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Ironman Chattanooga Race Report


Saturday after dropping off my bike and gear bags, those pre-race nerves and excitement really set in.
I barely slept on Saturday night, so I went over race plan mentally (a few times)...

When my alarm went off at 4:15, I was already awake unfortunately. I got ready, and was actually able to get a good amount of food down because I gave myself enough time to eat slowly. I kept mentally high fiving myself for eating because I knew it would be the last solid thing in my mouth for a while.
I got to transition at about 5:30am, pumped up my tires, added nutrition and frozen bottles to my bike, and dropped off my special needs bags. I didn't use sp. needs, but I wanted them just in case.
Swim: 2.4 miles with the current
I met up with April and Karen to ride the bus over to the swim start at about 6am. The porta potty lines were ridiculously long and so was the swim start line. We were really far back! We sat down, hydrated and talked for a while. I got in the potty line and went one more time!
I drank a bottle of Nuun and ate a granola bar before the swim start.
We heard the cannon for the pro-women to start, and it got REAL! I started to feel so anxious about how long the day was actually going to be.
The line started moving slowly, then it was suddenly moving really fast as they pulled people out who were wearing wetsuits. Before I knew it was stripping layers and shoes off and throwing my morning clothes bag into a pile, on the dock, and jumping in the water!
The water felt great! It was very foggy out, and I soon realized I couldn’t see any of the buoys ahead because of the fog. I thought to myself, "just keep swimming and following ALL the people until you can see." My right shoulder started to hurt, which was weird, but I eased back on the pace a little. I was passing a lot of people in the swim, and thought it was awesome til I realized they were going to pass me back on the bike! The current wasn't as strong as it was for the 70.3 in May, but it was still a little push downstream.
I jogged into transition, and kept looking for Jeff, but I couldn’t find him. A volunteer brought me my bike bag. In the changing tent, I put on my bike shorts and all my gear. I had my shoes on already before I remembered to lube my feet, so I took them off and did that before heading out on the bike.
Bike: 116 miles, 4800 elevation gain
I was flying out of Chattanooga (or at least it felt like it) for the 11 mile until we start our two 47 mile loops. The course is what I would call rolling with two more challenging climbs (in my opinion). Legs felt really good getting started! I set my watch to go off every 10 minutes to drink my infinite and water and base salt every 5 miles. I had 2 bottles of a 2-hour infinite mix on my bike and 2 water bottles. I knew I’d need to mix more infinite bottles later. The first lap went pretty well. It's impossible not to draft. There were clusters/groups of riders everywhere! I got water at mile 30, and the volunteers were AMAZING at all the aid stops. Riding through Chickamauga was so inspiring because people lined the streets cheering! I felt a little emotional riding through. At the turn around for the second loop, I saw Jenni, and it was so nice to have someone jumping up and down yelling my name!
The second loop was harder, and I wondered why I picked a race with 4 whole extra miles. My bum was getting sore, my legs were getting tired, and hills were a lot hillier. It felt warm, but it was nothing I hadn’t trained in, so it didn’t bother me too much. There was a guy that kept passing me and then slowing down and walking some hills. I went to the bathroom at mile 62ish, and stopped again to mix my final infinite bottles at mile 85. I could hardly believe I was actually passing some folks on lap two. I attribute that to a well-executed nutrition plan. Plan it out folks...and then do it! When I came out of the potty at mile 62, a volunteer had taken my bike off the rack and had it lined up and ready for me! At mile 85, a man and his daughter helped me fill and mix bottles and told me how inspiring it was to be there volunteering. I couldn’t thank all the volunteers enough. Incredible human beings. Rolling back into the city was such a relief. I couldn’t wait to get off that dang bike.
It was much harder to swing my leg over and dismount than I thought it would be. I handed my bike to a catcher, he called me honey, and said I was awesome. Someone handed me my run bag, and I headed into the tent again. It smelled this time… I changed into run shorts, socks and shoes wiped the salt off my skin and got ready to run. I realized I still had my sunglasses as I was heading out of transition, which was disappointing because I don’t wear them to run. I put them in my spibelt and thought: oh well.
Run: 26.2 miles, 675 feet of elevation gain
The run is two 13 mile loops, and the last half of each loop is all hills. Big hills.
O.M.G. hard. My back story is, I tore 2 tendons in my ankle in February (and rolled it again during training), so the most I had run was 15.25 miles, and done mostly water running leading up to the race. So, starting out, I knew I needed to pace myself. I started out easy. I stopped to give Jeff a kiss and hug, and felt powered up to do what I could on these hills. My plan was run 6 min, walk 1 and walk hills and aid stations as needed. I tried to eat a little something, and got a side stitch, so I walked until it resolved: ½ mile maybe? I drank the Gatorade and water at aid stations like I practiced in training, and did okay for the first 13 mile loop. My brother showed up to surprise me after the hilliest section, and I started to cry. There were just so many emotions going on all at once. I was ready to be DONE! On the second loop, at about mile 14, I started to feel awful. I was dry heaving on the side of the road and walking very, very slowly (I wasn't the only one). Then a guy named Michael showed up and asked if I was okay. I said no… He walked with me (pretty slowly) for 2 miles and encouraged me to drink coke and chicken broth at the aid stations, which was something I hadn't done in training. Coke on the run was new for me, but it worked very well at settling my stomach. I started to come back to life and he started running again. I wish I could thank him! I was pretty out of it and sick, so I’m not sure if I did or not! I tried running and ended up getting the heaves again, so I stuck with walking for a while. A long while. Then I heard a voice ask if it was me from behind. It was T, and she walked with me for several miles, which was lifesaving!! We walked fast too! I finally felt good enough to run again, so I started to jog. I walked all the hills, and jogged as much as I could. My whole run plan was WAY off, but at that point I didn’t care about anything. Nothing at all. I just wanted to finish this darn race and not end up in the medical tent. I saw friends along the way, they cheered and I smiled because it was almost time for me to here Mike Reilly call me and Ironman! Everything hurt at that point, so running or walking really didn’t matter. I kept looking at my Garmin to see how it was going time wise, so that was helpful. I had no idea what the actual time was—I just knew it was dark!
I hit the last 2 miles and started running again. Running is a loose term for what I was actually doing! I hit that red carpet and I could not stop smiling. My eyes filled up with tears, and I couldn’t believe it was over! Mike Reilly said, “Stefanie Cain you’re an Ironman. Yes, you are Stef.” It was an incredible feeling. I didn’t expect to feel so sick on the run, and I was forced to change my plans, but I feel good about being smart and listening to my body so I could make it to the finish. I saw several people passing out or laying on benches or the ground, and I felt thankful to be making forward progress.
P.S. My 920xt made it with 4% battery to spare!
Jeff and Jamie were waiting for me at the finish! We took some photos and talked for a few minutes. I have no idea about what though!
I tried to eat, and that was a big mistake. I got dry heaves again and had a hard time after that again. I needed to walk a bit, so I walked away from the finish line a bit just in case that food actually came back up. I stayed up until about 3am. Showered, stretched, drank chocolate milk, hydrated, and finally put on some liniment and compression sleeves and tried to sleep.

Heart Rate Training

You bought the Heart Rate Monitor…. now what?

So, you’ve suffered through a grueling 30 minute lactate threshold test on the bike or you’ve done a tough 30 minutes on the run, you have your numbers, now what?  Although these are just estimates (since we didn’t draw blood), we have a pretty good idea of what your heart and your body are capable of at this point.

Odds are, you bought a heart rate monitor to help you with your training, but it won’t help unless you know how to use it.  This article is the first in a series to help you understand what all those numbers and ranges mean.

There are two numbers you need to know when it comes to heart rate training:

  1. Your resting heart rate. This should be taken in the morning before your get out of bed or do anything else.  Count your heart beat for 60 seconds (optimally) or you can count for 15 seconds and then multiply by 4.  You should do this for 3-5 consecutive days to make sure you have counted accurately.  If you’re training, it is wise to check your resting heart rate every single morning.  It can alert you if something is off with your body.
    1. Your resting heart rate is a great way to know if you’re under-rested, over-reaching or over-training. If you know your resting heart rate has been 56 beats per minute (bpm) regularly, and you wake one morning and it’s 68 bpm you know you have under-rested, and it’s time to hit snooze and take an easy day.
  2. Your maximum heart rate. Odds are, you’ll feel when you’re there.  Some athletes feel a little sick when they reach their maximum heart rate.  There are many medications or medical conditions that can affect how high your heart rate can get, so don’t compare yourself with anyone else.
    1. Everyone is going to have a difference max HR, and it will be a different number on the run, bike and swim. Generally, you’ll find that your heart rate can get much higher on the run than the bike, and it is usually the lowest during a swim.  In order to find your max HR on the bike or run, you may have to increase your speed or incorporate hills to find your true max.

It’s important to understand that your heart rate works in response to what your body is doing.  There is some lag time to your heart rate response.  For example, if you start running up a hill, your heart rate won’t instantaneously increase.  It will gradually go up as you climb the hill and may not peak until you’re running down the other side.  The same is true for sprints or for interval work.  The heart rate changes in response to training, so it will not instantaneously increase as the “physical” work increases.

For now, use your heart rate to determine what zone you’re in—The best thing to do while you’re learning is use your heart rate monitor to make sure your easy workouts are easy and your hard days are hard!

Tightwad Triathlete

When I began training for and competing in triathlons, I had no idea what I was getting into… The sport is wonderful, exhilarating, addicting and provides a great community, but it is also very expensive! I was surprised at how much money I was spending on all three sports.
At the time, I was a graduate student at Univ. of South Carolina paying my way through school, so money was tight. If I wanted to continue to race, I needed to get creative and think outside the box in terms of spending. I started racing with minimal equipment and put my focus on actual training. I went to clinics, got coached etc. All choices I don’t regret because I stayed (relatively) injury free and consistently improved!

I hope these blog posts encourage some of you not to shy away from your passion (triathlon) just because of the expense. You don’t have to break the bank to race and enjoy.
In this first post, I’ll focus on getting started in the sport and move on to more specifics in later posts!

When you start racing, the amount of equipment you need can seem overwhelming! Actually, scratch that, it is overwhelming. If you’re already a runner, you now need equipment for two additional sports!

Here are my suggestions for beginners

You’ll need a swim suit, cap and goggles. You can wait on all the water training tools until later. I use www.swimoutlet.com to buy swimming gear because their prices are low and they often have sales! Sometimes, toward the end of a swim season, depending on where you’re located, you can find a deal on swim suits. I recently found some speedo suits on sale for $17.98 a piece, so I bought four of them! If you’re area has a swim team, you can call and ask where they recommend purchasing a good suit that will last. Swimming caps should only cost a few dollars. Goggles can cost a little or a lot depending on the type. Dick’s Sporting Goods offers a guarantee on their goggles, so you can return them if you have problems within a period of time. I have speedo vanquishers in a few colors and tints, but then decided to try these (http://www.swimoutlet.com/p/sporti-antifog-plus-goggle-22394/) for $4.55, and I actually prefer them! I would suggest getting tinted goggles to get started. You can get a clear pair later if you prefer.

Don’t rush out to buy a bike! If you’re training for your first race, don’t hit the bike shop just yet. I would suggest using an old bike or look into borrowing one from a friend for a while. You’ll want to have the bike fitted for you and most bike shops will do that for a small fee. Call around in your area. The reasons I suggest waiting to purchase a bike:
1. It will be your most expensive purchase
2. You may decide triathlons aren’t for you (bless it)
3. Often times, beginners decide to get a hybrid bike and “ease into the sport” and end up regretting it
4. You won’t know exactly what kind you’re looking for until you do some research, talk to other triathletes and shop your local bike store(s). Take advantage of their knowledge and ask questions!
5. Start putting aside money for the bike you really want instead of just getting what you can afford at the time. You might end of realizing you settled for a bike at the time

I saved up for a bike for months before getting my first road bike, and it worked out well. I rode a very heavy hybrid bike with peddles, and it turns out I was pretty strong by the time I got my road bike! You’ll need to get a helmet, and I would suggest keeping it simple to get started. You can go to your local sporting goods store to purchase one for approximately $30 to get started. Cycling gloves are optional, but I would recommend them for your comfort and safety. I have actually seen them at Target for less than $15! I also recommend athletes wear eye protection. You can decide what suits you best, clear eye protection or sunglasses on the bike, but when you’re on the road, it’s important to protect your eyes from any debris or bugs as well as the sun, which can be blinding!

For running, you don’t need to have much other than PROPERLY FITTED RUNNING SHOES! I can’t stress it enough. I do running evaluations for my athletes to look at their feet/posture/alignment and make sure they are in the right type of supportive shoe. Places like Fleet Feet Sports will do that as well and they also provide excellent customer service. I purchase my shoes at one of their stores, and I take comfort in knowing they have a 60 day return policy just in case something doesn’t feel right! Running shoes are the most expensive item I invest in other than my cycling gear. It’s important to me to take good care of my body and ensure I’ll be a life-long runner!

Other gear to get started

  • Get a tri suit and bike shorts. It sounds expensive, I know…

If you can’t afford a tri suit, pick up some tri shorts and a quick drying top (if you want one) to wear for a while. Target has a great selection of tops that are affordable. When I started racing, I wore a top from target for my first few triathlons until I could get something better. I know some people decide to only get tri shorts instead of buying bike shorts in addition, and that is fine too, but your rear end will thank you for bike shorts on a longer ride!
I bought my bike shorts locally at a bike shop when they had a sale, but I have also ordered some online. For example, if you have a Kohl’s Charge Card (I do), I got a 40% off online coupon when all their athletic gear was on sale, so I ended up paying $23 for a pair of bike shorts! Great deal!

I hope this helps you get started! You don’t have to have everything when you’re just starting out. Get the basics, enjoy the sport, and allow you gear collection to grow over time as your passion for the sport does as well!

Ratings of Perceived Exertion [RPE]

As a coach, I’m an advocate for using Rating of Perceived Exertion [RPE] for training if you don’t have all the fancy bells and whistles to monitor your body’s response to activity. There are certainly some great computers designed for monitoring your fitness and body’s response but not everyone can afford one so RPE can be an excellent alternative. Another benefit of using RPE is you become more in tune with your body. I always advise my athletes to listen to their bodies when it comes to training. Over time, you’ll know exactly how hard you can push yourself and when to slow down. One of the best perks of using RPE is knowing how to adjust your pace if your training monitor ever dies or breaks. You’ll be able to continue your training or race knowing that you can listen to the signals your body is giving you during your event!

Monitoring how your body feels and using the RPE scale while exercising is very important, and you can easily determine how hard you are working during your training. If you are accustomed to using your heart rate (HR) to measure effort during exercise, you can easily convert the RPE to estimated HR by multiplying it by ten (an RPE of 12 correlates roughly to a HR of 120 beats per minute). According to the American College of Sports Medicine, converting the RPE gives a fairly good estimation of HR during exercise. The RPE scale will help you to stay in an appropriate estimated HR zone that you know you can handle, and that you know will be effective. Keeping track of your RPE may help you stay more consistent with your training, because it gives you a reference point to the level of intensity of exercise that you know you have tolerated in the past, and will tolerate on a consistent basis.


For those of you new to triathlon, this will help you prepare for your first practice swimming, biking and running. 

The entire triathlon is timed—the clock never stops.  So you’ll be timed from the moment you start swimming until you cross the finish line after the run portion of the race.


After you swim, you’ll go into the transition area to your bike and get your shoes on, helmet on and head out on the bike.  For now, if you don’t have a triathlon suit, you can slip your bike shorts on over your bathing suit or go without for the short ride.  OR, you can swim in your bike shorts.  During the actual race, you’ll have a triathlon suit that you’ll do all three sports in. 


After you bike, you’ll come back into the transition area, to the same exact place you got your bike, and you’ll put it back and get ready to run. 


The goal is to make these transitions as fast as possible, which is why we practice them.  Things tend to feel fast/rushed when you’re doing it, but frequently several minutes pass, and it should only take a minute (maybe 2)! 


Here’s a list of things to bring on Monday:

**You may need to add to it or change things based on your scenario and what you have**


Packing list:

2 water bottles (1 for transition, 1 for bike)

Bucket (optional)

Tri shorts/top (bathing suit, bike shorts, gym shorts)

Swim cap



Bike shoes


Bike gloves (optional)


Running shoes/socks

Body glide


Race belt (if you have one—if not, I will show you on Monday)

Hydration belt (optional)

1-2 towels

Nutrition Basics

The Basics

Food provides fuel and nourishment for your body, and you need a wide variety of foods to provide the nutrients your body needs to turn into energy. 


There are three vital Macronutrients

Protein: muscle repair and building, energy and supports immunity

Carbohydrates: vital for brain function, provides energy source, important for waste elimination

Fat: Source of energy for metabolic needs, aids in nutrient absorption


There is big difference in eating a healthy diet and eating to fuel athletic performance and reach and ideal muscle to fat ratio. 

It is difficult to know when, how, and what to eat before, during, and after exercise, and this program is designed to help you understand what your body needs and when. 


In order to lose weight, you’ll need to calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), which will we do, and use that to guide your caloric needs.  To lose weight, you’ll want to eat AT LEAST as many calories as your BMR but more likely just a bit over in order to maintain a healthy athletic performance.  Your BMR is the minimum number of calories you should eat—no less.   


The goal is to keep blood sugar levels stable throughout the day so that no matter the time you do your workout you are able to able to perform your best.

·         Breakfast

·         Snack (2-3 hours later)

·         Lunch

·         Snack (2-3 hours later)

·         Dinner

·         Maybe another snack depending on how long you’ve been awake


Another often neglected aspect for athletes is the fact that they consume sports drinks, and food during exercise (gels, bars, etc), which add calories into the equation.  They are necessary and important calories, but they exist non-the-less and should be factored into your daily caloric intake. 

Meal Planning and Preparation

When it comes to meal planning and preparation a little can go a long way, and you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.  If you saving time is important to you, you can buy your fruit and veggies already peeled, cut, sliced etc or shop the freezer section!  Don’t overthink it.  Another option is to prepare large portions of certain foods and freeze them.  For example, when I make beans, I make a large pot and put smaller portion sized containers or bags in the freezer to pull out quickly and prepare.  You can do the same with any kind of beans, many grains, and almost any vegetable as well. 


You’ll want to make your meals contain more calories than your snacks.  When we calculate your caloric needs, you’ll be given a number of calories to eat each day without eating less.  We will distribute those throughout the day with suggestions for appropriate timing before and after your workouts. 


It’s important to remember not to wait until you’re hungry to eat because it’s more likely you’ll overeat or choose what you eat based on convenience or make a less-healthy choice.  Because you’re training, you’re body needs a steady source of calories throughout the day to maintain blood sugar levels and glycogen stores in your muscles.  Eating every 2.5-3 hours is optimal. 


Try to eat two hours to 90 minutes before your workout, but if you can’t 60-45 will work if you can eat something easily digestible.   If you don’t know what works best for you, you’ll want to experiment a bit to see what works for you. 


A healthy lifestyle means, striking balance in your meal planning.  Nothing is completely off-limits, but you’ll want to make sure you’re getting the necessary nutrients and as much variety as possible.  Rule of thumb: If it comes from the ground or has a mother, it’s generally a good choice! 


Time Savers:

Buy pre-chopped, sliced, peeled vegetables

Purchase frozen, microwavable vegetables

Make larger portions and put leftovers in the freezer for a quick meal option

Use the crockpot

Use ice cube trays to freeze “sauces” for quick single serve option

Use a snack “bin” in the pantry or fridge to store pre/post workout snack options