The Chattanooga Track Club

Promoting Running and Fitness in Chattanooga

Ironman 2015
By John Hunt
Posted: Tuesday, September 29, 2015
There have been thousands of Ironman races across the world in the past 35 years, but very few of them had a closer finish than the one that took place in downtown Chattanooga Sunday afternoon. It was literally a photo finish as Kirill Kotsegarov of Estonia won with a time of eight hours, eight minutes and 32 seconds as he nipped Matt Chrabot of Virginia Beach by a scant two seconds. The race to the finish line at Ross’s Landing wasn’t nearly as close for the ladies as Carrie Lester of Australia posted a time of 8:56:00 to win by more than 12 minutes over Lisa Roberts of Tucson, who was the runner-up in 9:08:46. While an incredible 26 individuals broke the nine-hour barrier for the second running of the Little Debbie Ironman Chattanooga, lots of local folks had personal records as they completed the 2.4-mile swim, 116-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run with smiles on their faces and the ultimate feeling of personal accomplishment. You could do a nice study of the finish line folks as some are happy and smiling with a spring in their step while others are barely able to move as their bodies have shut down and they struggle just to walk.  And there are lots of tears that flow, mostly from the joy of finally crossing the finish line in an event they might have doubted they could ever finish. The tears may be more frequent for the women, but there are grown men who cry as they finally reach their goal of finishing one of the toughest endurance events in the world. As was the case last year when Chattanooga hosted the event for the first time, there were literally hundreds of volunteers and spectators along the way to cheer on the participants, many of whom were covering this distance for the first time. But on a day when skies were overcast for most of the morning, it was a site to behold as Kotsegarov and Chrabot battled step for step in the last stretch to the finish line. “My goal was to push hard the last mile and I pushed as hard as I could,” said the 29-year-old Kotsegarov, whose only other Ironman win came with a time of 8:24 in 2009. “We were together most of the last four miles, but it was really quiet as nobody was talking. I knew that my legs could run, so I had to turn off the negative thoughts that were in my head. I loved this course and I really felt comfortable on the bike, but I’m extremely happy,” he added while getting another huge gulp of water while sitting at the interview table. Chrabot had the lead for the first 22 miles, but it was a real race for the last 4.2 miles. “I was walking here and there as I thought my race was over at one point, but if I had known it would come down to a sprint at the finish, I might have pushed a little harder,” the alternate for the 2012 Olympic team said. “I was on his shoulder as long as I could, but never in my life did I expect a finish like that. I totally collapsed when we reached the finish line. I’m happy to be part of a finish like this as it was truly amazing. “I’m not sure what I’ll do tomorrow, but I’ll probably get in the pool and splash around a bit. I would go back down to the YMCA, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to walk down those steps,” the 32-year-old concluded with a laugh. The women’s race may have been close at the start, but it was all over but the shouting after Lester posted a time of 5:01:16 on her bike split. By that point, it was just a matter of what her margin of victory might be. “I didn’t have a great swim as I felt like I was swimming against the current, but I had a good ride on the bike. I felt a little feverish at the start of the day and wasn’t even sure I’d finish the swim, but I felt stronger as the day progressed,” she explained. “I knew that I was fit coming in, but I never expected to have such a big lead after the bike. I just had to hold it together for the run, but I hit a huge wall coming up the last hill. “I really wanted to be here last year, but it just didn’t work out. But today was a perfect day for racing and I even got to enjoy my first Little Debbie,” she concluded with a laugh, admitting that she’s won six of the 15 Ironman races she’s completed. The 36-year-old Roberts had a rough bike split as she had a minor crash at the start, but she more than made up for it on the run as she just kept running down people on the last leg. “I had a little mishap on my bike as I dropped a water bottle and tried to turn around to get it, but what a day. I was a little off on the bike, but I made up for it on the run,” she said after posting a time of 3:01:04 for her marathon split. “I had a really good run as I was able to catch some girls there, but I just went out and did what I could and tried to hold a steady pace as I knew Carrie was so far ahead. She had a whopper of a day, but I’ll take second,” she said. While the pros really put on a show with strength and speed, there were a lot of local folks who had memorable days as well, including 49-year-old Connie Petty. Connie may be one of the most dedicated triathletes around, but suffered a detached labrum in her hip about eight weeks ago. She wasn’t able to run in that time as she took cortisone shots to control the pain, but her goal on Sunday was simply to finish after investing so much time and money into the event. She was simply amazing after crossing the finish line in 13:02:25. Her swim time was just over 74 minutes while her bike split was just over 6:10. And then using a walk and run routine in the final 26.2 miles, she had a 5:18 marathon split and was simply ecstatic when she finished. “My hip is hurting for sure right now, but this was the event of a lifetime for me,” the head of therapy for Center For Sports Medicine explained while walking toward the end of the finish chute. “I had a steady swim and a pretty strong bike leg. I did a walk-run for the marathon, but I’m very pleased,” she added. Nick McCormick, a 20-year-old mechanical engineering student at UT-Knoxville who was All-State in cross country and track for East Hamilton, completed his first Ironman and did so with flying colors as he finished in 10:50:08. “That was a brutal event for sure, but I just tried to stay steady on the bike for the first 80 miles. It seems like I went from feeling bad to good and back during the bike, but I finished feeling good. “And I know I probably started off on the run too fast as that’s something I always did in high school. I was hoping to be somewhere near 10 hours,” he said before moving on. Marshall Martin is a 50-year-old CPA who lives in Nashville after living in Chattanooga for a number of years. He completed his seventh Ironman with a time of 10:55:44. “I had retired from triathlons in 2008, but I got off the couch 52 weeks ago and decided to do it again. I was cramping in the water and spent about half of the bike ride getting refueled, but I’m thrilled with my time. “I knew I had to run 4:22 or better to break 11 hours and I was around 4:17, but I ran a fast last mile as my brother Chig was harassing me on the bridge and that made me mad. I would have liked to do better, but I didn’t do too bad,” he added. Jason Hamrick, a 40-year-old teacher from Harrison, had a time of 11:08:29 after posting a time of 11:42 last year. “My swim was okay and the bike felt good, but I borrowed some wheels from a friend of mine and what an incredible difference they made. I was hoping to run fast as I had a bunch of friends here supporting me, but some of those hills in Rivervew are tough,” he nodded. Kerry Hoover is a 51-year-old maintenance planner for Invista who completed his first Ironman in 11:18:32 despite a less than pleasant start. “Aside from almost losing my goggles in the swim, I did okay,” he said, noting that he had done an Ironman distance event in 2003. “My goal was to be somewhere near 13 hours. This may have been my last race like this, but I’m pleased,” he added. Michael Hitchcox finished with a time of 11:25:10, but the finish was much tougher than the start for this 30-year-old. “It was a lot of fun as I had a blast. I loved the bike ride, but I probably went faster than I should have. The first 13 miles of the run were good, but the last half was terrible. Words just don’t describe it, but this is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” he said. His girlfriend Anna Cleaver was the first woman out of the water, but was a DNF after suffering terrible leg cramps during the run. “I’m from New Zealand, but I moved here about two years ago as this is the perfect place to train. I had to pull out of the race during the run as I wasn’t able to even walk when I had about an hour left,” she said. All wasn’t lost on the day as she will celebrate her 34th birthday on Monday. Ben Smith was among a group of wrestling coaches who trained together and did the event on Sunday. The 34-year-old Bradley coach posted a time of 11:11:24 after finishing in 12:01 last year. “How much did Heath beat me by?” he asked about UTC coach Heath Eslinger, who finished just a few minutes ahead in 10:51:56. “I just wanted to break 12 hours and be close to 11:30, so I’m really happy with my time. The swim was a little slower than I expected as the current wasn’t flowing like last year, but I had a phenomenal bike ride. “I was feeling pretty good for the first half of the run, but it sucks when you hit that 16-20 mile window on the run. But I’m glad to be alive and healthy enough to do stuff like this and to be a good example to my wrestlers,” he concluded. Herman Comeaux is a security system salesman for ADT who improved his time by more than two hours after posting a time of 14:50 in 2013 on a hot, hot day in Louisville. “I’m sure I had a personal best in the swim and I was less than six hours on the bike. My Achilles tendons hurt right now, but who cares? A win is a win as the coaches always like to say, but it’s a PR and I’m thrilled. “It was a perfect day for me as I couldn’t have planned it any better. My goal was 12:59:59 and I had a 12:20, so it was a great day for me,” he added. Russ Rogers is another Chattanoogan who did his first Ironman at the age of 35. His goal was to be under 13 hours and he cleared that with time to spare after finishing in 12:46:29. “I told you I’d do it, but it was everything I hoped it would be. I experiences pockets of gratitude and despair, but what a ride it was. That run course will break you down, but this is one of those nights I don’t want to end.  “I know the bike ridewas four-miles longer and I just wish I could have add four miles to the run,” the 35-year-old who works in product development for U.S. Stove said while still floating after conversing with family and friends. There were still lots of runners headed out Amnicola Highway as they were on their second lap of the run, but there was still more than three hours remaining before the finish line shut down. Chances are good that most of them finished and hopefully in personal bests, but whatever the case, they showed up early Sunday morning and they all put their best foot forward. And for an event that challenges every ounce of their existence, it was all worthwhile, even if they can’t walk normal for a few days. (Email John Hunt at


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