What follows is a heavily edited version of the race report I wrote after my first Ironman in 2009. The original was ridiculously long, even by my standards.
Looking back on last Sunday now, all I can remember is the good stuff: my day was 97% gumdrops and lollipops. If you don’t believe me, just look at my photos: I’m smiling like a total goon in every last one. If you read no further, here’s the upshot: it was a great day –everything I hoped for, and more. Yes I had a time goal heading in to this, but I made other goals too: these included not letting my mom see me suffer; finishing during daylight; and generally enjoying the experience in addition to executing this long day as well as I could as a first-timer. I think I achieved all of that and more!
We arrived in Madison on Thursday, picked up packets on Friday, all was calm until Saturday, the day before the race. I had some taper-specific-don’t-blow-this-off workout to do (swimming, maybe?) but decided sleeping was more important. (Sidenote: That’s kinda how my entire season went: sleep, yoga, stretching, massage, sitting, eating, staring at the TV all usurped swimming in order of importance. I have this whole “return on investment” spiel I usually give, but the fact is: I swam on sometimes four different swim teams a year for 17 years. I’m sick of swimming.) Then breakfast. Then my parents came in from the Twin Cities while my college friends Mike and Kelly drove in from Ames, IA and Virginia via the Dane County Airport, respectively.
For what feels like the last month leading up to the race, I had to put myself under with Tylenol PM every night.
Otherwise, I spin.
I stare at the ceiling.
Tylenol PM was not an option the night before the race, as I couldn’t afford to wake up groggy.
So I spun.
I stared at the ceiling
I got a chuckle when, after HOURS of just laying there, I finally looked at the clock and it was… 10:03pm. GAHD it’s going to be a long night.
I did finally sleep, though, for maybe 3 hours. When the alarm went off, I had that slow burn in realizing what day it was. After a few moments of soaking up the comfortable position I had finally found, I went into checklist mode. Slam two Starbucks Double Shots immediately (they help get things moovin’ along and you don’t want to be far from a restroom once they do). =) My prerace meal is atrocious but here’s the big secret: Pop Tarts. They’re ready, simple, calorie dense, go well with Infinit, and have zero texture so you don’t get the oatmeal gags if your stomach doesn’t want to deal with gumming your food. So, Starbucks Deuce Makers, Pop Tarts, and Infinit. Viola, breakfast of champions.
Pack up the water bottles for special needs, throw them in the boxes, take pump to transition, pump tires, check gear bags for the essentials, get back to hotel. Yes, we went back to the hotel instead of hanging out at the pre-race terror Terrace. It was a good decision (hello, private bathroom), although we missed a beautiful sunrise. Then, back to the Terrace with wetsuits, get down to lake level before putting them on, and get in that lake! I made a quick scan of the Terrace before putting my wetsuit on and somehow spotted my parents waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay up there. I wanted to see them before the race, but didn’t think that having any “meeting time/place” would be good for my nerves, so I’m glad I caught a glimpse of them. I waved and screamed my head off until they saw me too. Quick wave again after wriggling into the suit, and we were off to the water.
I elbowed past a lot of timid-looking people at the water’s edge and swam off. I decided to position myself shore side of the ski jump, a few rows back. As the pros went off and the national anthem was sung, I flipped over every once in a while, inched around to stretch out, floated on my back, and stared up at the sky. I remembered a friend say that the calmest she’s ever been was immediately before the race, just floating like this. She was right.
“1 minute to go,” Mike Reilly said.
I flipped over one last time and noticed I had drifted within 1/2-body length behind the first row of people. In a field of 2500 cocky triathletes, no one wanted to be in front, so there I was. I could stretch out my entire body without hitting anyone, there were no feet in my face, and I could see the far buoy from where I was so…
“We’re about to get underway…”
..and before I could say “holy shit!”
BOOM! goes the cannon.
Swim (1:03:39, 1:40/100m, 9th 30-34F, 251 OA)
Swim swim swim. I breathe every 3 strokes until I get tired or bored, so just swam along and took a tour of my surroundings. To my right you’ll see the Terrace, my isn’t that pretty? To my left is the sun, don’t stare at it. I thought about what a liar Mike Reilly is when he tells the spectators “THEY CAN HEAR YOU!” so as a spectator you screeeeam and yell for your athlete. Guess what, spectators, you can save your voices for later in the day: I couldn’t hear jack.
I was swimming way wide –I know drafting has advantages, but I like clean water. I took the first buoy wide too, and kept going until I hit a big bottleneck at the second buoy. I ended up on top of someone’s legs and got a little pitterpatter kick to the stomach, but I’m well padded, so no biggy. Tra la la, then the Terrace was on my left and the sun was on the right.
Ooooohkay, lap 1 was a long way. As we started lap 2, I spent most of my time thinking about “Lap 1 Heroes:” a lot of people started coming back to me –it was odd to be 1.7 miles in to this swim and still be passing people. Buuuut at the same time, I was getting pooped too, and a few people who obviously actually woke up for morning swim sessions started passing me as well. Hm, how about that? And wait, why is my calf cramping?
Lap 2 was over soon enough. On the way in to shore you can make out Mike Reilly’s voice over the loudspeaker, though I had no idea what he was saying. I did a little front flip on my way in to shore to help stretch out my back. It felt sooo goood. I swam a few more yards, did another flip, and started sighting on the volunteers who would help me out of the water.
WOAH the crowd was loud after all that peace and quiet in the lake! I started smiling and waving to the people who were excited to see women out of the water and just ran to the wetsuit strippers. I fumbled with my zipper a little bit before deciding the volunteers would be dealing with that for me. Voop voop voop, zipper down, sleeves out, on my butt, suit off, bye!
My teeny tiny coach, Liz, was jumping like a bean, like full-on jumping jack style screaming her head off. I hadn’t seen her in the morning or for over a week, so gave her a big sloppy wet hug. I’m not a hugger, REALLY, so later we both remarked how unlike me that was. I kept running, with a twinge of a cramp in my calf, still.
Inside the Terrace, T1 was utter chaos. I didn’t really rehearse that at all and something about the flow from room to room was really unsmooth. My volunteer was great, though. She laid everything out for me, including my shoes… which I then put on my feet instead of carrying with me to the mount line as I intended. Oops. I ran to the doorway and “sssssssssssssssiiiiiiiii-aaaaaaaaaah” (you know that noise you make when you get a cramp?), my whole leg –the one that cramped during the swim– went into knots, including my kneecap. This is not a good feeling when you’re about to get on a bike. I grabbed a cup of water and stretched, and figured I could limp out to my bike.
Well, the cramp went away as soon as I stepped outside the building. Weird how the thought of not letting your mother see you suffer heals all wounds, right? I ran to the bike racks, completely forgetting about sunscreen, and started screaming my number. …WHERE THE HELL IS MY BIKE?? 2265 2265 2265!!!!! Screaming.
I thanked the bike volunteers in triplicate and by using my indoor voice, and proceeded to the mount line. I spun my crank around, clipped in, and I was off down the Helix. WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!
Bike (6:32:24, 20th 30-34F, 972 OA)
The sucky part about being a swimmer is getting passed the rest of the day. I had done big bike work all summer long, though, and had become one with the Madison course and with Ziggy, my bike. I was confident.
There are a few roads on the course that I just despise, but I was feeling so great that they didn’t phase me this time. County Route G and Route 92 didn’t bother me at all, even with all the false flats and crosswinds that you usually find there. I LOVE Witte and Garfoot Roads so really looked forward to bombing through Mt. Horeb on my way to them. I love descending –the faster the better. And once you come down Garfoot it’s time for Cross Plains, where I would see tons of familiar faces from the Chicago Tri Club. I came screaming (literally) into the aid station with a full bladder and an empty water bottle. HEY, I NEED YOUR HELP! HELP MEEEEEEEE!!!! (Again with the shrieking!)
A volunteer ran over to help while her teeny son held onto my bike for dear life. She topped my water bottles off, as I asked her to do, and put a full water bottle in the empty cage while I went pee.
So once the business was done I pulled out, shouting I love yous and blowing kisses the whole way. Man, I love me some Cross Plains. Then I was off to the despised and ill-surfaced Stagecoach Road, and on to the Three Sisters. I couldn’t believe my first loop was practically over!
Old Sauk Pass started out quietly. A lot of the crowd wasn’t there just yet, and/or it’s the most inaccessible of the Three Sisters. I got into my 34-25 and started spinning, encouraging all the hammerheads to go go go! Muwahahahaa. I was riding comfortably waaaay over on the right side of the road letting people pass me by. Liz was somewhere along the way and asked how I was feeling.
Stay in your zones.
This is your race, your day!
Timber Lane and Midtown was madness: Mike was wearing his KOM jersey and he and Kelly ran along side me most of the way up the hill. Kelly was smiling and running and screaming, and Mike was giving me some cowbell but listening. As a 2x Ironman, I knew he wanted a little report, so I told him my cheeks hurt. Knowing him, he probably thought I was taking about my booty, so I clarified by pointing at my face: my actual CHEEKS hurt from smiling so much! He laughed and Mike and Kelly ran until they could run no more, then pointed farther up the road to my mom who was all “OMG KARIN!!!” like she was surprised I was still alive.
End Bike Segment 1, 40 mi. (2:14:22, 17.86 mph)
Special needs went smoothly: I just grabbed my bottles. After that it became way less fun, fast. I knew it was getting hot, and I knew that adrenaline and a bubble of joy carried me through the first loop, so I lived in fear of popping. I watched my average mph drop significantly as it continued to heat up and the Dane County Afternoon Trade Winds started blowing. I swear, it just starts blowing at noon and doesn’t stop until dusk. I had trained in way WAY worse this summer, so it wasn’t that big of a deal, but slowing down so dramatically was a bummer.
Bottles emptied and bladder filled and I weighed my options. Do I make a full pit stop like I did in Cross Plains on the first loop, or do I do a simple bottle exchange and try to pee on Ziggy? (I had been trying, but it just wasn’t working well enough today.) I chose stop in Mt. Horeb for a full pit stop in the name of comfort –then I could bomb Garfoot and just keep moving afterward.
I got distracted by the spectators and my fanclub. Mike, Kelly, mom and Dad had moved into the shade on Old Sauk –in fact EVERYONE had– and my dad had broken out the bagpipes. He piped until I passed him, tucked the drones under his arm, and started running up the hill.
A stranger caught this exact moment on video and put it up on YouTube.
End Bike Segment 2, 83 miles (2:29:47, 17.22 mph)
(see the slow coming?)
Most people say that around mile 80 you get really pissed off, hungry, and want to be done. Well, I had been on a lot of century rides this summer, so although I felt things getting significantly harder during the whole second loop, my threshold was closer to 105 miles. This ride was a ton easier than most of the long rides I did this summer, but I HATED the roads leading in to Madison. And the headwind the whole way back. And just when you start losing your mind, you’re on those awful concrete roads with the “taint buster” seams then the single file path with the screwy turns and junk. Also… I finally did my math correctly and realized that I had been falling behind on my nutrition and was now over an hour behind with 10 miles to go. I carried 6 hours of Infinit with me, and had nearly a full bottle left at 6:30. I sipped away, but didn’t want to chug anything since the protein in there would likely come back to haunt me on the run.
BUT! The Terrace was finally visible, and I started thinking about the final “hill” –the Helix, then transition, and then….
End Bike Segment 3, 112 mi. (1:48:15,16.07 mph)
Another not-so-smooth one. I got my feet mostly out of my shoes before the volunteer came over to catch me, but I was a little unbalanced. Dismount, run inside, grab my bag, almost take a wrong turn into the men’s changing room (again), and …Blah, take a seat. My volunteer and I chatted a bit while I took off my helmet and changed my socks. I tied one shoe and my volunteer says I look great. We laugh and I took off, with everyone shouting after me that I should probably tie the other shoe too. Oh. Yeah. I ran outside and WAAAH there’s my club screaming for me again. They took pictures while I chose a port-a-potty. Afterward, I posed a little and was like OK I GOTTA GO RUN NOW…! And took off.
The bike-to-run wonkiness wasn’t as bad as I expected. I fiddled with my watch a bit so I could figure out my pace once the mile markers came. I didn’t worry about losing time while dinked around because I knew I had to go S-L-O-W these opening miles. Shuffle shuffle shuffle.
First aid station: STOP. WALK. Water over head. Water in mouth. Ice down bra. Ice in mouth and down back. Sponge over head. Aid station over, keep going! I picked up the run again, just in time for some NASTY miles over unshaded concrete. It was gross hot and I felt pretty salty and grimy after the bike, but I had trained in worse. And moreover, I had permission to go as slowly as I needed to, so mental fatigue and heat aside, this was an unusually easy run. At each aid station, more ice went down the bra, melted down my legs, and pooled in my socks. I really needed the cool off, but the ice on my chest almost made me short of breath.
State Street was spectator mayhem. Coach Liz was there with wise words of advice: “MILE TO MILE! You can hold this pace all day! STAY IN YOUR ZONE!” I knew she was right, but I kinda wanted to pick up the pace a smidge. I had tried, but my splits stayed roughly the same. Know what? I’m fine where I am. I heeded her advice and just stayed steady. And I still had 18 miles to go, so sticking with the comfortable pace felt like the right call.
I swear, being from Chicago, I knew half of the field and half of the spectators out there. Saying hello and cheering for people as I saw them was good distraction from any pain.
Despite the increasing amount of melted ice and dirty sponge water collecting in my socks, my spirits were still high — until a massive side stitch around mile 10. Daaaaamn. I hadn’t had a side stitch since forever, and didn’t know how to get rid of it. I tried to keep running, so stretched on the fly: arms above the head, run bent sideways like a question mark …nothing worked. I finally gave in to walking and was like “really? This is how it’s going to be? I can still run but a side stitch is making me walk? This sucks.” Maybe salt would help? I dug in to my little pouch and put one between my teeth. Unfortunately the S-cap dissolved before I hit the next aid station, so I was stuck with this overwhelmingly nasty stuff on my tongue. I tried to swallow it down.
End Run Segment 2, 13 mi. (1:13:25, 11:02/mile)
AWESOMELY, Mike, Kelly, and my dad had all volunteered at run special needs! Kelly had my bag waiting for me, and my bag had fresh, dry socks and a packet of Gold Bond powder. YAAY! I grabbed those, and asked Mike what to do for a side stitch. He has done lotsa marathons, his most recent at IMCanada, and his next will be Boston, so I knew he had an answer for me: “dig your fingers into it. Just dig in and don’t let go until it works out.” Perfect. I sat down and dumped the Gold Bond into my shoes, changed my socks, and it made a world of difference.
Fresh socks, I’m telling you.
I was determined to keep the fresh socks dry: the sun had lowered, shade and cloud cover was growing, and the temperature dropped enough that I didn’t think I’d need all the sponges and water over my head that I needed on the first loop. …but then I stated thinking about the sun. I had no concept of what time it was or when the sun was scheduled to set. I just knew I’d be finishing before sunset if I did really really well, but in the dark if I had anything less than perfect day. I noted the sun’s position when I started the run, looked at it again now, and started playing sundial and racing the sunset. Daylight finish. Daylight finish. Daylight finish!!!
The second loop was, not surprisingly, not any less painful. My quads were really tightening up and I was convinced they would cramp up at any second. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen after a few more miles of running. I pushed on. I kept running –walking the aid stations of course, sticking to the plan. The miles passed and I saw a few more familiar faces. I got a few “looking strong”s and chuckled how relative a term that is at Ironman. Yup, me and my rad 11ish minute miles, go me! SO STRONG.
End Run Segment 3, 19.23 mi. (1:08:04, 10:55/mile)
Up and over Observatory Hill was State Street, Coach Liz, and more familiar faces. Right on cue, Liz started jumping and yelling, just what I needed to see — a little excitement. “10k to go,” she said, pulling out her phone to look at the time. “You’re on pace. Can you go under 10 minute miles? 10k to go. You have to.”
“Uuuuuuhh…I dunno, that’s a little much to ask right now,” I said, weakly.
“You can do it. Stay with it.” OK. 10k. Go.
I “picked up the pace” such as it was, and kept going. The sun was sagging onto the horizon, the crowd was deflated, and even the signs on Inspiration Mile looked wilted. I wanted someone to stop the sun from setting, knowing that once it hit that pink phase, it would be gone in just a few moments. I had somehow rationalized that racing the sun was more healthy than having a specific goal time, but there’s really no difference, is there?
In the zoom lens of my memory, the route back to the Capitol was a direct line between here and there. I had completely forgotten about all the twists and turns, the gross bitumen roads with the odd bumps followed by those previously-hot miles over the unshaded concrete, and the annoying little sideways jogs that don’t get you any closer to the END. But soon enough those miles were done and I revisited the course map in my head and realized that my next major turns were within sight of the capitol.
I took stock and decided I didn’t need to stop at any more aid stations. I threw out my gel flask, and grabbed a sponge to wipe my face down. I saw my girls and the CTC gang, and my dad who was running, yelling and snapping pictures at once and saying something about the Earth shaking under his feet.
I ran around the corner, saw Liz one last time leaning and screaming over the barricade, and took one last look at the sky. It was a deep pinky purple, but the sun was NOT gone just yet. I’m counting this as daylight!
I turned south into the bright stadium lights in the finisher’s chute where everything turned into a blur.
Karin Langer, a first-timer from Chicago! Karin, you are an Ironman!
Final Time: 12:25:07, 22nd 30-34F, 713 OA
I had two teeny women my mom’s size catch me. The spoke very slowly to me and asked if I had a good time.
It was a fantastic day.
Did I PR? How did I do in this race compared to my other Ironman races?
This was my first.
I took particular pleasure when they both gasped and looked at their watches simultaneously. Yep, that’s right, I finished in the 12th hour at my first Ironman.
AND in the daylight, if I have anything to say about it.