I am officially an Ironman! this past weekend I competed in my first Ironman competition in Chattanooga, TN. What an experience! This is has been something in the making for years now.....dating all the way back before I had ever done a triathlon. I remember the times back in high school when I would go up to Lake Placid to camp and seeing people training for the Lake Placid IM. I thought that they were completely crazy! How could anyone swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 then run a marathon?!?! However, the summer of my senior year of college I raced my first tri at the Musselman Triathlon in Geneva, NY. Moving forward a year later, I did an Olympic distance traithlon at the Fingerlakes Triathlon in Canandaigua, NY. Four years went by competing in sprints and Olympics while earning my Doctorate degree before I did my first half IM. Come fall 2011 I raced Pocono 70.3 however the swim ended up getting canceled so I had to wait until the the next June(6/2012) at Rev3 Quassy to complete my first half event with the swim, bike and run. I had been asked by numerous people when would I race my first full Ironman. And up until only a few months ago could I confidently tell them, September 2014. I wanted to make sure I was fully committed and prepared to do an Ironman. I didn't want to just finish, I wanted to race it and be proud of my effort. After a number of 70.3 events over the last two years, speaking to Chelsea my wife, and Doug Bush my coach we finally decided it was time.
Ironman is something you don't take lightly. It is a commitment - commitment to put in the training, to sleep right, eat right, know that you can't have much of a social life outside of training, and know that your family won't see you as often. The early morning workouts, the times you travel when you have to bring your bike ( in our case to a number of weddings this year I would have to get my long rides in before the wedding) , the early nights as your body craved sleep are all a part of becoming an Ironman. Whether it takes someone 8 hours or 17 hours everyone goes through it.
Even though you have done everything in training asked of you to prepare, there is that little voice inside saying have I done enough? And even then, will it all come together on race day? What happens if I have a mechanic difficulty? Will I actually reach the finish line.........
A month before the race I had the opportunity to go down for the weekend and scout out the course. As with any race, I will try to do this to be more familiar with it. It just made it that much easier on me come race weekend and gives me a peace of mind.
Chelsea and I ended up getting into Chattanooga on the Friday before the race around noon as the Pro meeting was at 1 pm. I was interested to see who was going to be racing as a few Pros from the cancelled Lake Tahoe IM had been added to the mix as well. When the meeting got started it was a full house with some big name athletes there. After the pro meeting and checking in I got a swim in and then headed to our Chattanooga homestay...my wife's cousins house! A huge THANK YOU to John and Lara, and to there three kids: Miles, Ellie, and Christanna. Having family there always makes it that much more enjoyable! Talking about family, I was happy to have my Dad share in the first IM experience as he made the 14 hour drive down from Rochester, NY.
Right before dropping my bike off at the transition zone the day before the race I did one last overlook of the bike. I am so happy I did as I noticed a small piece of glass embedded in the tire of my front wheel! Thankfully I had brought down an extra race tire and was able to change the tire without incident.
When race morning came I woke with excitement. Fortunately, getting to transition, getting my bike ready, getting on the shuttle to the swim start all went smoothly. It was great having the opportunity to ride with Chelsea on the shuttle as she helps calm the nerves. We also got to share the bus ride with fellow Rochester, NY native Pro Matt Curbeau and his girl friend ( who is a Pro racing her first full IM) Kait. We were able to catch up a little bit on a bus ride that seemed to go on forever....realizing that I would be swimming the whole way back!
As we jumped in the water for the swim start I knew the current was going to be in my favor...we were being held back literally by a rope...and even holding onto that was quite a task. After waiting for a few minutes more than expected as we waited for the sun to rise, the gun when off. Because of such a large pro field I knew I was going to be able to find feet to swim on. I was feeling great but didn't want to push it too much as I knew I had a long day ahead. It is hard to really think about the race as a whole...you need to break it up into sections. As we kept winding our way through the channel of the Tennessee River, I could see us getting closer and closer to the aquarium where the swim finish was. I kept doing checks on how my body was feeling and as I got out of the swim I actually felt really good. I came out of the water in a nice current aided time of 44:14.
After seeing Chelsea as I was running into T1 I told her I was feeling good and prepared to start the 116 mile ride. After careful consideration, Doug and I came up with a power number that we thought would give me my best opportunity to have a great marathon. I was going to ride my own race and stick to it without being dragged into higher efforts that would come back to bite me later on. I kept doing checks to see how I was feeling. My heart rate was staying between 135 and 142 and the power was right at a 265 avg watts and 267 normalized. I actually did the first loop of two at 264 then the second at 266. I actually had a very uneventful ride- which I would say is always a plus as so many things can happen over 116 miles. I was very cognizant of following my nutrition and hydration plan....and thank goodness that the weather was cooperating as well. A nice cloudy day in the upper 60s/low 70s. I ended up getting back to T2 with a bike split of 4:56:00 or 23.5 mph average.
The crowd at transition was the best crowd I have ever seen at a triathlon by far. I was fully impressed with the Chattanooga IM volunteers and supporters- top notch! After getting through the changing tent and out onto the run I told myself that I had a long way to go and to hold back. Again I checked how I was feeling and assessed the effort. I was feeling great and my legs were loosening with every step. The course is broken up into 2 loops with each loop having a flat 7 miles and a very hilly 6 miles. I was feeling great through 9 miles making sure to get the proper nutrition at the aid stations. Then around mile 11 my stomach started to turn and actually had to make a quick stop at the Port o John- thank goodness the aid station was right there! After about a 45 second break I was back at it. However, I could feel the lactic acid that built up from the break. I kept plugging away but could tell the legs were starting to get heavy and I was getting that feeling of pre-cramping. I was able to make it to mile 15 before I had to give in as both quads started cramping. I actually started walking a portion of the aid stations as I needed to make sure I was getting my calories in. I kept plugging away by putting one foot in front of the other - before I knew it I was at another aid station which meant 1 more mile down. After finally getting to mile 23, I vowed to keep pushing and not stop at other aid stations. I was able to use my last bit of energy to run those last 3 miles at a mid to upper 7 min pace. As I approached the finish line I tried to enjoy the finish chute - I was able to give my Dad a Hi- five along with other spectators. As I crossed the finish line I heard the phrase, "You are an Ironman!" I had finally gotten to the finish line in a total time of 9:11:58 for 20th Male Pro.
Even though it was not the most ideal race performance, I am proud of my accomplishment. There are always things you would have done differently but I am happy to have my first full Ironman under my belt. I have learned a lot from it and will use that for the future. Now I will have some time off to allow my body to heal and spend some time with Chelsea, friends and family. The 2014 season is over......
I want to give a HUGE thank you to my wife Chelsea, family, friends, Coach Doug Bush, and to all my sponsors. So many sacrifices go into training and racing that can be very trying. Whether racing as a pro, experienced amateur or your first race you understand the time, effort, early morning, early nights, sweat, and pain that goes into an Ironman. The question for me now....what is next??