POST IMWI –
After the Ironman Wisconsin debacle I went home and was in bed by 6:30PM. I sent a message to my coach about the possibility of adding Ironman Chattanooga in 3 weeks, then fell asleep. I woke up randomly around 11:00PM and saw his response was to add my name to the list and then see how things go in the next few days. So I did, with 1 hour to spare before the registration cut off. Over the next 5 days I didn’t do any S/B/R training, but spent multiple hours each day packing and moving heavy furniture, as well as getting a better grasp on what happened to me during IMWI that made me so weak and eventually ended with me in an ambulance to the med tent. The lab results showed that I had given myself rhabdomyolysis, but the reasons why were unclear. After talking with my coach and sorting through some of the issues I had during the taper, the answer became somewhat more clear. Put simply- I was too skinny. During the taper I had lost 6lb off an already peaked fitness lean frame. Not at all intentionally either. I just didn’t have an appetite, and other life stresses and allergies distracted me from the focus of properly fueling. Two days before IMWI I weighed in at an all time low, and I was actually a bit puzzled. But I had just run 1:13 off the bike in Traverse City, I was feeling great in training, so I just told myself this was a result of peak fitness and maybe I had reached some new level of form that would pay off on race day. And to be completely honest, when looking in the mirror I didn’t see a lean and mean Ironman machine. I saw my normal body image insecurities… yes, I have them too! So I carried on. Under-fueled the day before the race, under-fueled the morning of, and boom: the start gun fires and I am weak. Onto the bike and there is no power. Off the bike and there are no run legs. 16 miles later I’m on the side of the road, in a state of delusion. The lack of fueling depleted my glycogen stores, which led to the breakdown of muscle and the rhabdo. The peeing from rhabdo made me think I needed more sodium. The excess sodium made me hypernatremic. Then came the extreme fatigue, confusion, headache, etc. Game Over. All the work, seemingly wasted by a stupid mistake in the taper. BUT, we felt like we figured out the cause, so we could address it and see if the body bounced back for IM Chat in 3 weeks time. During that 3 weeks I ate and ate and ate until I couldn’t anymore. I really started to feel great in the 2nd week. My energy levels were high. So high that my normal training patterns were getting annoyed with my positivity and endless humor! After a solid week of training with some key sessions that went well, I made the decision to indeed head to Chattanooga and seek redemption. I drove down with Revere and Tina, who were coming to support me on race day and also do some heat prep for Kona as the Chattanooga temps were in the 90’s+. I was also happy to see that Wednesday before the race I was 8lb heavier than my pre IMWI weight!
We have all probably heard this story before. Endurance athlete gets too lean, notices improved run speed, takes it too far, then they get sick, injured, or just fail during the race. Although mine wasn’t intentional, I felt sort of foolish. I’ve heard these stories. As a coach, I’m always keeping a pulse on my athletes weight/body composition to be sure they aren’t taking it to the extreme. But sometimes it’s difficult to see it in yourself, especially in the moment. Lesson learned.
Travel to the race went smooth. We arrived on Thursday afternoon, settled in, and all that normal stuff. Friday the pro meeting, Saturday the bike check in, and Sunday up bright and early at 4am to race. I was fully carb loaded and hydrated for the day. The temps were going to be 97deg with humidity, so I knew nutrition and hydration was going to be crucial to a successful day. Tina and Revere dropped me off, I did all the transition things, then took the shuttle to the swim start.
Swim- 49:37 – 15th
The swim is 2.4 miles, all down stream, pretty straight shot. The water was 81deg so fairly warm but fine without a wetsuit. A local guy near the swim start tried telling me that the current would not help at all today, but I knew that was wrong. The current may not have been as strong as recent years, but it still gave a decent push. When the gun went off I did my best to stay with the main pack, knowing there were a few guys in there I have recently swum with in 70.3 races. I was hopeful that I could stay with them and have some help at the start of the ride, being in a group. I was on the back of the group for the first 1000m before eventually being sandwiched between 2 others and dropping back 10 meters. I put in a huge effort and got back onto the group. Another 200m later the same thing happened and I was again on my own. I upped the effort again to get back and could then tell I wasn’t making any of the distance back. Bummed about that, but moved on quickly and went into my own swim routine for the rest of the way. In the end I lost 2 minutes to that main pack.
Bike- 116 miles – 4:47 – 6th
Onto the 116 mile (yes 4 extra miles!) bike and I could tell that it was going to be a better day than IMWI. My legs felt good, HR came down early, and the watts came easy. I passed about 5 guys in the first 40 miles which made me feel like I was back in the race. I did everything I could to stay hydrated, with the temps now creeping even higher. I knew that there may be some performance decline late in the bike, and that being very conservative was going to pay off when we set out to run a marathon in the middle of the day. For the first 3 hours things were great. Then I really hit that wall of… boredom. I had been on my own for so long and now were were on lap 2 of the bike with amateur traffic everywhere. It was difficult to navigate around the other riders, the sections of bad roads, and the vehicles on course that would drive slowly behind the lapped bike traffic. I had to make multiple unsafe passes, I was held to a complete dismounted stop by an ambulance crossing an intersection, and I was exhausted from yelling “on your left.” Combine all of that with fatigue and I could feel my mood shifting to a negative place. The watts dropped quite a bit and at mile 90 I was in LOW SPOT #1 of the day. But then the best thing happened. Clay Emge, who I had passed 45ish miles earlier, caught back up to me. I was so happy to just have someone to ride with and keep motivated to finish the last 26 miles. In hindsight, the one thing I would definitely change about the bike is to work with Clay once I got to him the first time, rather than ride up the road. I had out about 3min into him only for it to be brought back later. Working together probably would’ve helped us both… but those are decisions made on the fly while racing. Sometimes you get them right, sometimes you don’t. Either way we were about 10 miles from the finish and another rider (Laughery) I had passed earlier bridged up to us. So the 3 of us rode into t2 together in 7th, 8th, 9th place.
Run- 3:12 – 3rd
Once off the bike and the convection effect stops, you could really tell how hot it was. Revere was there to tell me what place I was in, how far behind I was, and more importantly how BAD most people up the road looked due to the heat. During the first mile of the run I made a few game time decisions. 1- I was going to run entirely off of HR, not pace. 2- I was going to walk every aid station to work on lowering my HR and my core temperature. The run in Chattanooga is already challenging with over 1000ft of elevation, but today was going to be carnage for most. Emge and I ran basically together for the first few miles, with Laughery a bit behind. At around mile 4 at an aid station Clay looks to me and says “it is dangerously hot.” I responded with a “yep” and kept running. I didn’t see him again, as he had some nausea issues shortly after that. Now into 7th place, I kept plugging along. Each mile the HR would gradually rise, then each aid station I would bring it back down. Repeat x26. No problem! 😉 The race paid 6 deep, so I knew that 1 more spot would put me in the money and that based on who was up the road there was good potential for that as long as I kept my shit together. My body and mind were so much more connected than IMWI. I had awareness of what was happening and I could make smart decisions. Yay body fat. Around mile 8 I passed Andrew Talansky, who looked as if he was going to pass out, stumbling all over the road. Now in 6th I saw Revere and Tina who gave me some more info to what was happening ahead of me. I had taken a massive chunk of time out of everyone but the top 2 guys, Long and Russell. Revere told me I was running the fastest of anyone to that point, and even suggested I “chill” a bit because of the heat. I had been averaging 6:25/mi even with the walking at aid stations, and after seeing Talansky on the verge of falling over I thought maybe Revere is onto something. So I backed off a little. A few miles later I made the pass on Adam Feigh into 5th and being the supportive competitor he is, he offered some words of encouragement. I came through the first loop and started the 2nd feeling really good about how things had gone, but knew this was the 13 miles that really mattered. At mile 14 I passed a walking Pedro Gomes and was now in 4th place. Things started to get exciting for me at that moment. Was I about to run myself onto my first ever podium??? I felt so good, and with Nicholas Chase up the road in 3rd I felt confident in that possibility. Nick is a great swim/bike guy, but hasn’t really backed that up with any phenomenal run performances to that point. So the chase was on, no pun intended. I felt steady and my plan of walking aid stations continued to work. At mile 20 I saw Tina who told me that 3rd was 2min ahead and running slower. Wow. 10k to go, 2min down from 3rd, and to that point I had the fastest run of the day going. Pinch me. Oh and let me tell you, I definitely got pinched! It started with a twinge. Then quickly it was full on massive seizing hamstring cramps. The ones where you literally can not move until it stops. Both legs. Then the calves. I eventually worked up the courage to lean over to stretch them out and BAM, abdominal cramp. Now the arch of the feet. Hobble, hobble, walk, run. 2min later, repeat. Uh oh. Eventually even my biceps started cramping. From this point on it was no longer about catching 3rd, but about damage control and holding on to 4th. I ran/walk/cramped my way through the rest of the race in a sense of panic, trying everything I could think of to calm the cramps down. Salt, gatorade, technique changes… I even tried walking backwards! The last 10k of that run was the hardest physical and mental thing I have ever done, hands down. It took over an hour but I got through it. And although Feigh came close, I was able to hold on to 4th, still running the 3rd fastest time of the day. In the end, 24% of the entire field DNF’ed due to the heat and other issues, which is the 3rd highest DNF rate of any ironman ever. Tough day out there!
Finish- 4th Pro- 8:54
The finish line was amazing. The emotions of 4th place, my best overall finish, and redemption from IMWI hit me hard as I crossed the line. I was happy, proud, but with a small side of gutted from missing the podium. I stood there and watched the champaign podium celebration and then congratulated the guys and left the finishing area. Close, but not quite there. I left hungry for more, but properly satisfied for the day. I walked over and hugged Tina and Revere who were amazing the entire trip, but especially that day. They both were so happy for me, and I was so thankful for them. A true team effort.
I posted a quote on instagram in the days before the race, “Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.” Feeling this way allowed me to take the pressure off myself for Chattanooga. I went there to prove something to myself and nobody else. The redemption was my own, however I defined it. To learn from my struggles, make changes, and grow. Ironman and expectations don’t mix well. Focus on yourself, the process, and embrace the inevitable suffering, and you will never cross the line unsatisfied.
As always, thank you to Kitty for your support and being behind the idea of adding this race, even in the midst of our crazy last 4 weeks! (Bought a house, got married, 2 Ironmans.) Thanks to my sponsors- Summit Strength and Fitness and Trek Stores of Madison. Thanks to all my training partners over the years who continue to help me grow as an athlete. Team PBC for supporting and inspiring me through he highs and lows, (and helping me move, ha). Thanks to my coach, Bevan McKinnon for the knowledge and guidance. And finally thanks to all who tracked, sent messages, and pull for me, regardless of the race and regardless of how I finish.