Once I had kids, I shut down almost all regular exercise for the better part of a decade. In 2017, I made a business change and partnered with triathletes Pam and J Coley. In 2019, they convinced me to run my first marathon that November in Chattanooga. Even though I had never run more than six miles in my life, I was determined to rise to the challenge. Most people train for months to run a 26.2, but I only had nine weeks to get ready. So, I bought a Garmin training watch and got to work. I did all of my training on my own because I was not humbled yet. I had no coach and no schedule, I just did a lot of running and had a lot of soreness. The race day came, and it was below freezing outside. I had never gone past 20 miles in my training, and the distance of the race really hit my feet hard. In the first half, I kept an 8- to 9-minute mile, but that went up to about 12 minutes the last few miles. I had hoped to break four hours, and I came close. Overall, I enjoyed the event and began to think that racing might be something I could explore more.
A buddy and I decided to do the 2020 Chattanooga Iron Man 70.3, where we were both concerned about the open-water swim. I had never swum outside of playing in a pool with my kids, so that was the most intimidating part of the training. I had also never been on a road or tri bike, so that was all new to me. I learned quickly how expensive triathlons are, so when J offered to give me one of his tri bikes, I made the decision to commit. Unlike my marathon training, I knew I needed a coach to be successful and finish uninjured. I got a virtual coach from Peachtree City, Kim Bramlett, and she set me up with a plan to be ready for the Iron Man event. Well, we all know what happened in 2020, so my race got pushed to August. I just kept training. Then that race got canceled. Kim created a Peachtree City 70.3 in August since so many races had been canceled. It was incredibly hot, but I loved everything until the run. I completed the race in just over 6 hours. I wasn’t happy with the performance, but I learned a lot. I was ready to play the waiting game until the Iron Man 70.3 in Chattanooga in May 2021.
In May 2021, the temperature in Chattanooga was 95 degrees. I had been training in 65 to 75 degrees for months, so this significant change in temperature was an obstacle. I was in the top 10% of racers after completing the swim, so that meant I was in the top 200 of 2500 racers. Unfortunately, that did not last long. The bike course was challenging, but my biggest challenge was one of my back brakes that was partially engaged during my entire ride. It was not something I was able to fix on the course, so I had to work much harder to get good speed. As a result, I was not as energized on the run. It was the hardest 13.1 miles I had ever run: It was 95 degrees, it was hilly, and it drained me of what little energy I had left. In the end, I finished the race in 5:57. Though I had really hoped to finish better, I was somewhat pleased with my time. I felt I would’ve done better if not for all of the obstacles in my way. I learned a lot about how race day can really throw in extra, unexpected problems you can’t always do something about. I also learned that I would have to learn to adapt to the heat.
This event is really what inspired me to pursue a full Iron Man race, a 140.6. To me, this was the ultimate challenge, and I was not going to be satisfied with myself until I completed it. I signed up for the Iron Man Panama City Beach and got to work.
As a part of my training, my coach encouraged me to participate in another half Iron Man that September. On race day, I was in the best shape I had ever been in my life. At 41 I went out and posted a 5:03 for a 70.3. This was the top 10% of the field. This finish time was almost an hour faster than my last event in Chattanooga. It also helped that I upgraded my bike, and the temperatures were ideal.
My wife and I drove down to Panama City early. I was excited and nervous, finding it hard to sit still and rest. When we arrived, the temperatures were close to the high 70s, but on race day the temperatures had plummeted to the mid-40s with 25 mph winds. The wind was strong, and the ocean current was strong, too. The watercourse was set up such that swimmers not only had to fight rough water but also a strong current that was pulling us all off course. As soon as I got into the water, I realized that this was going to be a very long day.
Swimming is my strongest event, but I was not prepared to see such chaos. Swimmers everywhere were fighting the current and getting nowhere. I learned later that almost 25% of racers did not make it through the swim. I finished two laps around the pier in about an hour and a half. I got out of the ocean, ran to the shower to rinse off the salt, and headed for my bike.
After six hours of biking on highways in Florida, it was time for my Ieast favorite part of the race: the marathon. I realized, as I made my way down the road on my first loop, that I only had a marathon standing between me and my reward of being a full Iron Man. The first half of the run could not have been more ideal, but the last half was a struggle with every step. At some point, I injured my achilles, and my body was not cooperating. My internal drive refused to let me stop at this point and walk. Just after the 12-hour mark, I ran across that finish line and heard my name: “Trent Ratliff – YOU are an IRON MAN!” I was overwhelmed and proud of that accomplishment. It is by far one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.
Triathlons rewired the way I think. I do not hate my workouts because this is who I am now. I am someone that puts in the time even when others don’t understand why. My journey has changed me. I rarely go multiple days without some type of cardio or strength work. Keeping my base fitness is important to me, and I hope that my kids will see that and act on it. I want them to have drive, and Iron Man events have taught me the importance of drive and discipline. If you want to join me on a training run or pick my ear about getting started, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.