RACE REPORT: IRONMAN WISCONSIN
written by: Janice Biederman
This was my third ironman race. I did Lake Placid in 2002 and Canada in 2003. My Canada time was 30 minutes faster than my Lake Placid time and my training (plus a new and very fast bike) for Wisconsin, aka, IM MOO, indicated that another sizeable time improvement would occur. In the end, I didn't have the race I had hoped for, planned on, or that my training times predicted, and I suffered more physical pain than I had ever experienced. But I also had an incredibly satisfying race and learned something about myself in the process.
At Lake Placid I started, not intentionally, right on the buoy line and I got pummeled. At Canada I started very very far to the side and I wasn't able to draft anyone. This time I went for the middle ground: start to the right (I tend to drift left) to avoid the initial thrashing then quickly angle left and find a pair of fast feet. In positioning myself, I didn't take into account the location of the starting cannon - five feet to my right. I had a really really fast start!! I think I was 10 feet out before the cannon stopped booming. Other than having trouble seeing some of the buoys and going off course, I had a relatively uneventful swim: one solid kick to the stomach, one kick to each side of the head, and one super kick to the left upper arm that left a huge bruise. I was disappointed to see no improvement in my IM swim time and really can't explain it.
No discussion of IM MOO is complete without including the transitions. They are unusual: after exiting the water and stopping at the wetsuit peelers, you run about 100 feet to parking garage, then up a four-story circular ramp, another 100 feet into the Manona Convention Center, into the grand ballroom to grab your transition bag, into another room to change (a changing "tent" with a chandelier!!), back out the convention center toward the ramp you just ran up, grab your bike and, if you happen to have a high race number like me, 100 yards across the parking garage to the very lowest numbered bike racks until you hit another four-story circular ramp, mount your bike and ride down the ramp. Nobody does fast transitions at IM MOO.
The bike course is essentially a lollipop: 16 miles up the stick, 2 times around the 40 mile candy part, then 16 miles back down the stick. It starts out innocently enough in terms of elevation but has 19 turns in the first two miles. It is a preview of things to come. The bike course is relentlessly hilly and at the bottom of all but 2 nice downhills there is a 90-degree turn. Oh, did I mention that the bike course goes past fields spread with manure too? There is very little shade on the course and it got very hot (close to 90). The heat forced me to stop at two aid stations for relief: at one I had a volunteer pour cool water over my head and shoulders and at another I put ice cubes down the front and back of my singlet. The heat brought other problems for me. I had to stop around mile 60 to take the inserts out of my bike shoes because my feet had swelled so bad that my shoes no longer fit and my feet were throbbing. I belatedly took 2 salt tablets around mile 70 and then couldn't get any food down (fortunately, I was still able to get down some Gatorade and water) until mile 18 spectators were fantastic. On one of the tougher just-grind-it-out hills there was a guy in a leopard thong (he got me laughing and, before I knew it, twenty yards further up the hill), two people dressed as Harlem Globetrotters, a jitterbugging couple, and grass skirt-clad hula dancers. The other bright point is that I got a bit of a second wind in the last 16 miles of the bike and started passing people.
This transition involved riding up the four story ramp, handing off your bike, running into the convention center then into the grand ballroom, into the changing room, out the convention center and, blessedly, NOT down the #%@)ing four story ramp but directly out to a street instead.
What the glossy brochures don't tell you is that the run course is 75-80% cement and, combined with running shoes that were now too small due to swollen feet, the cement run course killed my legs. I knew I was underprepared for the run due to an IT band injury in June but was prepared to do the run/walk thing. Unfortunately, every time my foot hit the ground pain resonated up my legs. After a while even walking was painful. I have never been in so much physical pain. My plan to do a run/walk didn't hold for long. I managed some intermittent shuffling and lots of walking. The effects of not eating on the second loop of the bike also took hold on the run: at the end of the first run loop I checked my watch, did a bit of mental math and concluded that I couldn't finish before midnight at my current pace (and I wasn't holding out hope for increasing my pace). I decided that I would finish anyway, even if it was after midnight (I've never quit a race and I wasn't going to start now). Around the 17 or 18-mile mark while chatting with a fellow run/walker I remarked to her that I wasn't going to make the midnight cutoff but would finish anyway. She responded that we had plenty of time to make the cutoff since it was only 9:25 and then she went on her way. Suddenly (actually, not so suddenly) I realized through my mental fog that my watch was on Eastern time. I had an "extra" hour. I took in my first, and only, solid food - 6 grapes - since mile 60 of the bike and went about the business of finishing. And finish I did, with 2:35 to spare. It wasn't pretty. One of the perks of being one of the last official finishers is the tremendous crowds and cheering you receive at the finish. Unfortunately, I really couldn't enjoy the finishing chute because I had to concentrate on staying upright and putting one foot in front of the next. I wasn't sure if my legs were going to hold me to the line.
Now, having said all that, I can also say that this was the most satisfying IM I've done to date. Satisfying not because of my time obviously but because I know I used every last bit of physical and mental energy I had that day to get to the finish. I couldn't say that about LP or Canada. I finished unhappy with myself in both those races because I knew I hadn't given it my all and had plenty left in my tank when I finished. I learned that I can push myself to levels I never knew I had. And even when the pain was nearly overwhelming, I never questioned why I was doing this race. I also was proud and privileged to finish on a day when 214 of my fellow athletes did not finish. Now I want to give my body some rest - lots of easy swimming and yoga - before I pick (very carefully) my next IM.