Saturday, September 14, 2013

Ironman Wisconsin 2013 Race Report


A year ago I registered for my first Ironman. I had done two 70.3s before (should’ve been 3, but let’s not forget the Muncie 2012 Hotter than Hell Fiasco), with a PR of 5:33 at Steelhead. I joined Endurance Nation in October and started the Outseason in November. I did my first bike power test and was humbled. I was pretty true to the plan the first half of it, and then life stress starting happening. A skipped workout here, another there. “I’ll just run, I’ll save intervals for another time” was a common theme I had. And then it just got worse. I was skipping whole weeks. I had always followed training plans to the letter, and there I was with no motivation. I think I was just unconsciously targeting my training for the upcoming Ice Cream Time Trial ICTT), but I may have peaked too early on that one. Little to no training and bad eating habits were packing on pounds, and life stress continued to increase. It was a very challenging time for me.  I kept vowing to start training again, and I’d post in the forums things like “How do I get my motivation back” and the like, and was always amazed at the responses. No one ever criticized me, but respected that I was a real person going through a tough time. The hard thing about starting to train again is it is extremely unmotivating. You go for an easy run and you are slow and it hurts. Doesn’t really make you look forward to the next one.

In April I slowly started getting back into the habit, but was far from perfect. I wasn’t really swimming, and I was still skipping bike and run workouts far too frequently. Eating habits were definitely sub-par too, or just the super advanced plan for the ICTT.  The worst part of getting back into it was that I was repeating beginner runner injuries. Shin splints were my main affliction.  In early May I did the Flying Pig Half Marathon with a friend, and realized just how out of shape I was when I finished just barely sub-2 hrs. A year before I had done a half marathon with no taper in 1:43, with something still left in the tank. It was disheartening. I did most of my runs at an easy to moderate pace, leaving out the high intensity work since I was having enough issues/pain with just running. I started using a powermeter on my bike (in the winter I’d used Virtual Power on the trainer) and was also discouraged by that. I was having so much trouble holding constant watts in flat Chicago, and my power test was embarrassingly low.

By June my life was coming back together, and my training mojo was increasing. However, I was paying for how out of shape I had gotten, and was struggling. Whether it was still a lack of motivation or real need, I was taking at least one rest day a week. I never really built up intensity on the run, and there were several weeks I skipped running altogether due to shin pain.

For the rest of training, I got in all the long runs and long bikes, skipping a couple of the Sunday “Always Be Pushing” long-ish rides.  Swimming is an area where I never re-discovered my motivation, and my longest swim was 1:15, but it was an OWS and I have no clue how far I went. Most weeks I swam only one time.  I am a slow swimmer and while I know swimming has a low ROI, swimming more would have definitely increased my confidence and made me mentally stronger for the IM swim. I am not sure how much faster I would’ve gone (some actual lessons would help a lot I am sure) but I would have been less anxious about the swim and more mentally prepared.

One thing I did right was to get on the course. I went to the EN Camp in August, as well as rode it once before the camp and once more for my final race rehearsal. Each time I went a little faster and felt more comfortable with the bike handling and more confident. In Chicago there was just no way to mimic the terrain.

The last thing to note with my prep is that I did not race a single time this year. I had planned on doing Muncie 70.3 and an early season Olympic, but yes, that damn life stress got in the way.

If you are already skimming this way-too-long race report, the summary up to here is that I lost motivation, got fat and slow, and skipped a whole lot of workouts. Not at all endorsing this approach, just want to paint the picture of where I was coming from and give anyone reading this in the future who is struck down by life stress some hope that you can still make it through an Ironman.

I got up to Madison from Chicago on Thursday just before the team dinner. I had wanted to get in earlier to take care of registration, but had already survived one endurance event that day- a 3 hr Rosh Hashonah service. It was great to meet folks at the dinner, and as always, amazed by the positive attitudes, helpfulness, and lack of cockiness among all the team.  

Friday morning I did the team swim and felt good in the water. Then it was off to registration, which took about 45 minutes. Weighted in at 130 lbs- 13 lbs more than I was a year ago and almost 20 lbs heavier than my marathon race weight in 2011.  Went to the Four Keys talk, reinforcing the messages I’d been hearing at camp and on the forums. Walked around the expo some while waiting for my mom to get into town, but tried to take it easy. Probably could have stayed off my feet more than I did. I went to the athlete meeting and while most of it was a waste of time, there were a few helpful tidbits. Went to the banquet Friday night and was a bit disappointed in the program. It was fun to sit and talk with the team, but I found the program really lacking. I’m a sucker for motivational things, and felt I could’ve gotten more sitting in my hotel watching Ironman youtube videos.

On Saturday I was lubing my chain in preparation for bike check in and took it for a spin in the hotel parking lot to make sure all was ok. It was not. While it was shifting fine, it felt like a constant grinding, like I was never fully in any gear.  This was there with any gear I tried. I was trying extremely hard not to panic. I went to bike support, where they first thought it was due to some grime in the chain (guilty of not doing a thorough chain cleaning). When that didn’t work, one of the mechanics took it for a spin and thought it was a bottom bracket problem but said “It shouldn’t be detrimental tomorrow, just get it replaced after the race.”  I wasn’t too reassured, and asked every teammate I saw how bad this sounded.  Whether people were lying or not, most were reassuring but I was still slightly panicked. Before this point I was freaking out I’d get a flat, now I was sure I’d have a mechanical issue that would keep me from finishing.  I tried to focus on what I could control, which at this point, wasn’t this.

I woke up at 4am. Breakfast was a yogurt, rice, and a banana. Then I was sipping a Perform all morning. We left the hotel at 4:50, and probably got to Monona Terrace at 5:10. My mom and David dropped me off and I left them with my special needs bags to drop off since that is a bit away from transition. Great advice from EN was to work solely from a checklist so I didn’t have to think at all. I think I got some good karma by being the one in my row to have brought a pump. It also paid to have a flashlight to actually see the pressure guage, as my transition spot was not near a light. I met the team for a picture and was off to swim start.

SWIM: 1:34:21
I entered the water at around 6:40. I was able to stay close to shore and stand to save energy from treading water until the pros went off at 6:50.  The water was chilly just standing there, even though I think it was 74 degrees. I wore a sleeveless wetsuit. Once the pros went off I swam out to the ski jump, staking out a spot to the left of it. My plan was to seed myself with people planning to swim 1:25, a bit faster than my prediction. Unfortunately, everyone around me was saying far different things in terms of pace, so I just stuck where I was and prepared for a lot of contact. I was able to hold onto a kayak before the cannon for a while which was nice. I really couldn’t see how far I was from the actual start line.

The cannon went off and we started swimming. It was kind of surreal, like “oh, I guess this is happening now.” I didn’t even bother sighting at first, just focused on going forward with my 2800ish new friends. There actually wasn’t much contact at first. The usual chaos, but not what I was expecting. I felt like I hit my stroke pretty quickly, I think the not sighting immediately helped me get into a rhythm. Just as I was getting comfortable the wresting/boxing/MMA match began. A nice scratch to my arm, people grabbing feet (really? I know my stroke is bad, but what part of swimming involves actually grabbing onto feet?), swimming over me, crashing into me from the side. The worst was a good kick to the nose.

Most of the first leg I felt good. I had no issues staying on course on the first leg, which is 1050 yds. It got congested around the first turn, and I followed tradition and moo-ed. The next leg of 350 yds was definitely lots of contact as we had all merged together around the turn. But that was nothing for the hell to come on the long leg.

I had been warned that the long leg seems to go on forever. And that was in good conditions. Race day had given us the gift of nice temperatures (sandwiched between two hot days, so yay weather gods) but a lovely 15+ mph wind that was giving Lake Monona a good current/chop. At some points I felt like I was barely going forward and was having difficulty sighting. I was swallowing a fair amount of water. There were many points where I felt very nauseous. My goggles were also fogging. I have never used de-fogger since I have never had issues with this. Well, apparently my luck ran out, and now I get why people use it. I was definitely drifting further off course and having to make some pretty sharp corrections. I was stopping quite frequently to try to find the next buoy or fix my goggles. I knew when the buoy color changed from yellow to orange I was at the half way point, and saw I was just about at 45 minutes. I knew the second half would take longer since more of it was into this lovely current. It seemed like forever until I saw the red turn buoy.

That last leg back to shore is on a diagonal, and judging by the fact that there were no people anywhere near me, I was doing a pretty lousy job of sighting.. Finally I could start to see the swim exit area. I had a brief moment where I considered really “sprinting” it in (note: I really only have one speed of swimming, so my sprint is just a way to expend energy) but I had Coach Rich on my shoulder chanting “Mile 18, Mile 18, stay in your box”. I knew logically that sprinting would not do me any good here.

T1: 10:07
I got out of the water and was shocked at how good I felt. First stop wetsuit strippers, then it was up the helix. I had no intention of really running, but I did an easy jog and felt like my HR was in check. The atmosphere was awesome with the helix lined with spectators.

Volunteers pointed me right to my bike bag and I was off to the change tent. My volunteer was amazing. She starts emptying my bag out, asking me what I want, putting away my swim gear and anything I didn’t want. I put my helmet on, and dried off my feet. I sucked down a gel with a few sips of water. applied chamois cream, and put on my gloves. My volunteer recommended just holding my shoes until the bike line, so I carried them out. I made a quick stop at the port-a-potties (yep, should’ve peed while still in the lake) and let the sunscreen volunteers slather it on me even though it was an overcast day. I took off on an easy jog down to my bike, which was way down at the other end near bike out. While most bikes were definitely gone, I was far from the last one out. The volunteers call your number down the line, so they have your bike ready to go when you get to it. I put on my shoes (no socks), grabbed the bike, and mounted at the line.

BIKE: 6:55:37
Down the helix a guy in front of me just kept saying “easy does it, hold your line” over and over again.  My plan was to go super easy until Whalen Rd and continue to go pretty easy the whole first hour, but knowing Whalen takes a bit more effort. The bike path and all the admin stuff was really helpful to get in the “take it easy/not racing” mindset as it forced you to be slow and not even pass folks.  I wasn’t planning to start really taking in calories for a bit, but my HR was good so I started drinking Perform right away.  The tail wind we had going out also made it easy to keep the effort low. Oh and the bike issue? Didn’t notice anything feeling off on race day so apparently my bike has magical powers to fix itself. It’s heard me talking about getting a genuine tri-bike and is upping its game to not be replaced.

Even before the rollers start on Whalen Road, I saw how poorly people were going to ride the course. Are you really trying to be the King of the Overpass? Really? Really? My favorites were the guys (yes, sadly plural) coming out of the saddle on the false flats. While these examples are just pure stupidity, I think having ridden the course several times was definitely helpful in that I was prepared for just how slow I would be going in portions and it didn’t upset me and make me do stupid things come race day.

I had a 11-30 cassette which I had never trained on the course with and I think it made a huge difference. I’m sure it was also the taper and the adrenaline, but no hill felt like I was totally grinding. I made sure to shift down for everything, and really focused on maintaining the effort over the crest and into the downhill.  It was exactly as the coaches said it would be- got passed going up, did the passing going down. My only complaint is that many folks were in the middle of the road or on the left side on the downhill making it difficult to pass, but hey, it is fun to scream “on your left” to a guy who thinks he’s a total stud on a bike worth about 5x as much as mine J

I’d ridden the course 3.5 times and this was by far the easiest. Mentally I was prepared for what was ahead. I think the new cassette was a big help, and the crowds were great too.  I can report that I totally stayed in my box. There were a few times where I really felt like I was crawling and couldn’t figure out why, but I trusted the numbers and just kept my power in check. I had my Garmin set to show 3 second power, lap average power, and lap time, resetting laps every 30 minutes. I never looked at speed, as I knew this would push me out of my box.

Nutrition-wise, I relied mostly on Perform. I grabbed a bottle at every aid station and refilled my Profile Aero Bottle. Got to say that the bottle Perform tastes NOTHING like the powder mix. I’d usually run out of Perform in the aero bottle about 10 minutes before the next station, and then used a bottle in my cages to keep me going until the aid station. I will admit to not being a Type-A triathlete with tracking my nutrition during the day. I just made sure to keep drinking. I also had a powerbar (in two servings) and 3-4 gu as well as a couple pieces of banana throughout the ride. I remembered what Rich said that the bigger worry is having too much and your stomach shutting down than not having enough. I just made sure to do frequent assessments of how my energy was and how I was feeling and adjusted as needed. One of the times I picked up the banana I was past the “Last Chance Trash” by the time I had it peeled. I definitely didn’t want a littering penalty so I definitely rode about 15 miles with a banana peel tucked into my race belt. And of course that was captured on camera.

Around mile 75ish the miles started to pass more slowly. I don’t think I was physically tired, just the initial excitement was wearing off.  The spectators were also clearing out, and overall the energy of everyone was lower. I made sure to keep a good focus on the moment I was in and just stick to the plan.

Everyone talks about the three big hills- Old Sauk, Timber Lane, and Midtown. Honestly, I found this to be one of the easier portions.  They are just hills. They do not last forever. Just get into your lowest gear and enjoy the break from aero. The spectators are awesome and really make it a highlight. These hills are not what will get you in Madison- it is the constant other hills that will fatigue you if you let them, making these three seem much bigger and badder than they are.  My only advice is to be prepared for less spectator support on the second loop if you aren’t speedy, as I was looking forward to seeing the devil again on Old Sauk, but apparently he’d already gotten enough souls. For many, I’m sure they really did find hell on the run. 

There was a headwind coming back into town on the stick, but I think I had enough energy that it was fine. After that final hill on the stick, I could definitely feel I was picking up speed, and was excited for the run compared to all the folks around me who looked positively beat.

My numbers were:
Time: 6:55:37 (including FOUR pee stops)
Pavg: 120; Pnorm: 128; VI: 1.07; IF: 0.72

All in all, very happy with how I rode the bike. Stayed in my box. Lowest average and normalized power yet, and best VI. I know my IF was high, but it was lower than on my training rides on the course where I found I felt good through the ride and able to run well off the bike, granted 6 miles is different than 26.2.  I think there is a good chance my FTP is actually higher and I just haven’t mastered the test. Gearing definitely can help on this course, so highly recommend getting as many gears as possible (loved my 11-30!). Compared to my training rides I definitely stayed in the aerobars more than previously (and with no back pain- yay!) and did a good job conserving momentum to really help with the uphills.

I can’t say enough about how helpful it was to know the course.  I remember how terrified I was of all the hills the first time I rode it, and now I was just able to take them as they came. My bike handling also improved. Training in Chicago, I have ZERO hills to practice on, and I spent my first training ride in Madison giving my hands a good workout riding the brakes. My confidence taking the downhills fast and even some fast turns definitely showed on race day, with a peak speed of 43 mph according to my Garmin. Things my mom never needs to know about..

Plans for next year are to- 1) Get my FTP up this Outseason and learn how to test well; 2) get a legit tri bike, no more clip on aerobars!; 3) learn to pee on the bike. I stopped FOUR times to pee. Luckily I only had to wait in line once, but I’m guessing that is probably about 12 minutes I could get back. So yes, can’t wait to get a fancy bike and pee all over it J

T2: 5:54
Really nothing to note (surprising considering that I’m not leaving out anything), changed shoes, some bodyglide, port-a-potty stop (again), gu, race belt, and hat. I did decide to change into running shorts as a mental thing- a fresh start!

RUN: 4:34:22
My legs had the usual heavy feeling to them as I started the run but in general I felt great. I heard people saying “that girl looks good” and it didn’t seem like the blatant lies you hear spectators saying, but maybe I was just hearing what I want to. My garmin was misbehaving, bouncing between 6:50 miles and 11:30 miles for the first half mile, so I did my best effort to try to go as slow as possible. Crowds were awesome. I started the run in a very good mental place, as I knew I could walk the whole damn thing and still make the cutoff.  I definitely had bigger goals than that, but it was reassuring that I would at least finish. My plan was 9:45-10 min/miles for the first six, then 9:20-9:30ish. Hah- didn’t know how hard the IM marathon is…  

While I felt pretty good, I think knowing the distance still to cover was a bit daunting. With the two loop course, you see both mile markers, so at mile 3, you also see “Mile 16” and that made me feel like I just had so much more to do.  I kept trying to disconnect my brain from the overall distance and do the aid station to aid station approach, or just break the course up by the little out and back sections.

I walked all aid stations, though my definition of the aid station got more liberal throughout the run. At first it was just from the first to the last table, then it was stretched out to a smidge before the aid station to last chance trash.  I still prefer this over other walking breaks.  I also walked Observatory Hill, and on the second loop, a few other places I deemed to be hills, but probably were not.  I would definitely recommend the walking Observatory Hill strategy, those that ran only got a few feet ahead of me and I quickly caught up with them. It made me look forward to the hill rather than dread it.

My legs held up pretty well for the run.  My right foot went numb at mile 5 which worried me, as this has happened in HIM, but never happens in training. I think it might be exercise induced compression syndrome, but really need to have it checked out.  Luckily and for no known reason, it only lasted a few miles. My calves were also both tight for a few miles in the first half, but either they stretched out or I got use to it, because it stopped bothering me. No real shin pain, which was great since I have battled that all year. I am definitely a believer in compression sleeves, which I wore, to help with shin pain.

I didn’t have my nutrition totally mapped out for the run since I didn’t know how I’d be feeling. I did make sure I was getting electrolytes and calories but not angering the beast that is my GI system. It was clear pretty early that I was done with Perform (had also noticed on RR that I could handle Perform on the run for about 3 miles, then no more). I wanted water but was careful not to have too much without sodium.  Potato chips have never looked so good and I did take a few, thinking I’d get some salt. I don’t think they are to blame for GI issues but who knows.  I did have 1 saltstick somewhere on the first half.  I had a total of 3 gels, the last made me want to vomit. I started cola at mile 5 and took some at most stations. I haven’t had soda in 10 years, and wow, it was heavenly. I also had chicken broth at a few aid stations to help with sodium. Cold = disgusting; warm = gift from God.

In terms of GI issues, I mostly felt just nauseaus/gassy but didn’t feel as though I was going to actually have any issues for the first half. At special needs I got my secret weapon- candied ginger, and I think that helped, or at least was just a different taste compared to all the sugary stuff. My real issues started at mile 19ish, where I began the port-a-potty tour until about mile 23, with a few moments of panic between port-a-potties.  I’m not sure what the cause was, if it was something I ate/didn’t eat, level of exertion, or just good ol’ Crohn’s reminding me it is there (and most likely a combo of all).  I’m sure in future races I could try to keep to a stricter nutrition plan, but I don’t think there would be any different outcome, as I have had training runs where I get much sicker than I did on the course.

The EN mojo on the course was awesome. Especially with all the out and backs, you were always seeing EN-ers, and everyone was positive.  It was great to see EN folks on State Street and get a boost there. 

I was prepared for suckiness to start at mile 18, but I still felt pretty good there. I was naïve and thought maybe that would continue. Hah. Newbie mistake. Just after Observatory Hill of the second loop I got to the dark place. Looking back I can’t even remember what was so bad, besides the GI issues. I was in no horrible pain, I think it was largely just general fatigue. I wonder if I should’ve taken in more calories if that would’ve helped, but that also might have made my stomach angrier. I really wanted to walk. So badly. I kept telling myself that as long as I was physically capable of running, I would regret walking. I think the energy at that point also changes, people don’t look good anymore. No one is talking. It is very somber.  When you need energy the most, it isn’t there. Spectators were also thinning out. At mile 23ish my hat flew off.  I just looked at it and kept going. It wasn’t worth the energy/effort it would take to bend over and get it. #ironmanproblems. Finally you start to see/hear excitement as you get closer.  I still kept to walking aid stations, even in the last mile, and still didn’t find that last burst of energy you sometimes get when you see the end is in sight.

As I came around the capital, it was a weird feeling- I am actually going to do this. I could not wait for it to be over.  There was also somewhat of a let down.  I was doing better than I expected to do on sub-par training, but I think the fact that I didn’t hit every workout and train as hard as I had intended made me feel like I hadn’t earned it. That might just be my post-ironman depression talking.  That was just a bit of what I was feeling, in general, I felt awesome.  I think I smiled 99% of the day, and really can’t wait to do it again.   Total Time: 13:20:21

Major props to RnP (Endurance Nation Coaches), Brenda (what a rock star) and all of EN. I never thought I’d get so much out of the team, and really had just an awesome weekend in Madison. 

A couple days ago I had a routine doctor’s appointment with my gastroenterologist. Many of you know I have Crohn’s disease and did this race to raise money for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. My doctor asked how I’d been doing and I proudly said “I did an Ironman last weekend.” This is a very very very long ways from wasting away in hospital bed unable to walk to the nurse’s station.  My doctor was really excited and asked if he could use my story to give hope to newly diagnosed patients. I think that made me realize that it doesn’t matter now how sub-par my training was, and all the ways I could have gone faster on race day. I did an Ironman!

All I’ve been thinking of this past week is ways to do it better in Chattanooga next year.  Obviously learn to pee on the bike.  But other plans are to keep up consistent training (life seems under control right now J), lose the damn weight from those days of not training, and buy some speed with a real tri bike instead of my road bike.  I also plan to have some more races on my calendar, I think this will help with motivation and just having fun with this sport.

Looking forward to a good year of training and racing with EN!  And congrats to everyone who actually read this thing. Sorry if it scewed your TSS balance.

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