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By day, I’m a government civilian. By night, I’m a former action guy. Who is a now moderately talented, endurance athlete? Coming into this year, I had a HUGE goal of qualifying for the 70.3 World Championships in Chattanooga. Why this year and why not every year? That’s because the championships rotate from regional locations every year. Last year it was in Australia and next year, it’ll be in South Africa. So 2017, was the year to really go for it and try my luck.

In June, I went to Lubbock for the Buffalo Springs 70.3 and received the luck of all luck. My AG only had one slot to the Worlds and if you didn’t win. Well……you wouldn’t really have a shot to go. I finished 5 th in my AG that day, so I figured I was out of the running for a slot. Earlier in the awards ceremony, no one took the slot for the male 75-79 AG. So they informed us all that their slot would roll into a different AG. They called up our AG and informed us we would now be receiving 2 slots to Chattanooga. I knew 2 nd and 3 rd had already earned their slots. But I didn’t know about 1 st or 4 th place?? And when they asked 1 st place if he wanted the slot and he said, “No thanks”….. I nearly screamed from excitement. When Mike Reilly, the voice of Ironman, asked if I wanted to go to Chattanooga? All I could say was “heck yes!” So when I stepped off the stage, I took a selfie with Mike and went to pay for my race entry.

September 7 th came really quick. I packed my bike and headed to the airport. As I sat in DFW, I watched intently and I thought I saw my gear being loaded on the plane? But no, only my wheels made it to Chattanooga. My bike, for some reason, had a mind of its own and went to Nashville instead. The airlines promised me it would be delivered later that evening. So at midnight, my bike finally arrived at the hotel. But I’m jealous my bike went to Nashville before me. Friday morning, I woke up and put my bike back together. Went on a test ride and for some reason the electronic shifting on my front derailleur wasn’t working? I charged my battery before leaving San Antonio. Could had one of the buttons on the shifters been pushed in and drained the battery? So I went to the local bike shop asking if they had a charger. They did and all was right with the world. Saturday, picked up the race support crew from the airport….. Luckily she wasn’t diverted to Nashville…. and went downtown to rack my bike
and put up all my gear for Sunday’s race. Sunday morning, ate the usual pre-race meal. Got downtown easily and finalized my bike set up.

The swim was clockwise with 800+ meters into the sun and against the current. It was self-seated and we only went 8 swimmers every 5-7 seconds. So I assumed the threshing and punching wouldn’t happen? Boy was I wrong….. I was punched and or kicked in the nose 3 times. It’s hard to sight and concentrate when you’re swimming like a drunken duck dragging an anchor. So I finished the swim without a bloody nose or any black eyes. The transition area was set up with all our bags laying on the ground in numerical order. You grabbed your bike helmet, socks etc. and run uphill to a seated changing area. Threw all of our swim gear in the bike gear bag, snapped on the helmet and took off for the racked bikes. And when you have 2500+ bikes in a transition area ….. It’s a long run across.

The bike started off uneventful and as I moved to Lookout Mountain. It is 3.8 miles of climbing with pitches of 7-10% gradient. When I arrived to the top of the climbing in Rock City, I shifted from the small ring into the big ring. Nothing. Nada. Zip. So for the next 45+ miles, I was riding in the small ring and working the gears on the back. I could hold my own on the rollers. And downhills cause my bike is fast! But on the flats…..i was getting dusted. So I spun just trying to get home.

Spinning in the small ring on one of the flat sections. At least Joe has my position dialed in.

The bike was tough enough, but after spinning at a high RPM, my legs were a little trashed for the run course. So the goal was to just maintain a good pace and not let the midday sun cook me. Since my wave didn’t start until 8:52, 5 hours would put me near 2pm. The course was two loops of long ups, steep downs and very little flat. The support throughout was awesome! There were people all along the course cheering everyone on, especially going back over the river on the Baker Street Bridge. It’s pedestrian only wooden pathway and was lined with folks on either side. But man was it a kick in the tri-shorts! Because it is gradual uphill at the end of both loops, but at least the finish line was downhill and carpeted 100m out from the line. And when you crossed the line, someone was there to help you. They gave you a really sweet beach towel, a finisher’s hat and shirt.

Was my train up to the race good? Yes. Did my race go as planned? Nope. Did I adapt and overcome from the issues that were presented to me? Yes. And did I compete and walk away feeling satisfied with how I did against the best in the world? Yes and Yes. I learn a very long time ago in my former career, in Special Forces, that all plans are perfect until you reach breach point. This means, once the gun goes off… be prepared to change and adapt your plan to the day as it comes to you.

 - Carl Clark