Wednesday, October 8, 2014

2014 Ironman Chattanooga Race Report -- 1st Amateur

Kona was my 2nd DNQuit.
Walking down the Queen K highway last October, I was done with Ironman, but still thirteen miles away from finally closing this chapter for good.  Naively, I had hammered the three Ironman races as full-tilt pursuits of that golden ticket into the 2013 Ironman World Championship.  By the time I made the finish line in Hawaii, I was over Ironman.

Longest 140.6 miles ever
After a little pouting and whining, I wanted one more shot at the distance. I planned to go to IRONMAN Chattanooga in 2014 and just try to rock one single day and end with a positive.  I wanted a day where my goal was to simply do things right, all day long.   Defeated after chasing Kona all last season, I had absolutely no interest in showing back up to that finish at the tail of the pack.  I decided I wouldn't challenge the Big Island until I could be competitive.

Straining to carry that bike fuel with tri-arms
Ditching the goal of qualifying for Kona made success much more tangible.  I was in control of expressing my fitness and measured victory by how well I executed the day.  It's a surprisingly calming, reassuring feeling to know I wasn't responsible for what I couldn't control, and my best was actually going to be good enough for me to be happy with my performance. 
Click for final build
Standing in transition on race morning, I felt surprisingly confident as I squared off to take on Chattanooga.  Typically, I would arrive on the soft side of the Ironman starting line full of hope, luck, and wishes, searching for a seam to sneak through to Kona.  Now as I lined up for the swim start commute, I felt tranquil. 

I figured I was now an hour swimmer after surviving the year of black line fever.  Since Stover had me basically living on the bike this season, I was showing up to race day with >4.5w/Kg FTP which seemed an absolute fairytale just a few months ago.  I steadily ticked 3:20 run splits last year, and with the extra fitness of this season, I was expecting big things.  My goal was simple: execute to my potential. It's so very simple.

lots of buses rolling to swim start for athletes and spectators
My race started 15 minutes after the first age groupers were wet.  The time trial Chattanooga swim start had us queuing up for over an hour before being herded to a floating dock and shunted into the water in droves. 

Ray is my boy.  Its hard to get him to talk, but its easy to learn once he starts.
 He's another Accelerate3 athlete and is one good knee away from crushing the M60-64s.
He ran straight out of knee cartridge after IMCanada.  A recent surgery, a cease & desist from his MD, coach, and wife wasn't about to keep him away from Chattanooga. 
They don't know Ray, and Ray don't know quitting.

this is what swimming looks like in a current
Everyone asks how the current felt.  Well, It felt like a swim.  Maybe I am not a sophisticated enough swimmer, but inside the reference frame of the moving water, there isn't much to gauge.  I did notice that the buoys were lined up well, but as the river snaked along, the current would move us off target.  Also, there's a pretty good lull in the flow as the mouth widens under the first bridge.  Its really the only time I was aware of how quick we were moving, and that's just because I had the reference of the bridge. 
Regardless, I focused on my goal for the swim: execute to my potential.  I kept the mantra of "swim better, not harder."  I chased toes and sighted often.  When I started to fatigue, I sucked it up instead of chilling out.  When I cramped a bit, I kept swimming instead of feeling sorry for myself.  When I hit the steps to climb out, my legs cramped like mad.  I waddled on like a champ. Simple goals and forward progress were my motivation.

the various starting times meant that transition was a zoo.
Spending "sofa king" much time get bags!
Seriously nice kit, dude!

race day payload, locked and loaded
Running through T1, I nabbed my swim-to-bike bag and found a seat in the changing tent.  When I sat down, my legs seized up so I couldn't get my swimskin down.  A volunteer began handing my someone else's gear out of the bag; that's when I realized I had grabbed the wrong bag.  Since I couldn't move, I asked that he run really freaking fast to put back 119 and get 118.  (thanks, dude.  You are the man!) By the time he returned, I had been stood by another volunteer and ditched my swim kit, then donned my bike gear, and with a lickety split, I was out and on my bad mother bicycle, ready to crush the bike course.  Thankfully, my legs started bending somewhere along the trot to the mounting line.
I usually dally the first bit of the bike settling in, but I found myself dancing on the pedals immediately.

There are lots of arguments to be made about what all the Dimond does different/better/faster/greater/blacker, but one undeniable attribute is making me feel like an absolute beast of a cyclist.  I began moving up quickly, finding strong swim/bikers that I hadn't expected to see most of the day.  The first 2-2.5hrs, I stayed on my 240w goal, but as I began riding into "P-stamped-calves," I began second guessing my wattage plan. 
bogies at 6 o'clock.  These guys kept me company a long time.
The second lap, I cooled down and targeted 230w instead.  As the course thinned out, I could tell the age groupers were getting to be much strong riders, taking longer to pass and drop.    I picked up a nice train of wheelsuckers that rode my conga line for a lot longer than I liked.  It gave me something to think about for an hour.  I kept wondering if I should let them hang around, hoping that my effort was enough to hurt their run splits, or if I should ditch them so they wouldn't get a soft bike ride and show up fresher to T2 than me. 

Herbert Krabel singled the Dimond out the day before IMChoo for a pictorial!
Ultimately, I did spit them off.  Instead of putting in hard efforts, I decided to go fast in places they probably wouldn't enjoy very much. It varies a bit, but we all go slow up and fast down. If you're savvy, there are several places on the bike course where slow becomes a choice, a really popular one actually, but still a choice.  I have a lot of confidence in the Dimond, so I tend to choose differently than most in those situations.

Traffic in Chickamauga was rolling at parade speed and made forward progress a challenge.
Challenges present opportunities for excellence, though. Right?

 Finishing up the 2nd lap, I backed way down and wrapped up those final 45 minutes at ~200w.  I knew I was getting really close to the front of the race, and knowing the monstrous run course that lay ahead, I decided to protect my legs a bit and throttle down.  Rolling back into town, I managed to make a few more passes including catching Bruce Gennari tangling with a FPro.  Knowing Bruce's reputation as being a missile to T2, I was confident I was way out of my element.

How cool is it when the pro's take pictures of you?
James Haycraft has taught me many lessons,
but he's been my mentor in humility.

Official time -- 4:48:44 puts the Dimond a few minutes into being the fastest amateur bike.
I couldn't love this bike any harder, but I am committed to giving it a solid go in 2015.

This is as good as you are going to feel for the next few hours, chief.

another visit to swim exit before heading out
I didn't realize I put on my number like a Greek statue
Rolling into T2, Emily told me I was on track to bust 9 hrs if  I could nip under a 3:15 run split.  I knew there was an outside chance, but I needed a perfect day to get there. 

The first 10k of the run was a challenge to run easy.  I self imposed a 7:30 floor the first 5k and planned to reassess from there.  I settled in and started dreaming of a 3:10 run split as the mile markers started coming in too soon.  Heading back, the course spilled onto an exposed freeway with a slight upward grade.  For the only time all day, the sun popped out and things started getting toasty.  Unfortunately, its pretty lonely at the pointy end of the race, so all I had to think about was how hot it was getting and how relentless the grade was becoming. 
Still ignorant enough to believe this was a big hill.

When I finally aimed toward the north side of the river, I saw Emily again and got the update that I was leading the M35-39 age group but losing time to the next two guys.  I knew things were about to get unpleasant; the north side of the course is packed with full on demoralizing climbs followed with quad-busting descents.  It's a pretty dang tough marathon course to chase after a 120 swim/bike race.

The MPro in front jockeyed with me a lot
as he went from blistering pace to port-a-loo.
 I was fortunate to have the energy to feel sorry for him.

Fortunately, starting the second loop I made it into some first-lap traffic.  I knew my pace was dropping, I had already gotten comfortable with being uncomfortable, and I was barely getting into the second lap.  I decided to focus on what I could control and just pursue my simple little goal: reach my potential.  I got this.  I committed to only thinking about my run form.  I sifted through the mental noise, honed in on what my form was doing, what it should be doing, and making it happen.

Unfortunately, the race started getting loud inside my head as I crossed back over to the north loop. Hitting the final 10k, I got more updates. 

<--Heath Dotson of HD Coaching warned me it was time to start grunting
 just before E drops the bomb on me.
Emily came clean with her story; she said I was 14 minutes up on the next M35-39, but I was actually leading the amateur race.  The bad news was those guys were putting 30 seconds into me each mile.  It was a hopeless situation as I began to come to terms with the inevitability.  I had faith in holding my pace, but there was no way to control the time hemorrhage. Suddenly, I was chasing a goal I couldn't reach.  I started settling; I started conceding defeat; I started shutting down.

well for maybe a minute.

I shoved all that racket back out of my head and did all I could in each moment. My "thing I do well" is not slow down as much as most.  I can go "not that fast" a very long time without slowing down much.  I had a 10k remaining, and all I needed was to reach my potential. Its just so very simple.

Thanks for the pic Mr. Krabel!

The final trip back into town, I felt the impending doom of losing by precious few seconds.  Closing in on the last mile, a late spur from Brice came as calm, imperative statement, "son, you've got to go."  I don't remember much of mile 144, but I knew I wasn't going to spend any sleepless nights feeling weak because I gave up when it really counted.

For the first time, I finally heard Mike Reilly call my name: Our first age grouper, Christopher Borden of Haleyville, Alabama, you are an IRONMAN. 

9:07:09 Officially -- First Amateur

The Race Course :2014 IRONMAN Chattanooga -- 144.68 miles of opportunity

Being an inaugural event, of course there were some bugs to workout.  The interesting thing was just how publicly it played out online.  It made for some pretty entertaining commentary, but by race day, whoever is calling the shots at IMChoo had done a solid job of it. 


So what you need to know about the course:

Lots of buses wagging spectators between
swim start, transition, and Chickamauga

Swim -- The TT start means racing is against the clock.  This really detracts from being able to race the competition on the day.  Its very valuable to know the guy blasting by on the bike is pushing you farther down the leaderboard if you let him go, or the runner prancing away may be taking your dreams with him.  If its hard to be intrinsically motivated on race day, this should be a big draw back to IMChoo.  Another big negative, the first competitor in the water had a much different race than the last one in.  Had I've been early to the queue, I would've been racing solo virtually all day instead of juking and jiving along the bike course.  Also, here particularly, the tacks tossed onto the course effected late racers tremendously.  If you were early in, you were early off the course and less likely to be sabotaged. 
this is just a random picture she snapped along the run course
Pretty snazzy scenery to run through
 The current cost us ~10' on the day.  Sure that hurts good swimmers, but it also hurts those of us that prefer more racing to less.  Ultimately, it was a river swim and we knew it going in. I say no whining about this.

Glen Rudolph on his way to the first off the bike M25-29
Bike --
The story is they are scrapping the North Georgia route in favor of a more Tennessee'ly bike course.  Regardless, this course rocked.  There were some less than awesome administrative miles getting in and out of transition.  Once out onto the course, it was buttery smooth asphalt, rolling hills with a few decent ups, and handful of technical turns.  It really is a great bike course for a strong, savvy cyclist.  Choose one and it'll most likely punish you more than you expect.

Rudolph feeling uncharacteristically
 good on the marathon
Todd Allan about to PR @IM#9
Yeah. It is legit.  We had a perfect, mostly overcast day with a few cooling sprinkles.  On a hot day, this bad boy will be brutal.  The initial segment along the river is well supported with lots of shade and scenery.  The turn back to the bridge is a gradual, unprotected uphill freeway that felt desolate early on.  If its hot, this is going to concentrate a lot of suck.  Be warned, there be monsters on the north side of the river.  Its either on or off, up or down.  There's no break from the suffering, the only reprieve is alternating what's hurting. 

Don't go into the light, Ray!
6th M60-64 despite not being able to run

Overall, the race is very well supported along the entire course.  Chickamauga was a little too supported for me as I got some helmet love when a volunteer decided to reach for me with a bottle as I was squeezing through, and a sitting spectator elected to stretch his legs into the roadway just as I zipped by.  Big crowds, lots of energy, but keep your head on a swivel.  The run course looked like a huge party on the second lap.  At times, it was a little annoying getting around all the action, but overall it was really nice to have the distractions. 

Tim Ferguson providing a tremendous amount of support for the fellas.
Believe or not, this Rainbow Unitard disguises himself as smokin' fast triathlete on occasion.
My vote for IMChoo, don't change a thing.  (except for this unicorn gimp thing )

The Venue : Chattanooga, Tn 

Very fun city, for sure.  I had a blast, the support crew were always occupied, and the grub is amazing.  I was a little butt hurt when Asheville was passed over by WTC, but Chattanooga hit all the marks for us.  Lots of images below followed by a short list of the best food we found from Emily.

not posing for a pic between the Village and Blue Plate.
Soaking up the Ironman Village "energy"

This is my "I'm so sick of you taking pictures" face.
So the AWA program meant I could skip the epic packet pick-up line.  It just seemed rude to me, though. I'm all up for being a jerk to my friends but not strangers.
 I had a special bib with low number.  Then I got preferential racking in transition close to the pro rack.  I don't know, but I felt like a WTC-whore playing along.  If I am honest, I do like the attention, but I just don't feel good about it. They did give me a white and gold AWA swim cap that I didn't wear and a snazzy trucker hat(!) that I gave to Dad.  (Looks pimp on him, he can rock anything like a boss.)

This ran all weekend scrolling through AWA names. 
The image is jacked, but it looked normal. 
They also had one at awards.
Pro-talk and athlete briefing

I don't know the deal with this thing, but it was imperative that we stop a stranger to make a picture of us.
Great use of parking garage. 

Lots of relaxing at the IMAX.
The Majestic 12 theater had recliners, grub,
drinks, and a waitress.
 It was a great place to chill out before race day.
This is my crazy happy fun face. 

Mellow Mushroom Carb loading
I hope everyone approves of the
 more conservative short length 

Rickard Family rocked the IronKids

It's been a very long journey to tick this box.
Glen Rickard, You are an IRONMAN

Another Accelerate3 guy, Bobby Craig, just
missed out on a KQ after ageing into the 30s
Thumbs out or thumbs in?
2nd Amateur Andrew Lipscomb seemed to
move around pretty well Monday morning
despite stalking me all afternoon Sunday.

The Ghost tours are a great way to noodle around Chattanooga and walk off some of the previous day's 146 miles.  Word is these bright sparkles are spirit orbs...

Warning to late night finishers. 
Walnut St Bridge is full of apparitions.  
More spirit orbs can be seen the night of the race

The Terminal had a small selection of good brew.
Alleia-worth the visit

Right before we left, we found Farmer's Daughter.  Farm to table food, small menu, but really good.  The coffee is served in these wee faux-French presses.  If you are a coffee snob, this stuff is good.  Make sure you try the coffee soda thing.  Coffee, seltzer water, simple sugar.  Man its good though.
I love cold treats.  Its a vice.  Milk & Honey gelato was on the best list, and it was phenominal.  My personal favorite was GiGi's fro-yo.  I'd never had frozen yogurt that was so creamy. 

  deliciousness at the Bluegrass grill
Yummies at the Blue Plate next to transition

Lots of stuff for the fam' to do including the Frisbee Dog World Championship

Free shuttle all over Chattanooga makes urban travel easy and disgusting.
The Good Dog was a hit. Word is all their sausages are homemade.
Easton wants to be a hustler when he grows up.
like Snoop Dogg

Sometimes Mom photobombs the finish photo. 
Dad is rocking the AWA trucker hat.

If you made it this far...
Cheers to accountability, y'all!  Next Goal: sub-9 @ Kona 2015
Looks like I am going to need a few more muscles.

Emily's must eats in the Choo!

As a foodie, one of the best things about traveling is trying local restaurants, and Chattanooga did not disappoint! Most of the restaurants serve lots of farm to table goodness, and I created my very own food tour to give several of them a try! I have listed my favorites and what I tried at each of them. 


Aretha Frankenstein: Small restaurant, huge portions, crazy looking cook. The food is great, but consider sharing.
The Farmers Daughter: Cool little farm to table joint seeded in an renovated gas station.  Its got a small breakfast menu, but it was good eats and amazing coffee served in individual mini faux-French presses.  Make sure to try the Iced Coffee Soda.
Blue Plate Café: Right beside IM Village, super convenient, good eating too
Bluegrass grill: There is a line wrapping around the corner.  It is worth the wait.  Family owned and operated little dinner.


Taco Mamacitas: Think funky, trendy tacos and fresh homemade, fresh squeezed margaritas.
The Good Dog: homemade gourmet hot dog
Lupi's: We should've had this instead of Mellow Mushroom, but we did make finally get to eat here.  Lots of unique pizza ingredients.


Beast and barrel: this was our first stop. Great fries, cool atmosphere, and Chris loved his chickpea burger
Urban stack: great burgers, great brew.  The burgers are seriously unique. Chris rewards himself with a burger after a big race, so we always find a cool burger spot.  This one didn't disappoint. 
Alleia: This place is absolutely phenomenal.  Very unique menu of farm to table grub.  We chose to order a variety of apps and small plates:  grilled romaine salad, bacon wrapped dates, eggplant frites, and homemade pasta. We did not want to quit eating! 

Dessert: We love some fro-yo!

Gigi's: Chris's pick for creaminess. 
Top it off: Right beside a trolley stop, lots of flavors, seriously good stuff. 
Milk and honey: Gelato that packs a much richer punch than frozen yogurt.