by BlueHost Reviews

Ironman Chattanooga 2016 Race Report

Created: Sunday, 25 September 2016
I used think this was impossible. Now I know. Anything is possible!
My journey to become an Ironman has arrived!! IM Chattanooga was chosen to be my first Ironman race due to the downriver swim, and it's proximity to my home in Atlanta. It turned out to be one of the hardest Ironman events ever! 2600+ started the race, over 600 didn't finish. That's a 26% DNF rate!! The second highest ever for an Ironman. To make it more challenging, the race is 4 miles longer than a standard IM, and the cutoff time was reduced to 16 hours 15 minutes from the standard 17 hours. The race consisted of a 2.4 mile swim down the Tennessee River, 116 mile bike ride through TN & North GA with 4800 ft of climbing, followed by a 26.2 mile run with 14oo feet of climbing through Chattanooga. The extreme late September weather made it a brutal race: Temp: 97°, Heat Index: 107°, Humidity: 80%. My goal for the race: "Don't Suck!" I learned a lot in this race. I hope my readers can learn from experience as well.
Fueled by Hammer, I'm race ready!
My journey started 4 years ago. After winning every duathlon race with either a 1st or 2nd overall finish, I was looking for a challenge and to grow my fitness level. Friends encouraged me to look into triathlons. At the same time, I sought sponsorship. They also focused on triathlons. So the decision was made, graduate from du's to tri's. But I couldn't swim. I could survive in the water, play around, but definitely not swim laps in a pool or in open water for more than 20 feet. So almost exactly 4 years ago, I started taking beginner swim lessons. In Spring 2014, I raced in my first pool triathlon. I followed with open water triathlons. All the swims were horrible my first year and half of last year. They were filled with panics and grabbing the lifeguard's kayaks. I kept taking swim lessons, swimming as often as possible, and finally learned out how to swim efficiently this 3rd year of racing.
Race check-in
To prepare for the full distance Ironman, I scheduled two Olympic distance races and two half iron distances. The first race was my first ocean swim at the St. Augustine Tri in St. Petersberg. The 2 halves, Chattanooga and Lake Logan were very challenging. I also raced the Chattanooga Olympic Waterfront. I felt race ready!
To train, I had planned on following the Be Iron Fit training plan. Although I was very dedicated to my training, I realized quickly I was not going to follow the plan. I rather enjoy life and use the plan as a guide. I vacationed to 4 countries and had numerous business trips throughout the year. In fact, when I should have been at my peak training, I was in South America, skiing. All this helped balance me so I wouldn't become stressed out with rigorous training.
I had two bad accidents that nearly derailed everything. A couple of months ago while running, I got hit by a car while I was in the crosswalk. The car was stopped, looking at traffic coming from the left, and never saw me coming from the right. I jumped onto the hood and bounced off. Banged my shoulder, but I was OK. Then 2 weeks prior to IMChoo, I was on a group bike ride trying to stay safe. While I was biking at 35 mph, a Suburban passed me then came to a complete stop right in front of me. To avoid a collision, I had no choice. I locked up my wheels, which resulted in me flipping over my handlebars. She turned into her mansion, closed the gate, and left me lying in the street like roadkill. I scraped and bruised my hip badly, and also banged up my hand. The police would not file any charges because there was no collision. I couldn't bike or run without pain. So the month prior to the big day I spent either vacationing or recovering.
Group pre-race ride, beautiful sights!
Mind over matter, right? Now it's time to prepare to race, and I'm believing that my hip will no longer bother me. I swam a few practice swims with two of my fingers taped. My hand felt great when the tape stayed on. I also practiced in my Zoot speedsuit, knowing that it's' been way too hot for a wetsuit. For my nutrition, I practiced using Hammer Perpetuem as a paste in one bottle, and mixed it with water while on the bike. It worked great on my long rides along with Hammer Gel in my bento bag. On one of my rides, someone got a flat tire. It dawned on me that I don't have the right spare tire tubes if I got a flat!! How did I ride all season not having the right tubes? I quickly ordered tubes with an 80mm stem from Easy and affordable shopping for anything triathlon. For the run, I donned the new Zoot Makai shoes. They have quicktie laces, ankle support, lightweight, and very breathable. Perfect for my first marathon. I studied the route, athlete guides, my execution plan, and head up to Chattanooga.
The hotel was booked nearly a year ago when I registered. I assumed a Saturday check-in was sufficient. I didn't know Ironman races required a Thursday or Friday check-in. Rooms were all sold out when I tried to book an extra night, so I ended up having to switch hotels after the 1st night. Lesson learned.
Packing my special needs and gear bags
Endurance Nation held a free race seminar Friday morning. I learned a lot there! I made notes of items that would enhance my race strategy. Afterwards, I checked in to the race. It was very smooth. Strategically, I had to walk through the Ironman store next. Purchased some shirts, then attended one of the many mandatory race briefings. That evening I met up with several other Black Triathletes, then went for group run. That night, I had to prepare my gear bags and special needs bags for the Saturday check in. I put pickles and juice in a Ziploc bag, along with extra nutrition in my special needs bags. It should have taken me 10 minutes. Instead, it took me an hour. I didn't have a sherpa (helper) to ensure I stayed organized. So ensure I didn't screw anything up, I was triple checking everything. One mistake could make for a very long day. I learned quickly how much less stressful the weekend would be if I had a helper. Lesson learned.
My bike ¡Rayo! is checked in and ready to roll!
Saturday, I woke up early for a solo practice swim at Coolidge Park. There were plenty of others with the same plan at 8 am. I only swam about 200 yards. The water felt great at 81º. The shore of the river was full of sharp rocks. Exiting the river was very dangerous. Afterwards, I met up with some training partners for a bike ride, then checked in bike and special needs bags. Afterwards, I hopped in my car and drove the bike course to refine my strategy.
My mom and her sister came down from Cleveland, OH! I was very happy to see them Saturday evening for another group dinner with the Black Triathletes. This group was very important as it gave me a support group to discuss strategy, learn from their experience, and kept the weekend fun and relaxed.
The night before the race, I applied my race number and sponsor tattoos and I was in the bed by 8:30. Of course, I couldn't sleep. When I did, I would wake up every hour to look at the clock. The biggest fear is oversleeping my 3:30 AM alarm. So I woke up at 3 AM. For breakfast, I had my typical oatmeal and fruit. I finished packing my gear bags, nutrition, and headed out to check in around 5 AM. Why did it take me 2 hours? Triple checking everything took forever. Again, a helper would have made the morning less stressful. I did have everything in order, organized, and I was race ready.

Race Day

When I checked in my bike, I noticed one of my water bottle holders had dropped slightly. That would result in the bottle getting ejected after going over a bump. I used my tools to fix it that morning. I added my bottle of Hammer Perpetuem paste, a flask of Hammer Gel, and 2 water bottles filled with ice. Then I was off onto a bus heading to the swim start around 5:30. The race started at 7:30.
It's a time-trial start. So first in line is first to swim. I didn't want to get in the water near the end. It really doesn't matter, as all 2600 swimmers will be in the water within 30 minutes after the cannon boom. I sat with other training partners while remaining relaxed and calm. I learned from my previous races, my key to a successful swim is being in the right state of mind long before getting into the water. While waiting, I enjoyed my pre-race Perpetuem, Energy Bars, and Gel.


The pros started at 7:20. Then there was the second cannon blast signaling it's time for the age-groupers. The line moved extremely fast. Within a couple of minutes, I jumped in and started swimming. I headed towards the middle of the river. I was feeling great, until I realized I no longer saw anyone. I breathe to my right side. When i looked to my left, I saw I was far away from the group of swimmers. It's a river, so there's no way I could go off course, so I keep on swimming. As I approached the island, I had to move to the left back into the masses. At this point, there was a lot of bumping, kicking, grabbing... everything I was trying
to avoid. I keep on swimming. About a half mile from the finish, two guys pinch me in, and I wasn't able to clear out free space for me. I breathed in water, and I was about to panic. I stopped, spit the water out, and composed myself. I didn't see any lifeguard nearby. I felt prayers all over me. I really did. I told myself, "Today is not the day", and I keep on swimming some more, but closer to the shore to avoid the crowd. I see a lifeguard, but he's in a boat. Swam some more, and approached a kayak. I grabbed on to slow my heart and my breathing. She warned me, not to throw up in her kayak. I ignored her, no one was throwing up. After about 30 seconds, I was calm, and resumed swimming. Another kayaker tapped on my back with his paddle. I asked him why he hit me, he said i was too close to the shore, and needed to move towards the middle in order to make it under the bridge. Not what I wanted to hear, so now I headed back towards the middle. Not long after, I saw the swim exit. Thank GOD!!! I made it!!! Now it's time to have some fun on my favorite leg, the bike!
Distance: 2.4 mi Time: 01:23:18 Pace: 02:09/100m Moving Pace: 1:59/100 yd Age Group Rank: 209 Overall Rank: 1891
Long hair problems!! At least the cap stayed on through the swim.


I always want good race photos, so I tried to quickly remove my goggles and swim cap. But as you see, with all my hair, it wasn't fast enough. *Ha* I removed my SpeedZoot (Zoot speedsuit) down to my waist, and jogged up to the transition area. Instead of heading straight to my bike, I run to a bunch of rows of red bike transition bags. I previously tied a blue ribbon around mine, so it was easy to spot. I take it into the changing tent then head to my bike. I wanted to minimize my time in transition to make up some of the time I lost on the swim.
Time: 6:39


My strategy was to not push hard on the first lap, and then ride the second loop as fast as the first while saving my legs for the run. I should go through a bottle of water each hour, and take a gel as I need it. I also had pills of Endurolytes and Anti-Fatigue capsules as my plan B fuel. This was the first time in all my races and training that I was not able to execute this plan.
I broke the course up into 3 sections. The first section is slightly up hill with a very steep climb at the end. I averaged 19.8 mph, and I felt great. I had plenty of energy reserved. The second section is 20 miles of mostly downhills. I averaged 19 mph. The 3rd section are climbs back to start the second loop, or to the downhill section back to the start. The first bike loop felt great, so I skipped the special needs stop, and didn't get my pickles [which I soon regretted]. I managed these hills well, but that's also when it started getting ridiculously hot. At this point, it's near noon, and temperatures were rising to 97º without a single cloud in the sky and no shade.
Beautiful bike course amongst the N. GA mountains
My body was seriously overheating. I try to take my nutrition, and my mind & body refused to accept it! Since my body was hot, my mind would not let me consume any more hot fluids. Now what do I do? I grabbed fresh water bottles from the water stations, but all of them quickly turned blazing hot as well. There was no ice at these stations. [I heard later there was, but I would have to stop my bike to get it] My nutrition was hot. Plain water was hot. The asphalt was cooking and my skin was burning. To cool off, I tried grabbing Gatorade from the water stations. They were cold, but extremely sugary. It tasted great, but I had trouble digesting it. At this point, I'm on the long climb of the first section, but I don't have the energy to match my speed, and it seems like everyone is passing me. I failed to execute even my Plan B. My mind was shutting down, and was no longer thinking quickly. My body followed this downward spiral as I entered the second section.
Getting baked in the 97º sun
Without my nutrition and overheating, I was losing an extreme amount of sodium. I had this same problem over 2 years ago before I switched to using Hammer. Now that I stopped taking it on this ride, my old problems also resurfaced. My legs were cramping all over the place, and it became very painful to ride. 4 hours of strong riding was followed by 2.5 hours of extreme pain and dizzines. My average speed dropped to 13 mph. I wanted to take my fuel, but I just couldn't. I wanted to go to my Plan B, but my mind and body had just given up, and refused to take anything. I was devestated in the final section back to the transition area. Along the way, there were cyclists on the side of the road all over the place. Some were vomiting, others were stretching their cramps, and I'm sure there were some waiting for medics. It boggled my mind seeing athletes with Ironman tattoos who obviously know what they are doing, struggling as I was. I approached the transition area broken down mentally and physically. Seriously, I was thinking I had slipped down to last place on the bike.
Distance 116 mi Time: 6:48:47 Average: 16.44 mph Age Group Rank: 160 Overall Rank: 1147
"On Your Left"


I slipped off my bike shoes while I was still on my bike to save time. At transition, I passed my bike off to a volunteer, while I another assisted me and asked me if I needed anything or to see a medic. I must have looked horrible. I don't remember what I said or asked for, but we talked for a few seconds. He then directed me to keep walking to pick up my run transition bag. I was barely walking. It felt like I was moving like those dancers in the Thriller video. Ladies were calling out my bib # to other volunteers, then another brought my bag to me. I took into the changing tent and just collapsed in my chair. I heard about how helpful volunteers were in the tent, but I didn't have one of those. I struggled to get my run shoes on. I saw Tom working hard on the opposite of the tent, so I called his name. He was a life saver! He helped me put my shoes on, and gave my some extremely helpful advice for run and a pep talk. Big thanks to you Tom!! After several cold cups of water, I was now ready to roll. My plan to minimize my time in the transition tent didn't apply here. As I left the tent, there were many training partners that came out to cheer us on. They yelled my name, and gave me a boost of motivation. I'm ready for the run!
Time: 10:34


Beginning the run
It is time for my first ever marathon, and first run ever over 13.1 miles. I run through the spectators! It didn't take long for reality to set back in. The sun was blazing hot, and so was my core temperature. My run turned into a struggle run as I passed my mom and other familiar faces. Whoa, there's an official photographer! I run some more. Now I'm really hurting, but I don't want to "suck". I saw Frances, who let me know it's OK to walk this uphill section. "Everyone is walking!" I hadn't noticed at all. I looked around, and maybe only 10% of the racers were running. I was glad not to be the only one suffering, and I walked up the first hill. At the top, I started running again, but my legs were really hurting, I was still very hot, and was feeling dizzy. Several training partners caught up with me and gave me much needed encouragement.
Nadia encouraged me to start running again, and off I went! After a half mile or so 6 miles in, I paused to stretch my legs out. The next thing I know, strangers were looking down at me. I had passed out! I laid there for a while, then I became coherent again. Medics were called, and it took them another 10 minutes to arrive. They checked me out, cooled me down with ice, and left it to my own discretion what to do next. My vitals were good. I only wanted to get up and finish the rest. What I really wanted to do was just lay there and sleep, but I wasn't going to tell the medics that. They had received another call that required a racer to be transported. I'm sure that saved me too. The medics say that if I can run straight, they'll let me continue. I got up, and I know I was walking crooked. I didn't look back, and just kept on moving. According to my Garmin, I stopped on the course for 30 minutes.
From reading other folks race reports, I knew I needed to convey the message that I was safe to those that were tracking me and waiting for me at the finish line. I found a stranger with a cell phone, and asked him to send out a text message that I was OK, and I'm walking on the run course. I didn't want the message to get back that I was with the medics, resulting in folks looking for me at the medic tent.
I've been asked countless times why I continued the race. There was no other option. If my legs worked, I was going to accomplish my goal of becoming an Ironman. From this point on, the motto running through my head was "Keep Moving!" I talked to numerous fellow athletes. Everyone was struggling. Everyone had their own battles, scars and demons that led them to the same road I was on. I walked much of the first 13 miles. On the second loop, I was ready to throw in the white towel. I was thinking that there was a cut off time for the run. Other racers let me know there is no race leg cutoff, just overall time. So even though my run leg was going to be over 8 hours, it didn't matter as long as I finished the race within 16 hours 15 minutes. I got my mind right, and made it my mission to beat this time!
My first marathon!
To recover, I ate like homeless puppy at every aid station!! I needed nutrition, so i ate fruit, and chicken broth every mile. My race belt was full of Gel and Perpetuem chewables. Since my mind was gone, I have no idea why I didn't use them. In my finish line photos, you see that I have a race belt full of nutrition. I also had more in my back pockets. *shame* I needed fuel though! Danny helped me out tremendously, and I kept it moving. My Garmin died on the second loop, so I was no longer able to tell if I was on track. Then an Angel was sent, and Dee was on the latter part of the run course cheering us on. She gave me the info I needed to know I was on track, and motivated me pick up the pace for a strong finish. Thanks Dee!
A sign of my mental struggle is all of the fuel still left on my waistbelt and my back pocket! I don't know why I didn't use them. This nutrition plan failure is the reason why my body struggled so much. I did eat my pickles at the run special needs stop though.
The final 8 miles was a survival stretch. I saw folks that knew they had to pick it up to make the cutoff, and just about everyone around me knew they would just make the cutoff if they continued walking at the same pace. I didn't want to take chance. The hills that I walked on the first loop, I was now running. The folks on the course cheering us on were extremely supportive, and reminding us that we are about to become an Ironman!
I survived!! I'm an Ironman!!! Notice my belt is full of fuel. :(
After 2 recent accidents on the run and bike, after surviving a near panic in the swim, getting overheated on the bike, and fainting on the run, I was about to become an Ironman! There was no slowing me down. After walking most of the first 16 miles, I was now running continuously! 3 years of training, and now I'm about to become an Ironman!!!
I ran passed hundreds of walkers, and ran down the finisher's chute. The music was blaring, crowds were cheering! Folks were yelling my name like crazy (my name is on my bib)! The excitement was intense. As I approached the finish line, I heard the most coveted words in the sport of triathlon: "Derrick Britton, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!"
Distance: 26.2 mi Time: 7:23:27 Pace: 16:55/mi Age Group Rank: 176 Overall Rank: 1508
Final Time: 15:52:45

The Journey

This journey was not done alone. My biggest challenge was easily the swim. Big thanks to all my swim coaches! Muriel and Amber from the YMCA. To my current swim coach, Danny, and the Killer Whales swim team. To Coach Iilonga and NOMSA3. To all my sponsors!! I started wearing Zoot when I first started this sport. Now I'm on Team Zoot, and connected to elite group of racers! They make the best gear in the sport, from shoes to wetsuits. Big thanks to Hammer Nutrition! I had serious nutrition issues before switching over to Heed and Perpetuem. I have performed well when I follow the plan. Hopefully, I learned my lesson in this race on what happens when you don't consume the fuel you need, and hydrate properly. And big thanks to for being the source for any triathlon gear or equipment I needed. Including my Quintana Roo PRsix time trial bike. Whoa, this bike is awesome. More thanks goes out to Smith Optics! I love the clarity of their sunglasses. And to Garmin. The 920xt is essential. There are several organizations that were essential to my training. The Black Triathlete Association is has a tremendous group of knowledgeable and experienced athletes, as well as the most supportive group that exists in the sport! Thanks to the South Fulton Running Partners, the oldest African American running club in the country. And to the Metro Atlanta Cycling Club, MACC. Thanks to my wife for letting me spend countless hours training and many dollars on this expensive hobby. Thanks to my mom, Sarah and my Aunt Martha for traveling down to watch me race. Thanks to Eric Andrew Donna Felicia Margo Evelyn Veronica for helping me to get Iroman Ready! There are countless numbers of fellow triathletes that helped me train, stay safe, and pushed me to improve. Thanks to all of you!!
Next year's schedule has not been made yet. When I first finished the race, I was disappointed in my performance. But now I look back and realized I accomplished something very special and very proud. I will be at a different Ironman race that's not so hot to execute a stronger race. I did reach a goal that I didn't think was once possible. Watch me do it again in 2017!
Anything Is Possible!
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