Scott Hussey - Ironman Chattanooga

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I did not write a race report for the Springbrook Sprint – I was training. Nor did I write a report for the Westside Y sprint – I was training. Ironman training took over my life. I knew it was going to happen. My wife knew it, too. However, now we understand what being an Ironman means; the donation of a year to achieve a goal. When I started training for triathlons in the winter of 2016, I had one date in mind. While the specifics were not known, I wanted to complete an Ironman before my 40th birthday. I was 37 years-old. I achieved my goal at the race age of 39. I understand. I am an Ironman.

I completed the race in 10 hours, 33 minutes, and 22 seconds. This earned me 12th place in my division (M 35-39) and 71st place overall (of 1,980 finishers) and a chance to rival a Harley-Davidson owner for brand specific wardrobe purchasing. In order to get these results, I trained for 383 hours, 50 minutes, and 21 seconds in 2017. These hours were comprised of 3,557 miles of bike riding, 722 miles of running, and 374,862 yards of swimming. I also spent thousands of dollars (triathlon is not for the faint of wallet). Yet, these numbers, do not tell the whole story. Early mornings, long day weekends, evening sessions on the trainer do not tell the story either.

If you want to compete, and not just complete an Ironman, you’ve gotta do the work. There is no other way around it. There is no cheating time on the bike. There is no H.I.I.T workout for laps in the pool. A marathon is still 26.2 miles, in a blazing heat, whether I do fartleks or long, low-heart rate runs. I knew all this prior to deciding that I wanted to complete an Ironman before the 40th birthday. I had run one marathon before my 30th birthday. I was on the swim team in high school, not college. I cycled for fun with friends from the bar. I coached a high school cross country team. Yet, I was never the gifted athlete; I won team spirit awards. I didn’t want to do the work. I wanted to have fun. I understood what doing the work meant to me, my loved ones, my friends, and other people.

One of the those friends is Dr. Kevin Sprouse, the owner of Podium Sports Medicine. Podium Sports Medicine, along with Visit Knoxville, is the main sponsor of my triathlon team. I met Kevin as a patient. In the late spring of 2016, my wife realized that I was serious about triathlon and wanted me to see a doctor. I scheduled an appointment with Dr. Sprouse. He took my vitals and did a blood analysis. Kevin did what doctors do. This is not why I enjoyed my visits. It is how Kevin speaks to his clients – Kevin speaks like a rational friend. Now, I mean rational in the strict sense; Dr. Sprouse uses measured language based on scientific evidence to give probable conclusions. In the athletic world of slippery language, hyperbole, and squishy meaning, Kevin’s calm demeanor and nuanced answers pleased this English teacher. Without Kevin’s expert medical advice, I would have trained my body only using indefinite suggestions gleaned from websites, magazines, podcasts, and coaches. Kevin helped in more ways than he knows. His words are not gospel – his words were rational, evidence-based facts.

The team he created also became part of my triathlon friends, sort of. We went on training runs together, had a social, and chatted at races. Derek, Katie, Mike, Karen, Nick, Michael, and Renee, are all cool people that I would like to get to know better.

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The reality of my Ironman training was the numbers chasing by a father to a toddler, husband, and full-time professional who lives in the boonies. If I were younger, or childless, or in the city, I could accomplish something other than train/work/family/train/sleep/repeat. The close friends I made were in the pool as we saw each other 4-to-5 days a week, at 5:40am. Lynn and Phil made getting into the pool easy. Lynn is a selfless person with a gentle heart who graciously gave up her middle lane for a side lane whether I wanted her to or not. Phil Colclouth has become a true friend. My second favorite athletic event this year was being his pilot for the Podium Sports sponsored 10k Bridges to Bluffs swim. I didn’t compete – I made sure he didn’t drown. Yet, getting to know Phil through swim workouts and open water competitions is one of the better rewards to endurance sports in Knoxville. Who knows when he talks me into an English Channel swim?

If a friendship begins with commerce, is it a friendship? I think so. To that end, William Norris of Bike N’ Tri in Maryville and Luke Davis of PPT are my advisors and friends. Bike N’ Tri opened in March 2016 as I was preparing for Trideltathon. I talked to William, told him that I was getting into the sport and listed some training numbers. He was the first to tell me that I would be competitive. Knowing salesmen, I distrusted him. However, William has earned my trust tenfold. He cared more about helping me than selling wares to me. William has created a place to hang out and talk triathlon in Maryville. William Norris, like Kevin Sprouse, is creating a community and I support his efforts – particularly his drive to create a youth cycling team.

In May of 2017, I was overthinking my Ironman training. Brett Jenner of Philly Pro Tri and I had exchanged emails in the winter, but I decided a coach would be too much. Then I started overthinking: TrainerRoad, plus Bernhardt Swim Workouts, plus Hal Higdon, etc. Brett called again in spring. I thought I was hiring the TrainingPeaks.com matched based on my survey. Brett had expanded his coaching to included Luke Davis, a recent college graduate, who was more interested in the training numbers than banking numbers. Brett had coached Luke to Kona. Luke was who I needed. Luke analyzed my numbers and created a training program to improve my inefficiencies. I don’t need handholding and I don’t need daily conversations; I commit. Luke understood this and built a program to help me manage my life and training. It was not always easy. You gotta do the work – You gotta do the time. Luke worked with my schedule and adapted the plan as needed. I enjoyed working with Luke. He loves the sport and wants to improve as a coach and athlete. If you need a numbers guys to coach you, I recommend Luke Davis at PPT.

Much of committing to an Ironman is the community you build to get you to the line. Getting to the line is the challenge. Finishing an Ironman is possible for most healthy individuals. Building the community that gets you to the line is the hard part. To this end, I want to thank my wife. Jess understands that I cannot give just a little of myself to something. She knows my all or nothing mentality. She knew that the 7-hour-long ride days were going to happen. That I couldn’t have cookies in the house. That I would be gone every weekend morning that costed her valuable sleep-in time because toddlers don’t understand that it is the weekend. That I was going to train no matter where we were: vacation, wedding, business trip.  If you have done an Ironman you understand those conversations. If you have not, be prepared to answer the questions: “do you have to train, again? For how long this time?” Be compassionate because they are not stopping you, they just want to be with you. The journey from non-athlete to Ironman is a commitment from the participant and their significant other.     

The Ironman circus whistle-stopped in Chattanooga. Nothing can prepare you for the amount of stuff that happens before an Ironman race: packet pick-up, pre-race meeting, hotel check-in, bike and transition bag check-in, super-early body markings, busing to the swim start, waiting an hour for the swim start in the middle of a long line. Having competed in only the local races I found the Ironman event to be overwhelming. Especially since my wife worked from the Chattanooga office on Friday and I did most activities with my two-year-old daughter as company. Cora was fun to have around but she has not learned how to wait in lines, so we drove the bike course and I thought it was mostly flat. Most of my training occurs around mountainous Walland and Townsend. I would find out what rollers meant over 116 miles. For now, I was waiting for the swim start at dawn.

The anticipation to start is palpable. At 7:20 the pros started. At 7:30 the age groupers go. Once the line started to move, getting to the front was quick as the organizers separated wetsuits and non. I was a non-wetsuit. At 7:45, I kissed my double-bag toting and toddler holding wife. At 7:50, I was in the water. I love open water swimming. When Phil swam the Bridges to Bluffs, I was jealous. I flew in the swift Tennessee River. The temp was perfect and the lines were clean. Limited chop meant that I could see without sighting much. I swam like an otter. People were easy to pass. It was easily my best swim of the season. Finish time 48:30 (8th AG).

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Coming out of the water Derek Tingle yelled Go Podium - Scott Hussey! That was cool and transitioning to the bike was quick. I pedalled towards Georgia. My goal was to keep my watts around 180-185. No peaks. The problem being drafting rules and too many cyclists. My main concern was overcooking my legs before the run. I could have gone faster, but that would have required that I push my watts way up to pass. What to do?  Unfortunately, I kept the watts around 165-170. Seeing my wife and dad on the second loop in Chickamauga was uplifting. If you race IMCHOO, plan not only on having someone there but have them pick a side of the road beforehand so you know where to look. I couldn’t find them on the first loop.

This plus a port-a-potty break (I still haven’t learned how to pee on the bike and I doubt I ever will.), pushed my final time to 5:41. This was 10 minutes slower than I planned. No big deal at this point, I’ll make it up at mile 21 I thought.

Coming into transition the Knoxville Podium Sports crew was at the bike finish line. Hearing them cheer my name as I was unclipping and handing-off my bike pushed me towards the tent. I decided to change from the sleeved jersey to the sleeveless as the afternoon was warming up. I handed my transition bag with my helmet, bike shoes, and jersey to a volunteer and began the run. I have yet to get the bag back as it is still missing.     

The plan for the run was simple, start at 8:00/mile and cut 10 seconds every 3 miles. Sticking to the plan was harder than anticipated. I wanted to hit the numbers, more importantly, I didn’t want to blow-up at mile 22. My secondary plan was to never stop running. Prior to the bridge I kept with a couple of guys and followed the plan, albeit slower. Once Veterans’ Bridge hit, I slowed down. This was a mental mistake; it introduced the concept of not hitting my pace numbers. Also, I should have driven the run course prior because immediately following the bridge there is a serious hill. Up, down, up adds to the mental exhaustion, and my slowing before the bridge made the hill more challenging. Somewhere around this time my Garmin died.

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Before my recent triathlon training, I did all of my running by feel. I trained and ran a marathon and half-marathons by feel. My times were slower. This year, I had Podium Sports perform a Lactate Threshold test and trained using the most accurate zone I could. Knowing your zones and pacing creates difference between competitor and hobbyist. When my Garmin ran out of juice, I became a hobbyist. I would try to keep pace with soon I thought was running 8:00/mile, but would last for only a couple of miles. I would ask the crowd for the time-of-day to deduce how much time I had until 5:50 (10 hour race goal) and then figure out what my pace should be, but that was bad math under stress. I am a humanities teacher. Turning onto Walnut Street bridge a group told me the time of 4:30. I had to run an hour-twenty 14 miles to hit my goal. I decided to try, but keep mile 21 in the back of my mind.

Upon making my second loop I became energized by the crowd and runners on their first loop. In races I like to consume runners ahead of me – Pac-Man mode. The beginning of the second loop was full Pac-Man mode. Along Riverside Drive and the River Walk, I kept my supposed 8:00/mile pace (it was actually slower) through Pac-Man. It made running fun. Which was important because my tastebuds rejected the GUs and gummies I was forcing it to take. I started drinking Coca-Cola at mile 18. I still jogged through fueling stations by grabbing water, ice, and Gatorade or Coke and only stopping to drink the sticky-stuff instead of wear it. Otherwise, I kept to the secondary plan: just run! Yet, Veterans’ Bridge was about to get me, again. I knew the bridge was mile 21. I knew my plan was turn on the gas at mile 22.

I couldn’t do it and I don’t know why. I paced the bridge and then I walked through the aid station. I picked my pace back up only to stare at the hill. I walked. Why? My mental preparations for this moment back months ago. I practiced my long-runs in the late afternoon. I thought of beating people at mile 22 for a month. Yet, I walked. It was only a 100 yards, or so, but it happened – Ironman proved its challenge.

Upon picking the pace back up, I started counting the miles. Marathons really begin in the last four-point-two miles. With my pace back up, I began a less-enthusiastic Pac-Man. Aid stations became full walks and stops, but I kept running. I crossed Walnut Street Bridge looking for my family. I saw my teammates wildly cheering. Derek Tingle flashed me with his kilt. I rounded the corner for the home stretch. JESS! DAD! CORA! They were there ready for me. Jess yelled, “There goes my Ironman!” I said, “Not an Ironman, yet!” and brought it home. Karen from the team was cheering at the shute, too. I ran to the line.

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I have watched an Ironman finish line before. People scream, cry, jump for joy. Mike Reilly calls their name. They have accomplished their goal. At 10:33:22 with a 3:51 run, Mike Reilly said,”Scott Hussey, a teacher from Walland, Tennessee – you are an Ironman!” and I stopped and smiled. I stopped running. I received my finisher T-shirt. I wore my medal. I smiled for the camera. I understood and I was content. My two-year goal of competing in an Ironman had been accomplished.

Now I have my life back … What’s next?

Thank you to my family and friends for a remarkable 2017 season. Also thanks to my team sponsors.