Sunday, October 1, 2017

Ironman Chattanooga 2017: The RyBread Version

Part of me has been itching to write this fun, adventure filled week. But my body has been screaming for rest. So every spare second I've had since I've been home has been snuggled up in bed catching up on my beauty rest.

But. There's always a but. Another part of me has been dreading these keystrokes. For so many reasons you'll learn about soon.

Let's start from the beginning. After Mark and I got home from World's, I knew that the hardest part of the month was only just beginning. But Megan, World's was SUCH a hard course and you finished it strong, how could it get any harder? I needed my body to recover in a pretty short time so that I could jump back on the horse and then start my taper again, PRONTO. I think even Speedy wasn't exactly sure how to coordinate my workouts for those 2 weeks. Short PSA: Ryan worked his magic and got me to that start line recovered, tapered, and hungry for more only 2 weeks after Worlds. If you've EVER considered a coach in your life, look no further.. I found your guy.


Mark, Ryan, and myself pulled out of my driveway Thursday morning at about 5:15am, made a pit stop at Dunkin Donuts for some road brew, and we were officially Chatty bound again by 5:30am. For the most part the ride was uneventful. Ryan and I had plenty of time to bond because, well, this:

Mark can NOT stay awake in a car to save his life.
We arrived to our adorable AirBnB with just enough time to drop our bags and meet Kati and the Tomato's at the river for a quick dip. The water looked like glass but you could definitely see the current move through. But this time, that current was going to be in my favor. Bring it. We hopped in knowing full well that we'd have to swim against the current for half of our swim, regardless of how long we swam. I helped squeeze Kati into her wetsuit, snagged my swimskin, and hopped into the bathwater. Ryan and I made a plan. Swim to Veteran's Bridge and back. Perfect. We took off and of course within a few minutes Speedy took off and set his own pace. The current isn't too bad today, this is actually tolerable! But that bridge, I can't seem to get any closer to it... Yea, 20 minutes later, I made it to Veteran's Bridge. I turned around and welcomed the downstream with open arms. 8 minutes later, I was back at my starting point with the rest of the group. Holy hell! You're gonna FLY on race day!

Sunset swims have grown on me.. 💖
When I made it back to the group there was a new face, Jeffrey/Nate! Matt and Lauren were still a few hours outside of Chattanooga and Rob was scheduled to arrive the next evening. It wouldn't be long until our group was whole! After a quick dinner, we headed back to the house to greet Matt and Lauren and then head to bed early. At this point in the game, rest is just as important as all the miles we'd logged over the last few months.


Friday was our day to check-in to the race and get back to the house ASAP to get our feet up and stay out of the heat. We made it to check-in by 10 am in an effort to beat the heat, but I'm pretty sure we all melted regardless.

Matt needed help grooming before we left the house
Remember 2 weeks ago when I mentioned that check-in for Worlds was absolutely flawless and smooth? Well, this time around it was anything but. It was well organized but it was SO crowded. Lines stood still for what seemed like forever. Thankfully registration was inside a large tent so it was out of the sun, but it was definitely still heating up.

The registration test was NUTS
Spotted in the Reg Tent! Fresh RyBread ready to race!

Once we were all checked in, we snagged a group photo with the Little Debbie Ironman backdrop. Finding everyone for this picture MIGHT have been harder than actually racing. This group.. we're hard to keep tabs on.

After this, Trina bolted because she's good at going MIA when we need her most.. the girls only picture that she missed out on 😠
We found a way to get everyone corralled to the restaurant literally a stones throw from the expo for lunch. We seemed to always be missing someone. Mark and Jeffrey were waiting in line for bike nutrition. Once they returned, Nate left to go find Trina (who was MIA from earlier?) Long story short, if you didn't order when the waitress was at the table, you missed out. Sorry 'boutcha. Walking out we ran into more of the RyBread team! The Wise Man and Magellan (Bill Gagne and Lance Lane). They were sharing a meal with their lovely wives, so of course we all bombarded them an interrupted because we just can't help ourselves.

Once we got back to the house, it was time for Ryan to play bike mechanic and go through everyone's bikes and make sure everything was working properly. But Megan, that sounds like a lot of work? And, does he even know how to do all of that stuff? You're right, it's a shit ton of work. He was sweating bullets pretty quickly. And yes, he gave every bike the up and down, clean and greased all cassettes, tested brakes and shifting cables. You name it he did it. This guy, he truly cares about his athletes and wants everyone to reach their potential, so he'll do everything he can to make sure it happens. So back to that coaching recommendation, you still need one?

Bike shop open for business..

Why yes, we even kept bikes in the kitchen..

While the rest of us relaxed in Normatecs watching college football
Mom and dad rolled into town just before the group headed to dinner. They stopped by to say hello and check out the house before we headed to the Terminal Brewhouse, the same restaurant where my cousin surprised us the night before my race 2 weeks prior. It gets even weirder: we even sat at the same table!

Happy Birthday to Kati's husband Rob!
We headed back to the house to head to bed. Once again, Rob's arrival would be in the middle of the night. But this time it didn't matter at all because he was an entire day early! At approximately 1am, he let himself into the house, tucked in bed next to me, and we drifted off to sleep with some serious deja vu. 


BIKE AND GEAR CHECK-IN DAY! Mark, Matt, Lauren, Jeffrey, and myself started our morning with a short bike/run brick to make sure the bike was working properly and that the body was loose and ready to go. Speedy has his own race to train for (just Kona, NBD) so he said goodbye to us as he departed for his own 140 mile long ride. Yea, you read that right. He did a little course recon for us, some roads he reconned twice.

Missing half our team so not as cool as last year's Lake Placid shots
We packed our gear and headed to bike check-in. One thing was for certain, we were definitely in for a hot day on Sunday. The sun was out for blood, showing no mercy. We took a quick (half) group photo in front of the Ironman sign with our bikes and bolted as soon as we could.

Can you see the sweat dripping?

Once again, the group split after this photo. Mark hung out with Jeffrey while he had his bike looked at one last time. Nate and Trina never actually made it to bike check-in while we were there. Kati took off to spend the rest of her husband's birthday with him. That left Lauren, Matt, Rob and myself to fend for ourselves for lunch. And that's exactly what we did.

The best part of Ironman-ing, the food
At this point in the trip, I was definitely a bit tired but that's nothing new during a race trip away from home. Physically, I was shocked at how rested I felt. I had my doubts as to whether or not my body was ready to go, but at the end of the day I knew deep inside me that there wasn't anything I could have done differently. I had some specific expectations of myself this time around. I'm sure Ryan did too, even if he didn't share them with me. But I have a feeling we were on the same wavelength, but keeping our thoughts to ourselves.

The pre-race meal was going to take place at our house, cooking some burgers and chicken on the grill with some fresh veggies. Plain and simple, but that's exactly what race day calls for. Mom and Dad came to the house for dinner and we shuffled burgers on and off the tiny grill and the whole group ate in shifts. However, just before it was time to eat the doorbell rang. Immediately I assumed it was the owner of the house coming to wish us goodluck. She had stopped by a few times throughout our stay and was so sweet. What I didn't expect to see standing before me was my cousin Michael and his wife Carrie. Yes, the same cousins that surprised me 2 weeks prior for Worlds. I know for certain that explicit words came out of my mouth because I couldn't believe that they were there again for round 2. This time their trip was literally a last minute decision, accommodations booked less than 24 hours prior to their arrival.

Don't mind Rob in the corner, lovin' on the Normatecs
Mom and Dad took off shortly after dinner. Michael and Carrie stuck around for a while and hung out while the kitchen turned into a science lab and we all started to create our race day nutrition. Creating the perfect mix for each individual person is SUCH an art and a science. I wish you could have seen Michael and Carrie's faces as they watched scoop, funnel, shake, mix, repeat. Michael said it best, "I think I'll stick with beer." And with that, it was time to tuck ourselves in for the night. It was almost time to shine.


By 3:45am, coffee was being brewed, the entire house was awake, and morning clothes bags were being packed. We all pilled into my car and Ryan ushered us to transition while Rob stayed back to await any emergency phone calls. OMG Rob I forgot XYZ, please bring it over NOW! Thankfully, we didn't have to use him for any emergencies, but it was nice knowing we had that option if needed.

We were among some of the first people to transition to set up nutrition and pump tires. We all said goodbye to Ryan and told him where to meet us. As the whole group made their way into transition, Mark and I ran into McKenzie Gagne, Bill's daughter. We snagged our morning hugs and she made sure to remind us to hydrate. She was assigned to pick up bike course victims if necessary due to the heat. Please don't let me see you be one of them! Noted, promise. Mark and I re-joined the group and it wasn't until this moment that I had a huge realization. Not once on this trip had I had a moment of worry about Mark and his race. No longer a newbie, this kid doesn't need his hand held anymore. He's truly come so far in such a short time span, a massive wave of pride swept over me as I approached my bike. 

We all started to fiddle with our bikes and I made sure to keep an eye on the newbies of the group (Lauren, Matt, & Kati) and calm nerves where necessary. I had to keep a close eye on Kati, she was a bundle of nerves ready to snap at any moment (crazy similar to myself the morning of my first Ironman) but so far so good. She was holding herself together quite well. I was about to walk away from my bike and check on Mark and the rest of the group when all of a sudden I spotted Ryan walking down our rack of bikes. But Megan, I thought transition was for athletes only? Was Ryan racing? You're right, it is for athletes only. No, Ryan wasn't racing. All I'll say is that Ironman might want to triple check their transition security because if Speedy can make it in, who else found their way in!
We made our way out of transition and met Rob at the busses to be shuttled to the swim start. The entire swim was downstream, so there were umpteen school buses ready to shuttle us all (spectators included!) the 2.4 miles upstream. Kati and I snagged the first seat we saw in the front of the bus while Rob, Mark, and Jeffrey ran to the back of the bus like the cool 8th graders they thought they were. 

Lauren & Matt hung at the front of the bus too!
We hopped off the bus and found a spot in the MASSIVE swim start line with Bill and Lance (so we may have eliminated over 75% of the line).  We made ourselves comfy on the sidewalk, mingled amongst ourselves, visited the porta pottie one last time (BEST decision I could have made all day, we'll just leave it at that), and awaited our day. Before I knew it I was squeezing into my swimskin (77.9 degree water, no wetsuit!) and getting my goodluck kiss from Rob as he headed back to the swim exit. The line started to move and I could hear Mike Reilly's voice. It's go time. 

Rob loves to take awkward photos of me


Our entire team approached the pier and immediately the crowd split and there was NO ONE in front of us. Ironman was holding back all athletes who decided to wear a wetsuit so they started at the back of the line. We said goodbye to Bill and Lance (wearing wetsuits) and we approached the pier, not a single person in front of us. The water looked smooth and calm. Officials were waiting for us along the way and we all approached the start of this race, TOGETHER. I made sure to do a quick scan as my feet hit the metal pier and spotted Kati at the edge of the red carpet, stone cold. She had her goggles on but I could see the fear through them. Come on, we're all starting together! It's time! Still, motionless. I ran up to her and grabbed her hand and made her walk the pier with me. Her hand so tiny inside of mine, she shook like crazy. You're going to do this Kati, and you're going to be great. Just remember to SMILE ALL DAY LONG! With that she picked up her pace a bit and I got a smirk out of her. Our feet hit the timing pad and the clock officially started. Within 3 seconds, the entire RyBread crew cannonballed their way to the start of Ironman Chattanooga. 

Go ahead, tell me that's not impressive
Photo Cred: Brent Baker
As soon as I took my first strokes I could feel the current. It was strong and wonderful. Most would assume this would be the perfect time to "swim easy" downstream since you'll surely PR in the swim no matter what. Not me. I was ready to swim HARD. I had certain expectations of myself and I was not about to let them slip away because I let the current swim for me. I made every pull strong and fluid. I kicked a bit more than normal, knowing I'd be spending significantly less time in the water than normal. I was breathing HARD the entire time, but I was prepared for this. I wanted to see my bike sooner than later. If I could get out of this water in 1 hour that would be amazing. Soon we approached the island and before I knew it we were swimming under Veteran's Bridge. Hell you're practically home free already. Once we got closer and closer to the swim exit it started to get pretty crowded. I never fought for space. I'm tired of doing that. This time I made them part ways for me. I splitted a couple groups of men because that's just how the current took me. I remember one even stopped and yelled at me. Dude I'm not here to listen to your sob story. Start farther back in line if you don't want to be passed by a girl. We made it to the one and only turn buoy of the entire swim and for the 3rd time this year I approached the ladder to the swim exit. One very strong volunteer grabbed me under armpit and yanked me out of the water. I glanced at my watch on the stairs and damn near froze I was in such disbelief. 54 minutes. You gotta be shitting me. 

Sometimes this sport is so unflattering

T1 - 4:22

I took off out of the water and was immediately greeted with a traffic jam. I understand that everyone races differently and that you need to be patient at times. But if there's one thing that bothers me most it's when people WALK out of the water during transition. The steep and slippery ramp was lined with a red carpet which most people were taking their time walking on. I was not about to mosey my way through T1. I'll admit, I was bit of a bitch and yelled "ON YOUR FUCKIN' LEFT, GET OVER!" more than once and shoved my way through the crowd of people. Halfway up the ramp I made eye contact with Ryan, his eyes wide and full of excitement. MEGAN! He yelled over and over again. I high fived him as I ran by on my way to my bike gear bag.
OK, maybe I tried to grab his hand for balance up the steep ramp.
I made it to the gear bags and spotted Mr. Tomato right in front of me. And unfortunately, his pace was not mine and once again I started to get irritated. Megan, don't yell at Nate. Don't yell at Nate. "HEY NATE LET'S MOVE A LITTLE FASTER!" You just can't help yourself, can you?


I mounted my bike with no issues and knew exactly what I needed to do to keep this momentum flowing. Keep fluids in you, stay on top of your nutrition, DO NOT get lazy and miss any of your nutrition. The first 5 miles are the same 5 miles of the World Championship course so I made sure to get comfortable and take care of anything I needed to before the fun started. I took a in a decent amount of my nutrition bottle. I popped some Extra Strength Tylenol. I applied my chapstick (I paid the price 2 weeks prior, it was awful.) 

Within the first mile of transition I was ready to ride
Just before we hit the 5 mile mark, we approached the right hand turn up into Lookout Mountain. I glanced to my right and giggled as we passed the one and only road up into Lookout. I don't know if you could have paid me enough to take a detour into the mountain. I remember wondering who else had raced the 70.3 World Championship race with me 2 weeks prior. Throughout the entire week I asked plenty of people, and I still had not found anyone who had climbed that mountain with me. Passing the mountain, I snapped myself out of the past and back into reality. It's time to race this race Megan. 

Within the first 15 miles or so, the hills are pretty low key. A few small rollers but even those are minimal. It's not until you approach mile 15 or so that the significant hills start to attack. They were truly rolling hills. My momentum carried me from the bottom of one hill to about 50% up the next before I had to start putting in much effort. Don't be fooled though, this is still not a course that will allow you to leave any gears at home. My splits stayed pretty steady, ranging anywhere from 13:5x to 15:00. I'd never ridden a 5 hour century before and the longer the ride went on the more I thought it might be a possibility today. As long as you stay in control, this is very doable for you. 

Bike photogs on point on this course 👌
Once I hit mile 25 I knew I needed to be on the lookout for my mom and dad. They were staying on the bike course at about mile 27. As I was flying down a hill I spotted an aide station at the bottom... and my mom and dad were sitting in lawn chairs right in front of the garbage collectors. Oh geez, I hope they don't get nailed with gu's and nasty shit. I flagged them down and waved hello while my dad played his little lap drum and my mom snapped as many photos as she could get. 

About mile 35 we reached the sharp left turn that started to loop us back North. Once we headed back North, the wind picked up enough to slow me down a bit. I knew I wanted to ride faster than I was but had to conserve. I knew that this was only lap one and surely the wind would be stronger on the 2nd loop. The hills passed one by one and as we neared the end of the first look I encountered my first ever traffic jam. Not a bike traffic jam, but with automobiles. But Megan, the bike course is closed to traffic right? Only one lane is closed to traffic, the other lane is open for cars. However, this lovely pickup truck pulling a speedboat  decided that the bike lane was where he was going to drive. He pulled out in front of me and for a mile or so kept his distance and I was able to keep pace. It wasn't until he slowed down for athletes in front of him (instead of GETTING INTO THE OTHER LANE like he was supposed to) that I started to become infuriated. My speed went from 22mph to 12mph. I sat upright on my bike and road right along side him and yelled into his window, "Dude I'm riding faster than you! Get the fuck over and watch us ride from inside your boat." Maybe he's not used to Southern women speaking like that, or maybe he didn't understand how seriously this "silly Ironman" is to some people. Because his face was that of shock and he said nothing in return.

Right before the F-bombs started to fly
Soon the 2nd loop started and the rollers started over and the wind was now in my favor. My hopes of a 5 hour century were slowly but surely slipping away. I went from a 20.1mph avg to a 19.7mph avg. It was getting a little to late in the game to make up such time, but it would still be my best century to date. When my watch hit 100 miles I made sure to take note: 5:06. I'll take it! One thing I desperately wanted to do was get off this bike in 5:45, but I was starting to wonder if that would happen considering this course is 4 miles long (116 vs the normal 112). 

One thing I'll miss about Chattanooga are these views 

Seriously.  The mountains are calling my name.

Closing out the end of the bike I did my best to maintain speed. We started to approach the edge of town and I had some dejavu that I couldn't believe. Trina. She came up from behind me with 10 miles to go and smiled at me. So we meet again! she said. If you don't remember, Trina and I were in this EXACT position in Texas back in April. She found me on the bike with 10 mile to go. I let her go and finish her ride while I visited the nearest porta pottie due to canal water poisoning. And then, 2 months later in June, Trina found during the last mile of the Lake in the Hills triathlon. And here we were again. Part of me was happy to see a familiar face while another part of me was pissed. She took off and it took maybe a mile or so before I came to and decided enough was enough. I kicked it into gear and went in for the re-pass. It didn't last long though, she's just that strong of a cyclist. 

We were getting really close to the end of the bike and I made sure to note my bike split when my watch hit 112 (I can't help myself, I like to know where I'm at fitness-wise!). At 112 miles my watch hit 5:43. Damn, if this were a normal distance course I would have demolished my goal. I cruised into transition after 116 miles, 5 hours and 57 minutes later. My favorite part of the day was just about to go down.

T2 - 3:05

The bike handlers met me at the line as I dismounted so I did absolutely no running with my bike. Within the first few steps I noticed my quads were a bit tight. Take your time and shake them out. You have a marathon to run. No time for that right now. I grabbed my run gear bag and found the first seat in transition and the volunteers practically did all the work for me. I ripped my bike shoes off while one girl buckled my run belt for me and other other one opened my post-ride applesauce for me slurp down. I was shocked at how attentive they were. For the past year, Ironman has given their athletes wristbands at check-in that we are supposed to hand to a volunteer at some point in the weekend as a thank you for their support. It's a small gesture but can mean a great deal to some. I have always forgotten and usually find the wristband tucked away in my luggage when I get home. This time, I decided I was going to give it a volunteer at some point so I wore it all weekend and hoped that would remind to give it away when the time felt right. If ever there was a time, this was it. I ripped off that band and handed it to the high school age girl and thanked her for dressing me as I ran out. You would have thought I just gave her $100, she was SO excited. THANK YOU SO MUCH! RUN FAST MAM! she yelled as I took off for the run course.


Every step I took my quads grew more and more tight. Oh shit, this isn't good. Nice and easy, take it slow. They felt like rubber bands, the tension on them growing tighter and tighter with every step I took. Within the first few steps out of transition I saw my cousins Michael and Carrie. I wanted to flash them a smile like I did 2 weeks ago, but this was a whole different ball game.

"Hey guys, don't ask how I'm feeling. Peace."
I knew I was about to see a few other faces so I needed to put on my poker face, STAT. We hit the waterway and right away I spotted Rob just up the sidewalk a ways. When I got close enough I could see he was holding up 4 fingers. What the hell does that mean? And then I heard the update I've been waiting my entire racing career for:

"Honey you're sitting in 4th place right now! 4th off the bike! You have a 3 minute lead on 5th place!" 
I always tell Rob to update me on my status just because I like to know where I'm at, never because I expect to be in contention to podium, or even better, punch my ticket to Kona. {PSA: top 5 is considered podium in Ironman events, not top 3.} I was in absolute shock and disbelief. I didn't have any response for him. I couldn't formulate words, partially because I felt like my quads were going to snap any second and also because I couldn't believe I where I stood. Right after I passed Rob, I saw Ryan practically scaling the fence to let me know I was in 4th place. 4th in your age group! TRY AND RUN THEM DOWN! Once again, I had no response. I didn't know what to say. I shook my head and kept truckin' on. If there was anything I didn't want to happen, I surely didn't want to disappoint Ryan with my performance. 

Combination of my Poker Face + absolute shock 
The first significant hill hit and I was handed my first test. My quads failed miserably. I was in complete agony. I hobbled to the nearest tree and stopped to rub out my legs and do the awkward one legged quad stretch. I knew I had to do something, and if this didn't work, I didn't know what I was going to do. I took off and felt a little better but after a quarter mile rubber band was back and I was wincing in pain. I found a guard rail on the side of the road and by mile 2 I had officially stopped to work out my quad cramps twice. This stop was longer than I wanted it to be. But if I wanted to finish this race, I knew I had to take the time now. Suddenly this race turned into a survival mode.

I took off again and my legs started to work. Slowly, but they worked. At least there was no pain this time around. The sun had been out to play all day long, but I never truly noticed it. I stayed as wet as I could on the bike and continued the trend on the run. Aide stations hit and I treated myself to an icebath every single time. Ice in the sports bra, water in my face, and a sponge on the back of my neck. Just before mile 4 hit, I officially got passed by a female in my age group. I knew it was inevitable knowing how I felt. But when she passed me like I was standing still, it stung like you wouldn't believe. Shortly after that I found Mark and made the pass, as slow as it may have been. Well, it's about time! he said. Shut up I've had a rough run, and besides you have 30 sponges stuffed in your kit, you look like the marshmallow man. I said. Yea well it's only like 2 million degrees out right now! GO run 'em down! he said. {actual conversation between Mark and I on the run course}

I remember passing this photographer and telling him to delete my photos
It wasn't until about mile 7 that I saw Rob again since he delivered the news. At this point, he had no idea how I was feeling. All he knew was that I was slowing down based on my splits. When I opened my mouth for the first time that day and gave him a brief run down of the beginning of my run, his jaw hung low. Wow, don't hurt yourself. Be smart, please. Rob knows I know my body. But he also knows where I so dearly want to end up. For the first time ever, I think he was worried that I'd take it a bit too far.

I said goodbye to Rob and found Ryan on the Veteran's bridge. He was cruisin' around on this little Divvy bike. I practically broke down in front of him and told him how I was feeling. I was so worried he'd be so disappointed in me. It's ok, this heat is out for blood today. Everyone is off the bike and doing well. Keep up this pace, a lot can happen, it's still very early. He was so right. I needed to clear my headspace and take it one mile at a time. But as soon as I said goodbye to Ryan, I hit Barton hill. And all the hills that follow. 2 weeks ago, I dominated these hills and ran them so well. Today, I barely trudged up them. Every step was agony and I felt like I could possibly crawl up the hill faster.

Fast forward to the end of the loop 1 and I hit the Pedestrian bridge. I spotted Rob standing in the middle of the bridge with the camera. I waved my hands across my neck so he knew I did NOT want photos of this moment. He put the camera down and jogged next to me when I got closer. I even had to tell him to slow it down, my legs were having a serious moment. I was officially halfway and he told me that Kati was less than a mile behind me. She'll surely make the pass soon.

I tried to get Rob to come closer to me so he'd be in the picture, but you can see him in the corner!
The most important thing you need to know about the 2nd loop is that it was more of the same. My quads continued to go through spurts of spasming and working normally. I cursed my way up the hills. And down the hills. Just about mile 20, Rob made another appearance, this time he stood at the top of the Red Bull hill tapping his foot with a smirk on his face. This is not funny, what the hell are you laughing at? I demanded out of him. Kati, she's right behind you! I turned around and there she was, that little spitfire. I couldn't have been happier. I was officially out of any contention of a podium spot (considering I had been limping for about 10 miles), so I stopped to wait for her at the top. And in all honesty, if I couldn't make the podium, I'd gladly hand over my spot to her knowing how I felt in that moment.{Background info, Kati and I are in the same age group. The second she passed me, she bumped me one spot farther away from the podium.}

I practically had to drag this girl in the water, and now look at her..

I mean, seriously? so.much.emotion.
Kati and I took off and walked through the following aide station and then picked up the pace a bit again. We hit the Veteran's Bridge and Kati's friends from home were waiting for us on their Divvy bikes. They rode the bridge with us and offered a nice distraction. I offered one of them a great deal of money to give me his bike, he thought it was hilarious. Dude I'm serious right now, don't mess. 

So sad the pain in my face ruined this picture
Later that night, I learned that Mark and his college friend Nathan/Jeffrey ran side by side on this exact bridge. And Ryan caught the most amazing picture of them:

Showin' off that chest hair for #ironbae
Shortly after this moment, I said goodbye to Kati and made her promise to wait for me at the finish line. The last 6 miles were rough, brutal to say the least. The hills attacked with a vengeance. My run could barely be considered a run, but it's all I had in me. I can definitely say I left it all out on that course. My 4:58 marathon might be one of my worst to date, but it damn near broke me that day. My 11th place finish wasn't what I'd hoped for, but what else can you ask for when you lay it all out on the line? 

The final miles, climbing up and down Barton Hill
I reached the split and headed to the finish line. I was fearful that my legs wouldn't be able to support me as I ran down the final hill towards the red carpet. 11 hours and 57 minutes later, my day was done. 

If you look closely, you can see my mom & dad on the fence 💖

This one hurt, just a bit
I found Rob, my parents, and cousins.We cheered everyone in, Jeffrey, Mark, and Trina all within 10 minutes of each other. We closed out the night and welcome Lauren to the finish line for the first time ever, and I was beyond thrilled for this. This girl has some serious guts, and she proved herself that day. The group hung out, munched on free athlete pizza, and took a group shot together.

Missing: Nathan/Jeffrey who was off getting a massage
Toldja it's impossible to have the whole group together 

Mom might kill me for these...

...but I don't care

Because the older I get, the more rare it is... have my core unit in one place at one time.
The next day, the group attended the Ironman breakfast for the awards ceremony. RyBread Racing took home first place in Division 5 for Tri-Clubs (5th division = 25 members or less. We're a little crew!) The 2nd overall win for RyBread Racing was a great feeling. Ryan has put a lot of time and effort in all of us, and it felt awesome to be able to reward him with another team win. 

W for team RyBread!

Matt's first Ironman and he took home 5th place!

He tried to sneak out before a picture all weekend, but I won 😘
After awards, Rob headed out. I said my goodbyes and told him we were shortly behind him. Everyone scattered during the 30 minute break between awards and Kona slots. I found myself sitting at the table with Kati, reminiscing about the day. It didn't take long for the water works to start. I couldn't have been happier for her and our team, but I was so utterly disappointed in myself. Knowing that all I had to do was run a 10 minute mile off the bike and that would have landed me a podium spot, it stung pretty bad. I've done it many times in an Ironman. But when it mattered most, I couldn't get the job done. Soon, Ryan snuck up to the table and interrupted the tears (his favorite). He completely understood how I could be angry with myself, but reminded me that it was time to look forward. 

I can already promise you that next year is going to look a lot different. Goals are going to be extremely specific and if you think I'm a type A personality now, just you wait. Yea, I'm 30 years old and could go on living life and doing so many other things I'd like to do. But this is what I thrive on. This is what makes my blood boil and gets me out of bed at 4am everyday. I can't imagine life without my running shoes, or even my bike and swim cap.

At the end of the day, I'm extremely sad to say goodbye to September and the wonderful town of Chattanooga, TN. I'll tell these stories for years to come. I'll cherish these memories for a lifetime. I can easily say that I always leave a piece of my heart wherever I race. And this summer, Chattanooga took a solid chunk. 

Absolutely stunning
And if you think the fun ended there, you're sadly mistaken. Just know that when your car breaks down in the middle of a DRY AMISH town in the middle of Kentucky at 4:30pm on a Monday, you WILL NOT get into a mechanic shop until the next morning because the sidewalks roll up promptly at 5pm. So yeah, Mark, Ryan and I spent another night away from home because the universe was convinced we needed another 24 hours together. 

I can't make this stuff up. 
And with that, I give you the close of the 2017 Tri season. Until next year. Cheers 🍺

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