I don’t think I have ever gotten less sleep the night before a race. Our hotel was in the middle of the UW Campus, and the Badgers had won earlier in the day. Students were out partying all night long, and the noise found its way up to our 6th floor hotel room without a problem. I got a few hours in early, but was wide awake with no earplugs (forgot them) and a hacking cough from 12:30-2:45am. By the time I drifted back off to sleep, my alarm was going off at 3:45. I was actually relieved to just get up and get going.
Pre-race was the same as any other, coffee, bagel, peanut butter, orange juice. We filled our bike bottles, grabbed our wetsuits and morning clothes bags, and began the one mile walk to transition. I’ve said it before, but there is an electricity in the darkness of the city that magnifies as you approach Monona Terrace. Athletes spill out of the surrounding hotels, and you can feel the nerves, the excitement, the anticipation. This day will truly be a culmination of hard work, sacrifice, and drive to a common goal: to be an Ironman. It means something different to each athlete that sets foot in the water, yet somehow we are all in it together.
The bright lights of transition come into view, Mike Reilly’s voice is booming, and everyone is bustling around. It’s like a little city buzzing within the city. We get body marked and head to our bikes. I put my bottles on my bike, pump up the tires, and load up my nutrition. I meet back up with Steve and James, and we head down towards the swim start. As Steve and I are standing in line for the Port-o-Potty, he realizes he forgot to put his nutrition on his bike. Transition closes in 10 minutes. He hands me his bag and books it to get back up there in time. I use the bathroom and then wait for Steve. Athletes are getting in the water, and here I am with my bag and his bag, standing there waiting. Talk about a stressful situation. Before long he is back, crisis averted. We get our wetsuits on and snap a pre-race photo.
As we are waiting to get into the water, there is a moment of silence for 9/11. As the national anthem is being sung, we are still making our way towards the lake. We get in the water with only a couple of minutes to spare. There is no time to get nervous while treading water. I take a few deep breaths, kiss Steve, and the canon fires.
Here we go, into the washing machine. I am able to start swimming almost right away. We started far outside of the buoys and towards the back, which helped. I am amazed and shocked to find clear water on the first stretch. Of course there is plenty of contact with other swimmers, but nothing like the violence I remember from two years ago. I get into a decent rhythm up until the first turn, and then it is a mess of elbows, legs, grabbing, kicking. I take an elbow to the head that nearly knocks my goggles off, and I tell myself to just keep swimming. The back stretch on the first loop is terrible. I find myself much closer to the buoys and I can’t seem to get outside of the crowds. People are swimming right up my back, grabbing my legs repeatedly as if they are going to go right over me. I respond by kicking harder. Before I know it the first loop is over. I think I am making decent time. The second loop seems twice as long as the first, yet it still goes by fast. On the last stretch coming in towards shore, I jam my toe on something, presumably someone’s head. I am glad I didn’t get a look at my toe until after the race, at which point I wondered if it might be broken.
Total time for the swim: 1:21:28. Not speedy by any means, but about 6 minutes faster than last time, which I will take. I exit the water, get my wetsuit yanked off, and run up the helix through the cheering crowd into transition. It is going to be a great day.
I run through the transition room and grab my bag, then head to the women’s changing room. I have opted not to change clothes at all this race, unlike last time when I did a full outfit change in each transition. I put on my socks, bike shoes, helmet, gloves, and sunglasses, and I’m off. Outside, I hit up the sun-screeners to get slathered. As I am running towards my bike, a thunderously loud jet flies overhead and I get pumped up beyond belief. I run through, grab my bike, and before I know it I am riding down the helix.
It takes me a little while to settle in on the bike. Within the first couple of miles, there is a no passing zone on a narrow bike path. Less than two miles in, there is a biker down and a huge bottleneck to pass through. I glance over and see it is a woman down in a neck brace, and I think what a horrible way to end a race. The first 16 miles out to Verona my legs feel ok, but not great. Once we are on the familiar loop, I find my rhythm. Right away up the first hill on Valley View Rd I can pick out the people that will be struggling later on. They are mashing up the hill in a heavy gear, some standing up. This is not the time to expend energy on this course. I use my small chain ring and focus on putting forth as little effort as possible. The weather is perfect, and I am feeling good. I make sure to drink a lot, and grab a new water bottle at each aid station. I stay on top of my nutrition, which is almost all liquids with a few bananas thrown in.
The whole time I am looking forward to the three hills towards the end of the loop, because I know I will see my mom and Joe. I spin up each hill like it is nothing, and know that my training has paid off. On the second big hill, I spot Joe and he starts running alongside of me up the hill. I pick my mom out of the crowd and wave to her, all smiles. The spectators are amazing and provide so much energy it is unbelievable. Back into Verona and halfway through the bike, I check my time and see 3:03. My exact thought at this point is “I am rockin’ this bitch!” I know the second half will likely be a bit slower, but I am excited by the prospect of a 6:10 bike.
Around mile 70, a sharp pain develops in my left knee. Every time I push down on my pedal, it feels like I am being stabbed. I try to just push through it, but the pain persists. I’ve never had anything like this in training. I think about the run and I almost start to cry over the possibility of this ruining my day. My speed slows considerably, as it hurts to put pressure on my leg. I find that it actually hurts less on the up-hills, and I am able to coast the down-hills.
I don’t expect to see my mom and Joe on the second loop, so it is an awesome surprise when I reach the same hill and they are still there. Joe runs with me again and my mom snaps a great pic.
By the time I am back in Verona, my knee is a little better. The pain is no longer sharp, and I am able to pick up my speed on the final stretch. By the time I reach transition, my bike computer reads 114 miles and I am so ready so get off of my bike. Total bike time: 6:20:29, 17.66 mph average.
Back into transition, grab my bag, and into the changing room. I get a great volunteer named Amy to help me, and she is awesome. I put on my hot pink compression socks, my running shoes and hat, and make the executive decision to not run with my GPS because I don’t want to obsess over my pace on the run. By this time my bladder is ready to explode. I didn’t want to stop to pee on the bike (and I will never pee myself on the bike as some people do). While doing my business I check my watch and see that if I can run a four hour marathon, I will break 12 hours. Let’s do this.
The first few miles of the run feel rough, but not so much physically as mentally. The beginning of the loop is not really exciting, and there are not a lot of spectators. My legs feel ok, but my head is not in it. I have no idea what my pace is, but I pretty much write off the possibility of a sub-12 finish. I keep moving forward, stopping to walk only at the aid stations. I take in a gel or some fruit every few miles, and before I know it I hit State Street. I knew I would get a boost from the crowds here, and I needed it. By mile 7 or 8 my legs are feeling pretty good, and I start to perk up a little. I purposely do not check my watch until I hit the half-way point, and when I do I see that I am exactly on pace. I know I can maintain the pace for the second half, and everything starts coming together.
I start to break down the course into tiny sections, one small goal at a time. Get to Camp Randall, make it up Observatory Hill, rock it down State Street.
I see my mom and Joe on State Street and yell “See you at the finish!” I get the chance in the next miles to run with a few different people, and it helps to keep pace with someone. I see Steve headed the other way and he is all smiles, which gives me a boost. With 3.2 miles to go, I check my watch and see that I have 30 minutes. It will be close. I give it everything I have in those last miles. I no longer stop at the aid stations. I am on autopilot and the finish line is my singular focus. The last mile I feel myself slowing down even though everything in me is screaming push harder, this is it.
Photo credit: Bill Flaws
I turn the corner towards the finish and am swallowed by the screaming crowd. I hear for the second time “Laura C from Milwaukee WI, you are an Ironman!!”
I cross the line with my arms in the air and see 11:58 on the clock. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would break 12 hours, and I was slightly in shock. Three days later, it still hasn’t fully hit me, and I don’t know if it will. I will say that I could not be happier with this race, and especially with a top 10 age group finish.
Total Time: 11:58:24
464/2449 overall, 61/590 female, 10/120 female 30-34