Ironman will take over the city’s streets this September, and it’s already causing a ripple of excitement among Chattanooga’s outdoor enthusiasts. Thousands of athletes will gather on September 28 to swim 2.4 miles in the Tennessee River, bike 112 miles and run a full marathon throughout North Shore, Southside and Riverview.
In honor of this momentous event making a home in the Scenic City, Get Out is following five local triathletes as they train for race day. Each month we’ll bring you updates on their stories, advice from experts and more. So pick up some tips, be inspired by their sheer determination and check back each month as we live vicariously through these locals while we find out what it takes to become an Ironman.
Body fat percentage: 17 percent
Biggest Fear: An injury that would prevent her from attempting the race. “I don’t have any fears for race day. I will finish or they will have to pull my lifeless body from the course,” she laughs, adding she should probably take the time to learn to change a flat bicycle tire just in case.
Most excited about: The start of the race. “I’ve been to seven or eight to watch friends. The start takes your breath away,” Dana says. “It brings tears to your eyes.”
For Dana MacCorquodale, Ironman is all in the family. Three times she watched her mother complete the Ironman in Kona, Hawaii, each time more emotional and thrilling than the last. “In Kona, we volunteered so we could be at the finish line. It was awesome to give her a hug and have her collapse in my arms,” Dana reminisces. “It’s a very emotional thing, the Ironman. It’s about the heart, the will and how bad you want it.”
She grew up around the triathlons that both of her parents competed in, beginning her own affair with the race at the age of 6 while running cross country. She completed her first half-marathon when she was 7, and though she’s always wanted to race in the granddaddy of all triathlons, the Chattanooga event in September will be her first attempt at an Ironman. “When I heard there would be an Ironman in Chattanooga, I knew I had to do it,” she says. “It’s a huge movement; you’ll never find a better-run race in the world. It will take over the city. It’s electric. I get excited just talking about it.”
Today, Dana’s a single mom to Mercey, who is likely to be an echo of the MacCorquodale legacy. The 7-year-old raced in the Chickamauga Junior Marathon for the first time last year. Both currently live with Dana’s parents while she trains full time. It’s the perfect situation, really. Who better to have around during training than a mom who’s already completed the Ironman three times?
Dana says she’s currently working on gaining strength in the weight room to avoid later injuries, but once March hits, so will her Ironman-specific training. She’s also looking for a new bike as she is currently using her mom’s 1992 Trek from her days in Kona. “It still has pieces of the Queen K road in it; it makes it a bit magical,” laughs Dana. “It would get me through the race but I need a faster bike.”
The distance of the race doesn’t worry her. “I’ve found I’m all endurance; the longer the race the better I do,” she jokes. “The swim will be my best event, the run will be my second best and the bike will be my nemesis.”
Body fat percentage: 20 percent
Biggest fears: “My biggest fear with Chattanooga is the elevation, I think,” Scott says. “One of the toughest things to do is to run up a hill or ride a bike up a hill—the amount of energy it takes out of you.”
Most excited about: “Being able to sleep in my own bed,” he laughs. “Being in my hometown and having support from everyone here—that alone is unbelievable.”
The Chattanooga Ironman in September won’t be Scott Wilhoit’s first. It won’t even be his second or third. When he takes his place to dive into the Tennessee River on September 28, Scott will be well on his way to completing his fifth Ironman. And he completed this feat only in the past four years.
The local general contractor tried his hand at a plethora of other sports over the years, including professional golf, motocross and wake boarding. In the aftermath of a divorce, Scott says he got into a party scene that was lacking direction—that is until he discovered the art and culture of the triathlon. “Starting triathlons gave me a new life because it gave me new friends and goals,” he explains.
He dove into his first triathlon at the 2010 Beach to Battleship in North Carolina and has been hooked since. That same year he completed his first Ironman race. “I would never advise that to anyone,” he laughs, explaining that he should have trained more strategically that year. In 2011 he raced another two Ironman races in Florida and Kentucky, and he’s currently still coming off the high (or depending on how you look at it, the exhaustion) of the Florida Ironman last November.
His best event is cycling, he says, explaining that it took time to build up his stamina as a swimmer. The coming weeks will feature a 100-percent focus on running as he renews his training schedule. “It becomes your life,” describes Scott of the training regimen. “I’ve done it for so long it just seems kind of natural for me. The mind overcomes the body in so many ways; you have to keep telling yourself to push forward.”
Percentage of body fat: 24 percent
Biggest fears: “There is a little bitty part of me that says ‘What if I don’t finish?’” Alexis says. “That can’t be an option for me.”
Most excited about: “I’m excited about how my body is going to transform and I would think I would be a lot stronger mentally,” she says.
In fall 2012, Alexis Willis told her mentor how cool it would be if Ironman came to Chattanooga. “If it looks impossible, I want to try it,” she says. So when the announcement came in last summer that Ironman was coming to Chattanooga, she got her wish.
Like thousands of other hopeful triathletes, Alexis scrambled around online for those three minutes to try to sign up for the event—and failed. But she found another way, signing up as a charity entry and she is now racing to benefit the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. On top of all the training in the coming months, Alexis must also raise $5,000 for the organization. “It’s a little bit of pressure but I think I can do it,” she says. “It’s been a daily dialogue with myself. Everyone has a reason why they can’t do something, but I picture myself crossing the finish line every day.”
And she has good reason to do so. Not only is she running to benefit the national foundation, she’s also racing with a platform in mind—to get more black men and women in Chattanooga to participate in events like this. “I’m excited about building up buzz that healthy is cool,” she explains.
Alexis owns an online business called Natural Beautiful Me, which empowers women to embrace natural beauty, and she’s also a single mom to 6-year-old Riley. She says she’s always been active but she’s never attempted a race like the Ironman. “I’m really starting this close to ground zero. I’ve never done a triathlon before,” she says. “I’m best at running; it’s the one I have the most experience with, but that open-water swim is a big one for me. I have never even put a toe in the Tennessee River.
“Not knowing how intense it is, is kind of cool right now, it keeps me optimistic,” she adds, laughing. She says she’s starting to hit it hard this month—running, biking and swimming every week, increasing her training as race day looms closer. “I heard a quote said by Nelson Mandela; he said, ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done,’” says Alexis. “That’s my Ironman quote.”
ALEXIS RACES TO BENEFIT goajgo.com
Body fat percentage: 29 percent
Biggest fears: “I try to block out all the negative things, but injuries can happen,” he says. “I’m still kind of timid being on the road [on his bike] with the cars and I haven’t swam in the river yet.”
Most excited about: “I really, really hope we can raise so much money and so much awareness [for Emily’s Power For the Cure and the Make-A-Wish Foundation],” he says. “It’s going to be a great feeling crossing that finish line and accomplishing that goal.”
Of all the things Jason Greer thought he would do during his lifetime, Ironman wasn’t one of them. “I’ve always been intrigued about it, but I never dreamed I would do something like this,” says the Chattanooga firefighter. He played sports in high school, but then he grew up and life happened—marriage, kids and about 100 extra pounds.
So what inspired him to take the leap? His son Tristin, who has cancer. Neuroblastoma to be exact, which develops from immature nerve cells and is most often seen in infants or children under 5 years old. Imagine the utter shock of Jason and his wife Bronde when their teenage all-city soccer player received such a diagnosis. “Your world is just kind of … there’s really no way to describe it. It’s the last thing you’d expect,” Jason says.
Tristin, now 17, has been fighting the cancer for the past four years, and Jason’s been looking for a way to join in the fight alongside his son. “I really wanted to do something that was totally way out of my league,” he says, explaining that he thought about running a marathon to raise funds and awareness for Emily’s Power For a Cure and the Make-A-Wish Foundation of East Tennessee. Then he heard the Ironman is coming to the Scenic City the same month as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and he was sold.
A former high school athlete, Jason isn’t exactly experienced with the outdoor sports that make up the Ironman race. “I wish I could say I was good at one more than the other but I’m actually not,” he laughs, saying he’s starting with the basics. “I’m a pretty good swimmer but I’m hoping cycling will be my strong point. I’m going to put a lot of effort into that one because that’s the one that will make or break you.”
Jason’s already dropped 40 pounds since he started training last September. “I can tell my strength and endurance is getting a lot better. My biceps are starting to show and I haven’t seen them in a long time,” he jokes, adding, “I have so much more energy.” For the first month of training he was on his own, but Greer quickly realized he needed experts to step in. He enlisted the help of Andy Sweet at Hub Endurance and strength trainer April Baker to help him reach his goal.
Getting Tristin healthy is his priority, says Jason, so he’ll be training in between traveling to treatment clinics and putting in shifts at the fire station. With such a personal and emotional journey ahead, how on earth will he push through to make it to race day? “That’s the million-dollar question,” Jason says. “I’ve thought about it a lot. If I have to wake up earlier, I will. If I have to stay up later, I will. You just gotta do it. I’m really doing this for Tristin. I’ll find a way.
“I hope that it inspires him to never give up,” he continues. “I hope that Tristin sees me doing this and it really inspires him to not give up either. It will be a great feeling to have him there at the finish line.”
JASON RACES TO BENEFIT: emilyspowerforacure.com
Body fat percentage: 14 percent
Biggest fears: “I’m afraid first of all that I’d finish and my wife doesn’t. I’d much rather her finish than me,” Dan says, adding, “I’m not worried about the training and putting in the time, I’m concerned about the things I can’t control—injuries, GI tract issues, which are supposedly a big thing during the race.”
Most excited about: “I’m pretty excited about that finish. Coming through Chattanooga, heading toward the aquarium and seeing thousands of people cheer you on. I think it’ll be pretty cool,” he says.
The name “Dan Henry” might ring a bell. Perhaps you’ve spotted it in small print beneath a picture within this very magazine or in the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Yes, Dan’s with us. He’s our very own multitalented, kayaking, bike-riding, lens-wielding photojournalist. And we are so excited that he signed up for the Chattanooga Ironman that we couldn’t resist including him in the series.
“I’m not doing this for fitness or bragging rights. I’m just doing this for me,” Dan says. “Pretty much everything I’ve done, I kind of knew I could do. This is the first event that I’ve signed up for that I didn’t know whether or not I could complete it. Even now it seems really daunting.” Admittedly he’s also doing this for his wife Crystal, who’s starting out 2014 by turning 30 years old this month. With the milestone birthday comes a desire to spend her year doing something momentous—namely the Ironman.
It makes date nights easy, Dan jokes. “All the training can be hard on other relationships but since we’re both doing it, one person isn’t going to feel left out,” he says. “Getting through it apart would be way harder than getting through it together.” Instead of the tired dinner-and-a-movie duo, it’s a 14-mile run. Or a weekend getaway to New Orleans in February where both will run a full marathon (just so they know how miserable a full marathon is, of course).
Dan knows he’s soon to find out that a marathon is child’s play compared to the ultimate goal in September, and there’s a lot of work to do. “I pretty much only excel at cycling,” he laughs. “It’s what I enjoy most.” He started out in competitive cycling at the University of Georgia but became even more competitive after college and over the last eight years while riding with Scenic City Velo.
Running is what he and Crystal are focusing on now, he adds. “Out of the three legs of the race that is the most intimidating to me,” he explains. But there is some comfort to be had. “Being able to train in my hometown and know the courses … having the comfort of knowing where I’ll be racing, it gave me the confidence to actually sign up for it.”