My Biggest Takeaways from Ironman Chattanooga 2019
1) I’m grateful! I have a body that allows me to push myself and do this sport that I love at a high level.
2) I’m thankful! For friends and all the support from so many that give me the inspiration to keep performing at my best.
3) Slow down at aid stations! 😊
4) Any race at any level requires a rock-solid mindset! We need (I need) to work that muscle in training as much we work our physical muscles.
5) I know that I, and you, can accomplish anything we set our mind too!
My Review of Ironman Chattanooga
Sunday, September 22nd – One Week Until Ironman Chattanooga
I woke up with a sore throat exactly one week out from Ironman Chattanooga!! It definitely was concerning but, I tried to continue to focus on my training so I put my running gear on and headed into downtown Charleston for a 12 mile run that was on my schedule for the day.
Over the next few days I spent a lot of time throwing everything I could think of to fight this cold off. I was bound and determined it was not going to take a hold of me and ruin my race!
Cold Remedy Rundown:
Warm lemon water
Warm lemon water with fresh ginger and mint
Neti-pot nasal wash, twice a day
Oranges (peel and all)
My goal was to stay away from any prescribed or over the counter medication. I was one week away from race day and didn’t want to chance any side effects especially anything messing with my gut health, this close to the race – I couldn’t afford those issues.
As the week progressed it did slowly get better, but I still had a slight cough even going into race day. Honestly though, I don’t feel like it affected my race performance at all.
Thursday, September 26th – Travel Day!
Kathleen and I packed up and hit the road for our 7 hour car ride to Chattanooga early Thursday morning.
We arrived at our AirBnB around 4pm, I helped unpack the car then met up with my TriMarni friend Mike Braylark for a short 3-mile shakeout run.
Dinnertime rolled around and we made our way to Melanie’s place. We were super fortunate to met up with another TriMarni athlete Melanie Ziarko. She prepared a great meal for all of us and as we sat around the table you could feel the excitement building as we shared our goals for the weekend race.
2 am Friday Morning
ANTS! We had an invasion of ants, they were all over my side of the bed! I felt itchy so I made my way to the bathroom half asleep. I turned on the light and found that I had been bit in 5 or 6 places on my body and even had the welts to prove it. Now wide awake, we thought about what to do, eventually we decided to move the bed away from the wall and tried to get back to sleep. Needless to say…we both just laid there for a long time waiting for the next bite. 😊
Friday, September 27th – Bike Day!
Mike and I planned a trip to the top of the 2 loop bike course. We dropped Mike’s car off in Chickamauga and Kathleen drove us to the top of the loop. As we were driving I regretted not changing out my gear cassette to a 28. I had decided to leave my 25 on, NOT SMART. Those hills were short and punchy, I was a little concerned about what that was going to do to my legs. All I knew was I needed to make sure my legs were feeling good for the 26.2 mile run on race day.
We started on our journey to Chickamauga, at this point the course was mostly downhill with some inclines. It was a gorgeous morning for a ride. The course was beautiful and the scenery amazing. We kept the effort very light. It took us a little over an hour to travel the 23.5 miles to Mike’s car.
I rode enough of the course to know I needed to get a 28 cassette on my bike pronto! Once we got to Chickamauga we hopped in Mike’s car and drove straight to the Trek bike shop where I promptly bought a 28 cassette and had them install it on my bike asap. It was a welcome relief to know that I wouldn’t be burning all my matches on those hills.
After a shower and some lunch, we headed down to the Ironman Chattanooga Expo to pick up my packet and check out the booths and all they had to offer the athletes.
In the couple of days before race day I had two goals:
1) stay out of the sun and heat as much as possible
2) stay off my feet as much as possible
As the afternoon pressed on, we headed back to our place to host dinner for Mike and Melanie this time. After dinner I started organizing all of my stuff, getting my numbers on my bike and helmet and sorting out what would be in each race bag all the while trying to get to bed early and hoping for a good nights sleep!
Saturday, September 27th – Pre-Race Workout and One More Sleep Before Race Day!
I started my day with a 10 mile easy bike and 1.5 mile run. I met up with Mike afterwards, we made our way to the other side of the river where there’s a public swim area. We wanted to hop in and get a feel for the current and that we did. We swam for 20 minutes, the current was pretty swift where we were. It took us 15 minutes to swim against the current and it took us only 5 minutes to get back. This was a nice workout to keep the body moving before race day.
The next goal for the day, meet the bike and bag check-in cut off at 3pm. Mike and I headed back to our places, grabbed a bite to eat and then headed down to transition with our bikes and bags in tow. I really started to feel excited racking my bike and laying out my bags. I tried to get a feel for where everything was in transition, so I knew exactly where to go.
Sunday, September 29th – Race Day!
Kathleen and I got up around 4am. First things first – I put my race kit on and started fueling for the day.
Weather report for Sunday, HOT and HUMID! I decided to freeze all my nutrition bottles the night before except for the one I was putting in my aero bottle and I was glad I did.
Before heading down to transition I took some time to relax and do some meditating. My goal was to relax my mind and try to get my mindset where it needed to be. Right before heading out the door I had Kathleen write a few inspiring words on my arms. Anything to get the motivation flowing if I needed it (and apparently, I did!).
Mike met us at the condo around 4:45am and the three of us made our way down to transition. It was early BUT I like arriving early so I’m not feeling rushed and frantic on race morning. It’s important to me to stay calm and relaxed.
I dropped off my special needs bags for the bike and the run. I knew I would need extra nutrition for this hot and humid day.
In my bike special needs bag I had 2 frozen 24 oz bottles with Gatorade both mixed with 2 scoops of Carbo Pro.
In my run special needs bag I had 2 frozen 10 oz flasks; both had 2 GU packets dissolved in water. Next I found my bike and run bags. I put two 5 oz. bottles with dissolved GUs in my bike bag and two more 10 oz. bottles with dissolved GUs in my run bag.
Transition tip – I brought orange duct tape with me to transition. I placed a small strip of tape where my bike and run bags were and I also placed a small amount of tape on my gear shifters on my bike. This really helped me locate my bags and bike without wasting a lot of time.
Kathleen, Mike and I loaded up on the buses and hitched a ride to the swim start around 6am. Once there, we stopped for a quick bathroom break, then headed over to the lineup area.
This was a self-seeded swim start meaning you lineup up where you think your swim time will be at the end of the 2.4 miles. I lined up at the back of the under 1 hour line. The last time I raced Ironman Chattanooga my swim time was 1:07:26. My goal was to beat that time.
While we waited for the gun to go off for the age group athletes at 7:30am, Mike and I just tried to stay loose and relaxed. I did my best to think about and visualize how I wanted my day to go, how I wanted it to play out. I was feeling grateful to be back here again, racing for a spot at Kona.
It was exciting and I was ready to get the day started!
Ironman Chattanooga: SWIM
The line started moving, slowly, putting one foot in front of the other I made my way down to the dock. It was a rolling start and 5 athletes jumped off the dock at the same time. It didn’t take long and I was standing there ready to jump in.
I felt good, I tried to stay relaxed. I even drafted off a few athletes as they passed me by. As I reached the halfway point, I glanced at my watch and it read 35 minutes. I immediately thought that will put me in at 1:10! I tried to pick up the pace knowing I was behind where I wanted to be.
Final Swim Time: 1:07:19
As I exited the swim area I started my jog up the hill into transition. My mind was definitely on my swim time but I tried to not get to stressed out about it and just focus on getting to my bike as quickly as possible. Boom! I could see exactly where my bike was (thanks to the orange duct tape) as soon as I entered the bike area.
Transition Time: 4:10 minutes from exiting the swim to mounting my bike.
Ironman Chattanooga: BIKE
The first few miles of the bike course are in town, this was an opportunity to find my legs and get into a rhythm. But first, the railroad tracks! I crossed the first set of tracks…POP, there went my left bottle straight out of its holder. But luckily someone was standing there, they grabbed it and I did a quick stop to secure it back in. Remember, nutrition was everything this race.
As I approached the next set of tracks I held it in place. Lesson learned, I had never ridden with this bottle before (always ride with what you know), it forced me to quickly drink it and put as much as I could in my aero bottle so I didn’t have to think about losing it again.
After getting that all worked out I started my ascend up the bike course. Because I had left my heart rate monitor at home (DANG IT!) I was forced to really stay in tune with my body that day, periodically checking in with my breathing and how my body felt overall. I made sure to slow down at the aid stations and grab water and a banana to keep up with my hydration and fuel. The first loop felt good!
I made sure to stop at special needs in Chickamauga, it was like they were waiting on me to arrive. I grabbed my two bike bottles, to my surprise they were still a little frozen, YES! It was so nice to have something cold to drink.
Because I had stopped at special needs several athletes had past me. As I began the second loop, my goal was to catch them. I could see them, I pushed the pace and it wasn’t long before I was right behind them (legal distance of course). 😊
Over the next 20 miles it was just about staying within myself. Around mile 70 I was feeling good and decided to start pushing the pace. As I passed one of the athletes I said, “I’ll take the lead for a while”, he said “that would be great”. I continued to push and after a while I looked around and I was all alone. I’d broken free from the group and was riding strong.
Before long I was at the top of the loop and started the downhill decent. Again, feeling good I just kept the pressure on the pedals.
On my decent, around mile 85 I noticed an aid station. I decided to slow down for some water, as I approached the first person, I tried to grab the bottle and missed it. As I looked back, over my shoulder, my front wheel veered to the left and next thing I knew I was flying over my aerobars! I remember feeling my right shoulder and hip hit the ground and, as I skidded to a stop, my left calf seized up.
Laying there for a few seconds, I tried to figure out if anything was hurt and if so how bad was it? I heard someone yelling “HELP HIM!”. I slowly got to my knees and hit the ground with my fist, upset with myself for this rookie mistake, I was going too fast as I approached the aid station and knew it was totally my fault.
Before I left, I did get that water! I gave my bike a quick once over, spun the tires, got back on my bike and continued on. As I started riding, I knew my shoulder and hip weren’t in the best shape. I sat up and moved my arm back and forth to see how much pain there was. It hurt but I didn’t think anything was broken.
My mind was racing with ALL the thoughts.
I tried to take it all in and mainly stay focused. I reached back to grab my water bottle but it hurt too much to grab it so I switched everything to the left side to keep hydrating. After a few miles of riding, the athletes I left in the dust had passed me. I let them go and tried to keep power on the pedals and keep moving closer to transition. I passed Chickamauga and started up the last steep hill on the course, from there it was a nice decent back to highway 193 where I made the turn back to transition.
Final Bike Time: 5:31:18 – average 20.93 mph
This was my chance to evaluate my body and decide if I could run.
I slowly dismounted my bike, handed it off and as I did the volunteer told me I was in 6th place in my age group. GREAT! I just didn’t know if I could run, and if I could was I going to be able to make up enough time to grab a spot at Kona.
I purposefully took my time, I didn’t run, I walked to my run bag and headed into the changing tent. It took me a while to get my stuff laid out and my shoes on. My shoulder was hurting, I had to have help getting my flasks with hydration into the pockets of my shorts.
Transition Time: 6:02 minutes from the time I dismounted my bike and started the run.
Ironman Chattanooga: RUN
As I exited the changing tent I started to jog, I wanted to assess how I felt. The pain was there but it seemed manageable, so I continued on. Before heading down the ramp towards the water I saw Kathleen, I stopped and let her know what had happened. I was emotional, not knowing how badly I was hurt, I told her I would try to run and just play it by ear. I won’t lie, it was devastating to know that my run (my strongest leg of the race) might be affected by my bike crash.
The first few miles were all about checking in with my body as I attempted to run. My pace for the first five miles were as follows: 8:25, 7:27, 7:44, 8:14, 8:56. Mile 6 was 10:20 then 11:32. Something was happening that had never happened to me in any marathon, triathlon or standalone race…I…was…walking and walking a lot! I wasn’t in great shape physically or mentally and knew it. From here on out it was truly a mental battle just to stay in the game and keep going.
I had basically settled on walking the rest of the marathon if I had to, telling myself it just wasn’t meant to be, this isn’t my race, it’s not my day. My mindset was breaking down and the trash talk was starting.
As I was coming up to mile 8, I saw Kathleen. She told me I was in 5th place, WHAT?!?! I couldn’t believe it, I had walked so much through aid stations, in-between aid stations, how could this be true? Next, I was crossing the Veteran’s Bridge, making my way across the Tennessee River to the toughest part of the course, Barton Avenue.
Barton Avenue is a long uphill climb that breaks most athletes, it almost broke me. Clocking in at my slowest mile for the whole marathon a 12:17 pace. Always a challenge at Chattanooga I could look forward to a few more nice hills over the next 4 miles knowing I would struggle to keep my pace around 10 or 11 minute miles.
As I came to the Walnut Street Bridge and started making my way back across the Tennessee river back to Chattanooga, I was determined, I had made a deal with myself, I was going to do my best to only walk through aid stations for hydration and fuel and ONLY RUN between them.
My pace between miles 14 and 17 were all between an 8:30 and 9 minute mile pace. At mile 18 my left groin area was screaming at me, it was on the verge of seizing up. I couldn’t let that happen, I was getting so close. I decided I had to slow my pace down to a 10 minute mile. As slow as I was going I was still determined to only walk through aid stations not in-between them.
I finally saw Kathleen around mile 20, she told me I was in 3rd place! I could hardly believe it. After the day I was having, I could hardly believe that I might, just might be able to still grab a spot at Kona.
I was making my way across the Veteran’s Bridge for the last time and back to the toughest part of the course, Barton’s Avenue. I was determined to give it my best effort those last 6 miles. Miles 20, 21, 22 were all right at a 10:30 – 10:45 minute pace. As I entered mile 23 and crested the top of Barton’s Avenue my pace was 10:08. After this I just went for broke, I let loose (as much as I could) and hoped my body would stay together and it would’t seize up. Mile 24 I was running a 9:39 pace, mile 25 I was running a 9:06 pace AND mile 26 was I WAS RUNNING A 8:39 pace!
I took that last turn and could see the Ironman Chattanooga finish line, there it was! Coming down the chute I saw Kathleen out of the corner of my eye and ran towards her for a high 5. The emotions were definitely building. I felt so proud of my day even though it wasn’t the day I had visualized that morning or the day I wanted. I did everything I could to put my arms in the air and held them up until I crossed that finish line.
It was an amazing feeling crossing this finish line!!
Final Run Time: 4:14:03; average 9:38 mile pace
I found Kathleen, we gave each other a BIG hug and then I walked over to the medical tent to get checked over. They cleaned out my road rash, bandaged me up, did some physical tests and gave me their opinion. It didn’t appear to them that I had anything broken but just deep bruising and some possible ligament damage. Whew!
Final Numbers for Ironman Chattanooga 2019:
Swim: 1:07:19 – 24th fastest in age group
Bike: 5:31:18 – 3rd fastest in age group
Run: 4:14:03 – 3rd fastest in age group
Monday, September 30th – Awards Ceremony!
Feeling anxious and hoping for 3 spots in my age group, we headed down to the awards ceremony for the verdict…would I be going to the World Championships in Kona? Awards went to the first 5 athletes in my age group. After a hard fought race it was nice to be on the podium to receive my 3rd place finish award.
Unfortunately, my age group only had 2 slots going to Kona. I won’t lie, it certainly hurt, it was disappointing to learn the news, but I’m holding my head high and I’m very proud of my performance.
It wasn’t my best time by a long shot, but I’ll remember this one for a long time. It was a battle of my body and my mind out there on race day. I refused to give up and kept pushing in spite of the major challenges that were against me.
I’ll be back to try again someday and will be back to Kona just not in 2020.
To my Sweetness Kathleen. THANK YOU for ALL you do for me and your amazing support as I do this crazy sport of Triathlon! Love you! xoxo
I certainly want to thank everyone that followed me not only at Ironman Chattanooga but also my 2019 race season. I have so much to be thankful and grateful for.
UNLOCK YOUR ATHLETIC POTENTIAL
MEET YOUR POWER TEAM
Dietitian Kathleen and Kona-Qualifier Don Oswalt
Welcome to Eat Love Triathlon! We’re Don and Kathleen your go-to dietitian and triathlete. Together, we’re here to share our latest and greatest tips, with you, on how to be a well-balanced triathlete with nutrition, triathlon and keeping harmony in your relationships. We’re excited you’ve stopped by, happy reading and don’t be shy about reaching out. We’d love to hear from you!