Thursday, September 15, 2011

Michelle's 2011 Ironman Wisconsin Race Report

Here's Michelle's 2011 Ironman Wisconsin race in her own words:

Ironman Wisconsin has come and gone but there are still stories to be told. What is so neat is that everyone's version of the story will be different. This is a recap of my day.

By prerace, I primarily mean Saturday. That's definitely when you want things to be as uneventful and boring as possible if you're racing an Ironman within 24 hours. All told it was a predictable day until it was time to take my bike down to transition. Earlier that morning, I had met up with fellow triathletes, Julia and Nicole, for a quick dip in Lake Monona. Water temps were perfect for me in the low 70's. Next it was time for some chit-chat with teammate Rob and friend Laura. Most importantly, I was trying keeping myself busy with low energy, distracting activities. My family arrived in Madison about 11:00 at which time I was planning to take the bike out for a quick spin to make sure everything was working properly. I have no bike mechanic skills other than what it takes to change and pump up tires. So, if there was something simple going awry, I was hoping my husband could address it. And if something is going to go wrong with your bike it would be nice if that would happen a few days before the race rather than 1:30 before all bikes need to be racked. To make a long story short, it wasn't shifting properly and a cable broke. Great! I was trying to remain calm, knowing I now needed to get to the race site with all my bags and bike, find tech support, and hope that they had time to get things fixed all in 1:30. Stay cool, Michelle. Needless to say, I was quiet but silently freaked. The guys from the Madison Trek Bicycle Store were manning tech support and I cannot say how professional and pleasant they were. My problem was corrected and they even helped me out with a few other minor details. In retrospect, it was a blessing in disguise that the cable broke on Saturday as opposed to Sunday out on the course. My race would have been over had that happened. It really helped me to keep things in perspective. Stuff happens that we don't have complete control over. It's really easy to get worked up over a big race. This incident helped to remind me of the need to keep things in perspective.

5:00 am
Out to transition. Methodical and organized just like I plan for things to go. Dropped off special needs bags, got body marked, put my bottles on the bike, peed 3 times, finished putting on the sunscreen, hoisted on the wetsuit and I was set! I was one of the first people in the water so I think I ended up treading water for about 20 minutes. I actually got a little cold just sitting there.

The mass start of an Ironman swim is like nothing else you can ever experience. Don't let anyone tell you it's a nice swim with 2500 of your best swimming buddies. No Way! It's an all-out brawl! Getting pushed under water and hit in the head or clawed in the back is not how I would choose to start off a Sunday morning. Usually somewhere in the first 200m I end up stopping and asking myself why I do this. I will say, though, that after 5 of these mass starts, it does not bother me as much as it once did. I work hard to stay calm and look for open spaces. My strategy was to start more off to the right, closer to shore, than I have in the past. I seeded myself about 10 people deep. Which for someone of my marginal swim ability is a fairly aggressive place to be. I have been put through the wringer by my coach with the swimming this season. I have swam with tennis balls in my hands, old shoes on my feet, elastic cords around my ankles, you name it, I've done it. I put in a lot of time in open water which I think was the best practice strategy of them all. The swim is chaotic and scary at times. But, I worked really hard at focusing on good form and staying relaxed. I PR'd the swim at 1:11:30 which put me in 17th place in my age group coming out of the water.

I had some lofty goals for this race and I knew to accomplish these goals I had to MOVE through transition! Transitions are a place to pick up free time. They need to be used to all their advantage. T1 starts with picking wetsuit peelers. Now, this is not a decision to be taken lightly! If you're going for speed, it's important to pick 2 peelers who look excited and aggressive and who appear ready to attack the job. I'm serious! My experience has show me that they are typical found near the front of the line and are young men. They need to look like they're having fun.What I do is make good eye contact with 2 and point at them to signal I'm coming their way. I'll have the wetsuit off my arms then plop down on my butt. Next, lay back, lift my butt up, and zip-zip-bang, I'm outta there! The next hurdle is running up the helix to get to your bike bag. It's long. But, once again, I'm focused on free time and I'm fresh at this point so I ran it for all I was worth. Once to my bag, it was all planned out. I go from head to toe with what I need. I had a great helper who dumped my stuff out and I just put it on. And I'm done. I made one mistake, I put my bike shoes on in the changing area. I had planned to carry them as I ran to my bike because it is a LONG way to the bikes. But, the adrenaline and flow of the process got the best of me and I messed up. Oh well, nothing goes perfectly. I ended up with the fastest T1 in my age group at 5:50.

I have now probably ridden this course about 12 times. I knew this would be to my advantage. The Ironman Wisconsin course is not easy. Well, really, no Ironman course is easy. This course is fairly technical in that there is a lot of cornering and a lot of hills. The hills are not necessarily long but they can be steep and often come one right after the other. This year in training I have been feeling a bit flat on the bike; not making much improvement but not falling off the wagon either. This left me feeling apprehensive about what I could do here. I had a goal of completing the bike in 6 hours. The last time I did this race was in 2008 and it took 6:11. I knew I would have to take some risk and lay it all out there. Mentally, I know, know, know I hold back a bit on the bike to save something for the run. But for me to accomplish what I wanted I had to go for it and push myself harder than I have before. Obviously, that is all relative to the distance. I never intended to ride like I would a half or an olympic. I did intend to ride an aggressive ironman-distance pace and this comes down to knowing my body and what I'm capable of. That's what training is for; learning and feeling what is appropriate. No overriding. No underriding. It's tough. As with anything that lasts 11+ hours, something is bound to not go exactly as planned. I lost a 300 calorie bottle of nutrition at about mile 50. No worries. No worries. I knew what was in the bottle for nutrition. I knew what was at the aid stations. And even though I HATE gels, they are a simple way to get in concentrated calories and I was able to adjust my nutritional strategy to make up for the loss. Temps were in the 70's throughout the bike. If anything, I was taking in too much fluid because at one point toward the latter half of the ride I was feeling full. So, I backed off and listened to my gut, resuming my nutritional plan when it felt right. I really think that is the key. Paying attention to my body and adjusting as the day progresses. The bike ended up going very well. 5:53:50. 3rd fastest bike in my age group.

Here it was again. The chance for more free time! Move! Move! I got another awesome volunteer who dumped out my bag and I methodically moved from head to toe. The one thing I tried this year new was to put Body Glide on parts of my feet that often rub or get calloused in training. The hope was to avoid blisters and lost toenails. It was worth a try, but no such luck. I'll end up losing 3 toenails. Some things I did not do in transition; use the port-a-potty and put on more sunscreen. I am not losing 1-2 minutes to pee; that's been taken care of out on the roads of Dane county. I'm also willing to risk a sunburn. Yes, totally wrong, I know, but true. T2-2:33. Fastest T2 in my age group.
It is true. The race in an Ironman does not start until the run. That is when it's figured out who overrode the course and who didn't, who can run and who can't. I admittedly did not feel so great the first 6 miles of the run. I often wanted to stop. But, I worked really hard to mentally block out the hurt and stick to my plan. Thankfully, I saw my family and Rob many times on the run course with updates as to what place I was in. I walked for about 20 seconds at every aid station to get in nutrition and fluids. I started to come around again after 6 miles. In retrospect, I think I was low on calories. As far as what I take at an aid station, it really boils down to what I feel like. For this race, I seemed to alternate Coke with Perform. No solids. Also, I think the day turned out to be hotter than we anticipated. It was in the 80's and that's getting up there for a long day of racing. The last half of the Ironman marathon is usually a death march. Everything hurts. My focus turns on remaining steady and repeatedly reminding myself of my goal. What WAS my overall goal? There really were several:

  1. Leave it all on the course. To not go home thinking I could have pushed harder.
  2. Time wise I hoped for a doable goal of 11:10 with a stretch goal of 11:00. 
  3. If the chips all fell correctly, I was hoping to qualify for Kona without needing a rolldown slot.
I ended up with the 2nd fastest run in my age group and a PR. 3:54:10.Final Thoughts
Well, I did it. I accomplished all of my goals. My total time was 11:07:52 placing 2nd in my age group. I grabbed my Kona slot happily and excitedly! My feeling of accomplishment is off the chart right now. I hope to ride this out as long as I can. But, I know it will fade. That's fine and good and as it should be. What, however, will not fade will be my appreciation for those in my life who help me along the way. Most people do not do this silly Ironman racing without support. And those that do, probably are not having that much fun doing it. I have an extremely supportive family. My husband and girls get as big of a bang as I do seeing their wife/mother cross the finish line screaming like a little girl. My friends and teammates are number one. I have an awesome coach who has gotten things out of me that I never thought were possible. Plus, I have great sponsors that have supplied me with products that work and get the job done! I thank them all from the bottom of my heart and hope they can hang in there with me as I figure out the next 'big thing'!