…these were the last words I said to Coach Vader before the gun went off at Ironman Chattanooga last Sunday. It’s true. For once, I was not concerned about time limits or cutoff times because I knew I had this. Barring unforeseen mechanical or health issues this was going to be a good day. My swimming was strong and I had already done the 2.4 river swim a few weeks ago. I had ridden the course multiple times in horrible heat and averaged 15 mph and above. I have been running faster than ever before. I was ready!
SWIM: The water temps were 77 degrees making the swim wetsuit optional. This had been advertised as a wetsuit swim so that had always been my plan. I had brought my full wetsuit and my lava pants (essentially the bottom half of a wetsuit). Since the temps were on the higher side I opted for the lava pants simply because it would give me a little bit of a break on the swim and save more energy for the rest of my day. Since it was optional this meant those not wearing wetsuits got to go first and I would not qualify for a Kona slot or age group prizes (not a problem!). It was a little bit stressful to see the hordes of people run by our front of the line spot BUT all those people would not be swimming over me once I finally got in the river. The swim start was quick and they got everyone in the water in about 20 minutes which was amazing.
I jumped in with my swim buddy Tripp and we were off. We swam stroke for stroke at Ironman Louisville and this was the plan for the day. It was clear the current was moving when I saw how fast the buoys came and went. We ended up far to the right but I think that gave us the maximum river flow. I swam well and only got out of rhythm when people tried to swim between us or over us. Before we knew it we were at the final turn buoy and headed for the stairs. We got out of the water with a time of 1:06. New 2.4 mile swim PR!
It was a bit of a run to the changing tent but I grabbed my gear and was surprised how packed the tent was. I grabbed a chair near the entrance and started the change into my bike gear. There was a bit of an embarrassing moment when I ended up with both of my tank straps over one shoulder. Thankfully, a volunteer helped me get that straightened out and I headed out for my bike. It was another long haul to my bike but then I was quickly on the road.
BIKE: I started out of town and was surprised to immediately see Kim on the side of the road. A little bit later she zoomed by me. She said she had a problem with her wheel and I thought she was out for the day. Eventually, someone loaned her a wheel when the SAG never showed up after almost an hour of waiting. I was so happy she was back in the race.
Here’s where things went a little south. For some odd reason my left knee felt achy and sore Saturday night. I was a little worried about it being an issue on race day but I had not done anything to it that I could pinpoint. Well, whatever it was it became a BIG issue. Every pedal stroke of my left leg hurt. Started out as a slight ache that graduated to dull pain. I was enjoying the cooler temps and overcast skies and my speed was on par for my expectations.
On all previous training rides on the course I was averaging 15 mph plus in extreme heat. At the end of the season I was feeling stronger than ever on the bike and I was ready. I knew cooler temps and rested legs would give me a few more ticks so I was hoping for my best IM bike split ever.
After my first loop it was clear that this was not to be the case. I still had tons of time and I was going to get through this but it was not going to be pretty. Every time I started to dwell on how much my knee hurt I thought “You know what hurts? Breast cancer hurts. You know what else hurts? Crashing your bike and having your shoulder dislocate and your elbow explode. You know what else hurts? Slamming on your brakes to avoid hitting a car and going over the handlebars onto the pavement. You know what else hurts? Losing both your parents in one week. You know what else hurts? Getting attacked by 2 dogs and almost dying. So, your knee doesn’t mean sh**!” I knew I would make the bike cutoff with plenty of time to spare. It just wasn’t going to be the bike I had hoped to have. The new concern was if my knee was going to hold up for the run. I knew I had some advil in my run gear and I was kicking myself for not having some in my bike special needs bag. Lesson learned!
Finally, I made it to the end of the second loop and could begin my trip back to town. The heavens opened up and it was pouring. I tucked my head and pedaled on. So ready to get off this stinkin’ bike. Those extra 4 miles were not making me very happy at this point but I was still hanging in there.
Soaked and tired I made it into T2. So happy to be off the stinkin’ bike. So happy to see my friends Barb and Marietta who were volunteering in the changing tent! Very happy to see them! I was also happy I packed my lightweight rain jacket in my run bag. I got all my soaking bike clothes off, popped 3 advil and changed into dry running clothes, socks and shoes and ran out the door.
RUN: The run starts up a hill so I walked briskly getting clothes adjusted and getting my bearings after the brutal bike ride. I saw friendly faces as I started on my way and that gave me a boost. All the fatigue and worry of the bike ride was lifting and I was so grateful that my knee was not hurting while walking. At the top of the hill I glanced at my Garmin and started to execute the plan – 4 min run, 1 min walk. I started passing runners and got into a nice groove. Of course nearly everyone I passed was on their second loop with their lightning swims and fast bike splits. The weather was clearing and it was just a slight drizzle. I immediately took off the rain jacket and tied it around my waist. Chatted a little with people but mostly just kept to myself and moved along. Having done this part of the run course I knew I was close to the turn around and laughed when I saw they routed us through the Burger King parking lot and then out onto the highway. Tripp was going to love that since his favorite IM nutrition is burgers.
Speaking of nutrition, I had a carry bottle with gu brew (electrolyte only) and gels. I did not have the queasy stomach of Louisville so I can now definitely say heat was the cause of that fiasco. However, I didn’t much feel like eating anything. My energy levels were good so I just kept going and sipped some coke and ate some orange slices at the aid stations. I only saw one friendly face on my way back into town. Mike Luebeck ran with me for a minute before he took off to finish his second loop.
Soon I was at the bridges. I had never seen the hills on the other side of the river so did not really know what to expect. I walked the uphills and ran all the downhills and whatever flats I could find. Not much of that on the other side of the river. I saw a few friendly faces out there but definitely missed how much we saw everyone on the run at Louisville. I was still feeling good as I crossed back over the river to begin loop number 2. I could hear Mike Reilly calling out the finishers names. A few more hours and I would be back. I never had a doubt that I would cross that line.
On the run I had time to reflect on the day. While I was upset I had such a bad day on the bike, in a way it was probably a blessing. Not pushing my speed on those hills probably saved my legs for a better run. At least the first half. Plus, the fact that I finished my bike in the pouring rain, I was able to change into dry clothes and start my run when it was only misting.
I rounded the corner to start the second loop and Vader ran up to me at special needs. I ditched my rain jacket and handed him the rest of my stuff. I kept my carry bottle even though I wasn’t drinking anything from it but I still wanted the pocket with the tums and ginger candies nearby in case my stomach went south. Vader was happy and pleased that I had stayed steady and banked so much time. I could power walk my way to an easy finish if needed. I still felt good and kept running on my second loop. 4 and 1s were getting difficult and I could no longer see my watch so I would run from light post to light post with walk breaks. My legs were getting heavy and sore from the hills on the other side of the river so things devolved into spurts of running with mostly power walking. I was still passing people (the few scattered souls that were left) and encouraged them to keep moving. I was in good spirits and soon was back at the bridges. Only a few more miles to go and I would be an Ironman again.
The hills were definitely not fun the second time around. My quads were screaming but I kept moving as quickly as I could and then it was time to cross the final bridge. I saw some friendly faces on the bridge and then John appeared and walked with me to the end of the bridge. We rounded the final corner and there was the finishers chute. My legs still had some run in them and I was ready to get this done. I ran down the finishes chute and made sure I heard Mike Reilly say my name and “You are an Ironman”!
I have said all along this was my last Ironman. The training season was more drudgery than fun this time around. I still have the best training buddies a girl could ask for – Terrie, Tripp, Kim, Harry, Adrienne and Peggy but it was a tough season for all of us in different ways. We had an incredible support team with friends and the members of No Boundaries Multisport. Most especially, Coach Vader got us through this season and we didn’t kill each other! I will call this a victory and happy to leave on a good note! Back to Crossfit and its time to hit the trails, its ultra season!