Sunday, July 9, 2017

Chattanooga Waterfront Olympic Triathlon Race Recap

Sunday, June 25, I returned to what is apparently my favorite city to race in, Chattanooga, and competed in an Olympic distance triathlon - the Chattanooga Waterfront. I signed up for this race a couple weeks before when I was in Raleigh cheering on friends who were competing in a 70.3 race. I wanted to have another triathlon on my calendar and this was one I had heard good things about and had a good group of friends that were planning to attend. Plus, my friend Kevin offered to buy ice cream to get people to sign up. And there's not much I wouldn't do for ice cream!

I had talked it over with my coach and we built it into my schedule - with the understanding that it wouldn't be something that I really tapered for and would be essentially just a part of training. That was fine with me because I am getting to the point of all eyes on Berlin. The goal was to have a fun, no pressure race, and weekend away with friends. I ended up getting all of that and then some!

The Saturday morning before the race while I was still in Atlanta, as I finished up my workout for that day, I started to realize that although it was a no pressure, fun race, I still needed to prepare a bit and work to get my mind right. I didn't want to make the same mistake as the weekend before (when I rode the Gaps) and go into something unprepared. I did some research online about the race, the course, and what to expect.

Chattanooga Waterfront consisted of a 1.5 km swim downstream in the Tennessee River (same place I swam the past 2 years at the Chattanooga 70.3), 40 km bike ride that consisted of 2-loops out-and-back, and a 10km out-and-back run. It was a new course from years prior so I didn't have any friends to give me guidance but looking online, it seemed like a lot of the route I was actually quite familiar with due to the other races I had done there. On the way up to Chattanooga I talked to my coach and we put together a plan for the race as well. This distance is now the distance of triathlon that I am least familiar with, only ever having done one Olympic distance race, whereas I have done 3 Half Ironmans now and many sprint triathlons.  I was a little unsure of how to pace or what to expect - and essentially I decided to treat it like a longer sprint in a way. I felt comfortable with how we discussed executing and after arriving and checking out the transition areas, I felt ready to go.

I drove up on Saturday afternoon, arriving in Chattanooga around 4:30 p.m. and going straight to race check in. Although an Olympic distance race, the organizers provide the option of dropping off your bike the night before at your transition area and I opted to do that, not wanting to have to worry about my bike in the morning. Check-in went smoothly and I spent some time walking back and forth from my bike area to the various transition entrances and exits.

This race was one of the most organized and detail-oriented races I have ever done. The rows were in alphabetical order with words associated to them and I was in row "Goggles." When checking in, you got swim caps and sticker numbers for your swim cap, bike stickers, extra stickers, race number tattoos, and a great soft t-shirt. I don't usually comment about this stuff around races, but I really felt like the organizers of this race did an exceptional job putting on the event.

After checking in for the race, I stopped and checked in at my hotel, which was the same hotel that I stayed at for the 70.3 with my mom and Brick just a few weeks prior. I had really like it, it was convenient, and very spacious since I was sharing a room with 3 other people. Plus, they give you candy at check-in, so what could be bad about that?

I met up with the ITL group at 5:30 p.m. in Whole Foods for the pre-race meal and was able to connect with everyone else that was in town for the race and talk about goals and plans for the day. Since the 70.3 in Chattanooga, the river has warmed up and this race was not wet suit legal. Swimming without a wet suit is what I am more used to than not, so that didn't concern me, but for some of my friends, it was their first time swimming without that - which can be really challenging if you aren't used to it. It was nice to be able to talk with everyone and I really like the Whole Foods dinner tradition.

We added a new pit stop / tradition of going out for ice cream following Whole Foods. To be honest, I was a little nervous about whether or not it was a good idea but I reminded myself that this was a no pressure, fun race so dove right in with two scoops in a waffle cone and sprinkles. Kevin was buying so why not go all out, right? :)

Back at my hotel room, my friends and I head to bed pretty early without first some chitchat and stretching and foam rolling and prepping for the morning. I decided that this race would be a good opportunity to try something different with my nutrition so I decided to try Nuun sport. I have been drinking Nuun regularly with their regular electrolyte replacement drink and enjoy it so tried one of their sport drinks. I made up my water bottles and put together the rest of my nutrition before heading to bed.

We were up early and head over to the transition area, where I set up my things, walked the entrance/exit a few more times and then met up at the ITL tent. It was a gorgeous morning and I was excited to be there.

Next to the tent was a set of porta-potties which I knew I would need to use but eventually abandoned the line to run over and be in the group picture I saw happening in the distance. This is what we call priorities.

Instead, after walking over to the swim start (there was a bus available but we decided to walk the almost mile there) I immediately jumped into line for the bathroom with some of my friends... which we ended up standing in until immediately before we needed to start the race. There definitely were not enough bathrooms and the lines were barely creeping along. Slow lines give time for pre race pics though. And we did get there eventually!

I dropped my flip flips with friends and went to get in line for the swim. This swim start was unlike any other one that I had done before. The numbers that you were assigned as your bib would be the number that you were to enter the water and start the race. We had to submit swim times ahead of the race, and they used that to place us, trying to put the faster swimmers in the front. I couldn't remember what I put as my swim time but I was placed at 307, whereas other swimmers about my speed were seeded further ahead. I really didn't think about placement too much - there's no point in it - and it seemed like I was in the middle of the pack, which was fine with me. It was funny to see where everyone ended up though. One of our teammates was 5 and others were way in the back. My friend Lauren had boosted her time a bit when she entered it so she was actually number 67. We joked that maybe if we were lucky, our timing would work out well that I would catch up to her in the swim and we could then bike together.

They had us file one by one in line and then walk down the end of the dock and hop into the water and hang on. A race official would count to 3 between each person and every individual had their own personal start. We got in the water on the left side of the river, which was the same side that we would exit on. The last two races I had done here, we had to swim across, but this one was literally just straight down.

The swim: 21:35 (5/27 in AG)
Past result - 32:52 in last Olympic race (1500 m lake swim)

I enjoyed the start of this race and once I was off, I just got into a rhythm and kept swimming. It had dawned on me that I was going to be swimming for longer in this race than I did in my half ironman. I thought that was sort of funny and just tried to settle in. I knew I was going to be swimming a 5K in a couple of weeks and was starting to get a little nervous for that so used this as practice a bit. In swim practice, I hadn't been able to get into a groove very much lately so I just wanted to find that place of happy swimming without thinking.

As soon as I started going, my first thought was "Woah - this must be why people tell you to buy your tri kits so tight!" This was the first race I had done in 2 years without a wet suit and the first time wearing this kit in the water without a wet suit. I tend to buy my tri kits a little bit bigger because I hate feeling like I am sausaged and squeezed into them, but my top was balloon-ing out and picking up SO much water. It was distracting at first and I actually felt like my chest was falling out of my suit but eventually I just made a mental note to consider a speed suit and put it out of my mind.

I was passing people immediately in the water. I enjoy the chase so I found that a bit motivating to be continuing to just swim past person after person. I tried not to swim too hard, mentally reminding myself that I wanted to try and go hard on the bike and run and trying to remind myself that this wasn't a goal race for me. I just stayed steady and practiced my sighting and staying in a rhythm and trying to get in the zone. I would lock eyes buoy after buoy and just keep making my way down the river and under the 3 bridges.

For some reason, I guess because I was more lax about this race, I found myself continuing to crane my neck around and look for people I know. Or if I swam up next to someone, I was trying to check out their kit if I knew them. I knew Lauren was nervous about the swim and was trying to keep an eye out for her in case I did come across her. I didn't see anyone I knew in the water and eventually tried to focus on just keeping my head down and straight because my neck was bothering me a bit. I don't know why I was just looking around at everything! Even the side of the river, I was sort of checking out and eyeing. I have swam there so many times I recognized the buildings and bridges as gauges of how far I had left. It was the first time I used non-buoy landmarks to sight!

Portions of the swim I felt like I was by myself and nobody was around me, then I would swim through waves of larger groups of people. I kept passing people and swam over a few people a couple times. I could tell the current was moving pretty strong and at one of the buoys could really feel it pushing me. I swam over a guy and even when I tried to move around him, could feel the current pushing me. That was the first time I have ever experienced that!

After the 3rd bridge I started to push a little harder in my pace and put some effort behind my stroke. I tried to focus as best as possible as swimming right into the exit. As I got closer I could see the ITL tent on the lawn which was pretty fun, and used that and other buildings to help guide where I needed to go. I swam as much as I could into the exit, not stopping until my hands hit the ladder to climb out.

T1: 2:10 (8th in AG)

When in the water, I had practiced visualizing what I needed to do in transition. I lost my sunglasses in Chattanooga for the 70.3 so I just had 3 things to think about - Socks. Shoes. Helmet. Grab my bike. Go.

Running out of the water, I heard lots of people yelling my name but didn't look up at them too much because you needed to climb a set of stairs and the last thing I wanted was to trip. I did notice my friend Phil was there cheering, which was awesome! I was so surprised to see him! I am pretty sure this picture was taken the moment that I saw Phil on the side in his crutches cheering for me.

I shouted to the group asking if Lauren had come out yet. I heard Krystle's voice yell back that she had and I was happy knowing that my friend had made it out of the water (not that I had any doubt!) I also knew she was ahead of me somewhere and I wondered if there was any way that I could catch her.

Due to practicing walking the entrance and looking for row "Goggles" I found my bike pretty easily. My HR didn't seem high or anything and I felt good. However, as I was putting on my socks and shoes bent over, I reminded myself not to go up too fast as I had gotten lightheaded in my last race. I didn't have any problems and after Socks. Shoes. Helmet... it was time to go!

The Bike: 1:13:47 for 40 km, average 20 mph (7th in my AG)
Past results: 1:23:09 in last Olympic - 22 miles at 15.8 mph)

As soon as you started out on the bike course there was a first stretch of uphill. This bike course actually starts off where the run course starts on the Chattanooga 70.3 so it is a stretch I am really familiar with. The course was two loops of an out-and-back stretch on the highway, straight with no turns except for the really tight U-turns to turn around at each point.

After the short uphill stretch at the beginning, the course was relatively flat. From the beginning I didn't feel very well. My legs felt tired and I was pushing but just didn't feel strong and I felt tired. My legs felt tired from the start.

I reminded myself that it didn't really matter, that this race was just for fun and I decided to just settle in on the bike and keep pushing hard with the idea in my mind that I wanted to try and catch my friend Lauren. I thought it would be fun to bike with her and had no idea how far ahead she was, but decided to just push and see what happened. I also decided to focus on trying to spot and say hello to my friends. The good thing about an out-and-back course is that although boring, you get to see people!

The bike course was really populated and I felt like I needed to continuously pay attention to going around people, passing people, merging, avoiding the cones, etc. We were riding in the middle lane on the road, so there were orange cones to our right and then traffic driving by. A few times I drifted too far to the right with people passing and had to avoid the cones. It kept things interesting on an otherwise boring route.

I started shouting hello to everyone I saw that I knew and saying thank you to all of the volunteers. I didn't look at my watch or pay attention to my speed or anything like that.  I saw Lauren a bit before my turn first turnaround and she was enough far ahead of me and we are close enough in speed that I knew it would be super difficult to catch her. I took the sharp left turn to turn around as best I could and kept pushing on my way back.

It was easily to mentally break this route into four 10km sections since the course itself was actually broken up into those sections. On the way back the first time, I started to leap frog back and forth with an older guy in a neon aero helmet and we just kept going back and forth making comments to one another. It was fun and motivating and that latest for the entire return back and then outer portion of the next lap. I think it really helped me to keep myself pushing.

This race I had decided to try new nutrition, which I did with Nuun Active stuff. It felt fine but was a bit salty so had to drink water with it too. I had a hard time remembering to even take in nutrition because there was never a time I felt like I was coasting on the bike. Given that it was a relatively flat course, my legs were cranking the entire time and I never wanted to ease up to be able to sit up in my seat and pull out my water bottle. I thought to myself that it would be cool when I eventually get a tri bike and hydration set up that I could drink while in aero.

The second turn around was even harder because after making the sharp turn to head back on your 2nd loop you had to manage the uphill section having just had to completely lose momentum. At this point I allowed myself to stand on the bike a bit and get to the top of the hill and then settled back in to aero and playing leapfrog with my friend in the neon aero helmet.

It was a bit scary because there were two crashes on the course. One happened with the cyclist right in the middle of the road so the ambulance and medical professionals were all around and the rest of the racers had to be routed around her. One of my friends was fixing a flat tire on the side of the road, and I felt bad for him, knowing that it can mess up an otherwise really good race. I had shouted if he was okay and he said yes. I felt horrible for the person who was in the accident but also breathed a sigh of relief when I saw it was not someone I knew.

Once we turned again for the last segment back in, my aero helmet friend zipped ahead and I just pushed as much as I could to get to the finish. I looked down at my watch on the way back in, checking to see how I was doing and the first time I looked down I saw that my time was at 55-something minutes and my bike distance was around 18.5 miles. Wait, what? I had to do a double take at that and thought to myself, holy crap, I could hit 20 miles in an hour. I kept pedaling, watching my watch click away and when I hit 20 miles and was just barely under an hour of riding time I literally said out loud "holy shit!" I'd just ridden at least an hour at 20mph!

I finished up the ride, trying to not slow down until the last minute, hopped off my bike and ran into transition. I had no idea if I maintained the 20mph for the whole ride but was thrilled that I saw that for the first hour.

T2: 1:10 (7th in my AG)

I immediately saw my friend Kevin who had done the sprint hanging in transition which was sort of fun! I wish I had cheerleaders in transition at every race. I threw my bike on the rack, switched out my bike shoes for my sneakers, opting not to change my socks, took off my helmet (forgetting to do this is a fear of mine), tried to put on my race belt, fumbled with it and it fell, tried again, grabbed my visor, and started to run towards the exit.

The Run: 49:15 (11th in my AG)
(56:18 in last Olympic)

Before I even get into how I felt during the run - let me just mention the age group rankings for a minute. I felt so happy with my run following this race, and heck, I still do. I am super proud of it! This run had been a PR for me, not just in an Olympic distance triathlon, but in any standalone 10K ever! YET, I finished 11th in my age group! For every transition and the bike I was 7th or 8th, then I was 5th in the swim - yet in the run, even with it being a PR and something to me that shouted "This girl is fast!" I dropped down to 11. That tells me that there are some super speedy runners out there in my age group! My coach confirmed for me that Olympic distance races usually bring out strong swimmers and runners, since there is a smaller proportion of biking and that made sense to me. But yeah - some fast runners in this race!!

My plan for this run was to try and hang in the low 8s for my pace for the first 3 miles and then try to pick it up and give it all I had on the last 3. It was a relatively flat course yet again and I started out settling into a pace in the first mile like my coach advised. When I looked down at my watch it said 7:30-ish so I told myself to ease back just a little bit and then lock it in, which was what I did. The next couple times I looked at my watch it said 8:06 and wanted to stay right there.

I started seeing some of my faster teammates returning in from their run. Gordy, Chris, etc. and it made me so proud to be wearing the same kit as sone of these super fast people. I loved being able to cheer them on as a way to say to everyone around me "I know them!" and also push them on in their last stretches of their race.

This course continued to be super well organized with lots of water stations, Gatorade, ice, cold towels, etc. The weather was perfect and overcast and not too hot so I passed on the ice and cold towels on my way out, grabbing water and eating some Gu and taking some salt when I could. I didn't want to get overconfident given the good weather and knew I needed to maintain nutrition even though the weather was making me feel better than normal. I will say it over and over, I REALLY lucked out with good weather on races this year!

I passed one teammate, saw Coach Adam, and got to high five another all right in a row. Every time this happened it was a boost of adrenaline. There was a short hill around 2.5 miles, I passed my friend Lauren, which was so fun to cheer for her, and I hit the turnaround ready to push the last miles back in. It is such a game changer to have friends on the course. I honestly cannot tell you how much it made me smile to see Lauren on the run course after having tried to chase her all around on the bike. I was so happy and proud of her for making it through the first two parts of the race and now be in her element on the run, and I loved the out-and-back nature of this course for these reasons of being able to see my teammates and friends.

At the turnaround I told myself to hold steady until I got through the hill that I'd had to run through earlier. Steady through the hill, then I would try to turn it on.

I made it to the top and worked to push my pace. I saw Coach Adam again and he asked me how I was doing - I was surprised when I said out loud "I'm doing good!" and actually felt and meant it. I felt strong and was still firing at this point. He told me to leave it all out there, and it gave me another little burst.

Coming back through I grabbed a cold towel this time and I kept taking nutrition even though I didn't have much left. Even if it was just mental I didn't want to drop.  I had looked at my watch when I hit the 5K mark and knew that I was on pace to run close to 50 minutes if I could stay on top of it. I was close to having a PR in the 5K in the first half of the race!

With a mile left, I checked my watch again and knew I was close but I was also starting to hurt more. I made a couple short turns on the course and knew I was on the home stretch back in to the finish. I started to hear someone come up behind me and I turned and looked and saw my friend Rahul. He runs with us at track workouts and on the trails sometimes and is one of the nicest people around. I'd seen him on the bike course fixing his flat earlier and was so impressed that he had gotten through that and was now smoking it on the run!

He started to pass me and got a little ahead of me but looked back then with a nod of his head and motion with his hand, signaled for me to keep going and stick with him. I did my best to kick it up another notch and keep pushing into the finish. It was definitely giving all I had at this point to keep with him.

The last .2 miles turned into a sprint (at least for me!) and we ran through the Atlanta Triathlon Club cheer squad together and then through to the finish. It was such a cool way to finish a race and I was so grateful for him to pick me up like that and carry me through the final stretch of the race. I finished in 49:15, breaking 50 minutes on a 10K for the first time - a goal that I had had for myself in my standalone 10K I had coming up the next week! It hadn't even been a thought to try and do that on this race so I was amazed when I saw it! My mile splits on the run were 8:03 / 8:07 / 8:09 / 8:13 / 7:42 / 7:53 -- right in line with the plan I had tried to aim for. But there's no doubt that my last mile would have been a lot slower if it weren't for Rahul at the end pulling me into the finish with him!


I always doubt my watch (which is really doubting myself... something I am working on) and even though I saw my speed and time on my watch, after finishing, I immediately went to get in line to get the official print out of my times. And only then was it official what my watch said - 20mph on the bike and a sub-50 10K. Holy cow!

This race was never meant to be a goal race for me, yet the progress that I have been making and the work that I have put in showed up in the form of two major milestones. I was shocked at the sub-50 10K after having swam and biked. It was a surprise - a very pleasant one - and I think some of this progress is finally starting to sink in a bit. I am stronger than I realize. I am capable of more than I realize. My body is doing things that my mind hasn't yet computed it is able to. But it is starting to sink in that maybe I just need to figure out the right way to push myself. I'm proud of this race, the fun weekend I had with friends, and the milestones that it represented.

I can't wait to keep pushing and breaking new boundaries for myself!

Following the race we hung out a bit with the ITL crew before heading back to the hotel to pack up. The race itself was such a fun weekend away. Even without the milestones on the bike and in the run, I just had such a good time getting out of town with my friends and teammates at a low pressure event. It was nice to be way more relaxed and just enjoy everyone's company, eat ice cream, talk more, and get to know even more people in the group better.

I really like this one picture from after the race because it just feels chaotic and random, but it just feels like a photo that depicts real life to me. People talking, playing with the kids, walking around, waiting, etc. I don't know. I might be weird but I like pictures sometimes that are the outtakes to the photos we were intending to take. We don't always keep the outtakes nowadays with smart phones where we can delete everything that we don't deem to be perfect. But sometimes the candid pictures tell a story in the way that the posed ones don't and this picture just makes me smile with all that's going on in it and the little stories it tells.

Following the hotel checkout we returned for awards because some super speedy ITLers were able to take home awards, which is awesome! I snagged a couple photos of the placement from this race because I enjoyed being able to look at it from my last Olympic recap so wanted to have it included here. I now have my next race recap to work on (Peachtree Road Race!) so going to wrap up for here and have a great evening!

1 comment:

  1. Yay! I've been waiting for this recap... you did great Katie! So insane all you're doing these days and how strong you've become. Love you xoxo