I was giving some thought to how I was training for the race this time around and how I was approaching it. This being my fifth time using the Be Iron Fit training plan I follow, I have followed it a little differently each time. The first time around I followed it to a “T,” doing the prescribed workouts almost exactly as written. Same with the second time three years later, although I started doing less of the written swim workouts and more straight swimming instead. By the third time using the plan, I had it dialed in. I had learned what was working for me and what wasn’t. I was also now starting to tailor the plan for the course I was going to race. Since Ironman Louisville was an easy swim and run I chose to spend a little more effort on the bike. The last time I followed the plan I was now doing the bare minimum for the swim training that I felt would be sufficient and was pushing myself a little more on the “easy” running and biking days.
Since I had previously done Ironman Chattanooga in 2019 I felt pretty confident knowing what I needed to do to be successful at the race this time around – work on the run portion. The run is uphill both ways at Chattanooga.
This winter I had built up a pretty solid run base and when the plan kicked in I didn’t feel like dialing it back. So I figured I would just run whatever pace I felt like doing, sometimes going hard when I wasn’t supposed to, and sometimes just putting in the easy miles. I was doing just that this week, an easy paced 75-minute run on Friday when my right calf just decided to not like running anymore.
About 3 miles into the run I was hobbling. I stopped and stretched it out and that didn’t make it any better. This wasn’t cramp, but more like a muscle strain. I walked a little bit and although it wasn’t feeling great, I could keep moving forward. So I walked for about 10 minutes and decided that I needed to find the most direct route back home. That’s smart thinking, right there.
Not long after that, I began jogging again, and although I was favoring the leg, I was doing okay. I ran up a busy road and wound through a subdivision until I got back to the trail. It was then I decided to be really dumb and run a little more to not cut the workout short. Not so smart thinking, right there.
I made it home and showered up okay, but after that, my leg was really sore. I iced it and massaged it for a while, added some linament creme to it, and then sat and elevated it for the rest of the day.
I was concerned that my ride on Saturday might be difficult, but the ride didn’t bother the leg at all. On Sunday, I opted to walk the 75-minutes instead of running it, and then did another ride with the local group in the afternoon and felt fine. What seemed like an injury that came out of nowhere and would need some serious rest, it looks like I just had some weird pain that hopefully won’t manifest itself into something that would keep me from running for a while.
So I guess my weird leg pain might not be anything serious. But I will be following the plan a little bit closer from here on.
I am fortunate to have supportive family and friends who take an interest in my pursuit of my Ironman goals, but I have one friend in particular that I call my Number 1 Fan – Carl. Carl is the one friend that takes the passing interest to a much higher level. He not only wants to know what workout I did but needs to know the details as well. I’m glad to accommodate him as it allows me to brag about myself for a few minutes, except most of the time I can’t remember.
Carl: What did you do yesterday, Ironman?
Me: umm… a bike ride? Yeah, a bike ride.
Carl: How far did you go?
Me: umm… I rode for an hour.
Carl: How far is that?
Me: umm… let me look it up.
I don’t mind providing the details, but it’s interesting to me that once I get the workout done I kind of move on from it. It’s not that I don’t want to remember what I did as I train, but during a 30-week build to a race, it just all blends together somewhat. I certainly make an effort to document it. The workouts all get recorded by my Garmin watch and phone app. And I write a summary each week so that I can look back and spark my memory of the journey I am on. But sometimes it’s just a workout, nothing more and nothing less.
I am working on writing a post about all the races I have participated in since I started running in the 1980s. It’s taking me a while to go through my handwritten running log and find the entries. I am finding with that trip through the past that I can recall details about some of the long-ago races pretty clearly. It must be something about racing that makes you remember, something that creates a stored memory. I can also remember certain runs when something out of the ordinary happens, like a fall, or getting chased by a dog, getting caught in a storm, etc. But when the workout is spinning on a stationary bike for 60 minutes and thumbing through Facebook while doing it for the 200th time, it just simply becomes part of the day without creating anything special about it. Maybe that will have a cumulative effect in that I will remember doing those workouts as a whole rather than the details that went into them.
I can remember many of the details of running on the Green Bay Trail in the 1990s: where I began and ended my runs, the street crossings, the portion through Ravinia. But if I looked at my log and saw that I ran 8 miles in 60 minutes that day, I will have to take my word for it. I don’t remember it.
I have logged many miles on the Old Plank Trail, so many in fact that I sometimes say that I know every little dip, bump, and distinctive trait of the trail. I know which houses have a dog that barks at me. I know when to move to the left to avoid the divot in the trail as I head north up the path and over the bridge. Those memories are solid, and I rely on them quite a bit. But I guess our brains can’t store every single detail about each workout. I mean, how much of the mundane can you remember? Do you remember what you had for lunch yesterday? Probably not. Do you remember your 21st birthday? More than likely, because turning 21 is a memorable milestone. But do you remember your 22nd birthday? I don’t.
Am I supposed to make each run, bike or swim a memorable one? I’m not sure if that is even possible. Frankly, I think trying to concentrate and remember every detail would most likely wear me out mentally. But I am glad to have pretty clear memories of those workouts that do have something memorable happen.
I guess that I am lucky to have my Number 1 Fan pry those little details from me. Maybe I will remember more of them thanks to Carl. But I can promise you this – although I may not remember every little detail a day, a week or a years later, I will always remember my Number 1 Fan asking me about my workouts. Thanks, Carl.
Last week I talked about needing some motivation to get through some biking and running workouts. This week I had the motivation, but when it came to doing the Saturday long ride what I lacked was the desire.
My family had planned a trip to Nashville for the Easter weekend to visit our freshman daughter Rebecca, who attends Vanderbilt University, and some family who lives in the area. I have always been of the mindset that if you are going to miss some workouts, it’s probably best to at least try to get the long weekend training stuff done. At this stage of training, a long ride isn’t all that long; the plan called for an hour and 45-minutes. So I moved the ride to Thursday and April Fool’s played an unappreciated trick on me – it was cold. When I got home midday my car was telling me it was 32°F. The wind wasn’t too bad, and I had the motivation to do the ride, now I lacked the desire!
After taking the dog for a quick walk, I decided to toughen up and act like an Ironman and just go do it. I put on some extra layers and wore a set of gloves under a pair of large mittens and got my bike ready to roll. While in the garage I decided to put on a couple of plastic newspaper bags over my socks before putting on my cycling shoes. I’m glad I did because my very cold ride last week ended with some very numb toes.
As I headed south I realized that this ride was not going to be fun. My rides always head south and return because where I live it is urban to the immediate north and rural to the immediate south. I count my blessings with that. The wind was pushing me along and I was easily riding in the upper teens and 20 mph speeds. I got to the point where I could choose to head either east or west and I chose east because I thought I would take advantage of the heavily wooded trail to head home on and keep the wind from being too much of a burden.
As soon as I turned to head back north I could feel that this ride was going to be a struggle. I stopped at a spot where I will sometimes take a nature break and ate a gel. I was sweating and starting to feel the cold, and knowing when I got back on the bike I would be suffering even more.
I started to ride again and my eyes were watering and I was getting a headache from the cold wind blowing on my wet head. I crossed Monee/Manhattan Road and started looking for something I could use to help me out, and there was an empty plastic shopping bag stuck to some brush just blowing in the wind. I got off my bike and looked it over to make sure it wasn’t dirty and then I took off my helmet and cap and put the bag on my head and covered it back up. I hopped on the bike and within a hundred feet or so I saw a popped mylar ballon laying in the ditch. I stopped and inspected that and then shoved that under my cycling jersey. As I started riding again it was almost like instant relief. My headache went away and I started getting comfortable riding in the wind again.
The ride took me almost two hours, but it could have been much longer and much more miserable. And in the end, I felt a sense of accomplishment, overcoming the lack of desire to ride on a cold day and being resourceful enough to not having to cash in my chips and call for my kid to come get me.
This past week was a kind of a week that lacked motivation for me. I’m not sure if the oft-changing rainy and windy spring weather had something to do with it, but I just wasn’t motivated to put in the effort.
In addition to what I felt was a worthless 30-minute bike ride that I barely broke a sweat with, I was dreading an easy-paced 30-minute run for some reason. I had been watching the weather and I was anticipating the rain to start right when I usually begin my workout. I am lucky to have access to a treadmill at work and also at home, but I loathe running on them so much that I only do it when I can’t run outside. But the rain hadn’t started yet, so I told myself to get out there. This run didn’t start out so well. First, I wasn’t in the mood to run, but I decided to run from my office to the local trail, which seemed like an uphill climb. My heart rate climbed to the point that I felt like it was reminding me how out of shape I am and how much work there is yet to do. But as I got to the flat trail I settled into a slow rhythm and found a suitable pace.
About a mile into the run I passed three walkers heading in the opposite direction from me, what appeared to be an older couple walking with their adult daughter having a lively conversation, but what she was wearing on her head instantly caught my eye – an Ironman finisher hat. Knowing what it takes to earn a hat like that was enough to make me forget about the self-loathing that had been in my head. I have four of those hats myself, and I am looking for a fifth. They aren’t easy to earn. But earn them I did. And earning them sometimes means doing a workout when you aren’t really wanting to.
I picked up my pace a little, ran with a little more strut, and added a short weightlifting workout after the run that I had no desire to do beforehand.
Sometimes something simple can be a great motivator.
Week 3 went by pretty quickly and was mostly unremarkable really. The few things I thought about maybe discussing here have long evaporated from my mind, and after a beautiful weekend, I was thinking more about having some great weather for a change, rather than some triathlon or running topic to opine about.
I swapped my Saturday ride with Sunday’s run so that I could join the local running group for an early morning group run. I’m glad that I did. Normally group outings for me usually mean that I will find myself running or riding by myself, but this time I fell in with Pat, who also did the 2018 Boston Marathon when I did it, and another guy named Bill, who is married to someone who also works for the same employer that I do. It was nice to have some conversations with others for a change, instead of me talking to myself. It was a nice 8-mile run.
Sunday’s bike was a bit of a challenge heading south due to the wind, but it was nice to have a great tailwind pushing me along back home. There was a group ride scheduled for later in the afternoon, but those guys have been doing some serious indoor riding all winter and there’s no way I would last with them. Plus, I chose to follow my planned hour and 45-minute ride. Stick with my plan, and forget what the others are doing.
My friend Susan commented about how I had started my training already, as she has not yet begun hers. Her plan is shorter in duration apparently, and I think that I could also get by with a 20 or 25-week plan, but the 30-week plan I follow has been reliable for me and has consistently proven itself to prepare me well. The thing about waiting to start the plan because you feel that you have a pretty good fitness base already doesn’t make much sense to me. It just tells me that you are training, just not following a specific workout. I have a pretty good base built up as well, but I’m following a plan instead of just winging it before starting. In the end, I guess it’s a wash. This is why I’m not a coach. There are so many ways to personalize training.
Occasionally at work, we will get treated to a lunch and on Wednesday we were told there would be pizza. Yay, pizza! I work until 11 am, so I did my bike spin/treadmill run brick workout (that’s a mouthful) in the weight room at work and then headed upstairs to enjoy some pizza. I barely had loaded my plate and sat down when I heard my genuinely shocked coworker say “YOU EAT JUNK?!?!”
I shook my head and chuckled at his comment because I have heard this question before, once from another coworker who I was currently sitting next to, and others too. For some reason, my coworker thinks that by virtue of doing stupid-long distance swim/bike/run events that I am somehow forced to eat like a rabbit. Well, this might come as a shock to everyone that thinks that being a triathlete also means that we are also nutritionally sound, unfortunately, that just isn’t the case for most of us. Look at the below picture – Ironman Chattanooga is literally sponsored by LITTLE DEBBIE!
I really didn’t know whether to feel ashamed or to feel proud of the fact that I do enough exercise to allow me to enjoy a plate full of pizza without guilt. As a triathlete you develop a thick skin pretty quickly and modesty kind of goes out the window. The first time you stuff yourself in a tri suit will definitely either make you quit the sport immediately or just accept the fact that you look like an overstuffed sausage in a bright-colored nylon uniform. And eating what you want is a nice perk. But for Pete’s sake, I’m not even eating as much as you non-exercising coworkers are! I’ve seen you guys eat, and I’m not even in your league!
Me eating pizza shocks you, huh? Do you want to hear some more shocking things triathletes do? Well, I practically fuel my long rides and runs with – brace yourself – gels that are basically just sugar. 100 calories of sugar every 30 minutes! Some athletes will eat a sleeve of gummy-type gel blocks every hour. Imagine the cavities that are building after doing that for 30-weeks. I also bring along these little sugar-pressed waffle things called “stroopwafels” for an added sugar bonus. Yay, sugar!
Oh, and wait until the later weeks in this training program hits. I will be eating everything that isn’t nailed down, and I will still be losing weight.
I guess I need to step back from my surprise at the shock that others express when they see me scarfing down some pizza, cookies, or the other junk that comes into our office. They see the Ironman banners hanging in my office and must think it takes a monumental amount of self-discipline to do an Ironman. Well, I guess that is a little bit true, but the work generally results in a reward, whether it be getting across the finish line, or not feeling guilty about eating some pizza.
I have to wrap this post up for the week. I need fuel for training and I’m having sloppy joe’s for dinner! I earned it, I promise. Yay, sloppy joe’s!
2020 Ironman Louisville got killed by a lethal combination of the Covid-19 pandemic as well as social upheaval going on in Louisville and it was not only enough to postpone the race, but to kill it totally off. Ironman Louisville (aka Kentucky) is no more. I was offered a deferral to a handful of other 2020 races which I felt had no chance of occurring, so I opted for the deferral to 2021 Ironman Chattanooga. A year into a pandemic, and I’m still somewhat pessimistic about whether we will race or not. But 2021 is here, people (including myself) are getting vaccinated, and real in-person events are starting to take shape and look like a possibility of actually happening. The CEO of Ironman came out recently with a video regarding how they expect the racing season to play out, which made most of us scratch our heads. What I get out of the video is that they truly want to race, but if they can’t they will tell us at the last possible second and keep our money anyway. But no matter his message, I’m signed up and will have to train to be ready if it does happen.
After completing Choo in 2019, my buddies and I all kind of agreed that we didn’t care to come back to it. I guess maybe that was the ungodly heat that helped with that mindset, but yes, it seemed to wow us less than Wisconsin, Lake Placid, and Louisville had done in prior years. But when Choo became my only real option, heck I will take it. It’s really not that bad of a course – the swim is almost effortless and the bike is the easiest of the four I have done. The run is the devil at this race, and add the heat like we had in 2019, and well, it was enough for us to say we’d never want to do the race again.
Seeing that I got through about 16 weeks of training for Louisville when it got axed, I have somewhat just drifted through my usual training, knowing that racing in 2020 was a longshot. With the exception of enjoying some brief, mild winter trail running, my desire to sign up for races or even do any significant training has waned. I had lost my mojo. The time to start training is here, but I’m still looking for some motivation.
I was spinning on the stationary bike this week and listening to some shuffled songs on Spotify when I heard Elvis Costello’s Pump It Up. That’s what I kind of need right now, something to pump me up. The weather is getting better, the snow is starting to melt, and soon I will take my training outdoors. Time to pump myself up.
I’ll be following the Competitive Plan from the book Be Iron Fit by Don Fink once again. It has never let me down. I have made some alterations to it in order to make it more personal to my needs, but I stick to it pretty closely.
I swapped out my old saddle for a new ISM PR1.0 split-nose model. I’m hoping that the saddle is more comfortable than the old one. I will have to find another way to mount my bottle cages to it, but there is time for that.
Swimming won’t happen until I get my pool open in May sometime. I have added some light weightlifting workouts for now, but I tend to get bored with that real quickly.
Here’s to training with my Gunner teammates and some of the locals I know who are also doing the race. Ironman Chattanooga, here I come! PUMP IT UP!
It really didn’t take me too long to get over having the race I was training for come to an end. I guess I had been expecting it to end for quite a while, but I just kept moving forward (a tried and true Ironman motto) in my training until the final word was announced. So after having a week to think it over, here’s what I will most likely do going forward.
I will opt to take the automatic transfer to Ironman Chattanooga in 2021. There is really no way the other three Fall 2020 transfer options are going to happen in my mind. Three of us Gunner teammates were already signed up for Louisville, and two and maybe a third had not signed up. So if we decide as a group to head back to Chatty in 2021 all I need to do is make the transfer official and start training next year. If we for some reason want to do a different race then I will have no problem paying the transfer fee and do that race with the group. But Ironman has some pretty specific rules on transferring, so I will have to take that into consideration. We’ll have to talk that over. I remember us talking about not wanting to do Chatty again, but I think that was the dreadful heat of the 2019 race influencing that decision. It was an okay location, we enjoyed ourselves and I would go back. But before I get too confident with all that, I have to realize that this is all conjecture. There’s talk that this Covid-19 crap may stick around into 2021 and screw everybody’s race season up again. So there’s that…
I will keep training, that really isn’t a big surprise. I actually enjoy the weekly stuff, the long Saturday ride, and running is just part of who I am. I can’t imagine not running. Swimming on the other hand… well, let’s just say that I do enjoy a cannonball splashdown after a long run or ride. But I doubt I will do much swim training for the rest of the year. The training won’t be anything too overwhelming, but enough to keep me fit and doing what I love. I may join some local group rides now that it won’t interfere with me following my training plan. I may also text a local friend to see if he wants to do some riding again. We stopped riding together when my training became too specific and he just wanted to ride.
I was kicking around the idea of doing an Ironman of my own making either at home or in Wisconsin at my lakehome and inviting my buddies to do it, but I’m not so hot on the idea now. That would require us to keep training and following the plan and with the weather heating up and the fact we’ve had our bubble burst with Louisville, I don’t think any of us would want to do it. I may, however, do a half-iron distance day of my own just because I already have the fitness to do that and could pull it off pretty easily. I think the training plan has a 70.3 training day built into it coming up in a few weeks, so I may still do that. I need to sleep on that a little.
Lastly, I have one more hope left of having an opportunity to race this year and that race is the Big Hill Bonk Last Runner Standing elimination ultramarathon. This race was supposed to occur in April but got postponed to October. I received an email last week stating that as of right now the race is a go until the race director finds out otherwise. He gave us a drop dead date of September 15th, so we’ll know by then if he has to cancel it. So since that tells me that the race is iffy at best, I’m not going to do any special ultramarathon type distance training and if the race happens I will just go up to Beloit and run 4.166-mile loops every hour until I can’t take it anymore. And that’s all predicated on whether I feel comfortable around other athletes and doing the Covid-19 dance around each other. If I don’t feel safe in that environment or it’s too big of a hassle I will opt out.
So there you have it. I’m going forward with my daily workouts for fun instead of for a specific reason and we’ll see what happens. So long, Ironman Louisville 2020. Hello, Ironman Chattanooga 2021.
A local running/triathlete friend of mine advised me the other day that he has a friend who is considering racing an iron-distance race but has already signed up for a marathon that is two weeks after the Ironman. My friend remembered that I had dealt with the same issue last year and asked if I wouldn’t mind if she contacted me to discuss it. Of course, I didn’t mind, and I am flattered, but I haven’t heard from her yet. But it got me thinking about what I would actually tell someone that is considering such a dumb idea. As you read the below keep in mind that I am not a certified expert, not a coach, and really not qualified to tell anyone how to do anything. It’s just my experience and how I dealt with it.
WHY DID I DO SUCH A DUMB THING AS TO SIGN UP FOR TWO BIG RACES SO CLOSE TO EACH OTHER?
In 2017 my teammates and I were debating about doing Ironman Louisville, which was on the same day as the 2017 Chicago Marathon. I kind of wanted to do the marathon since it was the 40th anniversary of the race, but I knew if we chose to race the Ironman I would have no problem skipping the marathon, and that’s what happened. I returned to the Chicago Marathon in 2018 because I have legacy status and want to retain it.
Although I was getting a little tired of running Chicago and figured that all I needed to do to keep my legacy status was to sign-up every other year, I signed up for it again because the window to apply was pretty short and I needed to make a decision. Not long after that, my buddies decided we were going to do Ironman Chattanooga. That put the late-September 2019 Ironman race two weeks prior to the October marathon on my race calendar. Of course, I wasn’t going to skip the Ironman with my friends, so I thought that maybe I should defer the marathon to the next year for a small fee. But then I figured that I would just race the Ironman and take a victory lap at the Chicago Marathon and walk away from it for a while. So that was the plan, train hard and race the Ironman and take it easy for the marathon.
HOW DID I TRAIN FOR THE TWO DIFFERENT RACES?
That really wasn’t an issue for me, seeing that there is an actual marathon in an Ironman race. So I followed the Ironman training plan that I always follow and just figured that I would use the two weeks in between the two events to recover. Ideally, I would have preferred my marathon training long-run to be around 20 miles and three weeks prior to my marathon, but that wasn’t going to happen. I just needed to make sure I utilized the two weeks between Chattanooga and Chicago for recovery and not overdo it.
SO WHAT HAPPENED?
My plan got flipped upsidedown. And it resulted in a Boston Qualifier! A BQ was never in the plan! The weather turned extremely hot at Ironman Chattanooga, with day time temperatures hitting the mid-nineties with a “real feel” around 100 degrees. Definitely the hottest day I have had to race in. I had to adjust the race plan to fit the conditions of the day, but I only really did that because it forced me to do so. The swim took me a little longer than I expected because the water was too warm to compete in a wetsuit, so I opted to swim without it. The bike for me was right about what I normally ride for an Ironman – 6:47. And Chattanooga has an extra 4 miles of biking than all the other Ironman races. The marathon, however, was very humbling. Right out of transition I stopped and told my wife that I felt pretty good, all things considered. I started out with a good jog and started to head out of town and then it was an uphill grind in the hot sun. I slowed to a walk and was able to shuffle just occasionally. And then the horrible hills hit and I walked some more. I spent the first half of the marathon trying to recover and finish the race under the cutoff. I was seriously doing the math in my head to make sure I knew what I had to do. And then the second loop began and I started feeling pretty good. I had rehydrated and refueled myself well enough to press pretty hard in the second half. I finished pretty strong and felt really good. The 5:11 finish time is my personal worst (PW ?) for a marathon, but I was pretty happy with my 13:37 overall finish time. You can read my race report here: 2019 Ironman Chattanooga Race Report
I took it pretty easy and tried my best to recover from the Ironman prior to running the Chicago Marathon. After a full week of rest I “eased” back into running with four runs of 5, 6.5, 10 and 4 miles and then rested three days before the marathon. I can remember my muscles still feeling pretty sore but they felt functional enough to run pretty comfortably. The 10-miler I ran was done at 8:34 pace and it gave me some confidence that I might be able to push myself in the race a little bit. I decided that a sub-3:35 BQ might be reachable, so I planned to run 8-minute miles and shoot for a 3:30.
Things went pretty well during the race and I held pace until I started to struggle with it in the last 5 miles or so. Although I kept at my nutrition well, I was getting pretty tired. I knew the 3:30 wasn’t going to happen, but I kept pushing to hit that 3:35. I turned and ran up Mt. Roosevelt until a calf cramp almost did me in. Fortunately, the race was almost done and I made it in just under the BQ by 13 seconds! 3:34:46 was my time, and although a BQ-13 isn’t going to get me into the Boston Marathon field, I am now up to three BQ’s, with one really memorable Boston Marathon finish in 2018. I can’t complain about that.
WHY DO I THINK I DID BETTER THAN I EXPECTED AT CHICAGO?
I think there are a couple factors at play. The Be Iron Fit training program I follow for Ironman training is really good and it prepared me well. I’ve never felt underprepared using this plan in my four Ironman finishes. So not only was I prepared for the Ironman, I was also pretty well prepared for the marathon two weeks later.
But the real reason I think I did well was that the heat of the day at Chattanooga forced me to not overdo it on the marathon portion of the race. By having to walk about half of it, it saved my legs to the point that the next day I sauntered down to the Ironman Village to buy my finisher’s jacket like a BOSS! I felt like I hadn’t even run a marathon the day before.
SO WHAT IS MY ADVICE TO OTHERS THINKING OF DOING THE SAME DUMB THING?
I think you need to pick what race is most important to you. If you have a specific time goal for a marathon or possibly a BQ, I would advise you to focus your training on that goal and not sabotage it by adding a less meaningful race that could possibly prevent you from doing your best in the race that matters more. Pick your “A” race and use the other race to supplement it if you are convinced that you want to still do both events.
If you really want to also do the Ironman in the same year, maybe pick one that is a couple of months out from the marathon. I read a post the other day stating that you should give yourself a couple of months of recovery between Ironman races; that is pretty sound advice that I would agree with. I did Ironman Lake Placid in July 2016 and then raced the Chicago Marathon in October and got my second BQ and stamped my ticket to the 2018 Boston Marathon. So for me, there definitely was some precedent in racing an Ironman and a marathon in the same year with positive results.
I did this when I was almost 56 years old. It takes me a lot longer to recover from races than it did in my 30’s and 40’s. So maybe a younger person might be in a better position to do an Ironman and a marathon a couple of weeks apart. But if you are just out to enjoy both races, I have to admit that it can be done without ruining yourself.
Lastly, if this is your first Ironman make sure you are aware of what is involved with it. Marathon training and racing are tough, but Ironman training is pretty intense too. Also, if you think marathon entry fees and hotels are expensive, plan on the Ironman being nearly triple that cost. Ironman is not cheap.
WOULD I EVER DO THIS DUMB THING AGAIN?
Nope. Never. Not a chance. No way, José!
Actually, as I was typing this post I took a break to sign up for the 2020 NYC Marathon Lottery, which is three weeks past Ironman Louisville, a race I already signed up for.
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.