I can. I will. I did! – IRONMAN Chattanooga race report #imchoo

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I’ve put if off long enough… time to get to writing the #IMCHOO race report. Not putting it off because of lack of desire to share the story, but it’s really hard to put that amazing day into words. (I am going to include some pics so hopefully that helps, too.) It’s crazy to think it was only a week ago that it happened… although I shouldn’t be that surprised, this past year has taught me that time is something we use to mark our life but it should not be something we use to contain it, that life and time sometimes do not play well together and that life should always win out over time!


I tried to take things as easy as possible in the days before the race. Spent a lot of time with my feet up. Got in some easy work outs including a short dip in the river thanks to a kind soul on a boat that let us jump off their vessel instead of using the forbidden steps. Also made a few trips to the Ironman Village to check in, hang out and SHOP! Had dinner with some teammates and coach on Friday night and my peeps and parents on Saturday night. Was in bed by 9 the night before the race and asleep long before 10.

choo river with melissa
Checking out the river with Melissa
post test swim in the river with Luba
post test swim in the river with Luba

Race morning:

Woke up around 3ish. Got down to breakfast around 3:45. Was able to eat some eggs and cheese and grits. Drank a little coffee. Had a bottle of Skratch. And then the nerves set in and my stomach decided we were done eating solid food for a while. While we were at breakfast we learned that the swim would not be wetsuit legal. Glad to find this out before leaving the hotel, because it changed my plans for what I was going to wear for the swim. I ended up wearing my bathing suit because I was most comfortable in it without a wetsuit. Met up with my peeps in the lobby and we were headed to transition by a little after 5. My peeps dropped off my special needs bags for me as we walked to transition. Found the body marker with the prettiest numbers and had her mark me. Then is was off to put last minute things in my transition bags and get things ready on my bike. A ran into several other folks from Baton Rouge, both racers and volunteers, who were all very sweet and encouraging but I can’t help but feel like I looked like a deer in the headlights. It was all so overwhelming and fast and I was just hoping I had done everything correctly. Standing in line for the bus with my peeps and I saw a German shorthaired pointer puppy which reminded me of my dog Annie, so I went over to give it a hug and got some puppy love in return which helped to calm my nerves a bit. And then is was time to get on the bus and head to the swim start upriver. My peeps couldn’t come with because they had to head out to the bike course penalty tent, so hugs all around and they put me on the bus like a kid off on her first day at school.

Body Marking
Body Marking
getting on the shuttle
getting on the shuttle

Swim start:

Got off the bus and the swim line was already very long. I started walking towards the back hoping to run into some of my Freshjunkie Racing teammates. Sure enough I found them near the port-a-potties which was convenient as that was next on my list. Waiting in line for you get to talking to folks, and it ended up one of the guys in front of me had a tumor taken out of his leg last year as well. His was a soft tissue sarcoma. He explained his story and how he had signed up for the race from his hospital bed. Meeting him right before the race made me feel like there was a kindred spirit out on the course with a tumor to give it to as well! Got back in line with my teammates and joked around, sipped on a coke and some Skratch, ate half a picky bar, and kept inching up in line and then before I knew it, it was time to put the game face on. From the time we dropped our morning clothes bag to jumping in the water was less than 5 minutes. All four of us from FJR jumped in together and we were off!

FJR teammates and coach pre swim
FJR teammates and coach


Not much to say about the swim except it was fast. The last instructions I was given from my coach were to take it easy on the swim and easy I took it. The current helped to make it what I am sure will be my fastest Ironman swim ever at 1 hour and 4 minutes. My favorite time to swim is as the sun is rising because of how the sun dances in the sky and on the water and I remember thinking during the swim how beautiful it all was! Getting out of the river was the most difficult part of the swim. I got to the swim exit right about the same time as EVERYBODY ELSE! Had to get assertive to get up the stairs. And then it was off to the changing tent to get ready for the bike.


It was crowded but I found a seat and soon thereafter a volunteer asked if I needed help and I said yes. Thank you volunteers! I changed into my cycling clothes, filled my pockets with nutrition, downed a gu and carefully made my way to my bike. Skipped the sunscreen line because I wore my arm coolers which have an SPF.


Lots of company and some great crowd support during those first miles out of Chattanooga and into North Georgia. I was warned about the first 30 miles of the bike course and how easy it is to get caught up with the crowds and go out faster than was planned… yes, it happened but it was so much fun that I was okay with it. I had three bottles of Skratch with me in addition to many different things to eat (trail mix, snickers bites, gu, picky bars). The plan was to pick up water as I dropped bottles of Skratch and reload with three new bottles at special needs. In addition, I was to eat when I felt bad and eat when I felt good and eat as much as I could as I never really eat enough on the bike. The bike course was so much fun! When I got to special needs around 52 miles I felt really good. Got to see my peeps at the Penalty Tent which really helped boost my spirit. I looked as if the entire town was out there cheering on the race. The course had a lot of local support the entire way really. Riding along I would hear a faint cheer to look and see folks waving from their front porch. Between mile 60 and 70 I stopped to use the facilities at an aid station which means I was doing well with my hydration but I knew I wasn’t taking in as many calories as I needed so I started to be more diligent about eating. The hills were a lot tougher the second time around (lesson learned about going out too “fast” the first time around) but I was still keeping track with the time I wanted. I had mentally prepared myself for some tough miles on the bike course where I might just want to stop and sit on the side of the road and never get back on. As I road up the hills, I said to myself “You can. You will.” Until I was able to say “I can. I will.” It was that mantra that got me thru the entire bike course with a great attitude despite having some pretty significant pain in my right foot most of the ride. Saw my peeps again around mile 99–quite a different ride thru town this time around at the bike special needs had packed up and left as did most of the other folks that had been there cheering on the first lap. Just after leaving town again it began to rain, first just misting, but then some real rain… rain that followed me all the way back into Chattanooga and started to make me more and more anxious to get off my bike. When I rolled over the 112 mile mark on the road that anxiety increased even more and the potty mouth came out a bit. But soon enough I was off my bike and mighty thankful about it!

enjoying the bike course
enjoying the bike course
waving at my peeps working the penalty tent
waving at my peeps working the penalty tent


So thankful for the chance to sit down for a couple of minutes on something other than my bike. Changed into my running clothes and went ahead and threw on my jacket because I was already a bit chilled from the rain on the bike course. The medical volunteer in the tent came over to ask how I was feeling and she reminded me to drink the chicken broth when that was put out on the course. Before I knew it I was back out on the course ready to finish this last leg no matter how tough it was going to be.


The first mile of the run course takes you straight uphill… but luckily it was lined with lots of spectators including some of my peeps. Those first couple of miles felt ok. I tried to get into a rhythm with my run/walk intervals and finally settled into something around 4 minutes of running to 1 minute of walking. Did really well with this until the other side of the bridge when the road went straight up for what seemed like forever. Over there it was a fast walk up the hills and running down. Got to run special needs long before the cutoff. Grabbed some Swedish fish from my bag and switched to a hat from the visor I was wearing, then back at it to run the course again. Walked a whole lot more this time around as it was dark and wet and the wooden bridges were slippery. But once I hit the cement path again I started up the intervals again. It was very much mind over matter as my entire body hurt at this point and it was just me, myself and I out there to keep myself company. I kept doing the math with my pace and the next cutoff time and I was definitely going to make it. Again I was chanting to myself “I can. I will.” It actually became how I kept my steps and kept moving forward. When I got to the hilly side of the course the second time, my heart kind of sank… it was dark and lonely and painful and my pace slowed considerably. Had someone with a car pulled up and offered me a ride I might have actually hopped in. Faster walkers started to pass me, but my legs just wouldn’t move any faster. I started to lose hope that I could make it to the finish line by 12:15–the final cutoff–so I became okay with just finishing in under 17 hours because at any other race in North America that would make me an Ironman. But just as I accepted that I heard someone call my name and three of my peeps came running down the last stupid hill I had to climb towards me. All I could do when I saw them was cry–cry because it hurt so bad, cry because I still had to climb this hill, cry because I had given up, and cry because they came to meet me in this painful moment and pull me out of it. In fact I can’t even tell this story without crying now. They walked alongside of me up that hill and then ran with me down the other side and wouldn’t let me stop running. We got to the bridge and was joined by another and then we turned the corner into the finish chute and there were more friends there to cheer me on. It was pretty amazing and such an amazing way to finish this crazy race because I wouldn’t have gotten thru the past year without my friends either. At the times when I wanted to quit because it hurt too much to bend my knee or I was so over being on crutches and I couldn’t see beyond my current circumstances, they were there to smack me around and remind me what I was fighting for. And at the moment in the race where the same thing happened, they were there with tough love to remind me that this goal was achievable. Crossing the finish line was pretty amazing. It was so loud I didn’t even hear Mike Riley say “you are an Ironman” although from the pics I can look back and see that he said it pretty much right to my face. I thought I was still racing the cutoff so I just kept running until after I made it under the arch…and then comes the look of utter disbelief that I actually did it (see the pic below!) My friends told me I was one of the last 6 people out on the course but it doesn’t matter because I was an Ironman.

I did it!
I did it!
finisher cert
Finish time – 16 hours 25 minutes and 38 seconds!

Post Race:

I tried to eat a couple of things at the end of the race but nothing more than a bite before I started feeling sick and woozy. Went and laid down in the med tent for a few minutes and then headed back to the hotel where my roommate/sherpa took great care to make sure I had the best food of what was available at 1 in the morning–cream of chicken soup and the most delicious bag of chex mix ever! After trying to sleep for a couple of hours, it was time to walk back down to the Ironman Village to get the coveted Finisher’s Jacket.

finisher's jackets aquired
finisher’s jackets acquired

After the race, my mom asked me if I had check the Ironman off my list. My response was I checked this Ironman off my list, but I have unfinished business (technically a bone to pick) with Ironman Florida and that is up next.

The bone held up just fine and it has a finisher’s medal to prove it, the rest of me however was hurting bad for a couple of days. Thank you to all of you who have joined me in the journey in one way or another to give it to the tumor. From those that cheered in person to those that were tracking from home, your encouragement was overwhelming–my cheering squad is deep and wide and I am forever grateful for that! And I am forever grateful for each and every step that got me to the finish line from the first one with crutches after surgery to the very last one after 144 miles that took me across the finish line. It’s been an amazing journey and I can confidently say we gave it to the tumor!



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