IM Chattanooga 70.3 (5/23/21)

This was my first race in two years due to COVID, and I was more than ready having trained steadily throughout the pandemic as a method of staying sane and relatively stress free. Originally I’d planned to do Victoria 70.3 in Canada, which was a PR course for me. With borders closed, we had to choose another race and this one was a good match with the date. While planning and preparation are key elements of getting ready for an event, you never know what race day will bring. Cue a flat tire and heat exhaustion. Definitely some lessons learned in TN and a test of grit and determination. It was a tough day, with lessons learned and a few bright spots.  Once again, more than grateful that Diane was with me at this race. My plan to finish within 10 minutes of her went out the window, but she was there at my finish, as always, with a smile and support.

A COVID Race Morning – 3:00 AM

Up as usual at 3:00 am, it was time to get this day started. Happily we were staying in a great place, so a short drive to the start. Having everything laid out the night before, and our morning schedule set (thank you to Diane’s famous spreadsheet!) we left in the dark, easily found parking and were some of the first people to transition. This was one of the first races since COVID, and the new procedure of picking a check in time to get our bibs and timing chips, allowed us to be racked right next to each other as number 88 & 87. Our rack was perfect in that it was the first rack near bike and run out, easy to find among 3,000 bikes – yay! Vaccinated athletes did not need to wear masks, and I didn’t see anyone with one on that I recall. Having been quarantined and masked everywhere for the past year, it was a little unnerving to be mask free – and I could hardly remember what it was like in 2019 when I had last raced to be around people on race day or anywhere and not be thinking about COVID. We were there so early we had plenty of time to spare, so I got to meet and take photos with several Team Zooters racked near me from the local region. It was so nice to feel like part of a team so far away from home.

Unusual Amazing Swim, 1.2 mi, 37:16 (10/97 AG)

Race swim of my life! First time I can say I truly enjoyed the swim. To be in the top 10 in my AG still shocks me. Me, the one who isn’t a swimmer. Yes, everyone had a fast swim time down river. But for me to not be in the middle of the AG, a big win for me. Would never think the swim of a triathlon would be the best part of my race day. Diane had found a podcast that we listened to with swim tips, and I confirmed those with the locals in my swim seed. I memorized the tips and sure enough they worked!

But let’s start with getting to the swim. Due to COVID, they were not providing buses to the start. A few days before hand we learned we would be walking the 1.5 miles from transition to the swim start on the river. That’s right, walking! I brought a throw away pair of old running shoes, carried my wetsuit (per the podcast recommendation) and my 24 oz bottle of electrolytes and headed to the river. Bruce, a fellow Team Zoot member on my rack, was also in my swim seed, so we got to chat for the long walk with our fellow swimmers in the 38:00 swim group. The walk down was already feeling humid, but the sun wasn’t up yet and not being in the wetsuit was a great tip. Drank my entire bottle of electrolytes and it was time to pee. Once we arrived, all the pace groups dissolved into a pile of people looking for bathrooms. Unfortunately, there were only 4-5 porta potties and thousands of people needing to pee. Most people also still needed to put their wetsuit on like me so the swim seeds got jumbled up. I made the decision to just pee on the swim! I tucked my P3 Be Fierce bracelet into my bra, and marched toward the dock. As I made my way toward the dock, a local triathlete confirmed the tips we had heard on the podcast about the swim. I love directions and followed them all!

Swim tip #1 – jump in off the dock with your arms out like an airplane to avoid going straight down deep into the river and losing your goggles. Tip #2 – aim for the second buoy, stay on the buoy line then cut over to the left when they turn red to make it easily to the exit. It worked like a dream. Swimming with a downriver current as a non-swimmer make you feel like you were born to swim. I had so much fun on this swim. Thanks to Coach Erin and my awesome swimmer friends from RTB and Zoot who love and excel at swimming, I focused on the many form tips you’ve given me and just cruised down the river.

T1, 5:50

Getting out the of the river was another story. Up a ladder to some stairs, and thankfully a strong volunteer gave a helping hand to help pull me out of the river. This was the longest transition from swim to bike I’d ever had, at .4 miles. A run down the riverwalk, up a ramp, across the road and then circle around transition (COVID restriction) finally to my bike. I decided to take my wetsuit off before the ramp so I could run faster. Worked like a charm, but of course I had not peed in the river so that’s what I did all the way to the bike. First time I peed myself like that, and it was interesting to say the least! I quickly got over that, focused and got my bike gear on and away I went. It was warming up. I noticed the humidity and was not cold at all. Excited to get on the bike for this rolling course, my goal was 20.7 miles per hour average, and I was ready.

Bike – The Flat, 56 mi, 3:21 (46/97 AG)

A bumpy road and railroad tracks out of town, but it was nothing like IM Santa Rosa! After that, it started out amazing in the countryside. About 4 miles in, we crossed state lines into Georgia. Smooth highway, gorgeous green country and farmlands. Rolling hills and all the trees were so pretty. Sun was behind a cloud so that was a bonus. Focused on my targets thanks to my Best Bike Split race course on my Wahoo and was hitting my speed for even less power – winning! I felt strong, fast and really was enjoying the course. Small town areas with the sounds of so many different birds made me happy. I even smelled flowers as I rolled by.  From the course drive we did on Friday, I knew where to look for the giant holes on the right side of the road – right by the Pizza flag. The miles were ticking away right on plan, I felt the heat coming on but with the breeze from the bike, it wasn’t an issue. Passing and being passed by friendly Team Zooters was such an energy boost as we cheered for each other. Our bright kits are so easy to spot, and it was awesome to feel like a part of a team far away from home. With 15 miles to go, I was already excited about getting on the run. It looked like it was gong to be a day for a personal best time at the 70.3 distance, after 2 years of no racing, I couldn’t be happier.

At mile 44, everything changed. Coming up on a small town, I saw a few spectators, a course marshall and a gas station. I was thinking about the big downhill coming up and how fun that would be when I heard a noise. I slowed down and quickly realized something was wrong. I asked the spectators if I had a flat tire, and sure enough the rear was flat. I stopped and tried not to panic. I suck at changing tires. My brain is not mechanical and because I haven’t had to do it hardly at all, out of mind those directions go. Zooters rode by asking if I was okay, saying encouraging words. Sun was out in full force now and I felt taht heat and humidity. Deep breath and I just started with what I knew well, get that back tire off. Got out the tools. Tried to get it off, no dice. Race wheels are so tight. Working it over and over. The tears start and the panic happens as I see the time ticking and feel the sun beating down on me. 15 minutes go by, now I can’t get the new tube in. I am now also furious with myself because I cannot get this done. No excuse for this. I will never forget Michael, the officer on course who came over and asked if I was ok (because I was there for so long). He didn’t know how to change a tire either, but I felt better because he was there. He called for bike tech. He texted Ken because I thought he could talk me through it, but he couldn’t get him. I never stopped trying but when the tech came I thought my day is not over. This will never happen again as I will make it my mission to be an expert at flat tires. I hugged Michael, hopped on and 35 minutes later I was on my way. I focused on being grateful for all the support, and getting back in the race. After a few minutes I realized my power crank wasn’t working. No power average, cadence or targets. I had to go by feel and speed, yet stay in my box, and not panic about the lost time. I reminded myself of my mantra, “I am so blessed I love this”. I made myself smile. I felt better. Finished my nutrition, passed a lot of riders who I’d been ahead of before the flat, and stayed on speed target making it back to transition. Missed my bike goal by exactly the amount of time the flat took. Without it, 2:48, would’ve been 8/97.

Nutrition: Two 24 oz bottles of Infinit, double strength, 500 cal per bottle. 3-4 Honey Stinger mango bloks, a little sweet treat. Grabbed water at every aid station, drank what I could before exiting the station.

T2, 4:06

Not as rough as T1, but still a long run around the giant concrete area once off the bike. I paused for a couple of seconds and took my bike shoes off. It was just too uncomfortable and felt slippy. Someday, maybe I’ll meet my goal of leaving shoes on the bike and getting in and out of them in T1 and T2. Once at the rack, all went well and speedy. More sunscreen as it was baking hot now, visor, run shoes, race belt, salt pills, hot shot and a gel. I was trying to calculate how I could get back on track for my total time goal, but also trying to just focus on the moment. Off I went. Deep breath, it was really hot now. 

Run – Hot Struggle Bus, 2:35 (41/97)

I am a runner. I love running. My plan was 2 hours or less, starting no faster than 8:45, averaging no slower than 9:00 because the course was hot, humid and hilly. Well, after the first 3 miles the effect of the heat hit me full on. My bike delay earned me more heat and humidity than I’d bargained for. I knew it was going to be hot but this felt unbearable. Ice at the first aid station in my bra. Water on my head. Gels on plan. I saw Diane who I knew was likely on lap 2, we high fived and smiled and I couldn’t eek out much but said I got a flat. She said I was doing great. I knew she probably thought I was on the other end of lap 2 from her. After that, Lap 1 was a hot mess, literally and figuratively. When I get hot like that, I get dizzy. Heat exhaustion set in. That earned me the attention of the medical staff asking me if I was okay and telling me there was no shame in quitting. I refused and walked. I watched my HR rise in the heat. I ran a minute. I walked. The staff were looking for me at aid stations for the next mile or two but I passed the test and they never talked to me again. Time to hunker down. With my P3 Be Fierce bracelet on my arm, “Fun” in purple Sharpie on my left hand, and “Smile” on my right I did what I could to keep moving forward.

I ran the short shaded areas, walked most of the sun which more often than not. Longest 6 miles I think I’ve ever run. Lots of people walk/running around me. Zooters passing me from behind and on the out and back, smiling offering support, salt pills and on one occasion a quick chat. I was so grateful for her words of encouragement. Bridge 1, I got a hamstring cramp. My gels, salt pills and electrolyte drink were not cutting it. A wonderful woman offered me another salt pill so I took it. I was able to continue a minute later. Ran and chatted with several Zooters, some feeling better than me, but definitely not having their best day. It was so nice to have this connection in this tough time, they were everywhere and everyone was amazing. Walk, run. Walk, run. Then I met Eric, a 65 year old who used to be stationed at Whidbey Island in WA.  He crashed on his bike reaching for his bottle. He said he was ok but now the heat was knocking him out. He said he was not going to DNF today and I said you got that right. We ran a little together and then he decided to stop and told me to go on. I continued with gels, ice, water on head, my second electrolyte tablet. Stopped at every aid station. Finally, lap 1 done. I thought about the option of quitting, but that is not who I am.

Lap 2 I was able to slowly run more than walk. When I knew I wasn’t even going to make it to the finish line in under 6 hours let alone my goal, I was heartbroken. But I resolved to keep going no matter what. I continued with gels, ice, water on my head and added Coke at every station. I knew I needed every bit of everything I could get. I thought about the awesome swim I had. About the bike until the flat.  I thought about Katie, Ken and my Ginger who I missed so much having said my final good-bye to her just days before. I focused on my Be Fierce bracelet and remembered this is about grit. I’ve got it, I know it, get it done. At mile 10, I thought I can run these next 2 miles no problem. People were cheering on the Walnut bridge. I felt awful but said thank you and tried to smile. Mile 12 was feeling good until it wasn’t. At the last corner before the downhill finish to the carpet, my back cramped and I was bent at a 90 degree angle so I stopped. Another wonderful woman came over and said don’t worry, you’ve got this. She reminded me to think about a cable pulling my head and back straight up tall – something I tell my runners that I coach. She walked with me around the corner and said it’s all downhill you can do this. I headed downhill and thought I could run fast. Well, that didn’t work. I thought of the cable, but my hand went down to the ground, as if in a hamstring stretch. A man walking by said you can do this. I stood up and slowly jogged eyeing that finish carpet and finish line. I was able to pick it up a bit, determined to jog with a smile down that red carpet. I believe I raised my hands and smiled for the camera. Then I cried. Grateful I finished, sad for the way things went.

Within a minute, my amazing friend Diane was there by my side. Have I said I am unbelievably grateful for her? I don’t know how I could’ve gotten out of transition with my bike and back to our place without her. She had an amazing race, 5th in our AG, on the podium and she waited for me, helped me and told me I was strong. All the love. 

Nutrition: All the planned nutrition and so much more. I had a hand carry with 20 oz of ZYM, and later put in another tablet and refilled with water. Within the first 3-4 miles I realized I was in trouble so I supplemented my Maurten gels at 3, 6, 9 with gels from the aid stations, ice in my bra, extra water, water on my head, and coke. Salt pills from friends on the course as I cramped up. I took gels every aid station and I put some in my mouth and some in my kit pocket. I don’t know how many I ate, but I also came home with 3 in my kit.

6:44, Finish (41/110 AG)

With a total time of 6:44, I missed my goal by 1 hour and 15 minutes. Not my best day, second only to CDA 70.3 in 2017, where I got clipped on the bike by another rider and crashed and then finished the run only because of a wonderful teammate who made sure I crossed that finish line.

Moving On

One of my athletes I run coach told me her mantra before I left for this race – “I can do hard things”. I absolutely added this to my mental toolbox to get through the toughest moments of this race – thank you Lisa W. And yes, I can do hard things! 

As the saying goes, you never know what is going to happen on race day. This one was tough and very disappointing. The good news is I finished and I can fix what caused my race day issues – learn how to quickly change a flat. I can be more choosy about race locations and not go somewhere that is often hot. I can carry lots of extra salt, just in case. Onward and upward. With IM Canada not happening this year due to COVID, closed borders and a new date, all my energy goes to focusing on Santa Cruz 70.3! Beautiful beaches in CA, here I come. 

Published by Lisa B

A girl working every day to be a better human. Grateful for small moments, trying to go high when life goes low. Believer in good, triathlete, Mom and wife.

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