Chattanooga Waterfront Triathlon

Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,

This weekend I raced in Team-Magic’s Chattanooga Waterfront Triathlon. It was my 3rd time to do the race. This year was different.

I approached the race with uncertainty this year. I’ve been thinking  a lot lately about stepping into the unknown – in life, in Faith, and as it turns out in triathlon. Over the last three weeks I had been taking care of an injured left calf muscle. No running for 3 weeks. Limping some days. Feeling as though I could run other days. And limping again the next.

As the race in Chattanooga neared I made the decision to go through with the race, despite my uncertainty about being able to finish. The plan was to swim moderate, bike hard, and see what happens on the run. I talked myself into being okay with a “Did Not Finish” on my record if my calf blew up once I started running.

We left mid morning on Saturday for Chattanooga, stopping first to drop you off with Nana and Papaw for the weekend, Max and Kate. It was going to be a quick trip and the truth is, we have to put so much focus on you two wild things, that your big sister needs some one on one time with Mommy and Daddy sometimes. You two didn’t seem to mind when we dropped you off:

We arrived at the race hotel, the Courtyard by Marriott, around 1:30pm. Downtown Chattanooga was alive with energy – triathletes and tourists packing its streets. The city underwent a revitalization years ago and has become one of the top family destinations in the south with the Chattanooga Aquarium, kids museum, water front, and IMAX theatre, numerous restaurants, and breweries all in easy walking distance. Outside Magazine named it the #1 city in America for outdoor enthusiasts.

We ate a quick lunch at Taco Mac and then Mommy took you swimming, Izzy. I went to pick up my race packet while you swam.

I’ve raced all over the country, with all of the top race management organizations, but no one does it better than Team Magic. Their packet pickup and organization is flawless – even in a race with over 1000 participants:

Not your usual melee at packet pickup the afternoon before a race. Fast and efficient!

My race number.

The Finish line with the Chattanooga Aquarium just behind it.

One of the nicest and most experienced ladies in the business, race director Faye Yates, conducting the prerace athletes meeting.

After I picked up my packet I headed back to the room with meet back up with you two. We decided to spend the afternoon at the movies – since it was over 100 degrees outside again. But before we went I decided to model my free moisture wicking tee shirt – it matches my Rudy Project Wingspan helmet. Pazoow! How’s this for fluorescent?

I may or may not have been doing a modified chicken dance in this picture.

We walked about two blocks to the movie theater where we caught the 5:00pm showing of Disney’s Brave.

I even got conned into a large popcorn and a large coke:

We all enjoyed the movie. I may have even got a sniffle or two when Princess Merida talks at the end about being brave enough to look inside if you want to change your fate. I thought I had gone undetected, but you teased me about it the rest of the night, Izzy.

After the movie we walked another block to Mellow Mushroom for dinner. If its an option I always have a jerk chicken and pineapple pizza the night before my races. We had a great dinner – mostly talking about whether or not I was crying at the end of Brave. I wasn’t!

Part of the beauty of the new Chattanooga is how centrally located everything is. After dinner we walked over to the river and watched the water roll past. I considered the race and what the day might hold. I think I always do that. Trying to envision good things. But Chattanooga was a race where I really didn’t know. I pictured the swim. I pictured the bike. And then my mind went blank as I wondered what the run might hold. Would I make it a mile? Two miles? We all spent a few quiet minutes just being still and appreciating the river front. Izzy you practiced your gymnastics a bit in the manicured grass.

By the time we were finished walking along the river it was getting close to bed time. We went back to the hotel and you and Mommy got ready for bed, Izzy. I still had the work of pumping up my tires, putting my race numbers on, and getting everything ready to go. Satisfied with my organization I went down to the lobby to have a beer with my buddies Daniel and Bill. It’s a bit of a tradition the night before a race for us. I got in bed around 10:15, with my alarm set for 5am.

At 4:50am Mommy woke me up. “Chad! Wake up! What time were you supposed to be up?!”

My feet hit the floor all in one motion. Apparently she thought I had overslept.

Since I was up I went ahead and hit the start button on the coffee maker I had set up the night before. I got myself dressed in my tri gear as the coffee brewed and had a seat on the bathroom floor to eat my breakfast. I kept the lights off in the main part of the room so that I wouldn’t disturb you two.

Here’s how a triathlete staying in a hotel room with his family, trying not to wake them, eats breakfast on race morning:

I left the room at 5:30am and made the short walk down to the transition area. I was among the first to arrive, so I was able to get great rack position. I took my bike for a short spin to run through the gears and make sure everything was in working order. I ran into my buddies Daniel and Bill and managed to get a blurry early morning photo before I boarded the bus for the short ride up the river to the swim start.

The buses drop you off 1500 meters upriver in Chattanooga on a football field that serves as the prerace staging area. My bus arrived at the field around 6:30, so I killed an hour laughing and talking with my buddies and some new friends before the start.

We got started right at 7:30. They lined everyone up and we made our way in groups down an old dock for the start. About 8 of us at a time got in the water and held onto the dock as those in front of us were set off at :02 intervals.

THE SWIM: 1500 meters

I set out at a moderate pace, working my way out towards the middle of the river, where the current is a little stronger. I breathed on the left the whole way keeping an eye on the bank. I found clean water quickly and eased into a more aggressive pace, eventually finding the feet of another strong swimmer. We made our way under 3 bridges. About 20 minutes in I sighted the Aquarium on my left and knew I was close. Chattanooga’s swim is great, because there are definitive landmarks along the way. It was a cool moment to see the downtown sky line come into view as I approached the swim exit. I could hear the crowd cheering as I made my way towards the exit stairs. After exiting the swim we ran up a set of steps to the transition area.

My time: 21:47

THE BIKE: 42k (26 miles)

The night before the race my buddy Bill told me that I needed to “Lieto” the bike route. What he meant was that I needed to go all out on the bike and then see what the run held. It was a solid strategy since I didn’t know if there would be a run at all. Once out onto the course I remembered how hilly the route is. The climbs in Chattanooga are fairly gentle, but they are long and relentless. I rode 10mph for 5 minutes and then 40mph for 2 minutes and then repeated – over and over. Half way through I realized how beautiful the ride is. Having raced in places like Austin and Boulder, I think I take for granted how beautiful Tennessee is. The ride in Chattanooga gives you views on all sides of the surrounding mountains. I tried to focus on the views while climbing to take my mind off of the pain. I was happy with my average speed at this point in the year, as I haven’t been doing any speed work on the bike yet.

My time: 1:14:09 (21.1 mph average)

While I was out on the bike you played in the water features and falls outside of the aquarium, Izzy:

seriously, have you ever seen an 8 year old girl with arms and back like this?

THE RUN:

So, here we reached the moment of truth. I was at 1:39 total time as I headed out for the run. The first mile in Chattanooga is the most difficult mile of the run with a long uphill and a set of stairs to climb. I felt like if I could make it through the first mile pain free I might make it. I set out at an easy pace, running about 8:30 per mile – trying not to think about my leg. I hoped that if I didn’t dwell on it, I wouldn’t feel the sudden pain. I survived that first mile with no pain, but felt my calf twitching at about the 1.5 mile point. I slowed down even more and cruised through the aid stations: one cup of water to drink, one cup over my head and on my face. The run in Chattanooga is flat once you pass the 1 mile mark, as it follows the river upstream. It’s periodically shaded, which was  a blessing on another hot day, as it crept into the 90s on the run course. I reached the turnaround in 25 minutes. At that point, I knew I would at least finish the race – I had to get back to the start somewhere after all. As the heat crept up the wheels fell off of my run a bit. I saw lots of racers walking and I resisted the temptation. I went slow – even feeling a little wobbly a few times as I tried to make my way through the heat. But hey, triathlon is supposed to be hard, right? The final stretch of the run is downhill with that “Finish” arch awaiting you at the bottom. I was glad to be done. Here are a few pics of me coming down the final stretch:

My time: 54:07 (8:43 per mile)

Finish Time :2:34:02 (11th out of 82 in my age group)

I finished 107th overall, bettering my previous placings of 199th and 259th in previous years. Your old dad is getting better with age.

I think I stumbled a bit coming across the line, so the kind volunteers led me to the  recovery tent. Cool mist sprayed down from the tent and I was given an ice pack, a Powerade, and a bottle of water. I sat there for a few minutes letting my body temperature come down and then I went to find you girls.

Izzy, you are always so happy to see me when I finish. You love hearing about the race each time.

Delirious. After racing mostly half iron distance the last few years, I’d forgotten how hard Olympic distance pace can be. Really hard.

After I laid in the grass for awhile…and drank a cold beer, we went to check out of the hotel. Izzy, you had been begging for Sticky Fingers ribs all weekend, so we went there for lunch (again, just a short walk). Not much chance of you becoming a vegetarian. You ate a whole rack.

In an attempt to make a full weekend of it, we drove up Lookout mountain to Point park for a little sightseeing and Civil War history before driving home:

We had a great time. The Chattanooga Waterfront Triathlon is still the most family friendly short course race I’ve ever done. Downtown Chattanooga has so many options for kids and the entire family – coupled with Team Magic’s expertise in putting a great race – makes this a must do race on any triathlete’s calendar.

I learned that stepping into the unknown, while scary sometimes, can be liberating. I think I was less nervous about this race than normal, because I didn’t know what to expect. We take chances in life. If I had stayed home I still wouldn’t have known what was on the other side of my leg injury.

Love,

– Daddy

*the following companies made this trip and race possible. My opinions are my own: