html). The IM with the highest DNF rate of all time, the 2012 IM St. George with 5 foot swells and 40-50 mph wind gusts(http://wassdoc.blogspot.com/2012/05/2012-ironman-st-george-race-report.html). The inaugural IM Lake Tahoe, where I had to scrape ice off my bike in T1(http://wassdoc.blogspot.com/2013/09/to-achieve-good-time-or-to-have-good.html). IMLT in 2014, which was cancelled by local fires. I had to leave the country to find an ironman with no major issues, which was Ironman New Zealand in 2014(http://wassdoc.blogspot.com/2014/03/ironman-new-zealand-giving-it.html). Ironman Boulder just has to stand on it’s own as a challenging course at altitude(http://wassdoc.blogspot.com/2014/08/ironman-boulder-race-report.html, http://wassdoc.blogspot.com/2015/08/ironman-boulder-perseverence.html, http://wassdoc.blogspot.com/2016/08/ironman-boulder-2016-race-report.html). I was actually registered for IMCDA in 2015, but withdrew due to back issues, missing temperatures in the 100’s. IM Maryland, 2015, was postponed by a hurricane. With all of this in mind, Ironman Chattanooga in 2014 had near perfect weather conditions, so I figured it would be a good Ironman to do again(http://wassdoc.blogspot.com/2014/10/ironman-chattanooga-and-2014-ironman.html).
A few weeks prior to the race, the forecast was in the mid to low 80’s, but the temperature kept rising with each subsequent forecast. Who would know that Chattanooga would experience it’s hottest late September day in over eighty years? Who could have predicted that IM Chattanooga would experience the second highest DNF rate in Ironman history, second only to IMSTG 2012? Nevertheless, I did my best to prepare, keeping my hotel temperature at 78 degrees and making sure I was well hydrated going into the race. I also had given a lot of thought to my hydration plan and realized that this race was going to be primarily mental. I was right.
My mental preparation for the race began with making sure I was near the front of the line for the swim. The main reason was not to be stuck with a lot of bike traffic on the roads, which turned out to be a good decision. The current was not as fast as in 2014, but the river swim allowed me to find the feet of a faster swimmer and hold those feet for nearly the entire swim. I also focused on keeping a solid effort, not hard, but solid. While it’s hard to know exactly how my swim time compared to other races, my 1:00:37 swim time was 12th in my age group (out of 112 men) and 290th overall. I’ve never had a swim placement that high. I felt good coming out of the water and actually ran up the ramp to T1. For the first time ever in an ironman, I had my bike shoes on my bike in transition, so all I had to do was put on my sunglasses and helmet, grab my bike and get out of T1. This led to my fastest bike transition time ever, 4:55.
I was looking forward to the bike, as my 2014 IM Chattanooga bike split was my fastest bike split ever, despite a 116 mile course. I was very patient, not pushing too hard, but keeping a consistent and solid effort. I also took the opportunity to draft for twenty seconds most of the time that someone passed me, which is within the rules. I also focused primarily on nutrition and hydration, taking in more calories in the first few hours (nearly 1500 cal) than I have ever taken in, and pushing fluids throughout the bike. With that said, I actually pushed the fluids and nutrition to the point where my stomach couldn’t take in any more. While it was hot out, I felt pretty comfortable during the first loop of the bike. It was during the 2nd loop that I began noticing the heat. There were a few times that it felt like we were riding in a furnace. The heat of the ground was causing my feet to burn a little. Also, at about mile 70, my chain dropped, though I was able to get it back on while pedaling. The winds changed during the second loop and we had a headwind coming back. I did begin feeling like my energy level was a little lower than I would have liked, and reduced my drafting efforts. My chain also began making noise and I had to be careful with shifting. Somewhere after Mile 80, I did begin looking forward to getting off the bike and running, although my bike pace really didn’t drop off much. I also had some issues with my back during the bike, starting in the area of my right ribcage where I had popped a rib out of place a year and half earlier. I needed to reach back and push on the rib to adjust it several times. It was hot out there, with a high of 97 degrees and significant humidity. My bike split was only 17 minutes slower, which considering that temperatures were over 20 degrees higher than in 2014, was probably not a significant difference. I rode the first half of the course in 2:59 and the second half in 3:09, which included greater headwinds. It turns out that my bike was the 10th fastest in my age group, and 357th overall, also relatively unheard of territory. During the last 10 miles of the bike, my chain started making very loud, scary noises. I tried not shifting much, and I’m sure my chain issues had to have some impact on my second loop pace. I came into T2 and did a flying dismount for the first time ever in an ironman and jogged to get my transition bag. I have to say, jogging didn’t feel good, my back was definitely affected by the bike ride and the heat, but I chose to ignore this and keep jogging to the tent, where I quickly put vaseline on my feet, put on my socks and shoes, hat and quickly got out of transition. My T2 time was a quick 4:15, easily my fastest T2 ever. However, that was a mistake.
In trying to get out and running as quickly as possible, I neglected to put water in my two flasks, and I didn’t wet down my arm coolers, which I subsequently realized was needed for them to work effectively. I started out running, but when I hit the first hill, I realized that the hills were going to be tough. By the time I reached the first water station my mouth was as dry as sand paper and my arms were hot. I knew that I was on the dehydrated side, which was not a good way to start the marathon in 97 degree heat. I made a decision. I decided to focus for the next few miles on taking in electrolytes and fluid. I also began to place ice in my tri-suit and ultimately in my arm coolers. I began taking BASE salt as well. I mostly walked and jogged a little. My pace for the first 5 miles was around 13 minutes/mile. At the Mile 5 water station, I stopped at a porta-potty. The most important news was that I was able to pee. Mission accomplished. When I got to the Mile 6 marker, it hit me that I only had to do another 20 mile run, and so I began running, with the exception of hills, which I continued to walk up. I ran through the hills on the other side of the river and my pace over the next seven miles was right about 12 minutes/mile. My 1/2 marathon time was 2:44. Starting the second loop, I just tried to keep moving forward and running as much as possible. My pace dropped to 11 minutes/mile and when I hit the hills it did slow a bit. When I finally got to the Mile 24 marker, I had decided to run the last two miles as hard as I could, which was most likely around 10 minutes/mile. The second half marathon was done in 2:30. For the last two miles I pushed myself harder than I ever have for the last 2 miles of an ironman. I went into “grunting” mode, where I grunt with each breath. It was real. In many ways, my grunts were literally screams of pain, but I wasn’t going to give in on this day. My run time was 5:14:17, not even close to my fastest, but it was the 10th fastest run in my age group and 319th overall. This was a hard day. Everyone who did this race should be proud, no matter how far they got or how fast they went!
Final Time: 12:32:59
I was 47 minutes from 2nd/Kona slot (as I always say, I’m good enough to smell a Kona slot, but not good enough to taste one)
I was 12:30 from 5th/podium
I was 8 minutes from 6th in my age group.
Ironically, these were all similar placement numbers compared to Chattanooga in 2014.
Finally, I could have walked the run course, got another Ironman in the books on the way to 12 and the Legacy status that will get me to Kona. In the end, however, I have to give each race everything I have. Someone once asked me how I know if I had a good race. My answer is always the same. If I hit the finish line knowing I gave it everything I had.