2015 Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga

July 23,2015

I read a quote recently “People do not choose to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things”. It really sits with my heart on my experience as an Ironman triathlete and a member of Team Phenomenal Hope. I’ve heard many describe endurance sports like Ironman triathlon as extreme, extraordinary, and crazy, but the truth is that anyone can do it.

Really, anyone can! In fact, show up to a starting line of one of these events and you will see that there are professional triathletes but many of us are not, myself included. We are your next door neighbor- moms and dads, doctors, lawyers, and just about every age demographic and race you can think of. The great thing about triathlon is that anyone with a desire to push the limits can do it and “be one”.

A few weeks ago I had an opportunity to race in the inaugural Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga. It’s a lead up race for me as I am competing in the 140.6 Mile Ironman Chattanooga in September. For those of you who always wondered what a “day in the life of a triathlete racing” looks like. Here it is!

Sunday morning I work up at about 3:45 a.m. to start eating and get ready to head to transition. The race started at 7:10 am but there is a lot to do to prepare. We stayed downtown so I was close to transition so we didn’t have to leave the hotel until 4:30 am. In transition a few things happen. Your bike is checked in the day before so you have to go back and place your nutrition and accessories as well as leave your run gear. It’s a lot to pack so I always have a list and check it twice before leaving to head to the swim start location. You also have to get body marked which includes your number and age on your arms and calf.

Swim: We arrived at the swim start around 5am. It’s a point to point swim and in a time trial fashion. This means the swim starts and ends in a different location and every few seconds a few people jump off the dock and start their swim. We were pretty close to the front of the line so I finished my snacks and waited for what felt like forever. Finally (2 hours later), around 7:10am the pro athletes started which was the official start of the race. I jumped off the dock about 20 minutes later. And when I say jumped, that’s what I mean as we literally jumped off the dock (some people even did cannon balls) into the water to start the 1.2 mile swim.

When I first jumped in, it was hard to get into the groove. In any swim start, you need to really separate yourself from the other swimmers so you don’t get kicked and hot or drug under the water. I always push really hard in the beginning to try to get in front of the people around me. After a few minutes I settled in and got into my groove. Supposedly it was a downstream swim but I couldn’t feel a current at all. I just put my head down and dug deep only getting kicked or pulled a few times here and there. Before you know it I am at the stairs to exit the swim. I was wearing a wetsuit so I start to unzip it and jump onto the ground for the “wetsuit strippers” to pull it off of me. With that I was running into transition to prep for the bike. My final time was 35:14 and a personal best!

Bike: When you get into transition you want to move as fast as you can. I usually lay out my helmet, jersey, shoes, and socks in the handlebars for easy grabbing once I get to my bike. I also practice my run into transition the day before because with over 2500 bikes all racked, it can be very confusing and hard to site your bike. You are always wet coming after the swim so you also want to try to be efficient in getting everything on (socks and shoes especially). Within minutes ( 5:10), I am out of the transition and started on the bike. The ride started in Chattanooga but ended up in Georgia with a big loop before heading back to Tennessee. It started to rain a few miles in so I knew I was in for a long bike ride. As we headed out of town I could feel my speed and started thinking about my nutrition plan.

Nutrition is very important on the bike. You need to make sure you are staying hydrated and eating/ taking in fuel as planned. My watch was set for an alarm every mile and I used that as my cue to drink. Every 10 miles I would eat. It seemed to work well because before I knew it I was half way done and headed on the back half of the course.

The course was beautiful. It had a few steep hills but mostly rolling with stunning views of the mountains in the background. It was almost distracting for me. I could feel excitement as I challenged myself to push through fatigue towards the end. It happens that I actually had a PR of several (12 minutes) minutes on my bike and I was really excited as I pulled back into transition. I ended with a final bike time of 2:54:08 and an average of 19.30 miles per hour.

Run: I get into transition and I racked my bike in my place and stated getting my run gear on. I had trouble getting my socks on because my feet were so wet from the rain. I kept telling myself to hurry up and keep going, it worked, kind of. Out of transition we start up a hill out of the first bend. I actually fell as I ran out because I didn’t have my legs back yet. I got up, slightly embarrassed but happy to be headed into the final stage of the run. Transition was a quick one at 3:13.

The run was challenging. It was hilly with terrain similar to Pittsburgh. After a few hours of swimming and biking the run is always hard for me. Even though I started as a runner and consider myself a good runner, the run is always the hardest part for me. We ran through town, across a few bridges and along a river. It was very scenic and interesting which helped keep me distracted. I was having trouble with fatigue so I broke the run into 1 mile chunks and set a new goal every mile which helped the time as well as pain pass by. I gave myself 20-30 seconds at each aid station (every 1 mile) to regroup and refuel and hydrate. Surprisingly the run went faster than I had expected, and before I knew it I was headed into my second loop and last half of the course. I knew it was almost over so I kept reminding myself that I could overcome anything the race brought me and that today was a great day to PR. Final run time was 2:29:48. Definitely not my best but a strong effort considering the terrain and humidity.

Overall: I knew coming into the shoot that there was a possibility I may have had a personal best for the day, and turns out I did, by over 18 minutes. I finished in 6:07:33 and took 43rd in my division. I was very happy with my ability to hang in there overall and really push myself when times got tough. And that’s what it’s all about. In my opinion, anyone can train for and do an Ironman. You just need the discipline and desire to be a part of something amazing.

Like I have said before, I hope to inspire Team PHenomenal Hope and the PH community with each and every race we as a team complete this year. I hope our stories of struggle and triumph light a fire in all that read about our journey! More to come!

Amanda Gabarda

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