And suddenly, we were off! Essentially, I warmed up for 90 minutes. We headed out of downtown Chattanooga, through the industrial section, over some tracks and into Georgia. We hit the valley between Lookout Mountain and Chicamauga and the town turned into trees. I kept my heart rate and power low. It felt easy. For the first time ever, I was social and chatty (ha ha get it?) on the bike. I played leap frog with a few of the girls once we got out of town. It was actually fun - it felt like I was out on a training day with a bunch of my friends. Instead of Jen, Maria and Tonya, I made new friends. Kelly, Kimberly and Cathy were my new riding buddies.
At the 24-mile mark, I decided it was time to race. I put tension on the chain and pressed into the ride. I found a great rhythm and started passing women in my age group. I was pleased that it was overcast and cool. I could tell the humidity was high, but the terrain and the temps felt good.
A week before the big day, we had gotten together for a celebratory dinner and I had asked Erin G, for her advice on the race. She has done it several times as the 140.6 and 70.3 and I knew she’d have some tricks up her sleeve. Her main advice: Use the Course. The bike course is hilly: constant rollers with some false flats mixed in. Obi-Wan’s voice came to me just as I started to ease into my day. Use the Force, Luke. I did. I used the downhills to gain speed for the next uphill. I shifted. A lot. I used the downhills to pass. I used the uphills to pedal lightly and sometimes stretch. I watched my bike computer’s elevation grade screen most of the day. It was fun to see 9% or 14% and think: that felt great! I can’t wait to do that one again.
My other mantra/song became that kids tune: Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. It reminded to me to do a constant body check: Head = Positive Thoughts. Shoulders = Posture. Knees = Cadence. Toes = Power. [Eyes = Look at What's in this Mile. Ears = Listen to your Body. Mouth = What are You Saying to Yourself? Nose = to the Grindstone/Get Work Done.]
I had three favorite spots on the course. There’s a section on Hwy 193 that is beautiful. Green hills and trees stretched and rolled for miles off to the right with mountains on the near horizon. I loved downtown Chickamauga. It was SO LOUD! The people seemed four deep and there were cheers and music and so many kids!
I felt strong and happy most of the day. I had one bad patch around mile 70 - just after Chickamauga and just before the start of the second loop - where it felt like the lactic acid had built up in my legs, my back hurt, my hamstring flared up, my feet were on fire! I climbed a steep hill and thought, well, I’m done. I must have screwed up and must be pushing too hard. But, I decided to take a pit stop and remembered I had a pickle pop in my bag of tricks. Game. Changer. I was able to take the same energy into that second loop as I had the first.
I was reenergized by Chickamauga and by seeing Ace at mile 90-ish. The sun came out right after that and I headed back to town. I even felt like I finished strong. Those last 16 miles had moments of getmeoffthisbike, but, I was also passing people after mile 100! The result: the bike of my life. It was close to an 18mph average and a 6:26:52 finish. Boom. Did it!
I hopped off the bike (and by hopped off mean very slowly slung my right leg over the back of Lucinda to dismount) while a volunteer caught Lucinda and took her to the rack. I clippity-clopped through the run bags with Ace running alongside on the other side of the barrier. I don’t know how he cheers, takes pictures, avoids people and curbs and keeps moving all at the same time.
I ducked into the women’s tent, changed shorts, put on my run hat and shoes and headed out. Right out of transition, you pass the finish line. There, headed into his finish was the male pro, Cody Beals. Plus, I got to watch Matt Russell run down Kirill Kotsegarov in the final meters to place second. [The Florida resident was nearly killed during last year's world championship after colliding with a van that pulled onto the course. Russell suffered lacerations to his neck and a severe concussion. Almost a year later, he was back on the podium of an Ironman! [per the Times Free Press]
Right after the finish chute, you head up a hill and onto Riverfront Parkway. That parkway was the bane of my existence. It was a blocked-off freeway that had no shade and no flats. My first mile was okay. I did my dynamics and walked the uphills as planned. On a downhill stretch, I heard Ace coming up behind me on his bike. He was cheering and taking photos and encouraging me.
Did I mention the sun had come out? Way back at mile 99, the sun peeped out from behind the clouds. It was now about 3:30 in the afternoon and it was almost 90 degrees and the humidity was…..humid. I don’t remember the exact stat because my brain was cooking. At the first aid station I drank water and dumped ice into my kit (shorts, bra top, hat) and started my shuffle.
I didn’t get very far. I felt barfy. Every time my heart rate got into the 135+ range, I got a sour stomach. I walked a bit and then ran again. Same thing. What is going on? Ace met me at the top of the hill near the next aid station. I gave him my report.
I ended up walking a lot more than I had anticipated. But, I was strong and consistent. I walked more than I preferred - but when I did, I passed other walkers! The great news is that I wasn't grumpy and pissy like I was at my recent half iron at White Lake. I didn’t feel like quitting. I didn’t get angry. I just tried to figure out how to run a little more during every mile. I did question my triathlon life choices at mile 12 and wondered why I'm so bad at running off the bike and then, I had another pickle pop in my special needs bag. Guess what - it worked again! Which means I need more salt in my life! I used my salts for the next three miles and that probably led to feeling better at mile 16. Plus the sun set and I knew I only had 10 more miles to go. I was able to run a little more on the flats and downs and stride up hills. I passed 10 walkers on Barton on the second loop and 3 more on that dark section across the river.
This run was super challenging and I didn’t love the freeway that seemed to stretch on forever. I loved aid station number three - it was set up like a beach party. There was an emcee that welcomed every runner and encouraged his team to dance and scream and shout. Another one of the aid stations was tucked into a corner. I remember a wooden walkway, a yellow brick road and some Disney characters. On that second lap, it was getting dark and their enthusiasm was exactly what I needed. I headed over the veteran’s bridge for the last time and up the Barton hill. By that time, the fans on that hill were drunk and boisterous. They were high-fiving and knuckle bumping and dancing.
I shuffled down Barton and under the overpass. I passed through a few blocks of town and thought: I am going to run the entire bridge. It was my favorite moment of the run. Along the way, I saw a guitarist on a bench, strumming a bluesy tune I couldn’t recognize and looking out over the blue railing to the water. I got inspired and pretended I was at a concert. I could hear the announcer at the finish and pretended he was announcing me on stage. I had a moment of inspiration and took out my ROKA shades and held them through the loop off the bridge. I waved at James (whose wife Susan was racing) and zeroed in on a girl I had been chasing/leap frogging for HOURS. As we headed down the hill and into the chute, I passed her, threw on my aviators and played a little air guitar at the line!
I finished in 12:29:39. My bike was 6:26:16 and my run was 5:58:04. Despite it being my longest marathon ever, I am pleased that I was consistent through every timing mat. I averaged a 13:40/mile on the hilliest, hottest 26.2 I’ve ever done. Most of all, I maintained a great attitude and learned a lot.
Ironman Florida…….here I come!