my first bike-run ironman

Oh what a day it was at Ironman Chattanooga. I was already a bit nervous about how I was going to make it through this only being two weeks out from the grueling Barkley Fall Classic. Here’s a quick race recap-from the revamped start due to the swim cancellation, to some first mile bike issues, all the way to my brain’s non-stop commentary throughout the run trying to will myself to the finish line. Let me tell you, just because there was no swim does not mean this was a walk in the park.


The day started with my alarm going off at 7 am. This was the latest I had ever been able to sleep in for a race. Normally, I would be getting in the water right now, but unfortunately the swim was cancelled due to flooding, high water levels, and elevated E.coli readings (gross).  Without this leg, the race wouldn’t start until 8 AM with the pros, then the age group athletes beginning at 8:25. So I got my gear together, parked my car near the finish line, and walked over to the bike start area. As there were close to 2000 athletes, you can imagine they just can’t start everyone off on their bikes at once, so the plan was to send off athletes two at a time every five seconds. We would start based on our bib number. I was 755 so wouldn’t start until closer to 9 AM. 

I stopped by the body marking area and had a stranger draw my number and age on me with a black marker then found my bike and filled up my water bottles. I had my trusty new favorite endurance drink Tailwind in two bottles and would get Gatorade from aid stations when I ran out. I also had my zip lock bag of Medjool dates which I now love so much more than those goopy gels for quick sugar and potassium. I topped off the air in my tires, checked my chain and wheels, then stood with the others awaiting our time to head off. 

We slowly made our way by twos down the chute to the start. I was actually pretty nervous. For some reason, no matter how many races I do I still have issues with clipping in and mounting my bike around people. Its so stupid but I feel like I need my own space and I was afraid I would tumble into the person next to me. Before I knew it though I was up. I heard a beep and was off! I had my right foot clipped in and pushed off effortlessly, swinging my left foot around and into the other pedal. Ha! Take that bike start! I owned you. Or so I thought. 


early bike issues

I made my way up a short incline and then into a gradual downhill. We crossed some railroad tracks that bumped around my bike and water bottles, but luckily nothing flew off the frame. After a few minutes, though, I noticed something felt off. I was pedaling hard and my heart rate was shooting up, but I felt like I wasn’t moving. People were flying past me. Every few second I would here “On your left,” “On your left,” as the riders were letting me know they were going to pass. “What the hell is wrong with me?” I thought. I felt like my legs were pedaling through quicksand. I couldn’t get going at all, and all these negative thoughts started racing through my mind. “I ruined my legs with that 50K two weeks ago” and “I just can’t bike anymore” were a few. Less than ten miles in I was thinking I was going to have to drop out. My Garmin showed my heart rate was in the 170’s, and I was going nowhere. I was already debating what new sport I was going to have to take up, because clearly I was not cut out for triathlons anymore. But then I came to a hill and I knew it wasn’t me. I was in literally the smallest possible gear on my bike and could not get to the top of this tiny incline. Then it hit me.  This had happened to me a year ago, on this same course in Chattanooga when I raced the 70.3 World Championships. I had hit the railroad tracks and my tire had jammed up against my frame. I pulled over and sure enough, my tire was hot from all the friction of rubbing against the frame. I released the back skewer, pulled the wheel back, and secured it into place. I walked my bike up to the top of the hill and hopped back on. The feeling when I started pedaling again was glorious! My legs were churning freely and I felt like I was flying. I was a new person as I started flying by the racers that had passed me. What a relief. I was upset about the time and energy I had wasted for the first ten miles, but I was so happy that it was something that was easily fixed early in the race. I still had 132 miles to make this my race. 

the bike course

The rest of the bike course at Chattanooga overall was pretty nice. Once I fixed my bike issues I was able to start enjoying the ride…as much as anyone can enjoy a 116 mile trek. We went south of town into northern Georgia and had some pretty awesome views around Lookout Mountain. Before I knew it we were turning around to head back for our second loop! I had been rehashing the beginning of the ride in my mind and wasn’t even paying attention to the distance. This was actually pretty awesome. So much of these long endurance races is psychological, and knowing I was close to mile 60 and over halfway done helped push me a little harder. No matter what, its always going to be physically challenging, but being able to overcome the mental aspect is what really keeps me moving in these races. I grabbed a few dates, sipped some Tailwind, and continued on the second loop. By this time I was running low on fluids so I threw one of my water bottles out at an aid station and grabbed a fresh Gatorade. A few miles out from that I hit a major bump and my dates went flying out behind me. I was pretty bummed but wasn’t about to stop and run back for them so I just hoped I could maintain enough calories with the Tailwind and Gatorade.

The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful. We hit mile 112, the normal end to an Ironman bike, and I was ready to be done. Four bonus miles never seemed so long. Finally we were back to the transition area. I dismounted, handed my bike off, grabbed my run gear bag, and headed to the changing tent. The volunteers at these events are so great. They grabbed me some water and helped me with my run belt and shoes. I took a couple of naproxen for some foot pain I had been dealing with since my 50K at the Barkley Fall Classic two weeks before,  laced up my shoes, and headed out. 



thoughts during a marathon after a 116 mile bike

Starting to run after the bike leg of an Ironman is an odd thing. Your legs are kinda like jelly, but your body is used to moving fast on the bike. Due to this, my first few miles I always go out faster than I should. Also, the bike ride is much more technical  and it requires more focus as you have to watch for other riders, holes, turns, hills, and bumps. You have to be careful of drafting and for people coming up behind you so the time seems to pass more quickly. For me, the run is different. My mind is all over the place during the 26.2 miles to pay dirt. I think the best way to describe my race experience here is to break it down by mile. 


Mile 1: Ahh…my legs are Jell-O. Here we go! Seriously…we’re starting uphill? Okay, slowly but surely. What, my first mile was 8:06…that’s too fast! I need to stay around a 9 minute mile to keep a steady pace the whole way.

Mile 2: Alright, nice downhill. Heart rate coming down a bit. Ok cool, aid station up ahead. Water, gatorade, Base salt, check. Ahh…7:46 mile pace..nooooo I’m gonna die. SLOW DOWN!

Mile 3: There’s a guy at an aid station announcing “Mile 3 or Mile 16 aid station.” Man, wish I was at mile 16. Ugh…this sun is unbearable.

Mile 4: Ok, making a turn towards the park. Finally some shade! Pace is down to 8:30-9:15 minute miles counting my walk through the aid stations. I got this.

Mile 5-6: Nice shaded areas on Tennessee Riverwalk. Just an easy training run, right?

Mile 7is or so: Starting to get a little delirious at this point. We’re back on the main highway and I see someone wrote “shut up legs!” in chalk about halfway up a hill. For some reason all I can think of is “Shut up Drew Brees!” from that memorable Marshawn Lynch YouTube video. (Parental discretion advised.) “Ok, I gotta put the team on my back!” I think as I head up the hill.

Mile 8: Starting to get to the hills in the neighborhoods. Lots of people walking but I know if I stop I won’t be able to get started again. I take a couple licks of Base Salt and drink some water at an aid station and start my way up. 

Picture from The Sports Daily: 


Mile 9-10: Someone is playing “Chariots of Fire” from a truck. Instead of thinking of some monumental run finish I think of this 20 second video of Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia throwing a challenge flag against the Patriots. Man, wonder how the Lions are doing against the Cowboys today? (Spoiler alert: They lost.)

Mile 11: A little downhill, more uphills, some scenic views. I don’t know, I’m tired..

Mile 12: More uphill as we make our way back to the neighborhood hills we had just descended. Now, I understand people want to walk up the hills, I don’t have a problem with that. But when they walk 2 wide and don’t let anyone pass its pretty annoying. I weave through the groups of people walking uphill, head back downhill and hear someone playing “The Final Countdown”. All I can think of is the Detroit Pistons and John Mason introducing Chauncey B-B-Billups.

Mile 13.1: Okay, now we’re at the boardwalk. Almost halfway. I come to the division for a right turn for lap 2 or a left turn towards the finish. Begrudgingly I make my right turn. 13.1 miles to go.

Mile 14: Alright…starting the whole course over again. Just keep this pace for a couple more hours…no big deal. 

Mile 15-16: I don’t know what happened these last two miles…did I black out? Are we done yet?  Gross..10 more miles still.

Mile 17-18: Back to the Riverwalk and some much needed shade. At least I’m not cramping. And my whole body is on fire so I don’t even notice if my foot hurts. Yay!

Mile 19-20: Out on the highway again and up the hill with the “shut up legs” drawn on the cement. Hills are stupid.

Mile 21-23: Second time around up the hills on Barton Avenue and Hixson Pike. Thanks race coordinators for putting a bunch of hills at the end of the course! 

Mile 24: Okay, 2 miles to go. Are my legs still moving? I can’t tell, everything hurts but I seem to be moving forward. Oh crap, the hill on Barton is back. I think of Rat Jaw at the Barkley Fall Classic and I realize this is nothing. It took me an hour and a half to go up that monster. This will only take me a few minutes. 

Mile 25-26: I’m gonna make it!!! Over the bridge/boardwalk  and back towards the finish line. Legs don’t fail me now!

Mile 26.2: This is the longest 0.2 miles in the history of running. They must have measured this wrong. Ugh…it’s downhill and my legs are on fire. I hear cheers and see the carpet and Ironman logos. “Holly Smith, you are an Ironman!” Wow, that was awful….which one should I sign up for next year?


I ended up finishing 7th in my age group, 30th female, and 193rd overall in my fifth Ironman, minus the swim.  Still 142.2 miles is no joke.  And seriously, which one should I sign up for next year?




my first ironman duathlon

“Dear Ironman Chattanooga Athletes-

 Due to significant flooding and record-breaking rains that Chattanooga and the surrounding areas in Tennessee have recently experienced, IRONMAN and local city officials have determined that in the interest of athlete safety, it is necessary to cancel the swim portion of the 2018 Little Debbie IRONMAN Chattanooga triathlon presented by McKee A Family Bakery.”


This was the opening paragraph of the “Important Race Announcement” email that broke my heart.  My mind immediately went into angry, “poor me” mode. The race was in two days and I didn’t even realize this was going to be an issue. I had been spending more time at the pool and had really been looking forward to this fast down current swim, as this leg is my weakest of the three disciplines. And now, it was just over. I wasn’t going to be able to officially have a fifth full Ironman under my belt. Even though the race is still going to be over 140.6 miles due to the bike being 116 miles compared to the normal 112 mile bike distance, it still wasn’t going to be a triathlon. Just a stupid, 142.2 mile duathlon. My immediate reaction was to just not do it anymore, and the excuses started flooding my brain. I mean, I was still not fully recovered from the Barkley Fall Classic just two weeks ago and I was battling with foot pain that was affecting my running. I would have to make a five hour drive to Chattanooga, and miss the Lions play on Sunday (ok maybe that’s a bonus…). Plus, I have already done four other Ironman races, why should I waste my time on something that would have an asterisk by its name? But then I thought of all the training I had done up to this point, and how I wouldn’t be able to stand thinking about everyone out on the course Sunday while I was sitting at home feeling sorry for myself. And even though I am not an overly religious person, I also thought about a prayer. I remember when I was maybe 12 or 13 my dad gave me and my siblings a medallion with the beginning of the Serenity Prayer engraved on the back. He told us it was his dad’s, our Grandpa Smith’s, favorite prayer. It’s a simple prayer, but extremely meaningful. The first three lines read: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” I have included the full prayer at the end of this post, but those beginning words have always stuck with me, and it seemed appropriate that they popped back into my mind at this time. There are so many things that we cannot control in life, and a lot of times we let those moments overwhelm us to the point that we don’t see all of the things that we can control. We let one set-back or disappointment define us, but if we just change our perspective a bit we should see that while many things are beyond our control, these circumstances can open up new opportunities. 


“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”


There are many things I cannot control about this, or any, race. Weather, flooding, other racers, the outline of the course-these are all aspects that I cannot change. But there is so much that I can influence, and really it starts with my attitude about tomorrow. Sure, to put it simply, it sucks that the swim is cancelled. But hey, I have never done an Ironman Duathlon before, so that’s pretty cool. I won’t have to worry about swallowing E.coli (no one likes drinking poop water), or getting kicked in the face during the swim. I get to sleep in a couple extra hours and my body will be fresh at the start of the bike leg and, even though its four miles longer, I could potentially get a great split! And it could really help my hydration and nutrition during the run without having that extra hour plus from the swim early in the day. I realize that it’s okay to be disappointed, but that shouldn’t prevent me from going out and enjoying this race and all it has to offer. Anyone that crosses that finish line tomorrow after 142.2 miles should be pretty darn proud of themselves. That is a distance few can cover, and while it won’t technically be a “triathlon”, I think everyone should still consider themselves an Ironman. Plus, it means that I just have an excuse to sign up for another one soon. And while my legs may still be a bit tired and heavy from the Barkley Fall Classic, I will do everything I can to prepare myself for Sunday. As I sit here in my Tennessee hotel room I am wearing my new favorite recovery tool, my Air Relax compression boots, and finalizing my nutrition and hydration plan for tonight and tomorrow to at least maximize what I can bring to the course tomorrow. I’m controlling what I can control.





FYI: These compression boots are amazing!

This goes far beyond just this race. No matter what your goals are, it’s important not to worry or dwell on the circumstances that you cannot control. You will never be able to control the weather, getting older, or what other people think, do or say. I may not have the endurance that I had ten years ago, and my body doesn’t recover the way it used to, but instead of wishing I was younger I am just going to work harder to push myself to MY limits, and no one else’s. There are always going to be people that are in better shape and much faster than me. Instead of thinking that I can never compete with or be them, I will continue strive to be the best athlete that I can be. I cannot control how other people view me or if they agree or disagree with my beliefs or opinions and that’s okay too.  I will focus on what I can control, because why waste your energy on what you can’t?




the serenity prayer

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. 
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time; 
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; 
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; 
Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; 
That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next. Amen.