14 September, 2005

Hello Everyone:

Well, this past Sunday, Sept 11th, I competed in the Ironman
Wisconsin event, and it was an incredible experience.  It was an
amazing day, and I thought I would share some of the experience with
you all.

The details of the race: it was held in Madison, Wisconsin, and
starts with a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile bike, and ends
with a marathon (26.2 miles).  There were a total of 2076
participants.  

I have a short and a long version.  Feel free to forward this
to anyone I might have missed in the email list.  You can find
details at:

   http://www.ironmanwisconsin.com/results/2005prelim.html

***************************************************

The short version: The swim went pretty well, as I finished in 
1h18m.  The bike was extremely difficult.  Within an hour, the 
temperature was above 90.  According to my bike computer, the
temperature was between 95 and 97 the whole day.  And it was very
windy.  I finished the bike in about 7h.  The run started out very
tough, but I finished strong, and got a time of 4h49m. Including my
transition times, my total time for the race was 13h52m, and my
place was 858.  I am incredibly happy with how I did.

****************************************************

The long version... read this for all the gory details.

Before the race:  
================ 

I started training in earnest about 7 months ago, following a
training plan.  The training peaked about 1 month ago, where over
the course of a week I did about 20hours of training, including a
3.5h run, a 6 hour bike, and a 2.5mi swim.  About half of the days
each week had two things (bike+run, swim+bike, etc).

My family stayed home. We tried to figure out a way for them to
come, but the logistics were just too difficult.  In the end we 
decided it would be best if I went alone.  As I discovered during 
the run, this may have been for the best anyway.

Starting about two weeks ago, I tapered, doing very little training.
I got to Madison on Thursday, 4 days before the race.  I was very
nervous about the swim, and had alot of trouble sleeping.  I did a
test of 1 loop on the swim course Friday morning, which helped calm
me down a little.

The day of the race: 
====================

Got up at 4am.  Had breakfast, packed up some stuff and headed down
to the course, which was about 5 minutes away from where I was
staying. I had dropped off my bike and most of my other equipment on
Sat the day before, so I really only had to bring my wetsuit and
goggles.  I got the the course at 5:30am and did an equipment check
(about 5 times... I kept thinking I was forgetting something).
Around 6:30am I headed down to the swim start.

The swim 
========

The swim was in lake Monona, which is right next to downtown
Madison. The course was rectangular, two loops total.  The swim
start was incredible. They fire a canon, and then two thousand
people in a section of water about the size of half a football field
all start swimming.  People hitting one another, crossing in front
of you, etc.  It is pretty  nerve racking.  For someone like me - a
middle of the packer - it is difficult to get into a rhythm, since
there are people all around. A whole lot of stopping, looking up,
starting again.  At the start of the second loop, a groin muscle
pull that I got a few weeks ago started to really bother me.  I
adjusted my stroke, and was able  to finish without too much
trouble.  I got out of the water in 1h18m, which I was very happy
with.  I thought 1h30m would be ok under the circumstances.  After
all of the worrying about the swim, it would turn out to be the
easiest part of the day.

I then headed to the transition area.  This was on the 3rd level of
a  parking garage in the Monona convention center.  After leaving
the water, we had to run up a car spiral ramp, then go to a changing
room to  get into our bike clothes, then to the bike area.  My
transition took about 12 minutes.

The bike 
========

When I hopped on the bike, it was about 8:30am.  The temperature
reading on my computer was 77degrees.  (Note: I had just gotten this
computer, which allows you to get cadence, mph, distance, etc.  It
also had a temperature gauge, which I had not had before.  I have
not had a chance to calibrate the gauge... so I am not sure how
accurate it is.) I knew it was supposed to go above 90, which is
extremely hot for Madison at this time of year (or so I am told). 
The bike course was a 14mile straight section out of Madison, to a
42mile loop (which we do twice), and then back to Madison, for a
total of 112mi.  The course is alot of rolling hills.  After 1h on
the bike, the temp was up to 85.  After another hour, it was 93. 
For most of the bike, my gauge read 95-97 degrees.  There was a half
hour section where it read 100 degrees!  As I said above, I am not
sure how accurate it was... in Madison, the official high was 92
degrees.  Of course, I was right there on the road.  But, it was
damn hot.  As if that was not enough, it was probably the windiest
day I have ridden in.  The gusts had to be well over 20 mph, but
there was always a steady wind.   In the  morning before the swim,
the race announcer kept saying "We know it is going to be hot.  We
know it is going to be windy.  Get over it!". This kept coming back
to me during the bike and run.  

I was sure I could do the bike in at least 18mph, which would have
me finish in just over 6h.  But one of the critical things in a race
this long, is being able to eat enough to replenish your energy
stores.  My plan  including drinking about 48oz of Ensure, which I
had trained with, and also about 70 oz of powerade, plus 60oz of
gatorade.  The Ensure and powerade were what I trained with, and
what I was able to take with me using all of the bottle holders my
bike could handle (two 24oz on the bike frame, two 24oz on the back
of the bike seat, one 24oz between my aerobars).  The gatorade 
(supplied by the course organizers) would be what I used when I ran 
out of powerade.  This turned out to be a critical problem, since
the gatorade was the lemon-lime - which tasted like crap to me.... I
had to switch to mostly water, which was difficult to drink alot of.
Also, it was so hot, that I could not drink all of the ensure.  So I
was running low on nutrition.  About 2h into the bike, I realized
that if I was going to have any hope of finishing the marathon, I
would have to not push too hard on the bike.   This was reinforced
by the number of riders I saw collapsed on the side of the road - at
least 30.  I also saw about 5 ambulances stream by at various times.

The course was hilly, but it was not too crazy.  There were two
hills on the loop that were challenging.  Not too steep, but long. 
But there were alot of spectators who were there to encourage us.  I
had this idea that it would help me if I tried to stay positive, so
every time a spectator would yell encouragement, I would yell back
"Thanks!". I also smiled way too much.  I think this definitely
helped.   Also, about half way through, I began to stop at every
rest area (which were spaced about 10-15 miles apart), and poured
water over my head, took extra water, grabbed some orange slices,
and of course thanked the volunteers again and again.  If people
passed me on the bike, I kept saying to myself "I am racing my race,
not theirs".  I did not want to get caught up in trying to stay with
people who were either in better shape than me, or who were pushing
themselves too hard.

After finishing the bike, I got back to the transition area.  Again
going  up the spiral to the 3rd parking level, and then to the
changing area. I was moving in slow motion as was everyone else. 
Changing out of my wet clothes into my running gear, I hear someone
cry "Medic!". There is a guy unconscious about 10 feet from me.  I
wondered how long till that would be me... I took 15minutes in
this transition.

The run 
=======

The run course was a 13.1 mile out and back course that you had to
do  twice.  You start out in downtown Madison, and the crowds are
all yelling encouragement.  One thing that the race organizers did
which was really great - they printed your first name on your bib
below  your number, and they told you to wear it on the front.  That
way the spectators would know your name.  It was incredible to hear
all of these people screaming my name and saying, "You can do it!".
Everyone who called my name got a big smile from me, and a scream of
"Thanks!", or "Yes I can!".  I know it might sound strange, but I am
convinced  that my positive outlook absolutely was critical.

As I started, I saw someone who was just finishing the first loop,
and turn around in front of me.  I thought - I have at least two
hours before I get to where that person is now... it was sobering...
because then I would still only be halfway done.  My plan was to run
to every rest stop (which were spaced about 1 per mile), walk
through the rest stop, getting something to eat and maybe drink, and
then run to the next rest stop and so on.  This worked for about the
first 3 miles, and then I began to get very nauseous.  I knew that
if I started to vomit, my day would be over.  This was probably my
lowest point.  I started to notice many "runners" lying on the side
of the road, clearly done for the day.  Again seeing many
ambulances.  I started to think I would not make it, after all of
this hard work.  Seeing the runners who would not make it, I
realized many of them probably had a spouse or kids waiting for
them, and this was really depressing.  I think  if my family
had come and were waiting I would have thought even more about
failure.  As I said above, I think the decision for them to stay
at home was the right one.

So, time for a new plan!  I would now walk if I was nauseous, and
run when I was not.  I was concerned that once I started walking, it
would be very difficult to run again, but I did not really have any
other choice. I did this, probably about half walking, to the first
turn around.   Along the way, I started to drink  a little coke that
they had at the rest areas, and my stomach started to feel better. 
It took me 1.5h to get to that turn around.  I was looking at a 6
hour marathon.

At the first turn around (about 6.6miles into the marathon) I
started  running more, and I found I could keep going.  The nausea
began to recede, and I only slowed down in the rest stops.  I was
not running very fast, but I was running.  When I got the the start
of the second loop, I was definitely feeling better, and again the
crowd was  so supportive.  As I powered my way to the 20 mile mark, I
knew I would make it.  I spent the next 6 miles on a high - yelling at
everyone, and probably going my fastest.

The Finish:
===========
The last mile was incredible.  I high fived everyone, holding my
arms high.  In the last 100 yards I did the "airplane", like the 3rd
place male in the Athens marathon as he finished.  I was so happy
when  I crossed the finish line.  The announce yelled out everyone's
name as they crossed.  I heard him yell "R.H., from Worthington Ohio: 
You Are an Ironman!".  It was certainly one of the most amazing  
experiences I have ever had.  

I felt a little nauseous when I was done, and certainly very sore,
but I was also so proud, and overall, I felt great. 

It turns out that of the 2076 competitors, 400 did not finish.  I
think the heat was just too much, and it is really a shame.  I am
sure most  of them worked hard to be ready, but unfortunately the
weather did not cooperate.

I hope the above description captures some of the feelings I had
during the event... if you need more details, just give me a call.
I won't grow tired of talking about it!

R.