Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga was my first race of the season. Actually, I haven’t raced since last July – Ironman 70.3 Eagleman – and was feeling a bit out of practice. In addition, I haven’t been doing any open water swimming and didn’t know how my wetsuit fit. I’ve added some mid-section girth, but fortunately, it still fits comfortably. Outside of swimming, I felt adequately trained.
Going into this event, I knew exactly how to fuel and eat pre-race, which afforded me a sense of freedom and calm that I hadn’t experienced in the past. For previous races, I would bring lots of nutrition and put it together in whichever way I felt would be best. This time, not only did I know exactly what I would need, Johnny gave me a plan for the timing of the fuel. For example, while riding, I knew by which mile I should be done with each bottle and at which mile I should consume a gel. In addition, I knew how many carbohydrates and calories I’d consume each hour. Hitting my targets would not be a guessing game, all I needed to do was follow the plan and execute the race.
Another useful change was getting up to eat three and a half hours before the race started (4 am). Doing this provided sufficient time for the food to pass out of my stomach. I had a fruit bagel with honey, a banana, and a tablespoon of almond butter with a cup of coffee (~95g carbs). While setting up my gear in transition I sipped on a bottle of water and pocketed a caffeinated Maurten gel for later.
The swim was downriver and I was excited. It was 1.4 miles instead of 1.2 and I planned to stay long, relaxed, and high in the water while maintaining a faster-than-normal cadence. I am learning to swim with a good rhythm and increase my speed without having to work hard and jack my heart rate very high.
While swimming, I monitored my effort, not by muscle fatigue, but by my respiration rate. I began the swim with the 33-35 minute group and as long as I was either maintaining or passing the bulk of them without huffing and puffing, I knew I was on track to hit my goal (36 minutes or less).
The water temperature felt great and the current was imperceptible. Since everyone spread out to what felt like the full width of the river, it never felt crowded. I only got bumped by one guy who decided to take a sharp left turn near the island. A few folks swam past me and I tried drafting but wasn’t able to get it right. Overall, I had a wonderful swim and my quickest finishing time.
The swim exit was uphill and felt like a quarter mile from my bike which was on the farthest end of transition. It took more than two minutes to get there! My transition from swim to bike gear went smoothly. I’m generally slower because I dry off with a towel and put on cycling socks while many athletes jump on their bikes wet and ride without socks. I find wearing any type of shoe without socks to be uncomfortable, so I don’t expect to change anytime soon. My nutrition was already set up and my power pedals had been calibrated, so I put on my helmet, grabbed Lucy, and headed out feeling confident.
The ride out of the city was bumpy and narrow. I think there was a slight incline, but I was more uncomfortable with the number of riders and how close together we were on a street with potholes, gutters, and cracks than the elevation. Not more than 3 miles into the ride I came across a downed cyclist being tended to by medics. She hit some tracks, fell, and broke her collarbone. As we rode further away from the city, the roads became a little smoother. Not until we crossed into Georgia did the pavement become smooth and I was able to relax a little.
The hills began rolling and I focused on holding 190-200 watts for the duration. My lack of skill for riding on hills became apparent very quickly. I didn’t know when to shift gears, so my power was all over the place. I frequently found myself rolling along at 350-400 watts! One of the things that I got exactly right during this section of the race was my nutrition. As a result, I felt supercharged during the entire ride and most likely over-biked and cooked my legs. I felt so good riding at 350 watts that I wanted to stay there. However, I knew that if I did, I’d kill the possibility of having a good run. I had found the dark side of proper fueling 🤣… overconfidence.
Unfortunately, my supercharged feeling didn’t translate into a fast ride and a personal best finish time. Two major factors limited my speed. First, the roads were crowded. Combine the discomfort of the extra-congested roads with riding on the drops instead of in aero and I rode slower than I was capable. I attempted to ride hard in aero a few times but found the risk of getting caught in an accident to be too high. The roads were one lane and people were flying and weaving as we went up and down while vehicles attempted to drive past us! I didn’t know how to anticipate what they were doing and the risk of collisions seemed high, so I sacrificed speed for safety. I’m disappointed in the race director for allowing 3200 athletes to compete in this event.
In the end, it was one of the best cycling legs that I’ve executed. My average power was right on target. For once, I never doubted my ability to maintain the effort. By mile 40, my legs began to feel fatigued, but because I’d practiced up to 3 hrs at this wattage, I knew that I could sustain the effort. Second, following a detailed fueling plan gave me tremendous confidence. I learned some important lessons too. Since I enjoy riding hills, I need to learn how to properly shift on inclines and declines. My lack of skill burned unnecessary matches and came back to bite me in the ass during the half marathon. Also, practicing on hills in aero will be a necessary confidence booster for future hilly rides.
Overall it was a great bike leg. 3h 23 min, average 200 Watts
Coming off the bike my legs felt relatively good with no signs of cramping. I was looking forward to running strong because I felt so good. I had visualized this leg of the race many times. The first 6-8 miles would feel fine. Then, my mind would kick the negative thoughts into overdrive and I’d have to battle myself. But, with the strong fueling plan, and practice, I was eager to see how good I’d be at digging deep and staying strong.
Although the heat was hitting us, the first two miles felt good. I focused on taking it easy and holding a fast cadence while breathing well. My kit was tight on my abdomen so I unzipped it (extra girth, remember). The inclines, although not very steep, were tough and my legs began to feel heavier. I was upbeat and confident that I would feel strong for the bulk of the half marathon. By mile four I was struggling mentally. When I reached the aid station I decided that I hated my warm, frothy nutrition and that the bottle was too damn heavy. So, I threw it out! Instantly, I felt lighter and free! A half mile later I regained my sanity and questioned what the fuck I’d done. I allowed my inner five-year-old to take charge for a moment and now I had about nine miles to deal with the consequences 😳😂. … thoughts of “the course broke me “ were creeping in. Just like in previous races, my mind was turning against me. However, today was different. I was observing the negative thoughts rather than succumbing to them and continued running as I let them come and go. Being fully aware that the feelings would pass. I just didn’t know how long it would take.
On the flats, it wasn’t too difficult to hold a reasonable pace, but running uphill caused my calves to cramp a lot. By mile 6 both of my calves and the left quad were cramping quickly. Within two minutes of running, they would begin to seize. Since I couldn’t run continuously, I chose to run-walk. At each aid station, I took some water, ice, and Gatorade Endurance. Surprisingly, my energy remained high. My feet hurt, but that’s normal during these events since I have yet to optimize race shoes.
At mile eight I began running with another guy who was a coach and long-term Ironman. I have forgotten his name, but he was having trouble too so we chatted and encouraged each other. He had at least 20 years of Ironman racing experience and a lot of wisdom to share while we “ran”. He suggested that I take more salt to see if it would help. Oddly, I hadn’t even considered doing that, so I ate potato chips when we passed the aid stations, but it didn’t help. I think that I rode too hard for too long and lost track of my salt and calorie intake then became depleted by excessive sweating. Also, I had not prepared an alternate fueling strategy. Going forward I will become familiar with the calorie & electrolyte content of what will be on the course. This will allow me to adapt if I lose my mind or simply lose my nutrition.
Toward the end of the run, I still felt strong and was able to keep a good cadence. The cramps (right calf and left quadriceps) were the show stoppers. I didn’t mind, I’d already learned a lot from this race. It wasn’t an A-race, so the primary goal was to see how well I could execute and sustain the increased effort.
With all things considered, I think the race was perfect. I did the best that I could that day. I stayed present and kept my wits about me for almost the entire time and enjoyed myself. The course is beautiful. I’m proud of the execution and to have completed it.