Race Report Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga 5/19/2019

Stats in my division (M: 50-54):

Swim 42nd percentile.
Bike 82nd, Run 86th, Overall 84th.

Overall I had a good race. I feel really good about the work I put in on this course. My swim training with Tower26 has paid off big time. I may need to cut 1 swim / week to add in another run, now. Every one of these longer races is a big accomplishment and any improvement is worthy of celebration.

I have yet to finish a longer race feeling like I mastered the balance between pacing and output. In smaller races I have – not often – felt like I killed it. Recently, for instance, at the Traditions in The Bay I walked away saying “I killed the swim and bike” and the run didn’t suck.

I have not had that feeling with longer-format races yet.

I had originally intended to do 70.3 Gulf Coast the weekend prior but with Mothers’ day logistics it just didn’t work. I was lucky there were still Ironman Foundation spots available for 70.3 Chattanooga when I signed up.

A benefit of the super-late sign-up is that I got a very low number so I was right near the transition bike-out / bike-in and right next to the pros which was pretty cool.

Chattanooga is a very nice race venue. The city and surrounding area are beautiful and very scenic. Unlike the Florida panhandle, however, it is very hilly.

Instead of a hotel I was lucky enough to borrow this super-cool camper / tent / trailer from the Felkers – Shanna and Josh are the parents of Madison who is on Caleb and Joe’s tri team.

From a tiny trailer, the SylvanSport GO unpacks into a good sized soft-sided camper. I really wish I had a full picture of it expanded.

I was able to keep all of my packing boxes and gear on one side with my bike and still have plenty of room to move around and sleep on the other side.

I got to transition on Sunday morning and was loading up my nutrition and laying out my gear only to notice my back tire was flat. 😦 With only one spare set up with an extender I popped my wheel off and carried it down to the tech tent. They were able to reposition my extender on one of my other tubes and pumped me back up.

Huge thanks to the techs! And, this is why I try to get to transition as early as possible!

My bike, by the way, was my 50th birthday present from my mother. By buying some of the larger components second hand I was able to economically assemble a pretty kick-ass bike. And by economically I mean only a little more expensive than the first car I bought myself.

The frame is a Specialized Shiv I bought locally. I probably paid too much there. The wheels I bought used from Raceday Wheels a Zipp 808 / 404 combo. The front-end is a Profile Designs Aeria Ultimate with the Aeria Hydration system. For a half-distance race or shorter I can store all my fuel in the internal “Fuelselage”, preload the Aeria with water and pick up on-course water for refills. In this race I grabbed one water bottle which I loaded into the fuelselage after drinking down some of my fuel and barely touched the Aeria supply.

From the race village we were bussed to the swim start. I felt a little guilty sitting in that bus carrying my wetsuit and already covered in spray-lube. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one, so some Chattanooga kids are going to be slip-sliding to school this week.

Once at the swim start the port-a-potty lines weren’t too bad. I think I’ve mastered getting my wetsuit on. Patience is the key.

The swim was originally laid out as a 200 yard upriver swim with a turn to complete the 1.2 miles. The pros got to do that, but they shortened it for the “age-groupers”. I am probably one of a small minority who was disappointed by this. I was looking forward to testing myself against my only other 70.3 finish in Florida last April.

I definitely think it would have been really hard and that weaker swimmers might not have made it so I totally get cutting the swim. In fact, the pro men took almost 5 minutes to reach the turn which would be around 2:30 per hundred — I would expect at race pace they would be swimming closer to 1:00 / hundred.

That said, I’ve heard the race directors are frequently cutting this swim and I think there may need to be better contingency planning to allow a full distance swim.

So, a shortened swim, downriver, meant crazy short swim times for all but the pros. My time was around 19 minutes and the fastest in my age group was 15ish.

They say you don’t win a triathlon in the swim but you can definitely lose one and I almost did that here.

My swim was exceptional – best ever. 🙂 Under 1:30 per 100. Crazy!

I did however suffer on the bike and run 😦

I was pumped for the swim. It took so long to get in that I was sweating under my swim cap. My new wetsuit was great. Incredibly comfortable and just the right combination of buoyancy and suppleness.

And then, we were supposed to have jumped in feet first but adrenaline got the better of me and I reflexively dived. Oops 🙂

I went out really hard on the swim feeling really good. My hope was that I would find a pack to swim with to take advantage of the draft. The nature of the river swim and the self-seeding made it hard to be near anyone and when I did find someone’s feet they were usually going slower than me.

Toward the end of the swim I realized I’d pushed a little too hard and had a mini-panic attack. I was able to reel myself in, get my breathing back in order and finish well. That said, a little more restraint at the start would likely have made for a better overall race.

I saw quite a few people backstroking and breast stroking and thought about Coach Dave talking about resting while swimming and I did that. It was good advice and, especially when wearing a wetsuit, you really can just take it easy for a bit to recover.

I way overcooked it, as you can tell from my heart rate below. My intended max effort on a race like this is 140 BPM. On the swim I averaged 145 with a peak of 151 right at the point I had to chill.

For context, 150 is redline for me. If I hit that in a workout for any extended period the rest of the workout suffers. In prior long-course swims I’ve been super-careful to not even breathe heavy so going out hard and having greater comfort in the water may have made me overconfident.

Overall I had a PR of more than 50 minutes on my only other 70.3 but with a shorter swim, downriver, it’s hard to compare and I know I could have done better on the bike and run had I not gone out so hard on the swim.

Given the nature of different venues it’s impossible to look at times to see improvement. It is possible to look at your relative improvement.

Using OBSTri it looks like my Chattanooga swim I was in the 42nd percentile compared to Florida 70.3 where I was in the 86th. A HUGE improvement on the swim.

Overall improvement was very small .7% (84% in Chattanooga, 84.7 in Florida).

I cannot give enough credit to the Tower26 swim program. Talk about a deal-maker. I am such a different swimmer than I as a year ago.

My transition was acceptable though by that time, having cooked my lungs going too hard on the swim I was having trouble getting it together.

The wetsuit peelers are fabulous – my first time getting peeled. Talk about a funny experience. You get your wetsuit below your waist and then flop down on your back and they tear your suit off. Thankfully I’d pulled it down far enough and the young lady who did mine did a good job of not tearing anything on my brand-new Roka Maverick suit.

I got on the bike pretty quickly so as not to give myself time to wallow in my asthma. And then I realized like a dumbass when I put my shoes on my bike I didn’t open up the velcro straps. So I had to both undo the straps, and try to slip my feet in. All things said I am a big believer in leaving your shoes on the bike. Nothing looks less fun to me than the folks jogging in bike shoes through transition.

Overall, despite my overzealous swim my bike time was a few minutes faster than Florida 70.3 on – I think – a MUCH tougher course.

This is a tough bike course for a flatlander like me. Clearly I need more hilly rides in my training schedule. The rollers were nice – easy up, hammer down so you definitely didn’t get bored.

At a little past mile 25 you hit Andrews Lane. I’m renaming Andrews Lane Mt. Mother*** you’ll understand if you went to boot camp in San Diego (Marines not Navy).

To make the point clearer, at the top of Andrews Lane is an honest to goodness cemetery. And by the time I got there I was huffing and puffing and ready to fall over.

There was a nice sweeping downhill for about a mile after the Andrews Ln. hill which was a really nice break.

I thought it was supposed to be all downhill with a tailwind after Andrews Ln. There was a lot of good downhill but there is also a lot of good headwind so some of those places where we should have been going 25-30 miles an hour we were going 15-18.

I averaged a little under 17.5 mph on the bike with a few periods where I got startlingly close to 40 (literally 39.9 mph) on some of the downhills — I guess that extra body mass is good for something.

I had a good flying dismount on the bike, and then transitioned to run OK.

The beginning of the run was the worst. I could feel the damage that I’ve done to my lungs on the swim most at the beginning of the run and overall my run was abysmal.

Again heart-rate tells the tale.

I decided to put on socks for the run which I hadn’t worn on the bike and I was pretty glad I did. Not that there were any problems, but I think that was more comfortable. And given the way my second toe on my left foot felt Monday I think those downhills on the run were causing a fair amount of friction.

My nutrition was great I used Infinit with a little bit of protein on the bike and without protein on the run I didn’t need any additional nutrition at all. Nearer the end of the run I did take on some Gatorade and some Coke just for enjoyment and caffeine.

There were definitely times on the run where I needed some positive self talk. I reminded myself that my heart rate wasn’t that high and nothing really hurt that badly. My “positive” self-talk is still a little too self-berating and I think may need some work.

I say nothing hurt, but I did have a funny cramp in my right quad near the knee at about mile one that made me stop to rub it and walk a bit. This was the first time I’ve ever had a muscle cramp on a run. It wasn’t like anything that I’ve had before and it went away after another quarter mile or so.

There were definitely times on the run that I found myself wimping out. I would look at my heart rate on my watch getting down into the warmup range and I would think about the fact that after the cramp nothing really hurt and I would goad myself into running again.

I think the key is never allowing myself to walk outside of water stops and big hills. Once I start stopping it becomes easier to just take it easy. If I can struggle through the first couple miles I can then get my act together and should be able to sustain. I found this in the full Ironman as well. It was nice and comfortable to be walking but there was no reason other than comfort. I could have gone harder if I my mind was tougher.

I was feeling OK, not great, about this performance until I started to compare it to my 70.3 in Florida last year. Yes, this was 55 minutes faster And it was much hillier.

Thinking back to Florida I couldn’t, at that time, have imagined more hills, but Chattanooga definitely has more hills.

The swim was a huge improvement and I only wish it had been the full distance. The bike and run were marginal improvements at best and don’t reflect my best work by any means.

I wish I had a good solution for my breathing problems. Once I lose control of my breathing it takes forever to get it back.

I suppose I should make more frequent appointments with my doctors. I can see how this seems obvious as a heart patient. That said, so much to do, so little time.

One thing about this race which is a real problem that I hope the race directors are aware of is that the roads are partially open. There were a number of instances where there were vehicles on course with us that either we had to pass or that we had to share a lane with which is very scary in the aero bars. I believe there was even one wreck which I would attribute to a vehicle being in the lane and the rider trying to art to avoid them.

In the group I was riding around most of the day, we actually had to pass a moving truck by going into the oncoming lane.

So how would I read my performance on this one? It was a C+. I know what a problem my breathing is and I still went out too hard on the swim. I got a little bit cocky and I didn’t have enough swims prior to the race in my new wetsuit to be completely comfortable. That affected the rest of my day and I think negatively impacted both the bike and the run.

I also have work to do on mental toughness. On the run I caught myself wimping out. And while I was able to talk myself back into running, I would like to think that I had another 10 to 20 minutes in the run that I could have pushed through if I were a little bit more mentally tough.

I don’t want to sound complain-y by any means. It is a true blessing to be able to do this. Ironman has been a dream of mine since my 20s and I’m lucky to have the health, freedom and support to be able to do it.

It’s a process. I value the process. If I stick with it long enough I’ll get good at it.

And even if I don’t, I enjoy the work.

Til next time.

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