2021 Ironman Chattanooga Race Report

September 26, 2021

How did I end up back here?

After doing this race in 2019 and nearly melting from the heat, my buddy Dave and I were in agreement about not wanting to ever experience that again.  I definitely tried to avoid Chattanooga, but fate pushed me there.

I had signed up for the 2020 Ironman Louisville race but it got canceled due to some social unrest in the city and of course, a worldwide pandemic.  Ironman gave me four options to transfer to, three of which were also fall 2020 races and clearly not going to happen.  The only other option was to go back to Chatty in 2021 and hope that the world would settle down.  Thankfully, we had a better knowledge about the virus, and the vaccine helped keep the option for racing open in 2021.  Things still aren’t ideal, but it’s getting better.

So I opted for a return trip to Chattanooga and I was soon joined by my Gunner buddies Jeff, his sister Jan, and eventually Dave.  A few local friends also opted to give Choo a go – Susan, John, and Charlie, as well as first-timers Angela and Daniel.  At first I thought that this race was going to be a solo affair for me, but now it was a full-fledged party!

Training thirty weeks for an Ironman is an awfully long time.

Once again I broke out the old trusty Be Iron Fit training book and followed the plan.  30-weeks broken into base, build, and endurance phases that has prepared this self-coached triathlete well in four previous Ironman races.

I follow the plan pretty closely with a few changes that I have found over the previous training cycles to be beneficial to me.  First, I reduced the swim from the hour-plus swim, 2-3 times per week that the book dictates, to two 30-minute swims per week.  I’m not the greatest swimmer, but once I had the technique down, I found that the swim training that the book wants me to do is INSANE.  Plus, I get so bored swimming that I just can’t take much more than 30-minutes.  I did get in a longer open water swim in Minocqua at my lake home, and I did one 4200 yard swim in my pool in the closing weeks of training just to prove to myself that I could do the distance.

Biking was more of a group thing for me this time around, and I often joined the locals for the rides out to Elwood.  My coworker Tom, who had caught the triathlon bug and signed up for Ironman Muncie 70.3 was also a training ride partner.  A couple of weekends I was joined by Susan, which were much needed in order to help each other get over the mental struggle of training.  She won’t take any credit for turning me around mentally, but she deserves some none-the-less.  Overall, it was a pretty good year for cycling leading up to the race.

As for the running – oh boy.  I foolishly signed up for a “last runner standing” format ultra which also got postponed to August.  I just used my Ironman training and it got me through 8-loops and 33 miles, completing my first 50K distance ultramarathon.  After that, it was back to the plan and doing the work with one exception – I also foolishly signed up for the Tunnel Hill 100, an ultra-marathon in November.  I’m pretty dumb.  So I decided that even though I wasn’t going to increase my mileage, I did adapt to doing some run/walk long runs.  I learned that a ratio of about 4.5 minutes of running with a 1.5 minute walk break on my Sunday long runs was working pretty good for me.  Since I was doing Chattanooga, I figured that I was going to be walking most of the marathon anyway, so why not get used to that style of running.

How hot is it going to be this year?

Summer was hot here in the Chicago area again this year and I could sense that race day might be ugly once again.  Boy was I wrong.  I generally avoid looking at the weather forecast until it gets closer to race day, but it was shaping up to be beautiful.  How beautiful?  How about mid to upper 70s, no rain and no wind.  If you could pick the perfect day, this might have been an ideal race day forecast.  And if that wasn’t good enough, it rained for several days leading up to the race which cooled the water temp down below the wetsuit legal temperature of 76.1.  I think this was a first for Chattanooga – a wetsuit legal swim!

What can go wrong will go wrong.

Race week meant one final check of the bike and I decided to give the drive train one last going over.  That’s when my 8-year-old rear derailleur decided to die.

That spring thing isn’t supposed to be showing. 

I drove the bike up to Spokes in Wheaton, Illinois and begged a guy named Chris to fix it for me.  He said I was screwed.  Actually, he said that they don’t stock 10-speed parts as they aren’t being used anymore.  But he searched through an old box of spare parts and found a lesser level Sram 10-speed derailleur in workable condition.  He bolted it on, I took it for a test spin, happily forked over the $70 bucks, and then thanked my lucky stars.  The next day the bike was in the car and I was headed to Chattanooga.

When Carla wasn’t involved in picking out our lodging, things can get weird.

Since Dave was a last minute sign up, his wife Carla wasn’t doing all of the work finding us lodging.  I didn’t mind our last hotel that we stayed at in Chattanooga, but I was hoping for something closer.  I settled on the Marriott Residence Inn, which I totally picked because it was a block away and it had a little kitchenette thing.  When I checked in I got some attitude from the guy at the front desk about not canceling our second room soon enough, and then I made my way to the room.  It was a little dirty and smelled a little, but I was glad to have plenty room for my stuff.  It got a little weird when the toilet wouldn’t flush and they had to call a plumber in to remove the travel-sized deodorant that someone had flushed down it.  Fun times.

Kari flew in and soon the whole Gunner gang was in town. The next couple of days were spent checking in for the race, organizing our gear bags, and then dropping the bags and the bikes off.  Gunner Jeff, a four-time Ironman, for some reason could not remember the bike/bag drop-off procedure, which I found highly entertaining.  Race week anxiety does some weird stuff to your brain.

My friend Angela checking out her bags for her first Ironman.

We typically try to find a restaurant to eat a prerace meal at, but since we couldn’t find something at such a short notice for our big group, we opted for a family-style spaghetti dinner, courtesy of Jill and assisted by her daughter Emma and my wife Kari.  It might have been the best prerace dinner ever.  We had such good conversations and the meal was delicious.

Best prerace meal ever!

Why am I nervous?  Prerace anxiety sucks.

After setting a couple of alarms I was ready to hit the sack.  Except there was no way I was going to fall asleep.  At 10:30pm or so, I got back up and took a portion of an Ambien and tried again.  According to Kari, I was soon asleep.  According to me, my brain was active all night long.

Race day is finally here!

The alarms went off and I got up and showered.  Dave always showers before the race but it’s a sometimes for me.  I felt like the shower might wake me up more  and needed a shave, so I took one.  Next up was getting dressed and grabbing some food.  Then off to meet the gang to walk down to the village and into transition to check the bike and bags.

I think Dave needs another shower. He never was a morning person.

We hopped onto the school bus for the shuttle ride to the swim start and then settled into to await the start.  I heard that the kayak volunteers were late getting into the water for some reason, which delayed our start by about ten minutes, but we heard the pro racers start and we would be next.

I had made a Facebook friend, a guy named Marc the Shark, and had missed seeing him at Louisville in 2017 and so far for this race too, but as I was looking around there he was just a couple of people away.  I said hello and we wished each other well.

Next thing I knew I was walking down the ramp and jumping into the Tennessee River with hardly any performance expectation other than to finish without getting too worn out.

59 MINUTES!?!?  THAT CAN’T BE RIGHT!

The swim went swimmingly.  I drifted to the right, away from the shore and more toward the middle of the river in order to take advantage of any current that was pushing us along.  The kayakers will only let you get so far away from the buoys, so I found myself pretty much between them and the kayakers.  It seemed like I was swimming by myself, once again enjoying the almost 100% contactless swim.  I had a little hint of a foot cramp happening, but I was able to kick it out of my system.

As the buoys turned from yellow to orange at the halfway point, I found myself getting closer to them and eventually looked up to find them on my right side for the first time.  I got past the island in the middle of the river and the three bridges were dead ahead.  The next thing I knew I rounded the red turn buoy and swam to the ladder, and that’s when I glanced at my watch – 59 minutes.  That’s insane.  I know that this course could give me a quick swim, but never in my life did I think I could swim 2.4 miles in under an hour.  00:59:43 officially.  A swim PR for me.

Still wondering how the heck I swam a 59 minute Ironman swim.
Thankfully a volunteer yanked my wetsuit off for me or I would still be sitting there trying to remove it.

SWIM:  00:59:43 – 52nd in Male 55-59 Age Group / 529th Male / 679th Overall

Why do I suck at the swim to bike transition?

My plan going for getting through the first transition was to not waste time like I usually do.  So what did I do?  I found a way to waste time.

As you can see in my swim photos I still have my swim goggles on.  That’s because they are prescription and I need them to see where I am going, find my bag, and go find a place to sit down and get ready for the bike.  All that went well enough but as soon as I put my eyeglasses on, they fogged up.  Nice.  Now I couldn’t see much at all.  I couldn’t find my socks at first, but then I remembered that I had put them into one of my shoes.  I found my towel and dried my feet and got some Skin Glide on them and then struggled to get my socks on.  Next were the arm sleeves that went on okay thanks to me rolling them on, but then I realized that I hadn’t put on any sunscreen yet and I was sure that I would take the arm sleeves off when I warmed up.  So I started looking for my spray can of sunscreen and couldn’t find it.  Since I knew that they had a sun screen table at the exit of the bike corral, I stopped looking for my own and got all of my swim crap into the bag.  The helmet got strapped, my nutrition, consisting of five Payday fun size candy bars, a Stroopwafel, and my gel flask, got thrown into my back pockets, and off I clopped to find my bike.

I walked the bike over to the table with the sunscreen and took off my gloves and started hitting the most vulnerable spots heavily.  The gloves went back on and off I clopped again to the mount line to begin my tour of a sliver of southern Tennessee and a big chunk of northern Georgia.

T1:  12:34

They say this is a beautiful and scenic bike course.  I’ll take their word for it.

Almost all of the Ironman bike courses are listed as “scenic” and I’m sure that they are.  But when you are riding along at 18 mph or so, with others jockeying around you on roads that sometimes aren’t in the best shape, you tend to spend more attention to not crashing than the beautiful scenery.  But this time I did actually take a few moments to gaze at the mountains and the local picturesque landscape.  I did notice some low lying fog in the early stages.

Apparently most of the sunscreen I put on went on my face.

I had a long sleeve shirt that I intended to put on when I started the bike but I opted not to use it and I was fine.  I rode with the arm sleeves and gloves for more than half of the race before tossing them.

First loop fun. At least the sunscreen had faded by now.
Earning my Pathetic Triathlete Badge. Had to do it.

Heading out of town was at a fast pace.  It was that way in 2019, too.  I didn’t feel like I was pushing hard or anything, but after about an hour of a pace faster than I normally train at, I knew that I would be pushing pace all through the bike.  The first 56 miles was under three hours by a lot, a time that I would have been really proud of if it was just a 70.3 race.

Less goofing around on the second loop.

Like usual, I was glad to be getting off the bike at the end.  I didn’t feel as miserable as I normally do, but 116 miles and a little over 6 hours is a long time to be riding a bike.  I handed my bike to a kid volunteer to put away and jokingly told her to change the oil and give it a wash and I would be back to pick it up in five hours.  She looked at me like I had two heads.  Tough crowd.  I guess comedy isn’t my thing.

My Garmin had me at 6:06 with the autopause turned on.  That’s a huge PR for me.  Garmin also has a 18.9 mph average and a top speed of 39.1 mph.

BIKE:  6:18:27 – 55th Male 55-59 Age Group / 544th Male / 662nd Overall

Time for the emotions to kick in.

As I walked from dropping the bike off with the kid, I got hit with the feels.  Usually this hits me around the last mile or so of the marathon, but I was pretty proud of what I just did on the bike, as well as the swim.  It didn’t last long.  I was handed my Run Gear bag and off to the changing tent to waste some time.

I sat down and pulled the cycling gear off and looked for the Dude Wipe (basically a big wet wipe) and wiped my face off, as well as the bugs that I had accumulated on my sweaty shoulders.  It always makes me feel a little fresher to clean up a little.

Amazingly enough, I had a sun screen can in my bag.  It’s less necessary at this part of the race, but I sprayed my bald head and arms anyway.  With the bib belt, shoes and visor on, I grabbed my nutrition and started out of transition.

T2 – 7:11

This marathon is no joke.  I’m not going to crush this.

On Friday, I approached a first timer as he was talking with his wife about the run course and I told him that the run starts on the sidewalk about 300 yards back there and the walk starts here, pointing to the hill not even a quarter mile into the course.  I was joking, but not really.  I saw a photographer and gave a half-hearted effort at running for the picture but it wasn’t going so well for me.

Just starting the “run” and trying to contain my blazing speed.

I felt hot, which is not uncommon for me.  Yes, it was still sunny and later into the day, but when you are riding you have that constant wind blowing on you to help cool you off.  I walked about a half-mile before I even started thinking about running.

After the first couple of aid stations, I started to get more hydration and sugar into me and started to come around.  By the time I got four miles into it I was feeling better.

It wasn’t long and Gunner Jeff caught me.  I knew he would.  We would leap frog back and forth sharing the run lead for the rest of the way, but seeing that he had made up the difference in what little lead I had with the swim and bike, I knew that he was ahead of me by chip time even if he was standing right next to me.  The same thing happened last time as well, it just happened sooner this year.  He’s good.

Jeff and I walking to the top of Battery Hill and seeing Kari, Jill, Emma, and Maxwell.
Feeling good here on the walking bridge finishing the first loop.

In 2019, I made it a goal at the start of the second loop to try to get through the wooded park along the river walk before it got dark but didn’t get it done.  This time it was no problem.

Second loop and second time up Battery. This isn’t even the hilliest part of this marathon. ~ Mile 18 here.

I caught Jeff again and we walked up the dreaded Barton Avenue hill together and for most of the rest of that north side of the river portion of the course.  I recognized my local friend Daniel just as we were turning off of Barton.  He seemed to be somewhat doubtful about finishing, but I tried my best to encourage him to keep moving forward.  He was in a rough place mentally, but he overcame it and finished in plenty of time.

Jeff and I also saw Dave heading up the hill as we were heading down and knew he was also going to finish not far behind us.

As we approached the walking bridge I told Jeff that I was going to walk the uphill portion of it and not to wait for me.  I could have jogged with him, but I wanted him to go get his glory and cross the line first.  He finished about a minute ahead of me according to the time of day, but he bested me by about 11 minutes.

As I got over the bridge I was forced to run through a gauntlet of fans that crowd the run course and one guy got an extended evil eye from me and got out of my way.  I ran down the hill and turned onto the road to finish.  As I approached the finish chute I kept checking in front and behind me to have a good finish for myself and things were looking good.  But all at once this dope comes screaming past me and spoils my finish.  And to add to that disappointment, the announcer didn’t even call me in!  WTF?  Oh well, it’s not my first Ironman finish, and it probably won’t be my last.  But the photos still prove that I had a great race.

5 TIME IRONMAN FINISHER

RUN:  5:04:47 – 50th Male in 55-59 Age Group / 476th Male / 612th Overall

FINAL TIME:  12:42:42 – 2nd fastest Ironman Finish / Swim & Bike Ironman PR’s / 5th Ironman Finish

But wait, there’s more!

Loads of thanks to go around.  To my wife Kari – you’re my Iron Rock.  Thanks for supporting me not only once or twice, but five times now.  I promise to take next year off!

To my Gunner teammates Dave, Jeff, and Jan – thanks for being on the journey with me once again.  Doing a race without you would never be as fun.

To my local friends Susan, John, Charlie, Angela, and Daniel – WELL DONE!  You are all IRONMEN!  And let’s not forget Casey, who magically appeared at the finish line as a volunteer and handed a much surprised me my finisher hat, medal and shirt!  That was unexpected and a great way to finish.

Until next time, thanks for reading.  – Chris

Author: Ironman Chris

Family, running, triathlon and drumming are my things.

6 thoughts on “2021 Ironman Chattanooga Race Report”

  1. Especially since I left Facebook, I love reading your weekly posts and am so impressed! Congrats on your 5th Ironman. Who takes your racing pictures? There are some good shots of you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I blog to record my journey for myself first and foremost, but I’m thrilled if anyone else is interested in what I write about. Ironman uses FinisherPix for the photos, but my wife also gets some pretty good shots too. Things might be a little slow for blogging since the race is over, but I still have one more race yet to go.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a 100 miler in November. I’ve been a little quiet about it as the Ironman was my A race and not sure if I would be sufficiently trained to even attempt it. I’ll probably show up and waddle through it.

      Liked by 2 people

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