Race Report: Toughman Tennessee Half Iron Distance – Lenoir City, TN

I was on an emotional roller coaster to start the weekend – Nate was supposed to be doing this race with me but work threw him a curve ball so he was stuck at home. My mom flew out to watch the kids (thank goodness) but trying to organize nap schedules/child sanity with a seven-hour race was going to be a bit complicated! AND, two days prior to the race I woke up with laryngitis and congestion. I had to convince myself that turning back was not an option – that I was going to do this thing, dang it!

I got to the event site and it was PITCH BLACK outside – seriously very little lighting and raining. Set up my transition against the fencing so I could leave everything in my bag (it has partitions) thinking it would at least stay dry in there – racking was first come first served and there were only about 65 competitors, so I had an entire rack to myself. It was really difficult to set up transition in the dark – I needed a headlamp that I didn’t have (note for the next one). Got everything sort of arranged, pulled on my wet-suit, ate a GU, and got in the water to put my face in and warm up for a few minutes.

The men’s wave started and I jumped out and ran over the timing mats, then got in the back of the women’s wave for the start. Started out in the back, but everyone kind of moved inward so I was stuck in the “scrum” where I didn’t really want to be – so the first 100m or so was a little rough trying to find my own space. Once I did, it was easy to settle in to a nice, clean, forward-moving stroke. I spent the entire race just counting strokes- I would count to 8, sight, count to 8, sight, and that really kept everything consistent. I hit some snags on the swim – early on someone called for the kayak and they came too fast right in to my head (ouch!), then I looked down at one point and could see the bottom super clearly and it was very close! So I was swimming oddly as I tried to avoid accidentally grabbing plants from the bottom. At the same time a big plant grabbed my timing chip, so I had to tread for a few seconds to yank the plant off my leg. At about 1500m I started getting hungry and a little dried out, but I persevered, passed 3 people swimming in to the finish (where I also got snagged on some plants!). Overall I had an AWESOME swim. Felt very calm and easy, I felt like I could’ve given it more though I also felt like I did a good job keeping my HR nice and steady before the next two phases.

Walked out of the water, got my wet-suit ripped off by volunteers, and calmly made my way in to transition. I took my time in there – I wanted to be relaxed and keep my HR down for the rest of the day. Opened my transition bag and everything was soaked (didn’t help at all), so that was a bummer, but it really didn’t matter since the rain never stopped and it didn’t matter if everything was wet!

Gear on, out of transition and on to the bike. The first four miles were KILLER hills. Went on forever. I was in the smallest ring and gear I could possibly be in and still felt like I was at max power. Didn’t stand because the hill was huge and I didn’t want to burn out so soon. The downhills terrified me in the beginning because it was pouring and we were supposed to be riding on the shoulder, in a wooded area (lots of wet leaves and walnuts), so I used the brake quite a bit. Once I had turned on the the highway portion the roads were a lot better (still raining the entire ride). I settled in to watching my cadence at what I thought was a sustainable power level and passed quite a few people. Took in about 3/4 of the fuel I had trained with – it was definitely harder to get fluids in when it was raining so much, but I also felt pretty full of liquids. Stuck to an Uncrustable in the beginning and GUs after that because I just couldn’t stomach solid foods for whatever reason. That portion of the race was pretty uneventful. On the way in, I hit those massive hills again but I was running on low in the leg department – the last hill I was having serious doubts I would have anything left for the run. I honestly briefly thought about getting off and walking up the hill. I didn’t, but it was ROUGH. I was pretty proud of my cadence through the bike course, though, I managed to keep an average my coach would be proud of! Made it in but the road was poorly marked so I made a turn I shouldn’t have – down another hill (which I had to come back up!). Someone was there to set me right, so I made it in, changed socks/shoes and started out. Hit the port-o to make sure I was “empty” and got going.

The route was about 5k out (uphill the whole way), then 5k downhill, 5k uphill, 5k downhill to the finish. The first 5k uphill was the WORST. My legs were missing and I basically shuffled the whole way. Hit the top of the hill and my mom was there with the kids for a little moral boost. Hit the turnaround and started to pick it up, but realized my HR was never going above zone 1.9. I think maybe my HR monitor was too wet and couldn’t get good conduction? I was soaked the entire race. So it stayed in 1.8-2.0 the ENTIRE run and I had to just go by feel. Downhill was SO MUCH BETTER. I could pick it up and settled in to a 9/9:30 pace without too much effort. Make it to the second turnaround, stuffed down half a banana (which was DELICIOUS), and sludged back up the hill. About mile nine I started feeling exhausted, my legs were really tired and I was starting to check out mentally. Fluids weren’t helping anymore- anything I had taken in was just sloshing around in there. Made it to the turnaround for the final 5k and remembered I had a Stroopwafel stuffed in my shirt, whipped it out and took a bite (which was the best thing I had ever eaten, ever), and it gave me a super boost to push it down the hill. I walked a little around mile eleven up a hill, then opened up and finished strong. I never felt dehydrated on the run, just generally tired. I think the fueling on the bike in this particular weather worked really well for me.

The finish was pretty uneventful – mom was dealing with kids who were soaked and missed my finish, so there wasn’t anyone there for me at the finish besides the medal/chip guy. They were doing awards when I finished so everyone was up there in the pavilion doing that. Also something happened with the chip, so none of my times were recorded properly. I emailed them, they told me they were working on it, then sent out “official times” with no record of me even on the printout! Luckily I was pretty disciplined with my Garmin and was able to track my times that way.

Overall, I feel pretty damn accomplished. This was a HARD season full of missed workouts, sicknesses, and stressful childcare. I never thought I could do something like this, then it happened!! Nine months post-second-c-section! I PR’ed my half marathon by 10 minutes which was pretty awesome, even after the swim/bike. Each phase I came in under my personal goal. I couldn’t be happier with how that went.  BUT, now I want to get faster!

A couple of things I wish were different about this race:

  1. More lights in transition. It was so, so dark and didn’t lighten until 5 minutes to start.
  2. More signs on the roadways – I biked through a lot of highway exits with absolutely no signs or cones or anything. The route was marked at the beginning, middle, and end, but very little of anything on a 56-mile course.
  3. More signs at the split for transition enter/exit for both the run and bike. At the intersection to come back in, there were absolutely no signs.
  4. The athlete guide said all the aid stations on the run would be stocked with pretzels, etc., when in reality only the beginning/loop aid station was. The rest only had BASE drink and water. So, you could only get fuel on start of run (shouldn’t need it if you fueled well on the bike), mile 6.5ish and mile 12.5ish (when you don’t need it). I could’ve used a pick-me-up around mile 3.5 and 9.5.
  5. The chip error was a really big error for me. I had a lot of people watching my chip times online and my chip only gave a transition time of 59 minutes, so they were panicking that I was hurt in transition. I’m wondering if that particular chip was faulty and they didn’t test it beforehand. I should’ve followed up at the end but had no idea it was faulty until my mom mentioned something as we were driving out.
  6. There weren’t any photographers on course 🙁 I realize it was raining, but they took pictures of the podium folks and zero photos of anything else. I had this same wish at the last Endurance Sports Management event I attended.

A couple of things I liked about this race:

  1. Volunteers at aid stations were wonderful.
  2. Everyone I encountered was super nice.
  3. It had a nice relaxed feeling to it, which is exactly what I wanted for my first half.
  4. I saw the bike aid truck on numerous occasions helping with flat tires, etc. which I thought was awesome.
  5. The swag was pretty nice for an inexpensive race – arm warmers, leg warmers, socks, bottle, mini Clif bars, Clif bloks, hoodie, finisher shirt, and medal.
  6. No cutoff times!! So I could feel relaxed throughout the race knowing I wouldn’t be pulled off the course.

Although I felt strong and felt this was a decent venue, I probably won’t choose to race here again. It wasn’t super close to home, seemed a little disorganized (side note – I still haven’t received my podium award from the last ESM event), had some MASSIVE hills, no photographers, not enough volunteer support, and the finish was extremely uneventful. It was a great first half and you can’t beat the price for the experience, so I would absolutely recommend it for a first half (or if you are in the 5-hour range of finishing – you could be in the top placings)!.

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