Monday, October 13, 2014

Ironman Chattanooga Race Report

SEPTEMBER 28, 2014

SWIM - 49:49
T1 - 5:11
BIKE - 6:27:38
T2 - 3:46
RUN - 4:21:29
FINISH: 11:48:03
24/97 W30-34      133/702 Women      746/2349 Overall

PRE-RACE: I was awake at 4am and was dressed, put last-minute things in my morning clothes bag, and made breakfast all in less than 30 minutes.  My whole family was total troopers and was also up and smiling at the same early hour.  We drove the ten blocks to the transition area and I dropped off my special needs bags and put a few last minute nutrition items on my bike and in transition bags.  I ran into Theoden, Doug, and Jen just as we were about to board the buses to the swim start, so we were able to stick together and keep our nervous energy under control.  On the short bus ride I ate breakfast - two pieces of toast with almond butter, banana slices, and cinnamon, and a cup of Tazo awake tea.  I also sipped on a bottle of Skratch while we waited and ate a package of chomps as some last minute energy 30 minutes before the swim start.  

The line for the swim was a couple hundred people deep when we arrived at 5:15am.  Although we anticipated the two hour wait would be long and painful, it ended up passing quickly as we chatted, ate, and made multiple trips to the bathroom.  We even met two guys who had done Ironman Mallorca the day before and then flew overnight on a private jet to be in Chattanooga.  Crazy!

Before we knew it, the line was condensing and they announced the pro start.  I donned my Blue Seventy speed suit, cap, and goggles, and said good-bye to my family.  

The music grew louder, my heart beat faster, and I wanted nothing more than to jump in the water and get this long-awaited race started.

SWIM  49:59  (1:17/100m)
I’m not exactly sure how long it took from the official 7:30am start to the time I dove into the water, but I don’t think it was more than a few minutes.  Before I knew it, we were jogging down a narrow dirt path, a dock came into site, and I was quickly jumping in to the water.  The buoys were kept to our left along the shore, so my goal was to stay further to the right where there would be less congestion and a stronger current.  The start was smoother than I’d ever anticipated, and with the exception of a couple of times, I had clean water the entire swim. 

I focused on a strong and smooth pull, while also trying to push the pace a little more than usual.  As we approached the island to our right I caught up to some feet and held onto the draft for what I guess was several hundred feet before making the pass.  As soon as I sighted that we were under the bridges, I moved towards the shore, and in no time at all I made a left turn at the last buoy and was climbing up the stairs to the exit.  I was anticipating a swim near 1 hour; so needless to say, I was thrilled with sub-50 minutes.   Crowds several people deep were cheering at the swim finish and their energy filled me with excitement. 
11 / 97 W30-34     55 / 702 Women     215 / 2349 Overall

T1   5:11
There was a steep but short hill after the stairs out of the water, followed by a short run to grab my T1 bag (which a volunteer so nicely already had for me), and then into the changing tent.   Two volunteers dumped my bag contents out, and while one helped to put on my socks, bike shoes, and helmet, the other was stuffing nutrition in my pockets and repacking my bag.  These ladies were awesome!  In just a few minutes I was out of the tent and ran to fetch my bike.  As I made my way out of transition and neared the bike mount line, Dad was cheering loudly for me and I remember giving him a big smile and thinking how happy I was to be out there racing.

BIKE  6:27:38  (18mph)
116 miles is a long way to pedal on a bike.  Mentally, I thought that the bike would be my greatest struggle.  To make it easier, I divided it into 28 mile segments and set my watch to beep every 7 miles to eat and drink.  The first several miles are interesting – a climb out of transition followed by at least a half-dozen railroad tracks.  In my pre-race brick I had ridden that stretch to ensure that my bike bottles wouldn’t launch, but despite this, I lost a bottle on the first set of tracks.  It was crowded on the road and I elected to just keep riding, but when I launched another bottle at the third set of tracks, I knew I needed to turn back.  It was a quick stop, and I tried to forget about it and keep riding.  For the remainder of the tracks I would pull my bottle from the back and hold onto it to prevent losing more nutrition.  Fortunately, I had several extra packets of Skratch and was able to mix my bottles as I needed them at aid stations.  My goal for the bike was to maintain an average power of 160 watts.  Just as I anticipated, I was passed like crazy as people rocketed past, hammered up each rolling hill.  I just focused on riding my own race.  The scariest moment of the day came near the 20 mile point, when a rider’s bottle was launched towards me and I was instantaneously faced with the inability to dodge it and it crossed under my front tire.  I hung on for dear life and miraculously, didn’t crash.  I still have no idea how I stayed upright.  As we made the climb at the southern-most point of the loop onto Hog Jowl, I was feeling strong and more comfortable on the bike than I had been all season.  Evidently my choice of a brand new pair of tri shorts that I had never worn before was a good one!  Pedaling back north, I was surprised to see dozens of cyclists that were on the side of the road changing flat tires.  Later I would learn that some low-life, scum-of-the-earth, idiot had tossed tacks all over the road to intentionally sabotage us.  Mile 55 brought me into Chickamaugua, which was the highlight of my first loop as spectators were bussed there to watch the action.  I was able to wave to my family who were cheering like crazy and harness some more energy from the crowd.  

I don’t recall anything spectacular to mention about the second loop and just kept consistent with my power output and was eating my way through bonk breakers and drinking Skratch at regular intervals.  This is probably more information than you want, but despite my assumption that I’d need to stop for potty breaks, I managed to succeed in the fine art of peeing on the bike.  I guess that makes me a true triathlete!  Around mile 85, my energy and enthusiasm began and dwindle, my neck and shoulders were sore from being in aero position, and I was ready to be off the bike.  It doesn’t help that the last 20+ miles on the bike are the slowest and least scenic.   Once back in Chattanooga we crossed the same railroad tracks yet again, but this time an accident had happened just before I crossed and a girl was down with a very bloody face.   It was a startling reminder of the dangers of the sport and I was a bit more careful approaching the final tracks.   Seeing transition and hearing the huge roars of the crowd was a very welcome sight after 6+ hours, and I was nothing but smiles as I dismounted and ran my way into transition.  
Normalized power = 168 watts.  39 / 97 W30-34    221 / 746 Women     1180 / 2349 Overall

T2   3:46
I was prepared to get off the bike and have my legs feel like complete jello, so I was pleasantly surprised when they felt good.  I grabbed my transition bag and made my way back into the changing tent.  The toughest part of T2 was getting my run sleeves on over my sweaty legs, but overall it was a smooth and quick transition.  Unfortunately I was directed the wrong direction out of the tent and had run 50 yards away from the run exit and towards medical, passing multiple volunteers, before someone finally redirected me.

RUN    4:21:29  (9:58/mi)
The second I rounded the corner over the timing mats people were shouting my name loudly and ringing cowbells.  Having your name written on your race number makes for a much more entertaining run.  My legs were firing, I was feeling great, and I was ready to run a marathon.  The first 8 miles were relatively flat with a few rolling climbs along the riverfront and then back along the highway.   My watch was set to view only my heart rate and I focused on maintaining keeping it near 150.  I couldn’t believe how great I felt and was passing people like crazy with what felt to be a very easy effort.  I took a gel at mile 4 with a few sips of water and then proceeded to walk for about 15 seconds at each aid station for a quick drink of water.

Mile 1 – 8:20
Mile 2 – 8:14
Mile 3 – 8:19
Mile 4 – 8:25
Mile 5 – 8:19
Mile 6 – 8:35
Mile 7 – 8:47
Mile 8 – 8:52

At mile 9 I made the turn onto Veteran's Bridge to cross the Tennessee River and the crowd was once again incredible.   This ended up being my favorite section of the course because it was stacked deep with cheering crowds.  My family was there with some awesome signs and I gave them a huge smile and was mentally ready to tackle the hills of the North Shore.  I had driven the run course previously and planned to walk up the couple of long and steep hills and then run the downhills.  This went according to plan and I took another gel nearing mile 10.  Although I knew I needed the calories, the taste and texture of the gel were anything but appealing.  I got it down, but vowed that I needed to find something different to fuel me the rest of the way.  I took my first cup of coke around mile 12 and was very thankful for the different taste.

Mile 9 – 10:04 (uphill across bridge and first long climb)
Mile 10 – 9:05
Mile 11 – 9:17
Mile 12 – 11:09 (long uphill climb)
Mile 13 – 8:56

I crossed the Walnut Street bridge and made the turn for the second loop, making a brief stop at special needs.  I needed something different to eat and the salty Fritos in my special needs back sounded perfect.  Once again I passed my family, gave them a high five, and kept running.  Ben, one of my previous co-residents, appeared out of nowhere and kept me entertained as he ran alongside me, taking pictures, and telling me to run faster.  For the first time all day I changed the screen on my Garmin and looked at my total time. I did some quick math and realized that if  I held onto my current pace than I’d be very close to the 11:15 that I had calculated was the fastest I could probably race on a perfect day.  

Mile 14 – 9:08
Mile 15 – 9:44

Here’s where things took a dramatic turn for the worse.  After walking briefly through the mile 15 aid station, something changed.  Out of the middle of nowhere I had stomach pain and was unable to run or take a deep breath without it being much worse.  I never felt nauseated, but just couldn’t run through the pain.  I kept eating chips and grabbing water and coke at each aid station, but nothing helped.  Miles 15 – 19 were the toughest part of my day.  A light drizzle turned into a consistent rainfall, temperatures dropped, and I was discouraged that my “perfect” day was suddenly going the wrong direction.  

Mile 14 – 9:08
Mile 15 – 9:44
Mile 16 – 13:00
Mile 17 – 15:39
Mile 18 – 15:47
Around mile 19 I was walking along the stretch of highway headed back into downtown and told myself that after the next aid station I had to try again to run through the pain.  I alternated running and walking for a mile and was back in an area of great crowd support.  One of the reps for Base Salt approached me, asked why I was walking, and tried to convince me to take some salt.  At that point I was frustrated, convinced my stomach pains weren’t related to salt, and tried to blow him off, but eventually took the salt just so he’d leave me alone.  He promised that if I tried it, my pain would resolve and I’d be running in less than 5 minutes. 

Mile 19 – 11:01
Mile 20 – 11:53 (took Base Salts)

With nothing to lose, I took the salt and hoped for the best.  To say that the salt was a complete miracle would be an understatement.  In no less than 2 minutes my stomach pain was gone and I was running and feeling strong.  My mile splits across the bridge and on the hills of the North Shore were nearly as fast as my first loop.  During my miles of walking, I realized that all hopes for a sub-12 hour race were finished.  However, with about 4 miles to  go I did some quick math and realized that goal was still within reach.  Once I reached the long downhill prior to crossing the Walnut Street bridge, I was determined to run the rest of the way. 

Mile 21 – 10:10
Mile 22 – 10:56
Mile 23 – 11:21

My hamstrings and right Achilles were tight and sore, but there was nothing that was going to hold me back.  I remember running across the bridge with a huge smile and quietly chanting to myself to keep pushing.  As I descended onto Riverfront Pkwy I ran past cheering crowds that were several people deep and fed off of their energy.  I could hear music and Mike Reilly announcing finishers.  After a long day of swimming, biking, and running, I was cruising down the same hill that had marked the start of our run 4 hours previously.  There was one guy in front of me that was jogging much slower than I was running, so I passed him to give myself a clear stretch to finish.  After all, capturing that finish line photo is an important part of the day.  For some unknown reason (likely the fact that he didn’t like being passed by a girl), in the last 200 yards he came sprinting past me and sabotaged my perfect picture.  I slowed down to let him have his moment and soaked up the finish line.   I wish I could remember what song was playing, but I was in my own world at that moment.  That same smile that I’d carried with me most of the day was bigger than ever and glued to my face.  A cold chill came across me and I was in disbelief that the day was ending.  "Crystal Perkins, you're an Ironman!"  

Mile 24 – 9:07
Miles 25 – 8:57

Mile 26 – 7:56

24 / 97 W30-34      133 / 702 Women     746 / 2349 Overall


The second after I finished I was greeted by a volunteer and wrapped in a space sheet.  I was emotional and shed a few tears out of shear awe, relief, and pride that I'd accomplished such a monumental goal.  The volunteer gathered my finisher’s shirt, hat, and medal, and then after making sure I was feeling okay, put me in the line for finisher’s photos.  I was looking in all directions for my family, but they seemed nowhere to be found.  They have video though to prove that they had been right there shouting my name and I was completely oblivious to it.   Evidently I was in my own world and my senses overcome by the enormity of it all.  

Once I caught up with my family, I sipped on a recovery shake, ate a piece of pizza, walked for a few minutes, hung out with Coach Brett for a few minutes, and then found the massage tent.   Aside from some very tight and sore legs, I was feeling good and didn't need a trip to medical.  After my massage, I very slowly hobbled my way back to the car, made the short drive back to the hotel, and took a much needed hot shower.   After 12 hours of exercise, hot water had never felt so good!

After enjoying dinner with the family at Mellow Mushroom (pizza never tasted so good!) and stopping for a bowl of ice cream, we gathered for the finish line party. 

Despite having been all been awake since 4am, my family was still smiling and enthusiastically stuck it out until the 12:15am final finishers came across the line.  The excitement, support, energy, and camaraderie at the Ironman finish line is truly amazing and a highlight of my whole weekend.

Ironman Chattanooga was a race one year in the making.  Never before have I trained so hard, anticipated with such great enthusiasm, or devoted more time and energy to a race.  Fortunately, I can also say that never before have I enjoyed a race as much as Chattanooga.  Like most people, I had some rough guesses as to the times I might have for each discipline.   My only concrete goals, however, were to finish and have fun.  I had told a few people that I thought sub-12 hours was possible if I had a really good day.   I had a great swim and am grateful for the downstream current.  I paced the bike within a few watts of my goal power and was rewarded with running legs.  With the exception of the four miles of walking due to stomach pain, my run started and ended strongly despite some killer hills.  And at the end of the day, I couldn't be happier with 11:48 in my Ironman debut.  

If you had asked me several weeks prior to the race if I’d do another Ironman, the answer was “no.”  That response changed to “maybe” during taper.  My day-after response was “yes, but not next year.”  And now, I’m struggling to resist the peer pressure to race the 140.6 distance again in 2015.  Time will tell, but for now I'll enjoy some more recovery.

I have the best family!  Creative signs and balloons when I arrived home!
If you made it all the way to the end of this Iron-length race report, congrats and thanks for reading.  September 28th, 2014 will forever be etched into my mind as the day I conquered what I previous deemed impossible and became an Ironman!


  1. I really enjoyed your race report. I signed up for 2015 Ironman Chattanooga, and I'm worried about it, probably like you were at first. I'm a marathon runner and I used to ride quite a bit, but swimming is my problem. I pray for a strong current, wet suit, and invisible flippers! Thank you for the report. Mile 26 at 7:56 was incredible after the walking period you had previously. Congratulations!

    1. I, too, was intimidated when I signed up. The bike especially seed near impossible. You'll be impressed with your progress as time passes. And the swim I very novice friendly. Thanks for reading!

  2. It was so special to be there cheering you on and watching you achieve this monumental goal. We are so proud of our Ironman!