Friday, October 3, 2014

IRONMAN Chattanooga: A Race Recap

For someone who never has a difficult time finding the words to express his thoughts, someone is having a difficult time, this time, to do just that.

I'm not sure if the enormity of the journey culminating at the finish line of the Inaugural Ironman Chattanooga, on September 28th is something that I still have not been able to wrap my arms around. The enormity of the journey I say, because even though I've traveled down this road before, this time, my second time, was more special than I could have ever imagined; the reasons for this have been heavily documented as most of you already know.

Ironman Chattanooga was by any and all accounts a very successful race. Going in, my goal was a sub 15:00 hours finish. Official time was 15:09:23. A PR by 22:42 minutes

Before I move with weekend and race specifics, I must say three things: 1). I survived the extra 4 miles on the bike. The course was adjusted a few weeks before the race for safety purposes and even though this created a mountain of controversy, we all made it and lived to talk about it. 2). I entered the race with "hot toe" issues, serious issues. I chose to race anyway so this will in no way, form or fashion be used as an excuse for my times or performance. I will make mention of this later only to give you an idea of what was going on. 3). I also survived Little Debbie as the title sponsor.

So, without further to do...


As is always the case, specially in the bigger WTC events, the Village did not disappoint. There were more vendors, as it appeared to me, than in any other event. Most, if not all, were extremely relevant to the matter at hand. The Ironman merchandise tent was stocked to the brim, that is until we arrived; we made a major dent.

On Friday night, we did not attend the Athlete's Banquet. We chose to spend the time with close friends and a quiet dinner at a local restaurant. I learned from previous experience that this is the best route to take two nights before the big day.


On Saturday morning, my grandson participated in the Iron Kids, a one mile run through portion of the Ironman course. Over 500 kids took part in the three distances offered; .25 mile, .50 mile and 1 mile. Colton ran the mile. It is always a treat to watch so many kids involved in events like these at such an early age. Kudos to all the parents getting them there.

While a lot, if not all, of my friends and my daughter chose to do a short swim, bike and run pre-race, I chose to only do a run. I had planned to swim on Saturday, but due to recent shoulder issues I decided against it. I had been feeling no pain, so I opted not to push things the day before the race.

Bike checked in and Gear Bags left at transition without consequence. Perhaps maybe the occasional doubt of whether something was missing. There's always this doubt.

Again on Saturday we went to dinner with more family that had come in, and with more friends. Again, best move made. We opted for a restaurant away from the hustle and bustle. We drove about 15 minutes north of downtown and found ourselves away from the crowds.


The day started early. When I say early, I mean 3:00 am early. Earlier due to the fact that the night was not spent sleeping well. It never does.

My routine, and it hasn't changed in many a race is to eat two frozen whole wheat waffles, with peanut butter and a splash of honey and a cup of coffee. Starbucks in the lobby of the hotel had opened at 2:30 am. Good thing for Juliana and I would have been without that much needed shot of caffeine. I would also eat a banana about :30 minutes before race time.

An announcement would be made at 4:00 am regarding the water temperature. We were hoping, but not dead set, that it would be a wet suit legal race. It would make matters easier for us and for everyone else. Word came in from an acquaintance that the water temperature was 77f, so the race would be "wet suit optional". We proceeded to plan "B". We would swim with our swim skins. Time to head out.


We arrived at transition area somewhere around 5:00 am. Our hotel was about .80 mile, we got lucky and a shuttle bus was just leaving from our hotel. We did not have to walk, although walking would have been okay.

My wife Monica and friends Carry and Rodney were volunteering at the body marking area. We found them right away and proceeded to get our numbers and age marked for the race. This was special moment #1 of the day.

After turning in our Special Needs bags and giving our bikes a final check, we gave our friends a hug and proceeded our way to the shuttle was would bus us to the swim start. Go time is getting close, real close.

The swim start was to be a "time trial" format, self seeded, which meant that you would jump in the water in no particular order, one or two or three athletes at a time, in order in which you found yourself in line. For this reason, most folks tried to get in line early, so as not to be in the back of the pack. We waited in line for about one hour, thirty minutes. Longest wait ever.


And so it happened. 7:20 am the cannon went off and the male pros were on their way. A couple of minutes later, another cannon and it was the female pros turn. And then the final cannon. The age groupers, our turn to race had arrived.

The line started moving, slowly at first but then it picked up. By the time we reached the ramp, pace had picked up nicely. And just like that... we were in the water. The race was on.


I jumped in the water and hurried out of the way. Didn't want someone to jump on top of me. This was the most stressful part of the entire day. Seriously. Once I found myself a safe distance, which really didn't take but a few strokes, I started my swim. From the first stroke I felt good and comfortable. I was swimming smoothly. I noticed a slight current, so I tried to move as close to the middle of the river as I could so I could take full advantage of this. But so was everyone else, it was very crowded out there.

Not once during the entire swim did I break stroke. One after the other, after the other. I don't remember this happening, ever. As I said before, it felt good.

I have my Garmin set up to notify me at the mile splits. When the first notification came, I remember thinking that it couldn't be, it hadn't been that long. I didn't question it any further, I kept going.

With about an estimated 150-200 yds to go, the water got rough. Choppy, wavy and rough. There were no boats in the water that I could see, so I couldn't figure out where this came from. Had the conditions been like this for the entire swim, it would have been a totally different experience. Glad it wasn't.

As I approached the final buoy and turned left to head to the exit, my right calf got slapped by another swimmer and immediately cramped. I had to make a sudden stop, take a deep breath and stretch to make the cramp go away. It worked enough to allow me to make it to the exit.

The ramp was crowded and the swimmers were taking their time moving away. This is something the volunteers will learn with time. As folks step on those steps, they will have to make them move quickly. There were several of us treading water waiting our turn to get out. The swim out was crowed.

Swim Time: 1:20:06 a PR by days.

As much as I'd like to take full credit for this fantastic (relative term) time, I have to give credit where credit is due... Thank You River Current. My doing or the river's doing, this time will be forever etched as my swim time. A PR at that! Everyone posted an amazing swim times, everyone. The fastest pro clocked in at 40:49 minutes. Yes, the current was a big factor.


There's only one word that could properly describe T1: Crowded. Each and every chair was occupied. Most of us found ourselves changing either sitting on the ground or standing up. It was long and it was difficult.

Immediately upon entering the tent, I drank a Boost. As I made my way to the exit, I ate a Huma gel, combined, it amounted to some 340 calories. This jump started my nutrition plan to be followed on the bike. To replenish calories lost in the swim was a matter of utmost importance. To play nutrition catch up on the bike would spell trouble. I did not have to.

As fast as I was moving the time it took to get in and get out of T1 was still pretty slow. Not sure if the distance between swim finish, T1 and bike out had something to do with it, but that makes no difference. It was still slow.


As much as I was trying to pace myself smart, out of the gate, I found that my first bike split was fast. I was flying. However, my heart rate was were it needed to be so I did not worry, as was my cadence. I attribute this to the Boost and Huma I took in the tent. I was fueled and ready to go.

The miles added up in a hurry at first. I made it to the hair pin turn faster than I had thought. I was using mostly, as planned, my small ring.

Not sure of the mileage, but I'm guessing around 20-25 miles in, there was what appeared to be a road block. Police cars with lights on. I remember hoping that that nothing serious had happened. As I approached the area, I saw dirt and sand on the road covering what appeared to be oil. There was an officer cleaning up. I wasn't sure what had happened. Later I learned that someone had dumped oil and tacks on the road. This happened in two different areas. That explained the inordinate number of flats I saw on the course that day. I was lucky, I was spared.

It was at mile 40 that I got the first and best mental boost of the day; my family and a host of friends had traveled to that point to wait for us. Hearing my name and all the cheers was just amazing. Thank you all!

Made it to Special Needs and sorted through my bag. I ate a boiled red skinned potato that my mother-in-law prepared for us, and it hit the spot just like I knew it would. I had been looking forward to this for quiet a few miles. I would have hoped, however, that this had happened a fewer miles further down the road. At mile 50ish, I thought it was too early for Special Needs.

The town of Chickamauga received us greatly. Lots of noise, lots of folks. However, on the second loop everyone was gone! Literally, it was a ghost town.

The second loop proved to be challenging. My toes began to burn around mile 60, and they only got hotter as the miles went on. I stopped once and took my socks off. This helped for a while, just for a little while. When the burning and pain came back, around mile 80sih, I removed my feet from the shoes and pedaled with the feet out of and atop the shoes. Someone asked my if it wasn't a little early to be getting ready for the dismount. Funny I thought. I did not answer, just kept pedaling.

I could feel that my average speed was dropping dramatically; the harder I tried to pedal, or the faster the cadence I attempted, the worst the pain became. I moved on until about mile 105. There I stopped again to put my feet back in my shoes. I did not want to come into town with my feet out. A police officer came by and asked if I was okay. He held my bike while I did this.

Add to the aggravation of this issue the fact that it started to rain hard. It rained on and off for several miles. Still though, I just kept pedaling.

I arrived at T2, once again to the cheers of a welcoming crowd. Immediately I saw my family; wife, daughter, grandson, in-laws and another bunch of friends. I couldn't let them see me hurting. My toes were still killing me.


The good news was that the tent was not any where near as crowded as it was earlier. I had my very own volunteer. He unpacked my bag while I took another Boost and took my wet bike shoes and helmet off. I tried to dry my feet as best as I could so I could put my running socks on. While I was doing this, the volunteer was getting the socks ready to help me put them on. Upon looking at my toes, he immediately gave me the socks and said: "sorry friend, you need to do this yourself. Ouch"

Again, I took much more time in here than I would have liked, but I made it out and that's all that matters.


The rain was coming down again as I left the tent. Again my family and friends were there to give me good send off. My daughter Marcela was waiting for me a little bit down and she ran with me for a few yards. We stopped to take a selfie! Another huge mental boost.

As I started to get on my running pace, I noticed that the pain in the toes had vanished, or they were numb, I couldn't really tell. I didn't wait to figure it out, I just kept on running.

My plan for long distance running is a 4:1, four minute run, one minute walk. It had served me well at IM Louisville, so that was my target today. I set up my Garmin to beep at these intervals. I had trained like this.

The aid stations were spread out every mile or so. This was nice to see. They were well stocked and well staffed. During this race, the Chicken Broth was Hot. Nice touch! once they brought it out, I drank some at each other station, and a the alternate station, I would drink Cola. I carried my hand held bottle filled with Infinit. Perfect! Except until I left it at a station around mile 18. I took it off to refill it and set on top of a table. I must have been distracted for a moment for I left it behind. I didn't notice this until the following one minute walk, when it was time to take another shot of my mix.

For the most part the course was very well supported with cheering friends and family. Lots of noise, music and signs. These kept the spirits up. Except for the Riverwalk. The Riverwalk and Amnicola Hwy. These were desolate. Except for the aid stations they were lonely. This is where your mind had to be strong. Specially on that second loop. It was dark and did I mention that it was lonely? You were literally by yourself, unless of course you were a fast runner, which I'm not, then you had the company of other runners. Did I mention this was a long and lonely stretch?

I'm not sure where I was when I noticed my Garmin was off. The battery had run out. I had been running for an extensive amount of time and realized my walk break was long overdue. I finished the last who knows how many miles in without my Garmin. Upon realization of this I adapted. I started counting light poles. I would run 6 or seven and would walk 2. In the long run, It worked out just fine however, I'm not sure if I had my actual time I would have been able to shave off those pesky 9 minutes. But no regrets.

One of the perks, if there's ever such a perk, of being one of the slower triathletes, is that you get to see people coming as you are going. You cross paths with friends and fellow triathletes. Every so often you would hear your name being called. It was a team mate or someone you knew. Again, of course, they were coming as I was going.

Three things made my run a happy place: 1). A lot of people kept telling me how good Juliana was doing, how strong and determined she looked. I knew she would, but it was nice to hear this. 2). A friend and fellow participant/triathlete recognized me from a distance and yelled "I love you Mauricio, keep going, you're doing great". It wasn't so much the message, but the timing of the message and the person delivering the message. and 3). Crossing the pedestrian bridge for the second time. Suddenly I found an extra pep on my step and I heard the party at the finish line. I invited everyone I passed to come join me.


I began to tactically plan my entrance to the finishers carpet. I wanted a good distance between the runner in front of me and anyone behind me. I slowed down enough to allow a couple to have their glory. As I came down headed towards my destination, I heard my name called. I couldn't recognize who was yelling for me because the spot lights from the finish line were blinding. I found myself from side to side, high-fiving folks on both sides of the chute. And then I heard my name: "Mauricio Sanchez you ARE and IRONMAN". At this very moment I crossed the finish line. Mission Accomplished.

First people I saw after the medal was hung over my neck was my wife Monica and my grandson Colton. This was the sweetest sight of all. This moment will last forever. Next one I saw was Coach Barry and then my friend Randy.

I looked for my daughter Juliana. I didn't see her. She was no where to be found. We had agreed that she would wait for me at the finish line. I made it through to the chocolate milk tent and took two. Then walked to the first available table and sat down. For the first time all day, after the transition tents, I sat down. And then here came Juliana, wobbling along in obvious leg discomfort, with a big ol' smile on her face and a medal hanging around her neck. Sweet! My daughter is now an IRONMAN.


I learned that with proper training and a good mind set, everything and anything is possible, regardless what is tossed at you, you have the power to endure and succeed.

I learned that yes, in fact, you are stronger than you think you are, and that strength is as important as endurance.

I learned that an Ironman Journey will give you the confidence you never knew you had.

I learned, or rather continue to confirm, that being a strong swimmer is not a requirement.

I learned that an extra 4 miles on the bike course made no difference whatsoever.

I learned that Little Debbie is in fact, a great Ironman title sponsor.

I learned that technology may be great but you better learn to survive without it.

I learned that being 33rd in your age group is okay

I learned that if I ever do this again, I must practice transitions.

I learned that I will never do this again.


I accomplished most, if not everything I set out to do. My goal was to finish a second Ironman race... DONE! My goal was to improve upon my IM Louisville time...DONE! My goal was to finish in one piece...DONE! My goal was to race with my daughter, or rather be on the same course as my daughter... DONE! My goal was to be mentally strong the whole day... DONE! My goal was to have fun and finish with a smile on my face...DONE!

Will I ever do another one? As it stands right now, I'd say the answer is NO. But NEVER say NEVER. There's one thing that needs to be taken care of before I ever, remotely consider this again: I have to fix my "Hot Toe" issue. This was the most excruciating pain and discomfort I have ever felt. My back issues pale in comparison to this. If this is not fixed, then I will have to stick to 70.3 distances or shorter.

I was humbled beyond comprehension by the kind words received from total strangers during the weekend. From the gentleman in the hotel lobby who said to me: "you're a hero in Jackson, Mississippi. Your writings have brought tears to many" to the runner on the course that stopped, hugged me and thanked me. "You have inspired me beyond words", she said, and the gentleman that told me that my "attitude on facebook forums was most welcome, you kept finding the silver lining in every dark cloud". I make mention of this only to keep reminding myself that even if you don't realize it, people are watching and listening to what you do and what you say.

As with any other journey, this one brought many lessons, some already mentioned above, others more private and need not be discussed in public forums, for some of these will need some time and reflection to understand their true purpose and meaning.

In everyone's life and in every journey there are a group of people involved that help us along the way. I'm going to take the time to personally and privately thank each and everyone of you.


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