Ironman Wisconsin Race Report

IM2013Although I had experience on my side leading up to Ironman Wisconsin, this year’s race presented me with a new challenge. When I took my current job a few years ago, I knew the biggest event I’d manage fell precisely the same weekend of Ironman Wisconsin—every year.  Four 12 hour days on my feet and unpredictable stress hardly seemed like the best plan for the final days leading up to an Ironman. But when Ironman rolled around in 2012, I found myself sucked into the excitement and registered for the 2013 race in a fog of optimism (or…stupidity).Ironman-1

During the summer, training went well. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have some regrets about how much of my summer revolved around swimming, biking and running. There were certainly times I longed for a more carefree and spontaneous lifestyle without the constant nagging feeling of when and what my next workout would be. At the same time, I love being outside and training, feeling the burn of a hard workout, and knowing that I’m prepared.

The week leading up to the race was both mentally and physically exhausting. I had trouble sleeping, and in addition to work, I was also trying to navigate a big life decision. It was all too much. Luckily, I’d had the foresight to pack my gear and transition bags and prepare the week’s meals in advance. I wore compression socks under my pants during my long work days, and just tried to get through the week in one piece.Ironman-4

The weather on race day was perfect. Other than a bit of wind that would come into play during the swim and bike, it was an Ironman dream day with temperatures in the mid-70’s and overcast skies. The fact that Sunday was sandwiched in between two days with sweltering temperatures made me that much more thankful for mother nature’s generosity.

On race day I woke up shortly before 5 a.m. and had breakfast—a bagel with peanut butter, coffee, and a banana, precisely what I’ve eaten before each Ironman I’ve ever done. Larry and I drove downtown and parked, and tears welled up in my eyes as we walked up to the Monona Terrace—I was so excited, and I always get a little emotional thinking of how hard and long so many people have worked for this one day. I then set off on my list of pre-race tasks: dropping off transition bags, pumping air in my bike tires, body marking, adding a pair of socks to my running gear bag, getting my wetsuit on and zipped up, and then finally, walking down the helix to the swim start. I knew I needed to get to the swim start early—you wouldn’t believe how backed up it can get as 2,500 athletes make their way into the water. And I like getting in early for a spot up front.

More than 20 minutes before the start, I was treading water near the inside orange buoy in one of the front rows. As the race start drew nearer, it became more and more congested with extended arms and legs flailing everywhere, and I’d move around to find open water. At one point, a nearby male swimmer announced to everyone around—I’m just confirming that everyone here can swim the course in around an hour. I’m guessing he wondered if some had misseeded themselves? I nodded my head confidently, then turned away to focus on the race.Ironman-2

At 7am, the cannon blew and we were off. Having lined up near the inside buoy, I had placed myself in line with the most direct path, but also in an area where I’d be more likely to encounter aggressive behavior, like elbows and feet directed at my head. But amazingly, it was one of the cleanest Ironman swims I’ve experienced. There were people all around me, but I kept my head down and stayed out of the line of danger. It was also my first time experiencing the one loop swim course implemented in 2012 (it was previously two loops). The course was fine, but it felt like it went on forever. It was also probably the waviest Ironman swim I’ve experienced—not the whole time, but parts of it, like when we were in the furthest corner of the rectangular course.  I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself then as I recalled my favorite activity at water parks growing up: swimming laps in the wave pool. That early training served me well. I finally reached the swim finish in just over an hour (1:02), my slowest Ironman Wisconsin swim, but I figured it was good enough considering the course change and waviness. I was later surprised to learn that it was the fastest in my age group.Ironman-6

Transition went smoothly and I was off on my bike. The first ten miles felt easy and fast—I was likely benefiting from a great tail wind. At some point early in the first loop, though, my legs became really achy. If the rest of the race feels like this, I told myself, I’m in big trouble. That feeling continued for another 20 or 30 miles. I started second guessing my taper, wondering if I should have done more mileage in the final weeks. Or maybe it was from all the hours on my feet at work in the days leading up to the race? Luckily, it did get better, and I felt stronger on the second loop. I focused on drinking a lot of Powerade and taking down gels and two or three salt tablets every hour.

There are many parts of the bike course that are so fun and memorable—especially riding through throngs of spectators gathered and cheering Tour de France style, especially in and around Verona. I loved seeing friends and family at so many points during the day. They all made me smile. I had one more scare going up one of the biggest hills on the second loop—sharp cramps in my calves. I reduced my effort and frantically choked down several salt tablets and Powerade, which thankfully seemed to do the trick. Heading back to Madison on Whalen Road is always a great feeling—after spending 6 hours on the bike, the only thing I want to do is get off. Plus, I love the Ironman Wisconsin marathon. When I get to that point of the race, I always think, okay, I’ve got this. This is the fun part. Total time on the bike was 6:02.Ironman-8

Everything went smoothly again in transition, and I was thankful I had put an extra pair of socks in my transition bag to change into. Besides being severely dehydrated, I felt great going into the marathon and quickly found my running legs. The temperature was cool and ideal for a marathon. My focus was to rehydrate and continue fueling—I took in 1-3 cups of Powerade at each aid station, a gel every third aid station, and a few salt tablets each hour. I drank virtually no water to avoid the sloshy stomach feeling. For the most part, I felt really good and was able to hold a consistent effort, though my energy did ebb and flow. I race-walked the Observatory hill to save energy (someone once told me that it’s important to keep your cadence high when you walk hills). From the looks of my split times (which varied from a 7:19 to a 9:38 mile pace), I seemed to struggle a big in the middle of the marathon (mile 13 to 19 or so), but gained speed a few miles from the finish. It’s hard not to get excited at that point!Ironman-9

My favorite part of the run was seeing my mom and Larry’s family gathered on State Street and other friends along the way, like Jill and Ryan, Matt and Julie, and Kim and Matt. I was so, so thankful for the amazing support.

I finished the marathon in 3:47, with an overall time of 11:03, which put me fourth in my age group. My goal had been to finish the race in 11 hours, so I was right there. It was my second best Ironman Wisconsin finish time. Overall, I was pleased with the swim and run, but disappointed with my bike split. Several people asked afterward if I had qualified for Hawaii. Not this time. I was one place and two minutes away. But that’s okay. I’ve been to Hawaii and I told myself before the race that even in the off chance that I qualified, I wouldn’t take the spot. I hope to go back someday, but not anytime in the near future. For now, there are many other places I’d like to see and explore.

So that’s that. It was another incredible journey. I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to do this race again, and for all of the support from family, friends and co-workers. I’m especially grateful for the love, patience, and support Larry showed me during the months of hard training. I can’t see myself doing another Ironman triathlon in the near future, but someday I’ll be back.

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