Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Walked Away from Another One (Ironman WI 2012 Race Report)

Growing up, my parents had friends who used to fly around Minnesota to golf around the region. Every time they’d step out of the plane the husband [pilot] would say, “well, walked away from another one,” as kind of a joke. My mom started saying this same catchphrase whenever I’d call and describe races that weren’t particularly noteworthy or I seemed a little bummed. And that’s probably the best way for me to describe Ironman Wisconsin: “well, walked away from another one.” Actually, I ran…slowly, but basically there isn’t a whole lot to share about my race. It wasn’t a “bad” day and I didn’t have any blow-ups, mechanicals, or meltdowns, it just wasn’t my fanciest, shiniest, best work, so I’m struggling a little to describe what happened. Bear with me.

Sydnie and I flew to Madison on Thursday morning. As best friends and training partners, I wanted to make sure she had an enjoyable experience for her first Ironman. I did IMWI in 2009 and tried to go through many of the same motions I did three years ago. We swam in Lake Monona, drove the bike course, did some riding out in Verona, attended the athlete’s banquet, took pictures at the Capital, and tried to stay relaxed.

By Sunday morning, both of our parents, Sydnie’s siblings, and our good friend Julie were in town to watch our race and act as sherpas. Syd and I got to Monona Terrace by 5:20 to get things set up for a full day. After putting my chocolate Power Bars on my bike, pumping the tires, the adequate number of bathroom stops, body marking, and hugs all around, we met up with two other PauoleSport guys who were racing and made our way into the lake.

Swim – 1:08 (swim PR): I am chipping away toward swim times closer to an hour! Someday, SOMEDAY! I’ll get there. The Wisconsin swim is a deep water start and Lake Monona was warm (74 degrees), but wetsuit legal. I felt like I got a good start and swam fairly consistently after the first 200 yards. Anytime I started to feel like I was losing speed and pep, I did a few pick-ups and tried to find more feet. There were a couple kicks to the face (one bruised lip and an almost a chipped front tooth), but other than that swam away unscathed.

T1 – 5:52: The first transition is especially long and although it doesn’t help make this a “fast course” (it’s not even close), it’s actually pretty cool. All the action takes place at Monona Terrace, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. In T1, I ran out of the water, sprinted up the three stories of the parking ramp, and passed a lot of age group athletes, meanwhile telling myself “don’t puke, don’t puke” as my HR shot up and I wanted to walk. I ran through the conference room, grabbed my bag, ran to the changing room, put on my helmet and race belt, ran to my bike, put on my shoes, and headed out of T1. Lots of action in less than 6 minutes. Race tip: I’d recommend running in bare feet to the bike racks and then putting on your bike shoes – avoid any spills from cleats on concrete. And run up the helix if you can – you’ll pass a lot of people and not waste any minutes you save in the swim. (sorry for the long T1 narrative)

Bike – 5:48:28: This is kind of where I knew it wasn’t “my day” my power and speed just weren’t up where they should have been. I rode quite a bit slower than I would have on a good day. I'm guessing my power was 10-15 watts less than my longest brick during my biggest build, which is really pretty disheartening. (I will update this when I can bear to look at my race data…2 weeks later, I still don’t care to see it.) The Wisconsin course is beautiful, hilly, and somewhat technical. There aren’t a lot of tough corners or turns, but it should have been a course that I could have showcased my riding abilities. Instead, I gave a pretty flat performance. I would love to someday come back to race here and lay down a more respectable bike split.

T2 – 2:04 – Race tip: I’d recommend riding up the helix with your feet on top of your bike shoes to ensure that you have enough time to get your feet out before the dismount line; it’s not a steep grade (just winding). One of the friendly volunteers gave me this tip when I checked in. I dismounted quickly, ran through Monona Terrace, put on my running shoes and was out on the run! Super slick.

Run – 3:48:06 I left T2 as the 7th amateur, but knew pretty quickly it’d be hard to pass that many girls with how I was feeling. I thought maybe I can hold on or maybe everyone else will blow up. I never gave up and ran with whatever was left in the tank (spoiler alert: not much). A couple girls in my AG passed me looking really strong. This was actually the first triathlon where I fell back during the run, versus my typical “swim and catch up” style of racing and a true sign that my legs just weren’t where they needed to be.

The run course in Madison is truly exciting. The crowd support and spectacular enthusiasm make up for all the annoying turns and out and backs. There are a few gradual hills and false flats and a steep climb up Observatory Hill on campus. Rachel and Ben from my Hood to Coast team were out there volunteering on the course. You two, and all the volunteers in Madison, are awesome! I also got to see my teammates and friends out on the course (John, Dave, Derek, and Sydnie – thank you for keeping me accountable to never give up out there). As I was finishing my first loop of the run I saw Sydnie who showed me the scrapes on her arms – poor girl had a crash on the bike, but kept going! So tough!

Finish – 10:53:27 I knew it wasn’t a perfect race or even a good race as I ran through the finish line, so it definitely lacked something I love about triathlon – that magical feeling you get when it all comes together. But I was still incredibly happy to be done. I finished with a quick smile and got my finish line hug before finding my parents who knew I’d be a little bummed with my performance, but were still brimming with pride. My best friends from high school, Sarah and Ellie, were also there to help make the day special. In going through the finish line motions, I got my share of food, tears, laughs, and hugs. Despite my lackluster performance, I still made some fond memories.

Here is the race video (I'm on it being body marked in the first 45 seconds):

When I sit here and compare past races, I’ll admit, I’m bummed. But it was still a solid day. I need to remind myself that I got to swim, bike, and run alongside some wonderful athletes and into the arms of my family and friends. Seriously, the hug from my dad right at the finish line as I melted into tears is something I will cherish forever. Thanks Dad! Earlier this year I was in a pretty depressing state in terms of training and performances, so the ability to still finish fairly high is a good come back and something for me to learn from and build upon. I mentioned in a previous post that I wasn’t sure how this would all end, but I can assure you it wasn’t the “worst-case scenario” by any means. It was just all I had on that particular day. I’m still scratching my head a bit, because my training leading up to the taper was awesome, but there’s no point in sulking. If my “okay” days keep getting faster, I can’t get that down on myself. Things will turn around. And when I find my banner day, it will be all that much sweeter.

Thank you to my coach, team, friends, family, training partners and all the athletes out there. It has been a year of ups and downs (more downs than I’ve ever experienced), so the fact that I can walk away from this season fired up for 2013 is reassuring that there is still something there. It’s just going to take some time (and rest) before I find it. And when I do, simply “walking away from another one” will not be the way I describe my races.

Big Finish Line Hugs,

Clockwise starting upper left: me and Syd at bike drop, IM Village at night,
PauoleSport teammates, Mora High School best friends, Lake Monona race morning