I am signed up for Ironman Wisconsin, in Madison, on Sep 11, 2011. I signed up for it on Sep 13, 2010, and began preparing that day.
Prior to this weekend, I have run 10 ultras, 35 marathons, 25 half marathons, and over 100 other shorter races. I have only done 3 triathlons, all sprints.
Triathlons come in 4 basic flavors. Sprint, Olympic, Half Ironman, Ironman. Sprints are usually 1/2 mile swim, 12 mile bike, and a 5K run. Olympics are usually about 0.9 mile swim, 25 mile bike, and 10K run. Sprints and Olympics often vary in distance.
A Half Iron is always exactly half of a full iron. A full Ironman is always exactly a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run. For those that don't have a calculator handy, that makes a half Ironman a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run.
Except for an occasional novelty triathlon, they are always in the order: swim, bike, run.
So, an Ironman was on my bucket list, and I decided last year that 2011 would be my year. Registration for Ironman Wisconsin 2011 opens the day after the 2010 event, and sells out in about 2 hours. So, I had to decide 364 days before the event, that I wanted to do it. And pay the $600 registration fee. I have told family and friends that if they schedule any social event for that day, I won't be there. I will only miss Ironman Wisconsin if I am attending my own funeral.
I decided to do a half ironman to get some more triathlon experience, and experience with a longer triathlon, instead of jumping from sprint distance, all the way up to full ironman. I wanted to do something in between.
I arrived at the transition area Sunday morning feeling very nervous and out of place, like a kid starting a new school in the middle of school year. I've got my bike, helmet, bike shoes, running shoes, wetsuit, snacks, towel, socks, sunscreen, swim cap, goggles, timing chip, shirt with bib numbers attached, water bottles. Am I missing anything?
I set up my area, made sure my tires were full, organized things as best I could, grabbed what I needed for the swim, and headed to the swim start. Since the race begins with a point to point 1.2 mile swim, we start with an untimed point to point 1.2 mile walk on the beach.
My wave (F40-44) starts at 7:30. We are sandwiched between the M40-44s and the M50-54s. When I arrived at the start area, I put on my wetsuit. I don't have a lot of experience wearing a wetsuit, and feel very restricted and a bit claustrophobic in it. However, because of the cold temperature of the water, reported as 66 degrees, wetsuits are necessary. Furthermore, the buoyancy a wetsuit provides helps you swim faster.
The announcer calls my wave, and 145 of us get staged to start, knee deep in the water. We have about 3 final minutes to avoid thinking about the daunting task ahead. The announcer asks for a show of hands for those of us doing our first half ironman. My had goes up, as did many others. He then asked for a show of hands for how many of us had butterflies in our stomachs. I didn't have butterflies, I had pterodactyls, but figured he wasn't going to go through an entire spectrum of flying creatures, so I raised my hand for butterflies.
The announcer yelled Go and off we went. Running straight away from the beach, until the water was deep enough to swim. Limbs flailing, water splashing, as we high step through knee deep water, then diving in and jockeying for a position in the water.
We will go straight out from the shore about a tenth of a mile, make a 90 degree right turn and swim a straight line for a mile, then another right turn for our final approach to the beach landing a mile from here.
It takes roughly 3 minutes to get to that first turn. Before making that first turn, I felt a wave of nausea come over me, and became overwhelmed, and a little panicked. I thought I was going to barf. Though I haven't done it yet, I am reasonably sure that barfing while swimming would be more unpleasant and a tad more dangerous than barfing on land. I switched to breast stroke for a bit, the equivalent of a walk break during a run. I calmed myself down, and convinced myself to keep going. Just go from yellow buoy to yellow buoy. Just keep going no matter how slow.
After a few yellow buoys went by, I seemed to find a rhythm, and a place in the pack, and started feeling at ease. I just kept watching the yellow buoys. I purposely tried not to look all the way down to see the end. I have swam this distance or more in a pool many many times. In a standard fitness club or YMCA 25 yard pool, a 1.2 mile swim is down and back, about 42 times. But when its all stretched out in one long line, its a bit overwhelming for my little brain.
During a run or bike ride, courses usually have mile markers. If you've worn a watch, you can see how long you've been running or biking. However, during a point to point swim, there's little indication of how far you've gone. I didn't wear a watch, and I can't look ahead or behind without stopping, so, I plug away with little concept of how far I've gone, or how much I have left.
I just keep watching those yellow buoys go by.
Then the buoys changed to orange. I wonder if that indicates the half way mark. It makes sense, and though I was hoping I was a bit farther, I guess it feels like I could be half way done.
So, I keep watching the orange buoys go by. We catch up to a few of the slower M40-44s. We can tell, because each wave has a different color swim cap. A few M50-54s catch up to us.
With less than half to go, I start appreciating the clean cool water. I can see the bottom. It's not sea-weedy or stinky. It's actually really nice.
Finally, I see a red buoy. I bet that must be the turn, I think to myself. As I approach, I find that it is in fact, the last one, and we get to turn and head towards the beach.
As we made the turn, the thinned-out pack bunched up a bit. A M50-54 passed between me and another F40-44. He grabbed my wrist and pulled. It startled me, killed my momentum, and forced me to stop a bit. It also really hacked me off. Unfortunately, it wasn't the kind of hacking off that instigates a surge of energy, but rather, the kind that causes a bit of reservation. I shook it off, and continued.
I made the final approached, and emerged from the water a bit woozy, which isn't rare for me after a long swim. I peeled off the top half of my wetsuit, and ran up the beach to the transition area.
I looked for the 'peelers'. These are volunteers that will help you take the bottom half of your wetsuit off. If you've never worn a wetsuit, imagine this. Put on all the clothes you own, and then stick each limb into those balloons that clowns make into dachshunds. Now try to take everything off all at once.
I found the peelers, threw myself down on the mats on my lower back, and stuck my feet in the air like a dog who wanted a tummy rub. A volunteer grabbed my wetsuit, gave it a hearty yank, and I was free from my rubber cat-woman outfit.
I ran to my bike. I made a couple rookie mistakes during this transition, like putting on the bike helmet before my shirt. I also fumbled a bit with grabbing sunglasses, and my watch. Nothing major, just little things that will come more naturally with a bit of experience.
I rushed out of transition, and mounted my bike, and began the 56 mile tour of Racine county.
Dennis, my running partner, has lectured me relentlessly about taking electrolyte tablets. I promised him, on my mother's grave, that I would take them every hour on the bike.
I took the electrolyte tablet right away. With a woozy tummy, I also ate a piece of ginger candy. Knowing I need to eat every hour during the bike, I decided to start with the easiest snack I brought - pink rectangle cookies. Those things that are basically cardboard and frosting, yeah, I love those. I struggled to get one down.
I washed it down with some water, and tried to settle into the bike ride. I got that barfy feeling you get when your tummy wants to get rid of a big air bubble. I conjured up a lovely belch (sorry, mom), and it brought some of that pink rectangle cookie with it. I felt much better, and was also very glad I didn't start with the Combos.
I have one of those bike computers, and decided to have it display elapsed time so I can keep track of when to eat and when to take electrolyte tablets. I can hear Dennis nagging me on both.
The bike course was on country roads with some gentle hills. I didn't pay much attention to the scenery, or where we were. I simply followed the course, and tried to pay attention to my cadence, effort level and foot stroke. I didn't worry too much about my speed. I am slow on the bike and I know it. I tried not to worry about the number of people who passed me, which was 207 by the way - according to my rank after the swim compared to my rank after the bike.
I successfully mastered the bottle exchange on my first try at the first aid station. I threw my empty bottle at the trash area, and grabbed a full water bottle from a volunteer, without stopping, crashing, or running anyone over. When 1 hour had elapsed, I took another electrolyte, and ate more food.
It took 2 tries for a bottle exchange at the second aid station. Second hour passed, more electrolytes, more food. I was still feeling good and comfortable with my exertion level.
We passed a commercial area with a store sign out front that had the temperature. It was probably about 10:30 in the morning. The temperature read 90 degrees.
I had many worries about the bike course. Would I be drafting without knowing it? Would I be able to pass appropriately? Would I be violating any unwritten rules of etiquette? Would I get stuck in a pack? Would I have enough room? Would I get in or cause a crash?
I found I had ample room. Most people passed courteously. A few jerks passed so close that I could feel their arm hairs on my elbow. I felt reasonably comfortable for most of the bike portion.
As it neared 3 hours on my bike clock, I decided to have one last snack and electrolyte tablet. I finished the bike course in just over 3 hours, nearly 30 minutes faster than I had expected.
I dismounted the bike, and entered transition. I fumbled again a bit, rookie stuff. I decided at the last minute that some of the things that were in the bike pouch were things I wanted during the run: lip balm and ginger candy. So, I wasted a little time digging those out. Not a big deal, but things I can improve on next time.
I headed out for the run. I expected to be the most comfortable here, though did worry about being too confident. Many a successful runner has crashed and burned during the run of a half ironman. People who normally run a 1:35 half marathon can struggle to run a 2:15 or 2:30 during the half ironman.
My half marathon PR is 1:32:02, which is a 7:02 minute mile pace. Obviously, I don't expect to have a PR during a half ironman. I ran a 1:37:30 at the Rock n Sole just one week prior, in similar weather conditions. I also don't expect to run that pace today either. I figure a 1:45 sounds pretty good - which is about an 8:00 pace.
Running immediately after biking is notoriously awkward. It feels like the bones in your legs are now made of Nerf, you have bricks tied to your feet, and you are running through quicksand.
With the temperatures in the 90s, happy with the pace I did on the bike, and a bit worried about starting too fast on the run, I decided to jog the first mile. The first mile of the run is a bit hilly. Lots of people were walking the hill, but I jogged up it. When we got to the first mile, I looked at my watch and found I had done a 7:40 mile, and it felt great.
The run course is a double loop. We go out, come back, go out again, and come back. I like arrangement very much because it mentally breaks it up into 4 manageable pieces. Out. Back. Out. Back. The familiarity on the second time around gives me some comfort and a distraction as I try to remember upcoming landmarks from the first go around.
Aid stations every mile offered water, ice, gels, and sports drink. I had water at every station on the first loop, on the second loop, alternated water and sports drink. The first cup of sports drink I got was a bit of an eye opener. It was the temperature of chicken broth. It was then that I realized just how hot it was, as there were no microwaves being used to heat this liquid. That was simply the ambient temperature.
I stuck with my pace, and continued to feel strong. I was passing tons of people. I was passing everyone. I felt great.
With under a mile to go, knowing the end was near, I began to feel ready to be done. My tummy threatened to protest, and I just focused on not barfing until I got to the finish line. I was tired, nauseous, but oddly, still feeling strong. My pace slowed slightly to about a 7:50.
I crossed the finish and didn't barf. I got choked up with emotion. I had been so nervous and worried. I had worked so hard preparing. I did it.
I met up with husband Bill, chatted with friend Jackie, gathered my gear from transition, and headed for that 66 degree lake to cool off. Once my tummy settled down, I had my post-race lunch. We stayed to watch some of our friends finish. It was brutally hot out there.
My official finish time was 5 hours and 33 minutes. I had hoped to be somewhere around 6 hours. I had passed over 650 people on the run. I was thrilled. This has calmed some of my fears about my upcoming full ironman in September. But I still have plenty of time to come up with new fears. That's what I do.
When we got home, I discovered I had made another mistake. I did not apply enough sunscreen.
I learned many things during this experience that will help me in September. First and foremost, if I set my mind to it, and work my butt off, and learn from others, I can do it.
Madison, here I come.