Monday, November 12, 2018

Ironman Chattanooga Recap

Well, over a month later, I guess it is time to put a wrap to Ironman Chattanooga experience by posting my race recap. You've all been waiting on pins and needles for this one, haven't you?! It is a long one, but that's okay. As much as I love you all, I wrote this out... every detail... for me. I love looking back on these posts and race recaps in future years and I am always thankful to have these details documented. Ironman Chattanooga, you're the longest race I've ever done, so therefore the longest post ever. Thank you all for reading and all of your support!

Where I last left off, I had learned about the swim being cancelled and worked to refocus my mind on how to stay positive and get the job done. I had learned about the swim cancellation at the very first athlete briefing that the race held, at 11:00 a.m. on Thursday. I'd drive up to Chattanooga that morning with my friend Karen, who had offered to accompany me for the day trip, where my goal was just to get done all the race things that I knew would be anal and time consuming.

We arrived in Chattanooga just after Ironman Village and the expo opened, at 9:30 a.m. It was a bit rainy and dreary out, but we had so much energy and were happy and taking pictures obsessively. I bought out the store, checked in, and then went over to the very first athlete briefing. The mood of the day changed drastically after finding out about the swim. We head home in a rather somber mood after grabbing lunch (and cake balls - I needed sweets as comfort food!) On the ride back, our mood picked up as we made jokes, lightened the mood, and made phone calls to others racing and to my coach on the way home.

We arrived back into town just in time to have another twist in race weekend, where my car started malfunctioning. I was so thankful to have Karen with me as we dropped my car off at the mechanic, got the diagnosis that I wouldn't have it for the weekend, and with only a few rounds of heavy tears on my part, I packed up everything I needed from my car, including my bike rack and bike pump, piled it into Karen's car, who took me back to my apartment. Blessings times a million to Karen for keeping me together on what was supposed to be a super fun and exciting day which turned into breakdown after breakdown on my part (literally and figuratively.)

After I was home and settled, I reminded myself I still had a race to compete in and started the process of moving everything from the the large pile I had been building on my dining room table to actual bags - including my gear bags for race day. I lay everything out and packed up what I needed and putting my wet suit back in the closet until next year.

Friday morning, instead of driving to the airport to pick up my mom and cousin, I took an Uber, bike rack in tow, to make a pit stop at the rental lot. I grabbed my mom and cousin upon their arrival from New Hampshire (yay!!!) and head back to my apartment in Atlanta.

Part of the reason that I had wanted to do the day trip on Thursday was because I didn't want to feel rushed or stressed on Friday and be able to actually enjoy my day with my family who had flown in to see me race. We hung out a bit at my apartment, then walked down the street to Krog Street Market where we had an early lunch, before returning back to pack up and head out for Chattanooga a little after noon.

When we got there, we went right to Ironman Village where we walked around a bit, made a few more purchases, and took a few more pictures.

I was glad that we stopped first at Ironman village because I was able to run into some others that were racing and it made it all the more exciting as the big day approached. From there we went to check in to our AirBnB.

I loved the location that we were in and the house worked out great. It had two huge bedrooms, a very nice kitchen and sitting area, lots of parking, Netflix, and an electric tea kettle - which was nice since I was drinking tea nonstop at this point to help keep my nerves at bay.

I had a short bike ride to do on Friday so I went outside and rode around in loops in the little neighborhood for about 25 minutes. As wonderful of a town Chatt is, it doesn't have the best locations to be able to ride without traffic or with smooth rides in the city. Although it was not super exciting to ride in small loops around the neighborhood, it got the job done. As well, the weather had picked up really nicely from the rain the day before and the sunshine was great. Although, it didn't change the way that the river looked unfortunately. It was crazy, the entire exit to where you would normally get out of the water was flooded.

After cleaning up, we went back into town to get dinner at Big River Grille where I had my standard Italian pizza and a single beer. We walked around a bit exploring downtown Chatt and then head back to the AirBnB for an early night. I started to get really anxious and nervous that night and needed a little alone time and time to talk to Jonathan to calm down a bit. As much as I had been in positive spirits throughout the day, something at dinner triggered me and I started to feel really sad and really down about the fact that I was not going to be able to swim in my first Ironman. I tried to put the thoughts away in the back of my head, and went to bed early.

I woke up on Saturday minute, lay in bed for about a minute, then got up, threw on my bathing suit, and snuck out of the house while everyone was still in bed to head to the Chattanooga Downtown YMCA.

About 30 minutes after I had found out the swim was cancelled, after the initial shock wore off, I swiftly and decisively made a decision. I would complete a 2.4 mile swim SOMEWHERE that weekend in Chattanooga. From the athlete briefing, I texted Jonathan, who I knew was at a computer, and asked him to start researching pools for me. He went above and beyond and was even messaging random Chattanooga triathletes he was finding on social media to ask for tips about local pools.

I went to the Chattanooga Downtown YMCA, which I realized, I had been to before a few years ago when I took an RRCA Running Coach certification course in Chatt. I cannot say enough positive things about this YMCA or their members. They did not charge anything for people coming to swim for the day, had signs up welcoming Ironman participants, and were so incredibly helpful and friendly.

Without much ado, I jumped into the pool, where a number of other people with blue wristbands were already swimming (doing a shake out or doing a 2.4 mile swim, I don't know) and just started at it. I wanted to swim 4250 yards and I wanted to do it straight through. I planned for the fact that I might get interrupted since it is a pool with shared lanes and maybe someone would ask me a question or something - and told myself to just tread water if that happens. My feet were not touching the bottom until I hit 4250!

I finished up after 1:20:13. I was tired, but was really proud of myself for finishing and for getting it in. And not because I felt like doing the swim on Saturday would make me any more or less an Ironman the next day. But because I did what I could to make the best out of a situation that had really disappointed me. I was feeling SO down about the swim getting cancelled, but, it was out of my control.  Rather than let that down-ness ruin the weekend I had been looking forward and working towards for so long, I took advantage of what I had at my disposal and controlled what I could control. I was not happy that I didn't get to swim, but I was happy with how I handled it.

When I finished up at the Chatt YMCA, I met up with my mom, cousin, Brick and her husband G at one of our favorites, the Frothy Monkey. It was nice to sit and catch up with them. I had a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich on a bagel, as well as some of a muffin (and coffee) and from there we returned to the AirBnb. I wanted a pretty relaxing day on Saturday so we just lounged a bit, I fiddled with my bike some, and I prepped my "Run Bag." At the last minute, I taped a picture of my grandmother right below my handlebars and I put my guardian angle pin on the bag that I carry my nutrition in. In my run gear bag, I put my running sneakers, race belt with nutrition (salt, Gu), hat, change of clothing, socks, and Glide.

Once I had everything together, we head back to Ironman Village where I met up with my coach to go over everything and to then drop off my bike and bag. He rolled up my socks so they were easy to roll onto my feet in case they were wet, but otherwise all was good.  My family went for a walk and Jerome and I talked through last minute changes in mindset and plan given that the race would not have a swim portion. Despite the disappointment I was feeling, I also felt a bit thrown off by the time trial start and how starting right on the bike would affect my day.

Leading up to the race I had told myself over and over, "You know how to do this. You've done a ton of triathlons before. You just swim, bike, run." But just a bike-run felt different.

Jonathan met us downtown in Ironman Village after arriving in Chattanooga, where we walked around a bit before heading back to the AirBnB. I relaxed a bit more, used my recovery boots, and then piled everyone up again for an early dinner with ITL at Whole Foods! My dinner was a bit random but included some rice, chicken, mac and cheese, and a few brussels sprouts. I got small portions of things from the hot bar and just sort of picked around. Nothing was really appealing to me, which is unlike me. Throughout the day I had been burping a lot and feeling gas-y, but I thought that it was just nerves. It didn't alarm me really at all.

After returning from Whole Foods, we returned home with the intent to watch TV but my anxiety quickly turned on and I went to my room for some quiet time. I prepped my special needs bags, organized everything for the morning, and made checklists for myself of everything I wanted to do before leaving the AirBnB and everything I wanted to do before getting on my bike. I made them super specific and detailed down to "put hair in a ponytail" but that level of detail helped me feel relaxed. I knew in the morning I would just have to get up and execute.

I hadn't been sleeping well that week at all. Friday night I took something to help me sleep. Saturday night I just got into bed early, wanting to give myself the best opportunity I could to wake up feeling rested. As I got into bed, I started to feel butterflies of excitement that I hadn't felt since the swim was cancelled. As I lay in bed, I said to Jonathan, "You know... I FEEL like I am doing an Ironman tomorrow." To which he replied, "GOOD. Because you are!"

One of the things that I was worried about was how the lack of swim would make me feel come race day. Would it change the excitement? Would I feel less accomplished, as I ran across that red carpet? I wasn't sure. Even weeks later, I still have mixed feelings about it. But at the time, that feeling the night before of butterflies was a good sign to me.

I wasn't nervous about my performance the next day. I felt confident I could finish the race. I just wanted everything to go smoothly. No mechanical issues on the bike. Remember everything I needed. Feel strong, etc. I did not need to spend as much time sitting with headphones on, mapping out a strategy on my computer. I had a few things to keep in mind, but nothing that required extreme focus. The main goal of the day was to have fun and smile a lot. And cross that finish line.

I woke up around 6:00 a.m. and started checking things off my To-Do list... apply race tattoos, apply sunscreen, brush teeth, put in contacts, get dressed in bike clothes, eat breakfast, etc. My breakfast was my same meal I have before every big race and every big training day - Special K Chocolatey Delight with almond milk and strawberries. Everything was going according to plan and Jonathan and I head over to Ironman Village.

I put my nutrition on my bike, put air in my tires, snacked on a banana, and then mostly just chatted and hung around with friends who were coming into town that morning and arriving at the race. I felt so appreciative that there was so much support all around for this little old bike-run thing we were about to do.

I started to get very anxious at the last minute as I head over to my bike. Jonathan was by my side the entire time. He is incredibly calm and nothing seems to phase him, so he is a great balance to my anxious, nervousness in these times. I had left my socks and bike shoes at my bike, was wearing flip flops, which I handed to him before going into transition barefoot to get to my bile. As I said bye, I told him, "Tell my mom I love her!" ... to which he told me that I sounded like I was about to go down on the Titanic and to just go have fun. It made me smile as I head in to start the race.

They called athlete up by bib number, 100 at a time, to line up 2x2. One of the silver linings of the day was that I would get to start right by my friend Kevin. We had both registered for the race with an affiliation to the Atlanta Triathlon Club, so we were racked together and he was 629 while I was 621. We were able to line up right next to one another as we head to the start and walked by our friends cheering us on. As we got closer, they told us that we had to have one leg over our bike frame. Getting closer. One leg should be clipped in. Almost there.

As we got to the very start, the woman in charge tried to usher me forward in front of Kevin. I tried to protest and she yelled at me, so I moved up. I rolled forward, hit my watch, crossed the start line, and was off. Kevin was 5 seconds behind me and our friends and families were cheering for us as we started our 142.2 mile journey.

Distance: 116 miles
Time: 6:17:57
Speed: 18.5 mph
Div Rank: 22
Gender rank: 194
Overall rank: 916

The bike course starts off on the same route as the 70.3 race I have done in Chattanooga twice. You make your way out of town on a few bumpy roads, covering some rail road tracks, through some turns, and heading out onto the highway. Although I knew the route, I told myself once I got to the highway I would feel more settled since I had JUST biked this route a month before.

I felt good as I started, but I kept looking over my shoulder for Kevin. He started literally 5 seconds behind me and we are about the same pace, with him being a faster starter than me even. He should have been catching up and passing me. It made no sense to me and I was so confused. At one point when I looked back, he was no longer in my sight. I felt concerned, but at the same time, we had discussed that we would love to ride together (as much as possible legally without drafting) but it was still a race and neither of us should ever slow down or ride faster than they wanted to for the other.

I thought maybe he dropped a bottle going over the tracks and stopped for it, or something along those lines, and I kept moving forward. I passed by our friend Phil while still in town, then once we were on the highway, rode by my friends Anthony, Jenn, Sarah and Brett, in the first straight away section. I already felt like such a rockstar with so much support on the course in these early miles.

I settled in and started to just get comfortable on the bike. I had fiddled with my watch the night before, shutting off as many settings as possible to hopefully preserve battery power and keep my watch going for the duration of the race. Inadvertently, I must have shut off the alert that beeps every 5 miles on my watch. I almost never look at my watch while I'm on the bike and just ride by feel, so that was fine, but it actually really surprised when we passed the first sign that said 10 miles. 10 miles already?! I thought.

"Eat early and often" was a part of my plan, so I tried to start taking in nutrition once I was on the bike and in a groove. Immediately upon eating my first bites and taking in my first sips of Gatorade - I knew something was off. My stomach was having a hard time letting anything settle. I burped up banana and thought to myself, "Ugh. I shouldn't have eaten that!"

But then I kept burping but it wasn't just gasy burps. I felt like I was going to throw up and could feel it rising and would have to swallow it back down. It felt and tasted disgusting (as I am sure it is disgusting to read about as well.) I was drinking a lot of water to clear the taste when that would happen, but I was having a really hard time getting down the food I needed. I tried to take smaller bites and just do what I could, but from the beginning, I really struggled. I usually never have a problem eating on the bike and this was totally new to me.

I focused on riding and on the course. I watched for milestones on the course, feeling so lucky that I knew what was coming. I just kept going and was enjoying myself. There were a lot of women riding around me, and that felt pretty neat and was empowering. The weather was cloudy and perfect conditions for riding. It was too early for my lack of ability to eat to have any impact, so at the time, it was a great day.

I tried to be helpful to others around me when I could, and encouraged a few people up the toughest climb on the route, right before Hog Jowl. Going into it, I expected to be passed a lot more than I was on the bike and I was happy with how I did getting up that climb. Thinking back, I am laughing to myself about sharing unsolicited course insights to the riders around me. It just made me feel so special that I knew what was coming on the course!

The back half of the loop is so much fun. I saw a few other ITL people as they flew by me, but still no sign of Gerke. My body fought taking in nutrition and I started counting down until I would get to ride through Chickamauga, where I knew my friends and family would be.

Around mile 36 I grabbed a bottle of Gatorade from an aid station for the first time. I missed a few people trying to pass it to me, so I had to completely stop and have someone hand one over. I kept riding and as I was building momentum again, I took a couple big gulps of the Gatorade. It immediately came back up and this time I did not do such a good job of swallowing the vomit back down. I coughed a bit, drank some water, and from that point on, I knew I was done with Gatorade on this bike ride.

I did my best to modify, and at the times when I was able to eat, shoved in calories. I started doubling up on my salt chews, hoping to make up for what I was missing from the Gatorade. I still felt okay actually riding, I just couldn't eat.

As we got closer to Chickamauga, the energy picked up. People lined the street and I started getting really excited, scanning the crowd for signs of people I knew. Just before entering through the main strip, I suddenly saw huge signs and people yelling "SPECIAL NEEDS!"

It was a bit sooner than I expected, at about mile 50 of a 116 mile course. When I got there, nobody had my bag ready and people were just staring at me so I started shouting my number, "621! 621!" The volunteers up front realized that nobody was ready for me and started yelling as well to the people sorting through bags. It felt like forever until someone came up to me with my meticulously packed bag open for me to stare in to. I had put a TON of snacks in my bag, trying to anticipate different options for if I was craving salty or sweet, and picking favorite things that had been comforting or helpful to me on long rides throughout the summer of training. I stared into my bag packed with rice crispies, peanut butter pretzels, potato chips, cherry gummy candies, and refills of my regular race nutrition. And absolutely nothing looked appealing.

My hands were shaking and so scatterbrained, I didn't know what to do. I swapped out my regular nutrition, realizing just how little I had eaten on the first half of the ride - both my bag of oat pistachio bars and salted potatoes were barely half gone (where I expected to finish the whole thing on the first loop.) I knew I should take something else, so I shoved the peanut butter pretzels in my back pocket and grabbed a fistful of cherry sours and shoved them directly in my mouth. I spotted my ITL teammate Whitney almost right beside me, going through her bag with her volunteer and shouted hi before pushing off and starting to ride again.

Right. through. the. most. amazing. cheering. section. ever.

The first lap through Chickamauga was FILLED with people screaming and cheering on both sides of the course and it was SO SO cool. I realized quickly that shoving this chewing food in my mouth right before the biggest photo op of the course was probably not the smartest move. I chewed that mouthful of gummy candies FURIOUSLY, swallowing it as fast as I could. It was one of the most comical moments of the race for me.

The stretch through Chickamauga was truly awesome. Seeing my family and friends all out there, covered in blue, cheering, was so incredible. They were at the end of the cheering section, right before starting to head out of town. I had a HUGE grin on my face, trying to make eye contact with everyone in a split second and taking it all in. It was overwhelming and so special.

As soon as I passed everyone, I started to choke up and cry. It had just filled me with so much emotion to literally SEE the support of so many people, yelling, screaming, and losing their voices just to give me energy and adrenaline to get through this day. The crying made it hard to breathe, so I pushed the sappy feelings away and focused on getting down to business.

Coming out of Chickamauga there is a climb up, then a nice descent. I felt so confident about it from the training ride. I told myself that I was more prepared than anyone for this portion and focused - pushing through that section.

I started the second loop and knew I could do this. For a while, I just focused. My friend Whitney rode up behind me at one point and smacked my butt saying hi. We were able to stay together for a bit, chatting as we passed each other back and forth. Knowing she had started behind me, I asked if she had seen Kevin. My heart sunk and my stomach dropped as she let me know that he had a broken cleat on his shoe - that had happened at about mile 3. I had no idea how bad it was but I hated to hear he was struggling and tried to send him good vibes. That damn bike of his!

The second half of the bike I just tried to keep my head down. The effects of not having eaten much were starting to weigh on me. I would lift my head up and feel dizzy. I tried to eat as much as possible and felt so frustrated with my stomach. My Gatorade was never touched again (which you can see in pictures from both loops through Chickamauga - it is in the exact same spot/level each time.) I focused on salt, potatoes and a Clif bar. Riding started to feel harder the second loop around and I had my coach's words in my ear telling me to go slower when I felt like I needed to go slower, and try to not burn too much. I started to feel a bit worried that I was going too hard but just tried to stay steady.

I had to use the bathroom once, at around mile 65 (right before Whitney caught up to me.) I tried hard to pee on my bike (for those of you unfamiliar with triathlon... it's a thing) and I just couldn't do it. I had been holding it for a while, so finally stopped at a porta potty, using it really quick then continuing to ride. I ticked away the miles 10 at a time, knowing that I was counting down at this point.

Whitney got ahead of me after a number of miles riding together, and I ended up in a pattern of leap frogging a few women back and forth that I started to recognize and have names for my head.

I wanted to try and talk to them, but I didn't really have the energy for it. And everything I thought of to say to say somehow seemed inappropriate. So I just had conversations with them alone in my head "You've got great legs!" I wanted to say to the one girl in short shorts. "You know, they make pink bike shoes too!" to the girl in the all pink kit with blue shoes. "Daniela Ryf wardrobe malfunction, huh?" to the girl with her tri top zipped halfway open and flapping around. But none of these things seemed like a normal or appropriate thing to say at the time.

So I just kept my mouth shut.

The sun came out and I started to feel it. At this point, I had Chickamauga in my sights again and I knew it would be a good pick me up. Right before getting there, I caught back up to Whitney and asked if it was okay if I went through first as I passed her. It was just as big of a high riding through the second time and I loved every moment of it.

On my way out, my friend Nathan passed me and said to me, "Bring it in!" knowing we were in the home stretch. I tried to push out of Chickamauga hard again, but my legs were tired. I started looking at my watch for the first time of the ride, seeing how far I had to go.

I hit 100 miles at around 5:25 on the bike - a 20 minute PR for a century ride. I wanted to be above 18 mph on the bike, which I knew meant finishing the 116 in 6:24. Never being quite good at math, I thought that I was on the verge of making it, so tried to keep up the hustle on the last miles back into town. The last few miles I counted down one by one until I saw the finish up ahead and the dismount line. The bike was done!

Time: 6:42

I feel like I should say "It felt so good to be off the bike!" but in reality when I hopped off the bike, my legs buckled and I felt terrible. I have no recollection of handing my bike off to a bike catcher, but I assume someone took it. I just remember feeling like my legs weren't working, feeling dizzy, and trying to keep moving forward. I stopped before running through transition and took off my bike shoes. I was struggling with balance and didn't need wobbly bike shoes throwing me off, in addition to my head/stomach.

I heard my name called and saw my coach's wife, Jess, who was volunteering as a bike catcher, waved, and then ran through the transition area, grabbing my run gear bag and heading into the transition tent, feeling so disoriented. I just stopped and stood there when I walked in, not knowing what to do, until a volunteer came over and asked me if I needed help. I said yes and she directed me to a chair. I just sat there for a minute while she dumped out my bag asking what I needed. I said I needed a minute and she grabbed me some water, while I tried to just get focused. I grabbed the peanut butter pretzels still in my back pocket and had a few of those. As well as a few bites of Stinger Waffle. It was really hitting me that I had NOT eaten enough on the bike and I did not feel well at all.

The volunteer helped me change my clothes, put my socks on for me, commenting that rolling them that way was a good idea (thanks Jerome!) and I started to put on my shoes. She wrapped my sunglasses I'd worn on the bike in my bike jersey so they wouldn't break, and tucked it into my bag  (tip for future Katelyn - put your sunglasses case in your run gear bag!) I put on my hat and race belt, and tried to attempt Body Glide on all my chafing locations, but was so sweaty it didn't go on. I tried to dry off with paper towels but that didn't work, so I just threw the Glide back in my bag.

As I was leaving, I noticed my friend that I swim with, Wendy, in the tent volunteering. Had she been there the whole time? I never saw her! And I noticed Whitney as well. I said hi to them both, and with nothing left to do and no other excuses to stick around, I made my way out.

Distance: 26.2
Time: 5:04:41
Pace: 11:37 min/mile
Div rank: 26
Gender rank: 168
Overall rank: 668

Right outside the tent I saw my mom, cousin, Brick, etc. and stopped to give them a hug. I love them and all, but was also really trying to procrastinate this whole running thing. I saw my friend Kathi and said hi to her as well and thanked her for being there, then shouted she should go say hi to my mom.

The run started by heading out on these gray carpets covering the grass. It was a makeshift start given that part of the run course was under water. It felt wobbly and I worried about stepping wrong and twisting an ankle. Finally we made it onto the pavement and I heard people screaming my name and cheering for me and started to pass through a few sections with friends and people cheering.

I saw Anthony, Jenn, Brett and Sarah right by transition, then as I head up the hill I saw a number of my friends all with SO much energy - which was exactly the opposite of how I felt. I gave Jonathan a hug (procrastinating more) and waved to the people who yelled my name from up above (had no clue who it was at the time.) I ran through the ATC section and out onto the highway for my first loop of the run.

Heading out, on the unshaded highway, I was away from the crowds finally and on my own. And then I stopped running for the first time.

Holy shmoley. I felt dead.

I adjusted my watch to show me my HR, thinking it would be super high. But it wasn't. My legs just felt awful, my body disoriented, and my head dizzy and lightheaded. It was HOT and I was barely a mile in and already walking. I had been wanting to since I left the tent but there were so many crowds. I walked a little bit and then ran a little bit. Walked a little bit and then ran a little bit.

I have never had to walk this early in any race before and it was freaking me out. I felt terrible. I didn't know if I could do this for 26 miles. I started to freak out a bit and doubt if I could finish this. I struggled to get focused. I wasn't used to running in the heat of day like this, it was hot, and there was no shade on the highway.

The first few miles, I run-walked, walking the aid stations and drinking water and taking small sips of Gatorade. My lightheadedness seemed like a bigger risk factor than my nausea so I forced down Gatorade, knowing I needed the electrolytes. I thought to myself, "I could puke and keep going. But I can't keep going if I pass out." so decided to take on the Gatorade.

I knew that the course went out about 4 miles on the highway then turned on to the river walk path. I left my watch screen on HR and measured how far I was going based on course markers, never concerning myself with pace. I would run and then walk a little if my HR got around 160.

At around mile 3, I saw my coach, Jerome, up ahead on the course. It felt like a mirage because I was so thankful to see him. I needed him in that moment more than I can explain. As much as I loved all the energy and people coming off the bike, he was who I felt like I had needed to see.

I started to cry as I came up to him, telling him how terrible I felt and how I didn't think I could do this. He walked with me for a bit and told me that it was supposed to feel terrible and that I could do this. I didn't have the words to get into how bad I had felt on the bike and the nausea, so I just told him that I hadn't eaten enough on the bike and wasn't feeling well now. He told me to make up the nutrition on the run, walk the aid stations, take in what was needed and correct what was wrong. This clicked and gave me purpose moving forward, trying to fix and correct myself, rather than think the whole thing was doomed.

I had been feeling lightheaded. So, salt. I needed more salt.

I kept trying to drink water and Gatorade, but pulled out my salt tabs, which I had forgotten were in my race belt. I took a couple salt tabs at the aid station, grabbing some pretzels and chips as well. I made the turn onto the bike path, where there was some help from the shade, and at every aid station, focused on trying to correct my nutrition. Once I got in some salt, I knew I needed calories - more than a small handful of pretzels was going to provide. So I started choking down Gu gels. I hate those gels, but I knew it was the fastest way to calories. And besides, chewing wasn't really working out for me well. I alternated as best I could with salt and calorie focuses, and maintained my run/walk. I had no real interval or ratio for it, just would run as much as I could, trying to push myself to specific landmarks or points, then walking for a short bit, and running again. I walked every aid station.

I saw Jerome again as I came back through around mile 6 and asked him if I would finish if I just kept going at this pace the whole time. He laughed at me and told me of course. Part of me was scared because I thought... if I was walking at Mile 1.. what was I going to be like at Mile 20?? I think that realistically, I assumed I would walk at some point, but I thought that I could AT LEAST run the first 6 miles or something. So it really freaked me out to be walking so early. Jerome told me that I had all day, that I would be fine and to focus on moving forward. If this was my pace, this was my pace, and there was no shame in that he said. He also let me know that everyone was starting to struggle since it was so hot. I said back, "It's not THAT hot." Although it felt hot to me, but I didn't want to complain or exaggerate, and I knew Chattanooga has had some hot years. He said "Katelyn - it is 90!"

The course goes out 4 miles on the highway, back a couple miles on the bike path, then back onto the highway a bit before making your way to cross the first bridge, Veteran's Bridge. My friend Lauren was waiting for me there, cheering and jogging along, telling me how strong I was and how amazing I was doing running up the hills. I told her, "I think I am going to be out here all day!"

I still felt pretty bad and when I saw my friends and Jonathan cheering me on at the bridge, I stopped and gave Jonathan a hug. I said in his ear, "Jonathan, I am hurting." and he told me "I know."

I'm not sure why, but somehow that made me feel good. I love him and it made me feel special to know that he knew me well enough, the paces that I was capable of, and everything about me to know how much I was hurting. Seeing him and friends gave me a boost to keep moving, and we have since laughed about his lack of encouragement in the quick response of "I know."

I walked a bit of the incline of the bridge, then enjoyed the downhill until I hit the point of incline on Barton that brought me to a walk. Chattanooga Ironman's run course has a couple of big climbs, in the neighborhoods on the other side of the bridge from downtown. The major hill is Barton, which I walked the entirety of going up. It was the right thing to do. I started chatting with a woman next to me from Savannah, but just focused on a fast paced walk up the damn thing. As soon as I was at the top, I started running again. I felt so lucky that I knew the route and knew what to expect of where the hills would be. It kept me running at points when I wanted to walk because I told myself, "You're going to want to walk that big hill around the corner, so keep moving now!" I went through the golf course loop and started to go back up Barton, walking it the opposite direction as well but running a small portion in the middle where it leveled off.

At this point, I started to feel better, gain some confidence, and get a bit of an adrenaline boost knowing that I was almost to halfway through. I realized that I could maintain this run/walk that I was doing and that even though I was walking more then I expected, my run still felt good and was moving at a decent rate. My head was starting to feel better and I started to get a second wind.

When I started to cross the foot bridge, my second bridge, to return back to town, I thought of the training run I had done here back in August. I had purposely run two loops of the bridges that weekend, the first time, I had tried to visualize myself during the race and how I would feel on that first loop. And in the blink of an eye, here I was doing it. I felt happy and I felt confident.

Halfway across the bridge, I saw Lauren again, who started jogging with me and telling me for the second time how amazing I was doing and how incredibly consistent I was being. She gave me updates on the rest of our crew out on the course, as I breathed a sigh of relief hearing Kevin was off the bike. It made me feel good to hear that I was being really consistent and Lauren was so confident and reassuring telling me that I was doing great, because I had not once looked at my pace or how long I had been out there. I said out loud "I can do this." then came off the bridge through the ITL cheering section.

This portion of coming off the bridge and through the crowds before starting my second loop was overall one of the highlights of the race as well. It was such a whirlwind and went by so quickly but I loved every moment of it. I high fived all my smiling friends and family members, lining either side of the road in a wave of blue T-shirts, and then rounded the corner through the Atlanta Triathlon Club section where I saw Jerome and gave my coach a high five, silently thanking him for being in the right place at the right time when I needed him earlier.

Special needs was right here, and the volunteers were ready for me. Without ever stopping running, I grabbed my bag (which only had in it some Tylenol and an extra Gu), grabbed the Tylenol, tossed the bag, and kept moving forward. As I was doing this, there were more of my ITL friends along the street and my friend Lindsay shouted to me, so excited "Katelyn - Gerke is right ahead!" This was one of the happiest moments of my day and I practically sprinted over when I saw him ahead, jumping in the air behind him and giving him a hug.

I was SO happy to see him off the bike and still moving. I walked with him for a bit and caught up with him about his bike ride. He had done the whole dang thing with only one foot clipped in on his bike. His hips were bothering him on the run due to the imbalance of cycling. I offered him Tylenol and he said to me "I am fine. I just want to finish." We chatted as we climbed a hill and I told him I was going to run at the top. He encouraged me to, telling me I was killing it. And after another hug, I kept moving.

Running through all my friends, getting to talk to Gerke, plus the Tylenol and the bit of knowledge that I was half way done the run... it was exactly what I needed and I continued the second loop having FUN on the run course.

I talked to more people. I smiled. I maintained my run/walk and encouraged/commiserated with those around me. At around mile 15 I used a portapotty on the run. I had needed to use the bathroom for a while, but they all just seemed like too far of a walk off the course. Eventually I talked myself into using the bathroom and walked the few feet off the run course to use it. It was immensely painful due to some chafing I discovered and I returned back out, knowing that my shower was going to be rather unpleasant that night. I was also chafing on my chest so I grabbed some Vaseline from an aid station and slathered it on (bless them!)

The Tylenol that I had taken at special needs was due to the fact that the bottoms of my feet were aching. They were throbbing and had actually been bothering me since when I was on the bike. Towards the end of the ride, they started flaring up as I pushed down on the pedals. It had happened to be a couple times before and I believe are referred to as "hot spots."

I saw another coach out on the highway stretch, Adam, who was so encouraging and told me I was doing a great job, which was exactly what I needed to hear. It was so amazing to see people on that stretch out on the highway and was so much appreciated.

I felt better on my second loop. The sun was starting to set and it was starting to feel cooler out. It was an odd feeling because I had no idea what time it actually was out, which I didn't even think about until the sun started to go down. I know I could have looked at it on my watch but I never moved it from the HR screen. I had no clue how long I had been out there.

In Ironman, you typically have until midnight to finish the race. Throughout training, not meeting the cutoff was never something I worried about. I don't mean to be arrogant I think I always felt confident I could finish the race within the allotted time. But throughout the day, so many doubts and questions and uncertainties ran through my mind. On the course, I questioned if I would make it and felt like my run was taking forever.

Around mile 16-17, I looked at my watch for the first time. I knew I had 9ish miles to go and I remember thinking, "It could be between 1:30-2:00 hours to finish!" and my watch was a bit past 3 hours at the time. I felt okay about that thinking that I would finish between 5-5:30. It wasn't what I had originally wanted in the day, but my plans had changed. I put my watch back to HR screen and kept going.

During the second loop, I was just focused on finishing. I felt better mentally and I literally just did exactly what I had done the first time. I walked at the points I had walked before and started running at the points I had run before. There was one girl who was running by me for a while, at a very consistent, but slow pace. I would catch her, then drop behind when I would walk, catch her, then drop behind. Doing my run-walk, I was staying right with her, and I eventually did pass her completely. I told myself I would overall do better if I kept up the walking. However, looking back, I feel like I could have pushed myself more in the second loop. I settled. I thought to myself, "If I finish in 4:50 or 5:10... does it really matter?" I didn't care about my time any more and I had the drive to keep moving but I gave up on trying to run beyond what I had done on the first loop. I am a bit regretful of that now. When I ran, I was running well.

I saw more people that I knew from ATC and ITL, as well as someone I knew just from Instagram. I talked as much as possible on the second loop, trying to pass the time. Lauren and some ATC-ers were waiting right before crossing Veteran's Bridge the second time, and I had much bigger smiles this second time through. I skipped hugs and just smiled and waved at Jonathan and our amazing friends from the West Georgia Track Club cheering for me.

The sun was starting to set and it was getting so beautiful. I knew I just had the 5ish mile loop on the other side of the bridge to tackle, and knew it would be pretty void of spectators that I knew, so I started to just take everything in and really cherish every moment. I still walked all the hills but tried to take in everything around me with every step I took. The setting sun, the darkness coming around me, the aid stations starting to get lit up. Racing from the morning, through the day, and now into the night, was so unique for me. I thought to myself how cool it was and reflected back on all the mornings running in the dark before the sun was up, and then here I was now, running while the sun had set.

I was still run/walking super consistently and even got a "Damn, girl - you're moving!" from a guy that I passed while on one of my run portions. As I head up the hills by the golf course, coach Adam was there on the bike. He again told me how great I was doing, and this time reading off my run splits from the tracker, reiterating how consistent I had been and telling me I was on track for a finish a little over 5 hours for the run.

I kept talking to people where I could, and stayed on top of my nutrition, even through the end, choking down gels when I could and not wanting to risk anything. As I started to walk back up Barton, the mega-hill on the run course, I saw my coach, Jerome, on a bike, who yelled to me, "There is my favorite person!" which made me so happy. He kept showing up at the most perfect moments.

He walked nearby me up the hill, telling me how proud he was of me, how amazing I was doing, and giving me more details on the day. He updated me on Kevin, which was just breaking my heart to hear about. As we chatted, I warned Jerome not to get me in trouble as he walked his bike alongside me. I ran down Barton, and he met me under the bridge. As I ran down, I saw Kevin and our friend Phil, giving them a wave as I passed on my way in to the finish. I was being carried on adrenaline at this point.

As we got closer to the second bridge, that would take me in to the finish, Jerome told me everyone was waiting for me on the other side. He reminded me to take it all in. Even now, as I type this, I get choked up just thinking about it. He said my family was at the finish and there was a crowd waiting on the other side of the bridge. He said Jonathan was there and that he was giddy with excitement waiting for me. "Jonathan? Giddy?" I thought to myself. I told Jerome I didn't believe him and that Jonathan doesn't get giddy.

Before getting yelled at by a marshal and riding away, Jerome told me how proud he was of me, and it was a great feeling.

I was running at this point, but when I got to the start of the foot bridge, I started walking. This time it wasn't to catch my breathe, but to take a little bit of time where I knew it would be quiet to take a few moments for myself. I walked and looked around me. It was dark out now and lights lined the bridge and downtown Chattanooga lay out in front of me along the river. It was quiet on the bridge, peaceful. With a slight echo of sound in the distance of music blasting and the faint words from the announcer shouting "You. Are. An. Ironman!"

I thought about the months of training, the years of triathlon, learning to run, growing confidence on the bike, the days and moments I doubted myself, the long bike rides, the back-to-back weekends, the friendships and bonds I made throughout this journey, my friends and family and amazing boyfriend who supported me. I breathed it all in and looked around me, thought of all these things, and got goosebumps as I took it. all. in. Every drop of it.

As I walked across the bridge someone else in the race came up beside me and with one look at my face he said to me, "First one?" I said "Yup." "Going to the finish?" he asked. Double yup. He wished me congratulations and told me take it all in, then kept moving.

As I got to the halfway point on the bridge, I started running. I saw Lauren. I started to smile. This was it. I ran off the bridge and through all the ITL people cheering and screaming. I saw Jonathan and stopped and gave him a hug, and saw Jerome smiling in the background, knowing he had told me to stop and give hugs. He looked so proud of me and happy for me.

I asked where my mom was and someone said at the finish. I shouted "Okay!" and kept running, as Jonathan told me he'd meet me at the finisher shoot. But then all of a sudden I got confused. I literally could not remember where I was supposed to go. I stopped and said "Where do I run now???" and someone pointed me "Uhh -- right in the direction you have been doing!" and I thought "Oh yeah!" and kept moving forward.

I rounded the corner where the ATC cheer tent was. It was dark at this point and I didn't see anyone's faces but smiled to the crowd as I started to run downhill to the finisher shoot. A stretch of road I had run and walked on many times before. A moment I had visualized countless times. An experience I will never forget.

My friends and Jonathan had run down the shortcut set of stairs after seeing me cross the bridge and were running alongside to the finish, screaming my name and shouting "Go Katelyn! Go Ironman Katelyn!" Jonathan ran alongside the longest, yelling out, "Katelyn, I love you!" and telling me he was proud of me. It makes me choke up even as I type, just thinking about it.

This finish was unlike any race finish I had ever done. It was cooler. I was smiling, looking all around me, spotting familiar faces in the crowds on either side of the finisher shoot. I checked behind me to ensure there was nobody right on my heels and slowed down to take it all in. I filled with emotion thinking about all of the months, years, fun, long, hard days that were going into this moment.

I saw my family and ran over and gave them a hug. My coach was on the other side of the finisher shoot and captured a moment I must have watched 100 times over.

I kept moving, and started to cry, running through the finish line as I heard those coveted words, "Katelyn Buress, from Atlanta, GA, You. Are. An. Ironman!!"

Time: 11:29:20
Distance: 142.2
Div rank: 26
Gender rank: 168
Overall: 668

My crossing of the finish line was "boring" according to my sister and brother who were watching on the live feed, but it was full of tons of emotion for me. I got my medal and then immediately started to look for my family. I saw Jonathan on the left and went over to him and gave him a big hug and had a moment with him before walking towards the exit where all my family and friends were waiting for me. These were some of the best hugs ever.

The rest of the day was spent watching and cheering for others as they finished, trying to eat some normal food, and eventually packing up and heading back to the AirBnB. I was tempted to try and stay at the finish line until midnight, but I really wanted to shower and lay down. I had changed into shorts and some of the chafing going on was making me really uncomfortable.

Chattanooga Ironman was one of the most amazing days ever and it was made so amazing not by my speed or pace or time I crossed the finish line, but by the amazing showing of love and support I had from friends and family alike. Every single person who came out and cheering for me, who positioned themselves on a strategic part of the course, who said something encouraging, and who came out that day helped make this such a special event for me. Even more than a month later, I still have mixed feelings about not being able to do the swim. And about feeling sick on the bike and not being able to run as much on the run. But when I think of the day, I just feel overwhelmed with emotion at everyone who helped get me across the finish line. I am so appreciative.

The week following the race, I had a really difficult time recovering. My legs started to feel better after a day or two, but my stomach was a complete disaster. I honestly could not eat from Monday through to about midday Friday. I was really sick and think I may have caught some sort of a bug. I didn't leave my apartment the whole time and spent most of the days going back and forth to the bathroom (even waking up every few hours all through the night) and curled up in the fetal position. It freaked me out quite a bit and frustrated me endlessly to be so sick. Eventually I got my stomach back to me and began some celebratory eating the following week. Workouts have been coming back slowly and I am enjoying swimming and running, and have just started to get on the trainer a bit more. I have yet to sign up for another Ironman for 2019, but I am thinking it will likely be in the works.

My focus throughout October was supporting Jonathan through his race the first weekend in November, and now I'm getting back on track. Ironman Chattanooga was such an epic journey and I loved the training and the friendships that came out of this race. I will forever have a deeper special place carved in my heart for Chatt and the great races I have had there. Thank you for reading so far!