Where to start?
The good news is that internet results are now and forever and therefore my internet results showing that I finished Ironman Chattanooga in 14 hours and 20 minutes and photographic evidence shows that I was upright and smiling at the finish line.
So I guess I’ll start at the beginning. I decided to head down to Chattanooga on Thursday and I am so, so glad that I did. I had originally planned to work on Thursday and head down early Friday morning but changed my mind after the training camp weekend when I found out all of my friends were headed down on Thursday. So when I got home, I got on the Ironman travel website and was able to extend my stay to Thursday night. This turned out to be a really good idea for several reasons:
1) I so could not focus at work at all that week. Why did I think I could get any work done Thursday? I didn’t get anything done Monday-Wednesday.
2) The traffic situation heading into Chattanooga that weekend was a nightmare. There were some really big accidents on pretty much every major interstate headed into town on all 3 days leading up to the race – Friday was especially bad with a jack-knifed truck on 75 N. This all appeared to be unrelated to race day but any day you have to travel through Atlanta…well, it’s not a pleasant situation. A lot of people traveling into town on Friday were not able to make it to packet pick-up and I am so glad that I didn’t have to deal with that stress.
3) It was nice to have an extra day to just RELAX. I watched hours of America’s Next Top Model and it was awesome. My sherpas/spectators didn’t come into town until Saturday evening and it was just nice to have some time by myself.
So anyways, Thursday I went for a short run and had a chat with my coach before I left and got into Chattanooga around 2. I checked into my hotel (I stayed at the Staybridge Suites near the Convention Center, good value!) before heading downtown to packet pick-up. I walked through but there wasn’t a whole lot to see, then I got my wrist-band and gear – including a really nice backpack! Much nicer than the ones I saw last year. I did stop by the Ironman store for a few…souvenirs. I mean, it was my first Ironman and all! I picked up some groceries at a fancy Publix on the other side of the river while I was out. After that, I finished unloading the ridiculous amount of junk I brought with me into my room and had dinner with some of my teammates later at Terminal Brewhouse. Definitely would recommend that place, though the parking situation was kind of a mess. There’s a free shuttle stop near it, so I would have used that had I known.
Friday was “organization day”. I slept in a bit before meeting a few friends for a shake out swim in the river. It was raining a lot so we figured a swim would be better than a bike ride and it was really nice to feel out the water. We swam for 15 minutes or so and then I packed it back to my hotel for breakfast. I spent the next several hours sorting out my gear into piles: morning of stuff, bike/run gear bags, special needs, nutrition, etc. I was definitely glad to have plenty of time to deal with this because I had stuff everywhere. I also made sure to mark my gear bags in several places and decorated them with some colorful tape to (hopefully) make sure they didn’t get lost on race day. Since it was raining, I also double bagged my gear in big ziplocs (especially my clothes and shoes) so they would stay dry over Saturday night. Once I had some decent organization, I lounged around and watched TV until dinner – Friday we ate at the Blue Fish Grille which was not bad. Not my first pick but it was a teammate’s birthday and that’s where he wanted to go.
Saturday morning I slept in again (I could get used to this!). I had planned to meet some friends for a quick bike ride but it was still raining and none of us really wanted to do a test ride the day before the race in the rain. We finally decided to meet down near transition to pedal around for a bit and then turn in gear and go to the athlete briefing. Once that was done I was able to head back to my hotel and not worry about doing anything for the rest of the day! I had planned to eat in Saturday night with my friends and parents and had pre-cooked everything at home so all I had to do was throw it together in the microwave for dinner when everyone got in.
Watching for the first time
The biggest surprise of the evening was the video. OH this video. My friends spent a ridiculous amount of time making this video for me and all I can say is that I have the greatest friends in the world. It’s so amazing and I can’t believe I had friends who would do this sort of thing for me. Apparently the goal was to make me cry (I’m not really a very emotional person) and I did cry a little (though not as much as Kristin would like, sorry!). It was still one of the best parts of the whole weekend.
I also finally got to look through all the notes people wrote for me at our IMTN send-off party that we had a few weeks before (again, best friends ever. It’s like an Ironman shower. I love them so much). I wanted to make sure I got some sleep, so I made everybody get ready for bed at 9 and took a sleep aid to help knock me out (so much excited energy!).
Now that I’m 1000 words in…RACE DAY!!
I was not interested in getting up at some absurd hour to go stand in line at the swim start for hours so we got up at 5 with the plan to be in transition at 5:30. All I needed to do was drop my SN bags, put my nutrition on my bike and get body marked.
And find track buddy Nicole!
Kristin went with me to play sherpa for the morning. There were plenty of buses to take everyone to the swim start – I didn’t check my phone but I think we were over there by a little after 6.
OK the swim start line. It looks REALLY LONG but it really moved quickly once things started going (and the wetsuit people and spectators got out of line). We walked down until I found two of my friends that were near the end of the line so I didn’t feel bad joining them (they had a blanket to sit on). No one seemed bothered at least. One problem I did note at the swim start was that there were definitely not enough port-a-potties there. I stood in line for 20 minutes and the line had not moved an inch and I finally had to sneak away into some trees – I moved way away from everyone so I wouldn’t get caught and made sure it wasn’t someone’s yard. It was just along the highway back into some trees. I felt bad but I really, really had to go.
When I got back, the line had moved a lot because the pros had just started and everyone was getting ready and OMG I didn’t have my swimskin or chip on! The next 15 mintues were just kind of crazy because I was trying to get dressed and eat my pre-race gel and then my parents showed up at the swim start (which was super exciting!!) and everyone was moving because the wetsuit folks had to step out of line and I was SO SO NERVOUS! I handed off all my other stuff to Kristin and all of a sudden we were under the arches and headed for the dock! I got a quick hug with my two friends and training buddies as we got down there and then off we went!
SWIM (2.4 miles):
I hopped in and took off. I love starting every race with my best sport (even though it bites me later). It’s so nice to start off strong and confident because if I can do nothing else, I can definitely swim. At first, I was confused because it wasn’t clear which side of the sight buoys we were supposed to be on and I was pretty far to the left (near the bank). But the paddleboarders near me kind of steered me over so I assumed we were supposed to be to the right of the buoys so I corrected my course and got on track. After that, things were pretty smooth. The water temperature felt very nice and I could definitely tell by the way the buoys were flying by that there was at least some current. It was not too crowded, but it seemed like people were in clusters where I would have trouble getting by them, then would have clear water for some time. The swim went so fast and once I hit the first bridge I knew I was almost done! I hit the one and only turn buoy and headed for the stairs.
Time: 53:40 (3/43 AG, 56/831 Overall) <- Yes 3rd in my age group! Wish I could hang on to that for the rest of the race 🙂 Also, swim outfit was my two-piece Athleta suit with the swimskin over top.
The run from the water to the tent was pretty long and I didn’t run the whole way and made sure to slow down and wave at my friends 🙂 I also slowed down through the gear bag area since there were a lot of overzealous AG men running around and causing problems (eyeroll). It was cool to be there with so many bags still in transition (especially since it was a totally different scene in T2). In the tent, a volunteer helped unload my bag while I got undressed. I changed everything except for my swim top <- that I left on the entire race. Once I got my shoes on I started moving since I wanted to get going as soon as possible. I stopped at the sunscreen station and was able to adjust my jersey and put my gloves on while they were doing that. Then I went and grabbed my bike and headed out!
BIKE (116 miles):
Yes, you read that right. If you’re not familiar with this race, we are lucky enough to get 116 miles of biking instead of the usual 112. I can’t complain though; it’s a really great course and I think they should keep it.
I spent the whole bike leg getting passed. Like really, I’m sure I did not pass one person. So you can just imagine me the whole time; men and women whipping by me at top speed and there’s Steph, just pedaling away. I spent the first 15 miles settling in and getting started on nutrition. It’s the easiest part of the course, especially once you get out of town and out on the highway which is flat and fast. I had to really focus on making sure my heart rate was staying down because I was NOT going to overdo the bike. NOPE.
For nutrition, I started with those Powergel yogurt chews and alternated with Infinit and water. I wanted to make sure I stayed on it early so when my stomach got queasy later in the day I would still be OK. The hardest rollers on the course are in the first section of the loop, then there’s an easier section leading up the the “climb” at Hog Jowl. I used quotes since it’s not really a climb but it’s the most notable hill on the course. After that, there’s a fast rolling section but is net downhill, then a flattish section on the way into Chickamauga. The first time around went by really fast. (I also got lapped by the Pro men during this section :/)
Special Needs was at about mile 52 in the town and that was the first time I stopped – I had my new bottles of Infinit and some swedish fish in there that I needed (also vaseline). I had some Bonk Breakers in there too, but I really didn’t want them so I left those. I had to pee pretty bad at this point but there were no port-a-potties at special needs so I had to keep going. There were so many spectators cheering during this first loop in the downtown area and my parents were there to cheer for me 🙂
There’s a long uphill section coming out of town, followed by a fun descent and then FINALLY an aid station where I could pee. I cruised to the end of the aid station where a volunteer grabbed my bike and refilled my water bottle while I used the bathroom and re-applied some vaseline. Then I was onto loop 2! I was definitely starting to feel some fatigue in my legs by this point but I was still doing a good job keeping my heart rate in check and my cadence high. The rate of people passing me had also slowed significantly at this point which was nice but I was stuck around 2 guys – one who couldn’t climb and one who couldn’t descend. I was probably only with them for about 30 minutes but it felt like an eternity since I was trying to stay out of their draft but they kept slowing down/speeding up. I finally broke away from both of them when we got to the Hog Jowl climb for the second time. I definitely coasted a lot more on the way back into Chickamauga – more than I should have but I was definitely a little tired and VERY much ready to get off the bike. My nutrition was still good though; I went through another bottle and a half of Infinit and all of the swedish fish I had with me (which was half the bag)
When I got back into town, there were a lot less people around but I was glad to see a few still out cheering. I remember seeing a guy dressed like the pope at the edge of town which was pretty amusing. When I reached the last aid station on the loop, I stopped even though I didn’t have to pee. My arms and shoulders were hurting pretty badly at this point and my ass hurt and I just wanted to get off my bike for a minute before heading back into Chattanooga. I only stopped for a minute and a half but it was an excellent 90 seconds. Then I was back on the highway into town.
I smiled during this whole section. I was just so happy – I was almost done with 116 miles of biking and OMG I was doing an Ironman! I saw some of my friends on the corner as I made the turn onto the Riverfront Pky – I was definitely happy to see them because it meant I was almost done!
One lady passed me and joked that she wished she could still ride in aero and then we were both at the dismount. I gladly handed my bike off to a volunteer and grabbed a bottle off my bike to sip on while I got ready for the run.
Time: 7:20:18, 15.8 mph (27/43 AG, 442/831 Overall)
I know it’s stupid to say you’re disappointed at your first IM, but I really thought I had more speed in me after all of the hard workouts I did this summer. I spent a couple days just being really bummed out but I do recognize that this is pretty silly. But I KNOW I can be faster than this.
Once I handed my bike off, I hustled over to the gear bags. My parents were standing on the other side of the barriers and I told them I had never so happy to see someone take my bike. I grabbed my gear bag and headed to the changing tent and 3 of my wonder women were there waiting for me! I gave them all big hugs and then we went in so I could get changed. I got on my outfit…
RUN (26.2 miles):
At this point, a thought crossed through my head: I have to run a marathon now. Holy crap! It was was a little toasty as I started the run (maybe 80-81?) and the first bit was kind of all uphill. So I walked…and walked some more, then realized if I was going to walk this much I needed to walk fast. So I picked up the pace, a lot. Then I jogged a bit until I didn’t want to jog anymore, then walked fast. I figured as long as I kept moving forward quickly, even though I wasn’t running, I was going to be just fine. The miles just flew by. The first 4.5 miles were out on the highway which wasn’t very scenic but each aid station came quickly even though I was averaging 12-13 minute miles. I was chatting with people around me, including one guy who spent the first 3 miles trying to catch up to me to tell me he liked my skirt and another girl who was out on her second loop. Then we were at the turn around heading back on the riverfront path. I ran much more on that side since it was shadier and cool. There were tons of people out on the first loop and lots of people complimented my outfit. Lots of “go wonder woman!”. Loved it.
I took in four gels in those first 8 miles which I had in my gel flask. My parents were at the beginning of the Veteran’s bridge and I handed that and my HRM off to them since it was suffocating me! Ug. It wasn’t really helping me at that point anyways so I was glad to be rid of it. (Sidenote: Someone on a facebook group seemed mortified I did this because it’s against the rules? I’ve never heard this – I know you can’t take anything from a spectator but never anything about handing stuff off for good and I’ve done this several times. If anyone knows for sure let me know! I don’t intentionally want to break rules).
Across the bridge is where the hills are. I made sure to keep my fast walking pace up the hills and run down them, especially since I was still feeling pretty good on this first loop. My stomach was starting to hurt a little, but I managed to choke down two more gels over this section. There were lots of spectators on this side of the river which made that harder section of the course really enjoyable. The pedestrian bridge came really quickly and all of a sudden I was on my second lap! 13 miles to go!
I came up to special needs and a volunteer brought my bag over to me and walked with my while I grabbed my reflective vest and light, plus cookies and tums. She helped hold my stuff while I was getting my gear on too. Great volunteers all over this day! I didn’t really need the reflective vest since they would have given me a glow stick, but it was nice to have the gear I usually run with and it made it easy for my spectators to find me after dark. I was expecting them to be at the pedestrian bridge and was kind of bummed that they weren’t there…
But they had bummed a ride out to the first aid station on the highway. They were getting loud at this point (beer induced) and had silly string and cowbells and were cheering for everybody (but of course were extra loud when I came by). I got lots of high fives and kept moving forward. It started getting dark probably around mile 16 or so? There were plenty of lights though. They had set up big lights along the road and all the aid stations were very well lit along this stretch.
My stomach was hurting really bad at this point, but I kept trying to take in calories – a couple of the cookies and coke and oranges. I took some tums but they only helped for a little while. I just kept running ask much as I could and walking fast since my legs still felt strong.
When I got out to the turnaround, I realized that I really had to poop…and also that I had just passed an aid station and was going to have to wait. I walk/runned my way along until I saw a REAL bathroom on the trail. I checked the door and it was open yea!! So I hustled inside and took care of business and it was so nice not to have to use a port-a-potty. I went back out onto the course (where I had left it, yes!) and told the people around me that the bathroom was open but they were kind of like zombies. Not really responsive. My walking pace was faster than some of these people’s running pace at this point.
The riverwalk stretch seemed a lot longer the second time around. A lot of the spectators had left (though they left their posters out at least!) and there were a lot of places where it was just very quiet. Kind of peaceful, I guess. My stomach wasn’t getting any better so I started trying the chicken broth at some of the aid stations along the path. I’m not sure it helped but it didn’t make it worse so I kept getting it at the aid stations that had it and took coke at the other ones.
Then I was at mile 20! WHAT? How did I get so far so fast? Ok it really took a while but it didn’t feel like 4.5 hours. All my people were on a big hill right around mile 20 leading from the path to the bridge and I almost cried because I was so happy to be there. When I got to the other side of the bridge, I found my coach there waiting for me to come by! She was at the bottom of the big hill over there so I was obviously walking. She came over to chat with me for a bit to see how I was doing (pretty good for mile 21). I told her I was tired, generally ok, but my stomach hurt really bad. She recommended I get some pretzels at the next aid station to help. Once I reached the top of the hill, I started running again and she disappeared.
The spectators in these last few miles were they best. They were super encouraging and were making sure to give everyone high fives. It was so great. They all told me I was going to be an Ironman! Yes! These miles were pretty tough and I walked most of them but I didn’t let up on the fast walking pace. Coming back up that big hill towards the end was really tough. I was definitely ready to be done and I could hear the finish line announcements from there. I reached the pedestrian bridge (and mile 25) and wanted to run the rest of the way…but there was no way. I ran down the far side of the bridge (the downhill side) then walked a little bit until I reached the last corner – the finish line was still a bit down the road but it was all downhill from there! I started running and ran down what has the be the longest finish line chute ever.
Time: 5:51:28 (24/43, 436/831)
Total Finish: 14:20:07
My friends and family were all right there at the finish line but I still had the wade through all the finish chute nonsense: getting my shirt, picture taken, chip off. Finally I got to go out of the chute and my mom was there for a hug. There were definitely tears there.
Even though my stomach still hurt pretty bad, I decided I was hungry so I got some pizza and found a chair to sit in for a bit. We took some pictures and talked for a bit while I ate. It was just an awesome moment where I was with all my people and we were all so happy! 🙂
Getting back to the hotel was a challenge (for me at least). Luckily, my crew had already picked up all my gear and loaded it into my car which was parked nearby but I couldn’t really walk very well. My legs hurt bad. Getting in and out of the car was especially painful. I pretty much could have gone to bed immediately but instead took a quick shower and ate a cupcake. Kristin also made me let her massage my legs for a few minutes which was pure torture. We all went to bed around 11 but I think I was in too much pain to sleep! Who knew that was a thing? Ouch. Luckily one of my friends had offered to drive me and my car back on Monday 🙂
Before we left, I met my parents for breakfast at Maple Street Biscuit which was really, really good. We got there just in time because right after we ordered, a horde of people ironman shirts showed up. Hah! That’s what they get for sleeping in, lazy bums.
Ok, so that’s my Ironman story. Not a short thing for sure, and I’m sure I missed a lot of important moments but I think it’s impossible to capture everything that happens in a 14+ hour race. It was the both the longest and fastest day ever but every moment was awesome! I know I need a break from Ironman, but I’m definitely not one-and-done. I’m going to have to do another one 🙂