It is 9 days since Ironman Wisconsin, and...
It is 9 days since Ironman Wisconsin, and one thing that I have thought about every day since is how fortunate I am and how cool it is/was to have soo many supporters on race day and during the weeks leading up to the race. Thank you so much to everyone who sent good luck and well-wishes emails, to everyone who tracked me online and everyone who came to Madison.
Look at this crew! Seriously, I am so fortunate to have all of your support
Here is my race report. If you are a hard data kind of person, here is a link to my race results. For everyone else, here is the story.
(Begin dramatic voice) The day dawned crisp and clear. Few stirred at such an early morning hour, but there was an electric quality to the morning air, a nearly tangible energy. In the predawn sky the Capitol dome shone stoically, a beacon drawing in athletes to match themselves against endurance sport's grandest test: the Ironman triathlon. (End dramatic voice).
Seriously though, it was a beautiful day. 50's in the morning, upper 60's for a high, almost zero wind and low humidity. An ideal day to let it rip on a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run.
Swimming the 2.4 miles under 60 minutes is a career goal for many triathletes. The simplicity of the one hour goal makes it attractive, and it is seemingly an attainable mark, yet few have actually done it. In this particular race there were 151 athletes that were quite close, finishing between 60 and 65 minutes. Only the fastest 2.5% of the 2550 athletes, however, made it under the sought after hour mark, 71 athletes finishing between 50:41 and 59:59.
Over the last 6 months, I've gone from splashing around aimlessly to actually being a reasonably decent swimmer, and I am right in the mix of the 60-ish minute swimmers. I would feel like a boss if I could say that I've swam an Ironman in 59 minutes or whatever, but I decided that goal wasn't worth it in the bigger scheme of the 140.6 mile race. So I took it easy. You only have so much energy to use over the course of the day, and I could conserve a huge amount of energy by going just a little bit slower on the swim. I got out of the water in 63 minutes and felt completely fresh, ready to rock the bike.
I actually really enjoyed the swim and the time flew by. Things are pretty crazy when 2500 athletes all start at the exact same time and are swimming into and over one another. Yet, in many ways, you are alone. Your face is in the water and it's pretty much silent. Nobody is there to offer you water or gatorade or to encourage you along. It's just you sliding through the water, stroke after stroke after stroke. If you are not that comfortable in the water, the mass start is probably a horrible experience. For me, the side-by-side existence of the chaos and the solitude was way cool.
Currently, the bike is by far my strongest discipline, and my race plan called for squeezing as much advantage as I could out of this strength. So I went hard. Not stupid hard, like an effort that I could only hold for an hour. But hard enough that it would be quite uncomfortable to hold that pace for 112 miles and hard enough that I might be pretty tired by the time I got off the bike. Obviously this is kind of risky, given that you have to make it 26.2 miles on foot after the bike. But we (me and Coach) decided that I would probably have the fastest overall time that I could by using this strategy and letting it rip on the bike.
I came out of the water in something like 150th place and quickly made my way toward the front of the race on the bike. By mile 40 I was basically all alone and in 10th place (there were "Ironman groupies" along the course. Just for kicks and grins, they were keeping track of the leaders on their clipboards and would shout out to me as I went by, "You're doing great! 11th Place! 18 minutes off the leader!") At one point (mile 90ish) I was in 7th or 8th. Spectators along the bike course were awesome, and being out front I got lots of cheering. Families and little kids clapping for you, people with encouraging and/or inappropriate signs, dudes dressed as ladies, dudes wearing only underwear and chugging brews, ladies dressed as cheerleaders. Biking for 5 hours, almost as hard as you can, gets a little monotonous and uncomfortable, so these were welcome distractions.
A 1:03 swim, 5:03 bike and 2 quick(ish) transitions got me onto the run course in 10th place. This was sweet. I was so stoked. I was tired after biking hard and knew I might have to pay for my fast bike split, but I was in the top 10 out of 2550. Yea son!
I'll never forget the first 5 or 6 miles of my run. I have no doubt that I'll be there again and that I'll even be in the lead, but this was the first time I felt like a legit triathlete. I had been racing for 6 or 7 hours, I felt good enough, and I was "in the chase". I think people were particularly excited for me since I was one of the youngest athletes out front. Every couple hundred yards a volunteer or spectator would remind me that "You're doing great! There's almost nobody in front of you, you're in 10th!" State Street was really happenin' - there were people lining the fences, yelling, smiling, clapping you along. My first time down state street, a mile or two into the run, I thought it was pretty cool how excited and loud all the spectators were. Then I took a closer look ahead and behind me. Two entire blocks of State Street were going crazy cheering, and I was the only athlete in sight. I was all goosebumps. Like I said, that was the first time I felt like a truly legit triathlete, and I'll never forget it.
I was quite smiley all day because I really was having a lot of fun, but the fun factor took a significant dip after mile 10ish of the run. Nothing in particular was wrong - stomach felt fine, feet were fine, I was hydrated enough, I was eating enough, my back, hammys, calves, etc were good enough. But I was just cooked. Out of energy overall and the legs decided they had done enough for the day. Your body and mind know how damaged and in the hole energy-wise you really are, and they start screaming at you that you must slow down. Somewhere in your subconscious a few calculations are made, and (without your permission) your body/subconscious decides that you cannot hold your current pace for the last 10 or 15 miles. So you slow down. There's nothing you can really do about it. No matter how much willpower I applied, I could not run fast enough to get my heart rate over 130, let alone anywhere close to the 145 heart rate I started the run at.
Finish and Post-Race:
I finished the run in 4 hours and a few seconds, averaging 9:10 miles. That earned me 56th place overall in 10:17 (last year I finished 290th in 11:18). I was on pace for about a 3:30 marathon for the first 8 or 10 miles, and that would have kept me in the top 10 overall, but I'm just not there yet. Maybe obvious, but running a marathon after biking 112 miles is plain and simple hard. Less than 2% of the field managed to run under a 3:30 marathon. Cycling has only been a serious focus of mine for about 2 years, but I've been riding bikes for a long time. For at least 7 or 8 years I've been riding my bike for hours at a time, and that experience helped me crack out the 11th fastest ride of the 2550 athletes. I've only been running consistently for something like 18 or 20 months. So I'll get there.
On race day I was so excited and happy all day long. The next couple days I was a pretty bummed about not running faster and missing out on Kona (probably extreme fatigue and an endorphin withdrawal didn't help my mood). You guys are the ones who made me feel better about my race and you gave me some perspective. It truly is a great thing any time you can fulfill the dream and finish the journey of an ironman. My bike didn't break, my stomach didn't betray me, my body kept working for 10 hours. Nothing unlucky or unfortunate happened. You really can't ask for anything more on race day.
I raced really quite well (a phenomenal improvement over last year), I'm going to keep racing better, and I got to do it with a huge crew of family and friends. It was pretty ridiculous of me to expect to race any better than I did - compared to last year I improved by over 60 minutes and went from 290th to 56th, and even from just 12 weeks earlier in Coeur d'Alene I improved by 20 minutes and went from the 96.5th percentile to the 98th percentile. I'm feeling really pleased about the race now, and seeing this picture a few days after the race really helped me put in in perspective.
It truly is a great and special thing any time you finish an Ironman, always, no matter what.
October 4: Kettle Moraine Trail Run by the North Face - 13.1 mi run
October 25: Green Bay Duathlon (3mi run/22mi bike/1mi run)
Nov 8: Madison Marathon and Half Marathon - 13.1 mi run
Not taking any of these too crazy seriously - just having fun and working on my running.
If anyone wants to do any of these with me, that would be a pretty great time!