Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Ironman Chattanooga Race Report

Ironman Duathlon Chattanooga was my 6th ironman finish, and the 1st one where I FINALLY got my nutrition and hydration right. All I wanted was to give myself the chance to fight at the end of the race. I wanted my stomach to be settled, my body to be hydrated, not bloated, and to stay patient on the bike so that at the end of the marathon, I could run myself into a deep level of pain and just hold on for dear life.

I found out on the plane on the way to Chattanooga that the swim was canceled due to flooding and high levels of bacteria in the river. I think I may have some pre-ironman-flight PTSD because 3 years ago, I found out that Ironman Maryland (what would have been my first ironman) was canceled on the plane on the way there. I'm already in a tapering/emotionally unstable state, so I didn't handle this well at first. When Ryan looked over and saw my face, he asked me if I was ok. I let out a few words that might have formed a sentence if they were arranged in a logical order, but I'm pretty sure I at least included both, "swim" and "canceled," so he got the idea.

I typically swim about an hour for the 2.4 mile ironman distance, which puts me in the front of the pack heading out onto the bike. In my pre-race research stalking of my competition, I determined that I could probably get out of the water at least 10-15 minutes faster that most of the girls I'd be racing against. Since biking is not my strongest leg, it's nice to have a head start. Qualifying for Kona is always my goal at an ironman, so losing the swim made my chances for qualifying significantly smaller.

So I proceeded to throw a pity party for myself, complete with some F words and some crying.

Then the next morning, I got up, put on my big-boy pants, re-wrote my race plan, and focused on what I always tell my athletes- control the controllables. I couldn't fix the swim problem, so I wasn't going to waste any more energy on being upset about it. I sent my athletes an email because I wanted them to be with me through this, so that they could be stronger than me and skip right over the pity party step, when something out of their control happens to them in a race. I had to acknowledge that this situation didn't change my goals, so I had to change my mindset. I wasn't going to let an opportunity to qualify for Kona pass me by because I was too busy feeling sorry for myself.

Pre-race team visualization

On race morning, we lined up for our time trial bike start, and I was all in. I've had a few significant opportunities to learn from my mistakes, with regards to nutrition, hydration, pacing, and execution, and I was determined to get it right this time. I know to the milligram the amount of electrolytes I'm supposed to be taking in, to the milliliter how much fluid, and exactly what my power output should be to give me the best chance to run off the bike.... blah blah data blah blah. I'm so dialed in on data for my athletes, but when it comes to my own performance, I can't be bothered by it. However, having this information available to me, makes me better able to focus on guiding my performance by feel. I follow the numbers in training, then use them as a loose guideline in a race. When it comes down making performance decisions, I listen to my body 100%.

When your quad is trying to bust out of your shorts...

While only glancing at my power periodically, I finished the bike leg at the exact wattage I needed to ride at, and 303 TSS. I knew there were a few girls in front of me because they started first and I never saw them, and I knew there were a couple girls right on my tail as well. I'm not used to any of my competition being behind me getting off the bike so I wasn't sure what to make of that. But either way, I felt good getting off the bike and was slightly distracted by some weirdo running next to me in a cowboy costume yelling things like, "I'll see you in 3 shakes of a goat's tail." I asked around to see if that could have been someone else's husband, but no one claimed him, and he started yelling that he belonged to me for everyone to hear.

Stage 1 of costume changes

At this point, Ryan was on phase 2 of his pre-planned costume changes. The first stage involved a cowboy hat and a whip. I didn't ask him how far in advance he started planning his ironman spectating performance, but it was long enough to give him time to research cowboy sayings, so we'll just leave it at that.

Fully invested

Every time I went down an out-and-back portion of the run, I could see that I had some competition right behind me. This is the first ironman, probably because of the duathlon format, that I actually felt like I was in a race the entire time. That takes a lot more mental energy to stay focused, which is an experience that I'm glad I have under my belt now. The last 8ish miles of the marathon are hilly and I could feel my body wanting to slow down, but I knew I was somewhere near the edge of the podium, and I wasn't about to give that up. Then around mile 23, the girl who had been on my ass all day (who is now my new friend and potential training partner), ran up next to me out of an aid station and that was all I needed to turn it on.

Ryan put the costumes aside at the end of the race to let me know it was go-time.

I put myself in the exact situation that I visualized and I was ready to go. I started running as hard as I could up that hill, thinking that I wasn't sure if I could maintain that pace, but I was determined to find out. My legs were on fire, but they weren't slowing down. Somehow, my last 3 miles of the marathon were my fastest 3 miles, and I ended up finishing on the podium, in 4th, and in a whole lot of pain (aka happiness).

The 1st and 2nd place girls took the Kona spots. I know it would have been different if the swim wasn't canceled, but I had no business placing on the podium in a duathlon and I was proud of the way I handled the race mentally, and how well I executed physically. And now that I know I can run that fast at the end of a marathon, next time I get to go even faster.

I have to give a shout out to my coach, Mike, who has to put up with a whole lot of my bullshit. I definitely don't make his job easy, and he probably breaks out in hives every time I tell him that I ignore my power meter, and only use my race plan as a loose guideline. We're on year 3 as a team, and we've both had to adjust our methods a bit, but the progress is undeniable.

I hope I tell them this enough, but I am endlessly inspired by my athletes. I get to watch them fearlessly fight for their goals, each in their own unique way. Whenever I'm at a low in motivation or confidence, it's easy to look at what they're doing and let them pick me up.

And last but not least, it has to be obvious how perfect my husband is. On the surface, triathlon looks like an individual sport but it never has been for me. Ryan is just as invested in this as I am, and we are stronger, faster, and tougher as a team.

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