In the week leading up to Ironman Chattanooga I, like the rest of the 2500 participants who would be toeing the start line, was keeping an eye on the weather. As the day got closer, the forecast was for record heat and humidity in the Chattanooga Region. I knew this was going to throw a wrench in my game plan. Pacing was going to need to be scaled back to accommodate for the humidity which is foreign to me. Give me dry heat all day long, but humidity is a different beast. It takes its toll on athletes. The bigger the athlete, the more of a toll due to the increased surface area of the skin. I had mentally prepared to suffer, and good thing I did.
The water temp was 83 degrees on race morning. No wetsuit and very warm for a 4K swim. The gun blasted and we took off down the river. I tried to use the slight current to my advantage and save some energy by keeping my strokes long and relaxed. I guess the rest of the professional field didn’t feel the same. I was left in the dust right away. I didn’t let my thoughts turn negative. I kept saying, “Its a long day and these other guys will come back as the day heats up.” I exited the swim in 55 minutes. A good time for an Ironman swim, but compared to the other professionals who swam 45 minutes, it was far off of the pace.
As I pedaled out of transition on my Giant Trinity, I was hoping my legs would have the “pop” they had out of T1 back when I raced Ironman Vineman in July. Not so much! My legs felt like they did at Ironman Australia back in May. I would say they felt “drained” in both instances, and in both instances I swam a warm/hot swim prior to the ride. This is not a good feeling to start 112 miles(116 miles at Chattanooga). The difference here at Chattanooga was that I kept a positive mindset, turned off the power meter, got my nutrition in, and rode off of feel. Back at Ironman Australia I tried to force the power, which never works, and dug myself into a negative hole mentally and physically. About 90 minutes into the ride it felt as if someone turned on the heater. It started to get warm, really warm. I was sure to keep the water coming in frequently and dousing my body with it as much as possible. I was consuming gels, BASE salt, Infinit, and STILL around mile 95 I started to see double. I controlled my effort and cooled off even more so with cold water from the aid stations. I rolled into transition in 4:55. I jumped off the bike and, surprisingly, the legs didn’t feel too bad. My bike pacing off of feel may have worked! To see my bike numbers you can look and my data on Training Peaks here.
I put on my Skechers GoRun 4s and trotted out of transition. The plan was to run the first few miles at a conservative pace, eventually dropping it down to 6:20-6:30 minute per mile pace 4-5 miles into the marathon. The heat was FULL BLAST by now and the humidity was sucking every bit of hydration out of me. Once again, I reevaluated my pace and effort knowing that it would be a LONG run if I messed the pacing up. I was conservative and took it out about 7 minute per mile pace hoping I could hold it there for 4-5 miles before starting to slightly descend. That didn’t happen. The miles got slower and slower. I was running aid station to aid station getting in every ounce of liquid I could from each amazing volunteer who put a cup out in front of me with something in it. I stayed positive mentally and said to myself, “If I quit what else as I going to do? I may as well keep running.” I am glad I did! I saw Tony Demakis and Matt Miller from Base Nutrition at mile 8. I took in some of their goods and had a quick laugh with them. Around mile 11 my body started to wake up. I felt like I could get back into my run that I know I can have at Ironman racing. I went from 8:30 minute/mile pace on mile 12 to 7:16 minute per mile pace on mile 13. I didn’t look at the watch from there on out. I just ran. I ended up running the second half of the marathon almost 10 minutes faster than the 1st. It wasn’t as if I was packing it in on the first half. I WAS WORKING HARD! I just didn’t give up. I let the nutrition kick in and had a decent 2nd half because of it. I ended up running 3:17 for the marathon. For a break down of my run here is the Training Peaks Run Link.
I crossed the finish line with a total time of 9:17. I finished in 13th Place, approximately 15 minutes out of the Top Ten. Luckily Holly Bennett was right at the finish line with some ice cold BeachBody Recovery drink to get the body temperature down and the recovery process started instantly!
I always say I that I like to learn from every race I do. I learn more from the unsuccessful races then I do the successful ones. This race extremely challenging. Probably the hardest Ironman I have ever raced. Over the years I have tried to press, press, press when things aren’t going my way. I have never just accepted that my body wouldn’t respond. This race was the first race where I actually accepted the way I was feeling, adapted my strategy on the fly, stayed positive, and dealt with the race swim stroke by swim stroke, pedal stroke by pedal stroke, and running stride by running stride. Ironman racing presents a host of mental obstacles on race day and nothing ever goes 100% right. The way we deal with them as they come up is what differentiates the successful race from the disaster. Sometimes it takes the ability to take a step back, assess the situation, check the ego, and keep moving forward.
Jim Lubinski in a Professional Triathlete, Owner of Red Performance Multisport, Creator of Fit With It, USAT/Ironman Certified Coach, NASM-CES/PES Certified Personal Trainer, Host of Tower 26- Be Race Ready Podcast, Host of the podcast Jim and the Other Guy. To contact Jim email him at firstname.lastname@example.org