Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Race Report - Ironman Wisconsin

I woke up at 3am, 45 minutes before the alarm. SO got out of bed first as he said he didn’t really sleep at all. We got our water bottles, wetsuits, and everything else ready to go and made our way to the race at 4:30 with his mom driving us. We dropped our special needs bags off then headed to transition, getting there about 3 minutes after it opened. I stopped to see Mentor as I had to wait for SO to finish with the tire pump. I started getting teary-eyed so I gave him a hug and started the walk to SO’s spot in transition. I made the very very long walk to my bike, put air in the tires, a couple of dollars in the bento box (just in case), and water bottles in the cages. His mom then took a before photo, and we headed to the swim start. It was cool so we started getting ready for the swim around 5:30, knowing that swim opened at 6:20, and we didn’t want to be on land when the race started.

We got in the water around 6:30 and headed to the start line around 6:40. The water was cold, and we spent about 20 minutes treading water before the horn went off. A couple of minutes before the horn, he gave me a kiss and wished me luck. We were in a good spot (we thought), towards the side and in front, but after 30 seconds, I was in the most brutal swim I have ever experienced. I got kicked in the face at least 8 times, my goggles kicked off 4 times. I struggled with people on both sides of me trying to swim over top of me, leaving me nowhere to go but under. Then, about ¾ of the way through the swim, my left calf cramped, and I couldn’t move my foot. I had to stop for a minute or two and pull on my foot to try to loosen the cramp. Both SO and I had this problem, so we think it’s a combo of the treading water and putting on our wetsuits too early. At no time was I able to get a comfortable rhythm and was just sick of getting kicked, elbowed, slapped, and just touched. I saw the clock as I got out of the water and wasn’t pleased, 1:13:51, but was so happy to get out of the water that it didn’t bother me.

After getting my wetsuit stripped, which required two people to get it off my “flippers.” I made my way around and around the people-lined helix to the top to the bike transition room. I was surprised by how many women were already there, but I didn’t have a great swim, so I am not sure what I expected…everyone else also to have a bad swim too? Transition went smoothly. The 8:14 was just a result of the 4 minute jog up the helix.

The bike started off fine, although my stomach hurt, probably from swallowing too much water in the dunkfest that was the swim. The course is 16 miles out, a 40 mile loop that you do twice and then back. Getting out to the loop was rolling, but definitely more up than down so I started seeing the average drop, but having pre-ridden the course, I was confident that the lack of wind I was feeling would enable that average to start climbing back up. The first loop was just awesome with no wind and warm, not hot, temps and no humidity. My strategy for the bike was to keep cadence around 90, spin up every hill until I stood up, then making sure I had enough resistance on the pedals to make the riding smooth. The first climb is about 18ish miles into the loop, and it was lined with people. It was pretty cool, and I made quick work of it. Another racer actually came up later to tell me how well I rode the climb, which is always nice to hear. After a pretty sweet descent and a few more ups and downs, I got to the second climb. About half way up, I turned the corner and there they were, just as advertised: hundreds of people lining this country hill cheering on the cyclists. It was an unbelievable rush of adrenaline! Tons of people telling me, “Marie, you are looking great! Take this hill!” Then, a mile down the road after a short descent, you see the next short steep hill lined with people. Hundreds of more people on this hill cheering with the same adrenaline-rushing encouragement. At one point, I heard someone say, “look at this girl from Cleveland climb, she is doing awesome!” After that hill there is another nice long descent to the longest steepest climb on the course, referred to as “the Bitch.” Once again, hundreds more people were on this hill, running up the hill with the cyclists. It was freakin’ unbelievable! After the steep portion, you turn the corner, and it’s another half mile of false flat. At the top of the false flat was a guy with a sign, “Smile if you peed yourself today!” I couldn’t help but smile! I just did four pretty significant climbs, and they were my favorite parts of the course???? After the first loop, my average was 18mph. I started absolutely coasting, averaging 24-25 mph for a while as I rode through the crowds in Verona to start my second lap of the loop. The 25 mph started to worry me as I knew the wind that is to your back in one direction is in your face in another. When I had pre-ridden this course, I knew that the tell-tale sign of how this ride was going was going to come from the first little hill on the loop. It was right after special needs, and I knew how horrible I felt on the pre-ride, so I rode the course keeping that feeling in mind. I needed to feel good, and thankfully, I did. But, then the false flats and headwind of the first portion of the loop joined forces to slow the average down significantly. After about 20 miles, my average dropped to 17.3 from 18, but then I got to Mt. Herob, up the first hill and knew that the rest of the course should go faster.

I haven’t really mentioned it because it didn’t really affect me on the bike, but my nutrition was just crap. My stomach really hurt so I was really trying to force the enduralytes down. I was struggling to drink the hammer sustained energy so I kind of relied on the PB sandwich squares I had as a backup. I wasn’t getting enough in, but I didn’t want to make myself sick by forcing the issue. But, once I got back into Mt. Herob, I dumped some water into my powder bottle and went back to the hammer. (I had a bottle on the back that just had the powder with no water). I also went through probably 140 ounces of water on the bike. I just couldn’t drink enough and didn’t need to pee so I knew I wasn’t over-hydrating.

As I approached the last three hills, I wondered if the people would still be there. At first, it appeared that the people had made their way back to Madison, but they were still there! The people were a little drunker, but that just made them more spirited! I don’t think I am giving these crowds justice, it’s like an adrenaline shot to the legs! My climbing form was starting to break, but the support really helped. I saw the tents on the last climb as I made my approach, and I shifted into the little ring and dropped by chain. I reacted too slowly, so I had to stop and fix it. While it only took 30 seconds, the lost of momentum kind of sucked, but knowing this hill was still lined with people helped lift my spirits. I got to the top and sure enough, the guy with the “Smile if you peed” sign was still there, and he looked at me and said, “come on, let’s see that smile again!” I had to laugh, particularly since I knew the hard part was over, the rest of the ride would go quickly. At this point, I believe my average was around 17.3. I spent the rest of the ride working to move that average up. I hit 17.4 pretty shortly into the ride back to Madison. As expected, the ride back was fast, I averaged nearly 20 mph for the last 18 miles. With about 5 miles left, the average hit 17.5! Sweet! I was pumped, but I kept working because I knew that the ride up the helix was going to kill the improvement I had just made. I got off the bike with a time of 6:27:10, slower than Louisville but faster than I had expected.

I have to be honest, while fighting to improve my average, I was trying to convince myself I could live with not finishing this race. Then, I got to transition, and it’s another shot of adrenaline, the Monona Terrace is still lined with people! Seriously, I think IM Moo must be the biggest party of the year in that town because there were thousands upon thousands of people lining this run course. As I left transition, I heard, “Marie! You are doing great!” Nothing new, right? Except that voice belonged to my mom! I wished I would have seen her earlier, but I waved and made my way to the port-o-pots. I got in there and realized that I forgot to take off the cycling shorts that I had pulled over the tri shorts. After taking care of business, I asked one of the sunscreen volunteers if she could take them into my bag. She saw my number and said no problem. (They were there when I got my bag back so I am grateful to that volunteer!). I took a look at the clock when I left, and I swear it said 8:03 for the race time.

It took my watch a couple of minutes to find the satellite (0.2 miles) so I lost a little info, but I was running well at first, but I knew my stomach wasn’t settling. The bad stomach coupled with self-doubt, and I struggled with this run mentally from the get-go. I think I saw SO about 3 miles-4 miles into the run, he on mile 11 or 12. It was good to see him, but neither one of us is about to take the time to chat so there was a smile and a hi and that was about it. After about an hour, I tried to go 6 min run, 4 min walk, but it was hard to do because the fan’s were so uplifting that I would find myself running more than I expected, which isn’t a bad thing, but I was really having stomach issues developing. As I reached the final turn around on the loop, my stomach problems let me know they weren’t going away, stopping in a port-o-pot for about the 4th time. I was starting to wonder if SO would finish as I was making the turn for the 2nd loop. On one hand, I wanted to see him finish and thought that would be cool, but on the other hand, I really didn’t want to be lapped. I was also looking for Mentor, but had hoped I had missed him on the portion of the course that strays from the back portion. But, I saw him as I approached mile 12 and he mile 2. He weaved his way over to me to show me that he had crashed on the bike. I was heartbroken, and I asked if he was going to finish, and he said, “well, yeah.” Ok, Mentor was good. As I approached the turnaround, I kept looking over my shoulder and no SO. I made the turn and no SO. I didn’t want to miss him, but I had to hit the port-o-pot for what, the 5th or 6th time. I got out and my stomach just didn’t feel any better. I hadn’t been able to eat much so I was low on energy, but I didn’t want to eat because my stomach hurt so badly. Then, with about a mile or so to go for him, I saw SO finishing his 2nd loop. I was at about mile 14 or 15. He gave me a weak high five and kept going. It should be said that, while racing, SO isn’t chatty…he’s just too focused, but I wanted/needed to see him. Just seeing him made me more confident I would get through it. I felt bad that he wasn’t going to make his goal of sub 11 hours, but I felt better about my own performance. After seeing him, I knew what was in store, but from hour 3 to 4, I was just crap, much like Louisville. Mind you, I had gone about 15 miles at that point and had consumed maybe 300 calories on the run…let’s just say, nowhere near enough. In that hour, I would try to run for even a minute, and I would suddenly have that panicky feeling as I searched for a port-o-pot. Eventually, I started talking to an older guy, and he suggested that I sip coke and chicken broth. At that point, I was willing to try anything. At the next water stop, I double fisted it and slowly but surely feeling better. I started to pick up the pace a little bit and was at mile 18 right about 4 hours into my run.

For those of you who don’t know me all that well, I am a numbers freak. On the bike, I was trying to figure out what the .1 improvement in pace was going to translate into in terms of time difference from my time in Louisville. So, right around 4 hours, I reached mile 18. So, I knew the following: when I had looked at the clock in transition, it said 8:03. I had lost 0.2 miles while my watch found satellites so I figured I had to finish this course before 5:55 on my watch, which gave me 115 or 11.5 10 minute segments to finish faster than Louisville. Because I wanted to make it, I told myself I had to get it done in 11 or 110 minutes. So, I started doing 5 on, 5 off, and I was figuring out that I was going about 0.75 every 10 minutes. I saw Mentor still on his first lap heading to the final out portion of the loop, and he looked at me surprised I wasn’t finished yet, and I told him I was hurting, but he kept going as did I. It didn’t matter if I hit a water stop or an uphill or a downhill, if I was suppose to be running, dang it, I was running. If I needed to stop for some chicken broth, I made myself pay back the running time I missed. I needed to get through as much of that course as possible in that 5th hour, and I found myself with about 3.7 miles left for the last 50 minutes. It was a game, could I get more than I got in the last 10 minutes? In the last 10 minutes, I went 0.75 miles, can I go 0.77 this 10 minutes? When I reached the final turn around, I was pumped, I knew I had it in me. But, there was a little hiccup. I knew the 25 mile mark was up the street and around the corner, 0.15 miles up the road when someone kept saying, “you are doing great, only 1.6 miles left!” What??? I looked over and said to someone, how do we have 1.6 when the 25 is right around the corner, and she said that she had no idea. So, I added the extra .25 into my calculations and knew I couldn’t take it easy, must get there, but then the crowds start getting thicker and the echoes of Mike Reilly’s voice got clearer, and I knew I was almost there. The last half mile is nearly all uphill, which stunk, but then the the finish shoot is a gradual descent so when I got to the top of that, I started running again! I saw the clock and was in shock…13:47??? What? My math was wrong? Huh? I crossed the line at 13:49:18.

My catcher had it easy this year, no attempt to collapse. He got me a diet pepsi, my medal, my shirt, and my hat. I got my picture and panicked as I knew I hadn’t pre-arranged a meeting place, but somehow I heard SO’s voice above the rest, and he grabbed me. I hugged him for a long time, not wanting to let go. Where were my parents? They had miscalculated my finish and missed it!!!! I used his mom’s phone to call them, how I remembered their cell phone numbers at that moment, I have no clue, but they didn’t answer. I then called my sister and asked her to call their phones to let them know I finished. SO went out searching and found them. They were sad to miss the finish, but they were so proud of me. SO’s mom and my parents kept saying what a great time they had had and that they wanted to us to do it again next year. We were both pretty adamant with the “NO!!!” answer we provided. We got a few group photos, but I wanted to go back to the hotel. I wanted a Diet Coke and cookies. One of SO’s college friends had come to watch so he wanted to chat for a while. I told him not to rush, and that I will just have my parents take me back. Because he knows me, my dad had an ice cold Diet Coke waiting for me in a cooler in the car along with the Double stuffed EL Fudges that I had requested. I was hurting, but I felt good, and while not the race time I wanted, I finished and I improved. SO finished in 11:20:33, Mentor 16:26:36. By the way, Mentor just had some scraps, bumps and bruises from the crash, in a few days, he’ll be fine.

Oh, and that adamant no is now a “I need to take a year to work on my running.”

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