Chattanooga. I had actually never heard of it before the city hosted the Ironman 70.3 World Championship. Well, I was very pleasantly surprised ! Lots to offer: very good restaurants (Whitebird, Public House, Bridgeman’s Chopehouse), lots to do for the kids (Aquarium, Kids museum, playgrounds with water) and for adults (climbing, hiking on Lookout mountain) as well as some natural wonders (Ruby Falls, Rock City). So our days prior to the race where very busy!
Arrived late at the Read House hotel downtown, a beautiful historical hotel totally renovated and one mile from transition and the Ironman Village.
After picking up my bib on Thursday and attending race briefing, I grabbed pasta at Tony’s Trattoria in the historical Bluff View Art district. Don’t miss the Calder sculpture in front of the art museum. Bought some food for the bike session (Italian sandwich – which will prove to be an excellent choice to refuel mid-race) from Wholefoods near beautiful Renaissance Park.
Temperature was hot hot hot (36 celsius, 96 fahrenheit) – I decided to use my Kona-style gear for the race (De Soto skin cooler and arm coolers). No wetsuit of course.
Race forecast was 95 degrees + so race organizers announced that “cooling buses” would be put in service during the tun.eseentialy, if you overheat, you can spend 15mns in an air conditioned bus. Not sure if that is the spirit of the Ironman but still it gave some insight on the race conditions expected!
On Saturday, we set out to explore Ruby Falls, an underground fall inside a cave with interesting geological formation. After a great lunch at Whitebird (with great views on Chestnut street Bridge, which will be an highlight of the run section the following day), we set out to explore Rock City on Lookout Mountain. Very interesting rock formation and views across seven states (Tennessee, Georgia, N and A Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky, W Virginia), but unfortunately transformed into a touristy, commercial venue.
Once bike was checked-in and gear bags dropped, we set out for early dinner at Public house, on Warehouse Row, a fancy shopping area. But not before seeing the famous Chattanooga Choo Choo (if you don’t know the song and the place, I let you google it …).
Sunday, Race day. Wake up at 5am, left hotel at 5.15am after two “pro bar meal” bars, one redbull can and one kind bar (good breakfast choice), grabbed a lift from racers met in the elevator, and was in transition around 5.20am. Amble time to put water in my Ventum reservoir, one bottle of High-5 that I will lose at mile 2, and Wholefoods waffles as solid calories for the ride. Special needs bike bag was dropped with two sandwiches and one Java up coffee moka bar as well as an extra tube(CO2 cartridge, and for the run, some cheese (in case I would crave salt, not used), vaseline and a “hot shot” energy drink.
Shuttles then efficiently brought house to the swim start, where I had a one hour wait before the “seeded” swim start (10 athletes every 5 seconds). 7.30am was the official AG start (pros left at 7.20) – I jumped off the barge into the Tennessee river at 7.40am. Swim felt good, strong up to 2/3 mark. Then I started to fade away… the problem with the seeded start is that very quickly you swim alone compared to a mass start (which I prefer). Psychologically and physically more demanding. Towards the end of ths swim, the landmarks (4 consecutive bridges) gave some sense of movement, and I happily exited the swim in 1hr03mns.
Hot hot hot. I took some time to get sun protection with a sleeved top and arm coolers given the super high temperature. First hour on the bike felt quite slow, and the road was bad, so I was not confident. Still it felt super easy do I pushed the pace. The seeded swim start made it such that honestly we were all very far apart, so I biked by feel, passing a lot of people (which is usually a sign you’re going to fast and will blow up later). I started to pick a good speed average with limited effort so kept pushing harder. Nutrition was getting in easily, I had water + my waffles. All good.
At mid mark I felt happy with my time and grabbed jy sandwiches. Devoured them, which is quite rare as I usually have stomach problems at that point. So it was a good sign and I focused to keep the lace despite having the feeling of biking alone. Second loop was not that bad psychologically and my riding position on my Ventum bike was great – no back pain at all. ISM saddle worked wonders are well. For a first race with this bike, I was very happy. Going back into town, I felt alone.
I reached transition i 5hr 40mns, but given that this course has 4 extra miles, it is a sub 5hr30mn bike ride in hot conditions on a hilly course. I was happy. Transition area was quite empty when I dropped my bike in the hands of super organized volunteers.
The run felt hot, and it was hot. So opening 3kms was in blazing sun, so I knew I would have to use my kona tactics to cool down: ice ice ice. I started fast, with few runners in front of me to pace me, and kost of them walking … already ! The first 8jms had no shade so I had several cups of ice being dropped in my tri top at each aid station, and I made sure I was leaving each time with both hands full of ice as well. Works wonders for me. I started to fuel on coke only, maybe with a cup of gatorade once in a while. I started to feel bloated a little bit so skipped some refueling opportunities, but it went away and I focused on my strategy. Don’t walk, never run a km below 5.50mns including aid stations, and at eqch stop: ice in tri top, iced water on neck and face, drink coke, get more cold water on cap, get ice in both hands, move. Aid stations were very close, so it felt on one hand easy (oh! Another aid station) but I can be a time sucker.
Then we crossed the bridge. Then that huge hill awaited me and I was not ready psychologically. Steep. Hot. Volunteers cheering. I powered through it, went down the other side, and felt into a dark place for 3 miles or so in this remote part of the course. This is when Ironman gets tought. You still have 24s to go. Your pace slows. You know it will be ugly for the next 90mns until you can “smell” thr finish line with 8kms or so to go.
Ultimately I loop back on the hill, push it super hard passing lots of folks, and finally reach Chestnut St bridge, the iconic pedestrian bridge st the end of which lies the half-marathon mark, and my supporters. It frels good. Cheering. Noise. Less than half the run remaining. I can do it.
Second half is pretty much the same but slower. I am confident about my cooling strategy, even if aid stations are getting crowded now. You have to grab all you can at aid stations and not be influenced by the pace of slower runners in their first lap.
Once I reach km32, confidence comes back. I hammer the bridge (relatively speaking) and push super hard the hill up, and down. This is horrible in terms of pain, yet knowing you maintain pace and might be able to finish strong feels good. Weird mixed feelings. As I come down hill and see the bridge 1km away, I think about all the heat training, the long bike rides, and the two-week time off leading to the race – a good plan after all, although I had doubt until the day before.
And in super hot conditions, with a wetsuit-less swim, a hilly bike, and a hot hot hot hilly run, I enter the finishing chute in 10 hours 50mns. Happy. Exhausted.
Ironman #20 in the books!