All Summer long I have been trying to explain that the second Ironman is a lot harder than your first. “Why? What’s the difference?” I never really had a good explanation for it. Somewhere on the marathon course of my second Ironman when everything hurt, I figured it out. During the first Ironman you feel invincible, like a rock star, you float effortlessly through the day. It’s a new experience, you soak it all in, all the race signs are the best race signs you’ve ever seen. The crowd support lifts you over the hills. And before you know it, you’ve finished the happiest finish you’ve ever had.
For the second Ironman, I felt everything beyond the excitement of the day. I felt the blisters, the chafing, the saddle sores, the gas, the upset stomach, the pain, the tired…The crowd support was there, but I wasn’t as appreciative as I was last year. I compare everything to last year, because it was such an amazing day. Last year this, last year that. I kept trying to remind myself to be in the moment, it’s THIS YEAR now!!
That’s not to say that I didn’t have a good day on Sunday. I sum it up as okay. Every time someone asked me how I was doing I smiled and said “Okay. Not great, not bad, just okay” Just going through the motions. I think doing an Ironman two years in a row took its toll on me, I’ve been somewhat resentful of the training since July. I really just wanted to finish, get that medal, and get my weekends back.
The day starts with a 2.4 mile swim in Lake Monona with 2800 other Ironman hopefuls, 1200 were first timers. I’m certain that I started behind those 1200 first timers, because oh mah gawd the chaos of swimming around people! I planted myself too far back, I’m too afraid to start in the middle because I’ve heard they can be more aggressive and punchy. I don’t want to start the day with a punch in the head, so I start further back. When the canon went off the people in front of me just “stood” there, not moving. I had no choice but to plow into and over them. My strategy for the entire day is to keep moving forward. I swam over a lost wetsuit, wtf? How does one lose a wetsuit in the water? The first half of the swim was congested and slow. That’s just how a mass swim start goes!
Once I got ahead of the slower swimmers and with people more my pace the swim felt better. I tried to find feet to draft off of, but no one seems to swim in a straight line. After the second turn there is a majestic view of the Monona Terrace with the state Capitol behind it. Perfect blue skies, thousands of spectators on the terrace, and thousands of swimmers. It’s a view that I savored with each breath from the left side. Once that view was behind me I started to think “We’re going to swim until the end of time. We’ll never be done swimming. We’ll probably swim until midnight” and we finally got to the last turn and were headed to the Swim Out area.
Getting out of the water I was really happy that I PR’ed my swim time from last year by four minutes! Great start to the day I thought! And I even heard Mike Reilley say my name when I got out. Very cool.
Transition counts the time from the swim mat to the run up the helix, to the changing room. I thought I’d save a lot of time by swimming in what I was wearing for the rest of the day, it only saved me 2 minutes from last year. I also didn’t have volunteer help this time, I grabbed my bag myself and emptied it and slathered the butt cream on like it was going out of style.
On the bike I immediately started cramming food in my face since I felt hungry during the swim. Bonk Breaker and Skittles buffet for the first few miles. Also in the first few miles was a bunch of reckless shit. The first few miles of this bike course has some narrow bike paths with a no passing zone. Someone tried to pass, and wiped out. A volunteer was yelling at us all to slow down and be careful. As I passed the guy laying on a stretcher, I heard a bunch of commotion behind me, swear words, and a crash right behind me. COME ON GUYS, you have ALL DAY to be reckless and trash those legs!!
The bike course felt more congested to me this year, it was hard to decide to pass people and make sure I do it quick enough to not get a drafting/blocking penalty. I saw several course marshals so I didn’t want to chance it. I spent a lot of time just stuck behind several bikers knowing it wasn’t worth it to try to pass. Knowing the course is a huge benefit, but when you’re stuck behind people who don’t know how important one down hill is to the next up hill is, is super frustrating. I just tried to enjoy the extra moments and chaos of the whole thing. I trained for an entire summer on this course, it was nice to be on the course with a couple thousand others too.
When I arrived at Bike Special Needs I called out my bib number a few times to volunteers, but still overshot where I should have stopped. I stopped by the bags in the 500s, I was 657, so not too far away. When I told the young girl my number she said, “I don’t know where that is” I was baffled. I set my bike down on the curb and said I’d go find it myself then. She changed her mind and wandered three feet over to get my bag for me. I took my extra food and shoved it into my bra, because there was really nowhere else to put it.
I saw my awesome husband John a few times on the course, once just driving by, he rang a cowbell out of the window and screamed my name from the driver seat. Ha. He waited at the top of a nasty hill in Mount Horeb, and then ran up one of “The Bitches” in Verona alongside me. I’m pretty lucky he supports me and enjoys chasing me on the course, and gets really cool photos!
Miles 70-90 were really weary for me. I felt low on energy, started to worry about the marathon, my butt hurt, my feet hurt, I thought I had to go #2, all the uncomfortable. Getting to mile 100 motivated me a little bit to pedal quicker so I could start the run! When I finally got back to Madison I was a little surprised that my bike time was six minutes slower than last year, but very relieved to get off of the bike.
T2 went smooth, changed into a fresh pair of socks, put my shoes on, and off I went. Starting the run after a 112 mile bike ride is something. It doesn’t feel that bad to me. I make a deal with myself that I will run the full first mile without stopping. I do that, with a 9:22 split. I know this will be my fastest split of the entire run, but, it makes me feel like the run will be okay.
Once I do stop at an aid station I start my cola fuel plan. Grab a cup of ice, grab a cup of cola, pour one cup into the other, drink, and keep running. I do this at each aid station I stop at, and soon enough my stomach started to feel weary. I remembered that I thought I had to go #2 when I was on the bike. When I saw John and my mom around mile 7 I stopped to hug them and say “I have to poop so bad!” and kept running. I heard them laugh, that made me happy. My next mission was to find a porta potty. I found my friend Brittany who came all the way from Milwaukee to cheer, I was happy to see her and the porta potty she was cheering next to! She waited in line with me at the porta potty, told me I look fantastic. I certainly didn’t feel fantastic, but it’s nice to hear.
After waiting for the porta potty for 5 whole pace-sucking minutes I didn’t even have to go. Argh! I tried to keep running, but started to take more frequent walk breaks. I stopped at another porta potty and still didn’t have to go. The saying “Never trust a fart during Ironman” became null to me. I decided I’d just trust it for the rest of the race.
Through my struggles, of course I tried to have fun and ham it up for the camera. I talked with others on the course, I savored some of the beautiful sights of Madison. On the second loop the sun was starting to go down and it made this glorious golden glow down State Street. When it was dark, you could see the Capitol glowing from a distance, motivating me to hurry up and get back there. Motivation came when I least expected it. I was past mile 22 when I overheard a volunteer tell someone that it was 8:45 PM. I ran some numbers through my head and decided I could break 5:30 for the marathon and 14:30 for the day if I booked it to the finish from there.
I started running with a purpose, and my friend Dano who was volunteering hopped onto the course with me. He was upbeat, and just what I needed at that moment. I babbled my numbers to him and he agreed, go get it! When it felt hard to run I remembered that a friend told me September 7th is Redhead Day, and redheads have better pain receptors, or something. Silly as it was, it kept me moving. As I passed people in the last couple of miles they told me I was making it look easy, so obviously I had to keep moving. I saw my friend Kelsey at mile 25, this amazing girl is pregnant and hopped onto the course with me to encourage me more. She said “Keep going, in just a mile there’s loud noises and bright lights and food!” Well that sounded pretty good!
In the last quarter mile I purposely tried to space myself ahead and behind people, to ensure I have the finish chute to myself. I came around that glorious corner that I was so in love with last year, peered down the finish chute, took a millisecond to take it all in, and made a beeline to the finish. It’s so bright and loud, just like Kelsey said. I grinned as big as I could, I was finishing my second Ironman!
I got my precious finisher medal and finisher t-shirt and just like that, it was all over. Done. An entire summer of training, a long day covering 140.6 miles, and it was finally done. It goes by so quickly, yet it takes forever to get there. It’s bittersweet to see Ironman Wisconsin come and go. I already miss it.
All in all, I can happily say that I am an Ironman, again. And now I get my weekends back!