After racing half IM distance and shorter triathlons for the past nine years, I finally took the plunge and signed up for my first full IM last September after volunteering at the 2015 Chattanooga race. I was really unsure how I would be able to manage the increased training volume with a full-time job and a very busy schedule with the kids’ activities. It hasn’t been easy, but with the help of my coach, my husband and many friends/training partners, I was able to get it done, and even had some fun!
We arrived in Chattanooga on Thursday around dinner time, three days before the race. We stayed at the Hampton Inn on Chester Street, which was only a few blocks away from Ironman village and that ended up being worth it with all the walking back and forth we ended up doing. After unpacking, we got together with a group of friends from Cary that were also racing and headed to the Bluewater Grille for dinner, which was pretty good.
The next day my friend Anne and I went for an easy 25 min run. During the run we passed by the organized swim in the river and decided to come back later to swim. After a little breakfast we gathered the others in our group and drove over to Coolidge Park on the other side of the river to get in a short practice swim and see what the current was like. This swim is known as a “down hill” swim because you swim down river with the current. I didn’t really feel the current on the way up stream, but once we turned to swim back it was amazing to see how much faster we covered the same distance. After our swim we went to the IM village to check in for the race and walk around the expo for awhile. We met up with the group again for lunch at the Village Grill.
After lunch I tried to sit in the shade and listen to the 2:00 athlete briefing. It was so sunny and hot, and the forecast for race day was for more of the same. We had heard the humidity levels would be low for the race so at least it wouldn’t be as bad as it was training in NC this summer! So we thought…
Then it was time to relax at the hotel for a bit. The Gaal’s had rented a condo on the river, so we drove over to visit with other OSB athletes and friends from Cary for a few hours before meeting back up with our group for dinner at a nice Italian restaurant downtown, Alleia. The pasta there was homemade and delicious! We had a relaxing dinner and were all excited and looking forward to race day.
Saturday morning we went to the Bluegrass Grill on Main Street to have a big pancake breakfast as our biggest meal of the day. I had a little bit of everything! When we got back to the hotel we went for a quick bike ride to check that everything was working, and then organized all of our gear into the bike, run and special needs bags. This was a little stressful for me since it was my first full IM and I had not yet totally decided exactly what I would carry on the bike and run for nutrition and what I would put in special needs. One big decision that I had to make was whether or not to wear a fuel belt for the run. I always wear one in training, mainly because there are no aid stations on training runs. Some people prefer to carry their own nutrition in a race and others don’t want anything around their waist other than the race number belt. I had decided not to use it for the race and trained with Gatorade Endurance the last month or so of my training so I would feel comfortable drinking what was available on the course. However, with the forecasted high temperatures I started to second guess this decision. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get enough fluids this way. In the end I decided to start with an old hand held bottle that I could toss if I got tired of carrying it. Once the decisions were made I put everything in the correct bags and my husband and I walked my bike and bags down to the transition area to check everything in.
For the next several hours I relaxed in bed at the hotel to stay off my legs as much as possible. I ate a pb&j sandwich for lunch rather than go out to eat. We decided to get take out from Tony’s Pasta Shop with our friends and eat a small pasta dinner back at the hotel rather than wait in line for a table. This worked out well, and we all went back to our rooms early to try and sleep.
I had set my alarm for 4:00 am, but woke up at 3:30 and couldn’t go back to sleep, so at 3:45 I decided to get up. I went downstairs to the lobby and got a bowl of oatmeal, two pieces of toast, and a banana and brought that back to my room to eat. I also drank a bottle of Infinit. I added lots of ice to all my bottles, got dressed and we headed to transition to put my nutrition on the bike, pump my tires and drop off my special needs bags. Then we hopped on a bus to the swim start at around 5:25. When we got there we set up towels on the sidewalk so we could sit or lay down while we waited for the race to start at 7:30. I realized at around 6:30 that I should have brought more food to eat at the swim start as I was starting to get hungry. I did eat another banana I had brought but wished I had a bonk breaker or something. As it got close to race time I did a short jog around the parking lot to get my blood flowing, and hit the bathroom one more time. When I got back to my spot I had to hurry and get my swim skin on because it was almost time to start. I took a salt stick capsule and Gu and had a few sips of water and then put everything but my cap and goggles in my morning clothes bag to drop off near the swim start.
Swim (57:20, 10th AG)
The pros started at 7:20 and the first age groupers at 7:30. We had a pretty good spot in line and the line moved very quickly, so I was in the water by 7:36. The water temperature was 83 degrees, which felt good to me. I tried to swim towards the middle to get as much current as possible and avoid getting into the crowded water closer to shore. As I got close to the island I started heading left closer to the buoys. We swam under three bridges and then headed to the swim finish where there were a bunch of volunteers waiting to help us up the ladder and on to the carpet to run to transition. I looked at my watch and saw that my time was about what I expected based on last year’s times, so I was happy with my swim. I pulled my swim skin down to my waist and took off my goggles as I ran to get my bike gear bag and head into the women’s changing tent. As soon as I came into the tent there was a volunteer there waiting to help me get ready. She dumped everything out of my bag and helped me get everything on and out the door. T1 time was 5:38, not too bad.
Bike (5:58:45, 7th AG)
I headed out on the bike and checked my HR. Oops! My HR was already about 10 beats higher than the range I had planned to maintain for the bike, so I tried to relax and get into the lower zone. I couldn’t seem to get my HR down even though I didn’t feel like I was riding that hard so I just went with it. I would still hold back on the hills to keep it steady and try not to let it spike higher. I kept my pace as steady as possible. I kept hearing the words “HOLD BACK ON THE BIKE” and “STEADY IS FAST” which was good advice from my coach and others. I don’t like to hold back on the bike, but I knew it was best, especially with the forecasted high temperature in the mid 90’s. I kept thinking about the marathon and tried very hard not to use up any excess energy. The first loop went by pretty quickly. I was hungry so I ate a bonk breaker in the first half hour of the bike. I alternated drinking Infinit Go Far and water, and took one salt stick capsule every hour. I felt full after the bonk breaker so I didn’t eat anything else during the first half. The course was beautiful, so I tried to just enjoy being out on my bike in the sunshine since it wasn’t too hot yet. As I came in to Chickamauga, GA there were spectators lining both sides of the street, and I saw my husband and Anne’s husband on the side of the road screaming and waiving as hard as they could. They had said it was too much trouble to get there so they probably wouldn’t see us on the bike, so it was a really good surprise to see them there. It definitely got me pumped up and ready for the second loop. But first I had to make a quick stop at special needs to get my two bottles of Infinit Speed for the second half of the bike. I was so happy to see that they were still cold, and actually still had a little ice. The Podium Ice bottles in an insulated lunch bag worked well. The second loop was not as fun as the first one. The sun was high in the sky and it felt like I was riding in a furnace! Also, we seemed to have more of a head wind on the second loop. I just kept plugging along and drinking as much fluid as possible. I was really happy when I finished the second loop and turned back on to the highway for the final stretch. That part felt a little easier and I was excited to be getting off the bike soon, even though the run wasn’t going to be fun in the heat.
I decided not to do a flying dismount off the bike since I had bottles in the rear cages, so I left my bike shoes on and got off the bike. It was really awkward running in bike shoes after riding 116 miles let me tell you (the Chattanooga bike has an extra 4 miles). I should have just taken them off and run in my socks. I eventually made it to my run gear bag and headed into the changing tent. I had three volunteers helping me all at once, and in my rush to get ready I forgot to tape up my toe that rubs on my shoe, so I had to take my shoe back off and get that taken care of. One of the volunteers added ice water to my bottle which had Infinit powder in it, while the others helped me get my run gear on. They had me all ready to go in no time, but since I was not able to go to the bathroom on the bike I made a quick stop at the porta john right outside the tent. I probably didn’t drink enough on the bike to make it through 6 hours without going. T2 time was 8:46. A little slow, but still not bad.
Run (5:01:23, 7th AG)
I started the run with a hand held bottle full of Infinit since I wanted to make sure I got enough to drink. However, I have never really liked running with something in my hand and today was no different. I ditched it by mile 2! Starting out the run felt kind of rough. I managed to run a 9:30 pace the first mile but my pace slowed quite a bit after that. I had decided I would walk through all aid stations and try not to walk more than that for at least the first half of the run. The first 4-5 miles were on a boring highway with no shade and if it weren’t for a guy from VA named Brandon who starting chatting with me I don’t know what I would have done. He told me we would turn off of that road soon and then we would have some shade. It was so much better once we turned and started running on a the riverwalk greenway trail that took us through a wooded park and along the river. That was my favorite part of the run course. Unfortunately at around 6 miles I started having stomach issues and had to use the bathroom again. The extremely high temperature was making it difficult to process the calories I was taking in on the run. Once I got back on the road again my stomach felt better for awhile and I was able to keep up my slow running from aid station to aid station, although I did have to stop one more time during the first half of the run. After running for awhile on the riverwalk we ran across a bridge to the the back half of the loop, which is mostly up and down hill. So many people were walking on this section of the course, but I managed to keep running for the entire first loop. I told myself I could walk more in the second half if I needed to. After the hilly section we ran over the Walnut Street bridge where I got to see my husband again. That lifted my spirits again for awhile. When I finished the first loop I still felt OK, so I decided I would keep running as long as I could. I had to make another bathroom stop at mile 19 and started to worry. My stomach issue was getting worse, so I thought maybe I should walk for awhile. After walking nonstop for a mile I decided I was OK and only had 6 more miles to go, and the sooner I finished the better. I was pretty sure at that point I would be able to finish so I went back to running when I could. This time when I got to the hilly section I decided I would walk up the hills and run down them. I hardly saw anyone running at this point. Once the hills were over and I reached the Walnut Street bridge again I was almost finished! As I headed over the bridge and made the turn toward the finish I could hear the announcer as others were finishing and picked up my pace for the final stretch. It was so exciting getting to the finish with everyone cheering and hearing “Cari Soleo, you are an Ironman!” Total time 12:11:52 (7th AG).
I was so happy to be done, and feeling OK. After seeing Lou and getting my picture taken I went to the medical tent to make sure I was really OK. They gave me ice to help me cool off and offered food and water. A guy sitting next to me told me to drink chicken broth, so I did. That really helped! After 3 cups of chicken broth I was feeling so much better! I watched my friend Anne finish and then walked back to the hotel to shower. At about 9:00 we met up with Anne and her husband and went to celebrate with pizza and a beer at Mellow Mushroom. The next day at the award ceremony we learned that the high temperature had been 97 degrees (the hottest on that day since 1931!) and 87% humidity. The DNF rate was over 25%, the second highest in Ironman history! Times were about 1-1.5 hrs slower this year compared with last year’s times. While my final time wasn’t the time I was hoping for, I am happy that I did as well as I did considering the brutal conditions. And I managed to finish happy and healthy, so I can’t complain.