I picked this race because I wanted to test my race plan for Ironman Chattanooga on a comparable course. It was a benchmark to see where I stood and what things I needed to tweak since I’m down to four weeks to go.
The race is on a Saturday, which is pretty cool because I get Sunday to recover at home…or go to Costco after being personal airport taxi service since that’s on the to do list. That meant I had to go up Friday. I left at 10 a.m. and took my sweet ass time getting up there. I like food and booze, so I’ve been known to take detours if I have the free time, which I did because race packet pick-up wasn’t till 5 p.m.
This weekend’s detour was to a winery. Man I love doing these—sometimes you get good booze, sometimes you get a great view, and sometimes you get both. Friday I got both. All their wines are made from muscadines (a grape native to the southeastern United States). Muscadines aren’t that popular, so you may not have ever come across one. Everyone knows the best wines come from the Great Lakes region anyway. As you gaze out from your seat out front, you get an amazing view of the Great Smokies. I’ll eventually be back to find a good B&B in the area (I asked some locals who volunteered at an aid station for some recommendations after the race). I also picked up some of their muscadine jelly and cheese from the Sweetwater dairy farm right down the road (Pimento, Buttermilk & Gouda).
After a couple glasses out front of the tasting room, I decided to make my way over to Kingston. To get there your GPS will take you off the interstate, and since I already knew this I modified the directions to cover the bike course. Seriously, I actually wrote out hand directions to navigate me through the sticks. Normally I don’t drive the course because the MapMyRide is fairly accurate, but damn elevation map was ridiculous—I needed some field verification.
It didn’t take long to reach the turn-around at the corner of bumfuck & you-got-a-purdy-mouth, and that’s the best way to describe it. It’s time to figure out what I’d be up against. Unfortunately, I’m pissing off many of the local rednecks by driving 10 mph below the speed limit, but you gotta get a feel for the elevation gains on climbs. It didn’t take long for me to get the skinny on the course.
After five miles of driving I came to the conclusion this was going to be a cross between Cartersville and Silk Sheets. You’ve got the rollers of Silk Sheets and the technical aspects of Cartersville. There’s a twist, literally: it’s windy, especially all of the descents. The thought of flying down those at 50 mph and careening off a cliff into the river below is slightly terrifying. It’ll definitely put some hair on your nuts if you’re bold enough to ride down those on the aero bars.
I made my way into town to pick up my packet. The process was nice & simple compared to Ironman…which starts to feel like going through TSA each passing year.
There aren’t many options for hotels here. I think I had three choices and they all kinda sucked so I picked Motel 6 over Super 8 because every time I read reviews for them they talk about guys putting in work there…or they flat out say it’s a trap house. For some reason Expedia keeps changing my reservations to smoking rooms when I didn’t pick it. It’s Motel 6: I’d never stay there for a vacation but for one night it works (not for D). They leave the light on for you, and ironically the bathroom lights were permanently on. Good news, you keep drinking and those lights will go out.
I had a dream…it was a giant floating head of our dog in the clouds. It said to me, “Come on bro, wake up. It’s time to go for a walk. You can sleep when you’re dead.” Suddenly I was up. I somehow passed it with CNN blazing. Whatever, it’s a small race and I’m in no hurry. At least my little amigo wasn’t actually there whining and begging to be walked…he’s just satisfied with haunting my dreams.
Parking near transition was pretty convenient, except someone decided to double park me. I have a habit of stealing the hotel towels to use in transition. It’s one less thing I have to bring from home and they’re the perfect size. You’re not assigned a spot on a rack for your bike; it’s kind of a free-for-all. After about 20 minutes I was good to go, but I still had an hour before the start.
The sprint race started before the half, and they were positioned at the far end of the swim course. All the people doing the half lined up on the dock, which promptly started sinking from the massive amount of weight. At one point the water was up to my knees, so I just got in. The half was done in three waves since it was an in water start. The swim itself is a mixed bag because you have to swim up river, then back down & repeat. I quickly settled into my comfort zone and just cruised along. The higher intensity workouts over the last four weeks helped me pick up a little of the speed, but I still was cruising at about 50% my max pace. The exit for the swim sucks because you get the end of a slimy concrete boat ramp—you’ve been warned so proceed with caution. Being out in 27:33 was pretty solid.
T1 would have been quick, but when I put my aero helmet on part of the plastic molding pulled out. Unfortunately, I had to take a minute or so to try to pop it back in, but it didn’t stick. It came out twice on the bike, and trying to fix it while riding and avoiding a crash is very hard.
First things first: Stages power meters suck a fatty. It did not get picked up by my Garmin Edge even though it asked to calibrate it before I ran out of T1. What’s up with that shit? So, no power meter or cadence…again. Anyway, my legs felt like garbage on most of the bike; it was like I was pedaling in sludge and every stroke felt sluggish. Those long, windy downhills were just as scary as I imagined and I went down with my hands on my brakes in lieu of the aero bars. If there was one thing that set me apart from the field is that I could climb—I caught a lot of people on the longer climbs. Because my legs felt like shit, I decided to not pedal at all on long descents. I would make myself as compact and aero as possible and ride out the hill for as long as I could before I needed to pedal again. My logic was that I’d pick up some extra rest to preserve my legs for later and I like to think it worked out. If you had a choice, you’d avoid Ten Mile Road…but ya don’t, so don’t go too fast over the ground asphalt, especially downhill. As a whole, the roads aren’t bad; they have minor issues other than the aforementioned Ten Mile Road. Allegedly there were three aid stations on the bike. In reality there were two, and they consisted of one person with water bottles. The guy at the turn-around said, “You want more water?” Now he says this to me as I’m trying to make a hairpin turn on a tri bike. I said, “Yeah, but you gotta get it in my hand because I’m mid-turn.” He did not understand the concept and barely made an attempt to get it to me. There are NO port-a-potties on the bike course. So you’ll need to hold it till transition or find a way to go on the course.
The quick fix on my helmet came undone on the last major descent. It was like someone suddenly attached a parachute to my face because the plastic flap created so much drag. It’s not an easy thing to fix going nearly 50 mph down Decatur highway in heavy traffic (this is road is the only road with significant traffic on the course). I managed to hold near a 21 mph pace on the bike, which was still on plan.
I was out of T2 pretty quick and onto the run. My goal was to stay somewhere in the 8:00/mile range, but really I wanted to feel comfortable the entire run. I started off a little fast, but I fell into a comfort zone. I wasn’t out as fast as Ironman 70.3 Ohio. I packed four SaltStick fast chew rolls in my number belt this time in case I had the same problem as Ohio. I was lucky I packed what I did because two of the four fell out of the loops in the belt. I guess it’s not quite tight enough around them, so I’ll need to stash them in my back pockets next time.
There middle stretch of the course is bone flat and follows the Clinch River. The residential end is up & down and on the technical side. By the way, you run past the high school whose colors are orange and blue…yet call themselves the “yellow” jackets. The end of the course by the fort is the hardest and where you do the most climbing. That also happens to be where you finish…you need to haul your ass uphill. I did manage to not need to walk an aid station or any other part and I’d like to think it’s because I had been saving my legs as much as possible for the run.
There was a guy doing massages after the race, which really helped with my recovery this morning. There was plenty of food to go around. You do have to walk about a mile to get your stuff at transition. I got changed in one of the park bathrooms; I cleaned myself up by doing a sink shower since I had no access to real showers. At least it wasn’t a creepy public park bathroom.
This race was a good litmus test because I executed my plan executed very well—I’m pretty fucking stoked for Chattanooga coming up. The swim was strong, consistent and on cruise control. I demonstrated I could crush those climbs on the bike—and not pedaling to crank out watts downhill saved me a lot of energy. Shooting for 21 mph worked out pretty well on this course especially since my legs weren’t really feeling it. I didn’t even throw on my Zipp race wheels for this race and still hit my numbers. The run wasn’t glamorous, but I was able to get a feel for a comfortable pace on a two loop course that just like Chattanooga consists of a hilly residential area and stretches of long, flat riverwalk.
However, all the distances came up slightly short; it’s not like a marathon where everyone wants to be exact so their race is a Boston Qualifier. It wasn’t a bad experience and I’d probably do it again someday. What do you want for $80? I’ll take my 4:55:11 and enjoy my beers.
Feel free to check out the 3D mapping Relive video for the entire Storm the Fort Half course.