Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Spectating the Wisconsin Ironman 2014 (Hard to Quit)

Over the last year, a friend of mine from the gym has been training for the Ironman Triathlon. 

For those of you unfamiliar with the race, it's as follows:

     - 2.4 mile swim
     - 112 mile bike
     - 26.2 mile run


Yes, it's fair to say that the Ironman competitor is definitely a special breed.  Most people call them dedicated.  I like to call them bat-shit crazy.

I mean, who wakes up at the crack of dawn and has enough energy to do that?!

Unfortunately, before I even got to Madison, disaster struck.  In the week leading up to the race, my friend went in to the doctor for an MRI.  Yeah... when you hear doctor and MRI in the same sentence, you know this story is leading nowhere good.  Turns out my friend had worked up a stress fracture in her leg, and the doctor was advising against completing the running portion of the race.


Not to be put out by the bad news, with her doctor's approval she decided to compete anyway, and just pull out prior to the run portion.  And, why not?!  I mean really... anyone who can complete a 2.4 mile swim and  112 mile bike ride back to back is still a rock star to me. 

So, with just a few days to spare, I started seeing photos like this in my Facebook feed:


Man, that backpack alone was enough to make me want to do an Ironman.  I can imagine the cheers they'd do for me now...

Ahhh.... hmmm.  Well...

The more photos that surfaced in my feed, the more excited I got for the visit.  I couldn't wait to get down to Madison and cheer this thing.  LET'S DO THIS!!!


On race day, the alarm went off and I had my usual early wakeup hissy fit.  You know the drill, so let's not dwell on it.  Once I realized that I couldn't sleep until 10 and still see the race start, I got out of bed, showered, and my husband and I packed up our hotel.

After checking our bags with reception, we walked down the square to the race start, and I posed quick for a photo.  (For those of you who don't know Madison, the downtown is centered on a square loop that goes around the capital building - AKA "the square").

Look at all those bikes in transition - SEXY!!  AND, that's only 1/2 of transition!!  It was quite impressive.

After maneuvering the building where transition took place (yes, part of transition took place indoors, very odd), we finally managed to figure out how to get down to the shore ... just in time to find our spectator friends and catch the starting gun.

The Swim

7:00 am
2.4 Miles
One Lap
Lake Monona
Close: 2 hours 20 minutes

The reason why triathlons scare me is ... well ... exactly what I saw at Ironman.  I mean, look at this:



And my friend's Facebook post after the race just confirmed my fears:

In fact, the only time I saw the swim settle down was for the elites (photo below) and for the back of the packers - which there were many more than I expected... and I was surprised to see many struggling even in the first 50-100 meters.  I think many fell out before they even got the swim started.

The swim portion seemed to fly by fairly quickly, since our racer was out in 1:20, and it was pretty exciting to just see everything go.  In fact, before we could even get bored, elites were out of the water at the 40 or so minute mark (super human, I'm telling you), and things just flew by from there on out.

Of course, it was nearly impossible to find a specific racer in the pack of swimmers as they came out of the lake and cross the mat to enter transition... we were barely lucky enough to catch our girl.  After a quick cheer, she was off - and so were we.  A fan bus was awaiting to take us to our next locale - the bike.

The Bike

112 Miles
Two Loop
Close: 10 hours 30 minutes after the official start

While our racer was going through transition and working on the first few miles of her bike ride, we were just being dropped off in what is referred to as "Verona Village".  Unbeknownst to us, we were dropped off at the 56/95 mile marker and would NOT be seeing our biker for a very, very long time... even the elites weren't close to shooting by.

That meant we had a tremendous amount of time to kill.  As such, the "husbands" (my husband, and our racer's husband) decided to go for a stroll.  I'm not sure how far away they walked, but somehow they found a local Walgreens and about a half an hour later returned with refreshments and a few other vital necessities we forgot - IE sunscreen. 

With nothing else much to do, we settled in on a curb and started talking details of the race.

First we talked swim rules.  A few I found interesting were:

(1) Athletes must wear cap provided by race.  (I didn't know they provided one!!)

(2) No fins, gloves, paddles or flotation devices (including pull bouys) of any kind are allowed.  (I'm guessing they've had lots of problems on this in the past...???)

(3) And despite all sorts of other weird restrictions, snorkels were allowed!!  WTH?!

Of course, in talking about swim rules, a few of us started the "what if" conversation.  What if we did this in the future?  How would the swim go?  Would we be able to do it?  Several comments were made in regards to the ability to swim with a snorkel, and how much that would help - yes, this would mean no age grade placement... but like any of us would be able to place anyway!!

Although I didn't say much in regards to myself during our conversation, I started to have an internal dialogue.  I have always shied away from triathlon events because of my poor swimming skills and water phobia issues.  But, as of late, I have been able to clear just under 2000 meters in a 45 minute swim class.  With the help of Google I realized something...

I'm already over half way to being able to manage the Ironman swim distance.  Granted, I need a lot more work on endurance, not to mention experience in open water.  But... the wheels were definitely turning.

As we chatted, we talked other aspects of the race, too - like the rumored $700 entry fee, the cost of a decent tri bike, the investment in swim gear like wet suits and goggles and such... that discussion may have hampered my spirits a little. 

Note to self - first things first, must get a decent road or tri bike for racing.

That, or have really big balls and just go all out with a basic commuter bike - and OWN it.  I pitched an idea to the group - how about if I tape a bunch of those New Years mini confetti cannons, exploding end up, on my commuter bike T handlebars... and then just fire them off as I go through densely populated cheer sections?

The people I was with were obviously too serious.  None of them supported that idea.  Dammit.

Eventually the elites started to roll through, and we started to spectate.  Lots of cheering, clapping and cowbell was involved.  Somewhere just before or around noon, our racer went by for the first time and we cheered for her. 

She loved it.


Not far behind her, we had a pleasant surprise - an old coworker of my husband's came by on his bike.  Although we had hoped to see him, we weren't sure if the timing would work out.  Lucky us, we were able to get one good cheer in as he went by!

Since we were at mile 56 (which is also mile 95 on the second loop for the bikers), and we were staying put due to lack of car access, we figured that it would take another 2 hours or so to see our racers again.  In other words - time to figure out some lunch.

In the "village", there were all sorts of booths set up selling food, which was really convenient.  Most of them were hosted by local youth sports teams, plus one or two by local adult groups (I think one was a church group and one was Knights of Columbus or something like that).  Options included the standard brat/hotdog/burger, as well as some "healthier" options - walking tacos (with beans even!), corn on the cob, and steak.  Plus drink options like soda and water.  And dessert was covered, too, with various ice cream sundae type creations available.

I settled on a walking taco, and was promptly swarmed by bees.  I may or may not have screamed like a small girl and ran away from them several times.  *Ahem*

I also had to snicker when I noticed one of the booths was selling 5 push ups for a dollar.  It originally caught my attention because I couldn't figure out what you would sell at an event like this that would be 5 for $1.  But then I realized it said "5 push-ups for a $1 tip".


Yes, I did pay a 6-8 year old boy to do 5 push ups for me.  And his form was pretty good ... well, at least until he started #5.  I think his form was drooping some at that point because of all the effort he was putting into his F-U face ... which he conveniently directed at me.  LOL!

After everyone had a chance to snack a little, we hunkered down under some pine trees and enjoyed the shade.  A few people even claimed to have taken a nap (although I did not).  Eventually we passed enough time that we saw our racer again:

She made it to mile 95!  Whoop!!  With just under 20 miles for her to go, we knew we had to hustle back on the shuttle to ensure we'd see her at the finish.  So, off we went.

And just in time, too.  With the delay of catching the shuttle, trying to find a bathroom stop, and then getting situated at the bike finish we hardly had time to blink before this happened:

Yep, she finished!  Hooray!!

But also, boo!  This meant the hardest part of the entire race was coming - she was going to have to pull out.

We all squeezed inside trying to find our racer, and eventually we met her... with a very emotional moment for all of us.  It was 100% clear that based on her very good swim and bike times, she could have walked the entire marathon portion and still been able to finish within the cut off.  But she knew for her own health, she had to drop out.  So, she did.

The whole time this was happening, all I could do was I think back to my marathon attempt and the course closure.  It wasn't even my choice then, and I had to quit.  I couldn't imagine how hard it would be to quit under your own will.  I'm so proud of her for knowing it was the right choice and sticking to it... no matter how hard it was.

Despite the drop out, we all celebrated her accomplishment... and then I split.  I felt like a bad friend, but it was already well after 3pm and we had to get home for work on Monday AM.  That also meant we didn't get to see my husband's coworker a second time, who was about 45 minutes or so behind our girl.  Boo.

But also - yeah!  Because it meant time to fly Bubba home.  Yep!  My husband finally got to fly us down to Madison after years of talking about it. 

And take a look at the areal shots I managed to get before we left... I think you can kind of see the Ironman finish down between Monona Terrace and the capital building if you look closely.

While we flew home, the rest of the race carried on...

The Run

26.2 Miles
Two Loop
Close: 17 hours after the official start - AKA arrive by midnight

Although I really wished I could have stayed to spectate this portion, I didn't get to... well, technically I did, sort of.

When I finally got home, had dinner, and got settled, I switched on the live feed of the finish line and watched victory after victory as finishers crossed the mat.

And, not going to lie, I started stalking my husband's coworker's live results feed to see how he was doing.  I was very nervous for him at the half marathon point, and was sending him every positive thought I could.

After 10pm, I propped up my iPad on my night stand and tried to stay awake for the finish.  I made it to some time after 10:30 before I crashed... with the live feed still on.  Which woke me up as the final roars came through prior to midnight (which Ironman is notorious for - cheering those on who are just about to miss the cut off, hoping to push them to the finish).  Unfortunately, I was too out of it to absorb what was happening... but awoke the next morning to happily discover everyone I knew on course (even those not mentioned in this recap) had all finished with gusto.

So now, I leave this recap thinking... what about me?!  Maybe there are some tris coming up in my future...

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