My First Ironman
The following is Patrick’s account of his first Ironman – Ironman Chattanooga.
Before I get into this post I want to thank Coach Geoff. He was able to train me to be so efficient at long distance biking that when I got off my bike I could “do my thing” for the run. His power based workouts were focused and with specific purpose. Without him, his training and racing expertise and his constant support and help there’s no way I would have done so well in my debut at the Ironman distance.
Note: the swim was canceled due to flooding of the river, so the race was a bike – run event.
My First Ironman
The morning started just after 5 am. Mariah my girlfriend got up with me to drive me to the race site and help remind me to force food into my face even though I had no appetite. While Mariah sat and met lots of dogs I went into transition to finish setting my bike up. The bike wasn’t to start until around 8, I didn’t think the pros were starting until 8:30 and I would be starting around 8:45 but when I returned to transition after my 10th trip to the bathroom most of my section of transition was either gone or on their way to the start. A little panic set in but when I got my bike and went to the start there was still a big line to the start line, but I was near the end of the line of my section so good thing I wasn’t too late. The racers were sent off on the bike two racers at a time every 5 seconds by section (#1-400 were first, but you didn’t have to be in order). It was kinda nice that I was a little rushed because I didn’t have time to get nervous or over think things. Unfortunately since I left earlier than I thought, Mariah got the notification that I’d left as she was on her way to the start to see me off.
The bike went pretty well and according to plan. The idea was just to hold a strong power but one that was easy enough that I could get off the bike and still run well. A little bit of race nerves and excitement had me holding a power a little too high but by about mile 10 or so I had brought the average back down to the goal range and was able to keep it there for the rest of the race. Early on I also passed a few guys from my age group but after catching one he came back around me and started powering away. I was tempted to chase him down but I remembered my race plan and that if I biked according to plan that I’d be able to run at least a minute/mile faster pace than anyone in my age group and decided to let him go.
I was hoping I wouldn’t have to go to the bathroom until about half way through the bike but the need came around 1:30 into it and I had to pull over at a aid station and go in the porta-potty. At the halfway mark they have your “bike special needs bag,” a bag that you fill before the race with anything you want and can pick up on the course. I had packed a banana and a coke along with some spare gels but totally missed the sign announcing it was coming up and flew right by. Fortunately I didn’t have a huge craving for coke as I usually did during my long rides in training and I had plenty of nutrition with me and didn’t really need any of it. The rest of the bike went pretty well, and my goodness was it beautiful. Since I was going at an easier pace I was able to take in some of the beautiful landscapes along the course.
Final stats for the bike
Time: 5:18:43, 21.76 mph
Place: 2nd in age group
After the bike I hopped off and had forgotten that there are people who take your bike and rack it for you so as I crossed the dismount line I was caught off-guard by the guy taking my bike out of my hands. After I had realized what was going on I made my way to get my run gear bag and went to the changing tents. Here athletes can change and get ready for the run. Since I was wearing a tri suit I had no need to change but I laced up my shoes and shoved a ridiculous amount of gels and food into my suit pockets and was off to start the run.
My mom, dad and Mariah were there at the tent exit to cheer me on as I was off to chase down the one guy in my age group I knew was somewhere ahead. I held a pretty strong pace, perhaps a little faster than I was originally planning but I was feeling amazing so I decided to stick to it. The run course volunteers and aid stations were amazing, so many of the signs had me laughing and all the volunteers were amazing and made for a great day. Chattanooga is considered to have a harder run course than most Ironman races and I saw the dreaded hills around mile 10. These hills weren’t easy but I had done a bulk of my long runs on a hilly loop at Purdue and was definitely handling the hills a lot better than most (save the 5 pros who posted a better run split than me). Just before mile 13 as I returned towards town I saw my parents and Mariah cheering me on from a brewery where they had the whole place cheering me on as I zipped by.
After starting lap two of the run I saw the guy from my age group and he was still running but was looking a little rough. It turns out he didn’t make it to the next timing gate about 2 miles after that point and had quit. I continued pushing on but around mile 20 was starting to feel the effects of my tough pace and was starting to slow a little to save something for the hills. By the start of the hills I was in need of some inspiration so I took one of the notes Mariah had written for me to read during the race. After some compliments it’d said “YOUVE GOT THIS” and that got me feeling good again. I powered through the first round of hills and took out the second note saying “DON’T GIVE UP NOW!” before round two of hills and powered through round two.
Following the hills you head back towards town and take the giant pedestrian bridge (the longest in the world, not a racing exaggeration) where my dad was standing cheering “PATRICK YOU’RE IN FIRST”
Up the bridge was my mom and Mariah on rental bikes, I caught up to them and they rode by me for a little bit cheering me on and asking how I was doing.
“I’m doing okay”
“Did you know you’re winning your age group, you’re in first!”
“I had a feeling but then dad yelled it to me just now”
“How are you talking right now?”
“Oh my cardio is fine, it’s my legs that are killing me”
According to my mom it was tough to keep up with me. They had taken my mind off the running and I realized I was only about .2 miles from the finish. I powered on, down the hill and to the red carpet where I was greeted by screaming fans, supportive runners just starting their run, and the announcer yelling
“PATRICK MARTIN! YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”
Emotional constraint wasn’t an option. I pumped my fists and smiled big, I’d done it.
Final stats for the run:
Time: 3:02:32, 6:54 min/mile pace
Place: best in age group (next best 3:48), 6th fastest overall, best amateur run split of the day.
Final stats for the race:
Place: 1st in age group, 22nd overall, 10th place amateur
Post race Sunday:
After going through the finish chute and reuniting with my parents and Mariah, I sat down and they asked me all about it and explained how dominating of a run I’d had. I knew it was a good split but I had no idea how fast it was compared to the rest of the field. Mariah said she couldn’t even believe
it, it didn’t feel real to me either, it took a little bit before I started smiling and got excited. The brain fog had cleared and I realized that I did exactly what I came to Chattanooga to do and that was crush this race and win the age group and no one else still on the course had a chance of beating my time. I got some food in me, exchanged war stories with some other finishers, then went to transition to get my gear and head back to the air bnb for a shower and some food.
Not only did my parents morally and financially support me all weekend, they also physically supported my limp body to take post-race photos
I told Mariah I really wanted to go back to cheer on the final finishers as I’d heard it was a really big party over at the finish line. We got some really cool light up train whistles and lined up along the finishing straight cheering people on with high fives and a “CHOO CHOO” from our whistles. We left before midnight as I felt that I was about to fall asleep but seeing the finishers, including the blind athlete racing with his guide, was an amazing experience.
Monday, Awards and Rolldown
We got up Monday and packed the car and headed to the convention center for the award ceremony and rolldown of the Kona Ironman World Championship slot rolldown. For those who don’t know there are 40 slots give to each gender to go to the World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. The slots are distributed between the age groups based on how many starters there were, with every age group getting at least one slot. Since the 18-24 age group is usually pretty small we were all but guaranteed to only get one slot. The slots would be offered to the top finisher and would roll down to the next person if it’s not accepted by first place and so on. I knew that our group would only get one slot so winning was the only way to guarantee a slot.
I stood on the stage after they announced the top 5 in the age group and then later rook my slot to Kona where I will race my first “real” Ironman on October 12th, 2019.
A lot of racers were disappointed about the swim cancellation, especially the first timers who were looking forward to doing their first “Ironman.” Many questioned whether we would still be considered an Ironman if we didn’t do the swim. Here’s my take on all of this:
Being an Ironman isn’t just about swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112, and running 26.2; it’s much more than that. Being an Ironman is about training for 15+ hours a week. It’s about finishing your swim workout even though most of the club got out early or skipped sets because they’re only training for a sprint or Olympic distance race. It’s about trying to convince your teammates to join you on your 100 mile rides on 100 degree days (sometimes with success, thanks Matt and Alex) and sometimes having to do it by yourself. It’s about running a 2.2 mile hill loop 10 times in a row to get a similar elevation gain as the run course on your long run. It’s about having to tell your friends you can’t go to the bars because you have a long ride in the morning. The race at the end is merely a celebration of your journey, and swim or not I celebrated my journey.
If there’s a question of whether or not I’d be able to finish the swim, a floating log can finish that downstream flooded and swollen Tennessee River swim in a respectable time (38 minutes actually) and I’m sure I’d have no problem finishing it. As for my age group win I beat second by over an hour, a deficit that no one would be able to make up with a downstream swim.
And if you’re still not convinced then I guess you’ll have to wait until next October as I race my first “real” Ironman in Hawaii.