LEADING UP TO RACE DAY
There’s so much to share I almost don’t know where to start. The Ironman journey was nearly a year in the making. Once I signed up in the fall of 2014, I kicked off training in January 2015. I didn’t have the funds to hire a coach, so I opted to go it alone when it came to training. I gathered training plans from my roll teammate Dawn (a 7 time Ironman finisher), one from the Ironman site, one from Aaron Schrein (my former run club coach), and I kind of combined them all together – then promptly stopped looking at them. Yes, I admit, I had no training plan. Well, I had a plan – I just didn’t pay much attention to it. Because I work in fitness, my weeks were filled with teaching and attending classes, so I hoped that would do most of the work for me. Luckily it all worked, but there were some initial nerves going into this event! I didn’t have the miles under my belt that many others did, and I was relying on very different training – shorter bursts of intervals, strength training, and lots of short/fast rides rather than long rides. I also didn’t swim much at all. A lot of things could go wrong. ::sigh::
Now to the event weekend…….I met my roll: racing teammates Gena, Michelle, Matt, and Siobhan at the Briggs’ residence on Thursday morning before the race. We loaded our gear up into two different cars and made the way to Chattanooga. Easy trip in, and we were at the rental house in Lookout Mountain, GA around 7pm. The house was absolutely beautiful, and we had plenty of space. I was initially worried that being away from downtown Chattanooga would be a problem, but in the end, I think having that refuge away from the madness was integral in keeping stress levels low. We all did great together in the house, and staying there will hold a special place in my IMCHOO memories.
Friday was check in – in the rain. Shopping – in the rain. Everything – in the rain. It rained from Thursday through Saturday night without little letup. That’s okay – as we hoped it would increase the flow of the river and drop temps to make the swim wetsuit legal. It just made for a damp several days. We had some meals out – burritos at Mojo Burrito on Thursday night, lunch at a riverfront restaurant on Friday, and I went with Dawn and Paul to a street fair hosted by Outside magazine on Friday night, too, after the Central Ohio IMCHOO get together. Dawn and I split a funnel cake and both ended up sick that evening due to undercooked batter. AWESOME (not good to wake up at 2am with serious GI issues less than 24 hours before race start).
Saturday, Dawn and I were feeling better (thank goodness), and we made our way down to Ironman Village for some random reason (Saturday morning is a blur to me – what the hell did we do that day??), then we headed back up the mountain. My dear friend from grad school, Lauren, and another friend, Brian, drove in from Atlanta to wish me well. I had a nice crying spell in the backyard of the rental house as I hugged my longtime friend who I so dearly miss. Dawn and I decided to get our bags together and drop off bikes down at the Village, so we double checked all the bag contents and headed back down the mountain. We went through the check in process to drop off bikes and bags, then I split off to hang out with Lauren and Brian a bit to show them the Ironman sites and explain the ridiculosity of the whole event. After wandering a bit, Lauren and Brian took me back to the house and said their goodbyes to allow me some time to rest. It was hard to say bye to Lauren, but I was so touched that she and Brian made the trip out to see me.
That evening we had a team dinner at the house – simple and lovely. Pasta, sauce, salad and garlic bread (and wine). I felt so grateful to be going through this experience with so many friends. Being around them all really helped ease my nerves and make this “individual event” feel somewhat like a team endeavor!! Before bed, we put our race tattoos and I was in bed by about 9pm. Before trying to sleep, I read through all the letters, cards, texts and facebook messages from friends far and wide. To say I was overcome by the amount of support is an understatement. I felt like I had the support of SO many people going into IMCHOO – how did I get so lucky? Amazingly enough, sleep came easily, and I was out pretty quickly.
The alarm was ringing at 4:15am, and I was ready to go. I sat up pretty quickly and grabbed my manual breastpump I brought with me. Mira is still nursing, and I wanted to do all I could to preserve my supply even being away for a few days. Therefore, I REALLY had to make sure I pumped before 15+ hours of an athletic event. I pumped about ten minutes then rolled out of bed, got dressed, grabbed coffee, grabbed bike bottles, went to the bathroom, and I had some toast with peanut butter for breakfast. I got my morning clothes bag in hand, and we all loaded up and headed out shortly after 5am. We dropped off Special Needs bags, checked our bikes, then boarded the bus for the swim start together – all 5 of us. I am so glad we had each other. Having those ladies there for the start was huge in keeping nerves low. We waited for a while in the start line, but honestly time seemed to go by fast. Before we knew it, the line had been split into wetsuit vs non wetsuit (the water temp was high enough to not make wetsuits “legal”), so we donned our suits and stayed to the right. The line started moving, and within a half an hour, we were walking barefoot through the muck on our way to the dock. As I started towards the dock, a volunteer slapped the back of my shoulder and said “Get ready for the best swim of your life” and I thought “heck yeah – let’s do it.” All five roll: ladies all made our way to the dock, and I clamped my nose with two fingers and took a flying leap into the river as I said “weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”. GAME. ON.
SWIM – 2.4 miles
The water temp was great. I don’t recall needing any time to adapt to the water temp – it just felt comfortable right away – especially in the wetsuit. Open water swimming (let’s be honest – swimming in general) is not my favorite, so it always takes a bit to get warmed up. I knew the swim would be three main parts – getting to the island, swimming the length of the island, then three bridges. Divide it into thirds, and just swim that part. In the beginning, I would sight ahead and say “make it just past the yellow kayak, then you can rest; now, the blue; now, the green.” Eventually, I was making the goals further away – the boat on the left, oh hey – THE ISLAND! Before I knew it, I had found a good rhythm. I breathed to the right every other stroke, and I had my own swim space. I had a dude that kept smacking me for a while, but after I stopped to breaststroke for a bit, he moved away. Traffic started to get heavier as we made our way around the island, so I had to jockey for space a bit. I kept my pacing though and just kept swimming. All of a sudden, I looked up and saw a bridge! Already to part 3! Three bridges, then exit left. It felt like it took a while to get to bridge one, then to bridge two, but there I was finally at bridge 3 and I knew the exit was coming. I saw that red buoy and the stairs. It didn’t feel like I had been in the water long at all. I knew coming in that I had an awesome swim. Indeed, I had! I highly recommend this swim for folks not that crazy about open water swims – having the current helps weaker swimmers, and the water quality and visibility seemed pretty reasonable. Great experience and a confidence booster for future OWS!
TIME: 1 hour 7 minutes for 2.4 miles (1:44/100m)
T1: Swim to Bike
Because the swim was so fast for so many, the changing tent was packed when I got in there with my T1 bag. I had heard volunteer support was great in the tents, but because there were so many people, I didn’t have anyone to help me. No worries – I got this. Until I put on my bib shorts backwards and had a leg through an arm hole. BREATHE. Slow down, sit down, get your clothes on right. I looked up and saw Michelle D, one of my teammates, in the tent too. I knew Michelle was a strong swimmer this year, so I was pumped to be in the tent the same time as her! I got her attention and said hi! A volunteer rushed over and asked if I needed help. By then, I was starting to get my shit together. Finally got my bibs on, left my sports bra on from the swim, and I put on my roll: cycling jersey. Grabbed my glasses, put on my helmet and shoes, and I was off.
BIKE – 116 miles
Here’s my basic thoughts on the bike course – absolutely beautiful, kind of hilly but not bad (riding in Granville is great to prep for mildly hilly rides like this), and absolutely beautiful. Did I say that already? Amazingly enough – even though the bike course takes the majority of time in the race – I don’t have a ton to share here! I was warned by others to not take the first loop too fast. I had also heard the mantra “If you have a fast bike, you will have a crap run.” I knew I could shine more on the run, so I decided to conserve a bit for that. I never went all out, but I tried to keep the speed in the 15mph+ zone as much as possible. I wanted a 16mph average on the bike overall, so that was the only goal I kept in mind.
It seemed like time was in a vacuum a bit on the ride. I looked at my computer once and was shocked to see I had already been on the bike for almost 3 hours. It didn’t feel like that at all. I felt good, and I was really enjoying myself. Between HEED for my drink, BASE Salts every 10-12 miles, and a Shot Block every 10-12 miles, I felt nutrition was spot on. When I hit special needs in Chickimagua, I didn’t really want to stop, but I did so I could grab my sandwich and down a few Pringles. I also chugged half a bottle of Coke. I went out pretty quickly because I felt good and just wanted to keep rolling. The climb out of Chickimagua seemed like it would never end, and I was glad to get started on the second loop.
Around Mile 90, I started to get excited because I thought 90 seemed close to 100, and 100 seemed close to 116. Then I started to do the math and realized that 26 miles still meant about an hour and a half on the bike. SIGH. I was ready to be done riding at that point. I never wanted to stop – I was just “over” riding. The last 10 miles seemed to take FOREVER. When I finally rolled up on the dismount line, I was super excited to hand over my bike. It was time to hit the strong part of my race – the run.
TIME: 7:37:50, 15.2mph, 116 miles
T2: Bike to Run
By this time, the field had spread, so there was plenty of space in the changing tent, and a volunteer grabbed my bag and sat down on the ground ready to help me get ready. I changed out of my jersey and bib shorts into my roll: tri shorts and my VO2 tri top. There’s no such thing as modesty in the changing tent – which is a bit odd and awesome at the same time. Ha! I had a pic of Mira on a luggage tag from Bryn in my bag, and I gave it a big kiss for some power. Got on my race belt, the volunteer lubed up my underarms with Vaseline, got my shoes on, visor and sunglasses, and I was out. I was excited to run my first marathon!
RUN – 26.2 miles
I had never run a marathon before, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The longest run in training was 17 miles, and that run was a bust due to crap nutrition and hydration. I planned to make this part of the race a success – I knew I had plenty of time to finish before midnight, so I wanted to make the marathon as pleasant an experience as possible.
The first six miles went by FAST. I walked every aid station and a bit in between. I started off counting my steps – for every 500 I ran, I got to walk 100 steps. For every extra 100 steps over 500 I ran, I gave myself an extra 100 steps to walk. This worked REALLY well getting over the mental hurdle of thinking about running a marathon in those early miles. I realized I was feeling pretty good, so I just stopped counting the steps and just ran. It felt good, so why the hell not? I saw Dawn at Mile 4 and her foot was killing her. I had a bag of Advil on me, so I gave her a few in hopes it would help her pain!
Around mile 10 or so, I had a big cup of soda, and I think the bubbles started to make me a bit gassy. My stomach felt distended, so I decided I should probably back off on the soda even if it tasted delish. I saw Gena coming back into town as I was hitting the super hilly part of the course, and she looked great. I gave up any hope of catching her, so I just kept with running my own race. I was eating orange slices at each stop, sometimes some chips or pretzels, Gatorade at one station, then water at the next. I saw Lynne as I was headed back into town from my first loop and she seemed worried about time – I hoped she was doing okay. The half way point was on me, and I was at special needs. I grabbed my bag and realized I needed nothing in it – not the jacket, the bandaids, the wipes – I was feeling great. I stashed a couple bandaids in my pocket just in case, but I was on my second loop pretty fast.
On the second loop I got to see the big blood/harvest moon that was out – that was lovely. I kept running in any flat place I could – I now knew the back 4 miles of the loop were hilly as hell, so if it looked reasonably flat anywhere else, my feet better be moving quick. I realized, too, that I may actually be able to meet my super secret time goal of 15 hours – at this point I knew I would finish, so now I wanted to finish faster.
Several people had told me to prepare for “the wall” to hit around mile 21. I remember passing the “Mile 21” sign and actually looking around and preparing for this wall to jump out and smack me. It never did. Sure, I was tired and my legs were getting achy – but dammit, this is Ironman! It’s supposed to hurt a bit, right? I walked the uphills, ran the downhills, and I was eating ice in between aid stations (and using BASE Salts every couple aid stations). My stomach had recovered from the soda, and I was feeling pretty damn good.
At Mile 24, I ran into Jeanne Bauer, and we hugged and talked quickly about our experience so far. We ran a bit together, then Jeanne sent me on my way – she wanted to walk, and I kept with the run. I knew we were SO close, and I was ready to be done. As I hit the boardwalk bridge, I could hear the announcer saying names and the crowd was cheering. The spectators on the bridge were so encouraging – they were clapping and saying “you look great! Stay strong! You are going to be an Ironman!” I had a huge smile those last two miles. So much so that my cheeks hurt afterwards. As I rounded into town, I thought of Mira and how much I missed her. This is the longest I had ever been apart from her, and I wanted to see my baby girl. I started to well up with tears but pushed them back – this was a celebration. I hoped she would be proud of me once she got bigger and knew about this accomplishment.
It was then I realized I was about to enter the finishers chute – it was a lot longer than I thought it would be. There was a dude in front of me, but I put on the speed and sprinted ahead of him. I now had the whole chute to myself. I high fived a couple folks, then I hit the middle of the chute, put my arms up and sprinted in. I heard “Michelle Newman Brady – YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” I was just thrilled. So thrilled. I’m an Ironman. Wow. Who knew that was even possible?
The day was just amazing - I never wanted to stop the whole day. Never wanted to give up. Sure, I got tired and I was ready to be off the bike at mile 90. But I never had a moment of “oh gosh please let this be over.” I felt strong the majority of the race, and my unorganized training actually served me really, really well. Ironman Chattanooga was an amazing, awesome experience.
TIME: 5:25:13, 12:24/mile
FINAL TIME: 14:28:59
After the finish, I went straight to our team tent, hugged Gena, hugged our team Sherpas, then sat in a chair. Paul had a massage stick, and I went to work on my legs right away. It hurt, but I think it aided in my recovery. We started figuring out where Michelle, Dawn, and Lynne were on the course so we could see them come in. It’s a bit of a blur after that – I stood at the edge of the chute and got to see all of my fellow ladyrollers finish. We hugged, we took pictures. It was ridiculously cool. And surreal.
I slept that night with the medal next to me. When I woke up in the morning, it almost seemed like a dream. A really great dream. Not sure if and when I will do another. This experience was so great, I don’t know how I could top it. I’ll take some time over the next year to get faster at other distances. I’ll probably come back to Ironman at some point, but if I don’t that’s okay too. The experience I had was amazing, so it should hopefully last for a while!!