Ironman Chattanooga

First off:  thank you, thank you, thank you for all the support I received over the weekend!!! Whether you tracked me for 1 minute or for all 9.5 hours, I cannot thank you enough. The support via Facebook, Twitter, texts, and calls has been unreal and I’m beyond grateful.

Disclaimer: If you know me, you know I’m detail oriented, and being that I just raced for 9 hours, 33 minutes and qualified for Kona, this blog will be quite detailed and lengthy. Skip to the take away section at bottom, skim it, or read it all…your choice, and thank you again for the support.

Chattanooga weather greeted all athletes with nearly two straight days of rain on Friday and Saturday. Not a hard rain or a thunderstorm, just an annoying, steady rain throughout the day. I’ve been meaning to buy new goggles for a while now but kept delaying. So, I stopped by the Roka booth on Friday to try on and buy some new goggles. They hooked me up with a pair for all conditions. I mean, can you really have too many pairs of goggles? I say no. Two of the Roka reps swam in the river that morning and suggested the vermillion pair for cloudy skies and dark water, which is exactly how race day ending up being. Also on Friday, I checked out the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park with my parents. It’s actually the first dedicated National Military Park in the US. I’ve always been fascinated with history, and especially the Civil War era, so it was really cool to see the battle field and learn about the history.

Race morning started way too early. IM Chattanooga has a ridiculous (in my opinion) first come, first serve swim start. So, to avoid lines and having to navigate hundreds, if not a thousand, athletes throughout the swim, in T1, or early on the bike, I was in T1 shortly after it opened at 4:30 a.m.  I  set up the rest of my gear, got on a bus to be shuttled 2.5 miles up the river, and sat on a concrete walkway in the dark for over 2.5 hours until my race started at 7:30. Well, the first age group athlete started at 7:30, I was closer to 7:35 despite getting there early. Weather on race day wasn’t too bad at all. Low 60s in the am, but really muggy (95+% humidity level) and warmed to around 78-80 degrees in afternoon with light winds of 5 (ish) mph throughout the day.

Swim: 48:16

There was a lot of discussion about the flow rate in the river this year. I knew it was going to be slower than in 2014, but wasn’t sure exactly how much slower the swim times would be. After the race, I was talking to the coach of my teammate, Zach Carr,  and he thought it was about 4-5 minutes slower than last year. After slipping in to my Roka Viper Swimskin and my brand new SPCRM F1 goggles, I anxiously awaited the start of the age group race with 2000+ other athletes. After jumping in to the Tennessee River, I tried to angle diagonally right to not only take the tangent since the river bent right, but also because I heard the flow was higher in the middle of the river compared to the side where all the buoys were. I had a decent swim, but it was a lonely swim. I swam the entire race by myself since the competitors spread out so much, so it was hard to tell how I was doing. By the time I hit half way (yellow buoy’s first half of swim, orange second half), I was already ready to be done swimming. I just tried to stay mentally focused and gave myself small goals. We swim under 3 bridges in the second half of the swim, so I set those as my goals and just tried to get to each one. I finally got to the red turn buoy and knew I had less than a minute to go. Relieved, I ran up the steps and saw the clock that said 1 hour 3 minutes and I don’t remember the seconds. Wait, the pros started 10 minutes in front of the first AG athlete, and I was 4-5 minutes after that. Did I really just swim sub 50 minutes? Nice! Obviously the flow rate still helped as I swam 59 minutes at IM Texas back in May.

T1: 4:11

Ran hard up the hill to T1 to get bike gear. Quickly put on my sleeved Louis Garneau Every Man Jack jersey, headed out of change tent. While running toward porta potty, I put on my Rudy helmet and sunglasses. Made a quick stop at a porta potty, then ran to grab my bike and started my 116 mile journey on the basically all Northern Georgia bike loop. PS. Porta potty stop was worth it since I didn’t have to stop on bike like I did in Texas. I guess that’s one way to solve my “I can’t pee while biking” issue.  Still not the fastest method, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

Bike: 5:11:10.

The plan was to push the bike a little harder than I did in May at IM Texas. I decided to also wear my heart rate (HR) monitor since I know what my heart rate typically is for the effort I was expecting to produce. I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect since I knew this course was going to be hillier than Texas, plus it is 116 instead of 112 miles. I was, however, extremely confident about the bike going into the race. The first part of the bike was pretty lonely. I just tried to stay aero and focus on staying on top of nutrition, electrolytes, and hydration as I knew they’d not only be important for bike but also to set me up for a fast run. At mile 36, EMJ teammate Zach Carr (who went on to win overall amateur title) passed me and asked if I was feeling good, which I was, at the time at least. Watts were slightly above target because of slight headwind and net uphill first 32.5 miles, HR was still in the 120s, and I was feeling good. Shortly after mile 40, I started giving myself attitude when talking to myself. I took a step back (figuratively speaking, of course), and tried to problem solve my attitude issues. I quickly concluded it was nutrition issues. So I upped my nutrition and started eating every 10 minutes instead of every 15. Sure enough, about 10 miles later, I started to feel ok again and less angry for no reason. Also, at mile 50, I saw my parents (and a lot of other fans) who made the trip out to Chickamauga. Getting additional food and seeing my parents for 1.5 seconds was a huge boost. Starting the second loop (we did 11 miles out of town, two 47 mile loops, 11 miles back), I started feeling good again. Heading south again meant headwind and rolling hills with net uphill until we get to big climb at far south end of course around mile 79. After the big hill, I passed a group of 8-ish female pros and flew down the downhill section starting at mile 80. Shortly after that, though, I got in another funk. I didn’t think it was nutrition; I wasn’t really sure what it was. I started to doubt my decision to push higher watts early on the bike and more than I did in Texas. I knew my plan was solid and I could handle this pace, so I just ignored that thought and kept looking forward to my parents in Chickamauga again at mile 97. Watts started to drop and a few of the female pros and age group athletes passed me. At the 105 mile mark aid station right before turning to head back to T2, I got a water bottle. Then I saw a volunteer holding a full banana! My eyes lit up like a kid opening a present at Christmas. Normally they only give out a fourth to maybe a third of a banana at aid stations. I thought what the hell, this can’t hurt, I train with bananas all the time and already had several fourths at previous aid stations. So, in a matter of 2-3 bites, I had the banana peeled and shoved in my mouth and discarded the peel before the end of the aid station when we can no longer drop trash. Not sure if it helped at all, but it was delicious. Coincidently, I turned right to head north back to T2 and started feeling great again. The south wind was wonderful and my legs started feeling better, possibly the best since the early miles of the bike. They may have just gone numb or it could have been a mental thing knowing that I was headed to transition and almost done with the bike, but it was a pleasant surprise to feel good again. I finished strong and actually repassed the female pros and few age group athletes who passed me during my struggles from miles 80-105. I know with more experience and racing at this distance, I can produce a quicker bike split. Overall, though, I’m happy with my split because I pushed it more than I did at IM Texas and biked the same speed despite it being a longer race and a hillier course.

At mile 97 of the bike in Chickamauga

At mile 97 of the bike in Chickamauga

T2: 3:12

Did a flying dismount to an extremely awkward stride to get my run transition bag. Slipped on my socks and trusty Saucony Kinvara’s, grabbed race belt and nutrition and headed out to run after quick pit stop #2.

Flying dismount. Photo Credit: Gregg Gelmis of We Run Huntsville

Flying dismount. Photo Credit: Gregg Gelmis of We Run Huntsville

Run: 3:26:18

Quick note before I get into the run… If you tracked me live on race day, you might have seen 6:01 pace average for first split of .9 mile on IM tracker. I can 100% guarantee that I never went that fast. First mile was 6:58. My guess is the split was .8 of a mile, which if I did it in 5:25 (as the split says) would be 6:46 pace, and I still had a slight uphill to run for last .2 to get to first mile marker. But I digress.

I wasn’t sure what to expect on this run. I’m not counting IM Texas as running a marathon because I walked over half of it. IM Texas had 233 feet of elevation gain (according to my Garmin) compared to IM Chattanooga which was 1125 feet. First mile starts downhill to get to the river walk, flat for a 100 yards and then you have to climb right back up to get to street level again. As I mentioned above, I ran 6:58 for first mile. I wasn’t going to worry about pace too much unless I felt I was going too fast too early and pushing too hard. The first 7 miles are more or less flat, very slight rolling hills, nothing major or steep at all and didn’t throw me off my rhythm. I ran 6:58, 6:35, 6:42, 6:51, 6:51, 6:54, and 6:49 for the first 7 miles, all while holding a steady HR in the low 140s. I knew the hills were looming, but I felt very smooth and in control with very minimal to no pain; well, besides the normal “I’ve been racing for 7 hours at this point” pain. The hills on the north side of the Tennessee River were another hot topic leading into the race. I drove the course before the race to check them out and they were no joke. What caught me by surprise was a short, quarter-mile hill on the south side of the river from 7.75 to 8 miles. It was an unpleasant and painful surprise and this is when my body first started to really hurt. I ran 7:43 for that mile and knew I was about to hit the serious hills. You pretty much are either going up or down hills for a good 5 miles with no flat area. Theoretically, the downhill’s should somewhat negate the uphill’s, pace wise, but that’s not the case when all the downhill’s destroy your quads and hurt more than the uphill’s. I actually kept it together pretty well on the first lap of all those hills with splits of 7:55, 7:33, 8:01, 8:39, and 8:44. Pace was slowing and I was really starting to suffer. After a 9:09 and 9:01 on the flat part starting the 2nd loop, I just tried to regroup and refocus. I needed to take my mind off the pain throughout the entire lower half of my body and just focus on what I could control. Walking, like I did through the aid stations to get my nutrition and hydration, was one option since it was so much easier and less painful, but I knew that wasn’t a viable option for another 11 miles. I picked up my cadence a bit and tried to make my stride a little shorter, which is less effort than my normal running stride/cadence. This seemed to help and I started picking up the pace again. 7:58, 8:02, 8:01, alright this isn’t so bad, I can do this. 7:37, 7:45, nice! There’s mile 20, I’ve never run this far. Turn a corner, oh crap, this stupid hill again on south side of the river. 8:34. Don’t’ worry about it, you have 5 miles left, which is really like 3 or 4 because surely that runner’s high at the end of a marathon will kick in and carry you to the finish line. Focus on getting up the first big hill after the bridge and then regroup. 8:55. At this point, pace didn’t matter to me, I was in full-on survival mode. Right after mile 22’s 8:55, I started getting dizzy. I approached an aid station and knew carbs weren’t an issue, I was on point all run with my carbs, so I could only assume it was salt or electrolyte issues. So, I flooded my system with salt and electrolytes. I turned the corner, walked half way up the next hill and started to run again, crested the hill and ran down it. I was still dizzy, but was just hoping the salt would take effect. At the bottom of the hill I had to walk again. Dizziness was not going away and I was struggling. I took in some more salt and gave running another shot half way up that hill. Slowly, I started to feel a little better. 11:25 for mile 23. I knew if I could get to the top of the last big hill, I’d be at mile 24. Only 2 miles to go and a lot of it is downhill and surely that runner’s high will kick in. So I regrouped and started my slow shuffle up the hill. Determined not to walk, I kept pushing, reached the top and ran a 9:33. Again, pace didn’t matter. I was elated. I made it up the hill, had a very painful downhill ahead of me but was 2 miles from the finish, 2 miles from my first ever marathon, and 2 miles from being able to sit down! Pace dropped down to 8:15. The euphoric runner’s high was in full effect. Pain in my legs was starting to become numb and my brain was no longer recognizing it as much. On lap 1, I ran over the pedestrian only bridge as part of mile 13 starting at 8:15 pace and slowing to 10 minute pace by the time I got off the bridge. On my last mile (which was in 7:08 pace), I ran that same stretch starting at 7:53 and dropping down to 7:03 pace by the time I got off the bridge. I took the left turn after the bridge, went downhill, started seeing fans lining the barriers cheering for me; and there it was, in all its glory, that beautiful finish line with the announcer’s voice saying, “Kevin Denny from Lee’s Summit, Missouri. YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” I can’t even begin to describe the emotions that flooded my body. It was an unreal and very proud moment for me as I just finished, arguably, my hardest and toughest race ever. Redemption… and it felt so sweet.

That moment of relief when you realize you're about 50 yards from the finish line.

That moment of relief when you realize you’re about 50 yards from the finish line.

9:33:07. 1st in 25-29 AG, 5th amateur, 47th overall.

Takeaways:

  1. Marathons are long. Being a runner nearly all my life and running in college (albeit main events were mile and 3k steeplechase with only a few 5k’s and five 10k’s during cross country), you would think I’d have a grasp of how far a marathon is. I mean, technically I do, it’s 26.2 miles; but, until you actually do it, you don’t realize how far and grueling it is. I know with more time and experience at this distance, I can nail down a quicker marathon split.
  2. Nutrition plan still needs a lot of work. Nutrition during an Ironman is absolutely critical. Mine was better than IM Texas (cooler temps did help), but it still needs a lot of work and improvement.
  3. The thrill and relief of crossing the finish line, knowing that I am now done after 9:33 of racing, and qualifying for 2016 Ironman World Championships in Kona is indescribable. To be at such a low point during IM Texas, sitting at an aid station at mile 18 of the run, then fast forward just over 3 months later and conquering all those demons and doubts of “can I do this?” and “why did I jump up to the Ironman distance?” and to qualify for Kona is just incredible.

If you read that whole blog, thank you!! If you texted me, called, tweeted, liked, or anything else over the past week or so, thank you so much! I tried to respond to all of them, but I might have missed a few as the support was overwhelming and much appreciated. To all my Every Man Jack teammates, thanks for keeping me motivated throughout the season with stellar performances all summer long. Good luck to the EMJ Kona crew racing in one week. I cannot wait to track you all. Thank you Roka for the fantastic advice on which goggles to use when, I will now be prepared for any condition. Slipping in to some NormaTec boots shortly after crossing the finish line was amazing. It’s never too early to start the recovery process and it felt wonderful. Felt, Louis Garneau, Enve, GU, Rudy Project, Boco Gear, and Saucony; thank you for the continue support and fantastic products. Each was critical throughout racing and training this season and much appreciated.  To my coach, Ryan, for working through all the adversities this summer and getting me in the best possible position for a successful race at Ironman Chattanooga, thank you! To Elite Cycling, thank you so much. My bike ran without flaw and I truly appreciate all the support. Especially with the whole wheel fiasco all summer and getting that back to normal. Barney Butter, thank you for the support all year. Pretty sure I went through about 10 of your snack packs over the weekend. Cocoa + Coconut is very hard to beat and one of my favorites. And last, but most certainly not least, thank you to my parents. For the continued support and for going to Chattanooga and cheering even though you saw me for about 5 minutes of the 9.5 hours. You honestly might be crazier than I am.

Few extra pictures my parents took of me racing.

Mile 50 of bike in Chickamauga

Mile 50 of bike in Chickamauga

Pre race in line for swim start

Pre race in line for swim start

End of south side, about to cross bridge to the hills on the north part of loop

End of south side, about to cross bridge to the hills on the north part of loop

Start of run

Start of run

Exiting pedestrian only bridge at 25.5 miles into marathon

Exiting pedestrian only bridge at 25.5 miles into marathon

Getting some much needed motivation from my dad at mile 12

Getting some much needed motivation from my dad at mile 12

Finish 2

Awards with EMJ teammate and overall amateur winner Zach Carr

Awards with EMJ teammate and overall amateur winner Zach Carr

Even I celebrated with a little pizza

Even I celebrated with a little Gluten Free pizza

Post race NormaTec boots were much needed and appreciated

Post race NormaTec boots were much needed and appreciated

Best razor on the market. Go get an Every Man Jack razor.

Best razor on the market. Go get an Every Man Jack razor, you won’t be disappointed.