Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ironman Wisconsin Race Report


Alarm went up at 3:45 am and I took a quick shower, and ate my breakfast of whey protein shake, plain bagel, banana, and Gatorade in my hotel room. I made sure to put sunscreen on all over myself in the hotel room to try to avoid what happened to me in June, where I was a fried, peeling, painful mess for 2 weeks after the race. I left my hotel at 4:45 am with two random hitchhikers in tow - two guys I met the day before that were looking for a ride to the race start so that their families could sleep a little later - I was happy to oblige. Found a spot in a parking garage ~1 block from Monona Terraca and dropped my special needs bags off at Starbucks. I then made my way to my transition bags and my bike to stash some last minute items. Hit the porta-potty, got body glided, got the wetsuit on, headed down the helix, dropped off my dry clothes bag and headed towards the water.

This being my 3rd go at Ironman, I was calm, not nervous at all, and even SLEPT the night before the race. By this point, it was all routine. And actually.. I was so nonchalant about the whole thing that I got a little sloppy on race morning.

Lake Monona was as smooth as glass and the water temperature was 70 or so - a wonderful change from the frigid waters of Lake Coeur D'Alene. We herded into the water like cattle and I found a spot to tread water, safely on the right side of the field and to the right of the ski jump which divided the very wide swim start in half. I was not going to fight for my life like I had to last time (if I could help it)!

The cannon went off, I hit "start" on my watch, and off I went. There was much less body contact in the first 10 minutes - thank god. I was able to actually swim and not panic, but then I found myself drifting towards the buoy line - exactly where I didn't want to be as my plan was to stay wide and away from the mayhem. Unfortunately, once I got sucked over to the buoys, there was no escaping it and my swim got a bit rougher, especially around the red turn buoys. It was also a bit warm and I was feeling slightly overheated in my long sleeved wetsuit.

The swim course is a long rectangle running parallel to the shore, and once I had made it around the two turn buoys and was heading back to finish loop one, I swam into a man who was floating face down in the water in the middle of everyone. I thought he was unconscious! I stopped mid swim, grabbed his shoulders and started shaking him while shrieking "oh my god! oh my god! are you ok?" (Hey, I never said I kept it together). He then lifted his head up and said "I'm fine." My response to that was "JESUS CHRIST DON'T DO SOMETHING LIKE THAT!" and then I started swimming again. Took me five minutes to get rid of the heart palpitations after that!

I was really, really tired after loop 1. My swimming has not been up to par lately and I just didn't feel like I got the yardage in that I had before IMCDA. During loop two, the field was much more spread out and there was almost no contact, but I could feel myself getting tired and my form unraveling. I was sooo happy to see the final turn buoy and make my way back to the shore. Again, I was aiming for about a 1:12 and couldn't pull it off, but the swim is so dependent on crowd, sighting, etc. that a few minutes didn't really bother me.

Swim: 1:14:09, 1:57/100m, 805 OA, 35 AG

The run to transition is really long. You have to run all the way from the swim exit to the helix, up and up and round and round the helix (which was cool because it was lined 3 deep with people) into the terrace to grab your T1 bag, into the changing tent to change, then back out to the parking garage to get your bike and get covered in sunscreen. My bike was WAY at the other end from the swim exit, so I heeded the advice of Travis E. and ran the entire way across the parking garage barefoot, carrying my bike shoes. Two volunteers had my bike waiting for me when I got to it, so I threw on my shoes, ran to the mount line, and coasted down the helix. Long transition times (especially T1) are very typical in this race because of how transition is set up.
the helix was PACKED with spectators!

T1: 7:35

After riding down the helix, the bike course goes along the bike path for a few miles which is a no passing zone. That was fine, because my heart rate shot up to 170+ during the mile-long run in T1 with all of the people screaming everywhere. The bike path spit us out in the Alliance Energy Center parking lot and then we were headed out on the 18 mile "stick" part of the course, then we would do two 40 miles loops, then ride the "stick" back to Monona Terrace. The stick is easy - there is one minor false flat but otherwise it was time to settle in, get the HR down, and start taking in nutrition. I've already said that my huge goal for this race was to nail the bike split and the nutrition, which was my primary focus for the next 6 or so hours. I have been practicing my "new and improved" bike nutrition plan for 2 months and I was confident that I would be fine. I noticed 30 minutes into the ride that I had forgotten to reset Gary the vibrating Garmin (I bought a Garmin 310XT the Wed. before the race because I don't trust my 305 to hack it for much longer) after a 30 min recovery ride on Friday, so my bike split was 30 mins off (and ~7 miles off). Crap. Oh well.

As usual, I spent the first half of the bike leg getting passed over and over and over again, mostly by men. This is fine, however the course is a bit technical with some screaming, twisty downhills and sharp corners, so I am always worried that someone is going to take me out when I am getting passed by packs of 180 lb men. I had driven the course on Friday but I had never ridden it, so I was a little apprehensive about how I was going to do on the hills. Turns out, I loved them! The first part of the loop is pretty boring, just some long, straight false flats. Then you start to hit the hills at the back half of the loop. The first section of hills are called the "woody hills" in Mt. Horeb because you make a left hand turn and start heading down this section much like going over the crest of the big plummet of an old wooden roller coaster. I would hammer down these hills and let my momentum carry me halfway up the other side, which was typically short and steep, and then I would shift accordingly and spin my way up the remainder of the hill. I was careful to ride these not too aggressively because I didn't want to wear myself out.

Then comes the three steep climbs that Kevin had warned me about. When I drove the course with Laurie - they looked rough. The first one was the longest but wasn't quite as steep and was shaded. The second one comes right after the first one. And the third one is a bit farther down the road. I believe these three hills were right around the town of Verona and there was a shuttle bus taking spectators from town out to these hills. So I saw all sorts of stuff - people in costumes, crazy signs, lots of beer, etc. These three hills are literally lined with people cheering for you like you're riding in the Tour de France. So even though they were steep (there was no spinning up them for me, I was grinding on the pedals trying to make it up) they are relatively short and there are SO many people screaming for you that they weren't bad. I was a bit worried about what they'd be like the 2nd time around!

love, love, LOVE the scenery!

I made it around the first loop feeling great, but the wind had picked up and it had gotten really hot by the time I was on the 2nd loop. I was grabbing both water and Ironman Perform at every aid station, putting the Perform in my bottle cage and dumping the entire bottle of water on my helmet and shoulders. I would stay cool for maybe 15 minutes and then I would be boiling again. As I was riding the false flats in the wind, I found myself leapfrogging with three other girls in my age group, which is pretty abnormal. Sometimes I see one or two girls out there once in a while, but never three and we continued changing positions for the better part of the 2nd half of the bike course. I hit mile 80 and felt great! My nutrition was perfect (1 bottle of Perform per hour, salt pill every 30 mins, 3 Shot Bloks every 45 mins). The hills the second time around were no worse than the first time which is NOT what I experienced in Coeur D'Alene. I don't really think I lost much speed at all on the second loop (except maybe due to the wind and the heat which are not factors I can control) and by the time I was rounding out the end of the loop, I was hauling ass and passing a LOT of people, which is not normal for me. By this point I usually feel like I am riding backwards through the field. I peed three different times during the 80 miles that I was on the loop - I just keep getting better and better at peeing on the bike! I felt great riding back into town - was still passing people, and some volunteers told me how strong I looked. Road the bike path back to the Terrace, rode up the helix (fun!), hopped off my bike and handed it to a volunteer! I was hoping for a split more in the 6:20-6:25 range, but I was just so happy that I didn't blow it on the bike that I was ok with this split.

Bike: 6:30:41, 17.2 mph, 1064 OA, 36 AG

Ran into the Terrace, grabbed my bag, ran into the changing tent, and got my sneakers on and my nutrition in hand. I did the same thing as in CDA where I put all of my nutrition in a ziplock bag and then stuffed everything into the pocket of my tri top as I was heading out on the run. I switched Gary the vibrating Garmin 310XT to run mode (already I was LOVING him). I also made sure to stop and get sunscreened again (third time that day) because it was HOT!

T2: 3:43

The run course is two loops through town and the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, with several small out and back sections, so it's very different than the other two Ironman courses I have done which have had very long stretches of out and backs. If you are looking to see other people out on the course (who are racing) it is hit or miss. I saw Kevin a few times very briefly throughout the run. I did not see Laurie at all.

seriously.. thumbs up for the camera!
I started off at a nice pace. I felt like I was running slowly but my pace was between 8 and 9 min/mile and I felt strong. People kept telling me I was running steady (hello, I had been running for 5 minutes.. of course I looked steady!). The plan was to do one shot blok every 2 miles and drink Ironman Perform at every aid station. The first six miles went well. I ran through the Badger Stadium and screamed "WE ARE PENN STATE" which I am pretty sure was heard by no one. Then my stomach started flipping right after the 7 mile mark and I got that nasty saliva feeling in my mouth that happens right before I get sick. I had to stop on the side of the run course to vomit. I felt slightly badass because I have NEVER puked in a race before, but I kept thinking about what happened to Greg at IMLP and I didn't want that to happen to me! And let me tell you, if you are like me and can barely stand the taste of Ironman Perform, it's even worse coming back up - so be forewarned! Puking made my stomach feel loads better so I picked back up and started running again along a dirt path that goes along the lake. Unfortunately, this was the end of my ability to eat Shot Bloks. I knew I needed to replace what I had puked up, so at the next aid station I tried to eat a Blok. I got it in my mouth and was chewing it, but I just could not swallow it without gagging, so I spit it out. Perform was having the same effect on me. None of the food looked appetizing - I tried bananas (too mushy), pretzels (my mouth was too dry to chew), and grapes, which is what I finally settled on. I switched from water to Coke at mile 12 but even the Coke wasn't appealing to me. (And that's when I know something is going wrong because Coke is basically my version of crack). At this point my run had slowed drastically and I had lost the will to "race." The first 13 miles are ok, the last 13 miles are a bitch.

 I headed out on the 2nd loop feeling a little refreshed after running through the crowds and around the capitol. And then.. I was done. Walk breaks got more frequent and longer. I could not find anything I wanted to eat and was basically just pounding ice water at aid stations. I was walking up AND down hills. I tried to keep myself running as much as possible because that's the fastest way to get to the finish line, but it wasn't fun and I was unhappy that I was falling apart AGAIN, even after fixing my nutrition issues from IMCDA. Even running through town at mile 25 wasn't fun. It was dark, I was heading in for my slowest finish time yet, and I was mad. I ran down the finish chute, gave a bunch of high fives to little kids, crossed the line, and didn't even hear Mike Reilly announce that I was an Ironman!!

Run: 4:49:08, 11:02 min/mi, 856 OA, 33 AG

Finish Time: 12:45:16

finishing Ironman #3!
Two volunteers grabbed me and got me my medal, my t-shirt, my hat, some water and some Sprite. They took me to the photo background and I forced a smile for the photo. They then sent me on my way, and at that point I started to cry as I was walking back to the Terrace, alone. Yes, I know, I am a giant baby. But I was disappointed with my day (mostly the run), I had no one to hug, I had no one to help me, and it was overwhelming. I got my dry clothes bag and my transition bags, and was sitting in the changing room by myself, texting profanities to Mary. Men kept walking through the deserted room so I had to go to the bathroom to change into my dry clothes. I then had to check my bike out of transition while carrying 3 bags, and a really nice guy helped me to get my bike out to street level.

I drove the mile to where Race Day Wheels was set up and returned my rental wheels. Then I drove to a grocery store to get some chocolate milk, because I didn't eat anything after the race. After I went through the checkout line, I got REALLY dizzy and had to sit down on the floor of the grocery store and put my head in between my knees. I sat like that for 5 minutes, no one even said a word to me! I drank some of the chocolate milk straight out of the jug and then felt ok enough to drive the 10 minutes back to the hotel. I had to enlist the help of the girl at the front desk to get my stuff up to my room (I was on the 2nd floor and there was no elevator). She also brought me an assortment of breakfast foods (what a nice girl!). However, when I went to brush the nasty post-Ironman gunk off my teeth, I started to feel sick, and I ended up throwing up a bunch of times in the hotel room toilet. Nice. At that point, I gave up on eating, took a quick shower, and went to bed where I was unable to sleep.

Quick Thoughts

Obviously, I am not thrilled with the results of my race. I can live with everything except the stupid run. AGAIN. I thought I had fixed the problems that I had in Coeur D'Alene, and this time, even with proper bike fueling and pacing, I ran EVEN SLOWER than last time. But that is another post for another day. The emotions are still there and I haven't really had a chance to talk to Mary; to tackle what went wrong. I am just glad that I am done with Ironman for not only this year, but next year as well. I need a break, for sure. I will be back, oh yes, but I need to go in a different direction for a little while.

I am very, very happy with my bike execution. I don't think it could have gone any better. I learned my lesson in June and applied it in September. I will never be a long course cycling speed demon and I know that. But now that I have figured out how to get through an Ironman bike leg properly, I can work on getting some more speed.

Also, I did love the course. I loved Madison, the swim venue was great (I saw no snakes!), I LOVED the bike course, and even the run was interesting rather than just a long, boring out and back. I would definitely a) recommend this Ironman in a heart beat and b) return to this venue to race again.

What I have to keep in mind is that the section of the course that I felt like I executed the best - the bike - is actually where I did the WORST when compared to the rest of the field. And where I felt like I did the worst - the run - I still managed to pass almost the same number of people that had passed me on the bike. Even with that super shitty, horrible, embarrassing run time. So, I guess we are all in the same boat out there.

I am not trying to be a whiny, spoiled brat. I totally understand that racing an Ironman is a privilege. I am among a very small percentage of people that can not only afford to do it, but can actually physically do it. AND I am consistently in the top 3rd of the field (and that field has a 25% female/75% male split). But it is hard.. so hard to fall short of your own expectations. Especially when those expectations are realistic. I had two main goals - they weren't time goals. One was to nail the bike nutrition. Check. The other was to have a solid run. Fail. But.. it took me three tries to get a good bike split.. so hopefully practice makes perfect!

WTF is going on here?!


  1. Awesome, awesome job!

    What the hell was the guy doing just floating there!?!? Not cool!

    It sounds like we had opposite runs. My first half sucked and second half got better.

    I too was mildly disappointed with where my bike ranked against the rest of my age group - as the "worst" of my 3 disciplines. With this course though, I honestly think that experience on the course and training the course is one of the best ways to get faster.

    You didn't hear Mike Reilly either??? I went back and watched the video and I am 99% sure he never said it for me. Yep. I was kind of pissed about that.

    So, what is the final verdict between IMLP and IMWI? Are they just too different to even compare in difficulty?

    Did you see the enhanced results at ST?? They are pretty cool to look at.

    Again, it was great to meet you!!! Good luck with your year off from Ironman! I'm sure that there will be plenty of smaller races to keep you busy!

  2. Congrats on ANOTHER Ironman finish Alexa! Geez, 3 in 14 months and all under 13 hours is quite the feat. We dudes might have it easy peeing standing up, but u ladies have it easier on the bike. haha!

    Sucks about the puking. Have BDD give you a pukie award.

    Rest up! What's left of the season?

  3. Oh man, I really feel for you on that run. I totally understand, I'd be pissed too. But awesome job on the bike! And congrats on your 3rd IM!

  4. Congratulations on IM #3!!!!

    So I have two burning questions: 1. Did you win the challenge? (Obviously much more important than any of your other goals... ;) and 2. IMoo or IMCdA course better/prettier/etc?

  5. A real and raw race report like this reminds all of us about the variables in this sport that can make or break your perception of your day. I think you still did great - amazing - with what you endured that day. Not being able to keep nutrition down is among the worst case scenarios in the sport. It would have ended the days of many but you kept going and still did quite well. You deserve huge congratulations for your perseverance!

    Hang in there and enjoy the coming weeks of downtime!

  6. The nice thing about an Ironman finish is just that... it's an Ironman finish..

    Great job and you will learn from it.

    My good buddy that got me through my first IM and is a six or seven time finisher DNFd it.

    You did great!

  7. Congrats on finishing IM#3! Sorry to hear the run wasn't what you'd hoped for, but I am majorly impressed that this was your second IM in under 4 months! And that is pretty hardcore that you puked on the course and then kept going!

  8. It was so nice to meet you, Alexa! Congrats again on an awesome race! :)

  9. It wouldn't be ironman if it wasn't hard. Going the distance isn't what's necessarily hard...the total mental & physical game of perfection is what makes it hard. But it's also the pursuit of perfection that keeps people like us coming back. In the end we realize that an ironman finish is always some thing to be proud of & it's humbled many incredibly talented athletes.

    I'm glad you loved the course & loved Madison! The 3 of us that did CDA all left saying it just isn't Madison. I was curious if you would think that too or if it was just cause it's a quasi local race for us.

    I know you heard me give you a shout out in cross plains on the bike course & if I had found you at the finish I would have surely had a hug for you.

    Congrats on another finish & a huge 2011. I hope you look back proudly at the year you had! Now go drink a margarita! And a beer!

  10. Congrats on your race and Pukie

  11. First, CONGRATS!! You are my freaking hero. 2 IM's in 4 months? WOW. AND you puked and kept going!

    I am sorry the run didn't turn out how you wanted it to, but you still were amazing. I wish I could have been there to run "support" for you - it must be tough finishing and having no one there!

    Now, I insist, go take off your pants and drink some Margaritas :)

  12. Hey i am so sorry i didnt see you at the finish and to be alone, is not right! I had a rough run too, and prob didnt see you bc I was doing my own version of fainting and lying down in the grass.
    That is a deceptively hard run and it WAS hot, no matter what anyone says, you did great. Hope you are recovering well.


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