ironman chattanooga

Ironman Chattanooga After Action Report

The purpose of this post is to share my lessons learned from preparing for and completing Ironman Chattanooga.

In my anxiety-laden build-up, I read a few other first-person accounts of the race, and some of the lessons learned were highly valuable in my preparations. Hopefully, this post can do the same for someone else out there.

My Experience Going In
•Daily CrossFit since 2010
•2x Olympic Triathlons
•1x 70.3 Triathlon
•More 1/2 marathon, 5ks and 10ks than I can count
•2x Full Marathons

Goals For The Race
These were my goals going into the race (in order of importance)
1. Finish.
2. Sacrifice as little of my presence with my family as possible
3. Maintain a respectable level of strength.
4. Have fun training.
5. Finish in under 14 hours.

I am an experienced strength and conditioning coach, and in the past, I have written my training plans for marathons, triathlons, and other races. This time around, I couldn’t stomach my cooking, so I turned to hybrid athlete Fergus Crawley and his band of merry men at Omnia Performance. I elected to use their 16-week full-distance triathlon + strength template. I picked it because I liked the amount of time it required, the duration, and the fact it had strength and Ironman training. I modified some of the workouts to be more “CrossFit-ish,” and I cut out any running that was not the long, slow distance day or a brick as I was nursing a non-operative meniscus tear. Below is an outline of my general training schedule.

AM – Strength + CrossFit
PM – Swim

AM – Strength + CrossFit
PM – Bike

AM – Strength
PM – Rest

AM – Bike
PM – Brick or Swim

AM – Strength + CrossFit
PM – Long Bike (I would take a half day from work and ride from 2 p.m.-6 p.m. or 7. My only deviation was a few long rides with friends on Saturday. I saved these for the 80+ mile days.)

Early AM – Long Run

Rest Day

Longest Workouts
100m Bike
18 Mile Run
6:40 Brick (4:40 Bike + 2 Hour Run)
1:20 Swim

Other Notes
The last month of the Omnia plan is BRUTAL and looks very different than my template. I execute that last block per their guidelines. Buy the program if you want to see it.
I also tried to intentionally train in the hottest and most humid parts of the day for the Vo2 Max benefit and heat tolerance training.

Training Nutrition
I heavily increased my protein (via shakes) and carbs (via anything considered healthy, including bread, which I don’t usually eat much) and added extra fat via peanut butter.

Race Plan
-Stay relaxed on the swim and “flow through it,” keep HR down, and avoid the urge to race people.
-Maintain a speed of 17.7-19.2 MPH (65-80% of my FTP average pace) at an HR of 125-145 (zone 3) for the entirety.
-Run the entire run, except for the aid stations. Don’t go out too hot early; keep the HR below Z4 unless there is a hill.
The goal was to approach this more like an Ultramarathon than a race. Racing means pushing your limits most of the time. Because this was such a long effort, my overall vibe was to try and stay between 65%-80% of my RPE max effort and just cruise.

Nutrition Race Plan

Day Before Ironman Chattanooga – My goal was to get calories, carbs, and electrolytes by 18 hours (6 p.m. EST).

•Breakfast = 3 Breakfast Tacos consisting of eggs, salsa, avocado, +100% fruit smoothie & 1 bottle of LMNT.
•Snack 1 = Apple + PB&J + Protein Bar + Bottle of LMNT
•Lunch = 2x Athletic Brewing NA-IPA + Soft Pretzel + Sandwich & Fries
•Snack 2 = Protein Shake + 1/2 PB&J + Bottle of LMNT + Bottle of Gatorade Endurance
•Dinner = 3x Tacos w/Chips & salsa

During Ironman Chattanooga Nutrition
•4 a.m. = 1/2 Burrito (rice, beans, meat, avocado, salsa), PB&J, 1 Bottle LMNT, 1 Bottle Gatorade Endurance, Coffee, Water
•After Swim = 1 Strooper Waffle from Honey Stinger, Bottle of Gatorade Endurance + 2 Advil
•Every Hour on the Bike = 1 Strooper Waffle, 1/2 Pace Cliff Energy Blocks, 1 Bottle of Gatorade Endurance, 16 ounces of water, a few sips of bottle with LMNT
•At Half Way Mark of the Bike = eat a PB&J + 2 Advil
On the run
•1st 13 miles = Every aide station I had a cup of water, cup of Gatorade
•At Mile 13.1 Special Needs Location 1/2 PB&J + 2 Advil
•2nd 13 miles = Every aide station I had a few sips of water, a few sips of Gatorade Endurance, some pretzels or chips, and cola or Red Bull if I felt cranky

How It Went


The swim as pure zen. The water was a great temp. I felt good the entire time and hit my goals. I intentionally started towards the back to avoid the crazies that grab feet. I got out of the water in 50 minutes, which was 10 minutes faster than my training swims. The current is not that fast, but it helps.

A few notes:
•I did not wear a wet suit, even though it was legal.
•Stay within the swim finish spot; the current is not fun to go upstream against with all the people trying to exit.
•I never swam in the open water before the race; I practiced sighting in a pool, which worked perfectly.


My bike went to plan; however, I failed to account for one thing: bathroom breaks. I trained using Gatorade Endurance because that is what they serve on the course, and it still aggravated my stomach to where I had to stop at the port-a-potties and poop a few times. I also had to pee a bunch and wouldn’t piss myself like some do. I stopped 6x, and each time was 5-7 minutes. My original goal was under 7 hours, and that just didn’t happen with the stopping. I ended up at 7:17, averaging a pathetic 15.7 MPH. My average HR was 128. I was and still am completely fine with this.

The course was fun. People not from Georgia, Tennessee, or Kentucky called it hilly. I train in Atlanta, and heat, humidity, and hills are what we do. I found the course easier than where I train (Stone Mountain Park). I also found that training @ 70-80% of FTP for long rides on a Wahoo Kickr is gnarlier than this route. That being said, if you are from the planes or somewhere without a ton of rolling hills, I would try to go somewhere with them, or you will suffer. There were plenty of aid stations, the people were friendly, and everything was well-marked. Make sure to practice changing a tire and to carry a spare tube, tire levers, pump & C02 with you. The road is good, but some features popped quite a few tires. Ironman has a mechanic on course, but I had a friend get blown out tire and said it was 60 minutes to get them there.

I had an excellent run for just finishing a 116 mile bike ride. I intentionally stayed at a sub-HR zone 3 pace for as long as possible, and it worked. I was doing 9:45-10:30 between aide stations and, per the plan, would walk the stations, which there is one every mile or so. The pace was so slow compared to my training that the run felt effortless. Like the bike course, there were hills, which many people whined about and walked. I did not. It made it harder to see people start walking the hills. The run for me was a true testament to the success of my plan. Outside of my quads getting more sore as the run went on and feeling my toenails fall off (both were standard parts of training, so I did not care), I felt freaking fantastic. I smiled most of the run.

•The run starts uphill for 2 miles. It is what it is. Plan for it, slow the pace, but don’t walk. If you start getting soft early, it sets a bad mindset tone for the rest of the day.
•There are so many aid stations there is little to worry about with nutrition unless you need something specific. That being said, there is not protein and very little fat on the course. During the late stages of the run, you need both, so it might be nice to have something in your running special needs bag to address those.
•Changing socks at the 1/2 point is critical.
•If you are going to finish in the dark, be aware that the back 1/2 of the course is dark. It’s an excellent call to have a headlamp in your special needs bag if you are going to finish past the 10-hour mark.
•On the Barton Road Hill: It’s a decent-sized hill going out and back. It’s lined with people having a good time and cheering you on, and it’s freaking awesome. If I get the title of Ironman, I want to earn it, and what better way than repeating a big ass hill twice. I never stopped running on this hill; it might have been a trot, but it was never a walk. It gave me a huge mental advantage. Don’t let the hype get you. It’s not that bad.

Recovery Afterwards
•After the race, I felt okay; my legs were tired, and my toes hurt, but I was fine outside of that. We had to walk a mile to where my wife was parked with all my gear, which was fine. I wasn’t hungry. I managed to get down half of a burrito and some chips a few hours after the finish.
•I slept terribly after the race. I was so amped from it that I never fell all the way asleep. I also had to pee a bunch from all the Gatorade Endurance.
•The next day, my feet and quads were DESTROYED!!! Walking down stairs required handrails, and putting on my shoes sucked. I lost a few toenails in the process. I did an easy 20:00 ride on the Echo bike to try and flush my legs, which I found pretty helpful. Also, my lungs felt chapped. Like I was breathing in cold air for a long time.

•I got a massage from a world class sports massage therapist named Christen Orr  at Atlanta Sports Recovery the day after, this really helped. I gained a ton of range of motion back in knee flexion and was able to move way better. I also think the lymphatic flushing helped speed up the healing process.
•I did an upper body workout on Tuesday morning and felt good. My legs were still really sore, and my feet were still swollen.
•On Wednesday, I started feeling normal-ish. The legs were better.
•On Thursday, I felt good enough to do a CrossFit workout of biking, toes to bar, and hang cleans. Legs were still weak. I tried to deadlift, but it went poorly. Another note is that the hormones were still under recovered. I felt like my adrenal response and even sex drive were still really slow. I also did a slow, easy 5k this day, and the feet and legs tolerated it.
•By Sunday (one week after Ironman Chattanooga), my muscles, tendons, joints and toe nails were healed up. The hormones/energy levels still felt depleted, and my lungs still felt chapped occasionally.

Overall Thoughts:
I finished in 13:32 for my first Ironman. It was an awesome experience. I can’t think of many other days that were this fun. The weather was beautiful, the vibe was excellent, and the people (both competitors and volunteers) were so kind.

My first takeaway was BE PREPARED. Read the athlete guide 2-3x. Train hard. Train for all the potential environments you could get (heat, cold, rain, etc.). Don’t ignore details like hills and flat tires because you are scared or have some superstitious BS; prepare for them. Own them. Training and planning is the only control we have over the future, and the better you do those things going into this rest, the better it will go.

Second, and most confusingly, don’t overtrain. I felt good because my body was in good shape going in. I saw many people with overtraining injuries that ruined their day (Achilles tendinopathy, plantar fasciitis, runner’s knee, low back pain, etc). You don’t need to train 20 hours of triathlon only to be ready. Strength work, pre-hab, stretching, and cross-training are equally as important and valuable to accomplishing the goal of completing an Ironman. You might train 15-20 hours per week, but burpees, lunges, deadlifts, and side planks are just as valuable as a Wednesday morning 8-mile run.

Third, my wife was massively vital to the success of all of this. She was a fantastic support system and helped me in more ways than I can remember. Put your family first as much as you can while doing one of the most selfish things in the world. They are one of the biggest reasons you get to the finish line. Get up at 4:30 a.m. for your long run. Don’t take a nap after, even when you are tired. Instead, spend time with them. Maybe even incorporate them in your training.

Hope this helps anyone who finds it.