This was my first trip to Ironman Wisconsin and hopefully it won't be my last! What a great town, great venue, and great people. Spending time in the Midwest certainly makes me miss the Midwest. Corn, cows, cicadas...and really laid-back-yet-football-crazy folks. I love living in Utah but I can't escape the fact that I'm a Midwestern girl at heart.
Enough with the nostalgia.
After a longer-than-planned mid-season break, I made a few changes to my race schedule and decided to take a crack at earning some early qualifying points for Kona 2014. IM Wisconsin made sense for several reasons: the timing was good, it was close to "home" so friends & family could be there, and I really had a hankering to tackle the legendary hills. My run fitness was questionable but swimming and biking were great, and I thought with a little luck I might be able to pull off something special on race day.
The trip did not start off especially luckily. My flight had just boarded and five minutes before we were due to depart the captain came on the loudspeaker to tell us that the Denver airport (where the plane was flying to make connections) had just been closed due to bad weather and that we would be sitting there for probably an hour and a half before taking off. At first I thought it was a joke, but then I realized he was serious! At least he gave us the option of deplaning but warned passengers to stay close to the gate because we would take off ASAP after Denver reopened. Since I had a window seat near the back of the place I opted for staying put. True to the captain's word, we took off about 90 minutes late---blah. On the bright side, I got some good reading done (City of Thieves, read it if you haven't!) and since the whole Denver Airport was closed I figured everything would be backed up and I'd still make my connection to Madison. I did, and eventually arrived my homestay family's house around 11pm. Thanks Jen for staying up to wait for me!
My first order of business the next day was to get some FOOD. Jen pointed me in the direction of Willy St. in downtown Madison, and I found a cute little place called the Daisy Cafe where I had an awesome salmon omelette, potatoes, fruit, toast, and coffee. Did I mention I was hungry?! Then I made my way down to John Nolen Drive and Monona Terrace to check in and pick up my Fezzari T5 bike and gear bag from TriBike Transport. Talk about hassle-free travel! I'm used to lugging my bike + all the other equipment around myself but these guys really make it easy. You just drop off your bike (plus optional gear + wheels bags) at a local partner shop about a week before your race, then they load it on trucks and it's waiting for you at the event when you arrive! Then after the race you drop your stuff off---sweat, urine, sticky sports drink and all---and they transport it back home for you. Check them out at www.tribiketransport.com.
Next on the agenda was course reconnaissance. At this point I owe another huge THANK YOU to my homestay "mom" Jen Savino for providing me with the BEST MAP EVER of downtown Madison from a booklet called the Annual Manual. I would have been lost without it! The majority of the run course was through the downtown area and the University of Wisconsin campus, and this valuable map gave me a good grasp of the visual layout of the area around the Capitol---not to mention it had all the one-way streets marked! Imperative for an out-of-towner operating a car. I only made one goof-up, when I was so focused on the "Bus, Bikes, and Right Turn Only" sign that I somehow failed to also notice the "Do Not Enter" signs on State Street. Oops! I wondered why that street was so empty of cars!
After driving most sections of the run course, including the famed Observatory Hill (yes, it is a serious hill even by Utah standards!), I headed out to have a look at the bike course. OH MY GOSH. Beautiful! Rolling hills, cornfields, and cows everywhere. It was definitely my kind of course; fair and engaging, lots of turns, with never a dull moment. I couldn't wait to get out and ride it!
The next couple of days were spent doing the usual pre-race routine: some training, fueling, resting, Recovery Pumping, race meetings, more course recon, then gear organizing and check-in. I met up with my client Sharon to go over last-minute details with her---this was her first Ironman!!!---then it was time to put my feet up and hang out with my friends Betsy and Zak (who drove up from Indianapolis) and Liz, who lives in Madison. We had some wonderful Thai food on Willy Street then later created home-made pizzas for dinner. There's nothing like a nice low-key evening with family/friends pre-race! To top things off Betsy surprised me by baking an early birthday cake, then we played a roaring game of Chutes and Ladders before they sent me off to get my beauty sleep. I wonder how many other athletes had pizza and chocolate cake for dinner the night before?!
The 3am alarm came WAY too early but I was surprisingly alert and ready to go. I'm not sure if it was the way the transition was organized or if I just did a better job of budgeting my time than in the past, but it was definitely one of the most seamless race mornings from a logistics standpoint. It helped that I found parking close by---my legs were happy about that afterwards!---and also that someone pulled some strings so that the pros had their VERY OWN PORTA-POTTIES in transition. It's amazing how much stress is lifted when you don't have to stand in ridiculously long bathroom lines on race morning! I believe thanks go to Tom Ziebart for that.
Onto the actual race. It was an overcast and blustery day which meant a choppy swim...which meant a very happy me! A rougher swim generally is an advantage to the stronger swimmers. I had tested the waters out a couple days prior and decided it was really way too warm for wetsuits, but according to the WTC rules the 74 degree water temps were in the legal range for everyone. So I made the call to wear my new Blueseventy Helix Sleeveless wetsuit, and it ended up being a great decision! Full sleeves would have been too hot. It was also a mixed start with pro men and women going off at the same time, which again makes me happy. More faster swimmers to swim with! My goal was to stay with super-swimmer Hillary Biscay, which didn't happen, but I still came out in a good spot about a minute down in 2nd place. The long backstretch into the wind was tough but I loved it!
There are so many memorable moments from this particular race that I'd have to write a book to recount them all, but it would be shameful not to mention to run up the Helix. It was INSANE! The Monona Terrace is a convention center and parking structure (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright) that essentially ties the downtown Capitol square to the shores of Lake Monona. One of the cool architectural features of the building is the spiral entrance/exit from the parking structure called the Helix. The athletes got to run up one Helix from the swim to T1, then bike down & up the other Helix on the other end of the building to start and finish the bike. Spectators lined the entire Helix coming out of the swim and they were CRAZY!!!! The next stop was a quick turn into the ballrooms to grab gear bags and change, and I had my one silly blip of the day when I slipped on a plastic bag and totally wiped out on the carpet. Can we say RUG BURN?!!! It wasn't the best start to the day but carpet burn is better than road rash, and it didn't cost me any time. In fact, it became a good lesson for the day---if you fall down, pick yourself right back up!
My mantra for the bike ride was "go hard now, pay for it later"---I really wanted to ride conservatively and give myself a chance to have a good run. The first stretch out to the Verona Loop felt easy because of a nice tailwind, and I was able to overtake Hillary and grab the lead of the women's race within the first few miles. I told myself to not get too excited, which would have been easy to do since this course is so much fun! I usually like looped courses because they seem to go by quicker and this was no exception---it really flew by. It was the most enjoyable iron-distance ride I've ever done, and a huge part of that was the crazy fans lining the roads up the climbs and through Verona. What a rush!
I held the lead throughout the bike and had a smooth T2 to start the run. My plan was to take it out at ~7:30-45 pace then see if I could build from there. Running around the Wisconsin state capitol to start the run was a lot of fun, and again the crowd support was incredible! I felt great for the first 11 miles and really enjoyed the twists and turns of the course. About halfway through I could feel my body tightening up and I went through a loooong gray patch. I focused on managing my nutrition, driving my hips forward, and keeping my feet moving. The spectators were awesome but they can only take you so far! Jackie Arendt passed me around mile 14 and Beth Shutt came by a couple miles later. With 6-7 miles to go I began to feel a little better and was able to pick the pace up a bit. At the last out-and-back section I saw fleet-footed Beth Walsh storming up behind me and I knew it would be a battle to hold her off. NO MORE SPRINT FINISHES, remember?! In the end I was able to hang on for 3rd place and snag some valuable points towards qualifying for Kona next year. Mission accomplished! I'd be lying to say I didn't want to win the whole shebang, but I did what I could on the day and had a really wonderful (dare I say fun?!) experience. AND I got to share it with friends! Thanks again Betsy, Zak, Liz, Jen, Cam x 2, Egan, and Kelly for the cheers and signs!
The day after the race involved dropping off my bike & gear with TriBike Transport for the return trip, going to the awards ceremony, and having lunch with my client Sharon and some of her friends from Colorado---all done while moving in a sore and stiff manner. Here's a big shout-out to Sharon for accomplishing HER mission of "just finishing" in style: 13:34 and 22nd in her age group at her very first Ironman! Yes, I'm a proud coach. :)
Congratulations to all the finishers, and thanks to: the city of Madison for being so welcoming & supportive of this event; to Ironman for the great production; to TriBike Transport for making my travel so easy; to my sponsors---REV3, Powerbar, Recovery Pump, Blueseventy, Rudy Project, Powertap, Reynolds, Powertap, Maxxis, and The Bike Shoppe; to my homestay Jen Savino for making me feel right at home; and to all the friends and family cheering from near and afar!
Now legs up and time to get ready for the next one.