There was only one reason why this race was on my schedule: find redemption for Ironman Maryland. However, not every redemption story goes how you would’ve liked to script it.
I guess you could say this started in about November. I had never run a stand-alone marathon, so I thought that would give me a good idea of where I’d be for an Ironman. I had advice from someone whom will remain nameless, but is known for saying, “You wanna do another mile?” He told me, “Swimming? Nah, you’re not gonna need to do any of that. Biking? You don’t really need any of that either. You should just run. Run a lot of doubles. I’ll show you some more later.”
Well, I took a hiatus from swimming. I managed to sprinkle in some cycling once or twice a week. That resulted in about 45-60 mile run weeks and I felt sufficiently ready. I ended up bonking late in the race because I tried to run a pace that was much faster than I could keep up with. I hoped to take that lesson home with me. The next week I started triathlon training.
It wasn’t too hard to get back into a regular routine. The first race up was going to be Gulf Coast 70.3. It ended up being a trash race because they canceled the swim. I kind of mail it in when the race gets modified or canceled – it’s not like you can consider it a PR, right? As a swimmer, it starts to get in your head after you have two races, back to back, with canceled swims. I did manage my fastest bike split in a HIM at this race. After Gulf Coast I cranked up the mileage to my normal IM levels and switched from flats to hills.
I continued to work on my game plan at Ironman 70.3 Ohio in July. There I came up short on the run when my nutrition plan fell apart…the electrolytes literally dissolved. It left me with just one race left, Storm the Fort, to nail down how I wanted to race Chattanooga. Thing is, I realized at this time how much better I am at a HIM and probably should just stick to it for the future.
At Storm the Fort I managed to follow the race plan to the letter and resulted in a near PR. I had hamstring issues here, which I found out were being caused by the fact that my quads have been so much stronger it put much more stress on my hamstrings. I managed to conserve on the down hills and power through that bike. On the run I was able to power through the neighborhood hills. I felt like I was ready for Chattanooga.
Sunday was about me, the rest of the time was about spending quality time with food-stealing D.
On the way up Friday we stopped at Zaxby’s, the first time D had ever been to one. I’m sitting there eating my chicken finger plate when she reaches across and starts dipping her fries in my Zax sauce. I said, “What the hell are you doing? That is an executable offense!” Two minutes later she managed to do it again!
We arrived in town by 12:30 pm. The Ironman Village was just as unimpressive as per usual for the last year or so. No one was really handing out swag. The Ironman freebies weren’t great either, but hey at least the backpack was a big improvement over Maryland. Of course Little Debbie was on point though…I grabbed quite a few of their oatmeal cream sandwich things.
As we were leaving the Ironman Village to go to the athlete meeting I broke my right flip-flop. I honestly meant to put on shoes before we left, but forgot. There’s no way to fix Old Navy flip-flops, so I ended up walking around with only one on until we went back to the car after the meeting. I remembered I kept a pair of old Nikes in my roadside tub in my trunk in case I needed a change of clothes—problem solved! Later on those shitty old shoes would have half the tread peel off. I wrapped up the top with electrical tape…ghetto fabulous. Like I said, I meant to wear shoes up, I just forgot to. So now I have one useless flip-flop and a pair of Nikes held together by tape. Stay strong race shoes…stay strong.
It was probably about 4:00 pm when we were on our way back to our hotel. I wanted to take D out to some of the local(ish) wineries to escape the crowded downtown area. We saw a sign on the freeway for one that I didn’t even know about. It was closer, so that was going to be the Friday evening spot, but first we had to pick up some groceries. We ran into this guy & his family at Walmart…this guy had one of the fattest dips in I’d ever seen, Tito Francona would have been proud. He asked me if I was doing the race, and he said he was going to give the half a try next year. He said he lived in North Georgia right on the course and he’d be looking for me on Sunday (400 is an easy number to remember).
Anyway, after our quick shopping trip it was booze-n-food time. Dinner was covered because Lookout Winery does their own wood-fired pizza. They had an awesome view overlooking the Tennessee River as it turned into Lake Nickajack. However they’re on a hill and getting up their steep, winding driveway was a fucking nightmare. It was ten times worse than Vinings Mountain. I was flooring it in the Mazda and still crawling. The wine wasn’t too shabby and the pizza was awesome, if you add in the bonus hour of boozing for being in central time zone it turned into a pretty awesome night. We even made a new friend who also escaped the downtown scene.
Saturday morning I dropped off D downtown so she could get her long run in at the Riverwalk while I reorganized the transition bags to be set-up for a clean transition. I was cleaning my drivetrain when I discovered a clicking on my chainring. I found out that it was because the quick-release popped out (I had no rear brakes). Luckily, it was a simple fix, because fucking aero brakes are never simple. Ever.
I headed back downtown to drop off my gear at transition and meet up with D. After I finished up it was about 11:30 am and we sprung for some lunch at a Greek joint off Market St. I love gyros, so obviously I got the gyro plate. D has the audacity to…again…reach across the table for some of my grub-this time taking her fork and snagging one of my roasted potatoes. I said, “…what are you doing?” She says, “Well, we’re basically married…so it’s okay if I do this.” I think to myself, “keep stealing my food and I’ll give you a piece of metal for your hand if I can get to that fork quick enough.”
After me and the food-stealer finished up, we went to the hotel to shower. We then picked up our friends that came up and went out east of Chattanooga to go to wineries out in the mountains. The first place was a hole in the wall, but they had a couple of bottles of wine we liked. Our friends were light-weights, so two drinks each and they’re done. I’m talking to you Chuckles. To get from the first to the second place, you have to go through backroads of backroads. We saw an occasional burned out mobile home which I can only assume was a former meth lab given the nature of the area.
The second winery was pretty cool. First, you could actually go out and pick your own grapes if you felt so inclined. Next, they view on the mountains was awesome…even from the shitter (yes, they have a huge window in the bathroom that views the mountains). However, they do themselves a huge disservice by poor building layout. As an architect, I’d level off the pitched roof of their fermenting area, expand out and have a second floor patio that allowed for an awesome view. Chuckles was almost drooling on himself on the way home when I glanced in the rear view mirror. I’m sure it was like two hour nap time for them.
After we dropped them off, we had dinner then chilled out at the hotel room. By the way, the hotel did have D’s seal of approval; it met her minimum standards. I got to packing up the rest of our stuff and my morning clothes bag. I managed to do the shittiest job shaving ever; fucking cut myself in five different places, including a toe when I slipped on the floor (that cut on the toe would later rub the entire bike leg of the race).
Don’t ask me why, but the last memory of the dream I was having before waking up was Robin Williams yelling “Gooooooood morning Vietnam!” Before this year I usually had too many drinks the day before to dream. We were up at 2:30 am to pack up the car. This was one of the few times I didn’t have a wee bit of a hangover on race morning. By the way, fucking hotels…if you’re asked to give me a wake up call, do it! I know it’s an autodial program, which means you personally don’t have to call me…lazy asses. So as you can see I never rely on their wake up calls. The swim start is first come, first to go—thus I wanted to make sure I was at transition early and out to the buses quick. Race morning wasn’t all that complicated due to the fact IMCHOO has clean transitions. I wouldn’t need much out of my morning clothes bag seeing as it was wetsuit optional, and I planned on throwing the ghetto fabulous electrical taped Nikes in the trash. You’ll learn people are willing to do anything to cut the line so they aren’t in the back for the swim start. They aren’t even clever about it.
The swim start went quick; I was in 34 seconds after the start. I didn’t get this moment at Maryland, so I’m sure you could see the Waterboy-esque rage on my face when I went in. I was able to get separation quickly because I was in the front. From there I tried to find a free ride—why drive if you can be driven? After about 1,200 yards I found someone cruising at a speed I wanted to be at, so I slid in behind and drafted for about 1,000 yards until they fell off the pace. Despite being a 4.5 mile swim, the 2016 Chattanooga Rat Race gave me a good idea of what to set my pace at for this race. I found that adding five seconds off that pace and coasting downstream was right where I wanted to be in terms of effort, and the short free ride didn’t hurt since I conserved a little more on energy. I’ll take a top 50 swim time on minimal effort any day (47:26; 43rd overall).
T1 was quick given the circumstances. First, I had to exit the water through the stairs and run down the Riverwalk (video). That was followed by hauling ass up a hill into transition to grab my bike gear bag and head into the tent. In the past I’ve had issues with tri shoes not sitting right on my feet, so this time I put glide on the inside of the larger strap in order to get a smooth slide in without buckles. I was out and riding in 4:39 (video).
Now it was time for the longest portion of the day. I made it out of town fairly quickly. Over the past few years they seem to have devised the best possible solution to covering the railroad tracks in order to have a smooth ride. That guy with the fat dip (and an even fatter one this time) & his family were hanging out in their front yard somewhere mile 15 or 16, they yelled for me! For the first 20 miles my legs felt sluggish again, much like Storm the Fort. I already have the issue with my hamstrings because my quads are so much stronger, so I thought it was best to go with the same strategy as Storm the Fort and conserve my legs by coasting on longer downhills. I was able to get some more watts out of my legs for awhile, but it wouldn’t last all 116 miles.
Mike Tyson is always great for a quote if you need one…he once told Lennox Lewis “I want to eat your children.” The one I’m thinking of here comes from a post-match interview where he said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” The issue I had been having with the joint in my right big toe had started to flare up. Maybe it was always there that day and I just didn’t feel it because of the adrenaline until it wore off. It became harder to hammer out those watts like the first lap. So I’ve been punched in the mouth and started to fall off slightly—the best plan I could come up with is try to be as consistent as possible with every 5 mile lap. I could say I was able to do a decent job of that and for the most part was still close to the plan (I was about one mph slower). After 100 miles I could no longer handle the taste of my Perpetuem; it made me want to puke. In order to get the last bit of nutrition I’d need I made sure to grab a Clif gel shot. I finished up the bike in 5:56:50.
I tried to be in and out of T2 as quickly as I could, however I made a my third quick stop of the day at the porta-potty (Video into T2). I was willing to concede the time in order to make sure I was adequately hydrated going into the run. It was going to be a hot one, so I’d be doomed to fail without being hydrated. I was out in 4:29.
I had a pace in mind for the run going into the race, but I wanted to take it like Storm the Fort and run at a speed that was comfortable without having to check my watch habitually. I felt like if I did that I would have put more pressure on myself and burned out hard. I figured on a perfect day, my pace could have ended up between 8:30-9:00/mile, but again, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”.
Coming out of T2 there is a sudden surge in adrenaline again (Video out T2); all the aches and pains fade temporarily. Rounding that first corner I saw everyone who came to cheer me on, so it helped that boost. After about 3.5 miles I began to feel the pain in my big toe every time I planted that right foot. At that point I knew I was going to need to walk some of this marathon, but I wanted to hold out as long as possible. I’d yet to walk when I made it to North Chattanooga…this is the portion of the marathon that will humble you (video up Barton). There Russell and D told me I couldn’t walk up that hill. It wasn’t a walk, it wasn’t a run…it was a shuffle; my feet just continued to move underneath me. I was still running at mile 11, but I felt that sudden sense like I needed to quickly come up on an aid station with a porta-potty. I tripped going into it and almost put my foot through the hole. That experience turned out to be a waste of about three minutes because I just felt empty. I stumbled my way out the door to the last hill in North Chattanooga.
I tried running up it (video), but I couldn’t do it this time despite the encouragement of all the day-drinking spectators. They love this race because it’s a huge party over there. One guy had his couch and TV out in his front yard watching football. He’d yell out scores and whatnot…”Bills won…Bucs fucking suck!” (He was wearing a Jameis Winston jersey). One of the houses had a couple kegs out on their front porch and about forty people in their yard. I made it to the top and started my descent, making my pass in front of Russell & D on the way to Walnut Street Bridge.
One loop down, one to go. I manage to stay around 10 minute miles despite the hill walk, so I tried to keep pushing to be in that ballpark. I looked a lot like the Terrell Owens popcorn celebration every time I went through an aid station. I was probably wearing more Dixie Champagne than I managed to drink at that point. That reminds me, I really need to clean those shoes. I had kept up with new cold sponges when they had them and continued to get ice in my trucker hat to cool me down more. It was hot, but I lucked out that it wasn’t like last year. I was also lucky not to get any blisters because my feet had been soaked by mile five and I didn’t Vaseline. I managed to get back into North Chattanooga still running, despite feeling like I had a railroad spike driven through my foot. With Russell & D watching, I shuffled my way up that first long climb up Barton (video). By this point I could no longer stand the taste of my SaltStick tabs, so I grabbed a Base Salts tube at mile 20. It did the job, but it is damn near pure salt…it makes me feel like I should be shooting tequila too. Anyway, I continued to make my way through the neighborhood, just making a brief walk up the last hill. It was time for the home stretch over the Walnut Street Bridge then downhill into the chute.
I was never concerned about what my time was this race and I wouldn’t have had any clue what my overall time was had I not caught a glance at a clock leaving transition. I didn’t even know I went 47 minutes in the swim until after I finished. I just kept going and tried to stick to what was left of the plan.
When I signed up for this race I was still seething with anger about Maryland. There must have been a box on the form that asked, “Why are you doing this race?” I must have answered something along the lines of “I’m looking for redemption because I got hosed at Ironman Maryland and I’m not an Ironman.” As I approach the finish line (video), the announcer, Mike Riley, says “Eric, we know what happened to you at Maryland, now you truly ARE an IRONMAN!” At that moment all the crowd noise seemed to fade out and everything slowed as I walked across. I screamed because I finally earned it…undisputed…and now I ain’t fuckin’ doing another one. I finished in 11:41:55.
You can check out the 3D course mapping video here!