Jeff Symonds loves triathlon, even after a tough course makes him vomit.
That’s what happened to Symonds, who placed second at the 2016 Little Debbie Ironman Chattanooga Sept. 25 in eight hours, 19 minutes, 27 seconds. Belgium’s Marino Vanhoenacker won in 8:12:22.
Trailing Vanhoenacker by 12 minutes on the bike, Symonds gained time on the run, which he finished five minutes faster than Vanhoenacker, 2:50:13 to 2:55:26.
“The run was brutally hot and hilly. It was like a warzone out there and everyone was suffering. Which is exactly how I like it,” wrote Symonds in an email and added he wasn’t able to connect with Vanhoenacker until a few hours later because the Belgian headed straight for the medical tent upon finishing.
Symonds struggled to speak to the media after finishing. He puked over the floor and media table and on his way to the medical tent. Yet, Symonds was thrilled to have made Vanhoenacker “suffer for it.”
When asked about finishing second, Symonds said it was awesome.
“Not quite winning Challenge in your hometown awesome, but close,” said Symonds. “I was really happy with it because the first half of the race did not go as planned. But Ironman is too long of an event for something not to go wrong and it is all about if you can solve the problems that the day throws at you. I was able to solve my problems and have a great day.”
American Eric Limkemann came out of the swim in 41:25, while Vanhoenacker was out in 45:08 and Symonds 45:10. Symonds said the current in the Tennessee river made it seem easier for the athletes to stick together.
“I was surprised to see some of my key competitors, who are usually known as strong swimmers, to be right beside me coming out of the water,” he said.
On the bike, Vanhoenacker finished in 4:27:28, while Symonds needed 4:39:18 to finish. Symonds described the bike course, which provided scenery of farmland and mountain views, as a rolling hill ride on country roads. His main problem was keeping bottles from falling off his bike. The railroad tracks and cracks in the road were enough to shoot the bottles out.
“I ended up dropping five or six bottles in the first 80-kilometres before I started tucking a bottle in the front of my shirt,” said Symonds, adding it was important to keep hydrated. “I also received two inadvertent littering penalties that I had to stop for, which meant I had to ride really hard to catch back up to my competitors.”
The competition was fierce. Along with Vanhoeknacker, a Ironman World record-holder and 15-time Ironman Champion, was also Ironman champion Matt Russell, who was second at the Ironman North America Championships this year and Viktor Zyemstev, who did not finish.
“To finish second here was pretty awesome,” said Symonds, adding that what made the race special was the volunteers and community.
“It was a lot like Penticton in that regard,” he said.
Symonds isn’t sure what race he will do next, but is considering Ironman Los Cabos and potentially Bahrain in December.
“Right now I need to forget how awful I felt,” he said.