So, first: Chattanooga is a fantastic host city for Ironman events.
Second: This was my first time racing with so many Dynamo Multisport teammates—and my coach—all out on the course. Seeing their green shirts costumes and feeling their energy made this a very special experience!
Knowing so many Dynamo athletes would be there was the primary reason I chose this race—but given that I had raced Santa Rosa 70.3 only one week before, I didn’t know what to expect. Would I feel tired? Would I have tightness in my feet or calves that would put me at risk for injury?
Fortunately, I stepped right into southern hospitality when I met my homestay host, Rebecca, on Friday before the race. She drove me around the beautiful downtown area, and honored me with her stories about what all those finisher medals mean to her—over the finest vegan burger and succotash in Tennessee!
The next day, I met up with a few Dynamo athletes for my normal pre-race routine: a 45-minute bike ride along the course with some short intervals, followed by a 12-minute brick.
I went from there to the expo and, with a little spare time, stepped into a coffee shop. I happened to sit next to a father waiting with his young son and daughter and, overhearing that it was Mom who was racing, struck up a conversation. Turns out this is Kelvin Moses, known in schools around Atlanta as the Cookie Man! Through the company he founded, he helps kids raise money for their school sports and other activities. He is a former NFL football player, so it was inspiring to hear how he took his passion for athletics and turned it into something so positive and sustaining for others. It was also wonderful to hear about how hard his wife, Tamara, has been training for Chattanooga—her first Ironman 70.3.—and see how genuinely her kids support her.
This is one of the things I love most about triathlon: everyone has their own story, each one miraculous, and here we are all out on the same course on the same day sharing in this thing together—while at the same time, each of us on our own deeply personal and challenging journey of one step in front of the other. I love it!
Ok, onto the good stuff: my husband flew in that night! Sorry, just kidding. Race day!
This was a wave start for the pro men and pro women, a rolling start (wetsuit swim) for age-groupers. While there is only one transition area, the swim start is about a mile upriver from the swim finish. In lieu of my normal pre-race 20 minute jog, I decided to power walk to the start. (But there are also lots of buses for folks who don’t want to risk getting lost by accidentally crossing the wrong bridge—eep!) Regardless of if you walk or take the bus, it’s a good idea to prepare your race morning plan early.
While Chattanooga is known for having a “downhill swim”, the course is actually designed to go upriver 400 meters, turn, then track back downriver to transition. So if you’re training for Chattanooga, think about training for upriver: practice sighting in current, and try shortening your stroke and increasing your turnover when swimming upriver. For downriver, I use more of a glide and a good beat: at Chattanooga I was working “HandClap” from Fitz and the Tantrums!
But…be prepared for anything! After the race, I found out that based on how long it took the pros to swim the 400 meters upriver, the race director put in a 20-minute delay and then cut the swim course so it would run downriver only (with storms the night before, the river current was pretty strong on race morning). While worrying about what-ifs is a waste of energy, I was really glad I’d asked about what weather contingencies were under consideration so I was prepared—I even had an extra gel with me at the swim start to prevent myself from getting hungry in case we were delayed for storms.
This is a fast bike course! There are only two climbs of note, so momentum is the name of the game. I spent last fall learning some biking technique from my husband. I was tired of watching him speed by me as soon as we hit rollers, so he showed me how to spin up early going into small pop-up hills with an RPM in the 90s, letting the RPMs fall and the watts jack up briefly as I crest the hill, then waiting to shift back into a bigger ring until my RPMs were gain in the 90s. Learning to use rolling hills for maximum speed with minimal effort will help you immensely to have a fast bike split on this course!
What I loved most about this race personally was that, with the delay on the swim start, no age-groupers were cutting in between the pro women. This meant I could race hard against the other women out there, without worrying about maintaining a legal draft zone by age groupers as they cut in between. Enabling the pro women to have the same clean course that the pro men have helps the women stay closer together and enables us to have a more competitive run.
All this, plus feeling really fired up and none of the fatigue from racing the week before, lead to a huge break-through for me: my first sub-2:30 bike split! Seeing that as I came into T2 put a big smile on my face and pushed me out into the run with confidence.
Starting out on the run, I was lifted to such a high by the huge number of spectators—especially my husband and all my Dynamo teammates! I was also super excited to see Cookie Man and his kids cheering for me on the first out-and-back: They were all in matching pink shirts and it just touched my heart to see that they remembered me and were there all decked out waiting for their awesome mom to come through.
I must also tell you that I was not prepared for how challenging this run course would be! There are a lot of hills that look insignificant on an elevation map, but feel pretty grueling with how steep they are. Not to mention some serious heat and humidity! But the plus side of all those hills—most of which are to get you up and over the city’s beautiful bridges—is some beautiful backdrops for your race photos! Hill repeats will be your friend as you train for this course! It’s also worth noting that part of the course is on a bike path, so be prepared for more U-turns on the course and sections that are more winding and narrow than what you may be used to with most road races.
Fortunately, Chattanooga is a two-loop run. I love two-loop runs because it helps me, mentally, to break the race down into just four manageable sections. I especially love knowing I get to see my husband again! And all those crazy tutu-wearing, horn-blowing Dynamo teammates!! And that guy at the aid station wearing the cowboy boots! Seriously, the volunteers at Chattanooga are insanely organized and passionate about what they do: just tick off aid station to aid station you will do just fine. Even though I was starting to feel the fatigue from the previous weekend, I found a wonderful woman to work with and pushed through.
Crossing that finish line, I broke down another time barrier: first course under 4:40, actually finishing with a 4:35! That definitely put a smile on my face—albeit a slightly delirious one.
After the race, it was super special to be able to walk right up to my coach and share this moment in person with him…instead of crying on the phone to him, which is my usual following an especially proud and radiant day. My husband celebrated with me by half-carrying me to the food tent, then walking with me back up to the bridge where we could cheer on other folks as they came in. I was thrilled to be able to cheer for Tamara as she came into the finish!! What a family. What a family triathlon can be. I mean, who else lets you be your whole raw, sweaty, pee-soaked self, and then celebrates it?!
So thank you for being a part of my triathlon family. I hope you’ll comment below if you have questions or anything to share!
Written by Kyra Wiens
Follow Kyra on Instagram! @kyrawiens