I woke up race morning, naturally, at 5 am ready to go. Transition closed at 7:30 am; and since I was one of the last waves to start at 9:04 am, I didn’t arrive to transition until 6:45 am. It was actually a very stress free morning for me. I had plenty of time to relax and eat breakfast before leaving for transition since no athlete had access to his bike or run gear bag race morning. I really only had to add my nutrition and bottles to my bike.
The swim start was unique. We lined up in a corral until we were able to go down toward the end of the dock where they had gates for us queue in. There were roughly 10 lines to pick from and they were sending athletes off about every 10 seconds to dive into the Tennessee River. I started next to two Every Man Jack Teammates, Greg Grosicki and Dan Isaacson. Greg noticed people that started in front of us were already drifting down river because of the current instead of swimming straight across to make the first right turn to head upriver. So, when we started, Greg and I immediately angled more upriver than would seem necessary, but it worked as I felt we swam a straight line to the first turn (and Strava file backs that up). After making the first turn, I was right on Greg’s feet; but before I knew it, he took off and opened up a gap and I lost contact. My plan was to swim the upriver portion really hard, which I felt I did. I had trouble seeing the buoys with the sun glare, but it didn’t impact my zig zagging too much. By the time I hit the second turn buoy which was a little over half way, I was quite tired and ready to be done. While the current wasn’t overly noticeable, I definitely felt it impacted the swim and effort going into it for roughly 860 meters. I knew the last half would be quicker with a slight down current and told myself it’d be over sooner than I thought so stay focused and just keep turning over the arms.
I got out of the water and got my bike gear bag quickly. I decided to not use the wetsuit stripper volunteers and ran up the steep ramp to get to the changing area before taking off my wetsuit. I quickly slipped out of it, put on my helmet, stuffed goggles, cap, and wetsuit in bag and took off to run to my bike. I ran hard to my bike and I was able to move up several spots during T1.
The talk pre-race was all about the 3.2 mile climb that had just over 1000 feet elevation gain that we encountered 4.75 miles into the bike ride. The roads the first 4.75 miles were horrible. I almost lost my bottle twice and hit multiple unmarked dips in the road that did not feel good while riding in the aero position. I saw Greg just ahead of me by maybe 10 seconds and we started the climb at about the same time. Once the climb started, I was immediately into the little chain ring and out of the saddle. I wasn’t really focusing on power or heart rate while climbing; I just wanted to find a good rhythm and keep the tempo and pace going. When I felt myself slow down a bit or the grade increased, I got out of the saddle and pushed it. The first 1.5 miles were all uphill whereas the last 1.7 miles had a few (and very short) downhill sections followed by longer climbs until the last kicker up by the church at the top of the hill. I felt I handled the climb really well, which took me just under 17 minutes to climb (11.5 mph avg according to Strava). I didn’t over exert myself, but definitely had to ride harder than I normally would for any 15-20 minute section of a 70.3 distance bike leg (I basically rode Olympic distance power for those 3.2 miles). While the bulk of the climb was over, there was still more climbing to be done. The next 12 miles were rolling hills with another 1000 feet of elevation gain before we hit our long descent. Right at mile 15, I saw Nick Noone (Every Man Jack teammate) fly by me on one of the climbs. I was in shock. Nick started the wave behind me (which was roughly 8 minutes later than when I started) and caught me by mile 15!?! I had a good feeling he’d catch me because I knew he was a much faster swimmer and biker than I am, but I definitely didn’t expect it by mile 15 of the bike. Around mile 22, we made a left hand turn and did a super short climb before starting our descent. I, personally, was more worried about the descent than I was the 3.2 mile climb. Ever since my crash 2.5 years ago, I haven’t been overly confident going downhill fast on roads I don’t know. Surprisingly though, I handled the descent really well; much better than I thought I would and felt rather comfortable on it. I touched my brakes a few times approaching corners, but most of them were sweeping and not tight so I was able to stay tucked and make it around the corners safely. Once back on the flat, I tried to find a good rhythm again. After descending for almost 7 minutes of basically no pedaling, it was kind of difficult to find a good cadence and keep the power in my pedal stroke. I knew the roads well at this point as we were on the same part that both the full Ironman and half Ironman race on. I focused on getting to Chickamagua and on staying hydrated and fed. I was doing my typical, start with two bottles of GU Hydration mix and eating Picky Bars and GU Chomps while adding Gatorade, water, and bananas from aid stations. Around mile 41, I had a group of 4 roll past me. It was a bit annoying to see them riding so close together, especially since an official on a motorcycle drove past in the opposite direction and didn’t do anything about it. They quickly opened up a 20 second gap on me right before a short climb that’s late in the race. I was able to climb with them, but the moment we started the descent, they pulled away like I was still going uphill. It was crazy and I descended well on that hill, the fastest time I’ve done in my 4 attempts (twice during the full in 2015 and once in May during the half). I put it behind me because I knew my favorite aid station was coming up just before mile 45. I got one last Gatorade to make sure I finished the bike topped off with fluids and electrolytes and grabbed a banana like I have at this aid station the 4 times I’ve gone through it. After making the turn back toward transition, there were just 11 miles to go. Shortly after that turn, I looked back and noticed a huge group making that turn all at once. First thought was that’s a draft pack for sure. Sure enough, at mile 45, a pack of 15-20 guys rolled up on me. I shook my head in disgust and told them to race fair. Half didn’t listen or care. Almost immediately an official on a motorcycle drove past in the opposite direction. Fortunately, this time, they turned around and came up to start handing out penalties. Unfortunately, (as I found out when I got to the end of the bike where they were stopped in the penalty tent) only 4 or 5 of them got penalties, not all of them like they should have. Pretty sad to see a pack like that roll through together and not get penalized for it, especially after analyzing the results post-race and realizing two guys in the top 10 overall amateurs were in that group and didn’t get penalties. I finally got to the bike dismount line and was ready to run; the slight bit of anger from the drafters certainly helped fuel that.
T2: Super quick. I handed off my bike to a volunteer. They yelled out my bib number as I ran to my run gear bag and a volunteer handed me my bag. I thanked them and went to go put on my Sock guy socks, Saucony Kinvara’s, and grab my race belt, can’t forget that bad boy again. And of course, I made a quick stop in porta potty before heading out to run.
My legs felt good right away and I settled into a nice pace based on feel. I didn’t want to know my pace and didn’t even look at my watch the entire first mile. I saw my mom and my friends, Dave and Lori, twice in the short out and back we do in the first half mile of the run. As I got out to the street right before mile 1, I saw Steve Mantell and Rachael Norfleet cheering for me. I gave Rachael a high five. It was nice to have so much support and encouragement early on the run. I looked down when my watched buzzed at mile 1 and saw 5:49. Miles two and three were steady rollers, no crazy hills, just good rhythm running and I ran 5:50 for both of those miles. I was feeling confident and good (relatively speaking) through 3 miles, but knew the hills were about to start. I got to the short, but very steep hill on the south side of the river and just powered through it. Shortened my stride, leaned forward and plugged away. I was able to get back to my 5:50 pace going across the bridge to the other side of the river and hit mile 4 in 6:21. The next 2 miles are basically, ½ mile uphill, ½ mile downhill, ½ mile uphill, ½ mile downhill. I managed the uphill’s well and just let gravity take over when running the downhills; both were painful in their own way. I was definitely pleased to see 6:15 and 6:20 for those two miles. Finishing out lap 1, you cross the pedestrian only wooden bridge that is just under a half mile slight uphill. I actually felt pretty good crossing this bridge. Not as fresh as I’d prefer or hoped, or as I was back in May, but considering the bike and run course changes compared to May, I was definitely happy with the first loop finishing mile 7 in 6:11. I was really looking forward to a few “easier” miles without any major hills to contend with. I ended up running 6:08 and 6:02 for miles 8 and 9, but pace meant nothing to me, I was just going off feel and getting in a good groove. The short, steep hill around 9.5 miles was brutal. I shuffled my way up it at 7:30 to 8:00 pace. I got an update that I was less than a minute back from 10th place in my AG. I started the run around 27th in my AG, and no one had their calves marked with age, so I was really running blind the entire time on what place I was in. This definitely motivated me. I ran well across the bridge and hit mile 10 right at the base of the long half mile hill in 6:38. I don’t recall seeing that split; I was focused on getting up that hill. My left knee was starting to hurt. I noticed it just before mile 10. My only guess was that the up and down hills was causing it. I tried to block it out and didn’t change my stride one bit the last 3 miles. I kept looking ahead to see if I could see EMJ teammate Greg Grosicki. I hadn’t seen him since mile 5 of the bike but thought I might be able to catch him on the run depending on how well he biked. I figured the up hills would be a good opportunity to spot him, unfortunately I didn’t. After making my way up the hill, I flew down the other side. It was quite painful, more painful than the uphill as my quads and joints were destroyed at this point. I didn’t care. I grimaced and kept going telling myself it’d be over in 2 miles. Took a right turn, grabbed more fluids, took another right, and started to climb again. I shortened my stride, leaned forward and plugged away. A lot of people were walking at this point, so I only hoped some were from my AG. Once I made it to the top, I again flew down the hill, grimacing the entire time semi regretting it because it hurt. Finally, I made it to the bottom and back on the flat road before going over the pedestrian only bridge. Mile 11 and 12 were in 6:19 and 6:16. I got one last cup of water before turning left to cross the bridge. I pushed this bridge hard, running most of it in 6:15 pace or slightly faster, which is faster than I did on the first lap. My mom was at the end of the bridge and told me to keep pushing, 30 seconds ahead was next guy in my AG. Little did I know it was Greg. I went for it and ran mile 13 in 5:45. The last .40 mile is all downhill or flat. I pushed it all the way to the finish line running the last .17 in 5:22 pace and finishing in 1:20:44.
Overall: 4:20:19. 9th in AG, 24th overall amateur, 54th overall male (including pros)
This was by far the hardest half distance race course I’ve ever competed in. I’m extremely happy and proud of my result. I left it all out there and in a weird way, had a lot of fun. Definitely not in the moment for a lot of it, but looking back on it now, it most definitely was fun. The support and encouragement throughout the week, during the race, and post-race from all my Every Man Jack teammates, friends, and family was fabulous. For me, this is by far my best World Championship race out of the four I have now completed. Ending my season of triathlons on a high note is always nice and will keep me motivated all off season to keep improving.
Huge thank you to my mom for traveling with me to Chattanooga and the continuous support no matter my race result. Thank you to Dave and Lori Schiffer for driving from KC to cheer and watch me race. Thank you to Steve Mantell and Rachael Norfleet (plus huge kudos to Rachael for 10th place in AG on Saturday!!) for the cheers and high fives on course. To all my Every Man Jack teammates racing this weekend: It was definitely one of the best weekends and having the support of you all made it even better. To Purplepatch Fitness, thank you for getting me prepared to handle such a tough course. And to all the Every Man Jack team sponsors: Thank you for the continuous love and support. Having top notch products for training, racing, and recovery makes all the efforts worth it. Thanks to Ritch and Every Man Jack for all the coordination and planning, Talbot Cox for taking incredible photos all weekend, EMJ teammates’ friends and family who cheered for me. Thank you to Chattanooga residents and all volunteers for embracing the athletes and delays caused all weekend and supporting all the athletes. This is my third time racing in Chattanooga and every time the support is tremendous. I will happily come race here again.
Don’t forget, you can use KDENNY17 to get 25% off online orders at Every Man Jack
Picture credit: Talbot Cox, Dave, and my mom.