Monday, September 9, 2013

Ironman Wisconsin 2013 Race Recap

What a weekend.  I can finally cross IMWI off my bucket list.  We have attended for years and I have always known I wanted to race it, but I honestly didn't think it would happen so soon.  What a difference a couple of years make.  And how quickly the last year passed.

Starting about five days before the race, basically after the Labor Day weekend,  I entered full IM focus mode.  Which should be a good thing, but it wasn't.  Thinking about the race was greatly affecting my sleep.  I have never encountered anything like this before and it was horrendous.  I had two nights with five hours of sleep, Thursday night I downed some Nyquil and managed eight, Friday five and the night before  got ONE hour of sleep.  ONE.  And it was not even good sleep.  It was halfway there, fitful, not very restful nap sleep.  I was honestly awake at 3 am in tears wondering if I should still even race.  Then the alarm went off at 4:30.

I have never had so little sleep in one week in my life.  Those of you who know me well know that I take my sleep very seriously.  I spent many of my awake hours googling "no sleep week before Ironman."  I found a lot of posts about people only getting a few hours the night before, but nothing like my succession of sleepless nights.  But the human body is an absolutely amazing thing.  Despite all my fears about not being able to complete the race or turning in an embarrassing time, the only place I noticed my sleepiness throughout was in my eyes.  They just felt heavy.

Then, there it was, race morning.  I met Elisabeth in the hotel lobby at 5:15 and we headed down to drop off our Special Needs bag, headed over to stock our bikes with water bottles, pump up our tires and get body marked.  Before I knew it we were wetsuiting up and heading to get into the water.  At 6:45 we gave each other a teary hug, jumped in the water and made our way out to the start line.  I felt unbelievably calm and overwhelmed at the same time.   After a year of planning, five months of training and a night of no sleep, it was time to go.

The first 500 yards of the swim was intense.  I was getting clawed, kicked and swam over by men all around me.  I kept thinking they should have some sympathy on the poor girl who ended up in their pack (they knew I was female by my pink cap) but to no avail.  Once we hit the first turn the pack thinned a bit and I found my groove at the hip of a guy for quite some time.  After the second turn we hit the long straightaway (1700 meters) that was directly into the wind and waves (waviest I had seen on Lake Monona).  They were no whitecaps, like Racine, but harrowing nonetheless.  I just tried to maintain a strong comfortable pace and before I knew it we were hitting the last turn. 

I figured the waves were going to add 4-5 minutes to my goal time of an hour so I was happy to see that I was out 1:03.   I was happier later to find out that that time place me 3rd in my age group and 21st overall female.  Running out I was getting some great cheers from strangers and people I knew and I just tried to enjoy every minute of it.   The run to T1 up the parking ramp helix is unforgettable- totally lined with people cheering you on, while you are trying not to go to fast and wear yourself out. Once I made into the Terrace the volunteers grabbed my bag and helped me transition to my bike gear in a few minutes.  

And onto the bike.  112 long ass, hilly, twisty, and WINDY miles.  We were blessed with cool weather on Sunday but paid for it with the 15-20 mile per hour wind from the east.  So, the first 16 miles the wind was to our back and it felt fantastic.  Then came the start of the first loop.  The loop I have practiced on so many times this summer and know every turn and hill.   I felt prepared and just tried to keep it easy for the first 25 miles or so until the first of the succession of three killer hills. 

I was excited about the hills- I have never cheered there but have always heard that it was lined with spectators who will keep you pumped up.  I was not disappointed.  I saw friends, strangers, a clown walk out of the corn, and men dressed in women's swimsuits.  I was proposed too, run with, called Pinky, and creepily complimented on my pigtails by many a drunken man.  It was a hoot and I hardly noticed my pain on the first loop.  The second loop was a different story.    

Once I managed to get through the two loops I was actually still on track for my original goal of 6:30 (before they forecasted high winds) and thought I might just break it.  Then I turned off to head back to the city.  HOME STRETCH!  Or so I thought.  When I made that left turn, smack, that wind hit me like a ton of bricks.   And the first few miles included rolling hills, mostly an uphill battle.   With a marathon in my not so distant future I decided it was best to conserve energy, slow down and take in some calories.  With the cool weather I had not made it through all my bottles of Roctane, so I ate a bag of GU chomps during that last hour, wrestled with the wind and made it back in 6:37.   

The bike catchers grabbed me and I hobbled into the Terrace to T2.  Changed socks, put on visor, grabbed my race belt and I was outta there.  Now all I had to depend on was me.  I trust myself.  It was a good feeling.

I tried to go out very slowly knowing the IM marathon is a sneaky sucker that is going to get you no matter how hard you pace.  After the first two miles under 9:00 I settled into a ten minute mile for the next 8 miles or so.  I felt good and strong and finally got to exchange some words with my family and give Alex a kiss around mile 10.  She asked if I was finished with my Ironman and I think I said almost. But not quite. Only the 16 hardest miles of the race left.  

Things were good until about mile 14 when the side ache crept in, I started getting some serious acid reflux (so weird, never had that in my life except when I was pregnant) and the blisters were killing.   At mile ten I had promised my family I was going to beat my Arizona time of 12:53, and come hell or high water, I was getting it done.   I needed to keep those mile under 12 minutes and I only allowed myself to walk every other aid station and these two crazy hill that would fry your legs so bad they were not even worth the effort.  I managed to keep most miles under 11 and with 3 miles to go I knew it was going to happen.  

Miles 23-25.5 are long, dark and sparse of spectators.  So close, yet so far away.  Then you hit State Street and that is what this race is all about.  Music bumping, beer flowing the crowd shouting you up the hill towards the capitol.  I teared up a little turning that corner.  It had been a long week and I had my moments doubting whether I would make it here or not.   I looked around, picked up my turnover a bit and soaked it all in.  

The final turn when you see the finish line is so wonderful.  After 12 hrs and 44 minutes it finally felt good again to move forward and you almost want that moment to last forever.  ALMOST.  Because crossing that finish line and falling into a catchers arms and letting your legs stop moving actually feels better.   They hang that medal over your neck, give you your finisher gear and regale you with praise.  Your fans are yelling at you from the side and Mike Reilly has just announced that you are an Ironman.  For those of you think I'm insane (its ok, I am not offended), this is one of the biggest reasons I do this.   For the moment when I become an Ironman.

This post is too long already but stay tuned tomorrow for Hot List: Highs and Lows of IMWI 2013
-Coach A


  1. So awesome. This was a fun read, Angela. Great to hear your thoughts. . . and even a more in-depth story would be great (definitely not "too long" of a post.) It's something that the rest of us can only imagine. Nice job! ~gigi

    1. Thanks Gigi! I will post more details about the highs and lows tomorrow- for participants the race is a cycle between feeling great, awful and in between. Thanks for reading and being such a supporter! xoxo

  2. So proud of you. Got a little teary-eyed reading that one! What an amazing accomplishment. Way to go!! So proud to call you my friend!!

  3. Great job! Your recount took me back to when I raced it in 2003 and 2004. I have a good friend who has raced just about every IM race including Kona and he said that IMWI is right up there as one of the most grueling. Enjoy your down time!
    Erin Duncan Zematis

  4. Thanks everyone!! I am glad you enjoyed it :)