Though I went to bed at 9 after a couple glasses of wine, I could only sleep for 3.5 hours. Usually I do fine with nerves but for some reason I was wide awake before the alarm.
The morning of the race I woke up at 3AM with plenty of nervous race-day energy. I made my smoothie and started to eat. I try to pack in ~1000 calories on race morning. A large smoothie makes up the lion's share of the calories. Brian was up too and our spirits were light and we were excited. We took race day before pictures:
We loaded our bags and Brian tried to find the perfect song as we approached Madison since it would be in his head all day. When we arrived in Madison before 5am, traffic was very light. We arrived in the parking structure with plenty of time to spare. We grabbed our special needs bags, dropped them at the right locations and went to the bike transition area where we loaded our bikes with all the necessary gear. It was a good feeling to triple check the race day checklists and drop all the gear in the right place.
I bumped into Bitzer and Julie and said hello. Wed done a pre-ride on the bike course together a few days earlier and it was good to see some familiar faces prior to the race.
We also met with Kristie, Tesia and Fred and chatted for a while and took some pictures.
A little more than an hour before race start, Brian and I made our way down the chute and couldnt help but notice how large the waves were due to the wind. We had an East/Noreaster at 10-15mph with 20mph gusts. While we knew it was coming, it was a little unnerving as it makes the swim and the bike legs much harder. We made our way down to the grassy beach to burn some time. I made my 6th pit stop this time at a Porta Potty in an attempt to jettison any extra cargo. We sprawled out on the grass and waited patiently with the rest of the athletes. After 6, it was finally time to put on our wet suits. The plan was to be in the water by 6:30 and float until race start at 7. Once suited up we had a heck of a time getting into the chute since it was PACKED with athletes. We finally made it in and bumped into a friend of Brians who had done the race before. Phil warned us about the power of the wind and the potential it had to throw us off course. Wed need to glide longer on one side to stay a good line and not drift from the buoys. Good advice.
We eased our way into the water backwards off the ramp to save our feet from the sharp rocks. We swam out to the buoy and tried to expend as little energy as possible while we waited for the Pros to start. The water was pretty rough due to the wind and I laid on my back to try to conserve energy while floating. The wind kept pushing me onto the course and it took some effort to float in the same place. While waiting, Brian and I bumped into a friend from college, Pete Aagen, and we caught up a little with some nervous pre-race chatter.
It was finally time for the Pros to leave. It was fun to watch them rip through the water. I held onto the buoy and said a prayer since we were next. We collectively drifted a few meters out onto the course and the cannon boomed the official start of the race.
I was about 3 swimmers deep when the cannon sounded. My plan to push hard to find some open water didnt work. It was a train wreck. I was hitting the people in front of me and getting hit from behind. I kept swimming over and around. At one point a woman sat up and screamed HEY at me when I didnt even realize I was doing anything overly malicious. At any rate you cant stop and discuss it so we both just kept swimming.
It was hands down the most physical swim Ive ever done. Usually in races things clear up after the first 300 meters but in this race, I kept bumping into the people in front of me and getting hit from behind. With the waves and the splashing it was very hard to sight the buoys. I kept getting my goggle knocked and had to clear them three times before the first turn. One fellow swimmer palmed my head and nearly knocked off my swim cap which housed my Garmin!
When we converged on the first turn the field was backed up and slowed to a crawl. I had heard about the IM Wisconsin tradition of MOOing around the first turn like a herd of cattle. I figured I would have some fun with it and treaded water and MOOed multiple times while I watched the masses splashing around me.
The congestion remained while we moved to the next buoy on the short side of the rectangle. I figured I must be with a big body of swimmers.
As we started our way back on the longest stretch, the challenges continued. The wind seemed stronger as we were swimming back towards the start and I kept getting pushed off the course. Im usually good at siting and swimming towards an object but despite my best efforts, I seemed to end up far off the right of the buoys. Between buoys, the waves made it very difficult to see. In addition it seemed like I was getting passed by a lot of BIG swimmers coming from behind.
During the swim I didnt feel like I was going fast or slow I was pushing but not blowing my arms. Brian had talked to a lot of athletes that had done the course and warned me that the trip back seemed to take forever. They were right. I had expected it and settled into my stroke telling myself I could swim all day if I needed to.
I finally reached the turn. Once again it was an ongoing physical battle with other athletes. I was pretty drained from the waves and the hour long fight. As I pulled myself out of the water the clock read 1:13. I completed the swim in my first Ironman in 1:07 and I felt disappointed with my IMWI time. I had really been working on my speed since then and was hoping to get close to an hour on the swim. While I knew my first Ironman swim was on a sunny clear day in salt water with no wind and open water it was still hard to take.
Once out of the water I was determined to have a fast transition to make up time. Unfortunately I was extremely disoriented coming out of the water. Between the waves and the physical swimming it left me in quite a state. I grabbed my Garmin from underneath my swim cap and tried in vain to put it on but my fingers wouldnt work. I lost my Garmin in my first Ironman so I held on TIGHT this time.
I pulled down my wetsuit and ran over to a set of 2 wetsuit peelers. They grabbed the suit and pulled it didnt come off! After a couple yanks they freed one foot and after a few more they finally freed the other! They handed it to me and I raced up the helix (parking structure)
Running up the helix was interesting. There were people packed on the sides so they could watch the swim then cheer the athletes on as they ran up. I looked for my mom, Fred and Tesia but it was deafening and more than literally 15 people deep. I heard someone cry my name and turned to wave, Garmin in hand.
I ran into the terrace and into the room with the transition bags. They handed me my bag as I ran through and I stumbled into the changing room with all my stuff. My first priority was to get my Garmin on and I fumbled it with thick fingers. It took and an eternity to work the clasp as I blankly stared at the knot on the top of my transition bag.
Before I could fumble through untying it, a volunteer took pity on me and opened up my transition bag and laid everything out on the floor. I grabbed my helmet and put it on. The volunteer picked up my Swimmers Ear drops and asked if I wanted them. Of course I did! I took off the helmet, put drops in and put my helmet back on. So far my transition was not going according to plan. Id done this drill before but that swim really done a number on me. I quickly threw on the rest of my gear and clip clopped out the door in my bike shoes.
It was a short 150 meter run to get to where my bike was racked. When I arrived the volunteer helped me retrieve it and I continued my jog to the exit of the transition area. The race clock was at ~1:30 and I couldnt believe my transition had taken ~20 minutes. This was really confusing and it took me some time to reason out that it must be for the Pros since they left ten minutes earlier.
On the mount line I jumped onto my bike seat and headed down the helix. I was a little apprehensive going down 3 stories of a concrete loop. I had never driven down a parking structure on thin tread of rubber but there were grooves cut in the concrete which offered plenty of traction.
Per Brian, the IMWI bike course is primarily made up of 2, 40-mile loops that cover A LOT of difficult, technical hills and begin and end in Verona, WI. The 112 mile Ironman bike distance consists of a 16-mile route out to Verona or the stick, the 2 loops, and a second 16 mile stick back to the finish at Monona Terrace.
My race plan called for the first 5 miles to be in low zone 2 before I moved into a higher HR zone. It was very difficult for me to execute. On the bike path I was getting passed by a lot of people. Each time I checked my HR had drifted up. The exercise of monitoring my HR was made more difficult by my wet top flapping in the wind over my HR monitor giving me false reads. When Id hold my arm over the top of my HR monitor itd drop back down but I couldnt hold my arm over the monitor and ride well which made for a lot of guesswork in the first ten miles.
At mile 3 I decided to err on the safe side and base my heart rate on perceived level of exertion and make sure I kept it very low. The stick on the way out of town wasnt overly difficult and after about 20 minutes I started to work the plan of riding in zone 3 and low zone 4 on the hills I found that Id attack a hill and my HR showed low zone 5 at times not good. Id quickly drop back down to 3 to recover.
After the first 16 miles of the stick I made it to the loop. All in all I was feeling pretty good and focused on working my plan. For the nutrition portion I was drinking Carbo Pro every 15 minutes. For the bike course I had ~13 scoops of Carbo Pro and one scoop of protein divided into two 24 OZ water bottles. In addition, I was taking a Saltstick pill every 30 minutes.
I enjoyed the fans on the first loop of the course. There were costumes, speedos and superheros dancing and waving. One hill had several devils encouraging the bikers with a pitch fork. There were clowns, speedos and even a flasher with what appeared to be a fake 2 foot long appendage.
At about mile 35 I pulled over to reapply some Bag Balm to my sensitive areas. I jumped back on my bike and 100 feet later Brian was passing me! We exchanged a friendly hello and he pulled away. I could tell that he was all focus and over the course of the next 3 miles I watched him slowly pull out of sight. At about that time I was paying more attention to my legs. My strategy of climbing into zone 4 on the hills was starting to take its toll and lactic acid was building up. In addition, I could feel my stomach starting to feel unsettled in the same way it had in Lawrence, Kansas in my Half-Ironman earlier in the year. I decided to take a TUMS but its promised healing powers lacking on this particular race day. I made the decision to back off and ride in zone 2 to see if I could move some lactic acid and fix my stomach issue.
There was a part of the course a few miles before the three bitches (three biggest hills) that Phil and CJ told me was a good time to eat so I decided to risk some Shot Bloks that had some caffeine. I wasnt planning on eating any during the race since they messed with my stomach when I raced in a higher HR zone. While riding in zone 2 I assumed I could add them back into my diet. A few minutes later they kicked in and gave me a boost as I headed into the hills.
It was GREAT that the crowds were out en masse. They hooted and hollered as riders went by. It was simply good fun. After a few hills I made it to the hill leading up to Old Sauk. It was crammed with people and there was only about 5 feet where bikers could ride! Maria was waiting toward the bottom and pulled out to run in front of me. With a friendly swat I followed her up the hill. When we made it to the top to where the rest of the family was situated I stopped the bike and gave high 5s and hugs. At that point in the race it was GREAT to see them and I left the hill mentally re-energized. Having family at events is always motivating but for some reason on this windy day in September it meant a lot more than any other event I could recall.
There were a few more turns and before I knew it I was at the special needs area. I pulled in and grabbed my 2nd water bottle of Carbo Pro and extra Tums, reapplied Bag Balm to sensitive areas and hit the road.
The euphoria of seeing my family had finally worn off. I could still feel the lactic acid in my legs and I felt like Id gone 90 miles when it was time to make the second loop. I watched the turnoff to the stick with envy as my bike veered to the right for the second loop. At this point I decided to stop worrying about my legs and have more fun with the course. I focused on looking around and smiling and not looking at my Garmin as much. I pulled off to the side of the road for a quick pit stop and started back in at a conservative pace spinning at 100 cadence. I talked a little bit to the other bikers and just had more fun.
In the second loop of the race I ran out of water and was out for ~15 minutes. I went with a strategy to only bring one water bottle along and fill it at every aid station. Im not sure if I drank water too quickly or if the water stations werent equally spaced but it was a problem Id never dealt with in a distance race. I opted to continue drinking my carbo pro even though I usually dilute it by drinking water from my water bottle afterwards. At the next aid station I did my best to conservatively rehydrate and refill and hoped that my error wouldnt come back to haunt me.
When I did check my Garmin it was safely reading zone 2. After a couple hours at that effort my body started to move some lactic acid and my legs were okay. I was mentally getting tired and couldnt remember exactly where I was on the course. I kept trying to recall if Id done the Whitte Rollers the second time or not. I took more shot blocks and 3 Ibuprofen in the short stretch leading up to the 3 bitches. I didnt mind spinning up the 3 hills this time and my family encouraged me again as I rode by.
A few more twists and turns and I was back at the turnoff for the stick. By this point I felt MUCH better than I did the first time around as I headed back towards Madison. I took a few more Shot Bloks and raced back towards town feeling good. I passed a few riders on the way back. Though I was ready to get off the bike, I never had the 90 mile itch to be done riding. With the exception of the stick leading back to town it felt like I was getting passed more than I was passing. As it turns out, I started the bike ranked 488 overall (71st in my age group) and ended the bike ranked 403 overall (72nd in my age group). Id essentially held my age group rank for the bike leg.
Going back up the Helix wasnt as bad as I thought it would be. At that point I was so used to going up hills another one didnt really make a difference. After a quick dismount I raced into the terrace, found my bag and launched myself into a seat in the locker room. I called out for help and an IM employee actually helped me get my bag open and pull out my shoes. I did my best to dry my feet, pull on socks and grab my running belt. I took a ~20 second pit stop to slather on sun screen, and raced out the transition area into an elongated chute. My feet were clearly telling me that theyd been pressing on the pedals for the last 6 plus hours.
The run course is made up of two 13-mile loops that snake from the state capitol building down State Street through the University of Wisconsin campus and back again to the finish at the capitol.
The first quarter mile I didnt have a problem running slowly as I approached the Capitol atop a hill. The other side of the square there was a nice downhill and I couldnt help letting my legs stretch out a bit. When I noticed my pace was sub 8 minutes I forced myself to pull back. In general, I had a really hard time finding my race pace with all the hills.
From out of nowhere a cramp in my stomach hit me like a ton of bricks. It was the same thing I experienced in my Half-Ironman and the reason Id been to a nutritionist a couple times to discuss my race diet. Based on my earlier experience I knew I could push through it but I knew my pace would be a couple minutes slower per mile than I was capable of. I recalled my race in Kansas and all the things I tried to make my stomach better but nothing seemed to work. I took another TUMS to no avail. Thinking through it, the cramp earlier in the year went away very shortly after the race and the only thing I could think of to try was to stop and see if that would work it out. I tried stopping at a porta potty and after a quick break I jumped out and tried jogging again but the cramp was still there.
I kept jogging until I was in front of Camp Randall. I made the decision to walk around the stadium and see if it fixed the problem. This was one of the HARDEST decisions in the race. I could have physically kept jogging but knew that any chance of hitting my time goal would be lost. I took a step onto Camp Randall and started walking. The first half nothing changed, so I slowed down more and remembered the marching band days and all the good times Id had in Camp Randall. I belched and started feeling a little bit better. I prayed and walked my final 100 yards towards the end of the turf. I finished my prayer and jumped back onto the blacktop. Within the next 100 yards I continued to burp and couldnt feel the cramp!
I took it easy for a couple miles to make sure it had worked its way out. I ran at a 9 minute mile pace with a visiting college student from Michigan doing the IM. It was an interesting conversation as he was in a very different stage of life. Running through my old stomping ground talking to a college student brought back a lot of memories. In the end, I dropped back and let him pass so I could refocus on my race. After a few more miles I decided to up my pace and see if the cramp came back. Nothing! I was thrilled that I could race again. Running down the lakeshore path towards campus I started to open it up a little bit. I was encouraged by running down the familiar path Id taken hundreds of times while attending school at the UW.
At last I ran up the hill on Observatory and slowly made my way to State Street. State Street was packed and the spectators were a lot of fun. After the turn-around I was pushing harder than I should have and I noticed my pace was dipping into the 7 minute mile range but my HR was still in zone 2. I went back into the 8s and raced down the Lakeshore path. As I passed the band practice field I found Fred and Tesia! It was fun to see Fred and he mentioned Brian was a couple minutes in front of me. I backed off my pace figuring Id see Brian soon enough. I was headed down a long out and back and started looking for him. A minute or so from the turnaround I saw him running toward me and screamed a greeting! He was doing a great job and holding an impressive pace!
I, too, made the turn around and headed back into campus. I dropped my speed over the rolling hills and held a comfortable pace. I finally caught-up with Brian at about mile 11 at an aid station. He was doing fine and seemed focused so I started my run back to the capital.
I was feeling fine and focused on my nutrition plan. On the run I was continuing my cadence of CarboPro every 15 minutes with a salt tab every half hour. I could tell that running was taking its toll on my body. My hips were sore and I could definitely feel my knees. It was uphill to the Capitol and I wasnt running overly fast. The fans were cheering athletes on with a plethora of noise and positive energy. When I got back to the Capitol, I gave high 5s to Phil and CJ. When I arrived at the special needs area they actually had Brians bag! he was right behind me and they needed both prepped. I grabbed another hip flask water bottle with Carbo Pro, made a few more turns and left the capital square.
The way out was pretty easy as it was downhill. At the bottom of the hill I met my mother pulling a cooler and stopped to say hello and snap some pictures. It was GREAT to see her!
I kept up a good pace without going too fast. As I left University I could tell my legs had the beginning of a cramp so I started to take more salt tablets. Next to the band practice field I found my Father, Sister and niece so I stopped for a few pictures! When I started up Observatory Hill my legs felt like they were going to cramp so I walked up the steep part just to be safe, then jogged across the flat and downhill portion. State Street felt great and I ran down the lakeshore path on my way back.
On the lakeshore the cramp finally took hold of my calf and seized up my leg. I couldnt run and had to come to a complete stop. I was pushing my body to the limit and it finally pushed back - HARD. Less than half of the marathon to go and I was in real trouble. I hobbled a few steps and my leg allowed me to walk. I took a bunch of salt pills, an Ibuprofen and a TUMS. A guy from Mexico was running behind me and said, You have to find yourself again as he passed me. My first reaction was a flash of anger. I thought about it a little bit then thought, Maybe I do need to find myself again. What the heck and tried to jog and my leg worked!
I started to run at a sustainable pace. The miles methodically clicked by and I was grateful they put markers on every mile. I listened to my body and thought about one mile at a time. I could tell I was pushing way beyond what was comfortable for my hips and knees. I told myself, just get to mile 22. Once there Id think, Now get to mile 23. Then, Only a 5K left! and so on. As I pushed myself back up State Street to the Capitol, I knew my body was going to make it so I cranked it down for the last half a mile and focused on passing the other racers. At last I could see the chute and only had a couple turns left. I was relieved when I saw the actual finish line. I ran down the chute with mixed feelings - mostly relief and excitement mingled with exhaustion. I left it all out on the course.
I turned around and waited for Brian. The volunteers tried to keep us moving through the chute and into the aid station but I was adamant that I wanted to wait at the finish for my brother. They gave me some water and propped me up as I waited. Brian turned the corner about 10 minutes later looking good! He ran down the chute with his head high. I hobbled up and gave him a hug. He earned a GREAT Ironman time. It felt great to share this moment of accomplishment with him.
Im extremely grateful to my family that enabled the day. Maria, Quinn and Alana put up with my time intensive training routine. My Wisconsin family was fantastic the days leading up to the race and gave Brian and me plenty of time to prep. On race day encouraging family and friends made all the difference. Im also thankful for my brother making it all come together. IM WI has been on my bucket list and I dont think it could have been a better experience than sharing it with those that matter the most.