Monday, July 14, 2008

Chattanooga RR

Nope, not the Chattanooga Choo-choo or Railroad; the Chattanooga Waterfront Triathlon Race Report. And speaking of water… this race had PLENTY of it – during the swim and beyond.

After a fun filled day with Leah, Bradley, and the pooches, I hit the sack as soon as was socially acceptable. I could have fallen asleep at 8:00 pm, but it was still light outside. So I crawled into my comfy guest quarters around 9:30. I probably fell asleep at 9:31.

The alarm went off early, much earlier than I normally get up for a race. But this race was different, new. Doing a race for the first time escalates my nerves. I’m spoiled with the Set Up Races here in South Carolina. I’ve now done most of them at least once… I know what to expect. I wanted to get to this site with enough time to walk myself through everything, get my bearings, and find answers to any unknowns.

As with any larger race, the transition area looked huge. The bike racks were lined up like soldiers awaiting their weapons. I dropped everything off at my assigned rack and headed for the swim finish. It was still dark, the pre race music wasn’t playing yet, the air was void of participant nerves/chatter/intensity. Although the sun had yet to come up, I could see the mountains cradling the river… and there was fog (one of my favorite climatic phenomenon’s – I don’t know why, fog fascinates me and gives any setting a mysterious aura.)

Right there, in that moment, I felt good, fortunate, excited, ready, and eager. So, with a deep breath I set off to do all those normal pre race things. Study the swim exit and route to transition (up a long flight of stairs, down a path through the race expo tents, across the street, then left into the transition area, 9 rows down, 2 racks up). I got body marked (#940). I put on sun block, and then had to go back to body marking because the sun block had completely removed the numbers. Took the bike out for a spin – a bit along the bike and run courses. Felt that my front tire seemed a bit low on air. Visited the onsite bike mechanic who told me I had a slow valve leak. Well, nothing I could do at that point. Threw on my running shoes and did a short warm up.

Before I knew it, the buses were leaving to take people to the swim start. This race was a time trial start by number… and like I said, I was 940. In getting on the shuttle and going to the start, I knew I’d have some time to hang out. And hang out I did. Next year, I will take a deck of cards. We had serious time on our hands.

The pros were to go off first, then some age groups of women, then most of the men, and then us… the young women. And midway through the sendoffs, dark clouds rolled in leaving us to wait in the rain. Perfect. How I loved standing around in the rain, awaiting a 1.5 k swim in the Tennessee River.

Finally I could see #’s in the 800’s lining up. Yes, yes, yes… get me in the water and out of this waiting game. We were hustled down to a pier and into the water where they were sending participants off every 3 seconds. There was no swim warm up (fine by me!), it was get in and GO. So I did.

I was bound determined to swim hard. I wanted to push myself; I wanted to feel good about the time I saw on my watch as I exited the water. So, right from the start I went hard and tried to hold on. I was passing men that had left before me. I stayed toward the buoys and concentrated on my form. I put my head down and really put myself into pulling, finishing each stroke, kicking, sighting, and breathing. Soon, I could see the boats that marked the finish area. Aiming left toward the shore I surged for the stairs. With perfect timing, a volunteer grabbed my hand and pulled me from the water.

Now, I know you can’t compare split times from one race to another… but in looking down at my watch, I realized I’d PR’d (that swim distance) by 3 minutes. I didn’t want to get too excited, thinking that maybe the fast swimmers had turned in 17/18:00 min swims. But, nevertheless, I flew up the stairs and into transition.

Bike stuff on and out onto the course. I was prepared for hills, I knew this ride would be tough, I thought about Amy K telling me to power down the hills (to gain some ground on the up). Oh buddy were there hills. We rounded the clover entrance ramp onto the highway – and from there on out, it was up or down. The first 5 miles were a challenge. Shifting, spinning, standing, trying to find my rhythm. I forced myself to suffer going uphill and down. The course was an out/back on highway 27. We were in the left lane (closest to the median) going both directions. An endless row of cones (seriously, Team Magic must own 1,000,000 orange cones) separated us from traffic flow in the right lane.

As I made the turn around, I noticed the wind had picked up. And suddenly I was heading straight for some really dark clouds. Fantastic, more rain. The next 10 miles depict a ride I’d never, ever like to do again. Picture yourself, riding aero, down hills, going close to 40 mph, in TORRENTIAL downpour, while cars and semis fly by you in the right lane (creating monsoon like waves that crash down on you and your bike).

Due to the sheets of rain (not the “pitter patter, I’m riding in the rain” rain… the “if I were driving in a car, I might have to pull over until visibility improves” type of rain). I actually witnessed some participants standing with their bikes on the median. A split second decision was made… either wuss out and pull back on the speed, or continue pushing and hope I stay in control of my bike. Not gonna lie, I was scared. This is not typical… I love descending, flying down the road. But, this was a race, and in a race you push.

I forged through the rain (which felt like b.b. pellets when riding above 30 mph) and prayed for no sudden pot holes or swerving trucks. With all the external distractions, I didn’t even notice fatigue in my legs. Driving your legs to churn during a race is one thing… pedaling fast because you’re scared for your life is another.

After 42 k, I was back in transition and making my way through the muddy mess. I found my running shoes full of water, ditched my sunglasses, grabbed my visor and race belt, then set off. Oooooo, the first mile is uphill and up a flight of stairs. From there it flattens out and follows a riverfront path. If I hadn’t been breathing so hard, I might have been able to enjoy the beauty.

You see, by this point, it had stopped raining. Yes, just in time for the run… the rain let up, leaving 199% humidity in the air. Mentally, I tried to send all energy to my legs. I noted all the people making their way back to the finish. I told myself that I’d soon be there. I told myself to NOT waste a good swim and coming out of that ride in one piece.

Hitting the 5k point of the run (turnaround) was a race changing moment. I was not happy with the time, and forced my legs to turn over faster. I was determined to negative split that bad boy. I noted all the ladies behind me (of course, with a TT style start, I never really know where I stand… but feeling spunky runners on my heels is enough to make me pick up the pace).

Making my way toward the finish arch, I heard Leah yell for me. Out of all those spectators, I heard her – and it meant so much (Leah, I still can’t thank you and Bradley enough for standing in the rain to cheer me on).

I found them after the race, a bit waterlogged and amazed at the whole scene. Feeling bad that, for me, they’d spent a Sunday morning standing around in such horrible conditions… I had to send them home. Over the next hour I packed up my stuff and loaded it all, along with my bike, into the car. Awards weren’t scheduled to start until 12:30 (or after last finisher). What would have been perfect during that wait: being wrapped in a dry, fluffy, terrycloth robe. Yes, this thought actually crossed my mind.

Instead I walked around to kill time. I ran into Hailey Piersol, my sister’s college roommate (and the younger sister of Aaron Piersol – who holds a few World Records in backstroke). Hailey isn’t a shabby swimmer herself (swam the 1500 in the Olympic trials). Naturally, she’s taken to triathlon alright ;) Let me put the warning out there now… Hailey is going to be huge in the tri scene. Not only did she have the 5th fastest swim of the day (male/female/pro), she also had the fastest female run split. When she fully grasps the bike – this chick is going to be unstoppable. What am I talking about, she did get 5th OA in her 1st oly dist race.

Awards finally got underway. Since Kristen Sass placed 2nd OA, I was awarded #1 in my age group (8th OA, and as Jen reminded me, 7th OA – non pro ;) I left the race site excited about my breakthrough swim, thankful for surviving the bike, but disappointed with my run. (I later learned, in talking with Andrew on the phone, that I’d actually ranked much higher in the run than I thought).

Click HERE for a great article about the race.

Leah and Bradley were waiting for me at their house… and ready to do whatever I felt like. I requested a quick shower and FOOD. We ended up going to a great place called Fresh to Order. After we all placed our lunch orders, the waitress caught me eyeing the chocolate cookies (individually wrapped and about the size of my face). I must have looked pretty desperate, because she actually told me to, “just take one”.

All too soon, my Chattanooga trip came to an end. Leah and Bradley, thank you SO much for having me!! (and putting up with the triathlon mumbo-jumbo). I drove away from their house, as more rain moved in – fitting. All kidding aside, rain and all, it was a Great weekend.


Matt said...

Wait, I am confused. I thought you were at camp this past weekend?!?!?! Great job within tornadic conditions. I guess that's why they call it the hurricane...

Train-This said...


:-) Mary

Anonymous said...

ROCK STAR! :) I am just thrilled about your breakthru swim that I couldn't get past that! :) hee hee, CONGRATS!! :) JEN H.

Marit Chrislock-Lauterbach said...

Nice job Ashley!!!! Phenominal!!!!! Way to push and survive the bike course - NOT an easy thing to do... :) You ROCK!

Damie said...

It was nice to meet you this past weekend. It seems like you had a fantastic race! Great job!!!!

Damie said...

Ha:) Thank you for the super nice comment. Yes, you were easy to spot!!!! Great race, again! I wish I could use the rain excuse for me, but I swear I was pushing it- I just didn't have it. Dern. Funny how much fun I still had meeting new friends, though! You included! Ok, start looking forward to your next race!!!! Another good swim too!!!

Beth said...

Awesome race and great race report! HUGE breakthrough on the swim - you have inspired me! And pretty gutsy performance on the bike. I know that feeling of just utter chaos w/traffic and rain and not being able to see - AHHHH!!! Anyway - way to push through it all! Hope the recovery is going well!!

Oh - and thanks for your comment - I really hope to meet you in NYC!! Thanks for the good luck!! :)

Eric M said...

After seeing the results, especially the bike time, I want to believe that your success was in a small part due to my superior tire holding techniques at 500am in the morning. In all seriousness, great work and it was a pleasure meeting and talking with you. Look forward to racing together soon and best of luck in Oregon.... again, great job, keep us updated.

Eric M

Ashley said...

ERIC M! I should have included your heroic wheel holding skills in my RR. What was I thinking... it was a race saving moment?! Strangers willing to help a damsel in tire pumping distress - priceless. Thanks again for the 5:00 am assistance. Good luck in upcoming races!!