Chattanooga Comeback Train

Oh Chattanooga…
“If you are in sport long enough, you will face some sort of adversity”. These were the words spoken by the 1st place male winner at the 2018 Ironman Chattanooga awards ceremony (Cody Beals). Whether it be a major injury, life stressors, a crash, or in my most recent case a cross country move and a surgery that kept me off my bike for a year. We all have them at some point!
One thing most people who don’t know me aren’t aware of is that I have minimum natural talent. I was the slowest at everything in school sports. I always showed up and worked very hard but was a back half of the field type of athlete. The year I spent off my bike took me back to square 1 in bike fitness. In addition, I moved across the country and lost my normal “proven” training routine and method. Seriously, why would you do treadmill V02 repeats when you can do an easy endurance run on the beach? I hopped in Ironman Arizona in 2017 just to get back in the rhythm of an Ironman with the hopes that 2018 would be the comeback year. That was a miserable day but laid the groundwork for the 2018.
After a bike mechanical left me stranded on the Santa Rosa Ironman bike course in May 2018, I was excited to have one more chance for a solid performance at Ironman Chattanooga. I am starting to lose count as to how many Ironmans I have done, but I think I must be approaching 20. I raced a bunch of 70.3s this year, and I really do love that distance. However, the Ironman distance makes me feel complete and it is something that challenges and defines me at this stage of my life.
I flew into Indy about a week before the race, then my mom and I drove down to Chatt on Friday morning. If there ever was a trooper, it is Kim Diggs when duty calls. We rolled down the highway with Laki, Juno and Marley in tow. Chad found us an awesome dog friendly hotel with a kitchen and we didn’t have any problems making ourselves at home. It was awesome to have the dogs there with us! Top if off with a conveniently located whole foods and you have a triathlete’s dream set up. There is nothing like having my puppy snuggles the night before and after a race.
Before we left Indy, we knew that the swim had been cancelled. I was at the Lab when I got the message and immediately thought it sounded like a great idea to do some pull ups and push ups since I wouldn’t need my upper body! In all my years, this was the first Ironman that had a cancelled swim. I usually lose my races in the swim so there wasn’t any skin off my back! Although, I was looking forward to the feeling of a downriver swim.
I felt relaxed and fresh on race morning. I knew that there was about to be a major 35-39 year old age group throw down. There were about 6 girls capable of winning the race and my predictions had it coming down to minutes if not seconds.
I thought that the course would be saturated with everyone leaving so close together. However, I barely saw anyone after the first 30 minutes. I got passed by one girl in the 40-44 age group and about 3 guys. Other then that, I was pretty much by myself on the bike. My nutrition was going down great and I was zipping through my carbo pro, Gatorade, salt tabs and gels. My power was high for my HR and I was relieved to know that my legs had shown up to play. Everything was going great until mile 85-90. At first I thought my glasses were foggy, but quickly came to realize that I was getting a migraine. The aura started to get obtrusive and I took an Excedrin. I have absolutely no idea how I did not crash my bike, but I was very fortunate those last 15 miles. The whole ride in was a blur (literally). Thank goodness there were orange cones on the road or I would have been in trouble. Ironically, my power had only dropped off 10 watts the last 15 miles. I kept trying to problem solve thinking that it wasn’t a migraine. I was confident that my nutrition was on point and took an Excedrin with the hopes that it would do it’s job sooner rather then later. Given that I didn’t have any stomach issues on the run, I think it is safe to say that it was a migraine aura. I get migraines more frequent then not, but they are predictable and easily treatable with Excedrin migraine medicine. They are part of my life and I am stuck with them for now, so I must adapt.
I sat down in the transition tent and quickly put on my run shoes. I started to see clearly again and took off hoping for the best. Immediately I was told that I was 5th in my age group. I am not going to lie, that really brought my spirits down, especially since I was still battling the aura. At that point, my goal was to take it mile by mile and finish that run. Looking back, I can’t put a finger on what part of it hurt so bad, but I was not firing on all cylinders (attributing it to the migraine) so I think I was just struggling in general.
I had my watch set to Heart Rate as opposed to pace so I don’t attach emotion to pace. I can’t control what pace I am running but I can control my heart rate. If need be, I can easily switch my screen to pace and step things up if needed. I had a weird tightness in my glute so I stopped to stretch around mile 5. I kind of regret that now, as I think it would have worked itself out and it cost me a minute or 2. This race reminded me that stopping is not an option when racing so many strong ladies and our race came down to seconds. Isn’t that crazy? I knew that the run course was hilly, but it was so much worse then I could have ever imagined.
My nutrition was going in, but for some reason my legs felt like they were not turning over underneath me. Spoiler alert… an ironman run is NOTHING like an open marathon. I kept my heart rate in a sweet spot of 165 and I ran almost the whole thing except for a few hills I had to walk/jog up and a few crowded aid stations on the second lap. I felt like I was running a 10 minute mile. If I had only known I was cruising in the low 8s I might have found a more positive mindset. Fun fact…my threshold HR is 175BPM.
Here is the thing about “racing” an ironman run. Most of the people out there are not racing for a podium or Kona slot. They see those aid stations, and it’s like free food at that the county fair. The first loop doesn’t have much congestion, but the second loop is a challenge trying to run through the aid stations. A lot of people stop and grab their nutrition leading to collisions and those racing having to navigate around the pile ups while still getting what they need from the AMAZING volunteers. It is a part of the experience and I think I can improve on how to get through there a little quicker on lap 2.
I hadn’t received any updates about my place on the 2nd lap so I just kept running to get it over with. In typical Whitney fashion, I felt better on the back half of the run. I had to do a walk/run up some of the hills on the back half of each loop. Looking back I think it was mental, but at the time I would have told you I needed to allow my heart rate to come down a few beats. If I could do in over again, I would not have walked…even if it were just a few steps at time. I think I was bargaining with myself? If you keep running now, you can walk at the hill (ect…).
I saw Joe about ½ mile from the finish and I was SO confused as to why he quit the race that I forgot about my hurt. I trusted that he made the right call so figured I should hurry up and get done so I could hang out with friends and mom. My legs decided to give me one final effort and I gave it everything I had the last ½ mile. People were yelling at me to go faster because someone was behind me! I sprinted my soul out down that chute. It hurt so bad I cried at the end. There was not 1 second of that run that I deemed enjoyable.
The first thing I did when I finished was switch my watch to total time and realized I somehow ran a 3:45 with all the stopping, stretching and hill walking. I quickly found out that I was 4th. I was not surprised, but kind of let down as I knew I was capable of executing a 3:25-35 marathon. I ended up 6th overall female, but that makes no difference when Kona slots are allocated. When you show up to an Ironman with hopes of qualifying, you best be ready to have 1.) a great day/place at least 2nd. 2) have some luck in regard to who shows up. I had a good day, but no luck as my age group was stacked. The 5th place time in my age group would have WON the 30-34 age group!
I am no longer at the point where I feel the need to chase races to qualify. If/when it happens that’s awesome! If it doesn’t, I will continue to try to improve myself for the sake of growth and enjoy the moment again if or when it happens. I can visit my happy place (Kona) as often as my heart wishes, especially living in San Diego.
Ironically, I enjoyed seeing everyone else get their Kona slot. I know how exciting it is, especially the first time! I am glad that other ladies get to feel what I have felt. Getting my first slot to Kona is probably one of the top life experiences I have ever had. Despite my own frustrations with the outcome, I smiled as my heart felt happy for the others, especially Indy triathlete, Amy Corrigan.
Even though I did not qualify at this race, I believe that this was a great comeback year and I can’t wait to build upon it for next year. Thank you for enduring my ongoing and everchanging  Ironman journey with me!