On September 23rd I completed my second Ironman triathlon in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It was my first time visiting Chattanooga and the course was beautiful. Last year my kids came to watch me complete my first Ironman in Florida but this time it was just my wife, Alicia, and I.
This email series will be an overview of some major takeaways I had from this race. Regardless if you ever plan a triathlon you will be able to learn from my experience and apply it to your fitness journey.
An Ironman consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run. It is a total of 140.6 miles. This particular course has a 116 mile bike and is a total of 144.6 miles. The swim goes down the Teneesee river and the bike course is through the hills of Georgia. Then you finish with the run alongside the river and the sunset is stunning.
The race took me 12 hours and 34 minutes. My first Ironman was 12 hours and 55 minutes. I was happy to finish faster than my first. The races were very different but in essence the test is the same. For me that test is the run.
This race overall I felt better. I got off of the bike approximately 7 hours 45 minutes into the race. Feeling as good as I felt I started my run between an 8:45-9 minute/mile pace. I felt good and I was going to target a 4 hour marathon.
In my opinion the run is the test. This is where you have to tap into all the training and all the mental fortitude in order to get through it. A marathon in itself is a challenge but a marathon after a 2.4 mile swim and 116 mile bike is brutal. Plus, this bike course was hilly.
Somewhere between mile 2 and mile 3 I discovered that my pace was too aggressive. This was signaled by the cramp in my right hamstring that felt like a stun gun. I am all too familiar with this feeling. It feels like a Charlie Horse all throughout the back of your leg. Having felt this before I know the drill…slow down. So I slowed down to a 10 minute/mile pace. I cruised at this pace for the next 10 miles and felt good.
I was accepting the fact that I was not on pace for a 4 hour marathon but now I was targeting somewhere around a 4 hour 15 minute to 4 hour 20 minute marathon. My run in Florida was 4 hours and 40 minutes so I definitely thought I would beat that time.
Somewhere in mile 14 I cramped up entirely throughout my right leg. It is difficult to describe this feeling. Basically your entire leg locks up. If you’ve felt this before then you know the feeling. At this point I knew I needed to stop running. I walked half a mile to the next drink station. I am taking deep breathes and trying to find relief in my leg. After walking through the drink station I attempted to slowly start running again.
I was able to run but now it was at a 11:30-12 minute/mile pace. I settled into this pace and could maintain it through out the rest of the race. This is where you test your body. This is the game. The game is how fast can I run and not cramp up but prevent running too slow because you want to finish as fast as your body lets you finish.
Nutrition, breathing, training, mindset…you name it all these things are in full throttle at this moment. The first Ironman I was unaware of this test. I only could imagine it having never experienced it. But this race I knew what was coming and actually was looking forward to it.
I wish I could tell you that I finished the run under the four hour goal that I set but I finished in 4 hours 50 minutes. You can see that this run was 10 minutes slower than my Florida Ironman last year.
The takeaway here is that sometimes you feel good and sometimes you don’t. This is part of training and part of life. The painful moments are when we make adjustments. We do whatever we need to do to stay in the race and finish strong. Sometimes we need to slowdown and that is ok. Sometimes we need to walk and that is ok. Regardless of how much pain we are in we keep moving.
Finish the race
Your fitness journey will leave you feeling sad, angry, frustrated, beat up and hopeless. You know this. The longer you stay on this journey the more familiar you become with this feeling. Not all the time but sometimes. This is part of it. If you are new to it then you may feel overwhelmed by this feeling. Much like someone who does an Ironman for the first time. It is on the run where you realize the actual test is in this part of the race. On your fitness journey these hard moments are the test. This is the game. Embrace it and press through it.