What happened at Chattanooga?

It’s been just over a month since Chattanooga.. a little late on the recap, but better late than never? 🙂 I’ve had enough people ask me about “what happened” that I thought it would be worth putting my thoughts on my blog.

Chattanooga was my second full Ironman race, and one I felt confident going into.  I knew it would be hot and humid, but I felt prepared for that. I’ve raced in all sorts of conditions, and I felt like I was ready. As you may know, it didn’t end the way we all hoped it would, but it was still a great day full of mostly positives.

So WHAT happened?

Long story short: I felt ready for a great race, and given the course and competition on the start list, I felt confident that I could place pretty well.  I followed my plan and was doing well.  I came out of the swim with a few girls (2nd-4th place out of the swim), and then was 3rd female off the bike.  A good place to be for me off the bike, so I just had to put together a solid run and I’d likely be able to hold off a lot of the super runners.  At mile 16 or so of the run, I was running in 4th when I started to feel light headed and, overall, not well. I spent some time trying to convince myself it was in my head and that I just needed some walking and water and fluids, then maybe it’d go away.

After a few miles of trying to shake it off, it was clear to me that I was not going to finish unless I walked the rest of the marathon. Feelings of passing out were frequent and very unwelcome! I full on walked the last six or so miles and finished last female pro.  Everyone has their reasons for quitting or for finishing no matter what, and on that day, I did not want to quit. I came to have my best race ever, so at the very least, I had to finish for myself and for everyone supporting me.

Walking up a nice hill to tell my husband my race was done.

Want even more details? Keep reading :).

Pre Race

Everything was pretty basic and according to plan before the race. I ate the usual foods, tried to get plenty of rest, had plenty of time off my feet, and stayed well-hydrated.  Race week you can always over analyze any strange feeling in your body, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a few of those feelings I wanted to over analyze.  I’m a huge believer that your mind can really nurture and determine your fate, or just make small things worse, so I didn’t allow myself to entertain thoughts of being sick or not feeling great in any way, shape, or form. I just focused on getting good sleep and eating well. Race morning – I felt good and ready to go execute a great race all day long.

Dropping off special needs. Don’t forget your headlamp on dark race mornings!

The Swim

Chattanooga has a 2.4 mile downstream swim, so you get some serious assistance from the river.  I had NO idea how fast the swim would be because I’ve never swam downstream like that, so I just had to focus on going hard at the start and getting on feet. Drafting in the swim is legal and VERY helpful if you can stick with some people who swim your pace or, even better, faster.  I went out hard and strong but didn’t catch feet, but I was swimming about 5-10 meters behind a couple women for several minutes.  We were staying the same distance apart and I wasn’t catching up, so I decided that I just needed to surge and catch their feet so that I could save some energy being in their draft.  I would say between 600m-800m in, I caught their feet and then just stayed on for the rest of the swim.  I didn’t know if we were front pack or not, but either way, I knew I was not going to let myself get dropped and I knew we were towards the front.

I came out of the water and saw 45 minutes on the clock – I was SHOCKED. Like I said, I had no idea what to expect out of a swim time, but was pleased to see 45 minutes. Might never see that time again in an Ironman :).

Start of the swim.
Posted this on Instagram, but I love it. What an amazing swim venue!

The Bike

Never underestimate how long the bike of an Ironman will feel! MAN, a five hour ride at home is so different than a five hour bike in an Ironman.. must be because we are going race pace and in aero as much as possible for the whole five hours in a race, and no gas station stops for food and beverages! 🙂 Anyway, enough whining. I’m not afraid of the bike – I ride a lot at home, and I live in a very hilly, mountainous area, so elevation gain isn’t something I worry about.  Chattanooga is a rolling hills course so I knew there would be good overall climbing, but also good downhills to push. I wore a watch for this race (I gave up my gadgets for my last several races) just to monitor my effort and to help with timing and eating, etc.

I had my nutrition all set for the bike, most importantly my F2C Glyco-Durance, but I also had Plan B or C set in my head if needed.  Turns out, I did need Plan B.  About 40 miles into the bike, one of my F2C Glyco-Durance bottles of nutrition popped off my bike.  Fortunately, I knew I had enough calories on my bike without that bottle (thank you back up Snickers bar in my bike bento) so I didn’t panic, but I knew I should probably take on some extra electrolytes and liquid at aid stations. In addition to what felt was a lot of water, I also took on some bananas, a mini Clif Bar, and Gatorade from aid stations throughout the bike to compensate for the lost bottle.

I rode a lot of the bike in 2nd place, but got passed by one woman at some point during the 4th hour of the bike.  The 4th hour was my darkest hour on the bike. I started feeling hungry – not lack of energy, just feeling that hungry feeling in my stomach.  This same thing happened to me in my first Ironman, so that’s why I brought the Snickers on board – solid food for my stomach.  I also welcomed the bananas and Clif Bar mentioned above, and for the last hour of the bike I got my mind and body strong again. I got off the bike feeling confident, but also very much like I had just been on my bike for a little over five hours (if you’ve done an Ironman, you know what feeling I’m talking about!).

The Run

It took about half a mile to shake off the bike legs, but then I felt like I was ready to settle in and put together a strong run. After a nice big hill right at the start, I was able to settle into a good rhythm and I just focused on running well and getting from aid station to aid station.  I forced myself to take in my calories and liquids regularly and felt like I was on track with nutrition.

The first loop of the run went by really fast mentally, and though I was passed by one other woman, I was holding onto 4th pretty strong. I started to “feel” the run a little more on loop two of the run, but that’s when I just told myself to suck it up and focus on being strong every second. A few miles into lap two, things started to feel pretty terrible.  I started feeling light headed, which I’ve never experienced in a race.  I wasn’t sure why I was feeling that way – I had followed my nutrition and felt like I made up for my dropped F2C bottle just fine, I had energy, and I was taking in water, ice, Gatorade, and coke at the aid stations.

Ice, water, sponges – everything to keep cool.

I asked myself several times, “are you just making this up because you’re in the back half of a marathon in and Ironman and it’s hard?” I’m sure there was a lot of mental dialogue that I don’t even remember, but I just didn’t want to walk or not do justice to my training, I didn’t want to quit, and I didn’t want to give up the race that I had already worked so hard for up until that point.  I know I can do hard things and I know I can push through the back half of a marathon in an Ironman. Having done an Ironman before, I knew the last several miles would most likely feel physically terrible, but I was expecting that to be in my legs and not my head.

When I started to feel nervous that I was going to pass out is when I let myself stop and walk.  I think I even stopped completely once or twice just to bend over, take a breather, and try to feel better.  Everything kind of turned into a blur at this point :).  I ran walked for a bit, and then I was at a complete walk around mile 19 or 20. I saw my husband at some point and told him I was feeling terrible but that I was going to finish.  I remember telling him I was going to run/walk the rest and would still have around a 4 hour marathon.  Well, THAT didn’t happen. I had to completely walk the last several miles, and many times during those miles, I was questioning why I didn’t just stop.  A few times I thought that I was going to pass out, and I was scared of waking up with medics over me haha.  Thinking about it now – it sounds insane to push through those sorts of feelings, but I did not want to quit.

Taking it all in. A HUGE thanks, as always, to the many amazing volunteers who are out there all day long.

The cool part about walking was being able to chat with a few of the other athletes who weren’t having a great day.  Multiple athletes told me they were happy to see me finishing despite not having the day I wanted. Apparently they find it disappointing when pros just quit because they aren’t performing how they wanted to.  Everyone, pro or not, has to make a call for themselves on whether or not they finish a race, but I appreciated the comments in that moment and they made me feel better about walking through the terrible feelings I was having.

My husband was right by the finish and I walked and talked to him while I went through the finishing chute. I cried my way through that finishing chute, but I knew I gave my all on that day and that was all I could do.  I was SO disappointed to have the day end the way it did, but I knew it did not change how prepared I was or what the possibilities were for me going forward.

The Takeaway

I’m not one to regret my decisions, to over-analyze, or to dwell on things that didn’t go well.  While I was disappointed that the race didn’t go how I thought it could have (and how it WAS going), I got over that pretty quickly. It’s onto the next. Even though my run blew up, I had a great race outside of that.  Surely I will be changing a few things for my next Ironman, but I feel like I’m on the right track overall.

After talking with my coach and some experienced teammates, I think the mistake may have been hydration or electrolytes. It’s hard to know for sure as we can only speculate, but it would make sense that perhaps hydration was the issue. I’ve raced and spent a lot of time training in hot and humid conditions, but I’ve never done an Ironman in one, and Ironman is a different beast. A hard lesson to learn, but better now than later :).

This experience has definitely given me more respect for the Ironman distance, and I think even just that will help me as I prepare for the next. Looking forward to a successful Ironman in 2018!