The tale of Ironman Wisconsin, 2013 is meaningful because I think it bookends Part One of my triathlon story. It was the first Ironman I wanted to do, and tried to sign up for, but missed out on, thus forced to race Louisville instead. Then when I finally did race it, six years after my initial attempt, it felt like the perfect race to close out Ironman racing for a while in order to solely focus on my 35 by 35 marathon attempt.
It was a fantastic race, the entire weekend was life-affirming, and shaped up better than I could have imagined.
Following is an excerpt from my book, 35 By 35: A Runner's Quest, where I share more of the nitty-gritty of how my early September Ironman weekend went down in Madison, WI.
#28 - Ironman Wisconsin, 2013
Racing With My Hero
The precious six weeks that I spent in between Vineman and Ironman Wisconsin were filled with needful recovery, and a few hard and long workouts to keep me primed for another stellar effort. However, I placed a huge amount of pressure on myself going into Wisconsin, because this was my “A” race of the season, and the initial Ironman course I had been pining over for years. I wanted to improve on my time from Vineman and to try again to go under eleven hours, but more importantly I wanted to enjoy the entire experience, because my gut told me this would be the last Ironman I would compete in for a long time.
Following is a special treat. It is a look inside my mind just one day before the race, from an email I sent out to family and friends to thank them for their support:
I wanted to check in with all of you and give you a quick rundown of what I have been up to the past couple of days, and how this Ironman is shaping up to be pretty special. First off, just after I landed on Thursday afternoon I was lucky enough to be taken on a tour of the bike course by the 2008 female Champion, Hillary Biscay, which was wonderful because not only does she know every inch of this course, this will be her seventh time racing this year. There is no way I could have found my way around that Wisconsin farmland on my own; the course is beautiful, but tough. Also, Hillary has been my coach and mentor throughout my Ironman journey, so it meant the world to me that she would carve out this time to show me around and prep me for this marvelous course!
The adventure continued as I got COMPLETELY lost on my way to my hotel. I was even pulled over by a cop for not having my lights on, but I found my way, and now I feel like I know Madison like the back of my hand. On Friday morning I set off for a mellow 40 min. run on a beautiful bike path near my hotel. As I was admiring the scenery, my left foot slipped off the uneven pavement and I went down hard on my left knee and right hand. Awesome! Also, I rolled my ankle. Oops. I walked on it for a minute, and decided to turn around and run back to my hotel. Fortunately, I did not feel any broken bones or see any black and blue, but my foot was more than tender and started to swell, so I was getting a little nervous. Next, I went to get coffee with a wonderful woman named Meghan Walsh, who is the contact for the charity I race for, AHOPE. She is fantastic, and we had a great morning, but my sore foot was in the back of my mind the whole visit.
Next up was going to the athlete meeting, and doing a little souvenir shopping back at Monona Terrace, the base camp for the race. I could move my foot around but it hurt, and I had to think for a minute about the busy rest of the year I have lined up. One more triathlon, and two more marathons. Did I want to risk all of that to finish this race?
While I was shopping for Ironman goodies, I ran into a fellow member of my Big Sexy Racing triathlon team. Jedd is a fast fellow from a neighboring Wisconsin town who is gunning for a Kona slot in the 30-34 age group. I had only seen and spoken with him on Facebook, so it was great to catch up in person, and the bonus of all bonuses was that he is a Physical Therapist, and offered to examine my foot. Um…yes please! He gave me the "okay" to race, because even though I did have swelling, my mobility was good, and there was nothing broken. Sweet!
I spent the rest of the evening eating my pre-race feast of healthy delectables from a local co-op, and icing and moving my foot around. By the time I went to bed, I felt about 200% better than I did in the morning. Even though my hand and knee were still bloodied like an eight-year-old tomboy, my foot felt ready to go.
So, here we are on "day before the race" morning, and I have one small bike ride to do in order to warm up my legs and make sure my bike is ready to rock. Then, it is just dropping off all of my gear, a pancake feast tonight, and hopefully a few hours of sleep before I am up at 4 a.m. and ready for another amazing day outside.
If you have a minute or two on Sunday, you can track me on www.ironman.com, there will be a link for IM Wisconsin, then go to Live Tracking, and plug in my bib# 516 to find me. Also, Hillary's # is 41, and Maik is #1... My $ is on him for the win, and for Hillary to be close to the front, too. I am going to push hard all day, but for this ninth IM of mine I am just happy to be lining up and enjoying the day.
If you made it through this whole email, thank you! Also, thank you for the amazing support and inspiration you all have given me throughout these many years of endurance events, I really appreciate it.
The race started with a courageous effort in Lake Monona for the swim. I was excited and angry because it was the most violent swim I had ever experienced in an Ironman. And the punches to my head, and back were consistent the entire 2.4 miles. When I glanced at the clock after finally reaching the shore I smiled, 1:14, of course. Next, I ran up the many spiraling levels of the Monona Terrace parking structure, then inside the center itself to change into my bike gear, and off I went toward the hills and farmland of Wisconsin.
I loved every pedal stroke of the course. There were a bounty of rolling hills that catered to my strengths, and endless grasslands in every direction. It was a beautiful bike ride. I played sling-shot with a fellow female racer for about twenty miles, but at the halfway mark, she was safely in my rearview. There were stretches of rough roads that rattled my bike and nerves for miles, but I maintained my pace, determined to give Madison more than everything I had. This race had been on my mind for six years, and now the day had finally arrived—I wanted to enjoy every minute of it.
The second loop of the bike course felt faster than the first. I was in a “take no prisoners” rhythm, which meant I had pity for no one on the course, least of all myself. There was one male racer who must have had a traumatic experience with a strong woman in his life, because he could not get with the program that once you get passed, you have to drop back and allow that stronger rider their earned position. This guy just kept leap-frogging me whenever I overcame him, and finally I just let him go and live with the misery of over-worked legs for the marathon. I was happy settling into a spin out session over the last few miles in order to set up a smart, strong marathon.
The crowds along this run route are mighty from mile one. A definite highlight was being able to run around the football field at University of Wisconsin, twice. The two-loop course suited me well, because I always push myself further once I am familiar with a course. I did not see Maik along the course at all—he was way too far ahead—but I did see Hillary at around mile seven, and it felt wonderful to be able to cheer for her this time around.
Every mile hurt, but the kind of hurt I crave. I was not running fast, but clicking off consistent sub-nine minute miles, and passing people left and right. Luckily, my ankle felt fine, or maybe I just refused to acknowledge the pain; either way it did not bother me at all. The last few miles of the race were overwhelming. I had no idea where I ranked, but my time was excellent, especially considering I had raced a Vineman only six weeks prior. I did not want it to end, but it did. I crossed the finish in a haze of disbelief. I finished in 11:13; it wasn’t my best time, but it was definitely my best day. I slurped every second of that race and felt like I could have done more. I could have kept going, I wanted to, but it was done. The only option was to revel in another Ironman finish, then get my act together, and go home.
I am thrilled to report that Maik did indeed take the win, and Hillary raced valiantly as always, while I placed 5th in my age group, my best place to date. I fought hard in the swim, rode hard on the bike, and ran as fast as I could though the campus of University of Wisconsin. I wavered at times, but the crowds were everywhere on the course, keeping my heart beating and legs moving when my mind wanted them to stop. I am proud to have finally raced in Ironman Wisconsin, six years after trying to get there for my first Ironman. I probably won’t ever race there again, but never say never.
**I'll be back.