Ironman 70.3 World Championships – Pre Race

18 09 2017

Back in July, I received an unexpected email from Women For Tri inviting me to participate in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships. Without another race on my schedule until October, my response was HECK YES! Still feeling a little bummed from my less than stellar performance in June and lacking motivation to train since my next race wasn’t for a few more months, this was exactly what I needed.

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I knew going into this race that this course was not suited to my strengths (exception: swim). The course for the World Championships was planned to be different than the “regular” Ironman 70.3 they hold in Chattanooga in the spring. The swim was a loop (rather than point to point), with the majority of the swim being upstream. If you’ve heard anything about the swim in the Tennessee river, it’s likely that you’ve heard about the speedy current. Swimming with this current is what many athletes find appealing about the full IM in Chattanooga. Well, Race Directors thought it would be “fun” to have athletes swim against that current for the World Championships.

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The bike would have 3,408 feet of climbing (as compared to 2,218) with the first part taking you straight up Lookout Mountain.

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The run was most similar to the spring race, a two loop course and almost 1000 feet of climbing.

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This Florida girl would be way out of her comfort zone at this race, but I did what I could in my training, completing some run workouts on bridges and some longer rides out in San Antonio (FL) where there are some hills.

The two weeks leading up to this race were less than ideal. I was out for a run one evening, and less than a quarter mile into my run, I rolled my ankle. Thankfully, it ended up being a minor sprain and I was back running in a week, but the Type A athlete in me was freaking out from the minute it happened. A weekend COMPLETELY off two weeks before a race? The horror! I think it actually ended up being really good for me to rest up!

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Once I was finally able to get back at it, we now had our eyes on Irma. She was days out still, but it was pretty stressful tracking her and trying to figure out our plan for heading out to Chattanooga/securing the house/bring the kitties? etc. (We decided to bring them.)

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We left for Chatty on Wednesday night around 10:30pm for the Saturday race (women were Saturday, men were Sunday). Our original plan before Irma was a thing was to drive for several hours and then grab a hotel wherever we decided to stop. Well, thanks to evacuation orders, at 1am the roads were like rush hour, and there were ZERO hotels anywhere with vacancies. We drove (well, mostly Bill drove) until 4:30am before stopping at an overflowing rest area for a two hour nap before hitting the road again. The kitties were not pleased with this whole situation so they were meowing for most of these two hours. Not ideal 3 nights out from a race.

We FINALLY arrived in Chattanooga mid-afternoon on Thursday. Exhausted, we dropped our things at the hotel, grabbed some food, and then immediately took a nap. I didn’t want to sleep too long, for fear of not being able to get back to bed that night (and Thursday night was the night before the night before- the most important night to get sleep!) but man, did it feel good to lay down on a bed. After about a hour and a half/two hours, we slowly got out of bed to head down to the race site so I could get checked in and then go to the welcome banquet and pre-race meeting.

From the minute we got close to the race site you could feel the excitement. There were signs of Ironman everywhere- Billboards, the M-dot on top of the aquarium, and lots of very, very fit people walking around. Bill dropped me at Ironman Village so I could check in- I wandered through the maze of vendors and loved hearing different languages spoken all around. It finally hit me- I was at the World Freaking Championships. Holy cow.

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Check in was a breeze and IM does not skimp on swag for World Championships events. I took some photos and held off on merch (for now) before finding Bill and making our way to the convention center at the Marriott for the welcome banquet.

IMG_2106The spread at the welcome banquet was decent- salad, fruit, mac n cheese, potato salad, cornbread, bbq pork, chicken, pecan pie and brownies. Not the best for vegetarians, but I made it work. After the welcome banquet, they had the pre-race meeting, where we received the welcome news that they were going to do something to the dam up the river so that the current would be MUCH weaker than it currently was. They also said they’d be monitoring the water temperature closely, and would make a final call on Saturday at 5am, but water was currently not wetsuit legal. I learned that we couldn’t access our bike or run gear bags on race morning, so they needed everything in them when I dropped them off tomorrow. After the meeting, we immediately went back to our hotel (which was close to the airport, about 20 minutes from the race venue) and went to bed!

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Friday:

I slept in as much as I could before heading in to the race venue for my pre-race workout. It was a beautiful morning- cool but sunny. It was so nice to have cooler temps!

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I started with a swim in the river to get a sense of the current. I knew that they said it would be less strong on race morning, but I wanted to get in and check it out. They had buoys set up to do a short loop, about 600 yards. The water was not wetsuit legal, so I put on my speed suit and waited in line to get in. I chatted it up with some friendly Wisconsinites before getting to the entrance. The water was really refreshing when I jumped in, and at first I didn’t really feel the current. As long as I was swimming, I couldn’t quite tell how “bad” it actually was. Sure, the shoreline seemed to be moving past me in slow motion, but that’s pretty normal. However, I started to run into a slower swimmer so I stopped. OH. Hello current! Immediately, I started drifting backwards. Lesson- just keep swimming! For fun, I lapped my watch when I started swimming upstream and then again when I was swimming with the current. With a few short stops on the against the current part, my pace was 2:11/yard, but on the way back (with the current) it was 1:11. OH BOY!

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After the swim, I dried off, chatted with some friends, had a snack and then finally decided it was time to check out the first part of the climb up Lookout Mountain. I followed a group of people out of the downtown area up to the climb. As soon as I hit the climb I remembered driving up this road more than 10 years ago for a fall break trip and being a little scared to drive up the mountain on the windy, steep roads. Now, here I was going to BIKE up this thing. I took a deep breath and switched into my lowest gear.

The climb is steep- I’m not sure of the grade but I was definitely thankful I had switched to a climbing cassette a few weeks ago. I pedaled up the mountain, pushing watts, but I wasn’t working overly hard- I didn’t want to blow up before the race even started! Just keep going, just keep going. I looked down at my computer and it showed that I had gone a mile in about 10 minutes. OOF. Tomorrow is going to be a long day. I didn’t let it get me down- I was here at the World Championships- my bonus race!

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After 14 minutes, I reached a pull off in the road and figured it was a good place to turn around and head back. Oh boy. The way down was super scary. The road had cars on it and it was windy and steep. I tried hard not to ride my breaks the whole time, but when I finally reached the bottom my hands hurt from grabbing my brakes. OMG I really hope the back half of the mountain is not like this. I texted Marni and told her I was nervous about the descent, but she assured me I would be fine and the back half wasn’t as technical. That was definitely reassuring, but I was still a bit nervous about this course.

I made my way back to the car to drop my bike before heading back to the Village for the Women for Tri photo. Unfortunately, I was a little too late and missed it! Since I was in the village, merch was calling my name. Le sigh. Always gets me! Finally, I headed back to the hotel to pick up Bill and get some real lunch.

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After lunch, I packed up my gear bags, got my bike ready, and rested a little before heading back to the Village around 4 to drop it all off. I was a little rushed when we finally got there, because I had plans to meet up with a friend from college around 5, but I got it all dropped and didn’t let myself overthink anything.

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At 5, I met my friend and her family for what would be a highlight of the trip- a helicopter ride over the course. It was so beautiful and such a fun way to see Chattanooga! Thank you Rock Creek Aviation!

Finally, it was time to head back, grab dinner and get to sleep. Tomorrow was race day!

 

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Out There

8 06 2015

Night 2/Day 3: Hazel Creek/Forney Creek Loop.

Planned itinerary: “an easy 12.3-mile cruise east on the Lakeshore Trail.”

Hazel Creek/Forney Creek Map

We woke up in the middle of the night to the pitter patter of rain on the tent. This was our first experience using the tent in rain, so we clicked on a light to make sure we weren’t getting any rain inside. There was a small pool starting to form on Bill’s side of the tent, so we looked around for other signs of leaks.  As I was searching, I noticed some clips on the four corners of the tent, which attached to a loop on the “bath tub”. Oh, we should have attached those earlier, as it helped lift up the sides of the bath tub to prevent water from entering the tent. Duh. Our lack of experience showed a bit, but we were lucky. Thankfully there were no other wet spots, and we could get back to sleep mostly confident that our tent would keep us dry through the night.

I had a bit of difficulty falling back to sleep. Not because of the rain, but because my whole body ached from our hike so far. I could not believe we still had 3 more days to go. And long ones at that!

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This snail was on the outside of the tent when we woke up!

By morning, the rain had stopped, so we got up and started our morning chores. Bill pulled down the bear bag and searched for any dry fuel he could find for making breakfast, while I packed up our sleeping kits. We enjoyed some hot oatmeal with dried strawberries and bananas with a cup of vanilla chai on the side. We were fueled and ready to go, looking forward to our “easy cruise.” I put on my Vivos again; just the thought of putting on my Lunas made my feet hurt. I knew we didn’t have a lot of river crossings today, so these would probably do just fine.

We initially left camp by turning right, which took us along the shores of Fontana lake, where the water was crystal clear and we could see hundreds of trout swimming around. I’m not a fisherman, but I’m pretty sure I could have caught something there. We  also spotted a small snake and heard what I’m presuming was the call of an elk, or some other large mammal. We quickly realized that we had gone the wrong way out of camp, because the trail ended. Whoops. We backtracked to the sign that had directed us to the campsite, and realized that we needed to go in the opposite direction. At that crossroads, we saw our first real hiker since we left the AT. There was a man stopped at the sign, who had been backpacking with a few others who were on the other side of the bridge at that point. He told us that they had come from campsite 81, pointing in that direction. That’s the direction we needed to go, so we got to it!

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We were barely 25 yards into the real hike, when Bill got a sharp pain in his foot. We stopped, he adjusted his shoes a little, but I could tell he was in pain. He was limping along, and we were moving at a snail’s pace. This was not good. It’s a good thing today was going to be easy. Easy? Yeah. Right. The “gentle roller coaster” was, to us, more challenging than the sharp downhills and stream crossings we had completed on day one. And we need to do this for 12.3 miles? Just great.

It took us several hours to get to site 81, which I guessed was about 4 miles from where we had spent the night. We were ready for a break, so we stopped there for lunch, to bathe, and to wash our clothes. It was a beautiful day, probably nearing 80, and we hadn’t seen any other hikers on the trail so we figured it was as good a spot as any to strip down and freshen up!

After lunch, we were refreshed and ready to tackle the next 8 miles of our journey. Bill’s pain came and went (he’s a tough one, so I couldn’t really tell when he was really hurting or not), and my feet started to hurt again. All this walking in barefoot shoes with little training was catching up to me.

We crossed paths with a couple on the trail- only our second set of hikers since we’d left the AT- smiling and saying hello, but not stopping to chat, since we knew we had a ways to go before the day was done. Time was ticking by, and these miles just felt SO LONG. How come we hadn’t passed the next campsite yet?

Bill and I started talking about a plan B for the night: we could stop at site 77, camp there for the night, and then play catch up the next day. I was a little hesitant to stray from our itinerary (after all, that’s what we told the ranger), but by the time we reached site 77, I knew we needed to stop. We were exhausted and it was late in the afternoon. If we rested here for a little and then kept up this pace for the last 4 miles, we’d probably roll in to camp as sun was setting, which is not what we wanted to do. We figured it was in our best interest to take a “short” day (8 miles), recover, and hit the trail hard the next day.

The campsite was empty, with the exception of two XL cotton tee shirts sitting in the fire ring- signs that someone had been here recently. Other than that evidence of humanity, this camp really felt like we were in the wilderness. We were certainly OUT THERE, and it felt both freeing and scary at the same time.

Since we were in camp fairly early and it had been dry all day, we gathered up plenty of firewood and made a real fire! Camp fires may be my favorite part of camping. They just make the whole experience feel real.

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We sat by the fire and ate some Backpacker’s Pantry Veggies in Peanut Sauce, which I found to be quite tasty, but quite messy. As I opened the peanut butter packets inside (which were Peanut Butter and Co, by the way!) I had a mini freak out in my head wondering if bears like peanut butter as much as dogs do. I don’t know the answer to that, nor do I want to find out! So I made sure to be as neat as possible, but still ended up with stickiness and peanut butter on my hands. Multiple trips to the stream to wash off were necessary!

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We wrapped up dinner, and just relaxed by the fire before heading to the tent for bed.

It was dusk at this point, and off in the distance we heard an owl, and then some other bird that squawked for so long that we questioned whether it actually was a real bird. We weren’t as beat up as we had been the first two nights, so we actually were awake when it finally got dark out. We were just taking in the vastness of the forest around us when we heard a loud rustle not far from our tent. Both of us stiffened up. What was that?

Bill can make this incredibly realistic barking sound, so he barked a few times and then we sat and waited. He barked some more, and you could hear it echo a little in the distance. Dear God I hope this is just in our heads because we are way the heck out here…

We shined the light out into the distance and saw the last few sparks from our camp fire surrounded by darkness. We turned off the light and sat in stillness, looking out into the night. When our eyes had adjusted back, we saw a little flash of light off to the left, and then again off to the right, and then out front of the tent. There were fireflies! They certainly weren’t the thing that had made the rustle we had both heard, but they lightened the mood a little.

Bill barked again, cutting the stillness, still on high alert. I convinced myself that he had scared whatever it was away, and let myself fall asleep. Hopefully we’d be left alone for the night.





We’re Going On a Hike

2 06 2015

Bill and I recently hiked 57 miles in the Great Smoky Mountains on the Hazel Creek/Forney Creek trails.  It was amazing!!! But I’m jumping ahead, just getting to the trail to start the 5 day trek was an adventure!

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Bill and I have been itching to go on another outdoor adventure since our last one (Chilkoot Trail Alaska) in 2013. At first we tried to plan a Rim to Rim Grand Canyon Hike for this spring, but it turns out that if you’re spending time camping in the backcountry, you need to submit a permit application 4 months in advance. And you need to submit the request on the first day of that four month window, otherwise, you will be denied. (Note: we’re trying again for this October! Fingers crossed.) Wanting a springtime adventure still, we did a number of Google searches for “Best Hikes”. We slowly narrowed it down to “Best Hiking Loops” because we liked the idea of starting and ending at the same place, and it seemed to have more “purpose” or “sense of accomplishment” than just a hike from Point A to Point B on the Appalachian Trail. (However, my thoughts on that have changed since this hike!) Finally we found one on Backpacker.com.  The first line said:  “This challenging five-night, 56.7-mile loop packs in long days, steep climbs, and tricky creek crossings to bring you deep into the heart of the last true Eastern wilderness.” We were sold. We got out our calendars and picked a week in May for our trip.

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I hadn’t really touched my backpacking stuff since Alaska, so we took it all out and evaluated my gear. For this trip, I knew it was going to be warmer than Alaska and my current sleeping bag would be overkill, so I bought a sleeping bag liner (Sea To Summit Thermolite Reactor) to act as my sleeping bag. Trekking poles were such a lifesaver in Alaska, so I decided I wanted to add them to my list of essentials. I found a pair of Leki trekking poles that fit perfectly in my hands and were very light, so I purchased them as well. For food, we splurged on some Mountain House and Backpackers Pantry dehydrated meals. We also decided to buy the Solo Stove and try it out rather than using our alcohol stove, to save weight on carrying fuel. Oh, and I had just started to break in a pair of VivoBarefoot trail runners and some Luna Barefoot sandals a few weeks before the trip. You know how they say you need to break in your shoes and try out your new gear before a trip? Yeah…Do as they say, not as I do.

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Once we had everything we needed, we packed and repacked, trying to whittle down our base weight as much as possible. This would be the longest backpacking trip we had ever done, and with no towns to stop in mid-way through, we’d have to carry all our food. Luckily, gathering water wouldn’t be an issue, as there would be plenty of opportunities to fill our Camelbacks with stream water, which we would then purify. When it was all said and done, my base weight was 14 pounds, while Bill weighed in at 19 pounds.

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Once loaded up, I was 24lbs and Bill was 29.5 lbs!

We left on a Saturday, driving north the 10 hours to Cherokee, NC. The drive took forever, but mostly because we were so anxious to start the hike! The plan was to stop in at the Oconaluftee Visitors Center (The Great Smoky Mountain visitor’s center on the North Carolina side of the park; the more popular entrance is actually in Tennessee.) on Sunday to get our permit, drive to Clingman’s dome right after, and finally hit the trail sometime Sunday mid-morning. After making several stops along the way, we finally arrived in Cherokee. Tomorrow, we hike!