May 22, 2016:
Sunday turned out to be a good day overall because I still managed to accomplish my goals and was able to enjoy the sweet taste of redemption after last year’s double flat on the bike course. However, I would like to send my condolences out to the family of Col. Gene Montague, the triathlete that passed away on the swim course. I never expected to be at an event where something like this occurred, but it is tragic none the less and hope his family can find peace during this difficult time.
Since I only live 110 miles away from the race, I came up early Saturday morning. This weekend was a bit of an experiment for me. I was driving my Nissan Leaf to this race, which is an electric vehicle for anyone who isn’t familiar with it. Yes, my Leaf does not have the range to get to Chattanooga on a straight shot, so I had to make a stop in Calhoun, Georgia, to use the DC super charge at the Premium Outlet Mall.
The entire trip up there took me about two and a half hours because of the charging and driving about 65 mph the whole way. When I got to Chattanooga I found a parking deck on my Chargepoint app where I could charge that was right by the Ironman Village. The woman who ran the deck told me the charging was free and because I was charging there…the parking was free too! I got away with not paying for fuel or parking all weekend (Thanks CARTA)!!
After I checked-in, browsed the Ironman Village a little, and picked up some swag, I went to the athlete meeting. If you’ve been to one athlete meeting, you’ve been to them all, but I still go because sometimes there is race specific stuff that is said. Whomever was giving the spiel at the athlete meeting said, “The swim is going to be a rolling start. You have one hour and ten minutes no matter when you go, so we expect you all to seed yourself so that the faster people are in the front.” I don’t remember him saying anything about the run course, because it was a fun little surprise the next day.
I wandered around downtown for a little bit after doing everything I needed to for pre-race stuff. I like Chattanooga a lot and think it has a lot to offer, especially since I’m an architect in my regular life. Two of the most unique buildings in Chattanooga are the Aquarium and the Hunter Museum of Art. If you’re on the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge, look down at the zig-zag ramp next to the Hunter Museum of Art. It’s kind of neat to watch the people go back and forth to get from top to bottom.
I think the coolest thing I saw was a street light that had bicycle symbols on it that I found at the end of the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge (which apparently is the longest pedestrian bridge in the world).
Looking back on it, maybe my minor leg issues on Sunday were related to how much I walked around on Saturday? Anyway, at about 5 PM I headed to the hotel to start getting all my stuff coordinated for Sunday. My mom and her friend were going to be there for the race, but they had to attend my cousin’s high school graduation and couldn’t make it up until later. I wouldn’t end up seeing them until I was running out of T2 during the race.
I was up at about 3 am to start packing up the car and getting ready. I always give a hotel a good review if they remember to give a wake-up call because I’ve had a few forget. I probably had one cup of coffee too many, but oh well, lesson learned. I had my transition all set up the way I liked it, tossed my gear bag in the nearby pay-for-parking station (which was the perfect place to stash it because it was out of the way) and left on the bus destined for the swim start.
Remember how I quoted the guy giving instructions at the athlete meeting? Well, he said seed yourselves accordingly, which I absolutely planned on doing so because the swim would end up like a Chinese fire drill like the year before. If you don’t understand the analogy, imagine a fire in what used to be Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong…that’s what the swim ends up like when there’s no seeding to it. I approached the front of the line and I looked around. Some of the people I saw up there…did not fit the mold of a faster swimmer. After that I moved up even closer to the front to try to give myself as clear of a path as possible.
First of all, compliments to Ironman for changing the way the race was started. Last year, we jumped in 3 at a time and it was a really slow process, not to mention the ramp you walked down was slanted sideways. They fixed both problems this year. The rolling start got everyone off super quick. I was able to shed all the slower swimmers by the turn buoy at 350 meters and had smooth sailing downstream. I was having trouble kicking though. Normally, I have a really strong two-beat kick, but every time I tried to really kick my left calf would tighten. That just forced me to ease off my legs a little. I ended up catching up to the Women’s Pro group with about 400 yards left and probably passed about 6 of them. If there was something annoying about the swim, it’s the smell of gasoline. It’s not like this was my first time experiencing this, but it’s just mildly irritating. At least it’s only a temporary thing.
I wish the transition area was organized slightly better. Sure, I had an easily identifiable landmark to use to find my bike since it was next to the second pay-to-park station, but there was no easy way to get to it because there was only one break in the rows. It would have been better if there were more gaps in the rows. I did a flying mount again for the bike, but it feels more like a waste of time because I fiddled around too long with strapping into my shoes.
I had forgotten how bumpy the bike ride was. I broke an arm pad base because of my weight bearing down on it and the bumps. However, because I managed to get to the front of the start line for the swim, I was able to miss out on the dangerous Chinese fire drill that is the bike course. It made for a much more enjoyable ride. It only has approximately 1,700′ of elevation change over 57 miles (the course has one extra mile to it), which isn’t bad at all because the Atlanta Cycling Vinings Loop has the same amount in 20 miles and I do that at least once a week. I was feeling small nagging pains in my right hip and my left hamstrings & calf. I just decided not to go full bore on the bike. After using the restroom, which cost me about a minute and a half, I ended up being caught by a huge draft pack. There were about 20 people all riding together as many as 3 wide. I don’t know how long they had been going that way, but I didn’t want to get a penalty for something so obvious and hung back from them. By the way, there are quite a few cool murals and paintings along the bike route that were kind of neat that you may not notice. This one was one of my personal favorites:
Coming out of T2 was the first time I actually saw my mom during the race. She was able to make her way around to different areas of the run course to see me because it’s a pretty tight course (which makes it very spectator friendly in an otherwise not a great spectator sport). However, the course was different than the one in the athlete guide. I’m not really a huge fan of last minute changes because now I have extra possible unknowns to handle. I was pretty strong through about 9 miles, but eventually the roughly 700′ of elevation change on the run course caught up to me and I felt it at the end.
I had been clock watching for most of the race, but I definitely did it more on the run. I knew I could finally go sub-5 despite the issues I was having with my legs. I managed to just make it in under 5 hours with 4:59:03. I was happy with that considering I had Ironman 70.3 New Orleans five weeks earlier. I was glad my mom and her friend made it out to the race too! She really had a good time, so maybe I’ll be working out a schedule to do a race closer to home once a year. She caught a really good picture of me enjoying the post-race massage.
Would I recommend Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga to other people? Absolutely. Last year was the first year for it, and they made improvements from it from year one to year two. I would imagine year three will be spectacular because they’ll be put on the world stage since I heard they will be hosting the World Championships for the 70.3.
Something We Can Address:
There is one thing I think could be improved, but I don’t know if my solution is practical. I think there should be some way to seed the swim. Why would you want to seed the swim? Earlier in my report, I said the swim is like a Chinese fire drill. It’s a lot to take in when you have such mass chaos going on around you. Those slower swimmers end up getting run down and mowed over by faster swimmers the whole time (which was exactly why I made sure I was at the front of the line). When you’re an inexperienced or weaker swimmer that could cause a number of issues for you, especially anxiety issues. It’s not like you’re standing on solid ground where you can stop and gather yourself, you’re relying on those kayaks and boats to be nearby for assistance and the ratio of triathletes to kayaks/boats is very disproportionate.
A wise man once told me that you should never point out a problem if you don’t have a solution because that’s just complaining. So if we look at the Atlanta Peachtree Road Race as a model I think it at least provides a starting point. For swim seeding you need a qualifying time from either a previous Ironman event or a qualifying race of some sort. If you do not have a qualifying time you are at the back of the line. You could just base bib numbers off swim qualifying times after you’ve assigned pro numbers. I know that doesn’t sound like a perfect solution because there are first timers who are fast swimmers with no qualifying race, but I think it’s better than “we expect you to seed yourself accordingly.”