September 29, 2019
It was so hot outside…
How hot was it?
It was so hot that the loaf of bread I bought at the store was toast when I got home.
It was so hot that I started my clothes on fire just to cool off.
It was so hot that I saw a heatwave but I was too hot to wave back.
It was so hot that hot water was coming out of both sides of the faucet (in my hotel that was true!).
It was so hot that I jumped in the Tennessee River just to get wet, got on my bike and rode 116 miles just to have some wind blow on me, and then dumped ice down my pants for 5-plus hours as I ran through the streets of Chattanooga just because that’s the kind of weird things an Ironman triathlete does when faced with one of the hottest days I have ever raced in.
I am an Ironman Chattanooga finisher. A 2019 Ironman Chattanooga finisher. I don’t say that lightly. The race day high temperature reached 94 degrees from what I can see on the internet. Humid too, pushing the real feel heat index up over 100 degrees. Mostly sunny. No wind. No escape from the heat. It was hot. Chattanooga threw a heck of a day at me, and I am proud to say I was able to get the job done. Here’s a recap of how I survived this day and was able to become a four-time Ironman.
Once again, I followed Don Fink’s book Be Iron Fit to train for this race. It has served me well the past three races, and again I followed the 30 Week Competitive Plan to get ready. I did make some changes to the plan, mainly to the swim. The school I normally use for swimming changed their policy regarding daytime public access to the pool, so I decided to wait until I opened my own pool to swim, which meant I missed several weeks of swim training. And like I did when I trained for Ironman Louisville, I decided that the plan had too much swimming for my needs. So I reduced it to two 45-minute swims per week, and if I couldn’t get those two swims in, I shot for one 1-hour swim on my Monday rest day. Seeing that Chattanooga would be a current aided swim in the Tennessee River, I figured I would be okay.
Biking and running were done mostly to the plan and all went well. Once again I felt that Be Iron Fit prepared me well. My teammates Dave, Alex, Jeff and his sister Jan all followed the plan and we had a great time training together (mostly virtually) over the summer.
My wife Kari and I left for Chattanooga Thursday morning and drove the 9 or so hours with a few stops along the way. After checking into the hotel and grabbing a bite to eat, we waited up for Alex, Dave and his crew to arrive. Jeff and Jan were late arrivals and we met up in the morning.
We all met up had breakfast and then went to the Ironman Village to check-in. We attended the “mandatory” athlete briefing, and then it was back to the hotel to escape the heat for a while. We even opted to eat the pasta buffet that the hotel hosted on Friday just because it was an easy option and we didn’t have to go back outside.
Saturday we checked our bikes and dropped off our gear bags and then the group decided to drive the bike course to see what we were up against. We always make this mistake because experiencing the course from a car is nothing like experiencing the course from the bike and it usually scares the heck out of us. But Dave mentioned that since none of us came out and said anything really noteworthy about it, it must not be that bad. I agreed, it didn’t really seem that bad, just a bunch of hills repeated over and over again with some good downhills thrown in. It didn’t shock us like Wisconsin, Lake Placid, or Louisville did thankfully.
We later sat in the hot sun and attended the Welcoming Ceremony hosted by the Ironman announcer who does a pretty good Mike Reilly impersonation. I didn’t catch his name but he was fine. The video about what it’s like to sign up and train for an Ironman was pretty funny and got us in a good mood for tomorrow.
One thing I dropped the ball on with this race was that it was the host for the Ironman North American Club Championships. I regret that we didn’t register our team and compete against the other clubs and teams. I bet we could have beaten some of them, especially with our ringer, Alex gaining huge points for us.
After a dinner with the gang and our families, we headed back to the hotel and made plans to meet at 4:50am to head to transition. Ugh.
I slept pretty decent and got up feeling pretty good at 4am. After getting ready and downing a bagel, I grabbed my Morning Clothes bag and headed to the lobby. The Gunners all seemed awake and ready to take on the day. We walked to transition to check our bikes and bags and to get body marked.
I gave the tires the old finger pinch test and decided that they felt pumped up enough to not bother trying to find a pump to use. If anything they might be a little low, but with the heat, they would probably gain a little pressure throughout the midday ride.
We hopped on the school bus for the shuttle ride to the swim start and I took a seat with Dave, just like we did back in kindergarten 50 years ago. The bus dropped us off in the dark and we got our bearings and took a seat on the grass to await the start.
Dave and I opted to start in the 1:10 to 1:20 pace group, which turned out to be pretty appropriate for me. Alex started up in the first wave, and Jeff and Jan started in a few behind us. I pulled on my Roka swim skin and got my earplugs, goggles and swim cap on and that is when Kari and Ben found us. After a quick picture, it was time to start moving to the start.
We shuffled our way down the path to the dock, avoiding pee puddles along the way and jumped in. I wouldn’t see Dave again until the second loop of the run.
SWIM – 2.4 Miles / 1:16:14 / 57th M55-59 Age Group / 645th Male / 898th Overall
I realized as soon as I hit the water that the swim, the portion of triathlon that I usually dread, was going to be the easiest and most enjoyable part of the day. The water was warm, clean and wet, just like I like it. I reminded myself to start slow, start heading wide and just swim nice and easy. The kayakers and stand-up paddleboard volunteers monitoring the swimmers seemed to prefer everyone to stay on the left side of the buoys. I did that for the first two, but then moved over a little and kept the majority of the rest of them on my left because I wanted to be as far out in the river as I could to take advantage of a stronger current but I’m not sure it made much of a difference.
I had heard in the athlete briefing that when the buoys turn from yellow to orange you were halfway done. The last buoy was marked with a number 9 and I told myself to count off nine more. When I saw the last red turn buoy I relaxed rather than start sprinting to the swim out like I normally do. I was helped up the stairs by volunteers and gave a glance at my watch and saw 1:16. I was hoping to be closer to one hour but I think the lack of a wetsuit kept me from hitting that. My two 45-minute weekly training swims were plenty to get me ready for that swim.
Overall, it was a low-contact, uneventful swim that I kind of wanted to enjoy a little longer because I knew 116 miles of riding a bike in 90-degree temps was about to begin.
T1 – 10:39
I found my bag quickly and was off to the change tent. I rubbed a ton of Body Glide on my feet, grabbed my stuff, ate most of a Clif Bar and a gel, and took time to spray myself down with sunscreen before heading outside and having more sunscreen put on me by volunteers. I grabbed my bike off the rack and headed out.
BIKE – 116 Miles / 6:47:00 / 40th M55-59 Age Group / 505th Male / 641st Overall
After driving the course the day before, I knew the road was going to be rough, so I made sure I paid attention to the road. I found myself trying to hold back my pace but I was feeling super good. I was doing 20+ mph easily and that’s not how to start out on the day that was ahead of me. I finally decided to watch the speed and heart rate a little more and just relax. I found a good pace and settled in.
At the first aid station, I decided to refill my water bottle with GU Roctane drink mix that I had trained with all summer, but I ended up spilling most of it because the volunteer helping me put in too much water in my bottle. It made for sticky arm pads and aerobars, but I took another water bottle and washed it off. No harm, no foul. I needed to use the bathroom, so I handed my bike to a kid volunteer and went inside for a quick potty break. I pulled my tri shorts down and that’s when my first OH NO! happened. I had dealt with some saddle sores on my butt from training and I had remembered that I had this little 1/4 inch thick foam rubber pad that I started using to provide much-needed relief. I decided to put it in my shorts before leaving transition and it was doing its job. But as I dropped trou, the pad fell into the blue lagoon. For one hot second, I thought about reaching in and grabbing it! But I quickly came to my senses and just dealt with the fact that my butt is going to be sore for another six hours.
The bike course consisted of one little rolling hill after another and they just wouldn’t stop coming. But when you ride a course like that it kind of engages you and focuses your attention on shifting and adjusting to the effort, which keeps your mind off the heat or in my case, my sore butt. I always find it interesting that in a race with 2000 or so triathletes, you tend to end up in a group and stick with them the majority of the ride. It makes sense because sooner or later you are going to settle in with people riding at the same pace. I had some good conversations with a few of them. Most of the conversation was started because they liked the saying I had put on the back of our team tri suits: “I HATE THIS SPORT”. The other Gunners said they also got plenty of feedback from that saying. Alex made that saying our motto, and we always joke about it.
As for keeping up with my hydration and nutrition, I think I did pretty well. I stopped at nearly every aid station and got a fresh water bottle and Gatorade Endurance bottle, even if they weren’t completely empty. I grabbed some cut banana pieces occasionally and kept taking my gels every half hour. I did stick with a salt capsule every hour through the first half of the ride, but I added an additional capsule every other hour on the second half. I didn’t want to get low on electrolytes, but with the Gatorade, gels, and salt capsules, I think I was plenty fine on electrolytes.
I had one little incident with a bug flying into the slot at the top of my helmet which forced me to pull over and try to get it out of there because I didn’t want it to sting me. Otherwise, the ride was pleasant enough in spite of the heat. Truthfully, the heat never fully came to the forefront of my focus on the bike. Creating my own breeze at 18 mph, dumping water on myself, and focusing on not wrecking on one of the bad sections of the road was enough to keep my mind off the heat. My Garmin data shows that I averaged about 18.1 mph, but that doesn’t take into account the amount of time that I spent stopped at the aid stations. Garmin tells me that I had about 23 minutes of non-moving time, so you can see that I did spend some time in the aid stations. It also shows that I maxed out at one point at 37 mph, so there were some good downhills. The one difficult climb was the last part of the south section of the course on Cove Road, which was a very slow spin for a few minutes, but we were then rewarded with a quick downhill just before the hairpin turn onto Hog Jowl Road and heading back north.
I can remember thinking that this was the most difficult bike course of the four Ironman courses I have ridden, but after a few days of thinking about it, I don’t think it was as bad as I was experiencing during the ride. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m pretty sure that I don’t want to experience that course again.
T2 – 12:08
I grabbed a water bottle off my bike and made my way to the Run Gear bags. I sat down in the tent near the exit where the fan was blowing and emptied my bag on the ground. First up was to grab the wet towel I had stored in a bag and wash my face off. It was hot, but just getting sweat and grime off of me makes me feel better. Next, my socks came off and I saw that my feet looked a little pale and water-soaked but weren’t sore at all. I grabbed the Skin Glide lotion and emptied it on both feet and then pulled on fresh socks. I had put my fuel belt in my bag with a bottle containing energy drink, but after it sat outside in the sun all day I didn’t think I wanted to drink that. Plus it was heavy and I decided that just running with the bib belt was my best option. I opted for a running hat instead of a visor to keep the sun off my bald head and to have the possibility of putting ice in it if I needed to. My gel flask with my GU in it and an empty plastic bag to fill with ice on the course went into my back pockets and off I went to get some more sunscreen before heading out of transition.
RUN – 26.2 Miles / 5:11:48 / 24th M55-59 Age Group / 380th Male / 486th Overall
I may have managed to start out jogging, but when the course started to head out of Downtown Chattanooga it became an uphill grind in the sun for about 6 miles. My body was telling me that I wasn’t going to last very long if I tried running up the hills and in the sun. I walked. I walked some more. I stopped at every aid station and took on ice and cold drinks. I went to the water bottle I was carrying a lot, but only kept it about a third full so it wouldn’t be too heavy to carry. Refilling it wasn’t a problem. Miles 1-6 was a slog and I just was hoping to get from aid station to aid station. I grabbed some ice water-filled sponges and stuck them under my kit, redipping them at a few of the aid stations. I kept up the routine of walk and jog, and at the aid stations I followed the same routine nearly every time: eat some GU, drink the ice water, dump the ice into my tri suit somewhere, get some flat cola with ice and drink it, get three to four potato chips or pretzels and try to wash them down with some more water, fill my little plastic bag with ice and stick it in my pocket, then move to the next aid station and repeat.
Once over the Tennessee River, I got to meet a street called Barton. Barton sucked. I foolishly thought that once I walked up it that it would level off and that portion of the loop would be flat. Wrong. It went downhill even longer, then the loop portion had hills. So I walked when it went up, jogged when I went down and made my way around a nice part of Chattanooga. Lots of local crowd support out and about providing music and cheers for everyone.
As I returned back to the other side of the run course to begin the second half, a strange and unexpected feeling started to come over me. I was actually starting to feel strong and felt pretty good. The sun was starting to set and I told myself that I would prefer to get out and start heading back through the trail portion of the course before it got dark. I started picking up the pace, still stopping at the aid stations, but no longer lingering there. I was actually passing people. Actually, no one passed me while I was running that I can remember except for Jeff, but he did that much earlier.
Somewhere around Mile 18, I passed Dave. This was a moment that I had been chasing for four Ironman races now. Dave had beat his brother John, Jeff and me at all of our previous races and I really wanted to savor this moment. But I couldn’t. He was having a tough time. I almost made the decision to just run the rest of the race with him, but now I was no longer last, and Jeff wasn’t far ahead. So Dave and I chatted a little bit and gave each other some encouragement, and I began the task of chasing down Jeff.
Jeff started the race after Dave and me, so I knew I had a headstart on him, but how much of a headstart I didn’t really know. I figured about five minutes or so, but in reality, it was more like 20 minutes. I didn’t know it, but there weren’t really enough miles left in the race to make that up unless he walked and I kept up my now great pace.
Around Mile 23.5 I saw him ahead of me in the pitch dark. I thought maybe I could sneak past him like I tried to do in Louisville, but at that point, it was really just him and me on that road section. I caught him and gave him an emphatic “GUNNERS!” and we ran together and chatted until the next aid station, where we both walked and got our fluids and fuel and stopped at the port-o-potty. Barton was ahead of us and Jeff said he was walking it. I ran up it. I ran up it and felt great. I ran down it and felt great. I decided that I could skip that last aid station and motor on back in. Then Jeff passed me back. DAMMIT! We had a mile or so to go, but he ran out of gas and I passed him back. I tried to get him to run with me, but I think he was being nice and let me finish ahead of him. He knew that he had a better overall time and was in no way going to lose it in the final stretch. But I put down the hammer anyway, shifted into high gear and practically sprinted my way into the finisher chute, extremely glad to be done with this race.
One last note: Ironman Chattanooga run course was without a doubt the toughest marathon I have ever run. Hands down.
All five of us were able to beat the heat at Ironman Chattanooga. I’m so proud of my teammates and what we were able to accomplish.
ALEX – 12:44:30
JEFF – 13:25:11
DAVE – 13:58:23
JAN – 15:51:22
A couple others of note from the running club: Charlie trained his ass off and I marveled at his bike rides he would post throughout the summer. Unfortunately, Charlie came down with a stomach bug the day before the race and was in no shape to attempt the race on a super hot day. He was at the finish line and he told me what was going on and I felt awful for him. But he’s a prior experienced Ironman finisher and I hear he’s got another race coming up soon. And Charlie’s training partner Casey is also from the running club and took on Chattanooga for her first and crushed it in a little over 12 hours. That is impressive to do on such a hard course and a super hot day. Very impressive.
Many thanks to go around. First, as always, I’m super appreciative to have such a loving and supportive wife who encourages me and puts up with my crazy adventures. I can’t imagine doing these Ironmans without your love and help. These finishes are powered by your love. Thank you, Kari.
To my son Ben, who took time off from work to fly to Chattanooga and chase us guys around in 95-degree temps, thank you very much. You make me proud.
To my Gunner teammates Alex, Dave, Jeff, and Jan! Truly a pleasure sharing this lifelong memory with you.
Carla once again came through for us on the lodging and cheering. It’s an incredible relief to not have to worry about hotels and the stuff you arrange for us. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
To Maxwell and Zachary, thanks for being good sons to your dad and providing some entertainment and distraction from the nervousness of the Ironman circus. Maxwell is a champion cheerer on the run course. Always has been. And many thanks to Kennedy for watching those two goofs and cheering us on.
Jill, you are one of the most cheerful people out there. Thanks for providing us with that lift every race.
To my coworkers who put up with my whining about training and bragging about Ironman. Hey, that’s what an Ironman does. Suffer for 140.6 miles, brag for a lifetime. A special thanks to Julie, who in spite of dealing with a flooded basement, still found the time to track me and watch me finish live online. Even sent me a screenshot. Thank you!
And thanks once again to my super fan Carl, who greets me every day with “GOOD MORNING IRONMAN!” You take a sincere interest in my pursuit of this dumb sport, and I truly appreciate it. I tried my best to spell out CARL in a “YMCA” fashion at the finish line. I hope that you caught that. It’s not easy to do after 144.6 miles in God awful heat.