Ironman DEBUT at Little Debbie Ironman Chattanooga, 9:09:39, 2nd place professional female.
2.4 mile swim, 116 mile bike, 26.2 mile run. Ten years ago, before my triathlon days, I watched curbside at Ironman Wisconsin and convincingly proclaimed that I have no desire to attempt that pathological distance. Well, things change, like one’s mental status ☺. Even after I started doing triathlons, a full Ironman continued to be completely unappealing.
Something did change, however. I was in Venice, Italy last year during the 2013 Kona World Championship, and vividly remember watching the exciting race unfold from half way around the world. Running better now than ever before, I texted my coach, Dr. Phil Skiba, the following day: “I’d like to take my run to Kona.” He quickly texted back, “Sounds good.” A simple choice has turned into a plan, and we are now charging ahead within the 2015 Kona qualification window. Of personal significance, next year the coveted world championship race will be held on the very day of my 40th birthday—October 10! This year, we have seen athletes in their late 30’s/early 40’s (Meb Keflezighi, Jo Pavey, Jens Voigt, to name a few) continue to do amazing things in sport, and I’d like contribute to this age defying trend. Of course, Ironman Chattanooga was just the beginning of a tough qualification year ahead, but indeed, it was a great start!
Typically in race reports, the race details come first, then volunteers/race directors get obligatory kudos in the concluding paragraph. This race, however, the volunteers, City of Chattanooga, race organization, officials, community, and Little Debbie herself come first. Without question, this was the best organizational race execution I had ever experienced. Years of experience, perhaps? Nope. This was IM Chattanooga’s inaugural race. The volunteers were newbies yet behaved like pros. At any given time during the race weekend, the volunteer to athlete ratio felt like 5:1—each of them smiling, informed, enthusiastic, and facilitative. No waiting, no wondering, no ambiguity, no kinks—dozens of green volunteer shirts were in sight at all times. Well done Chattanooga! See for yourself here!
2.4 mile point to point swim: The swim was a fast non-wetsuit legal, down current swim in the Tennessee River. During the official race swim practice one day prior, athletes walked down Chattanooga’s Riverwalk 300-400 meters, jumped in, and tested the current and conditions—exiting within a few minutes. Disappointed to arrive so soon at the swim exit, I immediately thought of what my kids would say—“Again, again!” It was a fast current, and out of pure exhilaration, and the need to nail down the required exiting skill, I hopped back in for a second round.
The pro women were elbow to elbow for an in water start and would take off 3 minutes behind the men. While vying for position, all of us were preoccupied with holding onto the restraining rope that was preventing us from floating downstream before the gun. Working with Magnolia Masters coach, Tim Floyd, in the past 6 weeks has increasingly prepared me for swim starts. Even in a 9-10 hour ironman race, the most important part of the race is the first 300 meters. Tim prepared a pre-race plan, noting sunrise, temperature, current speed, competitors to line up with, course navigation, and other critical swim advice needed for the current assisted point to point swim. It was a very enjoyable swim, and was in to T1 in no time.
Swim time: 47 minutes, place 17th
116 mile Bike: Due to city permit requirements, Ironman needed to lengthen the bike segment by 4 miles from its typical 112 miles. Challenging, non-momentum producing rolling hills were made bearable among the beautiful Tennessee terrain. As my first IM distance, the bike was the segment of race I was most unsure of how I would feel throughout the bike at preset power. However, with sound guidance from my coach, Dr. Phil Skiba, I executed exactly as planned, with the term, “patience” drifting in and out of my mind throughout the ride. Eating, drinking, riding, praying, monitoring, and enjoying most moments blitzed the 5 hour, 13 minute bike ride.
Bike time: 5:13, 7th off the bike
Run: Ahhh, the marathon. For months, I had been looking forward to this run. Yes, looking forward to an Ironman marathon—not many say that! You see, I just love running. I love running at a tempo pace for a long period of time. I knew I would be able to catch several women ahead of me, but Angela Naeth was the one competitor in question. Her bike split was unreal, only 90 seconds slower than the fastest amateur male, yet 22 minutes ahead me off the bike. Catching Angela meant she had to have a tough marathon, and I needed to run my expected low to mid 2:50’s race. I headed out of T2 with energy, perseverance, and faith that it could be possible. I quickly arrived in my run tempo, clipping along at a comfortable 6:35-6:40 pace. After passing Laural and Bek Wassner, Jennie Hansen, and Malaika Homo, I found myself in 3rd place, running behind the best bike escort of all time, named, Tarbell.
As though the Queen herself was arriving, Tarbell made my presence known: “Ruth is here! Everyone cheer for Ruth!” “Watch out! Here comes Ruth!” On cue, spectators erupted in Ruth cheers. Clearing AG’ers out of my path, facilitating aid station ease, Tarbell took his job very seriously. During a time of struggle, he asked if I needed anything. Half-kidding I said, “It would be great if you would sing.” Tarbell replied, “Funny you should ask, I was a music/singing major in college.” Jackpot! His angelic voice sang me some beautiful opera for a mile or two. This is a memory I will never forget. Cheers to Tarbell and even more credit to Chattanooga volunteers!
At around mile 15, I caught the #2 female, Anna Cleaver. I said goodbye to Tarbell, and was led by another fantastic escort, Sean, who would lead me home to the finish. Ten miles (miles 7-13, 21-26) of long steep hills challenged everyone. The fatigue and pain had really set in at mile 19, and being a strong runner, this feeling was somewhat unfamiliar. I accepted my situation wholeheartedly, however, and relied on my faith and purpose to keep digging deep to pursue the finish.—“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”
My husband, Mark, and brother, Mike, strategically placed themselves on the most difficult run course segments to give me that additional punch when I needed it the most. I realized at mile 20, that this race would be deservedly Angela’s, and my 2nd place finish looked satisfyingly secure. Running down the finishing shoot high fiving, waving, and hearing the famous Ironman voice of Mike Reilly (“Ruth Brennan Morrey! Mother of 3! Psychologist! Former Div I Soccer player! Professional Triathlete!”), was absolutely electric. It ended my day, but began my adventure! My 2015 Kona campaign is in full effect!
3:02 Fastest Run
Total time 9:09:39, 2nd pro female
This race report would be incomplete without mentioning the greatest performance of the day. Teammates rock! Matt Hanson, Magnolia Masters teammate and fellow PhysFarmer, took his first Ironman win in Chattanooga, and has an incredible story—look it up here. He grew up 30 minutes from my hometown, and now resides in Iowa with a non-existent triathlon community. A genuinely salt of the earth guy with a full time academic position has made incredible progress in such a short period of time through raw talent, hard work and the right coaching—an inspirational athlete on so many levels. Congratulations Matt!
Many, many thanks to my team:
- Faith in God for sustaining me through the grinding training and challenging race. Keeping my focus on using my gift and talents in an honoring way is the only way I care to race.
- Husband, Mark, and brother Mike, earned ‘Spectators of the Race’ award. This intense duo saw me at 12 points throughout the race! It easy to keep pushing when your childhood idol tells you to stay strong!
- Coach Phil Skiba: Keeps me level headed, training/racing smart, and injury free. When I was far back from bike leaders on the second lap, Phil was in touch with Mark, to tell me to “Stick to the plan!” on the bike. I needed that!
- Tim Floyd: Magnolia Masters. Started working with Tim 6 weeks ago. He makes me think differently about swimming, and his precision and approach has already made me faster and a student of the swim.
- Annie Behrund: Rochester Athletic Club dietitian. Annie ACED my nutrition plan layout with all science and no guess work.
- Local sponsors: Rochester Cycling and Fitness, TerraLoco, Rochester Athletic Club—these guys bend over backwards for me and are a joy to work with.
- Hed Cycling and Louis Garneau: Always available for advice and support.
- Kids: 3 beautiful kids watching their mom from home-I adore these little people. Thank you Teri Joyner and Jennie Anderson for tag team kid care.
- Devon Palmer: Fellow Minnesotan, self-proclaimed “spokesmodel”, and Peace Coffee/Gold Guys enthusiast, made me feel at ease pre-race and when we crossed paths at mile 21 with his sarcastic charm and presence. He had very ‘grown-up’ advice for me before the race, which helped me tremendously, and possibly ignored himself.
- Friends and family-Obnoxious number of texts, calls, emails, cheers, comments, likes, etc. This girl feels loved and supported!
- Little Debbie! Although I didn’t have a chance to consume a single Little Debbie snack, the race sponsor provided athletes will a very unique race experience!