“Retirement Race” is what I dubbed this event for myself. This was my final race as a pro triathlete. If you’ve been reading my blog posts for the past couple years, you’ll have noticed a theme of me getting ready for this decision to step down or step away from the pro competition. It’s not an easy decision to make, and multiple times I thought I was ready and I just wasn’t. I’ve had a great journey. My father-in-law, Rusty McCain, has a t-shirt he was wearing the day after this most recent race which said “The Journey is the Destination”, and I feel this has been the case for me and triathlon. One race can never sum it up. I’ve had so many wonderful experiences and “successful” races – PRs, fast times, good placing, wins, etc. But the day-in-day-out training, sacrifices (for good and bad), discipline, support from my friends/family/workplace…that all adds up to a memorable journey which really is the destination. So I feel accomplished and successful in that.
Ironman Chattanooga (by the way, make sure to pronounce “Chattanooga” with a soft Southern tongue – DON’T annunciate the t’s; say softly more like d’s – I’ve been corrected a lot by my southern hubby! …this was the first year the Ironman distance has been held in Chattanooga, and there was a huge turn-out. WTC races continue to grow in size, and at this race there were 2349 athletes that competed! The organization for an event this size is incredible. I do admire the corporation’s ability to plan, organize, and keep all those athletes as safe as possible. There are always obstacles to this and things that pop up during race day. Dozens of which the athletes never know about. For this race, interestingly, and sadly, a dead body was found in the river after the swim (not an athlete), tacks and oil were thrown onto the road in multiple places by unwelcoming locals (this was NOT the case, in general - Chattanooga on the whole was a wonderfully hospitable city), and a local establishment refused to allow the bike course to pass by its property, thus causing the course to have to be lengthened 4 miles so this was the first Ironman to have a bike course of 116 miles! People had fun with this — I saw multiple homemade t-shirts and signs saying things like “144.6 miles – because 140.6 is for sissies” — hahaha!
As for my race, it was good. It was not a great performance by far, but I am totally satisfied with it. I did my best for that day. This past year has been a very tough balance of work, first-year marriage, and continuing to train and race. It is definitely time for me to not spread myself so thin in every area, and thus to cease competing on an elite level for this endurance sport. As I was biking, I was confirming this thought to myself because I just don’t have the competitive mental edge anymore. In the past, if a girl passed me on the bike I would mentally toughen up and determine to catch her (even if I couldn’t, I would sure try), and now I congratulate her for being so fast as she passes me! Well, I’m not that defeatist, that is an exaggeration, but I do not have the internal drive to push harder, faster, through the pain, to catch the person in front of me. So that is indicative of the need to step down. When this sport that I have loved so much becomes a burden and is not fun, it is time to make a change. I will come back to it in the future – but I need a break and a book-end to this pro “career”. So next year I will not compete in any triathlons. We’ll see after that. There are so many other things to do, too!!
Swim: The fastest swim ever for me! Because the river current is controlled by water flow from a dam upstream about 3-5 miles from where we began, we all got a nice cruising speed. Some swimmers (the really good ones) were upset by this because it takes away from their ability to get out very far ahead of the others and thereby break up the packs of cyclists that end up bunching together if things are not spread out by the swim. Others of us (not as good of swimmers), were THRILLED by the extra speed the current provided us! Now, to my OWN credit (ha), I did have a strong swim personally. I felt really good and strong. But it was about 14 minutes off my best ironman-distance swim time ever! (44:25)
Side-note: Thank you Tania Ertl for letting me swim in Baseline Lake in Boulder this summer and helping to work on my open-water swimming!! What a blessing that was, and so enjoyable too!
The competition continues to grow in these WTC Ironman events, so the field was very strong. Over the past couple years, it AMAZES me to see how fast the pros are getting. Many of them do this as a career – they are out there to perform and earn money and it’s a serious job for them, not just a “serious hobby” like it’s been for me. I admire the dedication it takes to train and compete when income is on the line. And for me, I am thankful to have a career job outside of my sport so I don’t have to depend on the prize money. Good thing, too, because 10th place doesn’t earn anything – ha!
As mentioned, the bike section was 4 miles long, so this was reflected in most times (you would never know looking at the top handful of pro men and women, though!!). I rode a 5:28:46 which is an average speed of 21.17 miles per hour. The course was a “lollipop” in that we rode out about 11 miles and then did two loops (47mi each), and back in on the “lollipop stick” 11 miles. I enjoyed the bike course – it was really pretty and hilly. I had no problems with my nutrition during the bike, though I did on the run so it’s always a puzzle to try to figure out where things went wrong in that area.
I came off the bike and saw Lucas and gave him a big high-five and told him I loved him. I could tell he was looking at me like, “are things okay, are you okay with your performance and are you feeling alright?” I had told him prior to the race that my goal was to “enjoy this” because it was my last pro race and I didn’t want to have any big expectations. I know that can be hard to understand when you see your spouse dedicating so much time to training and then say “it’s okay if I have a mediocre performance”, but Lucas accepted that my biggest goal was to enjoy my last race and not have expectations of a certain time or place, and he was very supportive of that (thanks, honey!)
The first half of my run I felt lousy – my stomach was all gassy and knotty and that makes it really hard to run well. What I do in long races where you generally don’t feel “good” because you’re just tired after all the previous miles, is I go through a checklist: “Whitney, are you really hurting or are you just uncomfortable? Do you have an injury? If so, are you making it worse by continuing to run? Is something wrong with your digestive tract or are you just uncomfortable? Do you need to stop and make a change, or can you suck it up and keep going?” USUALLY, nothing is REALLY wrong and it’s all about managing the discomfort. I saw a hand-made sign along the run course that said “Legs hurting? Tired? Wanting to give up? And all those were crossed out; underneath it said “everyone else is, too, so suck it up!” Which really does embody how most of us feel out there – pro or not – and the mental part of these endurances becomes the main challenge.
I began feeling better after a bathroom stop and continuing to be diligent in taking in water and calories (even if you feel lousy, if you can continue to eat and drink, then you will have energy to continue so it’s important to try to stick to the nutrition plan), and I’m glad I did because it allowed me to pick up my pace and not just “jog” the rest of the race. This is one way I felt successful in this race – even if my splits were not impressive or near my best, I didn’t give up and I kept running the best I could with what energy and motivation I had. I re-passed a girl with about 3 miles to go, and I finished with a pretty strong pace, much faster than I had dropped down to in the middle of the race. Total run time: 3:27:40 (avg pace 7:55/mile)
I ran down the finish chute, passing an age-group guy on the way – which isn’t important but I felt like doing it! – and crossed the line with a big smile, greeting Lucas and getting wrapped like a burrito in one of those silver blankets to keep the heat in (it had been raining for about the final 5 miles of my run). I felt great – happy – and that is success to me!!
Thanks for your continued support, interest, and for reading my (usually-lengthy) blog posts!
A big THANK YOU to my sponsors:
Tri Bike Transport – AWESOME service, I recommend them to every triathlete. It’s worth turning your bike in early and the money for the service. They are attentive and professional and helpful, and it’s so great to not have to take your bike apart and put it back together – a couple less things to do surrounding races that have SO much prep and logistical planning.
Tyr - has been a sponsor of mine since 2010 and has provided me with quality gear and some performance incentives over the years.
Gu Energy – I couldn’t have gotten through 116 miles of biking and the marathon without their superior nutrition products.
Zeal – my fabulous sunglasses! Love the rim-less lenses for better vision while in the aero-position on the bike!
Retul – has given me multiple bike fits over the years; always thankful for their expertise.
Frasier Meadows – my wonderful workplace has been a sponsor of mine for the past three years. Besides providing me with some monetary support, their day-to-day support of my training and traveling for races has been invaluable.
Curt Chesney – not a sponsor, but my great coach of five years. I’m grateful for all the knowledge he’s shared with me, training rides and runs, and good coaching. I improved a lot with Curt, and really learned how to be a competitor. I would highly recommend him to anyone (local or not) who wants to improve their abilities and is willing to work hard! Curt don’t train no sissies! ;-)