Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Race #11 of the Season: Ironman Chattanooga

Also known as DNF #3, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Ironman Boulder was technically an afterthought for this year. IMChoo fell on our fifth wedding anniversary and I asked Brandon if that's what I could have for an anniversary gift. "Honey, can we race an Ironman together?" "Um ... sure."

(He may have been more excited than that. I don't entirely recall.)

Since an Ironman takes up a lot of one's day (particularly if you're a back-of-packer like we are), I ideally wanted to be able to race with Brandon as much of the day as possible given that it was our anniversary. The original original plan was to try to PR it (fast swim makes this likely), buuuuut then I thought racing apart would make for a crappy anniversary so long story short, that's how we ended up signing up for Boulder, too. 

The loose game plan for IMChoo was for me to go off first in the swim, B start x many minutes behind, and ideally do the bike and run together. We'd drive down, partially for bike transport, and partially to have fun on a giant southern road trip so I could cross more states off my list (I had a huge hole down in that part of the country).

We left Monday prior to the race and rolled on into town Thursday morning just in time for athlete check-in. (Road trip story going on over at my personal blog.)


We checked in, chatted with a few people from Colorado we know (Aaron and Susan), and then went to go drive the bike course since we still couldn't check into the hotel. Bike course had some hills, for sure, but for the most part, we think it looked very doable. Loop two would probably suck, but the second (or third) loops on an Ironman bike always kind of suck, so whatever. 

We checked into the hotel after that and jogged back down to the expo and lunch.


Ahhh, NormaTecs. These might be a purchase for next year ...

TriSports (and local Colorado) buddy George asked if we wanted to do sushi that night with him and some of his other friends and since we enjoy pre-race sushi, we obviously said yes.

Friday morning we went to a practice swim in the river that a few people on the IMChoo Facebook page put together. We woke up about 10 minutes before it started (oops), but thankfully, so many people came, that the line to get in the water was still very long by the time we arrived.


No wetsuit? No problem. Water was definitely warm enough. I didn't necessarily feel like I was going all that slow going out against the current, but my Garmin said otherwise. Did about 500 yards; 12ish minutes out; 5ish minutes back. Of course, current on race day would be much lighter, but still.

Our friends Jeremy and Melanie got in this day, so from lunch on was mostly hanging out with them and going to the Aquarium.

Saturday morning we got on the bikes to spin out the legs and get to check-in that way. Brandon also stopped by the QRoo tent to figure out something with his rear derailleur; apparently it's good we stopped by, because something or other got loose and his rear wheel might have exploded (I may be embellishing. I don't really remember the exact conversation.). Crisis averted, we checked our stuff in.

Amaryllis racked and ready.

Rockin' the Smashfest Queen/Witsup kit with Sweet Cheeks.

Finish line. Little did we know this would be the closest we'd come to it ...

We met up with Jeremy and Melanie for some lunch at a place downtown and spent the rest of the afternoon chilling with our feet up before heading to a diner for some pre-race breakfast for dinner (gotta keep with tradition).

Back at the hotel, we watched some TV before dozing off. Might I say that the last 45 minutes or so of a disaster film (Everest) are not ideal for one's pre-Ironman viewing pleasure? Because it did not put me in a good happy mindset ...

Race Day:

We woke up fairly early (I forgot to set my "Wake up or you miss Ironman" alarm ... fail), as per usual, so we could hit up the same diner from the night before to get some breakfast to go. Thankfully we got there early (4something) because it took FOREVER to get our food. Food gotten, we walked ourselves and all our stuff down to transition. I thought about eating then, but wanted to get my tires taken care of first and foremost ... and of course I get the air line that's not moving. Also, bike techs that morning only had regular bike pumps and not air compressors like at Boulder (and I think like at IMAZ). Really should have just brought ours, especially knowing that we had cheer squad/sherpas. Eventually got my tires pumped up and rolled back to my spot. Tried eating food (got a breakfast sandwich); ate maybe half the egg of it and part of the bacon, sipping tiny bits of the oj before my stomach wanted nothing to do with it. Put my butt butter and vaseline into my T1 bag. Put my handheld into my T2 bag. Dropped off special needs. Loaded nutrition and hydration onto my bike.

Found my husband and got a picture with a T-Rex.


From there, we met up with Jeremy and Melanie and hopped a bus to the swim start. Got in the porta potty line and then found a place to sit (that was apparently also our spot in line for the swim). Then, it was just a lot of hurry up and wait until it was time to go into the water.

Typical husband face.

George found us and decided to take a nap.

With Jeremy and Melanie. Back when the day still held promise.

Without much warning, everyone was up standing; the line was moving and it was time to go swim. It was a self-seeded start (with wetsuits at the back; it was wetsuit optional by .8 degrees (so 83 degrees)) and Brandon started behind me to make it a little more likely that we could race together. Melanie stuck with me and Jeremy stayed with Brandon as we snaked our way toward the start. 

One thing that was marginally annoying is that you had to bounce out of line to drop off morning clothes and then reenter the swim line right before the arch. Thankfully most of us didn't realize it so no one cared that you essentially "cut" back in line, but I don't feel like this was well communicated to us. In hindsight, we also probably should have just given our sherpas our morning clothes to make life that much easier, but meh. 

At the point I broke from the line was the point I broke from Melanie (who I presume just went to find Jeremy and B). The air, while filled with the standard Ironman apprehension, was also fairly light. I and a few of the ladies around me were grooving to the music as we made our way to the dock. About six or seven of us jumped in at a time and off we went. 

Thankfully, as the water was fairly warm, I didn't need to do too much of my standard head bobbing to get acclimated, but I did once or twice and I started swimming.

Sighting was odd for me for this race. I ended up swimming pretty far to the right of everyone else (how this happened, I don't know), but since you're swimming downstream a river, you kind of can't go the wrong direction. I kind of tried making my way back toward everyone else which gave me the odd sensation of feeling like my body was diagonal most of the swim.

Buoys changed color at the halfway point again; I think this is a new(er) thing WTC is doing and it's WONDERFUL. Felt substantial current at the island (although we know that IM got the TVA to drop the current that morning by a lot ... losers) and saw Brandon pass me at the first bridge (non-wetsuit meant I could see his very distinctive SMASH kit). I mmrraa'ed at him a little (which I found out later, he did hear), and I tried like hell to catch up to him (kept him in sight for the bridges), but he ended up making seven minutes on me.

As always, the last 200m or so of the swim were the worst as you fight your way to the exit. I had to pee for probably the last 800m or so of the swim, but the exit was such that I couldn't pause for a second and pee. Dangit.



Time: 1:34:51 (71st division, 703rd gender, 2138th overall)


You exit the swim right onto some steps with the (always awesome) volunteers hauling you out of the water. You climb the steps, you check your Garmin and realize that you have a massive swim PR thanks to the course, you hear your cheer squad telling you you're seven minutes behind your husband, you run down toward transition, amusingly enough spotting said husband's swim cap on the ground, you grab your bike bag, and you head into the tent.

(Or at least that's what I did.)

In past Ironman recaps, I've said how nice it is to be the only one in the tent. Well, given the nature of this swim, I was in a damn crowded tent. I guess there were chairs at the other end, but I just thought to myself, "screw it," and stood in the middle of the tent to get ready to ride. I think half my transition time was trying to get my cool wings on my wet arms (forgot a towel. such a rookie ...), but by the time I was starting to get super frustrated with them, some volunteers came over to help. I also sunscreened myself super well, asking the volunteers to help with that also. I shoved some Skratch packets and extra nutrition into my back, handed off my bag, and clomped on to my bike. 

Oh hey, so this is what it's like to grab your bike off the rack when other people are still around you. 

Time: 8:25

The Bike:

Got on the bike and started pedaling. I kept my pace manageable, knowing that it was a long day and also that I hadn't really trained much since Boulder. Got in some liquid early on, and probably started eating somewhere between seven and ten miles in. Tried something new, food-wise, in Chick-Fil-A chicken minis - brilliant! Well, kind of - nuggets themselves are perfect, but the biscuit part of the minis wasn't so good. But the chicken - salty and protein and awesome. Totally keeping with these for the future. I also was able to figure out that I can eat say, a Picky Bar or a Bobo's Oat Bar at one time by making sure I'm at a spot on course where I don't need to change gears with my left hand; I hold the bar in that hand, shift with my right, and take periodic bites. I was able to get in more nutrition that way. Success! I'm finally learning how to eat on the bike! It's only taken me five years ...

I surprised myself with how well I was doing on some of the climbs and while it took a while to get into a rhythm (as it usually does), I felt really pretty good until about mile 40, when, yeah, okay, the lack of riding started hitting me (that is, the lady bits started hurting). Thankfully, I encountered Brandon not too long after this (about a mile or two before Chickamauga/special needs). We saw Jeremy and Melanie at this point, although we couldn't really chat given where we had to stop at special needs.

Chips and Dr. Pepper were once again awesome, but this time I was smarter - I put some of my leftover chips in the bag with my chicken and I bought mini bottles of Dr. Pepper so I could put the second in my back for later in the ride when I needed a pick-me-up. I also sunscreened up and shared the rest of my bottle with another athlete.

We rolled on out and from then on, B and I pretty much rode together. I greatly enjoyed the Rick Astley playing at the aid station right before the turn onto loop two. What I didn't enjoy was the return of the hot feet - I started having to douse my feet with water at this point. Grumble.

Turn to start the second loop, and it was like, as a fellow athlete put it, someone turned on the blast furnace. It had started getting hot anyway, but we had a killer headwind at this point too. Nothing to do but put your head down and ride, so that's what we did.

While loop one felt good, loop two felt awful. It was nice being able to commiserate with Brandon (and a few other athletes) about this, but we didn't want to quit, especially given that time-wise, we were in good shape of making the bike cuts. Brandon started feeling the heat a bit, saying he felt kind of light-headed, but he was doing everything possible to keep going. I told him to stay on my wheel (legally, obviously) and just follow my ass. "Honey, you love staring at my ass. Just stare at it to keep going."

We stopped at the aid stations. I peed once again at the first aid station. At the second, around mile 75, B was a little behind me and I heard him keep asking for water, so I figured he was doing all he could to keep his hydration/the heat in check. We left that station and he took off like a shot. I figured him cooling himself down slightly gave him a second wind, so I stayed within myself and let him go for the most part, knowing that if anything, I'd just meet up with him at the next aid station.

A mile or two down the road, I saw a bike down and some other riders stopped. I slowed down and my heart skipped as I recognized Brandon's bike. My husband was laying upside down in a ditch (ditch at an angle; his feet were up by the road) with a few other athletes around him. I hopped off my bike and scampered down, telling everyone who I am. The other people who had stopped doused him with water, putting some on his face to rouse him. 

(Side note: it was balls hot out, and other athletes passing by willingly gave up their water to help out a fallen competitor. Reasons like this are why I adore this sport.)

We revived him, one of the ladies stopped was a nurse, so everyone left except for her once they realized B was going to be okay. We were in a fortuitous location, as maybe 50 yards away was someone's beautifully shaded driveway. The nurse who stopped (I so wish I remembered her name! Thank you so much!) helped Brandon to the shade while I collected our bikes out of the way and brought them over. I insisted she keep going, as I was his wife and I was going to stick with him.

From there, we sat and waited. A bike tech on a motorcycle was flagged down; he said that B probably was done for the day. He radioed for medical.

We waited. 

A cop came by and chatted for a while - super nice guy. Also was willing to go find help. 

An ambulance came by. We weren't necessarily the people they were radioed to find, but they stopped and helped us anyway. Brandon got more water, they checked his vitals. No real advice except to keep hydrating and to stay cool.

From then, it was a waiting game. Brandon thought about maybe continuing, but the thought of him getting back on the bike was too much for him. We said that it was probably best to throw in the towel ... especially because he didn't really remember stopping at that aid station or the subsequent few miles. He tried to get me to get back out there, but I refused - that day was our fifth wedding anniversary, and I wasn't going to leave him. We were in it together. 

An Ironman staffer came by and while she wasn't sag, she radioed in our numbers for our DNF. She said she'd try to send sag back.

We waited. I was thankful I hadn't eaten all of my chips/chicken, because I snacked on them while sitting there. I drank my Dr. Pepper, but only after a good chunk of it exploded all over me (cool wings are still kind of stained from that. silly not being able to do laundry until a week later ...).

We waited. We saw the stream of athletes flow to a trickle. We saw Aaron pass by.

We waited.

We saw the final few riders, with the sweep vehicles behind them. The Ironman sweep truck stopped and while he wasn't sag, he picked us (and our bikes) up. The team was working on the fly to figure out all of us DNFers, as athletes were dropping like flies.

We got picked up. We drove past the aid station, where at least a dozen cyclists were sitting, waiting in the shade to get picked up.

We picked up the bike of another athlete, done for the day. The female staffer we talked to earlier was here, ending up being sag anyway.

We listened to the radio in the truck, hearing other staffers radio in, asking for sag/medical to come to run aid 5, 7, 11. We heard countless other numbers being called in as DNFs.

We drove to Chickamauga, passing a cramping athlete in the ditch. We got dropped off in Chickamauga. Our bikes went onto a truck; we were going to take a bus back to Chattanooga with other athletes.

We saw athletes miss the bike cutoff, crying, angry, sad, resigned.

Eventually, a good 20-25 of us were loaded onto a bus back to Chattanooga, our days done, our dreams of becoming Ironmen, whether again or for the first time, shelved for the day.

We got back to Chattanooga and somehow found Jeremy and Melanie. They were worried when they didn't see bike splits update for us for a while, but thankfully, it's the one time we were grateful that the IM tracker is always a little wonky.

(Apparently DNFs don't show up on a tracker until after the respective cutoff has passed; in our case, the bike cut.)

We waited until we were able to collect our bike and morning clothes bags, which was fun, as the volunteers said we had to get our bikes first. Um, my bike is somewhere right now, I don't really care where. Can I just have my damn flip-flops please? Our run bags, not there. We DNFers were tired and frustrated, and just wanted our stuff. I dropped off the bags I could get with Brandon, Jeremy, and Melanie, changed out of my damn bike shoes, and walked down to where I would have gotten my run bag had I made it off the bike. Our run bags were there, thankfully. I let a few other athletes that I recognized off the bus know that that's where they needed to go.

Our bikes hadn't shown up yet, and we didn't want to wait around in the chaos, so we hitched a ride back to our hotel from Jeremy and Melanie. We showered, and met up with them at the diner (again) for a meal full of wonderful fried crap. Emotional eating, hello once again. (I don't think I ate a vegetable this entire day ... unless you count potato chips.)

Sometime after dinner, Brandon and I drove down to collect our bikes. It hurt hearing the finish line, seeing the medals, seeing the (godawful hideous chartreuse) finisher hats. 

We quietly got our bikes, went back to the hotel, went to bed.


Over the next few days, we learned truly how hard of a day it was. Chattanooga hit an 80-year high - 97 degrees. We heard from finish line volunteers how they couldn't keep ice from melting. We learned that about a quarter of the field didn't finish. Out of the people we knew, neither of us finished. Neither did our friend Susan. Aaron did, but he thought he wouldn't. George, thankfully, had a great day for his final race at the 140.6 distance. We almost have a little club going, the IMChoo 2016 DNFers. 

On our way out of town the next day - a thing that got delayed by me locking my keys in my car for the first time ever ... - we headed down to Chickamauga to go see the battlefield. I wrongly thought the bike course went by/through it and this history nerd wanted to see it, damnit. While there, I asked Brandon if he wanted to return to the scene of the crime, as it were. He did. 

Monday, the day post-race, could not have been any more different. We encountered torrential downpours as we drove to mile 77ish of the bike course.


The driveway, where we waited for a few hours the day previously, guarded by the shade of those blessed trees. We noticed some of the trash from his crash still in the ditch - discarded water bottles, a bottle of sunscreen that had fallen out of his pocket. Brandon dashed into the rain to collect them, clean up the course, clear up reminders of us.


This DNF hurts, sure. It hurts in different ways. The hurt is lessened by the fact that I intentionally chose to DNF. If I was going to race a crazy endurance event on my wedding anniversary and picked another stupid Ironman to do just so I could do THIS particular Ironman with my husband ... I was going to stay with my husband. I chose to stay with my husband, to keep him company, to make sure he was okay, and I will 100% make that choice again. There's no guarantee I would have finished anyway, given the day's conditions and given the fact that it's Ironman, and I would be a liar if I said a little part of me doesn't still hurt and wonder, what if.

The DNF pain is also lessened solely due to the fact that I did already complete an Ironman this year. Silverman hurt last year because of the DNF at Harvest (due to similar circumstances as Choo). 

The DNF also hurts a bit knowing that I'm not going to be returning to the distance anytime soon. Sure, there's a small(ish) part of me that wants to do Boulder again next year in June, but there's a larger part of me that doesn't want to put in the work that it takes. I want to find joy in the process, and basically immediately starting to train for another freaking Ironman is NOT finding joy in the process. The earliest Brandon will consider doing another IM is 2019, so he can make sure he can properly manage the training with the job, as we don't yet know what his flight life will be like at Delta.

However, I know that I must fail and fall before I can rise and grow, and I will learn my lessons from this race, because I do have them. I also, as mentioned above, need to find joy in the training. While I do get joy out of the race itself, that is not enough to sustain me through the work that it takes to even get to be able to try to race. Until I can find enjoyment in the process, I need to find destinations that are a little more manageable.


  1. I'm so sorry your day ended in a DNF, but I'm also so glad Brandon is okay. I can't imagine what it was like for you to see his bike on the side of the road and to find him unconscious (!!) ON your anniversary (!!). Sometimes decisions are hard, and sometimes we second-guess them later, but I fully believe you made the right decision to DNF. If you had kept going, you would have spent the entire rest of your race worrying about Brandon and feeling guilty -- especially when you later heard how long of a wait he had for SAG. That's a regret you will never have, and I think it says a lot about you, your relationship, your priorities, and how well you kept your wits about you that day. No medal can replace THAT.

  2. You two are two of my favorite people in our sport. As you know my favorite thing about the sport is the people. I loved having sushi with you guys and seeing you guys several times over the course of the weekend. The two of you are forever champions in my book.