2.4 mile swim, 116 mile bike, 26.2 mile run – 8:54:45. 18th place.
Two days ago, I raced Ironman Chattanooga. It was a great race, with a great course, and we were welcomed warmly by the entire Chattanooga community. I can’t think of a single bad thing to say about the event. The highlight was my homestay with Jim & Sandra Brewer. In addition to me, they also hosted Andrew Fast, Angela Naeth Duncan and Paul Duncan.
Jim and Sandra are two of the kindest, most welcoming, people I have ever met. When most people say “make yourself at home”, they’re just being polite. But when Jim & Sandra say “make yourself at home”, they mean it wholeheartedly. They threw two dinner parties (2!), set up ways for us to experience the city after the race, stocked the house with every type of food we could ever want, gave us a loaner car, etc… and did it all with a smile. I think the best way I can repay them is to spread the word on what an awesome event, and community, they have down here. I’m planning on racing this event next year, partly because staying at their house, and hanging out with them and their neighbors, was such a positive experience.
On to the race…
The river current certainly made things faster for us in the water. But looking at the swim times, I don’t think it had much impact on the “usual gaps”, so I don’t think it changed the fundamental nature of the pro race all that much.
I got out pretty quickly, and settled onto some feet. I thought it was a good set of feet, but about 1500 meters in, I realized my error. The pace slowed down considerably, and keeping up with my group was fairly easy. The lead pack was 100-150 meters in front of us at that point, and I had no chance of bridging up to them on my own. However, I recognize that being in that position was my own fault. If I had been able to sprint out faster at the start, I would have been on a faster set of feet when the swim packs split up, and I might have been able to stick with the lead pack. But then again… that’s all speculation. All we know is that I ended up where I ended up, and I was 3 minutes behind the lead pack of 20 at T1.
There was a giant bike pack in front of me, and there are no big climbs on the Chattanooga course, so I knew the bike pack would stay together for the entire bike segment. And I also knew that if you wanted to get on the podium in this race, you needed to be in that bike pack. “Conservative Doug” would have just settled into a given HR, and rode the bike as if it were an Individual Time Trial. But, I’m done being “Conservative Doug”. I’m not in this sport to put together a career full of 10th-15th place finishes. I’m trying to win these damn races. As such, I took off out of T1 like a madman, pacing it like I was doing a 40-km bike TT. I had to catch the pack. Unfortunately, even though I put in serious work (26.3 mph for the first 28 miles), my efforts were futile, as the pace line in front of me rode the first 28 miles at 26.4 mph. So, all I really did was maintain the gap to them. Around mile 25, Patrick Evoe, Kyle Pawlacyzk, and Rene Vallant caught me, and they were very welcome company. Finally! Some folks to work with on the bike! The 4 of us stood a better chance of catching the pack than I did on my own. We got the gap down to 2 minutes, but unfortunately, my efforts from the first 25-30 miles eventually caught up with me. I was spitting up food/drinks with a series of “mini-barfs” starting around mile 40, as my body was working too hard to digest anything. And then, my legs eventually popped around mile 70. After that, the next 46 miles of biking, and 26.2 miles of running, were just done in “survival mode”, as my body had nothing left to give. Two days later, I’m still incredibly sore & beat-up from the race.
Would I have had a better finishing time if I had paced the bike conservatively? Of course. But again, that’s not why I’m doing this sport. A string of “smart” 12th place finishes does not motivate me. My entire race plan for Chattanooga was “podium or bust”. With the podium as my goal, trying a suicidal attack to chase down the bike pack was my only option. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. So it goes, eh? And you can bet your ass I’m taking the same “podium or bust” approach into every race I do in 2015.
I’m really not sure what I’ll be racing in 2015. I’ve penciled in Ironman 70.3 St George, Challenge Atlantic City, Ironman Mt Tremblant, and Ironman Chattanooga. But who knows how things will play out, right? I’d love to race 140.6 miles in March or April, but the only options during those months are on different continents, which is a trip I probably can’t afford. Although, when we get down to brass tacks, I’m not too concerned with exactly what events I’ll be racing next year. I’m far more concerned with how I race whatever events I end up doing.
The competitiveness of professional Ironman racing has evolved to the point where any time you have a field larger than 15 athletes (which is almost every race), you’re going to have meaningful bike packs forming out of T1, and those packs ride fast together. The make-up of those bike packs is determined by who you’re swimming with. And so if you don’t swim with the lead pack, then it’s extremely difficult, almost impossible, to chase down the lead bike pick.
There’s only one option for me: Coach Tim and I are going to continue working on getting my swim where it needs to be. I’m getting close, but unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how “close” you are. “Close” doesn’t count. You either make the swim pack, or you don’t. It’s a binary system. Even if you miss the swim pack by only 30 seconds, that can be enough to keep you out of the bike pack, and knock you out of podium contention. However, I know I’ll get there, because I’m not willing to accept any other outcome…
Another note about 2015: I’m starting to get less worked up about the “economics” of pro triathlon. I’m sick of getting angry about prize money, sponsorship issues, etc… It’s just too distracting, and takes away from my focus on the two most important things in my career: my own race performance, and the race performance of the athletes I coach. I can complain about sponsorships, prize money, etc… all I want, but here’s the reality: there is money available out there, and there are big sponsorships available out there. If I spend less time/effort worrying about the superfluous crap, and more time/effort focused on the development of myself and my athletes, then all of the prize money and sponsorship situations will work themselves out. I’m in this sport to go fast, not to play politics…
But for now, it’s a 3-4 week break from all training. I’m going back home to Ithaca to spend time with the lovely & talented Lisa Holt, going to a Michigan football weekend in Ann Arbor, and going to Dinosaur BBQ in Syracuse. I’ll start working towards 2015 in November.
Gear for Ironman Chattanooga:
Bike frame: Quintana Roo CD 0.1
Bike shoes: Louis Garneau TriLite
Bike saddle: Cobb V-Flow Max
Bottom bracket & pulleys: Ceramic Speed
Helmet: Rudy Project Wingspan
Running shoes: Nike Lunaracer 3
Race kit: Skins Tri400
Sunglasses: Rudy Project Genetyk