Ironman Chattanooga Run Course – 11 Thoughts

Last week I went down to run one loop of the Ironman Chattanooga course and came up with 5 thoughts that might be able to help you if you haven’t had the chance. Make no mistake, this is a challenging Ironman marathon course, especially because the bulk of the hills are in the last five miles.

I tried to find some statistics on the run and found this page which says the median time for the run in my age group (50-54) was 4:51:25, while the median time average of other North American runs is 5:13:40.  I’m not sure what that says, but I’m sure it has something to do with the perfect weather and relative ease of the swim in comparison to most other courses.

Median swim time (50-54) at Chattanooga: 00:58:45  Other N. American races 1:21:29
Median bike time (50-54) at Chattanooga: 06:11:35  Other N. American races 06:29:28

Last year professional triathlete, Daniel Bretshcer, won Ironman Wisconsin, then took 2nd at Chattanooga in the same month.

His run times:

Wisconsin – 2:50:14
Chattanooga – 2:53:55

I’ve ran both of those courses and feel like they’re pretty comparable, though Chattanooga has a little more climbing.  I really enjoyed Chattanooga’s run course, but wish they would have figured out how to make it run through the downtown a little bit.  While the hills you face will be difficult, the long, desolate stretches of the Riverwalk will be a challenge in their own way.

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Ironman Chattanooga Riverwalk section of the run.

Chattanooga Run Course – Breakdown

1.  The first challenge on the run course is . . . immediately.  The first mile is uphill, so be cautious of the fan energy that will surround you as you climb out of transition.

2.  The good news is, after your climb to the top of mile one, you’re in “the clear” for the next 7 miles or so.  You’ll run on the road for about 3 miles, then turn left to enter the Riverwalk and come back to where you started.  This is standard greenway stuff that parallels the river you swam in that morning.  I’m guessing it will be pretty desolate, so go inside and find your stride until mile 7.5.

3.  The last section of the Riverwalk isn’t brutal, but it’s largely uphill and a good warm up for what’s ahead.

4.  Once you leave the Riverwalk, you’ll cross Veterans Bridge, which isn’t that steep, but it’s still a bridge.

5.  Around mile 9, you’ll clear the bridge and start the first Barton Avenue climb.  If you don’t know what’s coming your first thought will be, “Holy Shit!”  The hill stares right into your battered eyes and says I’ll be here for the next half mile, so suck it up.  It looks pretty intimidating in a car, but when I ran it it didn’t seem too awful.  That said, I run a lot of hills.

6.  Once at the top, you’ll have about the same distance of descent on the backside and curl left on Hixson Pike to tackle another climb that is almost identical to the one you just did on Barton Avenue.

7.  At the top of Hixson Pike you turn right and will have to suck it up for a couple hundred more yards to conquer a short, but pretty steep section.

8.  You’ll now be back in a neighborhood and descending for about .3 miles before hitting another short, but tough little climb.  Then it’s downhill and flat until you get back to Barton Avenue and the toughest section of the run course.

9.  You turn left to head back up the first descent you took on Barton Avenue and at this point in the game it is a beast.  It’s a good half mile up, then you crest and immediately start blasting downhill to the river.

10.  Instead of going back over the bridge you’ll take a right and go into North Chattanooga on your way to the pedestrian bridge.  There’s a little climb here, but not too bad.

11.  The first sight of the pedestrian bridge may freak you out a little, too, because it looks like bitch of a climb.  It is a very long bridge and running on planks made if feel a little tougher to me.  Did I mention it is long?  You’ll see family and friends so this part should be great, but then you’ll circle away from the bridge and get to do all of this again.  Enjoy!

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Ironman Chattanooga Swim Entrance which you will pass again on your run.

 

 

Cycling Is The Toughest Sport

Marco Pantani is regarded as one of the best climbers in the history of cycling.  He used to toy with the field before leaving everyone in his dust on the toughest mountain climbs.  Last night I watched Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist, and the absurdity of cycling really hit home.

The Tour de France is the hardest sporting event in the world.*  I know some will argue the Red Bull Machine-Gun-Electric-Fence-Mud-Climb or something equally “extreme,” but the reality of hammering a bike 100 miles a day for 3 weeks is enough to make me slit my wrists.

I mean, cycling is tough.  I laugh when people say, “I could never do the Ironman swim or run, but I could do the bike.”  Yeah, right!

I would love to see them churn out 112 miles at even 18 miles an hour and see how the next few days make their legs, ass and brain feel.

Riding a bike is fun!  Racing a bike . . . not so much.  No wonder these guys are drawn to doping.

How tough is riding the Tour de France?  Consider this excerpt from a Washington Post article on doping and cycling:

Since the 1990s, participants in the Tour de France have worn heart rate monitors, enabling researchers to examine their level of exertion (which can then be expressed as a percentage of the VO2 max). Over the long, flat stages, the monitors suggest that riders hover between 50 and 70 percent of their VO2 max. That may sound like a light workout, but keep in mind that when a Tour de France rider is “resting” at 60 percent of his maximum capacity, he’s working about as hard as an average person at full exertion.

The time trials and mountain stages are entirely different. The long time trials last more than an hour, during which the cyclists remain above 90 percent of VO2 max. (As a crude comparison, for the average person that would be like sprinting for an entire hour.) 

The film is about a love affair gone wrong.  Pantani was a kid who loved to ride his bike, but once he went professional he referred to the world of cycling as the mafia.  The pressure was immense, especially after he won the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia in 1998.  Everyone was gunning for him and, while he never technically tested positive, he was disqualified from Giro in 1999 for irregular blood levels.  He believed the world of cycling had plotted against him.

This from Pantani’s Wikipedia page:

Although Pantani never tested positive during his career, his career was beset by doping allegations. In the 1999 Giro d’Italia, he was expelled due to his irregular blood values. Although he was disqualified for “health reasons”, it was implied that Pantani’s high haematocrit was the product of EPO use.

It all went downhill from there, and ironically, Lance Armstrong was emerging as the new king of the hill.

Following later accusations, Pantani went into a depression from which he never fully recovered. He died of acute cocaine poisoning in 2004. 

The sport he loved, eventually killed him, and that is some fucked up shit.

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* Some will argue that Giro d’Italia or Vuelta a España are technically tougher cycling events.

One side note from the film.  I have no understanding of the science, but when these guys were doping one of the things they would do is wear a heart rate monitor to bed and when it got too low an alarm would go off.  They’d then get out of bed in the middle of the night and start riding a trainer to get the heart rate up again.  They’d do this while the tour was going on.  I mean . . . really?  

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“The Pirate” Marco Pantani. (Click picture for his wiki page)

 

 

Should Volunteers Have to Pay Ironman?

Since I started training for an Ironman, one of the consistent criticisms I hear is how this large corporation uses volunteers to make a ton of money.  I’ve always had mixed emotions about that stance because, frankly, every volunteer I’ve talked to absolutely loved their experience.

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Volunteers keep Ironman triathletes safe. Click picture for story. Photo Gregory Shaver for The JournalTimes.com

Something that bugs me about the way our world seems to work now is this constant obsession with “maximizing our value.”  Usually this means, we should charge more more money for our services.  “If we’re not getting paid for what we do, we’re getting screwed!”

This morning I stumbled on an article about volunteers at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straights in Wisconsin who PAY to be volunteers for the golf tournament.  That’s right, they pay $204.74 for the privilege of working for someone else.

Volunteer slots sold out in March.

The reason they do it is because the event wouldn’t happen without their generosity.  The reason they pay is because they perceive extreme value.  They love golf and want to make sure it stays around.

From the article:

“If you’re a golf fan, it’s the ultimate volunteer experience,” said Allan Scheurell, 82, a retiree from Manitowoc.

The ultimate volunteer experience.

Volunteer means to give your time to help a greater cause.  That’s exactly what Ironman volunteers do, and it gets them up close and personal with a sport they love.

Sure, Ironman makes a lot of money, but races (as we know and love them) wouldn’t exist without volunteers.  And that means, you probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to do an Ironman.

Think about that.

My dad was the first General Manager of a minor league baseball team in Beloit, Wisconsin. It was in the early 80’s and a big deal at the time.  The only way that operation existed was because of volunteers.

I was always skeptical.  Why would someone volunteer precious time to serve hotdogs behind a hot counter?

Because they wanted the team to be successful.  It was good for the community and of course part of the hot dog sales went to their favorite charity or cause like Little League.

The reality is, Ironman volunteers are conscientious people who understand the purpose of a greater good.  It’s like helping your neighbor get his car out of the ditch.  Why is most people’s first thought, “He should pay me money or buy me some beer for that!?”

Great rewards come from giving back and paying it forward.  In reality, that’s the reason I have written nearly 700 posts on this blog.  Because it makes me feel good, and at the core I love to exchange thoughts with passionate people about triathlon and life.

It truly is greater to give than receive.  I understand this more and more as I trade in my ego-centered lifestyle.  Putting others first is ultimately putting yourself first.  The insecurities, guilt, and anxiety all fade away and make you a happier person.

So, next time you hear someone say Ironman should be paying volunteers, turn to them and say, “Yeah, well, maybe the volunteers should be paying Ironman.”

And go thank a volunteer.

 

 

 

Ironman Chattanooga – Quick Course Preview

Ironman Chattanooga is closing quickly and is starting to take up major brain space.  It’s nowhere near the anxiety I felt on my first Ironman, but the clanking is getting louder.

I rode one loop of the course a couple of weeks ago and . . . it is beautiful.  In the beginning, I was one of those guys who thought they should have made it harder with the mountains, but it is a really nice Ironman bike course.  It’s not overly difficult, but still . . . it’s 116 miles and that’s enough.

The course has a lot of fast sections, but I think that may be its tempting curse.  For the Pros, and really in shape Age Groupers, this will mean fast times overall, but if you’re not in pristine shape, cooking this bike will fry you on the run.

After the ride, we decided to drive the last four miles of the run loop, and they are no joke.  It always looks worse in a car, but I laughed a little at the length and frequency of climbing in the last section of Ironman Chattanooga’s run.  Let me just say that final bridge into a descending finish line must be a HUGE relief.

Let us not forget the swim.  I was there watching last year as several people I knew scorched the downstream course in under an hour.  It seemed like a joke, but I have not been taking the swim lightly.  The last thing you’d want to do is expect a heavy current then be forced to actually swim 2.4 miles.  Either way, I plan to be in the best swim shape of my life.  It will either feel “easy,” or I will not burn as much energy as the rest of the field.

The setting for this race is second to none.  I can’t wait to walk around town a couple days before and mingle with the friendly hipsters.  Ducking out of Applebees and into Lupi’s Pizza Pies to waft in the wonderful balance of mainstream and Indie.

I’m definitely showing up to race, but more than ever I am over-the-top excited to spend time and soak in the entire event with close friends and family.  Polish up your helmets, it’s almost on.

Ironman Chattanooga Run

 

Another Explanation For Why I Do Ironman

Why do I train for Ironman?  Every day that seems to be the question, and every day the answer seems to evolve.

I feel like life is about exploring limits and using the potential of your body and mind to reach a higher state of evolution.  Life is a mystery, and weaving yourself its fabric seems to be the best way of finding answers.  Ironman training is a vehicle.

Just over a year ago I quit my job.  I “sort of” had a plan, but the main objective was to get away from something that was draining my soul.  It was no one’s fault but mine.

Life is meant to evolve.  Every good idea blooms into something bigger.

The guy who makes organic help his neighbors feel better eventually sees the potential windfall, opens a small shop on the corner, then simplifies ingredients to become the Smoothie King.  It’s all quite fucked up, and normal.

I got into running to feel better.  I got addicted to running to go faster.  I tried triathlon to see if I could.  I do Ironman because I want to see how far I can go.

I also use Ironman as a vehicle to keep me focused.  It’s omnipresent and points me in a direction.

On some level, Ironman is my passion, but ultimately it’s the constant training that jars me on a daily basis.  It slaps me in the face and reminds me to live.

Look around, there are people everywhere who can’t even walk.  What would they give to do an Ironman?

People are sick, dying, relegated to a bed.  People who have lost legs, arms, their dignity.

This is why I do Ironman, and sometimes I remember.

I remember how amazing it feels to be able to drop everything and run 6 or 10 miles with ease, just because I want to.  I am able . . . and never want to forget.

Since I quit my job (quitting in the sense I quit trying to be someone else) I haven’t quite figured out what’s next, but I use training as a force of consistency that drags me closer to clarity.

My dad used to say, “I don’t care what you do as long as you produce,” and to be honest, that always confused me.  Produce what?

I always thought he meant “be successful,” but the more I think about it, I think he just meant “do something productive.”

And that’s really what it boils down to.  I train for Ironman because it is a clear, tangible, and positive alternative to lying in bed or on a couch with a beer in my hand wondering what to do next.  Training is “doing something” It’s a motion, it’s momentum, it’s production.

For an hour or three every day, I am producing.  It’s a gateway drug I trust will open my body and mind to embrace new challenges.

It’s the wake up call that says, “Hey, I understand this life-shit is confusing, but keep moving, keep pushing the blood through your veins, and eventually you will uncover what you already know.”

Life is for living and (for now) I use Ironman to remind me.

brainstormsheet

USAT Nationals Moves To . . .

I have been trying to make inroads with USAT for quite a while, and now it looks like I’ll have to go to Omaha to crack their shell.  I think they’re still stonewalling me for this unfortunate incident, but it could be a number of things.  They did later try to make amends, but our relationship has been rocky to say the least.

I really wanted to go to USAT Nationals in Milwaukee this year because my brother lives about 2 blocks from the race (and I’m from Wisconsin), but evidently 13th place at Ironman 70.3 Muncie didn’t cut it.  According to the Ironman results I was 13th out of 133 in my age group, which meets their Top 10 percent requirement, but USAT argued only 107 “finished” so that pushed me out.

Two weeks ago I gave it one last go, but got 3rd out of 19 in my age group at Music City Triathlon.  Tough break, Mike!

We’ve had a tough beginning, but life has a way of turning healing wounds and turning your nemesis into a best friend.  That’s why I’m already banking on a USAT/Crushing Iron summit at Sullivan’s Steakhouse next August in Omaha.

People Make Fun of My Garmin

I don’t always wear a Garmin, but when I do it’s an older model which some seem to think is unattractive and bulky.  I’m just happy to have one and thankful for my friend Kenny who gave it to me.

I rarely wear a Garmin in races, but like to use it for tempo runs or to check my speed occasionally.  In the video below I explain why it’s important and prove that dogs like to lick sweaty legs.

Anatomy of a Split Run

A while back my coach added something to my training plan that I really liked . . . a lot.  Two runs in one day.East Nasty Chest copy

The purpose is to build time on the legs without wearing myself out. The other benefit, is getting 6 hours between to recover which gives me a better shot at nailing that second run with good form.

Usually it shows up on my schedule as two one-hour-runs, but yesterday I stretched them to 1:15.  They are also supposed to be “just runs” but I threw a little tempo-segment into the first one, with the idea that the second would simply be running to run on tired legs.

Part of the reason this appeals to me is that I’m a master at procrastination and the idea of surrendering 2.5 hours at once is not appealing.  This strategy also allows for a nap.

A two and a half hour run can also seem daunting.  Managing two separate 9 mile runs sounds a lot more feasible than knocking out 18 in a row.

For me, the bottom line is building time on your legs and solid mileage in one day.  And I really believe it delivers a comparable feeling the next morning.

Frankly, I think this is a great philosophy for any level of runner trying to build mileage.  Next time you’re dreading a long run, try splitting it up and let me know how it goes.

Here’s the video breakdown if you just can’t get enough.  

 

 

 

Open Water Swimming

Can there be any better way to open a triathlon then a swim?  Shaking your arms, rotating your shoulders and neck while staring at an uncontrollable body of water.  A taste of the unknown is moments away and your heart pounds with the thought.  The depth alone is a place you won’t let your mind go.  You breathe deeply, convince yourself to stay relaxed, but deep down you know . . . you know you’re about to face a storm.  One inadvertent punch to the ribs, foot to the face, or short breath could derail the reason you came.  The tone for your race is about to be set.  Will you let it get the best of you, or will you calmly navigate the mystery?

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Today, I went back to the lake.  I really miss the training days when we had groups of 10-15 people out there three days a week working our asses off.  We started at 6 am and it was simply a bunch of people who wanted to work.

We practiced running beach starts, dolphin dives, scampering out of the water down the beach, then sprinting out to a buoy and back.  This was normally convoluted with several of us clamoring to get around the buoy at once.  We were well trained for water combat and didn’t realize how lucky we were.

There’s a different energy in open water.  It’s raw, it’s nature, it’s intimidating.  By the end of my first summer training for Ironman, I had virtually no fear, and it’s a good thing, because Wisconsin’s swim is not for the meek.

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Ironman Wisconsin Swim Start

Open water also has another major difference from a pool:  You can’t stop . . . and for some reason that keeps you swimming.

In the pool, there are “lifeguards” and ropes and a shallow bottom.  In a lake there is darkness, and swimming 800 yards to warm up means swimming 800 yards without pushing off or touching ground.

You truly have to suspend fear in open water, and really, why not?  Why the fear?  There is shit to be scared about around every corner, the GOP Debate for instance.

A common question we had when we used to train at the lake was “Are we swimming enough distance?”  Many of those workouts were only 1,500 yards and rarely did we go past 2,000, but I can tell you, I have finally realized swim advances don’t come from plodding along for 3 or 4,000 yards.  They come from busting your ass for short distances while maintaining form and composure.

I will still swim most of my sessions in a pool, but swimming open water is a different sport.  There are currents and waves, winds and sighting challenges.  There’s rarely cruise control in open water and certainly no center line.

Every time I drive over a bridge I yearn to be in the water below.  It feels like the ultimate escape and oneness with nature.  The place I came from and place I belong.  I am water and crave to be in it . . . or maybe I’m just dehydrated.

 

 

 

 

Music City Triathlon 2015 – Swim Report

The last two years I have been kicking myself for missing the Music City Triathlon, now part of me is kicking myself for doing it.  It’s a really cool set up in downtown Nashville, but don’t let the serenity fool you, this race was tough; mainly because of the swim.MCTtransition

The looming swim always intrigues me, and Music City was no different.  I pass over the Cumberland River daily and peer into its murkiness while daydreaming about a quick dip. Yesterday, I got my chance . . .  and it nearly overwhelmed me.  It certainly overpowered others and forced organizers to cancel the Sprint Distance Swim (during the race) because few, if any, people even finished.

It was genuinely like swimming in an Endless Pool as you can see from this video shot by Hannah at Pro Hydration Therapy.

A few days before the race I posted a preview of the course and it turned out to be completely wrong.  For some reason they reversed the direction.  Instead of starting upstream along the bank for about a third of the rectangle, we were now starting down-current for about 500 yards before swimming upstream the next 800 or so, then angling back to the swim exit.

On Saturday the current looked strong, but I heard they were going to slow it by shutting the dam, which they allegedly did the morning of the race.  I stood in line and watched as swimmers went out before me and laughed at the absurd turns people were making around the first buoy.  Instead of angling toward the next one, they were getting whisked down river 50-100 yards.  It was ridiculous and very few of the swimmers seemed to be handling the corner.  I should have stopped laughing because I was about to be another case study.

They “said” it was 500 yards to the first turn buoy, but felt like it took me two minutes.  As I neared the orange triangle, I swung out a bit to the left so I could get a good angle before cranking my effort to 10 and digging 45-degrees up and over to hit the next buoy near the other side of the river.  This is when shit got interesting.

After 10 very hard strokes around that corner I looked up and saw that I was literally 20 yards downstream from the buoy I just cornered.  Talk about freaked out!  I was swimming as hard as I could and going backwards!

I guess human instinct is powerful because somehow I found my bearings and decided to get to the other side of the river while sacrificing forward progress.  That was a devastating decision, but I had no choice.  Here are some things that ran through my mind at that point (sorry for the overuse of exclamation points, but this was intense self-talk):

1.  Holy shit, you’re going backwards.
2.  Swim harder!
3.  Yeah, who’s laughing now, Mike!
4.  Fuck it, I’m quitting.
5.  No!  Embrace the challenge and you’ll be better for overcoming it!
6.  Just get to the shore.
7.  Damn, my goggles are fogging.
8.  Where am I??
9.  I bet my dog is sleeping right now.
10.  Don’t stop swimming!

That last thought may have been the most important.  Though I was barely moving, the slightest 3 second break would send you flailing toward Kentucky (which I understand is where the Cumberland River goes).

Once I got near shore, I turned upstream.  I had no concept of time, but it felt like it took me two minutes to get to the first turn buoy, then about 10 minutes just to get across the river (maybe I should have walked along the river bank like one guy I talked with after the race).  Now I was plowing head-on into a “weaker” current near the opposite shoreline, but it was still tough.  I swam very hard and it must have taken me at least 10 more minutes to get back to even with the starting line.

Now I had another 400 or so to go before turning back to finish.

I breath to my right and all I could see was the Nashville skyline, but nothing really gave me an indication of just how slow I was moving.  That was, until I closed in on the last turn buoy.  I had it in my sights, maybe 25 yards away, and was catching and pulling harder than ever.  I put my head in the water and sighted every 5 strokes.  I was working HARD and 5 strokes barely moved me.  30 strokes later I could nearly touch the buoy.  I was maybe 10 yards away.  It was RIGHT THERE.  I dug even deeper, sighting every stroke, and let me tell you, I wasn’t moving!  It felt like I was in a Snow Glob with orange triangle buoys popping up all around me.

I finally did reach the buoy where a whole new challenge emerged.  You had to get about 5 yards past it before you turned or you might get hung up in the plastic triangle or its ropes (which I heard at least two people tell me they did).

Once I successfully navigated the corner, there was another 45 degree angle across the river at a target around 400 yards away.  This was infinitely easier than crossing the other way and I swam easily and let the current take me to the swim exit.

As I cruised toward the ladder my only thought was, “Holy fuck, how are people going to finish this?”  I am not a great swimmer, but effort-wise that may have been the best swim of my life and still took me 30 minutes for 1,500 meters.  Thirty people took over an hour and 23 others swam in the 50-60 minute range . . . for an Olympic.

To put that in perspective, my first Olympic swim was an absolute disaster and took me 42 minutes.  I was hanging on kayaks, floaty noodles and treading water the whole time.  Yesterday, nearly a quarter of the field at Music City Triathlon swim field clocked in at over 50 minutes.

To add another perspective, the median swim time for most age groups at Ironman Chattanooga in 2014 (over twice the distance) was under an hour.

Music City was a difficult swim, and as I sit here thinking about it one day later, I am happy it worked out that way.  It was a major challenge and reminded me of the brutally cold and rainy Olympic I did in Knoxville a couple years ago.  It really sucked at the time, but I am 100% sure I it has made me a better triathlete.