|Ironman Chattanooga 2017|
This adventure started like all others, or at least, in my eyes. I was bullied into registering for the race. You may wonder who the bully was, but it’s not just one bully, it’s many, they go by the moniker of “The Crewe”. They make you believe that if you don’t do an event, you will miss out on so much fun, it will fill you with regret for the rest of your life. They make Ironman sound so appealing and fun, I think they may all be marketing experts secretly working for the Ironman organization.
I sometimes equate Ironman to having a baby, it’s so painful and the lead up to it, is at least 9 months. The cost is outrageous and it doesn’t stop, first there is the entry fee, USAT membership, hotel bill, travel cost, bike maintenance, running shoes, tri kits, nutrition and then all the finisher gear you can’t live without. The event is an awesome accomplishment and something you never want to forget, but the pain makes you say, I will never do it again. The memory of the pain fades over time and before you know it, you are thinking well maybe it wasn’t so bad. Then you get the constant questions, when will you do it again and how many do you plan to do. See, exactly like having a baby. The difference is, you can’t adopt an Ironman finish, at least with a baby, you can skip the initial pain by adopting, you can’t do that in Ironman. I guess Ironman is actually worse than having a baby.
|The memory of the pain fades - 3 kids later|
After I completed Ironman Lake Placid in 2016 with my worst IM finish time ever, I proclaimed my retirement, but somehow, here I was training for my 5th Ironman event. This is how it all went down, I was sitting at the bar at the 54th Street Grill, with my belly full of food, sipping on a half alcohol Margarita, (BTW, one half alcohol margarita and I’m dancing on the bar) when Sketchy (A Crewe member) says I’m going to sign up for IM Chattanooga right now. I said “no way you will do it and if you do, well I will too”. Of course I did not believe he would really do it, but then he did…and then I did.
That brings us to today, two days after the finish of my 5th Ironman Race.
So there I was, signed up for a race that I had not done any research on. I quickly went into research mode and found out that the bike course was rather hilly, not as bad as Lake Placid, but not an easy course by any means. I also found out that the bike course was 116 miles, rather than 112 miles. All I could do at this point was to go into panic mode. What was I thinking, how did I let myself do this… I just kept kicking myself. Of course I did not purchase the insurance, so I couldn’t even fake an injury to get out of it. I would not waste $850, even if it killed me, I was in.
We were already behind on the 42 week training plan, so we had to jump right in, but since Jeff Germer and the Godfather were training for IM Florida, it gave us people to train with. We would soon find out that Jeff would transfer to Chatt due to a scheduling issue with a family wedding. That was a good thing for me and Sketchy, but a bad thing for the Godfather. Now Jeff would be on our schedule and keep us honest to our training plan. Godfather was kind of on his own now, but heck, he has done 33 IM’s if anyone can do it without oversight, it’s him.
As for the training, it went surprisingly well, except for the swim, I just felt like I wasn’t swimming enough, although we had more lake swims than ever, at least 4 months of only swimming in the lake. I’m not even sure what the pool looks like anymore. We were lucky, not only did we have the race crew to workout with, but Ray always showed up to swim with us, no matter how early we started the workout, we were like the Mod Squad.
I was finishing all my training runs faster than I had planned and still felt pretty good at the end of the run. My long runs consisted of loops at SIUE, just as they had in the past, but we kind of switched the loops up, we were running the upper side of campus. We still started at the church, but ran uphill 2 miles to the east side of campus and just stayed on top for most of the run. Having the Crewe helped a lot, Ray, Russ, Carolan, Carl, Rhonda and Kyle frequently joined us for runs, misery always loves company.
|The training Crewe|
My bike training was also going well, we were riding SIUE loops again, most of the time starting at 4am, so there wasn’t much traffic for the first couple hours of the ride. The loops took us through multiple hill sections that we dreaded, but in the end I really think that all of the hills during training really helped me in the race. The rolling hills in the race didn’t seem near as bad as I had expected and I have to attribute that to all the hills we trained on. Again, I have to thank Ray, Mike, and Brandon for joining Jeff, Sketchy and me on those early morning rides.
|Training Ride with the Crewe|
For anyone reading this post, if you plan on doing IM Chatt, my tip is to train on as many hills as you can, even if you have to do hill repeats. If you live in the area, two places other than SIUE that would be the perfect course are Jerusalem Rd from the end of the Hamel trail to the Hazel trail and Pocahontas Rd from the end of the Marine trail to the highway. These are both very similar to the Chatt course.
Overall I put the training in and should have been absolutely confident at the start of the race. If you know me though, you know I was not confident, in fact I couldn’t stop worrying. The week before the race was nerve racking, I sometimes thought I might break into tears just thinking about it.
Thursday came and we were off to the race. John, Jeff and I drove to Chatt together and discussed the course the entire way there, not that it made me feel any better, because it didn’t. I have to give kudos to Jeff and John, they did their best to reassure me that I was ready. Of course I figured they were just being nice and they were really thinking, “I guess we will have to drag her dead body home after the race”. I guess they were right (don’t ever tell them I said that), I must have been ready because I’m still alive.
We arrived in Chatt just in time to pick up our packets and get a pic at Ironman village.
|Arriving in Chatt|
On Friday we went to the pre-race meeting, looked at the swim course, and drove the bike course. We also spent some time sitting in compression legs, oh and let me tell you, it felt so good.
|Oh how good it feels|
|A lot of Vitality at Ironman|
We did a short ride from the hotel, we wanted to do a flat ride, but we were in Chatt, there was no flat, so not only was it boiling hot, but we had to ride hills in traffic, it was not our best idea.
The Ironfans showed up on Friday, Pam coming in early and China and Brandon showing up later that night. Now we had our support crew intact and ready to work on strategy that would give us the biggest boost while out on the course. Pam had maps printed and an itinerary with times and places to cheer from. I have never met an Ironfan so prepared.
We hit Ironman village Saturday morning to do our bike and bag drop and get some more time in the compression legs. Of course we had to hit the Ironman store and spend way more money than we make in a week. We all needed to be Ironman branded before we headed home.
Oh and we raced the big Hoka, get this, he stomped all of us. It was a bit embarrassing, but we got a free towel for doing it. I wish I had a video of it, but I don't.
Saturday night brought an early dinner at the Waffle House then early to bed. I slept surprisingly well, of course waking up each hour to check the clock, always afraid I would over sleep.
RACE DAY! RACE DAY! RACE DAY!
I was up early and headed out with the rest of the Crewe to the bike transition, it was 4am, but felt even earlier. We put air in our bike tires, dropped our special needs bags and hopped on a bus to the race start. It was a 10 minute bus ride to the start of the race, and a two hour wait in line before the first person would even enter the water. The good thing was, lots of porta potties, the bad thing was, a long walk to get to them. We all laid on the ground and waited. About 30 minutes before the race started China and Brandon showed up, Pam had been with us all morning.
|Getting ready to start|
|It was a very long line|
|I'm smiling on the outside only|
China had a big picture of my granddaughter Emersyn on a pole that said “Goooo Gram!”
|Emersyn Cheering me on|
The water temp was 77.1 so it was wetsuit optional. Jeff swam without a wetsuit, but then again, he is a fish, so he went in the water pretty early. John and I wore a wetsuit, so we were one of the last people in the water. I’m glad that I did though, it gave me piece of mind at a time when I was internally freaking out. It looked like 400-500 people chose to wear the wetsuit. In case you don’t know, if it is wetsuit optional, you can wear the wetsuit, but are not eligible for an age group award or a Kona slot. Since I am not and never will be fast enough to get either of those, it wasn’t really a decision for me, I was wearing a wetsuit.
So we were all in the water and heading to the bike transition. I felt pretty good in the water, I did stop twice and try to fix my leaking goggles. After the second try, I just decided to swim with one eye full of water rather than to stop again and try to fix them. It didn’t really bother me much, and I felt like I was moving along pretty fast. I never really got kicked much, the rolling start helps, I jumped in with about 6 other people, not 100 other people. A couple times I was squeezed between two swimmers, but was able to work myself out pretty quickly. Before I knew it, I was passing the island, then swimming under the first of three bridges, it was actually pretty cool.
|A view of the swim from the bridge|
When I saw the red buoys at the finish, I was happy, they came pretty quickly and getting out of the water was the first of my goals for the day. Then when I looked at my watch and saw 1:02, I thought either I’m not seeing it correctly or my watch must have stopped. I ran to the wetsuit strippers, grabbed my wetsuit and ran for my bike bag. My IronFans were there waiting and yelled, you did a 1:02, I couldn’t believe it, the time I saw was right, it was my fastest swim ever, and I felt good.
|Running for Transition to the bike|
I was a little slow through transition, but I wanted to make sure I had everything and was ready for the ride, coming out of the tent to the bike, I heard that John was only about 3 minutes in front of me. I jumped on my bike and headed out, but I did have a fear of having a mechanical on the course. I had to have my bottom bracket changed out just a week before the race. A big Thanks goes to Matt and Justin at the Cyclery for getting my bike race ready without incident on the course.
|Heading out on the bike|
|Jeff heading out on the bike|
|John (Sketchy) heading out on the bike|
The bike course was actually fun, it was like riding a roller coaster, I was pushing the heavy gears down the hills and spinning the low gears up. The course was all hills, but if you rode it correctly, it wasn’t that hard. I’m not saying it was easy, there were a few hills that really hurt, but they weren’t tearing me up. And the fact that the course went in and out of the shade really helped, I would have never made it through in such good shape had I been in the sun the entire ride.
Coming through Chickamaunga on the first lap, I heard Pam yell go Robin, but I didn’t see her. Knowing that she was out there gave me a boost. Our IronFans were the best support crew ever.
I spent the entire 7 hours regulating how much I ate and drank and how much salt I took in. It kept my mind busy and away from falling into the “I’m so tired pity party in my head”. I felt pretty darn good and when I saw John in front of me at about mile 92, I had to smile, I needed someone to talk to for a while. It took me a few miles to catch him, but when I did, we finished the 116 mile course bunny hopping each other. We ended up riding into the chute together. The IronFans were there cheering us on, and I stopped to get a much needed hug from China.
|Getting a hug from China and a hand from Pam|
While I was out on the bike, China and Brandon did some fun stuff, like rock climbing and visiting the aquarium. Ironfan’s lives matter!
|A little IronFan Fun|
They continued to track all of us on the Iron Tracker app. They were also tracking Charles McFarlin, another Metro Tri Club teammate, he was easy to spot because he was wearing the new MTC kit.
Into the tent I went and again, I was a little slow on the transition. I headed out on the run to IronFan cheers and China ran up with her phone and my daughter Jade was on face time. Jade told me I was doing great and to keep it up. That was a needed surprise. I started up the hill and decided it was better to walk it. I caught up to John again and we started running together at the top of the hill. We were both suffering in the heat, and he pulled away. The next 4 miles were brutal, it was open sun in the heat of the day. This is when the demons came. My mind was saying run and my legs were saying NO, I kept getting cramps in my left quad and would have to stop and walk. I did the best I could until mile 6, then I started feeling sick. After a stop at the porta potty and quick stop to puke, I knew for sure the rest of the race was going to be a death march.
|The Crazy Hot Run|
I went directly to Plan B, which was to power walk, do whatever it took to cross that finish line before the cutoff. That’s what I did, I ran all the down hills and power walked everything else. What I didn’t know was starting at mile 8, I would encounter hills, that could have been called mountains, or at least in my mind that’s how they looked and felt. All I could think was that whoever created the run course was evil. When I looked up the hill as far as I could see there were people walking. I didn’t see even one person running the up-hills in that section. Coming out of the hills the sun was starting to set and the demons were taking over my thoughts. I didn’t know how I was going to finish the second lap.
I came around the corner to start the second lap and there was China with my mom on Facetime, she told me I was doing great and to not give up. That’s my mom, she raised me to never quit and never give up. She used to say “when you think it can’t get worse it will, but you just pick yourself up and keep going”. She never sugar coated life for us kids, she told it like it was and taught us how to survive and be happy. I live by that advice, and yes I knew it was going to get worse before it ended, but I was not going to stop. China walked with me for a while then headed back and told me she would meet me around mile 20. I was moving forward and thinking about my ultra-running friend Jim, he used to walk up hills next to me while I was running and would pass me. He gave me advice on power walking and told me to walk the uphill and I would get up it faster than running, I never thought it could be done, but I just kept passing runners as I walked. I made it to mile 20 and both Brandon and China walked with me for a while, they said I was killing the walk and China showed me a Facetime of my granddaughter Emmy, it was past her bedtime and she wasn’t much interested, but it was a pick me up, to see her.
We got across the bridge back into the hills and the IronFans headed to the finish line, while I endured the next 4 miles of hills. Plus the IronFans had made friends with another racer and they were busy passing text messages from him to his girlfriend. They were trying to get over to tell him she was there at the finish line waiting for him. It just amazes me how often China makes friends with random people.
I finally made it to the wooden bridge, the 25 mile mark, I headed across thinking that this was going to be my worst finish time ever, but that at least I would finish. Then I started thinking how much I hate Ironman races and how I was going to retire as soon as I finished this race.
|Coming into the finish line!|
So I kept going, came around the corner on the other side of the bridge and headed downhill to the finish. I ran through the finish chute, high fiving everyone along the fence. I saw my IronFans and ran straight over and hugged them, then headed to the finish.
|I made it|
I did it… I’m a 5 time Ironman! Get this, it was my fastest finish ever, it was 13 minutes slower than what I had predicted I would finish in, but I am still happy with the time. I told everyone I was now retired from IM and they all said the same thing…. “yeah right”, I said “no, I mean it this time” and they just shook their heads and laughed.
The race was awesome, not the run, but the swim and bike were. Had it been a little cooler I think the run would have gone much better. I still ended up with my fastest Ironman time ever.
I think the Ironfans had a great time also. I can’t say enough about the support we got from Pam, China, and Brandon. I’m not sure I would have finished without them there cheering me on. I think they had a pretty good time also. China and Brandon even got to play Mall Cop while at Ironman. And Photo Credit goes to both China and Brandon.
|IronFans less Pam|