It was not planned, honest!
The journey began back in May this year, when Hampstead Triathlon Club went en mass to IronMan 70.3 Barcelona in Calella.
Not only did we have such a fun week, but everyone competed out of their skins and HTC won the TriClub competition for our division (IV) and qualified for the World TriClub championships, which will be held in May next year at the same venue. But also much to my surprise and delight, individually qualified for the IronMan 70.3 World championships to be held in Chattanooga in September.

Chattanooga, Tennessee

I arrived in Chattanooga by bus on the Wednesday before the race, flying into Atlanta the night before (into a scary electric storm).
I stayed at a really cool hostel, The Crash Pad, in a bunk bed with other triathletes that had flown in for the event, which was about 40 mins walk or a free electric bus from event HQ down main street.
Chattanooga and surrounding area has had a dark history. It was the territory of native American Cherokee Indians. In the mid 19th century the American government rounded them up along with other tribes and forced them to relocate. Their journey and many fatalities became known as the The Route Of Tears. During the American Civil War in 1863, the area was extremely volatile, with the Unionists routing the Confederates at the Battle of Missionary Ridge.
The town itself is a mixture of southern old charm and new striking modern architecture dominated by the Tennessee river which cuts the town in two. Chattanooga was an important rail head and the old station along with a museum of trains and carriages were the inspiration to Glenn Miller’s 1941 Chattanooga Choo Choo The town has great restaurants and craft beer haunts, amazing venue to host over 4000 athletes from 91 different countries.
Thursday race week starts with breakfast on the Southern Belle, a traditional paddle steamer, hosted by IronMan and in the company of IM legends Mark Allen, Dave Scott and fellow HTC club mate and coach Helena. Beautiful sunny morning and a 90 minute trip up the Tennessee river, gave us a good sense of the bike course we’ll encounter, especially Lookout Mountain.
Later that morning, I do a recce ride, making sure the bike was OK and to do the biggest climb on the course, Lookout Mountain. Lookout Mountain is the beginning of the Appalachians and the climb took about 40 minutes, offering stunning views across the basin.
Friday, swim practice! The Tennessee river (which is huge, think Thames at its widest) flow is controlled up stream by the Chickamauga Dam. Water temperature was 23 degrees and the current was so strong, my best effort was to struggle to the end of the practice loop. So the race weekend, looked like a non wetsuit river swim with a monster current, a daunting prospect.
Saturday, ladies race day! For the first time in IronMan 70.3 history the ladies and men’s races were separated and Helena was prepped and ready to go! Fortunately, river temperatures had dropped, the authorities had turned down the river current flow and the race was declared wetsuit legal. As with the men, race waves were age group specific with the pros being the first to start. Lots of razzamatazz to start the event, Star Spangle Banner. We are go, along with a large river front crowd, very proud to see Helena exit the water and into T1, in her HTC kit, looking good and smiling, as always.
Whilst we were all immersed in preparation for our race, there was another story unfolding, Hurricane Irma. I was due to fly home on Monday, but the weather predictions indicated that Atlanta airport will shut down, stranding me. Which would mean I would not be able to make a flight to Cephalonia for my family holiday. So whilst Helena was out on the bike, I changed my flight, to travel home immediately after my race on Sunday. Which meant that nothing could go wrong, with my race and subsequent connections. No pressure then!
Sunday, race day! Usual early morning preparations, taking on my nutrition, felt good, nervous with butterflies. Wetsuit swim, thumbs up and into the pen with my fellow 108 age group competitors. This was the first time to meet the competition and when warm ups included putting your ankle behind your head, you knew it was going to be a tough day. Self seeded start, 10 athletes into the water every 15 seconds, away we go! Water was incredibly warm, the first part of the 1.2 mile (1.9k) swim was across the river towards the far bank and then a slog up river against the current for 800m, passing under two of Chattanooga’s iconic bridges. Round the farthest turn buoy back across the other bank and then cruise down river, not an easy swim! For both men and ladies, there were helpers to pull you out of the river and then with the efficiency WWA Wrestling throw you onto your back and have your wetsuit ripped off you. Grab, T1 bag, run up a sharp incline to bike transition. All good, onto the bike. Out of Chattanooga and straight onto the main climb, 3.5 miles to the top of Lookout Mountain. Once over the top beautiful 56 mile (90.1k) rolling course with 3408 ft (1039m) elevation gained, through lovely countryside and farm lane and small towns and villages. Passing through the states of both Tennessee and Georgia, the locals came out and gave us great support.
Apart from IronMan UK, this was the second time I had raced my Giant Trinity Advance Pro and absolutely loved the balance and feel the bike gave me, taking me to the finish in a fraction under an average of 30km per hour.
Into T2 and onto the run. The 13.1 mile (21k) run course with 975 ft (297m) was a two loop track, taking us through downtown Chattanooga, across the river, two bridges and along the river front. It was hot, hot and hilly with two significant climbs, enough to sap the energy out of anyone’s legs. Great to see Helena on the course, encouraging me, her support throughout was special. Down the finishing chute, I had just finished the 2017 IronMan 70.3 World Champs in 05:43:03, 48th age group, 3rd UK, so proud of myself!
Unfortunately, no time to dwell on my achievement, I had a plane to catch. So apart from nearly missing the connecting bus to Atlanta, it was the right decision.
An incredible adventure, I need to thank my family, Hampstead Triathlon Club, Giant Camden bikes, The Laboratory Muswell Hill and RGActive for their wonderful support, without who’s help I would not be in the privilege position to fight another day!