"The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start"
I decided to race Chattanooga 70.3 because I will race the full Ironman in September. Also my dear friend and client Les Well decided to complete this 70.3 as her first Ironman.
We rented a beautiful house just a few blocks from the Tennessee river.
Chattanooga is a really cool southern town. There are lots of great restaurants, sceneries including the Lookout Mountain, and the Tennessee River winding through town that splits the north and south sides with cool walking bridges that double as part of the run course. (I highly recommend this destination!)
The alarm went off at 3:30 a.m. Too early for me. Transition opened at 4:30. We wanted to be early at swim start. We took a bus to get to the other side of the river. The weather was perfect. Low 55 - High 78. Sunny and relatively dry. Wind up to 13 MPH.
At the swim start there was a ridiculously long line to get in the water. It was a rolling start, so after the pros went off, there were no age groups or waves, just a long line of athletes jumping in about 5-6 at a time. So we finally got down to the dock, jumped in, and started swimming upstream, around a couple buoys, then the rest was a downstream straight shot to TA1.
The river water was just under 74 degrees and the wetsuit was legal for us. From what I could tell and what everyone else had been saying, there was not much current to the river at the time of the race. That is a good thing because we had to swim upstream for the first 350 yards before making the turnaround to head downstream. My swim time was definitely more similar to a lake swim than a river with current swim!
I got into good rhythm, I felt strong and knocked it out just under my goal time.
The first 30 miles were very easy and fast. I did not find many climbs as they said I would find until mile 35. There was a challenging climb and a big descent that was a little tortuous but in general, everything was very straight forward, well-marked and the roads were smooth. Nutrition-wise, my plan was to eat 3 Gels, drink Carbo-pro, gatorade and a salt tablet every 30 min, and take my third Immodium pill (I took 2 before starting because I suffer from GI Syndrome).
But the bike course was very congested and there were also several sections with railroad tracks and big bumps in the road which required both hands on the bike.
As I said, the course was really crowded in some areas, but I was able to keep the needed space and avoid drafting most of the time. There were a few people who passed me rather recklessly and some fast packs of cyclists passing me every now and then. And there were also the usual suspects who pass you, move over in front of you too soon, and then slow down for no apparent reason, which makes you have to slow down before passing them back. I got stacked behind a pack of cyclists which were riding side by side trying to pass each other. I was trying to pass them, but there wasn't space and I had other cyclists on the side and back. At this point, a race referee came close to us and start talking. The only thing I understood was the world "drafting". And I said: "I am not trying to draft, I am trying to find space to pass", I added: "look, there is no space and there are several packs in the front". Then I passed and I continued riding. It seemed logical that the race official would approach a congested group and work to break it up. So, not seeing any sort of a card presented to me, I did my best to separate myself from the group.
At Mile 42 there was a challenging steady long climb. It wasn't that steep, but it was long. Until the end we had head wind, but overall...
I felt GREAT and STRONG! There were a few tough hills to climb but the rest of the course was more gentle rolling hills and I really got into a zone.
I hit the ground running and the legs were there. I knew then that I could have a good run if my stomach would hold. The question was... for how long?
This is a fun run course, scenic, and hilly. There are places to surge and places to hold back. It is a two lap course, so that helped me mentally break the race up into segments. It was awesome running my first lap with the pros, and feeling strong while running next to them.
Climbing out of T1 onto the first hill, I took it easy to keep myself from blowing up. My #1 priority was to cool down my core temperature and try to manage it for the rest of the run. At aid station #1 they had ice cold sponges, and I am pretty sure I let out a loud "ahhhhhhhh" when I squeezed it over my head. Amazing! I just kept pouring cold water over my head and filling my bra with ice at every aid station. Those aid stations were definitely the highlight of the run. It was also great that the volunteers were dressed up as different themes--one of the aid stations were all dressed as minions...it was so cute! :)
But around mile 4 I started cramping and I had to slow down until I found a bathroom. Then I took another Immodium. I felt better and picked up the pace again. I loved running over the 2 bridges and I enjoyed the scenic view of the river.
Unfortunately I start feeling stomach cramps again. I had to slow down again to find a bathroom. Then I felt good again and I finished strong!
I loved this venue! I also loved the volunteers and welcoming entertainment-filled community! Big shout out to all the volunteers!
There were a lot of times when there was congestion on the course.
A race official helped with some congestion that I was in the middle of, but interpreted it as drafting.
THE BIG SURPRISE AT THE END
When I went into transition to pick the bike an officer came up to me and said: "do you know you got DQ"?
I said: "what?"
She said that I had a penalty and I didn't stop at the penalty box. I was so surprised and I asked her: "a penalty for what?" since no one ever told me I had a penalty.
She told me I had a penalty for drafting 45 seconds. I told her that someone on a motorcycle said something about drafting, but they never penalized me. I never saw any card! A penalty is signaled by a blue card (stated in the athlete guide), but no one ever gave me a blue card!
In conclusion, I got DQ for not obeying a penalty that I didn't even know I had! No one ever notified me about a penalty. I wrote an appeal to the head refeee. I requested that race management re-instate my completion of the race. I understand Ironman rules that state that I cannot appeal a drafting penalty, which is a subjective observation. However, I did believe I have a valid appeal of the disqualification, since I was not presented with a card of any color.
The Athlete guide states "• THE OFFICIAL WILL: Notify you that you have received either a BLUE CARD for drafting and littering or a YELLOW CARD for any other penalty. The official will show you the corresponding colored card.......”
The response I received stated something to the effect that they have several ways of notifying the athlete regarding the penalty. But, that is not in the rule book. The rule book only mentions blue and yellow cards.
I am concerned because other athletes could easily make the same mistake I made, since I was not shown a blue card, there was no penalty. I am suggesting that ironman correct the athlete guide to indicate that there are other ways to be notified of a penalty besides the blue cards. This would clear up any further confusion.
Friends and fellow athletes consider me to demonstrate the highest ethics and values. I am the first to abide by rules and encourage those who I coach to do the same. While it was never myintent to draft 45 seconds, I would have stopped to serve this minor penalty. My penalty would have been 2 minutes in the penalty tent. I would have taken an extra 5 minutes to be added on my finishing time instead of being disqualified. I hope that I will not have to face the same issue in September when I return to Chattanooga to compete in the full Ironman. I hope to make this a positive learning experience for myself and others in the sport , but I am concerned that other athletes might also face a similar situation either in Chattanooga or in the many other Ironman Venues across the world.