Well, here it is. My Ironman Chattanooga race report. According to IM officials the day after the race, this was the second hottest Ironman in history, and the race with the second highest DNF (did not finish) rate in Ironman history. Here's the story of how it all unfolded.
Last year, I registered for this race knowing that it would be my third Ironman and my second in two years. I decided on this race because it was an easy drive from home and in the past two years race day temperature was in the 70's. The year started out well, as I started working full time as a yoga teacher, run coach and personal trainer. I decided on a "super simple 20 week Ironman training program" and everything was going according to plan. This training plan was designed to build and peak in a short time preparing me for race day, but didn't give much margin for error. Still, for most of the plan it went according to schedule. Then towards the end between work and weather, I didn't get the long rides in that I wanted. My long swim peaked at 4,000 yards, my long run at 18 miles, but my longest bike leading up to the race was only 80 miles and this had me concerned. I figured that I could still finish, it just might hurt a little more than I liked. Add to this the fact that for the first time ever, I had a number of people following my progress. Not just friends and family like in the past, but since this is the first year I've made my living in the fitness industry, I had clients and athletes I coached watching to see how I would perform. This added a great deal of stress to my preparation and made me feel more pressure than ever before.
We had planned to leave Mobile on Thursday and drive to Birmingham to spend the night with friends before heading to Chattanooga Friday morning for race check in and packet pick up. We ended up leaving town much later than we anticipated, and once we had been driving for about 20 minutes we realized we had forgotten something and turned around to head home to get it. Once back at the house, I almost decided to pull the plug on the whole thing and not even race. That wasn't a very realistic solution and after a few minutes we loaded back up to face rush hour traffic and head north. Stress and pressure can get to the best of us, and I was feeling both. Luckily, my girlfriend, Adrienne was an amazing support and knew just what to say to help me calm down and get my mind right. This was going to be her first IM experience and she was already being invaluable to me.
We made it to Birmingham for the night and were able to spend some time that night and the next morning with Victor and Cynthia (thanks for everything guys!) before heading on to Chattanooga Friday morning. Once we made it into Chattanooga we headed directly to the Ironman Village where I experienced the smoothest, fastest Ironman check in ever. We went to the merchandise tent where I purchased an IM Chattanooga water bottle (the one thing I purchase at every IM I do) and we found an "Ironmate" shirt for Adrienne. She definitely deserved it after putting up with everything during training! We hung around in the heat for the athlete briefing before driving out to Hamilton Place to get checked into the hotel. I spent Friday night putting together my bike gear bag and my run gear bag hoping I didn't forget anything and making sure my bike was ready to drop off on Saturday.
Saturday morning dropped off the bike and the gear bags and then went for a short hike on a beautiful trail on Lookout Mountain. I was trying to be careful not to do too much, but needed that connection with nature to calm me and bring my stress level down. We went shopping for a few things and found Adrienne a bright yellow emoji hat with hearts for eyes. I figured I would be able to spot that hat pretty easily on the course. I spent some time preparing the few things I wanted in my special needs bags, had an early dinner of pasta and watched "Miracle", the story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team before trying to get some sleep. I was worried about the race. Not only because I didn't feel like I was as well trained as I wanted to be, but also because the weather forecast was predicting a high of 95 degrees. That kind of heat can be devastating for a race the distance of Ironman. I tried to understand that there were some things I couldn't control and the weather was one of those things. I drifted in and out and dozed fitfully for a few hours.
The alarm went off at 3:15 am and I was up immediately. I had a cup of coffee and tried to have some breakfast to get some calories in me for the long day I had ahead. Adrienne was awake pretty quickly too and she did everything she needed to do while still keeping me calm. We left the hotel on time and headed to transition. We made it to downtown Chattanooga and found a parking lot about 3 blocks from transition. We paid to park all day and headed to where the action was. I had to add nutrition to my gear bags and put Gatorade on the bike. Once in transition, I found Lisa, a friend I had made on Facebook about a year ago. We had talked all year about this race and helped each other through all the doubts and successes of a typical training year. It was great to finally meet her in person! We finished up in transition and then headed to find the shuttles to the swim start. Lisa introduced me to her husband, Santi and her daughter Ava, and I introduced them to Adrienne. We all got on a shuttle together and headed to the swim start. While on the shuttle, Lisa was nursing Ava, and it really hit me how much of a bad ass she was. I mean really? Nursing your child before starting a swim, bike and run of 144.6 miles? Pretty awesome.
We all hung around together waiting for the swim to start and chatting nervously. The water temp was 83 degrees and the high for the day was still forecast to be in the mid 90's. It was going to be a long, hot day. Soon the line started moving and before you knew it it was time for final goodbyes, dropping off the morning clothes bag and it was into the water for a 2.4 mile swim.
Right before hitting the water I started my watch. Since there was a 16 hour and 15 minute total time cutoff, I started a countdown timer from 16:15 as well as a stopwatch. That way at any time during the day I could tell how long I had been racing and how much time I had to finish. I was hoping the final cutoff wasn't going to be an issue, but Ironman is a long day and a lot can go wrong. The swim was fairly uneventful. It's all downriver with the current. The current didn't seem to be too strong, but it was still a swim PR for me by about 4 minutes. It was cool to see the people on the pedestrian bridge as we passed underneath it. The water seemed a bit warm, but nothing too bad. As I exited the swim, I looked for Adrienne and the hat, but didn't see her. I did get to see another friend, Claudia as I headed towards transition. It was a great surprise and it lifted my spirits to get a quick hug. Claudia was supposed to race this IM, but had a bike wreck late in training and wasn't able to get to the start healthy enough to race. It was sure great to see her there cheering and supporting so many friends. Thanks for being there Claudia! I hope we get to race together again!
TRANSITION 1 12:59
I grabbed my bag and headed into the change tent. It was crowded, but I was able to find a seat. I changed for the bike, turned on the Beacon GPS tracker I had rented for the race, made a quick bathroom stop, got sprayed with sunscreen and headed to the bike. No problems here and I probably could have been a few minutes quicker.
The bike. What can I say about the bike. It started great. The first 11 miles out to the loop seemed strong and fast. In fact the front part of the loop felt good. After being in the 83 degree water, and knowing what the forecast was, I started trying to get fluids in immediately. I knew I started the race well hydrated, and I also knew that staying hydrated was going to be the most important part of the day. I was stopping at every aid station getting water and Gatorade and using the bathroom. I was so glad to need the bathroom since this meant I was staying hydrated. I stayed on top of my nutrition too and cruised into the town of Chickamauga feeling pretty good. This is near the end of the loop on the bike and there are a ton of spectators. The hat we bought for Adrienne worked perfectly as I was able to spot her before she spotted me. I stopped for a couple of minutes for a quick kiss and a photo before heading off to finish the first loop and start it all over again.
After leaving Chickamauga there's a long steady climb up over a ridge before dropping back down and starting loop two. The second loop is where things started to get ugly. There was a headwind on the first part of the loop and no shade to be seen. The temperature was steadily climbing and at one point my bike computer thermometer read 102 degrees. The heat reflecting back off the road was fierce. Stopping at aid stations for ice and fluids became a necessity and I began to see a lot of athletes off the bike, trying to find shade, pouring water over themselves and putting ice in their tri kits in an effort to bring down their core body temps. I was suffering, but still having to use the bathroom which I felt was a good sign. I knew that I was going to have to slow down and take in as many fluids and possible. The aid station at mile 85 was the worst. Athletes were crying, some were passed out, others were just sitting there in a stupor. Everyone was suffering and there were ambulances coming and going. From mile 85 back to transition, there were bikes on the side of the road, athletes in the shade or laying on their backs trying to recover enough to keep going. Somewhere on the second loop I met Nick. Nick was from Pennsylvania and he and I kept leapfrogging each other exchanging words of encouragement and bits of conversation. We both made it back to transition withing a few minutes of each other. I got to see Adrienne again before heading into the changing tent and I told her I'd be right back.
TRANSITION 2 15:26
Once in transition this time it was a totally different story. Athletes were feeling defeated, suffering from the heat and dehydration. Everyone was trying to get ice to cool themselves down before attempting a marathon in 97 degree weather with a heat index of 104. A lot of athletes at this point were medically pulled because they were delirious, overheated or totally dehydrated. I took a little longer than normal to change, left the tent, got sunscreen again and talked to Adrienne before heading out. I think I told her that the experience was miserable, but that I had almost 7 and a half hours and I could walk a marathon in that time. Another kiss for strength and off I went.
The run was a death march, No other way to describe it. The first 4 miles was on a major highway with no shade. It was almost impossible to run, hard to even walk and difficult to breathe in the heat. I decided to run when I could, walk when I couldn't and take as much fluid as possible at the aid stations. I had been taking BASE salts all day and still felt ok overall. After the first four miles we made a turn onto the riverwalk and headed back towards downtown Chattanooga. At least here we had some shade, but the heat was still unbearable. Some aid stations had ice, others didn't. Even when ice was available it didn't last long in the heat. At about mile 8, we made a turn onto a bridge and headed across the river for the second part of the 13.1 mile loop. The other side of the river was a cruel joke. There was nothing but hills for almost 5 miles. You were either going up, or you were going down. The heat was miserable and it all hurt. By the time we were on the pedestrian bridge coming back across the river I had made a decision. I was done. When I made it back over the river, I was quitting. I had never hurt this bad in all my life. It was the darkest point I have ever experienced. Every muscle hurt. I was tired, I was hot and I wasn't sure I could go on. I looked at my watch and was trying to do math in my head and didn't know if I had enough time to finish. People were quitting all around me. I told myself I had nothing to prove. I was already a two time Ironman. Why do this to myself? I was pretty sure I couldn't do the second loop as fast as the first and the first loop was slow. And I damn sure didn't want to see those hills again. That was it. I crossed the bridge and came to the fork in the road. One arrow said "to finish" the other said "to second loop". I stopped momentarily and looked at those signs. I wanted desperately to quit. To end the pain and be done. But then that voice showed up. The voice deep inside that said just keep moving forward. I thought about the runners I coach at Fleet Feet, and all the athletes at Orange Theory Fitness that I tell to never quit and just keep moving forward. The personal training clients that I convince to keep going when they want to stop. I wondered how I could ever coach them again if I did what I tell them to never do. How could I live up to my own coaching if I just quit? At that moment I decided to start the second loop. I knew then I wasn't going to quit. I may get pulled from the course for time reasons, but I wasn't willingly giving up. As the sun went down, I started to feel a little better. I started running a little more. At about mile 14 I met Darren. It was his first Ironman. We started talking and then running. 25 steps at a time. Run 25, walk 25. Over and over. We'd get to an aid station and take in fluids and calories and start the process over again. Just before heading across the river again, Adrienne was there. It was like she knew I needed to see her before the hills. She gave me just what I needed. When Darren and I crossed the river again for the hills, we knew we had the time to finish. We just had to keep moving forward. The second time the hills were still bad, but they were tempered with the knowledge it was the last time to climb and descend each one. One mile at a time the hills were conquered. As we crossed the pedestrian bridge back to downtown Chattanooga we could hear the announcer calling people across the finish line with "You are an Ironman!" I reflected for a few moments about how I felt the last time I was on that bridge, how sure I was that I was going to quit and how glad I was that I didn't. How sometimes, no matter what you just have to keep moving forward. We came off the bridge and I told Darren to enjoy his finish and take the time to soak it all in. He thanked me for the company and the finish line advice, but at the end of the day, it was me that needed him. As I approached the chute I took my own advice and walked toward the finish line taking it all in. I spoke with people along the line and shook hands, slapped high fives and accepted congratulations. I got to see Adrienne again before I finished. She had positioned herself to see me before the finish line. I was so happy to see her there and share the finish that we had both worked towards and sacrificed for. One last sweaty salty kiss, and I hit the red Ironman carpet. I ran it in slowly to the song "We Are Family" by Sister Sledge and heard those words... "Bo Lackey, from Mobile, Alabama, well done. You are an Ironman!"
TOTAL RACE TIME 15:14:49
After finishing, I found Adrienne and discovered she had also had a long hot day, never taking a break or leaving the downtown area. We took a photo with the medal around my neck and decided to head back to the hotel. Once I got my phone back I was shocked to see so many texts, messages and emails. I had no idea how many people were following me throughout the day and took the time at 11 pm to pull up the live feed and watch me cross the finish line. I am truly humbled by the number of people that cared enough to support me through this journey.
I learned once again that the victory is in never quitting. I came the closest to quitting that I ever have in any event. It only takes one moment of weakness. I'm so glad I didn't. Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever.
I found out later that 25.6% of those that started failed to finish. That is a huge number. Over 600 people were treated by medical staff for heat related issues. I feel very lucky to have been able to cross my third Ironman finish line. I wouldn't have been able to do it with the help and support of so many people including friends, family, coworkers, athletes, and clients. You all know who you are.
Mostly I want to thank my partner, girlfriend, and sherpa, Adrienne. She put up with a lot during my training and racing. Even though she'd never spectated an Ironman before, she knew exactly what I needed, when I needed it and how to provide it. She truly earned the title Ironmate. Without her, I doubt I'd have made it. Thank you Adrienne. I love you.