Monday, May 23, 2016

The days before Chattanooga Half Ironman

Well, I walked in the door to my apartment today returning from Chattanooga and immediately started crying. I can't believe that this thing is all over. It's over. It's in the past. And I DID IT. Really, really well, if I am being honest. I planned well and executed a smart race, nothing went wrong, and I exceeded the time goals I had set for myself in all three sports. I really am so happy and proud of myself. I completed my first Half Ironman race - swimming, biking, and running 70.3 miles over 6 hours, 27 minutes and 20 seconds. I did it.

I'm amazed.

I have so many emotions and feelings and thoughts about the race and how I did and what's next and training and everything in between that I have had a hard time sitting down to my computer to type. I feel like if I could just explode emotions like excitement, happiness, pride, accomplishment, exhaustion, eagerness, and even a bit of uncertainty and overwhelming-ness (is that a word?) onto a canvas it might convey what I feeling better. I imagine one of those splatter paint paintings in my head with each color being a different emotion. I am hesitant to sit down and type because I feel like it would just come out as the blog and word version of something like this.

But, I guess, why don't we just start at the beginning, shall we?

On Friday around 1:00 p.m. Brick and I head out on the 1:45-2:00 hour trip from Atlanta to drive to Chattanooga. I knew that Saturday would be a busy day with lots to do to get ready for the race, so I wanted to be able to get out there on Friday and make a weekend of it. Packing for this thing alone was a beast but since it was driving distance, I was able to have a little more leniency and take everything I thought I might need as long as the essentials.

From the very beginning when I signed up for this race, my friend Brick had said she would be there to support me. You may remember that she came out for my Olympic Distance race with me and also came to cheer at the Sweetwater Sprint Triathlon I did last year as well. She is a great support, great company, and helped me lug around all the bags and gear that you need for a longer distance triathlon. In these races, the athlete's support person who helps with all this is known as the "race sherpa" and it is hard work and I was glad Brick was up for the challenge and ready to do whatever I needed that weekend.

When we got to Chattanooga we checked into our hotel and the city was already buzzing with excitement for the race. Other triathletes were checking in at the same time so there were bikes and bags and equipment and other foam rollers everywhere and the hotel staff was incredible. They had a little welcome station set up for triathletes with towels to clean off bikes, granola bars, and little bags with Epsom salts. There were signs up that they were hosting a breakfast for athletes the morning of the race and also would have a bike washing station after the race. Pretty amazing!

We walked from the hotel over to the race start and check-in, which was only a few blocks away. Unfortunately, the weather was pretty crummy and it was chilly and rainy in Chattanooga on Friday afternoon. We both had flashbacks of a few weeks ago when we'd gotten caught in a storm at the Taco Festival, and just embraced that apparently it is going to rain when we hang out.

Race check in went smooth, there were lots of forms and waivers to fill out and bibs and timing chips and race t-shirts to pick up. We made it out of there with relatively little confusion on my end. I have been agonizing over some of the logistical things wanted to be sure I fully understood everything I was supposed to do and needed for race morning. I originally got some bad information that confused me and it took a while to sort it all out.

Following the race check in, I attended an athlete briefing, browsed the money suck that is the race merchandise tent, checked out the sponsor tents and got a free stretching session, and took some photos. I wanted ample pictures with the Ironman logo items that were all over! So despite the rain, I was sure to get as many pictures as possible.

We finished up at the expo for the day, and went over to River Grille, a brewery right in the downtown area by our hotel and by the race, for dinner. I was craving woodfire pizza and a beer and theirs hit the spot!

We returned to the hotel room and were headed to bed by around 9:30 p.m. after doing some reading about the race and going through all the information that was given out at the race check in today.

My plan was to start Saturday morning off really early, since I knew that Sunday was going to be an early morning as well and I didn't want to mess up my schedule by sleeping in. However, it didn't start as early as I would have liked due to having a really crummy sleep. For some reason, nerves were already hitting me hard and I couldn't sleep with just so much running through my head about the next days.

I did get up around 7:00 a.m. and first head out to do a short shake out consisting of a 20 minute bike ride and then a 10 minute run. I explored some of the streets that were a part of the route for the next day and there were lots of runners and bikers out doing the same. I stopped for a mini photoshoot and to take in the bridge that I would be running over the next day and the river I would be swimming!

The day started a bit foggy and muggy but as the morning went on, the sky cleared up and it was a beautiful day. The sun started to dry up the ground from the rain and things were looking awesome for a great race morning.

Following my workout, Brick and I head out to do something I would have never thought to do on my own, but was recommended to me, which was drive the bike course. We pulled up the directions of the route online and started as close as we could to the start and went out and drove the route. There were a couple cars following me and doing the same thing and the race route had already been marked on the ground, so it was easy to follow.

I snapped a few pictures while I was driving of the route because it was pretty beautiful at times and I knew that I wouldn't be able to take any pictures the next day. There was a gorgeous view of Lookout Mountain and lots of rolling hills during the first half of the course, then you looped around the back end and rode through a little bit more of a boring route and through a small town. And then back into the main city of Chattanooga.

A lollipop route, if you will, which you can find here, if you're interested or care! It also gave me a chance to scope out the hills and know what I was in for. Although, I swear, it is hard to tell what is a hill from the car. Sometimes those slight inclines can really kill you on the bike, that you barely notice in the car.

When we got back from riding the driving the bike route, I was a bit more nervous than before we went out and I was really annoyed that I had done in. In the end, looking back on it now, I was really happy that I drove the route and knew what to look out for. However, Saturday at around Noon when we returned from driving? I was basically in tears I was so nervous. Okay, I was in tears. I did cry. I was scared.

The combination of driving the route and seeing just how long 56 miles is, added with returning to the hotel and seeing all these professional looking triathletes checking in or returning from bike rides had me freaked out. I didn't see ANYONE that looked like me. Nobody with rolls poking over the pants of their tri kits or with road bikes or with clothing without logos on it. Everyone looked fit and professional and out of an Ironman catalog and I felt like I was a joke being there. It really freaked me out and I got into a scary place for a little bit. My mom, Brick, and some triathlete friends calmed me down, reminding me that a lot of times it is just gear (although gear cannot make those people have the muscular bodies and flat stomachs I was seeing...)  My friend Kristin made me laugh saying, "The real pros aren't at the hotels - they rent houses. Those people are just faking it." But still, I was nervous.

I had eaten some leftover pizza for breakfast, as well as a bagel that I had brought with me from Atlanta. And after the ride, Brick and I went over to a local place called Milk and Honey that we'd seen on Yelp. The food was delicious and I had a turkey sandwich and a coffee. It was a really cute place if you are ever in Chattanooga!

We returned to our hotel and went about the next part of race prep weekend that I needed to do - which was check in my bike to the transition area.

For these big races, you drop off your bike the day before the race, which I guess it to help things get organized and maybe they examine people's bikes? I'm not sure. But you have to drop off your bike in the transition area, at your assigned location, the day before the race and be checked to ensure that you have the proper stickers on the bike. The stickers they give you have your bib number on it and it is your identifier when you are out on the bike course. During the run, you have to wear the paper bib that is traditionally seen at most road races and the bike stickers are for the bike portion.

The sticker situation caused a little stress as I wasn't sure where to put the sticker. I am sure it was just my nerves and anxiety causing me to overthink this but I wasn't sure what to do. To show you the state of mind that I was in, I actually walked halfway down the hallway of the hotel to leave to bring my bike to transition... and realized that I had forgotten the bike in the hotel room. So after going to check my bike in, looking what other people were doing, I put my sticker in the wrong place and then caused a bit of a cluster trying to fix it and getting help from like 6 different people all telling me different things. What should have been a simple trip to drop off my bike ended up a stressful one, but eventually my bike was racked and ready to go. Not before I gave it a little hug and a pep talk/prayer/plea to just be good to me tomorrow and not have any mechanical or tire issues.

This time also gave me the opportunity to be sure that I knew where I would be biking in and out of the transition as well as entering for the swim, and exiting for the run. Once I felt good, I hightailed it out of there and was so stressed about the sticker situation that I told Brick we needed to go get a drink. I always like having a beer before my races, just one, the night before, and so we stopped at World of Beer to sit outside and enjoy the day and have my pre race relaxation beer. Brick got a bit artistic with the pics.

Nothing was sounding good for dinner, which I believe was the nerves in me because I always like to eat! But, I knew I had to have something. I was tired and nervous and just wanted to be back in my hotel room reviewing plans for the race and making sure that everything was ready. I remembered that the night before my first Half Marathon, which ironically, was also in Tennessee, that I had gone to a BBQ place and just had sides for dinner. There was a BBQ place right by our hotel called Sticky Fingers, so I opted for that, and we got takeout and brought it back to the hotel. I went with a salad with grilled chicken, macaroni and cheese, and corn bread for my prerace dinner.

I ate my meal in bed, while reviewing and creating a race plan for the next day and making sure that I had everything organized the way that I wanted it to be for the morning. I put on headphones and just zoned out listening to music and prepping. Brick and I worked perfectly together as she was more than fine to do her thing and leave me be to calm myself and get ready for the race. I went to bed around 9:30 p.m. and was lights out until 4:00 a.m. when my alarm went off for the morning!

To avoid having a super long post, I will recap the race itself tomorrow. Thanks everyone for reading along with me and enjoying this experience. Everything means so much!

1 comment:

  1. This is awesome!! I'm looking forward to the next post! Mayyyyyyyybe one day I'll do a half Ironman. But for now I'll stick to reading about them!