Making lemonade out of lemons in Chattanooga

Bryan Dunn traveled from Phoenix, AZ to compete in the 2017 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships in Chattanooga and had high aspirations. His race however did not go well and he is now passionately talking about the event and a couple volunteers who really helped him out in a pickle. Dunn who races for Team Zoot and is typically at the front of the race, flatted after the long climb and then a combination of errors and bad luck put him at the very back of the race – behind the broom wagon. All along while he waited and worked on his bike for more than an hour volunteers Frank Youmans and Will Kelley worked feverishly to get the Arizona age grouper rolling again.

“He had put it all on the line to race here in Chattanooga and we really could not stand the idea that his race would end right there,” said Youmans. “He was very nice and calm all along and that made us want him help even more. There was no bike throwing or anger, he was super nice.”

Youmans has competed in a variety of triathlons including the inaugural full distance IRONMAN Chattanooga. He had already signed up for the 2018 Chattanooga 703, and after the chance encounter with Bryan Dunn
got his friend Will Kelley to sign up too.

But here now is the story of what happened on race day as told by Bryan Dunn himself.

Slowtwitch: Thanks for your time.

Bryan Dunn: It’s a pleasure to speak with you again, Herbert!

ST: You just recently competed in the IRONMAN 70.2 World Championships but it did not go as you had likely imagined. What place did you finish in your age group and overall?

Bryan: I finished in 308th place out of 334 in M45-49 in a time of 6:14:39.

ST: In your mind what time did you think would be possible on this course?

Bryan: I figured anything less than 5 hours would be a good day based on the difficulty of the course! Maybe 4:50 range if I had a flier.

ST: When did you arrive in Chattanooga?

Bryan: We didn’t arrive until Friday afternoon so it precluded any chance to preview the bike course. I did have a chance to ride the run course Saturday when the women were out on the bike.

ST: What did you think about the town and the course?

Bryan: I was very impressed with both. The city was charming, the locals incredibly generous and kind, and the course was just beautiful and honest. It was a big improvement over Henderson and Clearwater.

ST: Word has it that you took it very easy before the race, with your feet up in the hotel room.

Bryan: My normal schedule has me in bed by 8pm during the week so as you can imagine in the last 2 days pre-race I’m hitting that bed early and often!

ST: On race morning how did you feel?

Bryan: I felt good as I was well rested! My wave was the last to go so it was a very leisurely race morning. I was able to drop off my bike nutrition and go back to the hotel for an hour before heading to the start.

ST: At what time was your start?

Bryan: My wave was 9:23. I’m fairly certain that the latest race start I have ever had. I thought it was a great swim course and venue and I was pleased with a 33 minute split.

ST: What wattage were you pushing up that climb what was your plan for this race?

Bryan: For the race I had 225-245 as my planned watt range. I figured if I could ride to NP of 230 or so with the long descent included that would be a good crack. For the Lookout Mountain climb I stayed seated and calm and rode in the 240-250 range and kept an eye on my HR to keep it in the low 150’s which for me is my usual Half IROMAN average HR for a race.

ST: When did you realize that you had a flat tire?

Bryan: Literally at the top of the climb. I reached the top, turned left and felt myself riding on the rim.

ST: I think you struggled with the tire and then came some unexpected help?

Bryan: Yeah, I had an SCYS 80mm carbon clincher and I was really struggling to get the tire lever under the bead. A volunteer (Frank Youmans) immediately came over to help me pry it off. He was able to remove the tire from the rim and I had a spare tube with a valve extension that I put in. Unfortunately, I failed to put a little air in the tube first…you can guess where this is going. Frank helped me put the tire back on and asked off hand if I had put some air in first, it was a prescient comment!

ST: How much time did you give up there?

Bryan: All in it was probably 10 minutes. As anyone who has dealt with a flat knows it always feels much longer and its tough watching the race pass you by as you are standing on the side of the road.

ST: Once back on the bike how far did you go before stopping again?

Bryan: Let’s call it 300 meters. I thanked Frank and pushed off and knew right away I had a problem. There was a noticeable “thump…thump” as the wheel turned and before I could pull over to investigate the pinch let itself be known! Pssssst......I pulled over in front of two couples out spectating.

ST: Were you cursing?

Bryan: No, which is odd as in my daily life I curse like a sailor.

ST: But no one had a tube where the valve core could be removed?

Bryan: My new friends Wil and his wife didn’t have road tubes. He was a mountain biker, but they knew Frank! They texted Frank and to let him know I was on the side of the road again and out of tubes. He came rolling down in a golf cart with a cop and a tube. In the heat of the moment it was easy to forget that in order to accommodate a valve extender you needed a presta valve that could have the core removed.

ST: And no neutral service anywhere in sight?

Bryan: We quickly realized that we were not going to be able to fix my flat with what was available. Frank asked the cop to call race support and see if they could come help me with a proper tube or spare rear wheel.

ST: Did you consider just calling it a day there and maybe drink some beer instead?

Bryan: You bet! At this point the entire race was up the road. I mean I was DFL, anyone reading this will know what that stands for. A sag IRONMAN car came by and I was offered a ride back to transition but Frank, Wil, and everyone were working so hard to get me going I turned the offer down. Also, I had to DNF the 70.3 Worlds in 2013 due to a crash and just couldn’t accept not finishing again.

ST: How close did you get to jump on the road bike offered to you?

Bryan: Wil offered his mountain bike first! In my mind I thought if I ride the next 40 miles on this mountain bike and actually finish I would be a Slowtwitch legend! But Frank had a road bike and first offered his rear wheel but we realized my carbon brake pads on his aluminum rim was a bad idea so he offered up his whip to get me rolling! I was unclear how the race officials would view that but figured better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

ST: When the sweeper van finally showed up, how long had you been no standing around?

Bryan: It was well over an hour of stoppage time when a pickup truck with “race official” decals showed up to peel the tape arrows off the ground and pick up cones. He asked me what I needed and I explained the tube dilemma.

ST: But they had the right tube and got you going?

Bryan: Yeah, he went into his gear box and pulled out one that would work. Suddenly I was back! And I was last! At this point I was seriously concerned about any time cutoffs and asked the sweeper truck driver if I could continue. He said yes and radioed for the State Trooper who was behind the last rider to double back for me. I profusely thanked Frank, Wil, and all my new friends and started my Garmin back up.

ST: How long did you ride with a police escort and how did that feel?

Bryan: It was a couple of miles before I caught up to another rider. It was such an odd feeling being in a race but being so isolated and alone on the road. It felt like a solo training day. I was still concerned about cut off time so I didn’t sit in, I tried to get back into a reasonable effort and find some mojo.

ST: Since you still had most of the bike segment to go, were you worried about another flat?

Bryan: You bet but after dealing with so much adversity already I felt pretty confident I could handle anything at that point!

ST: How many folks do you think you passed on the bike?

Bryan: I would say about 10-15 tops. I would come upon a rider every 2 miles or so. Like I mentioned, at the back people are really doing solo efforts, I startled one guy when I came by as it was so unexpected.

ST: Talk about the run.

Bryan: I made a deal with myself as I headed back towards T2. I knew it would be hard to generate the motivation to bury myself for 13.1 miles after all of this but I was going to run, I was going to smile, I was going to high five every kid, thank every volunteer and spectator, and encourage every athlete I came upon. I’ve taken a lot out of this sport so it was my time to put something back in.

ST: With that new attitude, how different was that run experience from other races you have done previously?

Bryan: It was the most fun I have ever had during a race. I wasn’t running fast, 8 minute pace or so, but my positive attitude made it feel effortless. It was a great reminder that a good mental attitude can improve both your experience and performance potentially.

ST: Did you earn less money because you finished further back in the field?

Bryan: I’m fairly certain the prize money for “Who is the fastest old guy exercising” is negligible.

ST: After the race did you meet up with those guys who stepped up?

Bryan: I had given them all my contact info so they could follow on the athlete tracker and see if I made it. They texted me Frank’s contact info and I was able to speak with him on the phone after the race to express my gratitude and to let him know he and Wil were the difference between me pulling the plug and being a finisher. They never quit trying to help so I never quit trying to finish for them.

ST: How much longer did you stay in Chattanooga?

Bryan: We flew out the next morning just beating the remains of Hurricane Irma. That seemed fitting somehow.

ST: Anything else we should know?

Bryan: It was an interesting experience to say the least. When anyone has a mechanical the initial reaction is shock followed by anger. Why me? Why today? When you stop the second time that’s when you begin to have serious thoughts of abandoning the race. This was a World Championship and for me it’s not about completing the distance it’s about time and placement. In 2011 I finished 4th in my AG in Henderson and although I had no such expectations for this event I still want to do the best I can. What I came to realize as I rode through the very back of the bike and run field is that the race and the sport is a lot more than that for others. Even though it is a qualified race, there were men out there who due to age or injury were struggling to make it to that line. I saw the real Ironmen out there never giving up on the dream of that finishing chute. I will cherish that experience for the rest of my life.

Thanks also to my family, Team Zoot and coach Rick Lapinski of L3 Endurance for their support.