Sunday, September 14, 2014

IM Wisconsin 2014

IM Wisconsin 2014
Short Story: First IronMan completed in 11:56.20.  Good swim, challenging bike, and well supported run.  Excited to improve this time in the future.

Long Story: Travel - In late 2013 after unsuccessfully getting into IM Chattanooga 2014 due to a registration issue I was pretty bummed and reconsidering the idea of a 2014 IM.  A major advantage of IM Chattanooga would be training on the course with people I knew providing a mental advantage and a window into the unknown of a full distance triathlon.  I was not crazy about doing another IM without that support so I was pretty disappointed when I could not get in.  After about a week of sulking Amanda called me at work to notify me that she had the registration page for IM Wisconsin open and was ready to press 'GO' if I was.  She reminded me that I would have family on the course as spectators and IM Wisconsin would happen before IM Chattanooga so I could train with my normal group but just peak 3 weeks early.  And that is how it happened...

Training started in January following Mountain Mist 50k (And the Grand Slam).  I went into 8 months of training with a good run base, decent cycling base and TERRIBLE swim base.  It was clear that I would need help and it would have to be from a professional.  I am lucky to live in an area with an abundance of awesome tri-coaches which allowed me to select the best local coach to help train my weakest sport - swimming.   (This is a shout out to Dr. Lisi Bratcher for 9 months of help and expertise!)  Structured training was a difficult concept to understand at first but I reluctantly gave in after my first Tri of the year put me on the podium.  After more than double the swim distance from 2013 and countless open water swims I am happy to say that although I am not a pro swimmer I can hold my own in the middle of the pack!  (Had to save some improvements for 2015 right??)

The last tune up race of the year for me was Rocket Man Olympic.  I raced in a 'low power' zone because the event was at the start of taper and still almost got a Olympic distance PR!  This was a key mental gain for me in believing that I was ready for IM Wisconsin.  In staying with a good taper I went to watch Amanda and Lorelei podium at Atomic Man Half Distance Tri in Knoxville and then maintained a low impact training schedule leading up to travel time.

Leaving for IM Wisconsin!
We broke travel to Wisconsin up to a two day trip were we left after work on Thursday to drive about half way up and then finish the trip on Friday in Madison for Athlete check in.  My Dad was going to travel with us to spectate the event and Amanda's parents were going to drive up Friday to spectate the event and do a 'Northern' family meet and greet.  Check in was pretty quick (under an hour) and we were off to Janesville to meet with family and relax overnight before equipment check in.  I spent that evening sorting out my run, bike, and swim transition gear into the provided transition bags and texting friends to make sure my fueling strategy was not insane.  Amanda's parents arrived late after a 13 hour drive ready to get out of the car!

Looking at my bike in transition.
My exact thoughts on swimming.
Amanda and I got up early Saturday and left to head back to Madison to check out the water and turn in all transition bags.  99.99% of my anxiety racing the full distance tri was a 2.4 mile swim without a wet suit.  Saturday morning they announced the water temperature of 72 F indicating the course would be wet suite legal!  We went down to the water around 9:00, suited up and got in.  Water temperature was PERFECT!  Even better was the sensation of having my legs lifted up by the suite so much it was instantly noticeable!  I went out for a 30 minute swim and was able to relax in the water and enjoy the view of the Monona Terrace as I went from buoy to buoy.  I got out of the water with the feeling that all the training had paid off and that tomorrow was my day!  I did a quick bike / run after the swim and then turned in all my equipment to transition.  We got a quick shower at my Aunt's house in Madison, met back with all the family groups for a tour of the Wisconsin State Capital Building, had dinner then went off to bed for the next day.  FYI if you are in Madison TOUR THE CAPITAL BUILDING!

Race Day 9/7/2014 - Before I went to sleep I made sure to have everything I needed set out for race morning.  All the watches, bike computers, toilet paper, goggles, wet suites, tri kits etc etc were all ready to go.  Transition opened at 5:00 AM so I set an alarm to wake up at 4:15 and then every 5 minutes after that.  Surprisingly, I slept through the night and woke up refreshed at 4:15.  I had time to get a quick shower, lather up in sunscreen and tri-glide, and eat a blueberry breakfast muffin with coffee.  We were out the door by 4:45 to pick up Rick and Peggy (Amanda's parents) and head over to transition.  We had a hotel on the east side of Madison (opposite side of the race) and were able to get quick close parking at the North parking garage by the Capital.  I HIGHLY recommend doing the same thing if you can't get a hotel right downtown.  We easily made it to transition by 5:15 with ZERO traffic or slowdowns.

Race morning was a cool 53 degrees so I made an effort to stay covered up for as much of the morning as possible.  Dropping off nutrition and computer at the bike, body marking, and rest rooms were all pretty easy to access.  I was working pretty hard to not freak out or get to nervous before the race started.  We headed down to the swim start around 6:20 for a 7:00 race start.  I traded clothes and shoes for my sleeveless wet suite, had a gel, said my good-byes to Amanda and her parents then headed off into the water.  Water temp was still 72 so it was warmer than the air but still a little chilly to stand in.  I found a rock to stand on in about neck deep water to save energy and wait on the cannon.  IM Wisconsin is a mass start with you and your closest 3000 friends so I took note on where I could work into the group without getting thunder punched like the fiasco in Racine.  Right before the gun went off I was able to find a totally calm place to settle my mind and convince myself I was ready to become an IronMan!

7:00 the gun fired and we were off!  I found myself on the outside section cutting a diagonal path to the closest buoy.  Despite my effort to stay away from the pack there was no avoiding it so the best I could do was draft feet and pass when possible.  It was obvious in the group that everybody was taking care to not kick or swat other participants until things started to thin out.  The first turn
Beautiful morning for a swim!
(1300m) came quickly and caused the first slowdown and crunch up where care had to be taken not to get ran over.  I took the outside of most turns to make sure I didn't have major issues and that strategy seemed to work for me.  The next turn (300m) was over pretty quick as well with the longest leg of the swim left to do.

Trotting out of the water.
I was excited at how well I felt in the water and how relaxed I actually was.  No labored breathing, good even pace, and lots of time to think about what to do when I got done with the swim.  The swim may have actually had the best view of the sun rising on one side of the lake and the Terrace with THOUSANDS of spectators on the other.  As we got near close to the last turn you could HEAR the spectators in the water and the booming IM announcer and music from what had to be 500m out.  The only downside to my swim is that what I thought was the last turn into the swim finish was actually just the buoys changing color and not turning.  A good mental note to study the course better next time but not critical for where I was in the water.  I expected about a 1:30-1:40 swim time so when I got out of the water and saw 1:25 (1:25.22) on my watch I assumed it had stopped - NOPE it matched the race clock!  Easily the best swim I have ever had and it left me PUMPED to get on the bike!

T1 took forever (7:41) partially because of the long run from swim in up the spiral to the actual transition room.  I probably lost a few seconds putting on my bike shoes and running in them the next 1/4 mile to my bike but that is just another lesson learned.  Sun screen went on quick and they had my bike ready to grab as I ran through transition.  I mounted at the mount line and cruised back down the spiral to start 112 miles of fun.

Wisconsin elevation change totaling 5,564 ft.
Chattanooga elevation change totaling 3,698 ft.
Looking back on the Wisconsin bike course I am glad I was able to train with other strong cyclist through the year and glad I didn't shy away from elevation change.  The Wisconsin course was VERY technical with a start leaving the Terrace and basically heading onto a greenway.  The path was narrow with dips under bridges, gravel, dirt, and lots of traffic.  There was not a safe way to push the pace for the first 4 miles without risking
a pretty severe accident.  (I saw two!)  The course starts with a rolling 16 mile section that leads out to two 40 mile loops and the same path back.  We drove most of the course earlier in the summer after Racine 70.3 but missed about 15 miles of the 40 mile loop.  (No big deal right?)  The sections we drove included several large climbs that had my bike in the lowest of low gear then highest of high.  My goal was to lay down 175-185 average watts without surging over to bad.  It became pretty obvious that I would have to be careful as the hills required 300 watts for a few minutes to climb each.  The course was (I think strategically) laid out so that each long hill climb would greet you at the crest with a 'SLOW' sign because of the sharp turn at the bottom.  It was a momentum eating course.  They did have ambulances waiting for those who wanted to try and bomb the turn though.

Showing my aero on a climb.
As it turned out - the real fun was in the last 15 miles of the course we didn't drive.  In Verona there is a rated climb that went on for about a mile which is HEAVILY spectated.  Absolute insanity on the course and a good break from any type of mental concentration.  The main climb is on a two lane road where the oncoming lane is COMPLETELY covered with spectators and half of the traffic lane was covered with spectators all cheering for YOU to CRUSH it up the hill.  DO NOT CRUSH IT UP THE HILL!  YOUR ARE AN ENDURANCE ATHLETE NOT A FLASH IN THE PAN!!  At one point a guy in a speedo ran next to my bike trying to get me to race him up the hill - no thanks but the guy right behind me was all in!  I got to watch speedo guy and Captain America (bike guy) duke it out in a sprint run and full standing effort sprint.  Better him than me...  I would later see Captain America on the second loop and never again.  The craziness went on for over a mile and trickled into the half way point and special needs pick up area.

Land of cheese!
I didn't plan on any special needs bags so I went ahead and blew through the aid station only taking in water.  I had been executing my nutrition plan of 200 calories a hour for the last 3 hours and felt hungry but high energy.  The only snag during the entire bike ride
was right after the second to last aid station (80 miles) there was a rough rail road crossing.  As I sailed over the crossing I must have picked a bad line because the bump ejected my front bottle.  I had to stop to get my bottle and was a little disappointed that all of my fluid and nutrition had spilled out.  In an effort to keep weight down I oped to not fill any other bottles so I was now almost out of fluid and nutrition.  I made the best of the situation by conserving what I had and taking it easy to the next aid station.  I ended up switching to gels there as a replacement for my lost nutrition without consequence.  By about the 5:15 mark I was starting to get ready to be off the bike and onto the run.  The ride back into Madison was easier than going out because the traffic had thinned down and the bike course was not an unknown.  The last climb was the spiral up the parking deck to transition where I decided I better not flying dismount on a climb.  Bike was done in 5:43:47 with an average of 19.55 mph and 174 watts.

Working on my first loop.
T2 was quick by Wisconsin transition standards.  (2:34)  I left everything on my bike except my helmet and raced to get my transition bag and hop into my run gear.  Volunteers were a big help with getting my bag set out and filling my water bottle while I got my socks and shoes on.  I was out the door, lathered in sun screen and through T2 excited to start my best sport!

The run out started on the East/North side of the capital building
In the stadium!
and was heavily spectated.  I started with a slow pace to keep my heart rate down and get through the crowds without getting to excited.  I matched pace with the guy in front of me and we slowly loped along out of town and toward Wisconsin U.  After about 15 minutes I did a quick pace check to discover I had been more than a MINUTE PER MILE faster than my planned pace!  I had good energy, high spirits, low heart rate so it looked like a 3:30 marathon was in my future!  The first 8 miles led us through the Badgers Stadium, across campus, through downtown Madison and back out to campus.  I was able to see my family for the first time at a heavily spectated section in Madison and it was good for everybody to see how well I was doing.

Dad checking in on my run.
Around mile 8.5, which is on a dirt path by the lake, I had my first significant problem.  I am pretty sure I heard a 'pop' and felt a sharp pain in the back of my left calf.  The pain was intense enough that the slow trot I went to would require an attempt at stretching.  No luck- that made things worse.  Well, worst case would be a run / walk and I had better get to it!  I made an effort to note that my slowest walk was about a 13-14 minute mile which was actually a better pace than the other people walking.
I had an odd feeling of working to solve my leg problem but knowing the only thing it would effect was my finish time - NOT MY FINISH!  The live track numbers showed everybody at home (and Amanda) that my pace fell apart and everybody thought the worst.  I saw Amanda on my way back into town (then at a 10:00 run pace) and let her know what the problem was.  I felt great, had great energy, and had accepted that the 10:00 pace was superior to an 8:00 pace because I was no longer restricted to eating gels and could have pretzels, potato chips, coke, cookies and chicken broth!

Energy to spare!
As luck would have it the pain in my leg started to go numb and I was able to develop a run / walk that led back to around a 9:00 run pace in the last 5k of the marathon.  The run course may be comparable to Country Music but certainly has less elevation that Huntsville Full.  I enjoyed my run the last 1.2 miles into the finish line slapping hands and pumping up the crowd as I went.  The marathon was over in 4:36:48 for a total finish time of a sub 12 IronmMan at 11:56:22.  I took a quick picture and was reunited with my family as I walked out of the athlete recovery area.  With the metal around my neck I have now joined the elite group of athletes are that IronMen!

It was a long 9 month journey that brought me to the finish line and none of it would of been possible without the help of coaches, friends and family.  I had a great coach (Lisi), great training partners (Clay, Jason, Jeff, Donnie and Eric -B and C), a great race team (Fleet Feet) and understanding wife (Amanda - she is only half crazy right now).  I was ridiculously lucky to have a training cycle with NO significant injuries or illness.  For those who are wondering I now have my eyes on Chattanooga 2015 or Florida 2015 for my next full.

A quick note about the Wisconsin course for anybody who might give it a shot in the future.  The swim has only had one year that was not wet suite legal and that year was a heat wave with several 100 degree days.  If you check water temperature on the internet it will say 76-77 and measure on site 71-72.  Don't panic if you see that.  The bike course was advertised as 4,200 is feet of climbing but what they don't say is that is for just one 40 mile loop.  My Garmin had me at 5,564 feet of climbing and a normalized power of 188 watts.  I rode Chattanooga in training and measure it at 3,698 and 179 watts at a faster pace without abusing my small chain ring like was required at Wisconsin.  The marathon had one longer hill climb that is probably best to walk and several smaller climbs and false flats.  In training I did about 8-10 18-22 mile runs over Cecial Asburn that more than prepared me for the Wisconsin course.  If all else fails just walk from mile 8!  The listed course average finish time is 13:16 placing it about 45 minutes slower than Florida.

Embarising family picture.
The Wisconsin trip continued to be high paced with a drive from Madison to Wisconsin Rapids the next day to visit with my Grandfather and family.  Grandpa treated us all to a late lunch and then a quick trip to the Rudolph Cheese factory to grab some good Wisconsin cheese for the ride home.
Bill's awesome shirt.
No family gathering would be complete without somehow embarrassing a person of accomplishment in the most hilarious way soooo I got to dress up as an Olympian and pose for all the normal family pictures.  Classic.  I am sure the pictures will make their way to posters a t-shirts in the future.  We were scheduled to drive back to Alabama on Tuesday so as much as we hated to do it we left Rapids and drove the two hours back to Janesville.

We started back in a convoy of Alabama cars early Tuesday morning.  I got to pass the time by doing a little driving, taking frequent stops, and watching both of my legs swell up with fluid.  After 13.5 hours of driving we arrive home safely to start the two week recovery process!   Epic trip to end the 2014 triathlon season!

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