“Hello again, its been too long…”

September 21, 2017 – After nearly twelve months of waiting and training since the flood-shortened Ironman Maryland on October 1, 2016, its finally time to hit the road to  Ironman Chattanooga.  The race was on Sunday, September 24th, but we were leaving on Thursday in order to have plenty of time before the race to get checked in and situated.  There was a mandatory check in by 5:00 p.m. on Friday, and since we had an eight hour drive, I didn’t want to take a chance of missing the cutoff if we left Friday morning and had car trouble.  Thus, after dropping off Jackson and Jillian at daycare on Thursday morning, Leigh Anne and I set out for Chattanooga.

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Ready to roll to Chattanooga.

After a few stops, we rolled into Chattanooga around 4:30 p.m. and had just enough time to park and get into the Ironman Village and get checked in.  I could have waited until Friday morning, but it was good to get it done and mark it off my “to-do” list.  I pretty much walked right up to the table and had my gear bags and race numbers in no time.  Then it was off to the Marriott about a mile up the road to check in there.

On Friday morning, Leigh Anne and I decided to ride a portion of the bike course, and  we drove out of town and parked at the Dollar General that was near the end of the “stick” of the “lollipop” bike course.  There were a fair amount of other people doing the same thing, and lots of cyclists were on Highway 193.  Unfortunately, there were lots of cars too, which was making Leigh Anne pretty nervous since she was still getting used to riding the road bike.  We did about 13 easy miles and then called it quits.  We then drove the rest of the bike course so that I would know what I was in for on Sunday.

Overall, the course didn’t look too bad, but there were lots of rolling hills.  None of the hills looked terribly tough on an individual basis, but I’d read about the climb at the bottom of the loop just before turning left onto Hog Jowl Road.  That climb didn’t look like much in the car, and I wondered if I was looking at the correct hill.  Sometimes its hard to judge hills in a car though, so maybe I’d have a different impression of it on race day.

The second portion of the bike loop was more scenic than the first portion, but the rollers continued.  It was mostly downhill coming back in, but there was a long sustained climb after the 50 mile checkpoint in Chickamunga – followed by a screaming downhill portion to complete the loop.  The only other thing that stood out about the loop was a horrible smelling dead skunk in the road, which I hoped would be gone by Sunday.

We finished driving the bike course before lunch and pretty much had the rest of Friday to kill.  After seeing all of the signs for “Rock City” on Lookout Mountain while driving in on Thursday, we decided to check it out.  Rock City was pretty neat, but is hard to describe.  It was a weird combination of scenic views, caverns, gnomes and the “Its a Small World” ride from Disney World.

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The one of the lookouts at Rock City.


I wasn’t looking to spend too much time on my feet, and thankfully we were able to walk through the entire site in about thirty minutes, then we had lunch at the restaurant near the scenic viewing area.  I also took a power nap on a bench while Leigh Anne explored the gift shop.



Looking back at Chattanooga.

We took the rest of the day to relax at the hotel, to attend the athlete briefing on the river and then to grab dinner out.  The restaurants were one of the best parts of Chattanooga.  As we passed through Ironman Village to go to the athlete briefing Friday afternoon I was really happy to have checked in on Thursday since the crowd was thick and the check in line was long.  It was sweltering hot, and the forecast was for Sunday to be even hotter.  I chose to skip the opening ceremony at the river on Friday night because I didn’t want to be out in the heat and humidity any more than necessary before the race.

Saturday morning began with me having severe muscle spasms in my neck, which caused me to go into total panic mode since I could barely turn my head.  Lets just say that I slept on it wrong.  I’ve had that issue a couple of times in the past, and its usually fixed by a few Flexeril and two of days of rest – neither of which I had in Chattanooga.  Leigh Anne ran out and bought me a tube of Biofreeze, and between that and some hot compresses, it loosened up enough for me to go try my pre-swim in the river.  I was still pretty freaked out though, about how I was going to sit in the  aero position for six hours on the bike the next day with a bad neck.

There was a park on the far side of the Tennessee River where you could park and walk down to the water.  Leigh Anne rode with me and was going to watch me swim, and then she was going to take off running and meet me back at the hotel.

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New ProK kit…but not willing to wear it for the first time on race day.

The water was a near perfect temperature, and the views weren’t too bad either.  The only problem was the slippery rocks at the entry/exit point, which caused me to fall and bang my leg just below the knee.  It hurt, but wasn’t a problem for the race, thankfully.

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Picturesque pre-swim…and inspired by the one-armed lady ahead of me.

I only planned to swim for ten minutes, and I took off up the river so I could ride the current back down.  It did hurt to turn my head due to my neck issues, but I was ABLE to turn my head, so that was the most important thing.  The current was noticeable but not super strong that morning, and it took me about 6.5 minutes to go up river and about 3.5 minutes to get back.  I felt good in the water, and after finishing my swim, I did a short run to shake out the legs for the last time.20170923_080328_resized

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Selena – ready to roll 116 miles.

When I got back to the hotel, I finished packing my bike and run bags, and made sure that my bike was in good working order.  I chose to go with one rear bottle cage instead of two, whereas I could have a single cage directly behind me.  When I was set up for two rear bottle cages, they each hang off to the side.  There would be a weight and an aero benefit to having just a single bottle cage in the back, and that would still give me a total capacity of three bottles when you factored in my aerobottle and the bottle at my shins.  Water would go in my aerobottle and 900 calories of Carbopro in each of the other two.  Once my first bottle of Carbopro ran dry around mile 58, I planned to grab the full one from behind me and then discard the empty bottle (at an aid station).  The aerobottle would be refilled with water at the aid stations, which were about 15 miles apart.  With two bottles of Carbopro on the bike, I wouldn’t have to stop at special needs to get the second bottle, saving time.

Once Leigh Anne got back from her run, we headed to Ironman Village yet again to check in my bike and my two gear bags.  It just so happened that I had a spot on the end of the bike rack, which would make finding my bike easy the next morning.  After a quick lunch, Leigh Anne set out to explore Ruby Falls and I went back to the hotel to put my feet up and to continue to work on loosening up my neck.  I took a hot bath with a whole bag of Epsom salts, which helped a bit.


End of the rack…must be a VIP.

I spent all afternoon just laying around and getting some last minute advice from Karen.  The race day weather looked like it was going to be 88 degrees and humid, and we discussed some last minute pacing strategy, particularly for the run.  We had planned on me running the first three miles at a 10:00 minute pace, and she suggested that I might want to consider bumping that up to 10:15 in light of the heat.

Leigh Anne and I had dinner at an Italian restaurant on the far side of the river Saturday night, which was also where the back half of the run course took place.  We took the opportunity to drive that portion of the run course, and I was a bit shocked when I saw the severity of the hills.  I knew the course was hilly and had looked at the course profile countless times, but sometimes it just doesn’t sink in completely until you see it first-hand.  Barton Avenue had a bad reputation since you run up it both ways on both loops, and it looked pretty nasty.  Oh well, I’m used to running the hills around my neighborhood, so hopefully I was ready for it.

Then it was back to the hotel to get some sleep before the alarm went off at 3:30 a.m.  I was scheduled to meet my buddy Danny Royce in the lobby of the Marriott around 4:00 a.m. so that we could carpool to the Ironman Village, so it was lights out by 9:00 p.m. after Leigh Anne applied my race number tattoos.  Unfortunately, sleep didn’t come easy.  There was the fear of sleeping through the countless alarms I’d set, coupled with the natural fear that Ironman races produce.  As much was I was on edge about the next day, the real challenge is getting to the Ironman starting line properly trained and injury and illness free.  That’s easier said than done, and although I’d battled some nagging injuries over the past two years, I was feeling good 10 hours from go time.  My neck wasn’t perfect, but had loosened up quite a bit over the past 14 hours.  It looked as though I’d made it, so all I needed to do was show up the next day and race.  After all of the blood, sweat and tears of training and preparing, that should be the easy part, right?

“I feel something so wrong by doing the right thing…”

2017 Patriot’s Half-Iron Triathlon

Race Report


 7/26 AG     33/239 Overall

September 9, 2017 – My final race before Ironman Chattanooga was the Patriot’s Half-Iron triathlon in Williamsburg.  Since the race was only two weeks before IMChoo, it was planned more as a long training day and a tuneup instead of a true “race” for me.  I was a little worried about doing a half within two weeks of the full, and had considered just doing the Olympic distance race on the same day.  Karen convinced me that the half was in the game plan, but she was going to restrict my running pace for the majority of the half marathon.  Thus, I was told to go hard on the swim and bike portions, but to run 10 minute miles for the first 8-9 miles of the run.  I knew that made sense, but I was afraid that my competitive nature might take over.

I didn’t know anyone else who was racing, and Leigh Anne and I drove down to Williamsburg on race morning.  That meant leaving home by about 4:00 a.m. to make sure that I got to the race site in time to get my packet and set up without the stress of feeling rushed.  The 2016 race had been brutally hot and humid, but the weather for 2017 was looking pretty close to ideal.  It was warm but not hot, and a recent cool spell meant that the swim was wetsuit legal.  It was shaping up to be a fast day.patriots wetsuit

Race Results

GPS Data

Swim:  33:58 (1:46/100m)  3/26 AG

After squeezing into my wetsuit and saying goodbye to Leigh Anne, I waded into the shallow water near the beach and waited for my swim wave to start.  I was in the first wave, and positioned myself near the front.  In years past, I’d started off to the side to try to stay out of the pandemonium of the swim start, but I’d gradually gotten better at swimming and less intimated by the start.  I’d been doing a lot better at keeping my heart rate under control in the beginning, and chose not to self-seed myself farther back or to the side this time.

After the horn went off, I took off in the out-and-back course.  The swim is in a river, but the current was very slow and doesn’t really affect your time, particularly since its hurting you as much as it helps you due to the out-and-back.  I felt good from the get-go, but after a few 100 meters my left goggle developed a tiny leak.  The exact same thing  happened in 2016, so that was pretty weird.  In lieu of stopping to try to fix it, I just breathed to the right, which kept the water in the left eye piece from dropping down into my eye every time I turned my head.

I felt like I was making good time on the “out” portion, but I’d told myself that I wasn’t going to look at my GPS until I finished the swim.  I reached the far end of the swim, swam across the river a bit, and then turned left to head back.  I tried to swim a bit faster coming back in and never really had any problems.  There was a giant inflatable wiggly man (I’m not sure what else to call it) marking the swim exit, and the wiggly man gradually got bigger as I neared the end of the swim.  It definitely made sighting easier.

patriots swim finish 1

The only real issue I had during the swim was the fact that the final 100 meters back to the beach were really shallow.  It was too shallow to swim and trying to run through waist deep water was exhausting.  I dolphin dived for a bit, and then decided to start pulling off my wetsuit as I made my way to shore.  The timing mat was still a good distance up the beach, after exiting the water and I glanced at my GPS for the first time as I crossed it.  I was shocked to see 33:58!  In 2016 the swim had taken me 40:27.  Granted, that swim was sans wetsuit, but the suit probably only accounted for a two minute differential.  Three at most.  I’d done a half-iron swim in Lake Anna with the wetsuit at the Kinetic Half in May, and that swim had taken me 37:07.  Thus, I was really happy with my swim, which was good enough for 3/26 in my age group.

patriots swim finish

T1: 2:41

Its a long run from the beach to the transition area, but I ran it at a pretty good clip.  Once I got into transition, I had to sit down to get my wetsuit off, then on went my bike shoes and my helmet.  Then I was off to the bike out area.  The timing mat was a good 10-15 yards prior to the mounting line, which slows your bike split a bit.  After passing the line, i hopped on, clipped in and took off.

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The long run from the beach to T1 – this is looking towards the water.

Bike:  2:46:02 (21.1 mph)  6/26 AG

patriots bike mount

The bike course is relatively flat, but there are plenty of rollers in the middle section.  There is also the bridge over the Chickahominy River, which has a nice incline to it in both directions.  The bike course is also 58 miles instead of the standard 56 for a half-iron race, which was fine, since the Chattanooga bike course is 116 instead of 112 miles.  I might as well get used to going a little farther.  In 2016 I’d finished the bike course in 2:54:18, which was a 20.1 mph average.  My goal for the day was to beat that time, which should have been doable with another year of training under my belt.  In addition, since Karen was having me baby the run, I really didn’t need to leave too much in the tank.

After getting out of the race site and onto the main road, I accelerated and tried to settle into a comfortably hard pace.  One cyclist went past me in the first mile or two, and I tried to go with him, but he was too fast.  I didn’t want to burn myself out that early on, so I let him go.  I overtook a couple of riders in the first few miles, but neither of them was fast enough to ride with me.  Thus, it looked like I was going to be riding alone for most of the day again, just like the year before.

After turning left onto Route 5, I looked at my GPS and saw that I was averaging about 21 miles per hour.  I felt good and thought that I could maintain the effort I was putting out for the entire ride.  The bridge over the river around mile 8 slowed me down and put me in the small chain ring for a bit, but then I accelerated down the other side.

I got passed by another rider on the far side of the bridge, but he was someone that I could hang with.  I rode behind him (at a legal following distance) until about mile 18, but once we hit some of the rolling hills he pulled away from me.  From that point, I’d be pretty much alone for the remainder of the ride.  There are no spectators on the bike course and its pretty rural, so its pretty much just you and your thoughts for the better part of three hours.

I kept pushing, and was happy to see my pace hovering around 21 mph.  My splits dipped a bit on the hills and when I slowed at the first two aid stations, but on the flats, I was holding 21-22.  Part of me wondered whether I was going a bit too hard and might bonk at the end of the bike, but I felt good and my cadence was smooth.  I drank my Carbopro every 15 minutes to get my calories in, and I had two gels on the ride as well.  300-350 calories per hour on the bike seems to be my sweet spot of getting enough calories in without taking in too many and causing GI distress on the run.  I also took a few salt tablets as well.

By the time I turned left onto Route 5 to head back towards the bike finish, I knew that the easiest part of the course was ahead of me.  There was only about 20 miles left, and my worries about overcooking the bike were fading.  I continued to push the pace and began to wonder how much I could beat my 2016 bike split by.

The last aid station was on Route 5 about 10-15 miles from the finish, and I decided to bypass it to maintain my speed.  My aerobar water bottle was about half full, and since it wasn’t super hot, I thought that I could get by on what was left.  I still had a few more swigs left in my Carbopro bottle as well.  Ultimately, I ran out of water with about 5 miles left, but it was nothing more than a minor annoyance.  If I’d planned on running hard though, I certainly would have slowed for an extra bottle.

When I back to the race site I had to slow down a good ways before the dismount line, and I knew that I’d had a really good ride.  After dismounting, I looked at the ride time  on my GPS before hitting the lap button and saw that I’d finished in 2:46:02 – more than 8 minutes faster than 2016.  That was a huge improvement and I was thrilled.  Some of that could be chalked up to the fact that I wasn’t too worried about saving myself for the run, but most was simply due to better conditioning.  Interestingly though, even though I’d gone harder than normal on the bike, I still felt really good and ready to run.

T2: 1:19

I racked my bike, sprayed on some sunscreen, changed my shoes and I was off.  I debated on whether to bring a water bottle with me on the run, but due to the reasonable temperature, I decided against it.  I’d just hit the aid stations for my fluids so I wouldn’t have to carry a bottle for 13.1 miles.

Run: 2:01:04  (9:15/mile)  11/26 AG

patriots transition

Miles 1-3 (9:45)(9:58)(9:57)

Karen had given me strict instructions to run 10 minute miles for the first 8-9 miles since IMChoo was only two weeks away.  Technically, 15 days.  I knew that was the smart play, but I’d finished 5th in my AG the year before.  After my fast swim and bike I was thinking that I had a great chance to make the podium, even if I ran slower than I was capable, but slightly faster than what Karen prescribed.  I decided not to let pride get the best of me, and tried to set off on a 10 minute pace.  That’s easier said than done since I almost always come out of T2 too hot.  The longer the race, the harder it is to make myself run slow at the beginning it seems.  My first mile was a 9:45 even though I tried to run slow, walked a bit and even stopped to readjust my shoe.  The next two miles were pretty much spot on though, but people from behind began running past me.  Thankfully, none were in my age group, and I was certainly looking at their ages on their calves as they went past.

Miles 4-6 (9:53)(9:58)(9:50)

In mile 4, someone in my age group finally caught me and we ran together for a minute or so.  He was training for Ironman Florida, and I felt the need to mention to him that I was running slow at my coach’s direction.  I told him that I could open up around mile 9, and he said I’d probably catch him since he was hurting.  I wished him luck, and then he left me behind.  I was really hoping that he wouldn’t be the one to knock me off the podium, and I kept plodding along at my 10 minute pace.  Shortly thereafter, another one of my age groupers went by.  I could have easily have gone with him, but I let him go too.  It was painful to watch him disappear ahead of me.

Miles 7-9 (9:44)(9:45)(9:15)

I pretty much stuck to the plan in miles 7 and 8, but allowed my pace to quicken just a little bit.  I was sure that Karen wouldn’t mind…at least, that’s what I told myself.  I was feeling really good and was thankful that it wasn’t as hot and humid as the year before.  In mile 9 I picked it up to a 9:15 pace, and had seen the age groupers who passed me  earlier way ahead of me at the turnarounds on the course.  I didn’t think I’d be able to catch either of them.

Miles 10-12 (9:10)(8:57)(8:44)

I continued to pick up speed, but I didn’t overdo it since I figured that a podium spot was out of the question.  I knew that at best, I was in third place since two guys had passed me on the run, but figured that I was lower than that and that some super speedy people in my age group had beaten me to the run course.

Mile 13 (8:24)

As I approached mile 13, I saw the guy who’d passed me at mile 4 about 100 yards ahead of me.  He was easy to spot in his blue and orange University of Florida trisuit, and he saw me coming up from behind.  I pulled up beside of him and saw that he was really hurting.  I guess he wasn’t joking when he said he was struggling nine miles prior.  We exchanged some pleasantries, and I had renewed hope of making the podium as I left him behind.

By and large, I felt good in the last half mile as I made my way towards the finish, and I pulled up next to a female whose husband was running next to her and cheering her on.  We ran together for a few 100 yards, and then I told her to go ahead to have the finishing chute to herself.  She was the third female overall, and I ran up the chute a few seconds after her.  I was tired, but feeling good, and felt like I could have kept going.

I’d finished in 5:25:02, which was almost seventeen minutes faster than my time of 5:41:57 in 2016.  That was a huge improvement, even though I’d taken it easy on the run.  Mission accomplished.  Sadly, however, even though I’d re-passed the Florida guy, I’d ended up 7/26 in my AG versus 5/15 the year before.  There were some speedy guys in 2017!

patriots chair


I felt well enough to have my “free” beer this time around, and then Leigh Anne and I had to head back to Richmond.  We needed to collect the kids from my parents’ house, and then it was off to Busher’s house for a party.  Karen was there, and was happy with my performance and my ability to (mostly) follow her instructions.  I’d deviated from her plan just a bit, but I think she had planned on me doing so.

There were fifteen days to IMChoo, and my plan was to taper and recover as much as possible during that time.  There is a thing called the “taper craze,” and it has that name for good reason.  The next two weeks would turn me into a complete germaphobe, and I was convinced that I’d be involved in some horrible travesty that would leave me unable to race.  Its funny what your mind can do to you when you spend so much time preparing for one race.

Anyways, the proverbial hay was now in the barn for IMChoo, and I was ready to finally get my shot at the full 140.6 miles of an Ironman.  Ironman Maryland had been shortened to 126.2 miles in 2016 due to flooding, and IMChoo is actually 144.6 miles because of the 116 mile bike course.  Thus, I’d get my 140.6 and then some.