While on my 27-mile bike ride on the local bike trail Saturday I had constructed a profanity-laced diatribe for this post about the idiots out on the trail, complete with f-bombs and venting that would make a sailor blush. Although the windy day was the main reason I opted to ride the trail, I usually avoid it. Too many people not being considerate to others by not following the simplest trail usage rules is what really gets me ticked off. And now that the self-isolating, stir crazy, cabin fever locals have decided to head to the trail it’s become overrun with people who just can’t seem to think about anyone but themselves. Then I gave it a day and now I’m writing a completely different weekly wrap-up than what I had planned.
I have found that when I get upset about something if I just give it a day’s rest, I often feel less angry and more forgiving. I’ve also read that those who have been wronged in some way or another, being forgiving often leads to feeling relieved. So one day after feeling like I wanted to run over people for walking on the wrong side of the trail, and punching pet owners letting their dogs roam free while holding their leash in their hands, I chose to let it go. And I feel better about it.
I have a local runner friend who developed a running-related injury and from his Facebook post, you could tell it was something that he was upset about. So far this year, the work he had been doing as an ambassador for the Illinois Marathon had been for naught, as the race has been canceled thanks to the viral pandemic. He was also planning on running the race, too. And now one of his coping mechanisms was letting him down. Give it a day, my friend. Maybe give it a week or month if you have to. But in time you will be back to running, and your marathon will return too.
This week was a wild one. We had two accumulating snow events this mid-April. A day after each one the snow was gone. The week ended with a beautiful 60-degree sunny day. Give it a day and things get better.
Lots of changes have been occurring to our lifestyles in 2020, and sometimes I think we just need to give it a day. And maybe another day. Or a week. In some cases a month. But we will return to normal.
IRONMAN TRAINING IN THE TIME OF PANDEMIC – PART IV
Spring is here and there are signs everywhere! As a runner who spends the majority of his time running staring at the ground 5-6 feet ahead of me, I’m surprised I notice anything going on around me. But lately, I have noticed a lot of signs out on the trail. From the little flowers that are blooming right along the edge of the path to the painted rocks that people are placing in public places and along the trail to brighten everyone’s day. The grass is greening up and judging from the hayfever I’m experiencing, I’m guessing everything is about to go from winter grey to a very colorful spring.
I have also seen some new signs out on the trail. Signs measuring the six-foot safe passing distance and reminders to please pass others in a single file way. Someone has placed a reflector sign on the unofficial path that I maintain that’s used to access the nature preserve to help them remember where to get on the path. Not sure it needed a sign because it’s really the only path like it on the abandoned frontage road, but it’s definitely a sign that someone else is utilizing my little path.
Another sign I’ve been seeing is my buddy John texting “Day Done” in our group chat that he’s completed the day’s workout. Could that be a sign that he’s joining the Gunners in Louisville this year?!?! That would be quite a sign!
IRONMAN TRAINING IN THE TIME OF PANDEMIC – PART III
It’s a really strange time in the world right now but I am doing my best to keep some normalcy in my life, and training for my fifth Ironman is helping a lot with that. Many races scheduled for spring have either been canceled or postponed to the fall. Fortunately, my race is scheduled for mid-October and hasn’t been affected yet but I am training with crossed fingers and doing each workout with the thought in the back of my mind that if things don’t improve with this virus, I may be training for naught.
But since I’m Mr. Optomist, I’m keeping a positive outlook and will keep training for Ironman Louisville until I’m told otherwise. I’d be doing some kind of training anyway, regardless if I was signed up for a race.
The weather has started to turn a little for the better and with the warmer temps, I find myself riding outside more and relying less on the spin bike. This has reminded me a couple of things. First, a spin bike is a decent workout but it’s no substitute for riding outside. Secondly, riding outside is killing me! My butt is sore and hates me for making it sit on a bike saddle that was clearly not designed for comfort. And my calves have decided that cramping up while riding is a fine thing.
As a longtime runner, I don’t remember ever having cramps from running. It’s only when I started doing triathlons and in particular training for Ironman that they became a thing. I would get cramps in my feet when swimming, which is really weird because you aren’t even using them much. I knew when the foot cramps came on it was time for me to get out of the pool because they would get worse before they got better. Plus it gave me an excuse to quit swimming because I hate it.
Most of my rides are short enough during the week that cramps aren’t a problem. It’s the longer weekend rides that cause them. Specifically, I am referring to calf cramps. I’ll be spinning along doing just fine and then I will get that first warning twinge. I’ve gotten pretty good at backing off the intensity and avoiding the dreaded “Charley Horse”. Severe cramps really don’t occur while biking. No, they save themselves for when you are in bed trying to sleep. Move your foot just the wrong way under the covers and BOOM – Cramp City.
In all honesty, though, the cramps were a much more frequent occurrence when I was first starting out in the sport. That first year training for Ironman Wisconsin in 2013 I would experience them much more often after a long ride. But I am much more experienced now and they don’t seem to bother me as much as they used to.
Other triathletes are always looking at the reason behind the calf cramps. Some say it’s due to being dehydrated. Or not enough salt, potassium or other minerals in your diet or hydration drink. I don’t disagree with those reasons contributing to calf cramps, but I don’t think it’s the main reason. I have found a correlation to getting calf cramps with an increase in a certain activity that you haven’t been doing and/or the intensity of the new activity. Calf cramps for me are always at the beginning of a 30-week training cycle when I stop spinning an easy gear on the spin bike indoors and actually have to work when I ride outdoors. I always want to jump right back in where I left off in the late fall and ride with the same intensity that I had built up over the course of the summer. That’s a silly mistake that I always make and relearn every spring. Cramps also generally occur towards the end of a ride, when you have been spinning your legs at 90+ rpm and haven’t given them a single break.
Some athletes will also treat the symptoms of a cramp rather than why they are cramping in the first place. Somewhere someone decided that pickle juice is the wonder drink to prevent cramps. What a horrible thing to drink. And there’s a company out there that produces a drink product that claims to stop cramps as soon as you feel them coming on. This drink has a combination of ginger, cinnamon and a strong pepper in it that is supposed to re-wire your nerves to stop the cramp. That seems dumb, but the science behind it kind of makes sense. The theory is that when you over-stimulate the nerves in your muscles they go haywire. When you start to cramp you take a drink of their product (or something very strong tasting, like pickle juice) and that strong taste of it refocuses your brain away from the over-excited nerves in your cramping leg. People swear that it works. But wouldn’t you rather not cramp up than have to treat it with some crazy drink? I would.
I do find that after a few weeks of retraining my legs for the workload and backing off how hard I push myself will result in the cramping occurrence to fade and be a lot less of a problem. By the end of the training period and when race day comes, cramps will pretty much be a non-issue for me.
So I truly believe that calf cramps from cycling come from an increase in the activity from being off for a long period and then working them too hard when restarting your training regimen. It’s overexertion, plain and simple. So hopefully I will never need to carry pickle juice with me on a ride.
IRONMAN TRAINING IN THE TIME OF PANDEMIC – PART II
When the state of Illinois mandated that we all quarantine ourselves by staying in place or staying at home, the governor allowed us to still be able to go outside to exercise as long as we maintain a safe “social” distance of six feet of separation. It was great seeing people out walking, riding bikes, and running on sidewalks and trails that were pretty much just taken advantage of by the regulars – runners and bikers like me that I see all the time, and the few neighbors that will go on a daily walk. People were making an effort to enjoy the time to get some fresh air and utilize trails that are a great benefit to our community. Until the people ruined it.
People ruin everything. Give them an inch and they’ll take a yard. In the case of our gift of being able to get outside, people ignored the mandate of avoiding group activities, openly playing soccer and basketball, and riding and running in groups. It got so bad in the city of Chicago that the mayor gave them a stern warning. And what did the people do? They ignored the warning forcing the mayor to take action and closing the Lakefront Trail, one of the most used trails in the state. No more getting exercise outdoors.
I was riding my bike on my local trail this week and I also encountered groups of people walking on the trails together and other gatherings of kids playing at parks and team related sports like basketball. I guess everyone figures if they aren’t affecting you directly there really isn’t any harm. But that isn’t true, and the reason we are staying in place and avoiding each other is to stop the spread of this deadly virus. But now I fear that our local trail may get closed as well, and that won’t make me happy. I’m betting that won’t happen, but here’s what we can do to help make sure it doesn’t happen:
Train alone instead of groups. The runners in our local running club are pretty good about doing the right thing, but group runs were still going on. Our local running club leaders implored runners to stop posting group photos so that it wasn’t appearing that we were ignoring the rules, and to consider running in much smaller groups or running alone.
Follow the safe social distancing rules as well as the trail rules. The six feet of separation rules apply to families as well as friends and other trail users. Also, if you are new to using the trail, follow the posted rules that are posted at nearly all of the trail street crossings and trailheads. The most abused trail rule of them all is “All Users Stay Right / Pass Left” yet I encounter groups all the time and have to remind them to share the trail. Other trail users following the rules shouldn’t have to be inconvenienced by someone not following the rules.
Be courteous. We are all trying to enjoy the outdoors and people need to understand that what you are doing shouldn’t hinder what other trail users are doing. Walk your dog on a leash and keep him on the correct side. Cyclists should yield to pedestrians. All users should follow the signage and stop at road crossings. Be safe.
Training Week Wrap-up
Week 2 was a typical spring training week. The weather was iffy this week, so I did spend some time training indoors. This is my fifth time training for an Ironman and I have to remind myself not to overdo it too much in these early training weeks. This week I found myself pushing my running pace more than I should have and that could lead to bad things. It’s a long journey to get to race day and blowing myself up in week two is not in the plan.
Training for Ironman #5 has begun! But not without some concern. Usually, my concerns are about some nagging injury that is giving me doubt about completing my workouts, or some forgotten conflict that may pop up and cause me to miss something important, or some other dumb thing on my mind. But I never thought that a global pandemic might derail not only my training but the race itself.
When my buddies and I committed to doing Louisville again back in January, I had no idea that I would be sitting around inside my house with the government telling me to stay home and not go anywhere other than essential travel, i.e. to work, to get groceries, etc. But here we are. When the race dominoes started falling, races like the Boston Marathon and others, I knew that this might be a little more of a worry than what we were telling ourselves. Pools are now closed. Gyms are now closed. Running trails are open, but the toilets are locked! (Maybe that’s only a problem for me.) Getting the workouts in maybe a little difficult for some, but Ironman triathletes are a hardy bunch. Heck, if we can get through an actual Ironman race, we can get around these training obstacles.
My plan for this Ironman is to once again follow Don Fink’s “Be Iron Fit” competitive training plan for the next 30 weeks. It has served me well in my past four races and I have tweaked it over time to fit my abilities and needs. I don’t follow the swim plans like I did the first two times I used it. The past two races went well with just two 45-minute swims per week with a handful of longer open water swims thrown in. I won’t be able to swim for a while, as it hasn’t warmed up enough for me to open my own pool. I suspect I will start swimming in late May.
It is on the cusp of being nice enough to bike outside, but if the weather prevents that I have both a trainer at home or a spin bike at work that I can use if necessary.
I’m in pretty good shape for running this time around. I had been training for an ultramarathon that was to take place on April 3rd but it fell victim to the pandemic and got postponed. My goal for this year’s race is to try to go sub-4 hours on the run. In 2017 my run split was 4:05 at Louisville, so I think that it is reachable. I just got to learn to stay out of the porta-potties on the run course, which always rob me of time. If they are locked on race day it might not be an issue!
My ultramarathon got postponed until 12 days after Ironman Louisville, so I hope to use the 30-weeks of training to prepare me for that event as well.
So here’s to a safe 30-weeks of training, and I hope my buddies and I and everyone else training for Ironman Louisville stays healthy.
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 appears that the “one and done” thing is not part of my thinking when it comes to Ironman triathlon. When I started my path toward my first Ironman I really had no idea what to expect. Would the training be hard? Would I drown? Would I have to crawl at any point during the run? Would I be able to finish the race under the 17-hour time limit? Don’t laugh, those were legitimate questions in my head.
But I took the training one day at a time, and it was manageable. I took the time to learn to swim, practiced it and built confidence in the pool and in the open water. The crawling thing? I watched athletes like Julie Moss, Sian Welch, and Wendy Ingraham on TV crawl across the finish line in Hawaii and wondered how anyone could put their body through such an effort, let alone myself. But I didn’t have to crawl or even shuffle. And I finished well under the cutoff, far exceeding my time goals and become a newly minted Ironman.
Three years passed and my group of buddies and myself signed up for Ironman number two, Ironman Lake Placid 2016. I got better, faster and more confident. It may have taken us three years to do it again, but we proved that this wasn’t a “one and done” thing.
We didn’t waste time signing up for another. For our third race, we headed south to Louisville, Kentucky the following year. With a decent day for racing, I put in my best effort and went sub-12 hours for the first time.
And last year we regrouped and headed further south to Chattanooga, Tennessee to swim, bike and run in what would be one of the hottest days I have ever raced in.
So signing up for a fifth race really wasn’t much of an effort at all. We’ve decided to head back to Louisville in 2020. It really is a great race location. The swim is fast, the bike pretty scenic and challenging, and the run is still predicted to be pretty flat and fast even after changing the course from when we last did it in 2017. The finish line is one of the loudest and best in all of Ironman. I have heard some rumors that this might be the last year for Louisville, so that was just another incentive to do it one more time. It’s going to be fun! Training begins in March, so here’s to a safe and memorable 30-weeks of training.
But the real reason I keep doing it is because of the people below. They make the journey worthwhile.
I’ve grown to love the training and experiencing the events with my buddies. That’s where the special memories get made. Without them, maybe I would have been “one and done.”
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.
One week until race day! And it’s getting a little crazy in my world. Even after going through this three times now, I still get anxious and nervous and slightly bonkers knowing what is coming up. I basically go to sleep thinking about Ironman, and it’s the first thing on my mind when I wake up. It does consume my thoughts, that is for sure. But the majority of the things that can worry me are the things that are in my control. It’s the out of control stuff that people really freak out about. Here are some examples of things I freak out about, both in my control and out of it.
Last week I noticed that my bike was no longer shifting from the big ring to the small ring on the crank. This could be a big problem for me as I spend a lot of my time spinning in the small ring, especially up hills. I decided to give my bike a good cleaning and see if I could find what was causing it not to shift. I figured it was probably junked up with sweat/Gatorade/road debris, etc., but the cable is not allowing it to move the chain. This will probably require a new cable, which also means a trip to the bike shop. I took the bike into the shop and was told I would get it back in a couple of days. Just as I thought, the cable was frayed inside the housing and they replaced it, and also performed a tune-up on the rest of the components. That freak out was definitely one I could deal with, although having to deal with it so close to race day was not comforting.
When I got the bike back I brought it home and decided to adjust the seat a little, and that is when I noticed the clamp that holds the saddle to the seat post was cracked! Yikes! Can you imagine having that break during the race and having to ride standing up for 116 miles? OMG. I took off the part and headed back to the bike shop and thankfully they had another one, and it only cost me $6.40.
The other thing that is freaking us all out is the weather, and this is something none of us can control. Most weather apps are predicting the weather in Chattanooga on race day to be 96 degrees with 53% humidity, meaning a possible real feel temperature of about 105 degrees. 100% sunshine and very little wind the last time I checked it. I can’t control that, but I can prepare for it. I plan on taking extra electrolytes with me on the bike and run, and to hydrate like crazy leading up to Sunday and during the race. I added some extra sunscreen to my bike special needs bag just in case and will make sure to not leave transition without having a volunteer lather me up with the stuff. I also plan on really keeping a close eye on how I feel and making sure that I don’t overdo the bike. Being smart on the bike sets you up for a good run, and that’s my plan.
With the heat being what it is, I am sure that the swim will not be wetsuit legal. I can easily get through a quick sprint triathlon without the wetsuit, but an Ironman swim is a heck of a lot longer. Fortunately, at Chattanooga, the swim is current aided, and I am pretty confident that I can swim the course easily without it. I practiced using a swim skin, a type of swimsuit you wear over your tri suit that reduces water friction I guess, but it was very tight and was rubbing my neck quite a bit. Not sure I want to chafe my neck and then sweat on that sore spot for 13 more hours in the race.
I always let Carla handle the hotels for us and she has never let us down. Thankfully that is one thing I am not freaking out about. Carla is the best!
Saturday was the worst for me and got to thinking too much about what is going on, not just with the race but with family and everything else. Fortunately, Sunday came and I got in a good run and realized that this sport is just about doing three things in one day. All of which is heavily supported with volunteers and people stand around cheering you on. I’m going to have a blast in Chattanooga.
Then Dave hit us with this:
Now I’m freaking out again!
WEEK 29 TRAINING TOTALS:
Swims: 2 total, 4200 total yards
Rides: 3 total, 65 total miles
Runs: 5 total, 22 total miles
Note: I will wrap up Week 30 when I write my race report.
I was having a great week, I really was. Then Sunday came along and I’m not sure that I am wanting to do this anymore.
I’m going to cut to the point. I pissed off an asshole driver for the simple reason of riding my bike. Not once, but twice – by the same fucking driver 3.5-hours apart. It seems that this driver doesn’t want to share the road with a cyclist, which was me. Pulled up behind me both times, blasted her fucking horn and then passed by so close that I could touch her damn Nissan Juke. The second time she pulled in front of me and slammed on her brakes. Nice. Whatever the fuck she needed to do – what could it be? Go to the grocery store? Go get gas? whatever – it was more important to her than my fucking life. I have some video of her doing this, but not of the slam on the brakes part because my camera battery on the front of my bike had died. Oh well.
You can see in the video that I’m blocking a little because there are a curb and a median right after crossing the tracks and if I even hint that there might be enough room to pass me, my experience is that they will try to do it. She must have been really pissed to have to deal with my old ass not once, but twice.
I could quit riding roads and stick to the trails, but guess what? That’s even worse. The people on the trail are ten times riskier than car drivers and no one polices the trail.
Most of the time I feel pretty safe, but it only takes one time, one instance to make me question doing this at all.
I will take the video to the local police tomorrow and show them, but it probably won’t do any good. I’m guessing they probably hate old dumb ass guys on bikes too.