Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ironman Wisconsin Race Report

A Tale of Triumph and Redemption (with a few inconveniences in between)...

I'd first like to thank all my friends and family who have supported me (somewhat grudgingly in some cases) throughout the last 8 months of training. For putting up with my always changing training schedule, for waiting to see how tired I'd feel after a long training day before committing to dinner plans, for putting up with my constant tiredness, and many other things. A very special thanks to my siblings Adam and Ralena who made the trip out to Wisconsin to tirelessly cheer me on, not knowing what the day would bring other than long hours standing outside waiting. And waiting. And posting many, many updates on Facebook. Knowing they were out there definitely helped get me through some tougher moments and having them there at the finish line completed what turned out to be a pretty good day.

For those of you who don't want to read what will inevitably turn out to be a ridiculously long race report (it was a long day), here are the results:
swim: 1:10:59
bike: 6:53:04
run: 4:51:56
overall: 13:09:55
45/112 in my age group, 1171 overall

And random statistics about the race which I always find fascinating and inspiring:

  • 1270 first timers
  • 2550 athletes that started the race
  • 2398 finishers
  • 21 countries representing. The top 4 being: US, Canada, Germany, Great Britain
  • All 50 states representing. The top 6 being: Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa (who knew?), and Colorado (with 81 athletes)
  • The largest age group for men was 40-45
  • The largest age group for women was 30-34
  • There were 382 athletes over the age of 50
  • There were 51 athletes over the age of 60
  • There were 5 athletes over the of 70
  • The youngest participant was 18
  • The oldest was 72 (M) and 63 (F)
  • There were 3 men that lost over 100 pounds. The man that lost the most weight lost 167 pounds!

Okay, I was nervous. I slept terribly the night before. I think I probably slept between 10 and midnight and then just couldn't fall back to sleep. I kept telling myself not to think about the race, but of course, as soon as you tell yourself not to do something, that's all you can think about doing. I refused to look at the clock but kept expecting it to go off any minute. Just when I finally started to feel myself relax, I could hear other people moving about the hotel and knew that the alarm really would go off any minute. And it did. I got my bottles ready and forced down half a bagel with peanut butter, taking the other half with me. Ralena and I left the hotel and picked up Adam around 4:45. We were about 30 minutes away and weren't sure about parking, so we decided that they'd drop me off and then figure something out. They dropped me off on the ground level of Monona Terrace, but on the side where there are only stairs to take you upstairs (no elevator). I guess when you're about to take off on a 140 mile journey, what are a few flights of stairs. I considered it my warm-up. I first went to check my bike just in case I had a flat tire or something. I then remembered that the special needs drop off was over by the Capitol, about two blocks away. Having no idea what time it was, I hurried off to drop those off. I then hurried back to the building to drop a few things in my transition bags and then back to check my bike one more time. As I was exiting the transition area, I walked right into Adam and Ralena. When the dropped me off, I really didn't expect to see them until sometime on the course. It seemed that the odds of finding someone in a crowd of thousands would be near impossible. But Ironman is all about what is possible, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised that we just walked into each other. It was chilly morning (okay, it was cold the entire weekend and I was usually bundled up in sweatshirts or vests, even a hat and scarf one night!) so we headed indoors to wait in the warmth before heading down to the swim start. We had about 30 minutes to kill, so we sat on the floor over by the bathrooms, along with dozens of other people that had the same idea. But how often do you get to use full plumbing before a race?

We headed down to the swim start around 6:15 and got my wetsuit on before leaving the stairwell as I wasn't keen on standing around shivering. It's a water start and the swim entrance is a boat ramp and is literally the size of a driveway. 2500 people don't usher into such a small area very well and they kept yelling at people to get in the water. I didn't want to get too crowded, so I zipped up, said farewell to the sibs, and stepped across the threshold. The water was 68 degrees, which isn't bad once you get started. But the air temp was in the 50s and I was shivering as I stood knee deep in the water. I started feeling crowded and took the plunge and started swimming out towards the start. This kind of sucks I thought. Not only am I cold, but I have to tread water for 20 minutes before we get started. 20 minutes is a long time when you're cold.

I will be honest. I was extremely nervous for the start. After last year's disaster when I really thought I was going to die a few minutes after the race started, well, it seemed kind of normal that I'd be worried (for a refresher, read here). But with so many people still hanging around on shore, I was starting to think that maybe it wouldn't be so bad. The water was calm and there would be no one from behind running me down (swimming me down perhaps, but this couldn't be nearly as bad as hundreds of people sprinting into you as they try and get in the water). I headed up to the front line by the outside buoy. There seemed to be plenty of space. A few minutes went by and now there are quite a few people around me, but there are all these empty pockets beyond that. So I swam over to one of these, and now there are a quite a few people around me again. There was so much room to spread out so I couldn't figure out why everyone wanted to get so bunched up and why they wanted to get so bunched up around me. Maybe I look like I'm fast. Anyhow, I played this game for a while and as they sang the National Anthem, people seemed to settle a little more into spots. I moved again. And finally, finally, the gun went off (and I actually heard it this year!).

I had positioned myself well and there was no one immediately in front of me. I swam hard and with my head up for the first 50 meters or so to try and get a little more clear of the fray. I had people clambering over my legs, and was sandwiched in between people for a bit, but other than that it wasn't too bad. I started kicking hard if people got on my feet too much and swam around people as they got in my way. I had started wide and eventually cut in towards the inside line, but was still wide for the trip out to the first turn. It's called the Moo Corner possibly because everyone stops and no one seems to move. Apparently the kayakers Moo. I intended to take the first two corners a little wide and was able to swim through both of them. On the way back, I moved into the inside line and tried to hold that for the rest of the swim. I was able to catch a draft here and there, but for the most part I was on my own. The course was laid out nicely (and finally a counter clockwise course!). The buoys were numbered, which was awesome because I always knew where I was and didn't have to worry about how much farther I had to go. I felt pretty good. My only complaint was that my hands felt a little numb from the cold, so sometimes my strokes felt a little off. I'd occasionally have to ball my hands up to try and get a little more circulation. But I'd take that feeling over one of thinking I was going to die. And so I swam on. Soon the finish line was in sight and I picked up the pace just a bit. I was ready to be out of the water and onto the bike.

There were helpers in the water to help you get your balance before running off to what seemed like an endless transition. The wetsuit strippers were a little bit beyond the end of the "driveway". I hadn't even gotten the top half off, but hey, that's what they were for. I don't think they completely knew what they were doing as they didn't exactly yank the top half off and instead managed to get both of my hands stuck. The bottom half went much smoother. And then I was off. Through the gates and up the helix with thousands of screaming people everywhere. It was quite incredible. I had been told by countless people to not waste the energy and just walk up the helix. But that was impossible with so many people cheering you on. I did a very slow jog to make it seem like I was running but actually savoring every moment of it.

I ran into the building and grabbed my bag and headed into the changing tent where I couldn't quite decide what to bring. After last years bitter cold, I had put a ton of warm clothes in all of my bags. I finally decided against the arm warmers thinking that I hadn't been cold running up from the swim and it would continue to get warmer throughout the day. It's a long run up to transition, and an even longer run across the transition area. I decided to keep my shoes off until I got to my bike and then just had to run across the parking lot in them - where at least it was level. There wasn't much of a mounting area before heading down the helix, but I found some space and into the spiral I went.

Being not the greatest bike handler, I was worried about riding down the helix. It was a lot wider and less steep than I had imagined, but still I was a little nervous, especially if there were going to be people surrounding me. Fortunately I had plenty of space and the ride down, albeit a little slow, was totally fine. We headed out along John Nolan Parkway for a bit and then cut into the park for a little jog along the bike path. I knew there was a no passing zone, and I knew we'd be on the bike path for a bit, but I was not expecting sharp 90+ degree turns with blind corners. But I took it slow and made it through the technical turns just fine - there really wasn't much time to panic since the turn would just appear. No time to be nervous, just react, and voila, I made it through. The next few miles were relatively flat and straight, which is the only section on the course that is relatively flat and straight. I knew everyone would be passing me and I just tried to hold a steady pace and ignore everyone. About 30 minutes into the ride, I started to get a side cramp, which I've never had on the bike before. I've had it on the run a few times this year, but it was right off the bike and I think both times I had too much to drink too close to the end of the bike. I've never had any issues on the bike. I wasn't really sure what was going on. It wasn't long enough into the ride for nutrition to really be an issue and I had a gel during the transition. I figured it would just eventually go away. But it didn't and continued to get worse. It was right along my side and it was extremely uncomfortable to hang out in my aero bars because it was just putting more pressure on it.  But I pushed on and still managed to smile for the cameras.

I think I pushed a little hard on the first lap thinking it would eventually work its way out. And since it didn't, I definitely suffered a bit on the second lap. At one point I almost crashed and almost took down a line of volunteers at one of the aid stations. It was around mile 80 and I was starting to think that maybe I should just stick to water. So as I pulled into the next aid station, I went to toss two of my bottles, both of which were behind my seat. The first one wasn't an issue. Not sure what happened with the second. My finger must have gotten stuck and when I yanked it, my hand came flying forward and knocked my handlebars 90 degrees. Ones first instinct is to try and correct by going 180 degrees in the opposite direction. So now I'm overcorrecting back and forth just trying to stay upright, but I was totally squirrely and just hanging on for dear life. I looked up to see a line of volunteers in front of me, ready to hand out water, gels, fruit, etc. I was about to take them all down (or so I thought). Somehow, some way, I managed to straighten out and stay vertical. Whew. Strangely enough the water bottle I was attempting to toss ended up between my aero bars, resting comfortable through the whole ordeal. I managed to get replacement water without any issue, which is good because I don't think I could have handled much more drama. As I was approaching the end of the aid station, a guy passed me and asked me if I was okay. He said "that was quite a recovery" and I believe him.

Fortunately the rest of the ride was pretty uneventful. The crowds were spectacular and some of the hills were reminiscent of the Tour de France with several people deep lining the roads just yelling and screaming. It was hard not to smile. Adam and Ralena had taken the shuttle bus out to Verona and made me a lovely chalk sign on the rode that I completely missed.

I lost one of my water bottles that I nearly died for, leaving me with about a quarter of one bottle left for the remainder of the ride. Fortunately it was only about 10 or so miles, so I conserved and enjoyed the brief tailwind. Before long I was back at Monona Terrace ready to ride up the helix. Again, another piece I was really worried about and it really wasn't bad until I did about one full rotation directly into a massive head wind that had to filter itself in between the different floors of the garage, which really made the wind force very focused on my little section since it essentially was funneling itself in. I was not prepared and almost came to a standstill. I quickly dropped to an easier gear, at least expecting it for the next rotation. After that, I was at the top, and oh so ready to dismount.

T2 was pretty uneventful. I took my time even though I really didn't have much to do other than change shoes. I put my shoes on only to realize that I had forgotten to put on my compression socks. I was looking at them the whole time and made sure the woman didn't put them back in the bag (along with my countless other pieces of warm clothes that I had packed just in case). One doesn't always think so logically at this point in an Ironman. I got outside and ran to the Sunscreen Volunteers. I turned around so that she could get my shoulders and arms. A woman came up to me and asked if I wanted sunscreen on my ears. Um, okay? It was not a question I was expecting. I don't think I've ever put sunscreen on my ears. I don't think it's ever occurred to me to put sunscreen on my ears. Well, at least my ears were protected out there. And then I was off.

Exiting transition to start the run is another huge crowd moment. If for a second you think you're really just going to dread the run, the crowd instantly changes your mind as soon as you cross the timing mat. They are lined up several deep just going nuts. I saw the time as I exited and I was trying to avoid the clock the whole day, but it was really hard to miss. 8:10. If I had a perfect marathon, I could still be on target. But a perfect marathon I did not have. I was still dealing with the cramp, and it's a little more difficult to run with it that it was to ride. I was forced to walk for bits at a time. It was a little upsetting because when I was able to run, I really felt good. I was actually passing lots of people. But I just had to keep moving forward however I could. I got to the turnaround at about mile 6 where Adam and Ralena were waiting on the curb screaming. I gave them a smile and a high five and continued on. We hadn't really driven the course and I hadn't really paid attention to the map, so that first lap I really had no idea where I was going or where I was in relation to anything. It turns out that mile 6 was only a few blocks from the finish, so Adam and Ralena could just keep walking back and forth between the two. I saw the sign that Adam and I had made a few days before and couldn't figure out how I had missed them on the way out. It turns out that the way out never went that direction so I hadn't really missed anything - it took me most of the run to actually figure out the course. I was starting to feel pretty nauseous at the end of the first lap and heading into lap 2. I had to walk for quite a bit before that passed. My biggest issue (of the entire event across the entire weekend) was that they ran out of cola around mile 4 of the run. It wasn't so horrible on the first lap, but by the second lap, I was at the point where I just couldn't do another gel and I was getting desperate for sugar. I could feel my blood sugar dropping but I was facing the gag reflex with gels. I kept telling myself that I could make it, that I've done this before. About 3 miles to go I started getting a little dizzy and had to walk a bit more. I finally decided to chance it with some orange slices thinking that even if they didn't sit well, there really wasn't much more to go. And I just really needed the sugar at that point.

When I hit the turnaround for lap 2, I heard the clock bells go off and figured it was 7:00. My new target was to come in around 13 hours. I felt very fortunate that this didn't bother me at all. I had definitely made a point all day to enjoy myself and smile whenever possible. Coming in at 13 hours would still be a great time. I had met this woman on the flight out to Madison. Her name was Ann and she was flying out to volunteer. She had told me she'd be a kayaker in the morning and then she'd be a Finish Line Catcher between 8 - 11:30. I was very excited for her - she really did have a great shift. So when I realized that she'd be on shift when I came in, it got me through the last few miles. I might actually know my catcher. That would be pretty cool. And so I just pressed onward. You can hear the finish line area well before you approach it. You can hear Mike Reilly congratulating everyone. And the crowds appear from nowhere. I had the finish line chute all to myself and I clearly heard Mike this time: Jessica Gordon, from Lafayette CO. Jessica, you are an Ironman! And I was smiling the whole time. It really was a fantastic finish.

I was caught by two men and I was definitely a bit shakey. They tried to hand me a foil blanket but I didn't want it touching my skin, which kind of concerned the guys. I was told that my arms were really cold and they were concerned that I hadn't been drinking. I tried to convince them that I was fine - I had been drinking at almost every single aid station. I started to explain the whole blood sugar thing and then realized that I was probably rambling. Finally I just asked if they had any coke. While one guy continued to hold me, the other went to get the coke. He brought it over. It was so cold and oh so good. I told them that it was the best thing I had all day. And then I asked for more. Meanwhile, Ann appeared, poking her head over one of the guys holding me up. She was very excited and congratulated me and it was pretty cool to see her again - it was sort of like a final confirmation that it really was a great day. My handlers finally handed me off to my siblings, making sure that Ralena firmly had me before letting go. Last year when I finished CDA, I was wearing a foil blanket and garbage bag dress. I was soaking wet and freezing. I hadn't felt my hands for much of the day and was pissed off and relieved to finish. And I was coming in around 15 1/2 hours. I don't remember any of the volunteers being even remotely concerned with my well being when I finished that race. And here I was dry, warm, over 2 hours earlier and everyone was acting as though I was going to pass out. Maybe they are just a lot nicer people in Wisconsin. Those mid-westerners.

Anyhow, #3 is in the books. It was a great race. I had a great day despite my setbacks. This was supposed to be my redemption race after CDA. And triumphed I did. Ironman is a long day and odds are that something will go wrong. You have to accept it and move on. I've realized that some things are easier to get through than others - it's a lot easier to push through physical pain than mental anguish. You have to remember why you're out there. And you absolutely absolutely have to smile. It really does help.

Additional photos are here. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Registration...A Pre-Race Warm-up

Had I known this was going to be so entertaining, I would have photo-documented each step of the way. Had I known it was going to be so intensive, I would have brought water. Registration for IMMOO reminded me a bit like registration for the Sprint. Only more complex and with no lines.

I landed in Madison a little after 1p and immediately headed downtown after some complexities in finding the rental car and in driving the rental car. Apparently I can't follow simple instructions (she did say second row) and ended up wandering aimlessly through the first row of parking lot while all my fellow IMers were casually loading up their cars. And apparently I no longer remember how to drive an automatic. This one had both automatic and automatic-manual and I had inadvertently shifted to the manual mode and couldn't figure out why my RPMs were so loud and hovering over 4000. I tried to shift, but ended up downshifting, slowing the car down, creating even more revving and bumping up the RPMs even higher. God was this embarassing...I finally figured it out (I am an engineer after all) and was on my merry way. After several wrong turns, and several laps around blocks, I managed to find a parking spot a mere 8 blocks away and headed over to Monona Terrace.

I entered the main floor and followed the sign point to the left for "Athlete Check-In". It was a long hallway with 2 tables in the middle. Aside from some people sitting at the tables, there was no one else in the hallway. I was expecting to turn into some conference room (they were called Ballrooms) but never passed an open door. I found myself at the end of the hallway with nothing left but the restrooms. And so I headed back. As I approached the tables, it dawned on me that this was the check-in (the giant board with everyone's numbers that I had somehow missed earlier helped with this deduction). I stopped at the table and discovered it literally was just the check-in. They checked my ID. They checked me off a list. And they put a check on my hand (it was actually an "X" but it kills the flow). I was then directed to the opposite end of the hallway.

The lack of a line had thrown me off, so at least now I knew not to look for one. They had those velvet rope things out that would be useful if there were a line, but at least it told me where to stop. A volunteer appeared and asked me my number and told me to wait for window #2. Someone was already there, so I guess technically, I was the line. Mind you, no one was at window #1. Finally it was my turn and I was given the two waivers that have become a familiar site after dealing with Corporation Ironman all summer. The first has contact information that was supposed to be verified. I was told there was a screw up with the computers and it misprinted everyone's Emergency Contact info so I'd definitely need to correct that (if not, a Bill Davis would be called if anything were to happen to me. Lucky Bill.). I asked if he had a pen. He told me to proceed downstairs and there would be lots of pens.

I headed down the escalator and was greeted by another volunteer who told me to go through a set of doors where I'd be able to correct my info. I walked through the doors into one of what has to be The Main Ballrooms of the Monona Terrace. Half of the room was all windows that arched out overlooking the water. Quite a spectacular site (I hadn't had a chance to see the water yet). Down the middle of the room were a line of tables with lots of pens on them. That's it. That was the room. Me, some tables, and some pens. Seriously. I corrected Bill (resolved of all responsibility) and signed what I needed to and headed out the opposite end.

I left Pen Room to find 4 men sitting in chairs with scales in front of them. I shed my jacket and backpack and stepped on the scale. My weight was written down on one of my forms and I was pointed to yet another escalator heading downstairs. Really? It was a little more substantial than then Pen Room even though it wasn't even a room, but I could have done that myself.

I was greeted by another volunteer at the bottom of the escalator. At this point, there was a small line. Like 2 people. After telling her my number, she pointed to Pete. There were at least 5 other Filers, and none of them had anyone in their line. Pete seemed to be the popular one that day. Pete triple checked all of my information and made sure everything was signed and then filed the waivers into their appropriate boxes. And then pointed me to guess what, another line.

Everything But the Schwag:
Once again, everything was ordered by number and the Everything Elser Volunteers that served my number range were all busy. Finally I was sent to a table to get everything else but the schwag: wristband, swim cap, bibs, stickers, etc. And instructions on how to use everything. After this, I was directed to another line and table.

The Schwag:
The Schwagster volunteer didn't want to repeat himself to everyone, so he waited until there was a small group of us before giving his speech. The schwag bags also contained our gear and special needs bags, so his speech was about making sure we had all of them now, before we left the table. We'd rather find out now than later.

Corporate Greed:
The escalator that was at the end of the Schwag table dumped you off right at the Ironman store. It almost seems like the intent of the maze was to build anticipation: starting off with "oh shit! why did I sign up for this thing?" and working your way through the Registration Stations, gradually building to "I'm a little nervous, but also a little excited" and ending up with a finale of "OMG! I can't believe it's finally here!" so that you now have all this explosive energy that will cause you to run into the Ironman store and grab up everything with an M-dot logo and spends loads of money! If that was the intent, it didn't work on me (though I did spend loads of money throughout the weekend on subsequent trips). Instead,  I was exhausted and really just wanted to lie down. I did have an "oh shit" thought, but it was this: if I was so tired after getting through registration, how the hell was I going to manage on race day?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Feeling Frazzled

I feel like I have about a million and one things to do and I seem to be getting none of them done. Have I started packing? No. Have I started thinking about packing? Only for the last two weeks. Not much progress has been made. I started making a list. Yesterday. At this rate, I'll make it to Wisconsin with my helmet and not much else. For some reason, I keep thinking I still have so much time. My bike leaves on Tuesday, with me following two days later. Once work starts again on Tuesday, it will suddenly be Thursday in a snap. So, no, I really do not have much time.

And here it is Sunday morning and I'm wasting my time blogging. Well, at least I'm resting. One might think that I'm enjoying tapering so much that I don't want to do anything with all this free time. Certainly not packing. But I'm actually kind of bored. So bored that I spent the evening a few nights ago putting boxes away in my garage and changing the batteries in the smoke detectors. I know, such an exciting social life! Of course, packing didn't make the agenda that night.

And now I have the song Fraggle Rock stuck in my head. Which is a million and one times better than what has been stuck in my head since yesterday morning (seriously, when I woke up to pee in the middle of the night, I was still singing it). So I'll do you the favor...Warning: Adult Content (but damn catchy tune).

Time to get away...worries for another day...let the music play...down on Fraggle Rock.

Okay, now back to time to start packing!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Ironman Nightmares Have Begun!

I got to my hotel late-ish Saturday night. Upon checking in, I realize that the race site is actually 5 hours away. There was supposed to be a charter bus to drive us all over, leaving at midnight, but no one seems to know anything about it at the hotel. In fact, they don't even seem to know what I'm talking about. My stepmom agrees to drive me so that I can "sleep" in the backseat. My dad wasn't planning on coming, but at the last minute does due to the midnight driving. My stuff seems to be scattered all over the hotel and it's getting close to midnight and I'm not even close to being ready. It's also not clear how everything is supposed to fit in the car for there to still be enough room for me to lie down and rest. The more I rush around trying to collect stuff, the more I realize I'm missing more stuff. Making it to the starting line at 7 is seeming more and more unrealistic but I've been training so hard and for so long, and so I rush around even more getting slower and slower by the minute.

And then I wake up.

Why do these dreams always involve getting to the race late or not having all your stuff ready or a combination? Well, I guess I should consider it a good thing that at least they're not about crashing or drowning...

Monday, August 23, 2010

Peaking or Breaking?

Well, whatever you want to call it, it's over and Taper Time is here. If exhaustion is a sign of bluing ready, then I'm ready. Regarless, I'm as ready as I'll ever be. And now I just have to rest as much as possible and not do anything stupid for the next 3 weeks. This will be a lot harder than it sounds...

Long live the taper.