Saturday, October 3, 2015

Race Report: Ironman Chattanooga 2015

I've had a week to reflect on and recover from one of the most amazing experiences of my life:  Ironman Chattanooga 2015!  This race was a true test of intestinal fortitude and made me dig deeper than I had ever expected or knew I could go.

I am so thankful that I got to experience this race with so many of my NC training buddies and friends!  It was SO awesome hanging out with you guys and seeing everyone out on the course :)  I have to give a HUGE shout out and thanks to Misty Brown and Erin Green.  Misty is a 16-time Ironman finisher and Erin is a 10-time Ironman finisher!!!  That's 26 IMs between then two of them!!!  I stayed with these ladies and they know the ropes so well that I didn't even have to think.  I just did what they told me when they told me to do it - I'm smart enough not to question people with that depth of experience :)  Seriously, you two are amazing athletes and I can't thank you enough for all the great tips you gave me for the race and keeping me calm and unstressed the days before the race!  One of the best things we did was get a hotel a block away from the transition area.  This was SO convenient because once I got to Chattanooga there was no more driving to mess with.  It was walk to the expo, walk back, turn in the bikes no biggie, drop off special needs bags the morning of the race then pop back to hotel for breakfast & bathrooms, post-race head up take a shower and come back down & watch everyone finish :)

The Swim (2.4 miles) - 55:33 (1:26/100m)
The swim was one of the best parts of the race!  We all met in transition and took a shuttle to swim start where we got in a big long line and just chilled until it was time to go.  This was awesome b/c since there were no age-group or time corrals, you just got to hang out with your buddies and all jump off the dock together at the same time!  Erin & I are about the same swim speed so we decided we'd stay together on the swim and take turns drafting off of each other.  This worked out extremely well!  We switched about every 500 or so and I noticed a big energy savings when I was on her feet. I was hoping it would be wetsuit legal, but it was 77 degrees on race morning, so I chose to wear my speedsuit w/ a sports bra under it.  The current made up for the lack of wetsuit buoyancy; it was pretty strong, though I heard a lot of people comment that it wasn't as strong as last year.  I also thought the water was pretty clean - no where near the visibility of the Gulf, but when my watch beeped I was able to see my 500 yd splits on my watch.  At one point the swim got a bit choppy and then at the end near the finish of course it was crazy crowded.  I set my sights on the stairs and made a beeline for the exit.  Overall the swim was very enjoyable and by far the easiest part of the race.

T1 - 5:22
Getting out of the water was super exciting!!  The announcer's voice was booming and there were people everywhere cheering you on as you ran from the water up to the changing tents.  I couldn't help but smile and be thankful that I was there to take in the whole scene.  Plus, when I saw that I finished the swim under an hour I felt like the race was off to a fantastic start!  Even though I did a full change into cycling shorts & jersey my time was still decently quick and I was out on the bike in no time!

The Bike (116 miles) - 5:52:13 (19.76 mph)

The start of the bike was CROWDED.  It was a little scary actually b/c there were people of varying speeds and you had people passing in full aero position going as fast as they could go while others were getting their shoes on or putting on arm warmers; all the while we were going over railroad tracks and a few large bumps.  I decided to play this part safe - no point in crashing in the first 5 miles of the race to save a minute.  Not too long into the bike, Erin & Misty blew by me like a steam train.  I was tempted to try to keep up with them, but I knew that they are both stronger than me on the bike and I'd be better off in the long run (pun intended) if I raced at my own pace.

The course was beautiful!  The mountains were very scenic and the entire course was rolling/hilly.  I remember going 9 mph at one point up a hill and I think my max was around 36 mph.  I really enjoyed seeing so many people out on the course, checking out the bikes, thanking the volunteers, and being in the moment.  I was feeling great!  However, things took a turn for the worse about 75 miles into it.  I started the second loop of the bike course and there was a large headwind.  The hills felt bigger this time around and my body was hurting.  I was tired and it wasn't even close to being over with.  I thought that maybe it was a bad idea after all to try to race my first IM.  I told myself to just keep making forward progress and rested a little bit on the downhills.  I got into a really dark place of pain and all I wanted to do was get off of the bike and walk, though thankfully I convinced myself this would be a bad idea.  Somehow even though I was hurting badly, my 5-mi splits weren't too far off where I wanted the to be, so I was able to keep pushing through it.  At one point I was exhausted and I calculated that I had about 2 hours to go - 2 HOURS!!!  I thought, "I am never ever doing this again."  Ugh, just don't stop.  Once I hit 100 miles I felt a little excitement b/c for a second I thought that I was almost there....but then again there was another 16 miles least another 45 minutes.  The course had thinned out at this point and all I could do was try to keep up with each person that passed me.  I wasn't doing much passing at this point.  My shoulders, neck, & back were SO sore that I didn't want to be in the aero position any more.   I rode out of aero on the climbs and tried to stretch out as best I could.  When I got to 106 miles, a switch flipped.  All of a sudden 10 miles to go didn't sound that far - I knew I could hammer that home and get off the bike within 30 minutes.  Thankfully there was a bit of a tailwind taking us back to town.  I took advantage of this, put my head down, and let my legs churn out the rest of the bike course.  I've never been so excited about the prospect of starting a marathon!  I couldn't wait to get off the Adamo and onto my own 2 legs!  I never stopped on the bike - I missed the special needs bag and then towards the end I really had to pee, but didn't want to get off the bike b/c I was afraid if I stopped it'd be really hard to get going again.

T2 - 4:41
Ahhh, sheer joy to be done with the bike!  Rolling into T2 was exciting and when I hopped off the bike a volunteer told me to run towards the transition bags.  I was am I supposed to run!?!?  My legs were stiff and didn't want to move.  But, by the end of the little jog to the changing tent I think they loosened up a little.  I gotta say I was disgusted by the changing tent.  It smelled like piss and I later learned that people sit down on the chairs and pee in there!  EW that is so disgusting.  There are porta potties right outside of the tent and you can't take an extra 5 steps and pee in there?  Disgusting.  Anyhow, the volunteers inside the tent were AMAZING!  Thank you so much for your help and getting me situated after doing another full change into running clothes.  I ran out of the tent, peed in the porta potty, and then headed down the chute to start the run.

The Run (26.2 miles) - 3:40:29 (8:24/mi)

I was so thankful to be out on the run course and when I started my legs felt amazing!  I ended up going with the Saucony Zealot as my running shoe and they were wonderful - nice & light & just the right amount of cush!  The first 7 miles of the run course are relatively flat and I was flying along at 7:30-8:00 pace, passing tons of people.  This was really fun and I felt good.  I didn't know if I'd be able to maintain that pace since a marathon is a LONG way, but I thought might as well take advantage of feeling good now.  The run is 2 loops and the last 6 miles of each loop is a b*tch.  That's the only way to describe it.  There are no flats - it's all up or down hill; and not the type of gradual up or downhills that I like.  These were STEEP mother chuckers.  Running uphill wasn't so bad, but it was the downhills that really got me.  I could tell that this part of the course was just blowing people up.  It looked like the walking dead and it wast even dark yet.  Not to mention that right about this time the sun decided to come out and it was getting hot.  I didn't mind that so much b/c I like the heat, but by the end of those 6 miles my quads were DEAD.  I thought holy shit how in the world am I going to run another 13 miles right now.  And my pace was slowing big time.  I decided to take the next 7 miles of flats to try to recover and just cover the ground as efficiently as possible.  I'm used to running on flat ground, training in Wilmington & FL, so I knew I could get through that.  I got through it, and was encouraged b/c I passed a few more women in my age group.  I had no idea where I was in the field and I was at the point where I didn't really care.  In your mind you go from having a certain goal time to just wanting to make it to the finish.

The last 6 miles of the race was the hardest racing I've ever done.  With every step my legs were screaming out to stop and I was ignoring their pleas.  I started focusing on just making it to the next aid station, where water and coke took my mind off my agony for a few seconds.  I got to the biggest hill on course and let myself walk for about 30 seconds.  Then I thought, this is stupid because walking doesn't hurt that much less than running.  And for me it was really the downhills that were the most painful.  So I decided I couldn't let myself walk any more and needed to gut it out.  Again, I said to myself, "I am never ever doing this again."  With 3 miles to go I caught up to another lady in my age group.  She was walking and I was like, "yes!"  As soon as I passed her she started running again and passed me back :(  This continued on for the next 2 miles and I was like, "Dammit, I can barely keep it together right now and now I'm faced with the mental battle of trying to race someone in the last couple miles of a 144-mile race!"  Again, since I had no idea what place I was in, I knew I couldn't just let her run ahead of me - what if that was the difference in making it to Kona vs not!?  So, I slowly reeled her back in and as I was doing so, a 51-year old woman passed me.  I was like, "Oh hell naw!!!!"  And I fell into stride w/ that lady.  We passed the woman in my age group and I hoped that she didn't try to keep up, but I wasn't about to waste time or energy to look back.  The 51-year old & I ran the last mile stride for stride and it felt like we were running 6:00 miles as we approached the final quarter mile and finisher chute (I'm sure it was more like 7:30 pace, haha).   There were tons of people out cheering and the excitement was exhilarating!  I found an energy reserve and pulled ahead of the woman and ran down the finish chute as fast as I could for having been on my legs for 10+ hours!  The crowd was deafening as I got closer and closer to the Ironman banner and I heard the announcer boom, "Tara Martine, YOU are an IRONMAN!!!!"  I think I was smiling from ear to ear and threw my hands up in victory!  I defeated the course and it was finally over.

Total Time - 10:38:18 (3rd AG, 38th female, 159th participant) 
I felt so ill after finishing and could barely walk.  I sat down on the curb and cheered in my friends as they came in one by one.  It was so awesome to see everyone finish such a momentous task!  I ate a few potato chips and a Sprite and it brought me back to life a little bit.  I learned that I came in 3rd in my AG and was a little stunned!  I didn't think I was that far up in the ranks!  That meant there was potential for a Kona slot!!!  I started getting really excited b/c even though when I initially signed up for this race over a year ago getting to Kona was my goal, life happened, things got in the way, and I didn't think I had done enough training to legitimately have a shot at Kona.  Turns out there were only 2 slots in my AG and both 1st and 2nd place took them, so I didn't make it (missed it by 10 minutes).    BUT, I'm still super psyched with my race, finishing 3rd in AG, and also getting over a 2 hour PR on my iron-distance time (I have done one other iron-distance race before - Beach2Battleship in 2008 and I finished in 12:55:08)!!!

Thank you SO much to the best coach ever - Sharon McDowell!  You are an amazing coach, mentor, & friend.  I know if I had done 1/2 the training you had prescribed I would have made it to Kona, lol! Maybe next time.  Wait, did I just say "next time?"  Now that the pain has faded a little bit and I can walk again, I'm starting to consider the possibility of doing another one of these.  I'm volunteering for IM FL in November and there's a chance I could get caught up in the excitement of the moment and sign up for IM FL 2016....but for now it's time to rest, recover, and enjoy the off season.  Not sure what 2016 will bring but I feel amazing to have ended the 2015 season on such a high note!

Congrats to all #IMCHOO finishers!  We did it!  We are all IRON men and women!!!!  :-)