I wasn’t expecting to qualify for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga, Tennessee when I raced Puerto Rico Ironman 70.3 back in March. My surprising second place finish provided me the rare opportunity to race alongside the best women in the world within my age group (F45-49). This was one of the best race experiences for me. I loved this event and never smiled so much during a race. It was definitely one of the hardest and most challenging triathlon courses I have ever raced on but it was amazing! I am so grateful to have met so many incredible people from all over the world. I was honored to be there among such strong, awesome women!
We flew directly from Burlington to Atlanta and then drove up to Chattanooga. I am not a fan of flying or the crowded flights. In fact I dread the whole flying experience. However we ran into another couple from Stowe while waiting to board our flight which made the travel so much more enjoyable. It was so great to connect with Kelly who is an accomplished triathlete and coach. She was also competing in the 70.3 World Championship within the F35-39 age group. The universe must have known I need more triathlete friends in my life because they sat right behind us. It was so great to chat about triathlon with Kelly for a couple hours! And it was so fun having pizza and beer at the Mellow Mushroom with Kelly and Nick after the race! They both rock!
We shared a wonderful river house just 12 minutes outside of downtown Chattanooga with Mary, her daughter, granddaughter and a young talented athlete named Brittany. The house was spacious, clean, with a rustic, cozy vibe. I loved being right on the pretty Tennessee River. I would definitely rent this house again if we ever do the regular 70.3 or full Ironman in Chattanooga. I am disappointed we had to leave a day earlier due to hurricane Irma. I was looking forward to having more time to relax and enjoy the river-front property. And I was hoping to swim right from the docks. Maybe next time!
Thursday evening and Friday went by pretty quickly as we always had something to do or get done. Our first stop on Thursday was lunch at Whole Foods Market, then going through athlete check in and then back to Whole Foods for a big shop. Having Whole Foods conveniently located on our way to the river house was really nice! Thursday evening our last task was a short shake out run. Brittany joined us and we drove out to find quieter roads. We did find some pretty running by the river but the roads were a bit windy and it was a little sketchy out that way. At least people seemed friendly.
Friday felt really busy and I never had time to just relax and enjoy the river house. Our first task was to do a practice swim down by Ross Landing. This was super fun and we both really enjoyed swimming the short course set up in the river. So many athletes were swimming and it felt like a real triathlon swim but much less violent. It was actually enjoyable and the water felt beautiful. I was wearing my Roka Skinsuit as we weren’t expecting to have a wetsuit legal swim. The hydro electric plant was running and causing a good current so it was slow going against the current. I did the loop twice and my overall pace was 2:30 minutes per 100 yards! Yikes! But we were promised the current would be lower in the morning.
We then drove the hilliest part of the bike course and I’m so glad we did. It was a crazy long steep 3.5 mile climb up Lookout Mountain! It was like climbing the App Gap here in Vermont but with an extra mile. But on race day I ended up enjoying this climb as that is what I did best back in my bike racing days 20 plus years ago. Later we brought my bike and transition bags down to the appropriate locations. It was always fun going into the athlete village and the area around Ross Landing. It was also a blast to keep running into our local Vermont friend Angie who is an amazing Ironman athlete and vegan like us!
The women raced on Saturday and the men on Sunday. This was Ironman’s first women only race which was exciting. I can’t say enough good things about having our own race with no boys! My wave was the last to go off at 8:58am. This was tough since the first wave went off at 7:30. We got down to transition at around 6am and I brought my nutrition to my bike and checked my tires. We then found a great coffee house where we relaxed for over an hour. Talking to a nice father and daughter from Australia helped calm my nerves. And it was great to meet Marlies, the 5th place woman of my age group in the coffee house with her husband.
The swim was a win for me that morning. I had been stressing over the strong currents from the hydro electric plant for a good solid week. The reports on the Slowtwitch triathlete forum had me worried about making the 60 minute time cut-off! Even Mary who is a similar swimmer to me was worried. But I also kept hearing the currents would be lower in the morning and the power plant would keep the currents low. The way it works is the less energy used by the general population, the less power and current. So the earlier in the morning the better!
Going off at 8:58 and starting towards the back of 219 women did make for an interesting swim. I thought I could feel the current increasing but wasn’t quite sure. Hearing other reports within my age group confirmed that I wasn’t imagining the increased current. My time ended up being 41 minutes and 42 seconds and for me that was a very good swim! The best news of the morning was that we did get to wear our wetsuits. The temperature got down to 76.1 F and they were announcing this in the morning! I’m so glad I packed my wetsuit!! So that was helpful in my success that morning in the water.
The swim turned out to be uneventful for the most part. I started towards the back and it never got too crowded or anything near violent. There were times when I had women all around me but it was manageable and not stressful like previous swims. I was a bit worried about not having a warm up swim before the race so I started off conservatively and that worked well for me. Better than having an anxiety attack!
After turning right and heading up river, I could not see a g*d damn thing! The sun was directly in my eyes and I had a lot of trouble seeing the yellow buoys. I was making sure I always had women in front of me and around me so I knew I was going in the right direction. But at times I got worried when I couldn’t see any buoys. It sometimes felt hard and tedious with the current and chop but I just kept plugging away. The bridges did help me navigate. And it was cool seeing the city sights to the right. It really was a neat swim!
I was so happy to see the turn buoy and the orange buoys which indicate that you are heading back! This was a diagonal line which was a little tricky because I had to make sure the current didn’t push me down stream where I would miss the next turn buoy. I had to swim a bit harder and aim a bit higher. I was still swimming with a couple women who seemed to be good company and my same speed. I think they caught up to me on the other side and we were around each other for a while. I ended up swimming with them to the exit. Sometimes it was helpful using them to sight.
Once I got to the final turn buoy I was so happy to be swimming down the river! It wasn’t a very long stretch, but it wasn’t as quick as I had expected. While I knew I was swimming faster with the current it didn’t feel that fast. Maybe I was just getting tired. My arms were fatiguing a bit but luckily I was still swimming well.
It was hard to get out of the swim exit and there was water churning against the concrete walls making it challenging. I was so thankful to have two volunteers help get me out of the water. That was tricky! I was a little shaky after that swim but knew I did a good job. I hadn’t seen my Garmin time and just focused on getting my transition bag and getting to my bike. Scott cheered me on while I was running to transition and even got a photo of me getting my bike gear on my body. It was so great having him support me for this race!
Overall I was very pleased with my swim. While I was in transition Scott told me I swam 41 minutes and I was satisfied with that time after dealing with the stronger than expected currents. Honestly I thought I had done a 45+ minute swim!
The bike course was epic and extremely challenging on many levels. This was a true championship bike course. And it should be hard! To be honest I didn’t look at the course until a few weeks after Ironman Lake Placid in July. I had heard that the normal IM and 70.3 course in Chattanooga had some hills but nothing crazy. But the course was changed and re-routed up the long steep road to Lookout Mountain. Mary strongly suggested we drive the course which I wasn’t planning on doing. Heck, I love to climb so I wasn’t really worried. I was too busy obsessing over the river currents. But I’m glad we did preview the first 20 or so miles.
After a slow transition between the swim and bike it took a few minutes to get myself warmed up and settled into the ride. The first 5 miles were through downtown Chattanooga with some technical turns and obstacles to avoid. Luckily many things were marked in bright red like pot holes, lid covers, rough road sections, etc. There were a couple women who passed me on this section but I knew I would be passing many on the climb up Lookout mountain.
After a few quick turns through more residential neighborhoods I was climbing up Lookout Mountain. This portion was a long 3.5 miles but I actually really enjoyed this. It was my favorite section of the course because I love to climb. It wasn’t quite as steep as the famous Vermont App Gap but it was longer. I never had to get out of my saddle. I just kept it in the granny gear and spun up efficiently and smoothly. I was passing many women the whole way up the climb. In retrospect I could have ridden a bit faster, but I knew I had a total of 22 miles of climbing and rolling hills ahead of me.
It was so pretty and the views were amazing. I got to appreciate the views the day before getting out of the car and taking photos. On the bike I was more focused on my own ride. I did love all the crowd support at the top of Lookout Mountain. There is a whole community that lives up there. Scott and I were thinking it would be a lovely place to live.
After leaving the Lookout Mountain community there was a nice downhill section before tackling all the rolling up hills and additional elevation gain. One cool thing to note is that after Lookout Mountain, we crossed the state line into Georgia so that the bulk of the loop was raced in the state known for peaches. It was very mountainous with pretty views. Being a mountain girl, I was appreciating the rural country roads. Even the surface conditions were pretty good. I was still passing women but also leap frogging a few where they would pass me on the down hills and I’d pass them again on the climbs. This went on for a while.
There were a couple aids stations out that way where I filled my front water bottle with clear water. I was doing well with nutrition and feeling good. This was a nice contrast from feeling sickly and awful on the bike at Lake Placid. I was also diligent about eating my shot blocks and drinking my bottles. But I did leave a bit left in the second one. It wasn’t hot and the weather was cool and sunny (high 60sF and low 70sF for the bike).
Eventually I came to the long descent which went well. I took this carefully but also didn’t want to hold back too much. I passed a couple women carefully but also had a couple women pass me on the descent. They were definitely going much faster than I felt was safe but each to their own. After mile 28 the terrain was flatter with some rollers and one small climb. I felt like I rode this section well averaging 20 miles per hour even with a good head wind and cars blocking me. Yes, there were cars allowed on the course and I had to deal with them on the last 20 miles or so. This was a first for me! It was the first time they were riding in the same lane going the same direction. There were a few that slowed me down and I had to get out of the aero position. They were certainly distracting and I was very angry about this. I even passed a couple cars on the left side which wasn’t safe but my good decision-making skills went out the window in the heat of the moment.
With about 10 to 12 miles to go, I noticed my quads were getting fatigued and decided be a bit conservative as I knew the run was going to be super hilly and hard. But I still focused on a good race pace back to the finish. The 5 mile section back through Chattanooga was uneventful but I had to remain focused on the obstacles circled and highlighted in red. I didn’t need to go down on the final stretch!
Once I handed off the bike I knew I had a pretty good ride. I was really hoping to have gotten under 3 hours but my official time was 3 hours, 1 minute and 13 seconds. That is close enough considering the hills, wind and cars in the road. This was a good bike ride for me. My neck did much better after getting re-fit on my bike so my discomfort levels were much lower compared to Lake Placid and other events. And I nailed my nutrition plan! So that was a win for sure. Overall I’m happy with my first word champion bike ride! It was my slowest 70.3 bike ride, but it was also the most challenging one I’ve seen!
The run course was super challenging due to so many hills. Who knew Chattanooga was so hilly! It was designed to be tough with constant up hills and down hills over bridges and through neighborhoods. With over 900 feet of climbing in 13.1 miles after such a tough bike course I was happy with my overall results. It wasn’t my fastest 70.3 run but I did enjoy it for the most part and smiled a lot during the hour and 45 minutes it took me to run. My official time was 1:45:20, 8:03 minutes per mile overall. Of the 219 women on the Ironman results site, I had the 25th fastest run. I was a little disappointed in this as I’ve always been the fastest or second fastest runner in my division. I was hoping for a top 10 run. But it was a world class field so being in the top 11.4% percent isn’t so bad after all. And I probably wasn’t fully recovered from Ironman Lake Placid 7 weeks ago.
I really didn’t have any solid pacing goals for this run. I figured if I ran 8 minute miles, that would be respectable with all the hills. It wasn’t that hot (we lucked out!) and the weather was beautiful and sunny. Maybe in the mid 70sF. Perfect day! But with little shade, the sun did wear me down on the second half of the run. Plenty of ice on the course and cold wet sponges kept my body temperatures cool, but being in the sun for well over 5 hours took a little bit of a toll.
The first mile was a lot of fun and I enjoyed the first part running along the river and seeing Lisa cheering me on. I felt decent and was ready to run! Mile two was a gradual climb up Riverside Drive heading out of the city. It was warmer and felt challenging. But I was running well doing sub 8 minute miles on this. There was a woman in my age group (Bib 626) who ran by me looking very strong but I had to run my own race. However, we would end up leap frogging for a good part of the race. The course then took a sharp left turn and went back the other direction towards town through the only shady section of the course along the river. This was the famous Tennessee River walk. It was pretty and I enjoyed this section.
The run became tough again heading up and over the Veterans Bridge over the Tennessee River. It was sunny and very warm and again I saw Lisa cheering me on the course on one of those city rent-a-bikes. The next section of the course was very difficult and went up a long climb and back down in residential neighborhoods and then back up again. There were a lot of folks cheering us on. I passed Brittany and we chatted very briefly. She had bike issues but was OK. So I continued onwards.
After this difficult section we were rewarded with a nice descent back towards town and then over the Walnut Street bridge which is just for pedestrians. I loved this bridge! It was made of wooden planks with beautiful views of the city. Scott and Lisa were both out there cheering me on and taking photos. I was so happy to see them. I was still feeling OK but felt the bright sun was taking its toll. I said to Scott that “I’m tired”. Honestly I just felt like stopping and laying down but knew I had to soldier onwards. I was doing fine but just didn’t feel like running the second loop.
I actually did fine on the second loop. I was just a little slower but not by a lot. The run back up Riverside Drive felt hotter and harder but I just ran conservatively to save energy for those final climbs across the river. Lisa was there again on her rent-a-bike and cheering me on and telling me to take long strides on the down hill. This was mile 8 and I had one of my fastest splits with the down hill clocking in at a 7:40 pace. The next three miles were slower between an 8:08 and an 8:29 pace through the hilly area across the bridge. But I was still running strong and respectable. I was enjoying running with such awesome women and that somehow gave me more energy.
Again the shaded Tennessee River Walk was a welcome relief and I tried to really enjoy it. I was still playing leap frog with # 626 but I felt like I would eventually lose her which did happen. I think she slowed down in that hilly residential section as she did finish a few minutes behind me. I wish I gotten the chance to chat with her after the race.
The climb over the Veterans bridge was harder and very warm but Scott was out there cheering me on. The run up the first long climb in the residential area felt very hard the second time around, but I knew I would feel good again heading back down the hill. And the second long climb back up the hill was also challenging but I was getting excited to see the top. This was mile 11 and I was still maintaining a decent pace.
Miles 12 and 13 were back towards the Walnut Street bridge, over the bridge and back towards the finish. I actually felt pretty good knowing I was almost done and the hard climbs were behind me. My paces were an 8:06 and a 7:43 for those miles. I saw Lisa and Scott again on the Walnut Street Bridge and was sooooo happy! I was almost done! I ran pretty fast into the finish and celebrated by raising my arms and smiling. I was thrilled! I finished a super hard course and completed my first world championship race very successfully. I did it!
It was really fun to have Lisa and Scott at the finish area with me. I got to meet Lisa’s other client named Joyce. And it was nice to sit down, relax and have a beer in the grass. It was so fun to see Angie again at the food area. I was so happy and thrilled to have finished that beast of a course! My work was done and it was time celebrate!
Thanks Lisa for all your help getting me here!
While we were disappointed to leave a day earlier, we made the most of the morning we had left in Chattanooga. We got to watch some of the men start their swim on Sunday which was really enjoyable and emotional. It was so amazing to see what I did on Saturday. As I watched the men swim up the river, I just couldn’t believe I had done that same swim course the day before. Tears welled up in my eyes! We also got to watch the top pro men run over the Walnut Street bridge. They were so impossibly fast! I really enjoyed the morning in Chattanooga. Before we drove down to Atlanta, we did find a nice brew pub called the Terminal Brewhouse which had some tasty vegan snacks (hummus and pita and fries) and delicious beer.
I miss the friendliness of Chattangooga and the beautiful Tennessee scenery. It was one of my favorite race venues! I truly hope to go back again someday to race the full or half Ironman. The people there really embrace the Ironman events. Thank you to everyone who made the day possible. The volunteers were amazing and the event was top notch!
Thank you to the best husband ever! I couldn’t have done this without you!