Ironman Chattanooga Course Preview

I don't think I've mentioned this yet, but I was one of the lucky ones to get into Ironman Chattanooga.  The race is September 28, 2014. 

Our plan was to drive to Wilmington, NC for Beach to Battleship then to Knoxville to visit friends and then cruise over to Chattanooga to preview the course and head home.  It sounded simple enough on paper, but once we hit the road we realized we had just planned a vacation that included 5 days in the car driving through 11 states.

I was hoping for a nice, sunny day but TN prefers I ride in the rain (Rev3 Knoxville) so the forecast was for 55 degrees with a light rain.  We drove to the swim start to see that and then drove out of town to the Bi-Lo grocery store so I could avoid the downtown traffic. My plan was to ride out, do one loop, and ride back which was about 60 miles.  Courtney drove back into town and toured the aquarium while I was riding.

The Ride:

The bike route.  It's a "lollipop" (even though it looks more like a knife).  You bike out, do two loops and then ride back.  Each loop is 44 miles.  A good chunk of the loop is actually in Georgia so this course covers two states.

Based on the comments I've read online, I was anticipating a very hilly course but it's not that bad.  There's a fair amount of climbing overall (4000-4500 feet for 112 miles) but a lot of it is long, gradual climbs that feel more like a false flat.  The way out is mostly climbing, but there weren't that many hills, just a few rollers with one longer climb right at the turn around (if you happen to find this post prior to riding the loop, the left turn onto Hog Jowl Road is right after the climb so be prepared or you'll overshoot the corner).  I was in the big ring most of the time so gearing wasn't an issue.
The way back is net downhill but it felt like there were more rollers than the way out.  Again, I was aero and in the big ring most of the time.  Even though it's net downhill, there wasn't much coasting.  I don't know if it was the conditions (light rain) or the gear I was wearing (vest stuffed in back pocket, road helmet, etc) but the course was slower than I expected.    

The elevation profile from my ride.  You can see the one climb in the middle before the turn onto Hog Jowl.  There was one more on the way back, but it wasn't bad either.  Otherwise, just rollers.

Compared to IMWI, this course is easier.  It has fewer hills, no tough climbs, very few turns, no tricky descents.  So it's easier, but it's not necessarily faster. There are a lot of false flats and enough rollers to slow you down.   

The course wasn't as scenic as I expected (the rain didn't help).  Mainly, you're just biking past old farm houses getting chased by dogs with the occasional view of the mountains.  The southern point of the loop is the most scenic.  The roads were in pretty good shape, and I don't remember seeing any potholes so compared to IMWI the roads are a lot better.  There were a lot of RR tracks - I think there are 6 sets on the way to the loop, 3 on the loop so you'll hit those twice, and then 6 more on the way back.  Some of them are pretty rough.    

Most of the course is on a road with no shoulder and I rode alone and felt safe the whole time.  I encountered very little traffic and the cars I did see gave me plenty of room.  I'd recommend not listening to music while riding this route so you can hear the dogs coming. There were no places to stop for water on the course.   

Courtney was waiting for me at the Bi-Lo and we drove the run course and then started our trip home.  

The run course.  Two loops.

The Run Course:

Everyone is worked up about the elevation of the bike course, but it's the run course they should be worried about.  There aren't any really big, steep, intimidating climbs but there are lots of rollers and long, gradual climbs that are going to be very tough during an Ironman. Compared to IMWI, the run course is much hillier. 

The section north of the river was the hilliest with the steepest climbs.  South of the river was flatter, but there were some long, gradual climbs that will definitely be challenging coming off 112 miles on the bike.  Since I just drove the run course and didn't run it, it's hard to comment much on what it's actually like.  I'm hoping to make it down to Chattanooga again before race day to ride/run the course.

Overall I think this will be a good course.  It's challenging, but not brutal.  The run will be the toughest part for sure.  I'm really glad we made it to Chattanooga so I could see the course before winter.  I have a better idea how I want to train for this race now, and it was nice to see the venue beforehand.

FYI - Training Weekend:  

There's a training weekend on the IMChoo course next May 17-18.  It starts with a 2.4 mile swim race and a ride on Saturday with a run on Sunday.  I believe it's free (except the swim race).  Here's the link to the FB group:  https://www.facebook.com/events/1425159107698013/1428307447383179/?notif_t=plan_mall_activity

I've been planning on doing Rev3 Knoxville again and then heading to Chattanooga again after the race to train on the course for a day or two and then heading back home.  Rev3 Knoxville is May 18 so it's the same weekend.  Right now, I'm undecided.  The training weekend sounds fun, but I really want to do Knoxville again.  I really wish Rev3 hadn't moved the race back.  It seems like there are a lot of races on that weekend.  

Decisions, decisions....

Coming up - I still have several race reports to write up. 



Race Report: Beach to Battleship Half Iron

This year has been all about racing in the cold, and unfortunately Beach to Battleship was no exception.  You'd think by now I'd be good at it.  You'd also think that having lived in Wisconsin my whole life I'd be used to the cold.  

The forecast was for sunny skies and a high of 63.  Sounds good, right?  Well...that was 4 pm.  The low was 37 with temps of about 41 the time I would be starting the bike. 

I figured the sun would help a lot so my plan was arm warmers and toe warmers and that's it.  Then I rode the day before in the morning when it was 50 and I was freezing.  The wind coming off the ocean was cold.  I clearly needed to rethink my plan.  So the new plan was to buy a fitted long sleeve shirt to put on in T1, then put on gloves and I decided to race in compression socks all day to help keep my legs warm.  

Race Morning.


Compression socks, wetsuit, winter coat, stocking cap.  Ridiculous.

The logistics of this race are tough.  It's  a point-to-point swim and has two transition zones. To keep Courtney from getting stuck in traffic going to T2, we had to park about a mile from T1 and walk. I did my best to stay warm, but I was pretty cold at the start of the swim.

The Swim:

I never really warmed up despite intentionally swimming harder than I normally would in a half.  I think I swam off course, but that's hard to say for sure.  What I do know is that I swam close to someone else, we took a left at the only buoy and eventually discovered the main group was waaaaaay over there.  So I finished the swim cold and frustrated with a slow swim time at a race known for a smoking fast swim (34:xx, I think...haven't looked it up).  Fantastic.

Oh yeah...never swim in compression socks.  I felt like I had two small parachutes behind me.  I didn't think they would catch water like that.  Lesson learned.


There's a quarter mile run from the swim exit to transition and I was shivering.  I was really wishing I had a towel in transition...and knee warmers...or maybe a dry kit....something more than I had.


The Bike:

I didn't realize it when I registered for this race (or I wouldn't have signed up for this race), but they send the front of the half iron distance right into the back of the full distance race.  I was extremely cold and trying to work my way through a pack of riders racing a completely different race at a completely different intensity.  The full distance athletes were really good about trying to leave room for the half athletes, but there just wasn't enough room in some places and I got held up a lot.  So I was cold and frustrated.

Mainly, I was cold.  Really cold.  So cold, in fact, I considered dropping out...mainly because my bits and pieces were so cold I was beginning to fear they may never work again.  Unfortunately, I'm completely serious.  Wet, thin shorts and 41 degrees don't mix well. I remembered an ex-coworker who told me he wore 3 socks when he rode in cold weather.  I thought about the socks I had back in my suitcase at the hotel.  If only I had one of them right now.  

I told myself I wasn't going to be the Wisconsinite who went down south and DNF'd due to cold weather.  I also knew it was going to be warming up.  I just needed to get through the first half of the bike.  My hands were so cold squeezing gels was difficult.  I didn't have any strength left in my hands.  

My power was really low the first 20-30 minutes, partially due to getting held up but also from the cold.  I was struggling mentally.  I finally found some open space and started pushing harder. Things started warming up and the final 30 miles weren't too bad.  Eventually I regained feeling in everything but my feet. 

Had they not had two races mixed on one course, this bike course would have been great.  It was part of my reason for picking the race - biking on the interstate, smooth blacktop, no pea gravel, not potholes (seriously, none), etc.

Coming into T2 - it's inside the convention center.
T2 - Whoa, my feet are still numb.

Starting the run.

The Run:

If you read my pre-B2B post, you know this was all about the run so even though my day wasn't going as I'd hoped I was still focused on getting that sub-90 run.  I have logged a lot of miles in triathlons this year with numb feet, and this race gave me 7 more.  Yes, 7.  It's getting old.

I needed a 6:52 pace so I started out right around a 6:50-6:55 pace for the first mile and then got my average pace down to 6:50...then 6:49...then 6:48.  I was a little more tired than I wanted to be at this point, but I was feeling confident I could hold the pace.  I held 6:47-6:49 average for the first 7 miles.  I was told earlier in the run I was 5th in my AG, 2 minutes behind 4th.  I got a split at the turnaround and saw I was a minute down.  The pace was getting tough, and I had slipped to a 6:50 pace so he became my carrot for the second half of the run.  Keep chasing.

Since I was the first half iron wave, and this course was an out and back, I was one of the first athletes to come back in the other direction.  I think I caught some volunteers at an aid station off guard and I asked for Coke but they missed it.  I was a little frustrated, but figured I'd just hit up the next aid station.  No big deal.

At this point I'm right on the edge.  I'm trying to speed up but I'm right at 6:51 and fear it's about to hit 6:52,  I'm still chasing 4th.  Dig deep.  You can still get your sub-90, I tell myself.  Then I hear someone catching me yelling "Coke!"  Huh?  It was one of the volunteers from the aid station. She must have run a couple hundred meters with a cup of Coke for me.  I was a bit out of it and caught off guard and I grabbed the cup and mumbled "thank you" but I fear she didn't hear me.  I zone out a bit when I race, and I suspect I come off as unappreciative in aid stations.  I don't always say anything and when I do it's usually a mumbled thank you.  I know the volunteers don't read my blog, but trust me I really do appreciate the hard work you guys do.  I'm just not good at showing it while I'm racing.

I eventually caught and passed 4th place.  Mile 10 and I'm right at 6:52.  Mile 11 and I'm at 6:53 and I'm pretty sure I'm going to puke.  My mouth is watering.  I'm off my goal by about 10-15 seconds so I know sub-90 isn't happening, but I keep pushing.  I can't hit my goal, but I can come close.

I managed to avoid puking and I hit the finish line around 1:28....12.75 miles.  *sigh*  An out and back and the distance was off.  My pace was 6:54 so I was set to finish about 20-30 seconds off my goal.  

Yes, I'm disappointed I didn't break 90 minutes, but I'm still happy with my run.  It's a big PR and I came close.  I showed that it wasn't an unrealistic goal.  I just didn't have it today.  Maybe next year.

Coming into the finish.

A couple guys in my AG made it in the top 5 overall which bumped me up to 1st in my AG.

Pretty cool award.

I have mixed feelings on this race.  Once again I struggled in the cold and didn't have the race I wanted, although I did come really close to hitting my run goal so that's a positive.  As a Wisconsinite, I really do need to learn how to handle cold weather.  This is embarrassing. 

Final thoughts on B2B:

The good:

- I think this would have been a different experience doing the full.  Although I have some complaints, it's generally a well-run race.

- Wilmington is a very cool town.

- The run course was awesome.  I loved it. Very scenic.  I'm jealous of those who get to run that route any time they want.  

- The conditions of the bike course are perfect.  Yes, they have the grates on the bridges and a few speed bumps very early in the bike, but other than that it's perfect.

- The volunteers are awesome.

The bad:

- I won't lie....I'm not coming back to do this race.  Not the half anyway, and it's mainly because they send the half into the full.  Mixing distances like that makes for a lot of sketchy moments.  

- 1.2 mile swim...one buoy.  Really?

- The logistics of this race are very challenging.  

- The run was short.  There's no excuse for that.

- This isn't the first year this race has been really cold (2011).  I think it's typically warm, but be prepared for the potential for cold weather.

- It's not spectator friendly.

The ugly:

- "Finisher" pajama pants.  Yikes.  They did give us a great B2B long sleeve cotton T with packet pick up.  I'll definitely wear that.  I turned down the pajama pants and the volunteers were surprised and I was surprised they were surprised.  

No B2B post would be complete without a picture of the battleship.

They don't actually finish at the Battleship anymore.  I guess the logistics were even worse then.  So now it's technically the Beach to Convention Center Triathlon.  

One last thing:  I've read a lot of great things about B2B, and while I have my complaints I do think it's a good race.  However, I left this race convinced that the Door County Triathlon is the best independent half iron distance race in the country. I'm thinking B2B is better as a full than a half. 


Pre-Beach2Battleship Post

This weekend I'm racing the Beach to Battleship half ironman in Wilmington, NC.  I did a  lot of racing this season and never had more than a couple of weeks between races, but for Beach to Battleship I took a break from racing to focus on training.  My last race was HyVee, so I haven’t raced in 8 weeks.

I feel like I’ve under-performed at the last several half ironmans I’ve done, mainly on the run.  In fact, my half iron run PR is from 2009 in my third half ironman.  I have my excuses, but those are just excuses and I think a lot of it comes down to the mental side of racing more than the physical side.  Part of the problem has been my mindset, I think.  I tend to view a half ironman as…well…half of an ironman.  While technically true, it tends to put me in a conservative mindset and I go into pacing mode rather than racing mode. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, you do need to pace yourself, but you also need to find that balance between pacing and racing.  

With my focus being on short course this year, my mindset has changed a little.  For some reason, this half ironman doesn’t feel as long to me as it has in the past.  Working on my Olympic distance skills has definitely helped, especially with how I view the run.  I have a bit more of a go-for-broke attitude now in regards to the run.

My running injury didn’t help (one of my excuses), especially on the mental side.  I feared re-injury.  So even if physically I was set to PR, mentally I wasn’t.  I’ve been able to train and race hard for 12 months now without any issues.  Because of this, I have a lot more confidence in my run.  I’m a better runner.  I’m a more confident runner.  I believe I can race this without re-injuring my knee.

So what’s my goal for this race?  Break 90 minutes on the run.  That’s it.  One goal.  There is one catch to this goal though – I have to swim and bike at half iron distance effort.  I can’t go easy to make sure I run well.  This has to be legit.

Am I ready?  I think so.

My half iron run PR is 1:39.  Prior to that race, my best workout was 2.5 hours at 245 watts followed by a one hour run at an 8 minute pace.  That was a couple weeks prior to the race, and I raced at 226 watts and then ran a 7:34 pace.  To run a sub 90-minute half I need to average a 6:52 pace or faster.  Here’s a look at some of my key workouts leading up to B2B:

  •      3 hour ride alternating 30’ @ IM power/30’ @ HIM power followed by a 30 minute run at a 6:45 pace.
  •     4 hour ride alternating 30’ @ IM power/30’ @ HIM power followed by a 45 minute run at a 6:50 pace.
  •      3 hour ride with 5x30’ (5’) @ HIM power followed by a one hour run at a 6:59 pace.
  •     3 hour ride with last 2.5 hours @ HIM power followed by a one hour run at a 6:49 pace.

So those are the key workouts. The last one was the most encouraging, mainly because I never had to dig really deep.  It wasn’t easy, but I finished with a little left in the tank and my long run the next day went really well.

If you have nothing better to do Saturday morning, here's the link to live tracking:  http://www.setupevents.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=live_timing&eventID=2335

I'm number 1911.  My wave is at 8:30 eastern time.


First year coaching

I had a question about my coaching on one of my recent posts, so I thought I'd write a quick post about that.

This year I decided to give coaching a try.  I took on a few athletes and gave it a go to see if I enjoyed it and if I was good at it.  With the season being nearly over, I can now look back and say that things went very well.  They actually went a little better than I'd hoped for.  

From sprint distance up to Ironman, my athletes set several PRs this year.  To highlight some of the bigger ones, I had two athletes set big PRs at the half ironman distance.  One of them reached a goal he set in 2009 of breaking 5 hours by going 4:41 and taking 4th in his age group. This same athlete went 10:42 at Ironman Wisconsin, setting a 44 minute PR and taking 9th in his age group. I had another athlete set a 24 minute PR at a half ironman also breaking the 5 hour mark for the first time with a 4:47.  And I had one other athlete set a 16 minute PR at Ironman Wisconsin breaking the 12 hour mark for the first time.

With my first year of coaching being a success, I have decided to continue coaching.  My strength as a coach is power, so I’m focusing on triathletes training with power for 2014.  I’m only going to be coaching a small number of athletes so I can give each athlete plenty of attention and feedback.  I have a few athletes on board for 2014 already so I only have a couple of spots open, but if anyone is interested you can email me at mdwolfgram146 at gmail dot com.

Up next – I’m racing the Beach to Battleship half ironman this weekend so I wrote a post about my training and goals for that race. 



Race Report: Muskoka 5150

I headed up to Canada late June for the Muskoka 5150 olympic distance triathlon hoping to qualify for the HyVee 5150 championships.  Top 15 in my age group would qualify me for the race, top 5 would get me a free entry.  Courtney and I had never been to Canada so this was a mix of a summer road trip/race weekend.

Having never been to Canada, we weren't sure what to expect.  The trip was great.  Canada was great.  The race was awesome - well run and I loved the course.  It's a tough course with plenty of hills, but I really enjoyed it.  I wish this race was closer.

Warming up before the start with the fog lifting off the lake.  It turned into a really nice day, and actually my first hot race of the year.  Who knew.  I had to go to Canada for heat.

The swim:  27:17

Ouch.  The swim is kind of tough.  You swim out, then over, then back past the start upstream  toward transition.  So you swim most of the swim against the current, which isn't a strong current, but it's enough to make for slow swim times.  I didn't feel like I was swimming bad, but my time was slower than it should have been, even with the current.  

The start of my wave.  A smaller group than I expected, but it made for minimal contact.

Coming out of the water.

The first hill...coming out of the water.

The Bike:  1:04:46

I'd love to tell you what my watts were, but this was another in a streak of races where my Garmin 510 gave me trouble and I lost my data.  Garmin had an issue with the 510/810 dropping Ant+ devices that has been resolved with a firmware update, but it cost me about a half a season of race data.  Frustrating.  

I liked the bike course, but didn't feel like I rode my best.  Not bad, but not my best.  I wish I had the data to know for sure.  Either way, it is what it is and I came off the bike 2nd in my age group.

A pic I took on a preview ride the day before.  Good scenery on the course.

One of many hills on the bike course - it is hilly, but I wouldn't say it's brutal.  

Coming off the bike.

The run:  42:45

I was hoping to run better than that, but considering how tough the course was I'm happy with it.  Plus, I came off the bike with a sizable lead over 3rd in my AG and first was no where to be seen so motivation to dig really deep just wasn't there.  

Although this run course was challenging, I can't think of an olympic distance run course I've enjoyed more.  It has a little of everything - roads, hilly, gravel trails, a running track.... Lots of variety and plenty of challenges.  

It was an unusually cold spring, and it got up into the upper 80s during this race so the heat made the run tough as well.  This was the first time this year I had to deal with heat in a race.  All of my previous races were downright cold.  

Right out of transition, the first hill of the run course.  

Part of the run course.

Another shot of the run course - it's the old high school running track.

Another shot of the course.

Starting loop 2 of the run.  Oh, the humanity.  I was hurtin.

Finish:  2:15:52  19th Overall, 2nd Age group.

 Overall, I really enjoyed this race.  The course was tough, but enjoyable.  The race was well-run and the scenery was great.  The town of Huntsville is pretty cool too.  The only disappointment was that this race turned out to be much smaller than I expected.  I was hoping for that big race feel and this didn't have that.  I would definitely go back if this race was closer.

The next day I rode part of the Muskoka 70.3 course and then we packed up and headed to Niagara Falls for a day and then home.  

Up next:  Coaching.  I had a question on my last post about coaching so I'm going to write a little about that.  Then more race reports.