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Ironman Wisconsin 2014 Race Report

Ironman number two is now in the books.  With pretty-much-ideal weather conditions, Madison WI hosted Ironman Wisconsin for its 13th year on Sunday, September 7, 2014.  Having completed Ironman Canada last year, Alicia and I set our sights on Ironman Wisconsin as we used to live in Madison from 2006 through 2012 while she attended graduate school at the University of Wisconsin.  When we lived here, we sort-of paid attention to the event.  We had a college friend compete in 2009 and thought the idea was so cool … but NEVER thought we would do this.  Ever.  Seriously.  I remember being at the Madison airport on Mondays after the event for work travel and seeing other passengers wearing Ironman gear or their “Ironman finisher” jackets and really truly being in awe of them.

Fast forward to 2013, I completed my first Ironman, which was focused entirely on “completing” vs “competing”.  Now let’s try to “compete”, that is, how fast can I go? I had a couple of key races prior to IMWI in 2014: a spring marathon in Salt Lake City, a tough Half Ironman in Lake Chelan, and five weeks ago I decided to spend the money on a power meter (Garmin Vector) to help my gauge my effort on the bike.  I felt I was very mentally and physically prepped.

Race Weekend

We flew out to Madison from Seattle on Thursday morning and arrived late afternoon – just in time to get dinner with Alicia’s parents Thursday night who drove in from Indiana.  Friday was about bike retrieval, event check-in, and quick shakedown bike ride and run.  In the evening I attended the banquet with my parents who drove up from Illinois and Alicia went out with her parents and some other family that drove up to see her.  It turns out there were over 1200 “Iron Virgins” at this event.

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Prepping equipment and bags for the day ahead

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Setting up the bike on Saturday

Race Morning

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Alicia and I about to head into the water

We were dropped off at Monona Terrace a little before 6am on race morning, and headed up to attach nutrition and water bottles to our bikes, drop off special needs bags, and then get to the swim start.  It was very crowded, mainly by the spectators – it took a long time to get anywhere.  Previous race reports gave me a heads-up that it can be crowded just getting into the water and it was true – we lined up sometime between 6:40-6:45 and happened to see our friends Erin and Michael in line and chatted with them.  Mike Reilly did a decent job trying to get us all in the water, yelling at spectators to get out of the way of the athletes.  Finally around 6:55 we entered the water, basically just enough time to pick out where to position oneself for the start cannon.  I placed myself on the right side and next to the ski jump, about 5-6 people back and waited in anticipation of the cannon and …

Swim

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Swim Start - 2500 athletes all going at once

Boom!  It took 5-10 seconds or so for the people in front of me to start moving and then we were off.  Once we cleared past the ski jump some room opened up but it got crowded fast.  In fact, most of the swim was crowded, I kept running into the people in front of me, I had to breaststroke at times to scope things out and figure where I could go.  Sighting became necessary not to see the course but to see where some clean water was.  I could feel myself continuously heading left until I was feet from the buoy line – hm, I wanted to stay further outside for turn one because that’s going to be congested as hell.  A few minutes pass and shit!  Now I’m right by the turn buoy – we basically came to a stop and slowly moved past.  I didn’t hear too much “mooing” (supposedly everyone moos around this corner), maybe just a few.  After a short bit, turn 2 goes a little faster and now we’re on the long stretch.  I find that I’m in a bit of cleaner water and realize I’m actually inside the buoys, which is allowed as long as you cut back out for the turn.  Wow, I can actually swim like normal, I pick up the pace a bit and notice I start moving up on people.  Couldn’t quite find some good feet to draft off of, but finally some clean water and I can actually swim with some intensity.  Some congestion did form again and I got elbowed in the face but fortunately the goggles stayed put with no leaking.  Eventually we get to turn three which goes surprisingly smoothly and then I start following some swimmers and realize they’re heading to shore vs the finish line so I try to cut left and yet still people are heading too close to shore.  Finally I see the finish area and am on course.  I’m thinking to myself the early congestion and going off-course a bit at the end probably hurt my time, I bet I’m at 1:30 for the swim like last year at Canada.  When I got out of the water I was pretty thrilled to see sub 1:22 and rocketed out to Transition.

Time: 1:21:55, Place in Race: 1298 

T1

Transitions at IMWI are long.  After getting helped by a wetsuit stripper you run a decent bit then up the parking helix at Monona Terrace (with spectators cheering all around!) and go inside for your transition area.  I had a great volunteer that took my bike gear out of my T1 bag and help arrange things while putting away my wetsuit and goggles for me.  Head outside (carrying bike shoes in hand, I’d recommend this – it’s a long way to go still), get sunscreen applied, a volunteer helps grab my bike for me then mount up just before the riding down the parking garage helix.

Time: 8:07, Place in Race: 1087

Bike

Everyone talks about the bike at IMWI for a good reason.  It’s a challenging course that I think is easy to overlook – there are no “big” hills – nothing more than 300 feet at a time and the online course elevation map says only 2700 feet.  However, that course elevation is for one loop not two and the course is constantly changing – up, down, turn, repeat.  My goal was to ride “smart” – use my power meter to ensure I would not over-exert myself on the climbs and then make sure to keep the pressure on over the top of the hill, and in general to go easy on the first loop to save energy for the second loop and the run.  Well, first loop went great, I was riding around 138bpm and 130 watts all at an easy RPE (rate of perceived exertion).  People around me might charge up the up-hill and then stop pedaling and coast at the top of the hill.  I would then fly by them on the downhill and generally not see them again.  The three B’s – the hills towards the end of the first loop that people talk about – were full of spectators but they just felt really “easy”.  I smiled at the spectators and had a nice enjoyable climb up.  Rounding the turn to start loop two I look down at my clock and see about 3:03 has passed and I’m thinking, “This is awesome! I’m doing everything right and I might just turn in a great bike split.  Well, about 30 minutes into loop two I notice my legs are getting a little tired and my power numbers are dropping off a bit.  For a little while I try to force them up but then I worry about paying for it on the run later, so I keep the same RPE as the first loop just with much less power.  It got hotter and a little windier, and those three hills weren’t as easy this time around.  The second loop took about 3:21.

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On the bike, lap 2

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Alicia on the bike

Time: 6:24:32, Place in Race: 1087 (exact same position after T1, weirdly enough)

T2

Not as interesting as T1. I did change out of my tri shorts into running shorts, then got some thorough sunscreen and hit the porta-potty then was on my way to the run.

Time: 6:29, Place in Race: 1071

Run

So now we’re onto my strongest activity, but my legs were pretty jelly-like getting off the bike.  I check my watch and see that it was 3:01pm when I started the marathon, so I just need to run a 3:59 marathon and I can break 12 hours on the day.  Should be simple enough, right?  My plan was to run the first 6-8 miles super easy, or “stupid easy” as I’ve heard it called, then gradually increase the pace, and know that I’m going to put in a tough solid effort for the last 6-7 miles of the race.  Well, things do go pretty well the first few miles; I really enjoyed seeing the spectators around and smiled at a lot of them as I was on my casual jog.  I kept scaling back and back to try to be in the 8:45 – 9:00 range, but it was tough to run that slow.  I did notice around mile 5 I was starting to feel a little more tired and was thinking “uh oh, these are the easy miles, how am I ever going to run this whole thing”.  I walked up the steep sections of hills and walked through some aid stations.  My friend Erin saw me near one of the turnarounds, maybe a quarter mile ahead of me.  I caught up to her and chatted for about 30 seconds and was on my way.  Near the end of loop one I saw Alicia starting her first loop so came over and hugged her.  Reaching the half-way mark I saw I was pretty close to 5:00pm so I knew I was on-pace but worried that I may not be able to maintain.  I adapt a mental trick from Rinny (the Women’s Ironman World Champ) and say to myself: “This is just two more hours of my life.  After this, I’m not going to exercise for a month.  I’m going to lay on the couch and not even think about running, that is it”.

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On State Street, lap 1

This worked for a little while, but around mile 15/16 I did get tired again and I honestly thought I wouldn’t be able to run a 2-hour half marathon and I would fall short.  My next goal was just get to mile 18, that’s where Observatory drive starts and it’s the last big hill of the day. It kind of worked, it got me to mile 18, and then I started thinking about one of my college friends who had passed away one week before in a rock climbing accident.  He was a great runner and any time I thought about stopping or noticed I was slowing down I thought about him and my running form and found a way to keep going.  Around mile 19 I passed Alicia on her first lap but told her I was in a hurry and trying to do something.  After another turnaround I felt bad so when I saw her again I stopped and gave another hug I knew that once I got to the last mile it was back to State Street and the Capital building and the great crowd support.  I dug deep and pushed up through to the last mile.  One of the spectators is telling their friend they have five minutes to break 12. Rounding the last turn onto MLK Blvd I look up and I see 11:59:10 (or something close to that!) and I start sprinting as fast as I am able to.  I pass a few people in the chute, 20 seconds until 12:00:00, I’m going to do it, I’m going to break 12!  Elation overcomes me and I throw my hands up and start pumping my arms as I cross the line.

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Near the Terrace

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Coming down the finishing stretch


When I crossed, emotion overcame me and I started tearing up with joy.  Honestly, 12 hours was on the lower end of my goal time range for the race, but this had been a weird season for me.  It seemed I had a knack for choosing really challenging races for the given distance, setting a really high goal, then coming up short (or well short!) of what I thought I could do.  Halfway through the run I really didn’t think I could run a sub 4:00 marathon so I gave up on the overall time goal and just focus on effort.  I figured – no matter what time I finish in, I want to be damn proud of my effort the last 10k.  To have it work out, to push oneself for so long, and to think of my fallen friend helping me through it, it was a lot to take in.  The joy of finishing the race the way I did and under 12 hours was way greater than finishing my first Ironman, as strange as that may seem.  

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Sub-12 Ironman!

Time: 3:58:46, Place in race 577 (Yep, I passed about 500 people on the run) out of 2380 finishers.
Division Placement (M30-34): 90/258 finishers

Looking Ahead

While my overall time may not have improved much since Canada last year (12:38 to 12:00), my overall placement did greatly – from 48% to top 25%.  That is certainly very promising.  So when is the next Ironman?  Well, plenty of times during the race (like loop 2 of the bike) I thought to myself – “Ironman is so stupid, I’m never doing one of these things again”.  Now that it’s been a few days I think I will do Ironman Arizona (will head down to volunteer this year) next November and focus on the Half Ironman distance for the majority of next season, develop some “short course” speed and see how high I can finish in my Age Group.  Some other pictures from the day:

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Two Ironmans in the house now!