Race Report: Ironman Wisconsin

My goals were to have fun and finish. I had started the season feeling hopeful and strong, confident a huge chunk was to be shaved from my previous ironman time but as spring turned into summer, my confidence dwindled. Was my training suffering due to a poor attitude? Was my attitude a natural result of mediocre performances? Was I having trouble recovering at altitude? Was the stress of not having a full-time job and the financial security I used to enjoy eroding my physical fitness? I did not and probably will never know the answers to any of these questions. I knew however that having fun was an achievable goal while my fitness was not where I wanted it to be.

Pre-race:
Same as always. I got up around 4am and had my usual, a protein soy milk banana smoothie, 2 pieces of white toast, and a cup of coffee. I mixed things up a little by having a homemade oatmeal raisin chocolate chip cookie with my coffee. They are my favorite. I rebraided my hair, checked my bags one last time, woke Dan up, and we walked down to the Monona Terrace, where I took care of the necessities. I got my body marked, put air in my tires, adorned my bike with drinks, spotted one pro (Amanda Lovato), and ran into PJ, Dave, Kristoph, and Monika. I felt a little anxious as I kissed Dan goodbye for the last time, knowing it would be a long time till I saw him again. I was excited to get going but I was dreading it too.

Swim:
I had to wait a long time (ok 15 minutes, but it felt really long) in a crowd of hundreds of other wetsuit clad athletes, assembled by the water’s edge. There was a bottleneck effect going on, as you had to start the swim in the water, and it was impossible for everyone to get in the water simultaneously, as the beach front just wasn’t big enough for that. Meanwhile, I was getting more and more antsy as the minutes ticked by and we still weren’t making forward progress. 6:45 became 6:50 and I had moved about 3 feet. By 6:55 I was tempted to snake my way to the front, like I would at a crowded bar, but this was not a group of tipsy folks engaging in happy hour who would kindly step aside for a petite woman. No, rather these were nervous, caffeinated, hyper-fit, type A ironman people, so I waited patiently. Finally we moved forward, and I situated myself in the water toward the back and the outside line. There was no need to get trampled on a gorgeous sunny day. I felt relaxed throughout the swim. I did not know you could swim with your mouth open but I swear I felt someone bite my feet a couple times. Previous to the start, Dan had counted the buoys for me (nine each long side of the rectangle). I would get to about four or five, then lose count. I found my breathing matched that Beatles song that goes, “Listen… Do you want to know a secret.. do wah do… I’m in love with you… do do do do…” So that was in my head for a while. I completed the 2.4 mile swim in 1:41 which is about what I had expected. [Note to self: do duathlons next year or join Masters].

T1:
I walked up the helix. I just didn’t see the point of wasting heartbeats on running up this four level ramp. Dan was there waiting for me and cheering, for which I was very grateful.

Bike:
My legs felt fresh and ready to go. The course was just as I expected it to be; gorgeous, rural, with plenty of short steep hills, and many turns that required me to slow down. The weather was perfect. I think it was in the 60’s. It never got warm enough to take my armwarmers off. I ate a gel about every 30 minutes as I normally do, but I think I swallowed a lot of air and lake water during the swim. I was belching loudly and often. My brother would have been proud. My mom would have been disgusted. I came alongside another athlete with a gray beard and chatted him up. I was correct in assuming he’d done a bunch of these, so I proceeded to ask him what I could do about my stomach. He suggested a couple of salt pills to absorb the extra water. I almost didn’t bring them because the weather was so cool but luckily I had a dozen in my pocket. I took two and felt much better pretty quickly. Coming through one of the aid stations, I decided I wanted to take advantage of the water the volunteers were offering but one of the pro men had other plans for me. Before I was able to move to the right, where I would be able to access the water hand off, I heard the whoosh of a disc wheel fast approaching. In a blur, the pro screamed by, passing me and a number of other athletes on the right, yelling something about how people needed to stay out of his way. In my mind I got on his wheel and told him it was rude to pass on the right and furthermore he would not have a job if not for all of us age groupers. Just who does he think his sponsors are trying to attract? And exactly where does he think the prize purse comes from? In real life, I pedalled along and wished I had been able to grab a water. I caught my friend Monika around the halfway point and we chatted a little which was a nice distraction. It was good to see her looking strong and relaxed. I got into my oatmeal cookies after that, which were a welcome treat. I cursed myself for not having taken my cheese crackers out of my special needs bag. I knew I needed to keep eating but I couldn’t handle another gel. I saw a spectator with a can of Pringles and decided that I required chips. At this point I was tired of the headwind that had slowed me down between approximately miles 60-80. Although my legs still felt ok, my ego hurt some. Although I had promised myself I would avoid looking at my odometer, I couldn’t help but notice I had gone through the 40 mile mark at the 2:25 mark. Hopeful that I could hold that pace and pass the 80 mile mark at 4:50, I was deflated when my clock read 5:22 at the 80 mile mark. I asked myself why I was even doing this. I told myself for sure I would bail on IM CDA. I probably would bail on the whole sport altogther, after this. It was stupid, I decided. Only a crispy salty chip could make me feel better. Finally I located a spectator whose cooler looked well stocked. I slowed down and asked him if he had any chips. He thought so. “I’d do anything for some chips right now…” I looked at him imploringly through my mirrored sunglasses. He turned toward the cooler and jogged back with a ziplock baggie virtually overflowing with Cheddar Sun Chips, welcoming me to the entire bag. HALLELUJAH! I thanked him and spun forward with renewed vigor as I chomped enthusiastically on my new acquisition. Crunchy salty goodness was mine and I was happy. At least I was no longer thinking about swearing off the sport of triathlon. As I approached the 90th mile or so, the wind was decidedly at my back and I more or less cruised to the bike finish in around 7:20.

T2:
I was happy to dismount the bike. I put on my little running skirt and my lucky visor, ditched the armwarmers, changed shoes, and I was ready to go. Well, almost. I took a moist-wipe to my salt-encrusted face and a spread a few globs of vaseline on my wetsuit chafed arms. Then I was ready.

Run:
My legs felt surprisingly springy. I started out through the throngs of spectators in the downtown area and enjoyed loud cheers, lots of “Go Pamela”s and numerous compliments on my skirt. I quickly got into a rhythm of jogging, then walking through the aid stations to take a few sips of water, coke, and a handful of pretzels. Around the second mile mark I put my watch in my back pocket. I wasn’t sure what time I finished the bike but I knew it was late. I just didn’t want to let the time bother me and introduce any unnecessary negative thoughts into my tired brain. Around the 5th mile I really wanted to walk but I made myself keep running, as I meant to run for as long as I possibly could before I gave in. Meanwhile, my achilles was bothering me more with every passing mile. It had annoyed me a little during the bike but I dismissed it and hoped that would be the last I heard from it. Unfortunately, this injury that had been non-existent since June, picked ironman day to emerge from the shadows. By mile 8, it slowed me down to a walk. The more I walked the more it hurt. I couldn’t even consider running. I wondered if I would have to walk the whole rest of the marathon and tried to take some deep breaths as my eyes welled up with tears as I imagined walking for 18 miles. I couldn’t handle the idea of walking for that long but I couldn’t handle quitting either. I made a deal with myself, promising that I would cry once I was in the privacy of a porto-john, but no sooner. By the time I got to the next porto-john however I had pulled myself together, thankfully. Eventually I tried running again and found that it had gotten to a point where although it wasn’t getting better, it wasn’t getting worse either. I went back to the run/walk through aid stations strategy and remembered my mental strategy; I had decided to break the run into three sections: the first ten miles, the second ten miles, and the final 10k. I only let myself worry about one section at a time and this was very helpful. I felt good completing the first 13 mile loop, and much better once I saw Dan a couple of times on State Street as I embarked on the 2nd loop. He ran with me for a few yards and gave me a kiss. After that the sun started to set my energy started to really wane. My walking intervals grew gradually longer and more frequent. I stayed upbeat though, continuing to thank every volunteer. Around mile 16 I heard footsteps keeping pace with mine just to my right. I didn’t think I had the energy to chat. But then the footstep girl (aka Heather) introduced herself, we started talking and didn’t stop till the finish line. We talked about ironman (this was her first, my second), men, dating, relationships (obviously), work/school (she is a chiropractic student, I have had more drama in my professional life lately than a Lifetime mini-series), clothes (No, her rhinestone M-dot visor was not too much, it was just right. How cute was my new SkirtSports skirt?), nutrition (NO MORE GELS. EVER), Facebook (I am totally friending you after this. Ditto.) and finally, finally we were close to the finish line!!! We agreed that she should run ahead, and then I would follow, we would each have our own finish photos, and then we would have to wait a minute so we could share a post-race hug. Heather and I agreed that our 10 mile jaunt together was by far the most fun part of the race. My only concern was how to tell Dan that I had met someone special:)

I ran through the finish chute in a total time of 15:15 with a huge grin on my face, feeling like a celebrity as the masses of spectators cheeered me on and slapped me five. I was an ironman again and I was going to have PIZZA in just a few short minutes. Life was good.


8 thoughts on “Race Report: Ironman Wisconsin

  1. Heather says:

    I love this entry Pam!! Haha I laughed my ass off, especially your descriptions of our gu-enhanced delirious conversations and my nickname of “the footstep girl!” Thanks for everything you did along the way to make my first IM experience so wonderfully memorable, especially those last 10 miles. You are wonderful, and I can’t wait to someday meet at another race! 🙂

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  2. Anonymous says:

    pam,congrats on completing another ironman. amazing. i know how defeating it can be when your goals don’t quite come to fruition in a race. your ability to mentally tough it out is inspirational. i am so very proud…and your skirt is very cutetina

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  3. Pam says:

    Heather: YES definitely!!! Maybe an early season half??? Tina: THANK YOU!! Say hi to Chapel Hill for me and if possible get a medium cup of peanut butter/ghiradelli at the Yogurt Pump:)

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  4. PJ says:

    Awesome job, Pam! I love how after riding a bike for 90 miles a chip can be the most amazing thing in the world.Ironman x2. That’s awesome! So onto IM-Canada, right?It was great to meet up with you and Dan. I’m sure we’ll be seeing you at at least another half next year!-PJ

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  5. rob says:

    P, great job! Way to dig deep and finish even w/ that achilles injury flaring up. That’s what I call an Ironman; staying strong even when the going gets tough.

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  6. Natalie says:

    Score, Pammy! So much satisifcation comes from training well, and then performing a perfect race. But having a challenging training and a hard race, and still finishing with a smile on your face and making friends along the way?? Not only is that even more satisifying, it builds character and tells people who you are. You are an Ironman. 🙂 I’m so ridiculously proud of you, you’d think I was your mom the way I go bragging about you! Feel lucky we were able to see you post-race!

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  7. Javier says:

    Great job Pam!! Congrats on IM #2! You know if this was easy stuff it wouldnt be Ironman. The real challenge on an Ironman is the ability to push past our fears/pains and do what we we out to do. Thats what being an IM is all about. SO you have more than lived up to that. Most importantly, you scored sunchips on the course! Socializing AND shopping during the most challenging type of endurance event. Now THATS impressive 🙂 CONGRATS Again !

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  8. Julie Westre Sommer says:

    You’re awesome. Way to go. Freakin’ phenomenal. Keep it up. (Please picture me clapping and yelling the above comments with inappropriately flat affect). :)YOU ROCK!!70.3 in May in St. Croix?!?!We’re moving back there next week!

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