September 23, 2009
Ironman Wisconsin 2009 - Pre-Race and Swim
There almost aren't words to describe the atmosphere of an Ironman. You have to experience it to really understand it. I was struck by this last year when I volunteered and experienced race weekend before signing up for my own Ironman adventure. To be back one year later and participating as an athlete was an incredible feeling. I've already shared the day to day activities of race week so I'll just recap it by saying it was magical. Within minutes of arriving I was swept off to dinner by friends and the sharing and camaraderie continued every day of the week with new and different people arriving and joining as the week went on. We were all in it together. All sharing the same special experience. I can't think of another time in life when you are so connected to others.
I'll share my race experience in parts to avoid this being the longest post ever written. As you can imagine, the memories are infinite and there is no way I could capture them all. I'll do my best to hit the highlights and paint a picture of what it's like to take part in an Ironman. I still can't believe I did it.
I have always struggled to sleep well the night before a race, but this race was in a league of its own. I wasn’t nervous the way one normally would be, but rather filled with dread of the unknown. I’d gone through plans of where to meet and where to be with my parents knowing I might never make it there. I started to feel overwhelmed by it all and despite being exhausted, just couldn’t fall asleep. I woke up at 3:30 and the feeling remained. I had my usual pre-race breakfast - coffee, two pieces of sprouted grain bread (only because my coach makes me eat it) with almond butter and honey. I drank one big glass of water, checked my special needs bags one last time and headed out. My dad drove me to Capitol Square to spare me the three-block walk where I dropped off my bags and then walked alone to transition. I cried for the first time that day. It wouldn’t be the last.
I filled my tires, got my bottles situated and headed into the terrace to wait. What a scene it was in there. Athletes lined the hallway in various states of emotion. I saw a lot of laughter, tears, nerves and fear. I started finding familiar faces, many of the friends I'd shared the week with along with some new ones who had arrived for the race. By chance I met a guy that I've been trying to meet for a year. We missed each other at IMWI last year and haven't had the opportunity since. He was a big inspiration to me when I signed up last year so it was great timing to finally meet.
In that moment, I realized one of the most significant things I'd realize all day. An incredible thing about Ironman is the energy transfer that happens from person to person. It comes from fellow athletes, family, friends, spectators and volunteers. Something as simple as a kind word, a touch or a cheer would immediately change how I felt and give me the energy to keep moving forward. This was felt most noticeably on the run, but it started before I even got into the water.
I walked to the start and found my family. The sun was just coming up and the sight of an Ironman swim start is pretty incredible. I was excited and ready for it to begin. At 6:45 I got in for a quick warm up. After the pro start at 6:50 I made my way to front to seed myself appropriately. I settled about 2/3 of the way over to the right from the buoy line, but decided to stay up front, about three people back. I asked the folks around me for their goal times and they ranged from 1:15-1:25 so I was comfortable there. I knew it might be a bit aggressive but also knew I could hold my own.
The singing of the national anthem was surreal. I looked around and couldn't believe I was there. I was doing an Ironman.
Unbelievable. The cannon went off and mass chaos ensued. I was right in the thick of it, the famous washing machine, and I loved it! I was surprised I could actually swim through it. To say I took contact would be an understatement – it was a full-on kick and punch fest the entire time. I took the first blow to the face only a few minutes in and would endure at least 4-5 more throughout the swim. Most were just startling with only a couple really hurting, including a solid kick to the jaw. You have to remain totally calm in an Ironman swim and adjust for the amount of people sharing your little patch of water. If I got kicked I’d just stay face down and slow my stroke enough to let the aggressive swimmer pass, then keep going. Twice I had to empty water out of my goggles or put them back on after a kick so I took those moments to look around and take it all in. It was amazing!
I ended up hugging the buoy line and swimming just inside it at times. This made turns difficult and I took a lot of contact but I was comfortable there so I went with it. On the return stretch of the first loop I heard a loud sound in the water and felt a swimmer go right over the left side of me. I looked up and saw the silver cap – it was one of the pros finishing up the second loop. I finished the first loop in 41 minutes which is super fast for me. I was thrilled.
Loop two was still crowded and full of contact, but surprisingly, no one grabbed or kicked my foot. It was slightly slower but I felt great, I was having fun and enjoying the moment. As I approached the exit I stood up, paused and looked around. A volunteer asked if I was ok and I said I’d never been better.
Time - 1:27:43
After my wetsuit stripping the adrenaline took over and I started to jog toward the helix (the parking ramp you have to run up to get to the indoor transition area) when I suddenly remembered my torn plantar fascia and put the breaks on. I saw friends on the way to the helix and couldn't believe the crowds lining it. The cheering echoed and made me want to run and draw from that energy but I restrained myself.
T1 was jam packed so I grabbed my bag, skipped the volunteers and did my quick work right near the exit. I put on socks, an HR strap, a heavy coating of sunscreen, helmet, glasses and race belt. I hit the porta potty on the way out and had to walk to the bike. Had I been able to run I think I would have had a pretty efficient T1 time. A volunteer handed me my bike and I was off. The ride down the helix was awesome, it pumped me up and set the tone for a great ride.
Time - 15:23
Up next... the bike.