Ironman Chattanooga 2017 Race Story
For years, I watched and admired Kim MacMillan (my stepmom), Grace and Dave Gallagher, Clair Norman, Tracy Marcus, and many others on this race team as they trained to become truly incredible triathletes. So, when I stood on the sidelines of Challenge Roth in 2016 watching them all climb Solar Hill, I decided that I wanted to experience all that those athletes were experiencing. Their mental strength to face the toughest physical challenge, their pride in watching their hard work pay off. It inspired me more than I can say. It was what led me to agree to sign up for Ironman Chattanooga 2017 while sitting on the floor of Dave and Grace’s hotel room at Shamrock in Virginia Beach just a few months later.
Two half marathon experiences, riding my bike to 7-Eleven as a kid, and a few years of summer swim team until my sister could lap me in a 100 yard swim, hardly sounded to me like enough experience to take on triathlon training. What had I gotten myself into? When I started training, I thought that the run leg would always be my biggest challenge. I had never been a strong runner, and I only started long distance running in 2014, when I trained for the first SpeakUp Shamrock Team in 2015. But, then I tried biking. Let me assure you, it is possible to forget how to ride a bike. I have never faced fear like the true panic I experience when trying to go down a hill on my bike. As my training season continued and IM Chattanooga approached, I slowly made progress on my bike leg. By August, I finally ditched my camelback safety-blanket and learned how to reach my water bottles. I could make turns and go down small hills without braking the entire way down. I went into race day feeling optimistically confident.
The morning of IM Chattanooga, my nerves were totally shot. Luckily, I had my incredible support squad of family and friends with me to cheer me on or race by my side. A group of us were there to race for SpeakUp and Cameron, and we walked down to the swim start together, which was an indescribable moment. At the last minute before jumping in the water, Dave gave me a huge hug and told me to swim with him, and that gesture of kindness and support would get me through everything I had to face that day, and it would become one of my most cherished memories.
Chattanooga was beautiful as the sun rose, and it was easy to imagine that Cameron was there with us on the swim. I am so grateful for that morning swim because it gave me something so positive to hold onto that I would be able to handle the disappointment I faced a few hours later. At mile 100, I was told that I would not make the time cut-off for the bike, and that my day was over. Sixteen bike miles and a marathon short of my goal, I was bussed back in to Chattanooga totally defeated.
Immediately after the race, I could only see the negative. I had failed. I had spent nine months devoting almost all my free time to training for a race that I did not complete. I allowed my fear on the bike leg to conquer me. How would I ever overcome this? Would I ever be able to face this race again? Would I ever want to? It took me a few weeks to shake this internal dialogue. I had to remind myself that I had not failed all that I had set out to do. I had to stay positive. I had the best 2.4-mile swim of my life. I shared Cameron’s story with many people out on the race course. Most importantly, my job was not finished.
Not only do I still have a race to conquer, but I still have a message to spread and a fear to overcome. To me, those three go hand-in-hand. Every time I get to share Cameron’s story, I am reminded of why I race for the SpeakUp Race Team. I race for Cameron and for all those who have ever struggled with internal challenges like depression or anxiety or fear, because I am one of them. This race team has given me the opportunity to experience failure, and it has challenged me to find the strength to get back up, try again, and continue to Race With Purpose.