Thursday, October 13, 2016

Ironman Wisconsin 2016

This is the longest I have ever gone without writing a race report after one of my IM races.  I am not sure why it has taken so long for me to write this other than this was not the race I had hoped for and I still am not really sure why.  My 3 possible goals for this race were: a) To PR (isn't that always a goal?),   b) to go sub 15 hour on the course, or  c) beat my IMMT time.    I ended up beating my IMMT time, but barely.

The decision to race IMWI was actually made about a year ago.  My friends Jen, Pete and Tim were planning their next race, and after racing IMMT together in 2014, they put the idea in my head to consider IMWI for 2016.  Then I chatted with my friend Ron and he was also interested.  Everything I had always heard about IMWI has been very positive, but I had always been a little cautious about doing it as I have also heard it is one of the toughest of the US Ironman's.   After sitting down and discussing possible race options with my Mom, she approved of IMWI, so I signed up.   Once signed up,  I really started thinking about how it would be cool to race for a cause, to do something more than just race.  Enter Lisa Ruth and ROI.   As I was contemplating this, Lisa is posting about the team she is a part of and trying to recruit others to join the team.   As I learned more about them, I decided to go ahead and join and do some additional fundraising for this race.   The team is a combination of T1 (type 1 diabetes) athletes and T3 (supporters of T1) athletes.  So, just like that, I am racing as part of a bigger cause as a T3 athlete for ROI.  The money we raised is to help send kids with T1 to sports related camps across the US.   There are approximately 40 of us signed up for the team, 19 of which have T1 diabetes.   Much respect for these athletes, Ironman is hard enough as it is, to have to monitor blood sugar levels and everything that goes a long with it just adds to the complexity of racing.

Me, Ron, Tim, Pete, and Jen at the athlete dinner

Fast forward to race weekend.   Mom and I traveled up by ourselves and stayed at a really cool BNB on one of the lakes.  Was a nice change in pace from staying in one of the hotels like I normally do.  We were pretty busy leading up to the race between meeting up with the ROI team for a welcome dinner on Thursday,  practice swim, expo, and athlete dinner on Friday, and race check-in on Saturday.    Met so many new people, and saw some old friends as well...I would love to mention everyone, but too many to name!    It is possible that I was too active prior to the race, but I wouldn't have done it differently as I really enjoyed meeting and seeing so many people there for the race. 

Race morning came way too early, as it always does.  We had gotten my Mom VIP status for the race and as a result, we were able to park right at the convention center, which was a bonus.  But parking there was first come first serve, so we opted to go really early to assure she had a spot there.   We split up at that point so I could get ready for the race.  I headed to the bike first to drop off my nutrition and pump up the tires.  Much to my delight, Lisa Ruth was there, shared her pump and a hug and some kind words for race morning.  Seeing her in the morning helped more than she probably realized.  And because of her, I was able to be part of something bigger for this race. 

Race selfie with Lisa Ruth 

Next stop was to the bathroom, opted to go into the convention center as it was warmer and also had real bathrooms (vs the port o johns outdoors).   Had plenty of time after that and ended up finding my friend Christopher and we hung out for a bit and tried to calm each other down.  Eventually we split so each of us could go to the bathroom.   At this point I started putting on my wetsuit to get ready to go down to the water.   Randomly, Ron and his wife Holly walk by me.  Bonus!  I get to start the race with one of my Columbus peeps!    From this point on we stay together until we can get into the water, which ends up being about 3 minutes prior to the gun start.   Took forever as all 2,500 athletes go down the helix and have to enter the water under the "swim in/out" arch.   

Ron and I waiting to get in the water

IMWI is one of the few races that still does a mass start.  I am a pretty strong swimmer, but I hate mass starts.  To me they are very frightening and it really is like a washing machine with people all over the place, you get punched, pulled on, pushed, and generally just pulverized as you try to move forward.  My friend Kristen had done IMWI a few years ago and she gave me the brilliant advice to wait 30 sec after the gun goes off to start swimming.   So, I am thinking about this as I am swimming in the water to get over to the start line in the lake.  By the time I get to the back of the group in the spot I want to start in, the gun goes off.  At this point I am a little ways off the back of the big group, but I still wait 30 seconds, which seems like it takes forever.   But, it worked.  I am able to easily swim and find a line and not feel like I am fighting 2,500 people to get there.   Off to a good start and I do pretty well until the first turn, which is initially fun, as everyone moo's as you go around the buoy.   But, I got a little caught up behind a woman who is freaking out.  Fortunately myself and another athlete are able to get her to move forward a bit and flag down a kayaker to help her.   On my way again and starting to feel good, when all of the sudden I inhale a huge amount of water and start choking.   I have to tread water and move myself out of the path of the athletes to regain my composure.  A kayaker also flags me down but I waved him off and eventually got control of things, but it took a few minutes.   From that point on though, the rest of my swim went pretty well.   I exited the water at just over 1:22, which I was really pleased with given the swim conditions and it is the fastest of my mass starts thus far!  

Out of the water we have to run up a helix several floors to get to the convention center, which is where T1 is located.  This is by far the longest I have ever had to run after getting out of the water and I was nervous about it, but it goes fine and I actually have a quicker transition than I thought I would.  

My plan for the bike is to try to take it easy on the first loop.   IMWI has a hillier course and it is fairly technical because there are a shit ton of turns on the course, effectively making it hard to gain any momentum at all from the hills.  Coming out of town was really slow as you are on a path for a bit, in a parking lot, and on a lot of rough roads and also lots of turns.  The bike is a double lollipop, so you go out "the stick," do two hilly loops and then return on "the stick."  

My first loop actually goes by fairly quickly, although my pace isn't really very fast.  But, before I know it I am coming through the half way point and am really pleased and surprised to see my Mom out in Verona cheering for me!   Gave me a nice little boost as I head back out to the second loop.   Overall the bike course is really pretty and there are some nice hills.  But there is one section on the bottom of the loop that is more flat and to me, boring.  It isn't a section I like and as I am on it the second loop on that section, I realize that I feel really tired.   It isn't supposed to be a windy day, but I feel like I am slugging along at a snail's pace and the effort I feel like I am putting forth isn't matching my pace.   It is at that time that I see a flag and realize it is sticking straight out...headwind and not a light one.  No wonder I am feeling worn out.  And from then on it seemed like it just continued to get worse.  By the time I get to the stick to go back, I feel plain worn out and I am starting to worry about the run, hoping I will have the energy to run once I get done.  

The last 10 miles was pretty tough, unfortunately besides being tired, my undercarriage is really chafed.  So I feel every single bump and all of them hurt.  So, I ended up bracing with my legs quite a bit, which continues to slow me down, so although this section isn't as hilly, I can't make up any speed either.   But, eventually I get through it, and man am I glad to see that helix and convention center which also marks the finish.    Quick T2 and I am out on the run. 

I am pleasantly surprised how good my legs feel given how tired I felt on the bike.  And my first 12 miles go really well.  During this time I am also able to see my Mom again and also most of my friends and teammates which is pretty cool.  The course has a lot of little out and backs so it makes it easy to see people at different points.   I also really like the run course in general, you run by the capital, through campus, into the football stadium of University of Wisconsin and also along a path on one of the lakes which is absolutely beautiful.  

Inside the stadium, I loved this the first time through

Just after mile 12, I started to have some trouble.  There is one section going back toward the turn around that is a false flat and near the end of it I start to get really short of breath and end up slowing to a walk.  It doesn't take me long to recover, so by 13 I am running again and on my way out to the second loop.   Around mile 14 I had a sense that something didn't feel right, but I couldn't figure out why I didn't feel right.  Just after that there is a short ramp before we head into the stadium for a second time.  I opt to walk up it as my HR seems high based on the way I am feeling (no strap on today, forgot it at home).  By the time I am to the top of it I am really short of breath.  So much so, that I slow down to barely a walk.  Since I did my inhaler in T2 (just a few hours prior), I am thinking it might be a panic attack, which I sometimes get.  So, I stop to try and gain control, but the shortness of breath continues to get worse, I realize I am dizzy and am wheezing.  At that point one of my ROI teammates stops and asks if I am ok.  I try to shake my head yes and he asks if I have asthma.  Again I shake my head yes.  Do you have your inhaler?  Yes, but I can't get any words out to tell him where it is and I can't seem to figure out how to get my hands to move to get it.  After what seems like an eternity, I finally figure out how to get the inhaler out, and manage to get a couple of pumps in me.   The dizziness gets almost overwhelming at that point and I have to hold onto something for a minute or two to regain my composure. This really frightened me and I realize this is possibly the worst asthma attack I have ever had.  

  Nathan, the name of my angel that day, stays with me.   And after a few minutes I start to feel better and can get some one word answers out.  At this point I thank him and start to finally walk and we go around the stadium together.  I try to tell him to run, but he stays with me.  I kept apologizing as I still can't really move very fast and he is conversing with me, but I also know I am still not focusing very well.  I am not really sure how long we walk but he continues to talk (I learn his wife Kim is also racing and it is her first, his second, and they just got married a year ago, also he is from Cinci, which is great, an Ohio boy!) and I am just trying to focus on moving forward, not falling over and breathing.   Eventually I feel better and we start to do a combo of walking and running.  And as we start running, I also realize my hands are really swollen, which is unusual for me.  Around this time we come up on the Base Nutrition tent and Tony is there, looks a little concerned and reminds me to keep drinking rocket fuel.  But I am worried about more sodium as my body already seems to retaining it.   At this point he suggests that I need potassium and magically a banana appears.  I hate bananas.  So, I tell him no, I won't eat it.  We bicker a bit and finally I relent to eating a third of it, mainly because I know Tony is right and that I need the potassium.  I never did get to properly thank Tony, but he helped, almost as much as Nathan did that day. I will be eternally grateful for these two. 

  From then on, I also make sure I am drinking water at each stop, continue to sip on my rocket fuel and I start drinking coke...glorious coke.  Coke also has potassium in it, something I had forgotten, and I think this, combined with the banana, really helped me.   By mile 20, I finally am starting to feel back to normal and my hands are no longer swollen.  I am also realizing that the better I am feeling, the worse Nathan as doing.  He has been struggling most of the day with keeping his blood sugars stable, did I mention he is one of the T1D athletes?   We also talk about his wife and he is pretty sure she is catching up to us, and I think he is hoping they can finish together.   I also realize that if I can speed up, despite all the walking we have done, that I might still be able to beat my IMMT time (which if you remember was my "c" goal).    Unfortunately at this point, Nathan can't keep the same pace as I can.  But he tells me to go on without him.  I am torn.  Here, he selflessly slowed down to help a fellow teammate in need, and now that I am feeling better, I am just gonna leave him.  But, I am also ready to be done.  And his wife is coming to run with him...don't know how I know this, but in my heart, I believe and know she is coming.    After a great internal debate, I decide to just keep moving forward.  My desire to be finished is just too great, and I know I will get there faster if I can run.   And I do just that, with the exception of the water stops, I run most of the last 6 miles to the finish where my Mom is waiting.   And what a cool finish, I have to admit, the capital building really was something to behold as you are going down toward that finish line!  

 My IMMT time was 15:07 and you can see in the picture below that I finished IMWI in just over 15:04!    

You can see the relief in my face to be done with that race.

Nathan and his wife, Kim finishing together as I knew they would! 

By the time I finished, my buddy Ron found me, since we started together, figured a picture at the end was worthwhile as well. 

In reflection on the race I am still not sure what happened, but I think I may have been dehydrated.  Nothing that would land me in the medical tent, but enough that I didn't really notice it and enough that it affected my performance.  The weather was almost ideal, low humidity, low dew point, high temps in the low 70's...we couldn't have asked for better weather.  But I think the result is that I didn't realize how much I was sweating as it was evaporating as soon as it hit my skin.  I remember being really thirsty during the middle of the swim, but never was again after that.  And despite being on the bike for nearly 8 hours, I only drank 4 bottles of electrolytes and about 2 bottles of water.  I did stop to pee 3 different times on the bike, but I only went small amounts the last two times.   And then I didn't go again until I got back to the BNB after the race (which would easily have been close to 8 hours without peeing).   I had forgotten both my bike computer and heart rate monitor at home.   My bike computer normally beeps every 10 minutes reminding me to drink, so I didn't have that reminder during the race.  And I think if I would have noticed my HR going up, it may have alerted me to things sooner.  I know an increase HR affects the asthma.   But other questions I have...1) did I go out too conservatively on the bike?  2) Did the inhaled water affect my lung capacity/breathing during the race?  3) Was I still tired from racing (and PR'ing) Ohio 70.3 only 3 weeks prior. 4) Could I have raced the bike course faster on my road bike?     At this point I really don't know and I am not sure I ever will.  

 Overall, I am glad I did this race and I really liked the race bling, the race venue, the town, all the people I met, and having the honor of racing with ROI.  I loved the run especially, probably my favorite of all the races I have done.   And I am still trying to convince myself that I did what I could that day and should be happy with my overall performance.  Maybe in time, I will be okay with that.   For everyone else though, IMWI is definitely a race I would suggest if you don't mind a little tougher course.   And I can't say enough good things about racing with ROI...both my team members racing and out on the course cheering, were spectacular!