Ironman Wisconsin Race Report
Race Day: Sunday, September 13, 2015 – 7am
This is the big one. From when I registered for Ironman Wisconsin in early September 2014, this event and the training and the preparations have been on the forefront of my mind. It’s dominated my life in many ways… mentally, physically, time- and energy-wise. And to cross the finish line made it all worth it!
Training went good. That is a very broad generalization, but to describe at least 7 months of specific day-in, day-out training, “good” is the best way to sum it up! I found it miraculous that I was able to train like that. I can now only imagine the devastation of signing up for an event like this and be mentally in it, only to get injured and have to take a week off. To take a month or multiple months off would be tortuous! Races in 2015 blew my previous results out of the water. That just goes to show that if you put in the time and effort, you’ll see improvement. You can’t fake it, and a high-volume training program is a guaranteed way to get better at triathlons. That was the most fun part of the whole training experience–the early season hours and miles translate into some fast racing. I saw big time improvements.
August wasn’t great, though. I didn’t get any long efforts on the bike, besides one 60 miler and maybe a few two hour rides, which made me a bit worried. Running was consistent, luckily, but five weeks out would be the perfect time to get a few last big workouts in, recover, and then put everything together for race day. Not for me. Work commitments got in the way of training, my energy stores were sapped, and I couldn’t get it in. There is not much to do about that, however, and I made my best effort to train smart in the final weeks before the big show. On race week, I felt healthy, energetic, and lean. Perfect.
Nick, Ryan and I got to Madison on Friday for the race on Sunday. The whole Ironman experience is pretty cool. The bike has to be dropped off this day between these times and you pick up your packet materials between this time and drop your run special needs bag off here at that time and the bike special needs bag here, and so on… There are a lot of details and a few times I felt like a sheep being herded in the right direction, not knowing why or what the line I was standing in was even for. I suppose this sort of organization is necessary for an event of this complexity and size. Regardless, it was nice to get there with two days to kill before the race.
Although we had these seemingly easy 1-2 hour obligations each day (Friday and Saturday), it felt like the chill time was at a minimum and we were constantly running around or prioritizing what to do next. We got it all done, though, and by Saturday night, we were incredibly excited and ready for what the next day had in store.
Race day began at 4:30am. I woke up and poured a coffee cup full of Raisin Bran and skim milk and ate it with a fork. No bowls or spoons. That is what I was working with. Nick grabbed me a coffee and we started getting ready. In 45 minutes, we were all set. It was nice to know that the majority of my equipment was stowed away ready to go and the only big items to carry with me to the start line were for the swim. It’s pretty easy to keep track of the wetsuit and goggles, really. And so we set off!
At Monona Terrace in the darkness, there were people everywhere. First things first, I got body marked. Then, to the bike rack. I put one bottle of water and one bottle of Gatorade on my bike and borrowed a pump from some guy. Then, I went to the bike gear bag transition room and stashed a few more calories with my helmet and socks and sunglasses. At this point, I had lost Ryan and Nick and was by myself. I wandered around looking for a calm bathroom facility with a short line. The porto-pottie did not fit the bill for that, and I found one inside the convention center. After the business was taken care of, I had 45 minutes to burn before the gun went off, so I moseyed to the swim start and mentally prepared for the day ahead. The morning was very calm and orderly, which was exactly what I needed.
At 6:45am, I suited up and got into the water. I did a few strokes and felt good. The water was perfect and I was very comfortable. I got back behind the start line and browsed for a sensible spot to start. The mass start of over 2,000 people is one long line perpendicular to the buoy line. If you start furthest away from the buoy line, you’d theoretically swim a few hundred more yards than someone who starts right next to it, but that is apparently a rough start with faster swimmers crowding the corner. I started in the middle of the start line near a water ski jump. With five minutes to go, I swam up to the front and easily slid into place in the front row. I don’t want to swim around people in this mess! The announcer said some words and before long BOOM! and the cannon shot.
I started off hard. I wanted to get out in front a little bit. 2.4 miles is plenty of time to get in a good rhythm, I could afford to swim out of my element for two minutes. With my first sighting, there was nobody in front of me and nobody really around me. Nice! I got bashed a little bit, but the first ten minutes was really nice, actually. I quickly got into a rhythm.
The rectangular swim course has one really long stretch on the back side, the two shorter sides, plus the start and finish side. Coming up to the first buoy, known as a major hog-pile where you “moo” like cattle being smooshed through a gate or something, my swim was so far without incident. This is going better than any other race this year, I thought! What a good start! To my surprise, the rest of the swim went equally well–I had plenty of room to swim and could get into a nice stroke pattern for lengthy periods of time. I’d get onto somebody’s feet and then lose them, and jump right onto the next guy’s feet. On the final turn, I didn’t exactly know the fastest route back, and looking for the bee line, felt like I was swerving around a bit. When I exited the water, I hit 1:05 on my watch. That was pretty much right where I wanted to be and I was super pleased with the race so far. The swim didn’t feel too arduous. Long, yes, and I wanted it to be over when my eyes felt like they were bulging out of my sockets from the tight goggles, but I was good to go and excited to start the bike.
I rolled the wetsuit below my waist just in time to get to the wetsuit strippers. Two guys told me to lay down, and I yelled “PEEL ‘EM, BOYS!” In one picosecond, they yelled at me to get up, threw me the wetsuit and I was on my way. Slick. The run to T1 was up a parking ramp helix. It was a little congested and completely lined three-deep with spectators. I tried to cut a corner on the curb and slipped and fell. How embarrassing! I sensed the crowd hush as if I was down for good or something, but I popped back up with a tiny scratch on my hand and kept on my way.
The T1 was a little hectic, but I got my bike gear quickly and was off.
I hopped on my speed machine and got one foot in the shoe and the other just mashing on top while circling down the helix on the other side of the parking ramp. The start of the bike was a little technical on bike paths and tight turns. I got set up and felt great. I knew it was going to be chilly in the morning with temps just above 50 degrees, but it felt really refreshing out of the swim. Once out onto the open road, I was cranking past people. It was hard to limit at first. The bike course consists of a 16 mile stem out into the country, then two 40 mile loops, then back onto the stem for 112 miles. I passed a lot of the fast swimmers who weren’t going to bike really fast and by mile 30 or so, I felt like I was in a good groove and staying on top of nutrition. My stomach was happy and I was energized.
The Ironman Wisconsin bike course is sweet. I had so much fun on the first loop. There are a ton of screamin’ downhills, and the uphills and plentiful turns keep you engaged. I got with a group of guys and was jarring back and forth. There were a few hills where spectators lined the street and were going crazy. The spectator support is pretty astounding, really! By 50 miles in, I had to pee and felt a little anxious to get to the halfway point. Once there, I grabbed my bike special needs bag, in which I stuffed some tasty goodies. I cracked open the gummi worms and ate a large handful as I was peeing in the porto-pottie. My legs felt decent, and the break was great to stretch my legs and get my muscles in a different position for a second. I stuffed my bike box with as much more snacks as I could fit and was off.
The second loop started off good. I was refueled, didn’t have to pee anymore, and knew what I had in store for the second go-around. I quickly found myself in no-man’s land. There weren’t many people around me, surprisingly, and I was just passing some of the slower people on their first lap. It was here, perhaps mile 60 or so, that I started feeling a little down. My quads were beginning to feel sore and I was definitely uncomfortable in aero position. The neck and back and the area that touches the saddle were all beginning to ache. It felt like the first part of the loop was so flat and without hills and turns, which would typically be great cycling terrain (and was definitely not the case!), but I wanted the hills and turns because then I could sit up and get out of aero. I told myself to soft pedal and take it easy. There is no sense in pushing through the fatigue with 40 miles and a marathon to go. I had to let the fatigue slow me down on the bike or else I’d pay for it big time on the run.
I kept it steady and focused on eating and drinking and staying aero and being efficient for the remainder of the loop. When I saw Dave (Nick’s pops) on the last big hill of the loop, I got a boost of energy. I suddenly felt fresh and smooth for the remaining 25 miles. This was the definition of a second wind–like my brain shut off certain pain sensors or something. I started back onto the 16 mile stem towards Madison and was feeling good physically and feeling good about the race in general. Yes, my legs were pretty sore and my neck was killing, but my time was pretty much right on track. I estimated 5:12 initially, and knew I wouldn’t hit that, but definitely on track for under 10 hours.
I remember distinctly questioning whether or not I’d be able to run. It was hard to visualize actually running. My legs were so burnt out, I really thought I’d walk it in for a 6 hour marathon. I remembered a mantra, “If it’s not positive, it’s negative. Everything has to be positive from here on out.” And so I took it home with that in mind. Of course I’d be able to run, I’ve trained all year for this. There were a few cyclists in the mix, and I simply assessed my stomach situation and tried to finish off my food and Gatorade stash and get to digestion while I was still on the bike.
It was relieving to see Monona Terrace in the distance. I rode up the helix to the top of the parking garage, which felt flat compared to some of the hills on the course. I slipped my feet out of my shoes and mashed them on top, then put one leg over the top tube. My dismount was quick, but felt so weird. First of all, the balls of my feet hurt. I think my bike shoes could use a new insert. Next, the legs were so jelly right away–by far more unstable and wobbly than ever. I had a weird gallop/hobble/run thing going on into the T2 room.
It was nice to have a simple run bag. The volunteer got my shoes aligned, I slipped them on, grabbed the race number belt and was off. It seemed like the volunteer was surprised by how hasty I was, but c’mon, you need a sense of urgency in transition zone!
Right off the bat, I took a whiz in the plentiful porto-potties right outside of transition. Hue was good. I was worried that my pee would be super dark or something. Anyways, it was another 100 feet to the run start and I split my watch time. Once I got my shoes on, my feet felt fine, and a few strides is all it took to shake the jelly legs. It was almost overwhelming how happy I was to get running and feel normal. Burnt quads were no issue, neck was in a different position, and all of the bike pains were gone. My first mile was around 7 minutes flat and I was on my way with big smiles.
I kept telling myself that my pace should feel easy until mile 16. After mile 16, it can be hard work, but before that it is steady, steady, steady; easy, easy easy. I caught up to a fellow Minnesota triathlete Ross Weinzierl and he said “slow is steady, steady is fast.” Ross kept it steady. I passed him at mile 3 or so, and he ended up at around 10:25. That is steady.
I kept it steady, too, for a long time. The run is two laps, which makes it easy to break up. There are a lot of different views as the run darts all around Madison. That was really cool, and it kept my mind off the grueling task. I was in good spirits for 10 miles and people commented on my smile! I was smiling because it was fun. I felt good and I was so excited to take it home.
At Mile 13, I saw a few familiar faces and hit the turnaround feeling good. With half to go, I calculated that I needed a 1:45 half marathon to get under 10 hours. My initial high-end predictions of 9:45 were out the window, but 1:45 was just keeping it steady plus a nice little time buffer. I saw Nick soon after that, and he was cruising. Definitely not the super scary 10k speed I’m used seeing chasing me down like at Buffalo Tri earlier this year, but I could tell he was moving along quickly. I had just looked at my watch at the turn and it read 8:15:XX. A quick calculation meant he was only a few minutes back and would be passing me soon. I still felt good, though, and just kept truckin’.
Seemingly all the sudden, I started shutting down. As I write this approximately 24 hours after the fact, I can’t remember exactly what was going on, but I remember being so hungry for real food like a sandwich and just not being able to run fast.
I had this super slow trot going on and made the executive decision to walk through an aid station at mile 16 or so. This was the first time I had stopped running, and it felt nice to stop for a second. Real nice. It wasn’t necessarily the actual act of walking that felt nice, but the knowledge that I don’t have to start running again quite yet. I grabbed a cup full of pretzels and a cup full of coke. That combination was so good. Just so completely satisfying. I finished it off to the last drop and started running again. Still slow. Still pretty agonizing. I walked through the next three or four aid stations in the same fashion: eat a lot of pretzels and drink a cup of coke, then run again. It was easier to run and huge motivation to just know that if I could run to the next aid station, I’d be able to walk through it and mow down on food and drink tasty coke.
By the time mile 22 came around, I had been passed frivolously by my fellow competitors. I ran through an aid station for once. My stomach felt good despite eating a lot of food that would probably make any runner’s gut churn! But I picked it up. I’m not sure if it was a boost of adrenaline or the conversion of food into energy, but my pace increased, my form improved, and I was back in the mix feeling good. It was as if my brain turned off certain pain sensors. This sensation was very, very similar to my bike experience–a second wind. So for the final 5 miles, I tried to hold it together and take it all in. I recall thinking that I was sure to faint or collapse at the finish line. I wondered what would indeed happen. I thought of all the videos on the internet about Ironman athletes collapsing with 400 meters left and crawling to the finish line, or the swarm of volunteers on deck ready to catch the completely exhausted racers as they leave their last calorie of energy on the course. Then I remembered my mantra and just tried to soak up the crowd and the whole experience and keep plugging along.
I don’t know why a kid cheering for their parent struck a chord with me, but I got pretty emotional at some point and thought about all of the training, the time spent and sacrifice for this dumb event. The emotions flashed through my mind state in the final few miles. Running down State Street towards the Capitol was great. To see the Capital was a sight for sore eyes. I was just outside of 10 hours, but time really didn’t matter at this point. I kicked it in and got some high-fives in the finishing chute.
At the finish, I did the signature bow-and-arrow finish celebration the volunteers caught me. No, I didn’t collapse or anything, but I definitely put some weight on their shoulders as they shuttled me through the barricades.
To finish was pretty ecstatic. What a feeling. I saw Nick almost immediately. He was sitting on a chair and wolfing down pizza. Our parents were right there, and it felt really wonderful to sit down and relish in the moment of finishing Ironman Wisconsin. 12 months of dedication, 10 hours of pure exercise, and a beautiful 10 minutes of sitting in a chair to soak it all in.
The race went off without a hitch. I mean, things went really perfect. You can get punched in the face right away and caught with a group of flailing swimmers, have big time mechanical issues on the bike, or encounter a whole host of issues during the run. And the transitions are so hectic that you never know what could happen! To have everything go so smooth was incredible. I think that the race was perfectly executed, which is equally as incredible. I slowed down, I had low points, and I was 20 minutes off of my expectations, but I don’t think I could have raced it any differently to go any faster. Training modifications are a different story, and I know I have a sub-9:30 rattling around there somewhere. But it will take another $700, 40 weeks spent training for 20 hours, and fun weekend with the boys to find out! I’m super excited for that next one.
Place: 37/2387 (2,387 finishers)
Shoes: Saucony Kinvara 5, size 11.5
Bike: Specialized Transition
Wheels: Profile Design 78
Food: Too much to remember… ~5 gels, 2 packets of Honey Stinger Energy Chews, 1.5 Bearded Brothers Bars, 2 Honey Stinger Carmel Waffles, 2 handfuls of Trolli Brite Crawlers, a lot of pretzels, and more…