lone ranger

lone ranger

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Ironman Chattanooga

If you've been following this journey since the beginning you know that I signed up for my first Ironman about a year ago after supporting The HB through signing up for 6 and completing 4 Ironmans. His 7th Ironman training cycle is already underway for Lake Placid 2015.  You also already know all about the training and the many things I learned along the way. Nine months of focused training finally came to an end on race day with Ashley, some of my closest friends and my parents by my side.  

Ironman Chattanooga

I signed up for Ironman Chattanooga through Team Challenge, created the Do The CHOO shirts with some friends and helped contribute nearly $6000 to the 1.3 million raised for the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation.  Once I hit that register button I was all in. If I was going to do this thing, I was going give the training my 100% focus and my best effort.  Many many people told me not to have a goal and that the goal for your first Ironman is "just to finish".  I was putting entirely too much time into this adventure to "just finish".  I didn't publicize my goal but if someone asked I would tell them I have 3 goals.  

1st: If I have a spectacular day I'd be thrilled to finish under 13 hours or as I said: "within the 12th hour".
2nd: If I have just a good day I'd like to finish in the 13th hour.
3rd: If something goes horribly wrong then I'll be happy to "just finish".

Ashley told me several times that he thought I was capable of sub 12 hours. Sure that was probably possible but I didn't want to take big risks. I wanted to play it safe and have a solid effort on the day in order to finish in one piece and hopefully enjoy the experience.  I also knew that there would be some unknowns.  How would my stomach respond to the nutrition for 12 hours? How would my legs respond to running a marathon at 4pm? Would I have any mechanical issues?  When you've never done this before there are just so many variables and a little bit of doubt.

Alot Sports and Do The CHOO


We arrived in Chattanooga late Thursday afternoon and the days leading up to the Sunday race day flew by because there were so many friends in town racing and supporting. It was impossible to walk into the lobby of the hotel, go outside for a jog or eat at a nearby restaurant without running into a dozen friends. How cool is that? 

The only time that I felt particularly nervous pre- race was Saturday afternoon when I had to drop off my bike, transition bags and special needs bags.  Suddenly everything was very real and I worried that I'd forgotten something very crucial to race day. 

Transition bags.

My HB, Love him!

Team Challenge was an incredible experience.  I highly recommend Team Challenge to anyone that wants to be a part of something bigger than Ironman.  The experience far exceeded my expectations. They provided a great breakfast and celebration the day before the race for athletes and their families.

Team Challenge!

A great distraction from my nerves was dinner Saturday night once all of my friends arrived.  We had a great crew for dinner including Ashley, Mom, Dad, Laura, Duran, James, Jenny, Scott, Carrie, John, Tim & Kaitlin. I am so lucky to have so much support!

Do The CHOO Crew. I love this group!!

My Plan - Keep it Simple

Swim comfortably. If I had a wetsuit on I'd probably push a little harder.  Bike - keep it easy and within my watts, stay out of trouble, drink a bottle an hour, a salt tab an hour and at least 100 calories every 30 minutes.  Run - start out easy, run the aid stations as long as I can, take a shot from my gel flask every 15 minutes then switch to coke when I can no longer take the gel. Walk as little as possible.

Race morning 

I got up at 4am for breakfast.  At 5:30am Ashley and I went to transition so I could complete my final check of my bike.  I realized I forgot my bike computer so we jogged back to the hotel to grab it.  As I was running away from transition to get my watch they were blasting Led Zepelin's Whole Lotta Love. This is one of my dad's favorite songs and is even his ringtone when he calls me.  Hearing that song in that moment put me at ease. I smiled and thought to myself "this is all going to be ok" while also recognizing I was going to be surrounded by so much love from friends and family throughout the day.  My dad and I cruised back down to transition to drop off my watch and then Ashley picked us up to drive to the swim start.

Dougie Fresh and me at the swim start.

Swim: 2.4 miles, 54:48

We arrived at the swim start and had a perfect spot in line with good buddies Frank Fawcett and Michael Greene. Laura Gersten joined us soon after.  We had about an hour to kill in line but it seemed like about 15 minutes especially once the sherpa crew arrived to give me my well wishes.  We had such a big group that I think we took over the front of that line for a little while.

Frank is the best person to be around pre-Ironman! Calm, cool & collected.

Two of the strongest athletes I know, they inspire me every day.

My crew at the swim start! Love the positive energy from this group!

The gun went off for the pros at 7:30am and soon after the gun was off for us at 7:40am. We were so near the front of the line that I think I was in the water within seconds of the gun going off.  Laura and I were side by side as we walked the plank and jumped in the water to start our day.

Laura & me at the start. One of us in pink is going to Kona '15!!!

As much as I wanted a wetsuit swim it was a non-issue.  The water temperature was 77 degrees and therefore it was wetsuit optional with people choosing to wear a wetsuit starting at the back of the line.  The water felt extremely warm and the current was so fast that there was really no need for the wetsuit. I'd heard the current was stronger towards the middle of the river so while most were swimming by the buoys I was all on my own swimming by the kayaks that were lining the middle of the river. I knew the current was strong because I was cruising by the numbered buoys at what seemed like a quick pace.  As I got to the finish and climbed the steps I saw the clock said 1:03 and was pleased.  I thought I'd swim about a 1:10 so I was more than happy with that time.  What I didn't realize at that time was that the clock included the pros starting 10 minutes earlier so my official time once I crossed the timing mat was ~55 minutes.  Super fast swim!!!  As I ran out of the water I saw my parents and Ashley yelling for me which was a great start to what was about to be a long day.

The swim.

Out of the water and headed for my bike!

T1: 7:26

I ran out of the water, grabbed my T1 bag and quickly ran to the women's change tent. Transitions are quite different in Ironman. A volunteer grabbed me and my bag and sat me down. She went through everything in my bag and started getting me ready for the bike. I had meticulously packed my bags with everything I'd need at each moment but it was as if I was suddenly brain dead and couldn't remember what to do.  She bunched up my socks and put them on my feet as I was putting my 50+ sunscreen on my face.  She put my helmet on and buckled it as I was getting my sunglasses on. She made sure I applied chamois butter, secured my gel flask and salt tabs in my pockets, handed me my shoes and sent me on my way to find my bike.  As I ran through the thousands of bikes a volunteer grabbed my bike for me and off I went to the start line.  I felt like we were quick about the process but later realized we kind of took our sweet little time.  

"Be patient, be smart and have fun"

Bike: 116 miles, 6:33:02

If I was nervous about anything it was the bike and sitting on that bike for nearly 7 hours.  My plan for the bike: stay safe and ride easy.  James gave me my watts and it was exactly what I was expecting.  The first hour my watts were a little low but I didn't care. I didn't want to push the pace at all and decided I'd just keep riding the way I was feeling because it felt good. Considering I started at the very front of the swim and was riding very easy I had the opportunity to see the ENTIRE field pass me on the bike.  Every few minutes someone I knew would come blowing by me yelling out my name and wishing me good luck.  That was really fun.  And every few minutes someone I didn't know would blow by me yelling "LO-LO!!!!" The kit got a lot of attention and each time I'd just smile and yell right back "WASSSSSSUPPPP"!!!  It was fun.


Throughout the bike I repeated over and over James' final words to me. It was the only thing in my head and it was working to keep me calm and relaxed.

"Be patient, be smart and have fun. You're ready, just do the damn thing."

The roads were a little narrow and the course a little crowded making the aid stations a bit chaotic.  I was pretty nervous about grabbing fresh water bottles at each aid station while avoiding the other squirly riders.  After two failed attempts I decided at hour 2 I'd just stop to efficiently grab 2 new bottles, use the bathroom and then be on my way for 2 more hours.  I was able to stop and quickly grab the 2 bottles but there was a line at the portos and I was not willing to wait in line.

A little crowded on the course.  I'm the 3rd bike.

I knew Ashley and my parents were planning to be close to mile 40 and I was so excited to see them! I sat up, yelled, smiled, raised my arms and celebrated. I was having fun on this bike ride and I wanted them to know it.

Whooo!!! Having fun!

Special Needs was at mile 56. I rode up, they called my name and a volunteer quickly arrived with my bag.  At mile 56 I felt great, I didn't really need anything and therefore I grabbed my Kind Bars and my cold gatorade, ate 1/2 a snickers but left behind a few items that I realized later I should've grabbed.  

Somewhere after the town of Chickamauga I spotted the cars of the rest of the crew then saw these crazy kids on the side of the road.  I LOVED seeing them on the course.   Soon after seeing them we made the turn for lap two and I was jacked! I was feeling so good and excited to do the loop again.  Not long after starting loop 2 I spotted my car tucked into what looked like a side road.  What a nice surprise to see Ashley with my mom and dad at this unexpected spot.


Scott Woodbury, it just doesn't get any better than this.

It started to rain about 3/4 of the way on the bike but was for the most part refreshing.   I saw Ashley and my parents one last time for a boost of energy.  Around mile 80 I started to regret leaving behind some nutrition in my special needs bag.  I was on track as far as planned calories but was feeling hungry.  At the next aid station I  stop to collect a bottle of Perform for some calories, a bonk breaker and a gel to get me through to the end.  

I fully expected to be more than ready to get off of my bike at the end of this ride.  I was so pleasantly surprised to find that even up until mile 116 I was enjoying myself and even thought I could ride another 20 miles if I needed to.  I was a little worried about the amount of time I wasted stopping at aid stations.  Once I uploaded my data on Garmin I was surprised to see that it was actually less than 5 minutes.

Never had so much fun on a bike!

T2: 6:51

I hopped off the bike and handed it to a volunteer.  She was an angel for reminding me to grab my computer for the run.  I ran to my T2 bag and back into the changing tent where a wonderful volunteer helped me through each step.  New socks, visor on, sunglasses on, she placed my belt around my waist, gave me a cup of water, helped me get my shoes on, I chugged a 5 hour energy and I was off to finally use a proper toilet....or porto.  Man that was nice!

Start of the run.

Run: 26.2 miles, 4:33:44

I was finally running, this was the moment I was waiting for and I wanted to celebrate the entire run even if it cost me a minute here or there.  I'd realize later that I would indeed use those precious minutes but not while celebrating.  I saw Ashley, mom and dad as I started the run and ran to them for high fives and a quick kiss to Ashley.  This may have been the extent of my big celebration on the run.  The first 8 miles were flat and boring along the river walk and then a long slog on the highway before entering the hilly neighborhood for miles 9-13 and 22-26.  I'd planned to run through the aid stations for as long as possible then walk them once necessary. I made it through 3 aid stations running before I started walking them to make sure I got the necessary nutrition.  These first 8 miles were really boring with very few spectators. The majority of the excitement was at each aid station. I was running 1 mile then walking the aid stations to grab a cup of water, cup of coke followed by another cup of water with an occasional gel. The gels stopped probably around mile 8 and I stuck to coke and water.  It's amazing to think when running just a marathon we meticulously plan our nutrition but in an Ironman one can survive on just coke and water.

Still relatively happy here.

Mile 8 aid station I could see my crew up ahead and as badly as I wanted to run through that aid station I couldn't pass up my walk opportunity. I hated walking in front of them but I quickly got back to business while give high fives to everyone I could reach.  Their costumes were certainly a hit on the course.

Tim Ferguson ladies & gentleman.

I have no words Carrie Behme!

Still happy!

Somewhere between miles 10 and 13 things started to turn bad.  I knew I'd be sore the next day but I had absolutely no idea the soreness would hit me during the run.  My quads were absolutely on fire and each uphill caused a fair amount of pain while the downhills caused excrutiating pain to my quads.  I have no idea why except that I was now in hour 10 of this exercise session.  Then my stomach started to turn on me and then it started to rain.

Thumbs up, I hear your cheers.  I promise I was smiling. :)

At the half-way point on the run I had definite thoughts of "I don't want to do this anymore".  I didn't want to run another 13 miles, I wanted to stop.  But I knew that wasn't an option. Ashley had told me that if I started to turn negative that I needed calories. I really didn't think that was the problem.  It was my legs so I just continued 1 foot in front of the other.  I kept my green sunglasses on even in the rain because I hoped I could hide my unhappiness and pain behind the glasses. It worked a little....but only just a little.  The sunglasses came off around mile 21 and it wasn't pretty.

Looking pretty unhappy around mile 21-22.

Mile 13 special needs I drank about 1/2  a redbull and took something for my stomach but it was really too late.  Mile 14 I decided to stop at the porto to see if I'd feel better.  In total there were 4 stops.  My stomach was not happy with me and I suppose due to the rain I was very well hydrated and not sweating quite as much as normal. Total stop time turned out to be about 7 minutes. Oh how I'd love to have those 7 minutes back for a 4:26ish marathon.

Up until the final 5 hilly miles in the neighborhood I'd kept the walking to aid stations only.  Those last 5 miles I gave in to walking on the hills.  I walked more of the hills the last 5 miles than I wanted but my quads were not cooperating.  I really didn't have a good idea of my time so I clicked over to time of day on my watch and realized that I was actually on track for 12 hours and change.  With 2 miles to go I was tempted to  walk the final 2 miles and still beat my 13 hour goal.  I wanted to walk so badly but thought about everyone tracking me at home and everyone waiting for me at the finish.  I ran as much of those last two miles as possible.

Headed to the finish.

The Finish

I made the turn toward the finish shoot and saw Tim, Kaitlin, James and Jenny screaming for me.  Kait was literally leaping for joy and I loved her enthusiasm as she ran beside me.  I entered the finish shoot and tried to take in the entire moment as much as I could.

I heard Mike Reilly, The Voice of Ironman shout:

"Lori Ackerman first-timer. You are an Ironman Lori! You did it! Enjoy it! It's all yours"!  

I raised my arms in the air to celebrate but the moment he said "You are an Ironman Lori" my hands went to my face with tears of joy.  Then I saw my friend Ryan Werner squatting down with huge open arms at the finish line and my hands went to my face again with tears as he placed my medal around my neck and picked me up in a bear hug.  There was no better feeling than crossing that finish line and having a friend there to celebrate.  This was a special privilege he had as a Volunteer Captain and it meant the world to me.  The finish line was so loud that I didn't even hear Ashley, my mom, my dad, Laura or Duran cheering for me from the finish but they were right there celebrating that moment with me.  The song playing as I finished? Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bad Moon Rising written by John Fogerty.  We grew up listening to their music and it warms my heart that a song that reminds me of my parents was bringing me home on that Ironman finish line.  

I am an Ironman! 12:15:51

After Ryan released me I found Ashley and we wasted no time getting back to the hotel so that I could get a warm shower and start the recovery process.  The crew came back to our hotel where we exchanged stories and laughs and I proclaimed

"I will NEVER-EVER-EVER do that again.  SERIOUSLY NEVER!"  

Then we went for a late dinner and some celebratory drinks.  After dinner we celebrated a little more with Tara and Tom and then went to the finish line for the final hour of finishers.  The finish line was electric at that hour and I even got a high five from Mike Reilly. 

Minutes after the finish with my HB.

Ashley and Tom deserve a medal for their support the last year!

Final Thoughts

It took until about Wednesday before I could sit down or stand up without using my arms and until I could actually go up and down the steps at our building.  My muscles are still a little tight but I'm starting to feel normal again.  Although the soreness is wearing off the memories are still as crystal clear as yesterday. 

I've said it many times before: Ironman is a very personal journey.  It is also a selfish journey that takes time away from those dear to you.  The journey would mean absolutely nothing at all if I didn't have the best husband by my side, if my amazingly supportive parents were not there with me and if I didn't have all of my crazy friends out there too.  My only regret on the day is that even when I was hurting that I didn't embrace the suck a little more and take the time to smile that 2nd lap, to be silly with my friends and to celebrate those final 13 miles.  All of my supporters deserved to see me have a little more fun those final miles! Other than that I have no regrets and I am beyond thrilled with the day!

The City of Chattanooga, Little Debbie and Ironman put on a fantastic first year race and I am so proud that I was a part of this event.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who tracked my progress, followed online or on Facebook, who sent messages and texts of support, to everyone who went for a swim with me during training, went on a ride with me and everyone who ran with me during training.  Thank you to Ashley for taking a year off of Ironman to fully support my journey, thank you to my parents for always being right by my side, thank you to my ICE teammates, to all of my friends that came to Chattanooga - you guys are the very very best. Thank you to James for coaching me and putting up with me for the last year and thank you to all of my fellow Choo-friends....there are a ton of you! I loved seeing you on the course, loved cheering for you and appreciated the support you gave right back to me.  And finally thanks to Tara for convincing me to take this journey and for being there every step of the way! Like I said, this all would've meant nothing without each of you!

Celebrating with Mug & Dolly.

Thanks for staying up late for me friends.  And thanks to those not pictured who had the long drive home post-race!

Remember how I said I'd never ever ever do this again? How easily we forget the pain.  No, I haven't signed up for anything and I don't have plans to but I'm positive I'll be out there again one day.  I just don't know when.  Stay tuned.

Super Cool.