Introduction to the Ironman
It all began on September 7th, 2003. I had responded to a request for volunteers on the UW Cycling listserv. On Ironman Sunday I biked to my assigned spot and began alerting the cyclists of a relatively sharp turn. My post was about two miles away from transition 2 (T2), the bike-to-run transition area. Competitors at this point had already biked about 110 miles in blistering hot conditions. Many of the cyclists thanked me for letting them know about the turn and many of those that did not were too delusional to even make the turn. I canâ€™t imagine how hard the marathon must have been for the delusional ones. Over one-third of the race was still left! Somehow all of this inspired me. Maybe it was seeing the determination (or stupidity) of athletes biking 112 miles on a mountain bike and thinking â€œif he can do it, then I must be able to do it,â€ or the fact that a student in my dorm and his girlfriend successfully completed it. But the more I thought about the Ironman, the more I knew that I would regret if I chose not to do it. Besides teaching tennis for three weeks in the summer and a family vacation, my entire summer was available for me to train. When would I ever have this much time available again? So I decided to do it. Luckily, I signed up just in time because all the spots were filled the next day. I had let my parents know that I thought it would be cool to do an Ironman but they thought it was little more than a fantasy. They were shocked when I told them I had signed up for Ironman Wisconsin.
While I have always been fit and active, now I really knew that I had to stay diligent to a healthy schedule. I stopped my consumption of soda at dinner and switched to include water with the customary milk. I also religiously did a three-time a week weight lifting program and continued to go for 12-mile runs. Iâ€™ve always been a good middle-distance runner and just needed to accustom my legs to more miles. Biking was the least of my concerns. I had done numerous 100 mile-plus rides and had standard Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday group rides during the summer. Training on the bike amounted to nothing more than a few additional rides and hill workouts with a friend. Mountain biking at the John Muir trails in the Southern Kettles was also added for some variety. My main concern during the biking was that I was going to go too hard and destroy myself for the marathon. In preparation and just for fun I signed up for the Mad City Marathon. It was a horrible rainy and cool day. I was on track for a 3:05 marathon until I cramped in the left quadriceps and calf at mile 21. I still managed to turn in a 3:31 (145 place overall) despite having to alternate running and walking for the last 4.2 miles. I could hardly walk for the next two daysâ€¦not what I wanted to see.
While people say that I have the perfect tall and skinny body for swimming, I donâ€™t consider myself a swimmer. I trained mostly by swimming laps indoors for about 45 minutes to one hour at a time and only swam in the open water once prior to the actual thing. Lap swimming was quite boring. Everything was very monotonous. It was not a tiredness that drove me to stop but the beeping of my watchâ€™s alarm that woke me from my lap swimming trance.
I canâ€™t accurately estimate how many miles I swam, biked, or ran in preparation for the Ironman. In the future I hope to do more biking-to-running and swimming-to-biking workouts. While preparation was adequate (at least for biking and running), I had never combined two events on the same day to see how my body would respond. And in regards to swimming, I should have tried open water swimming in a wetsuit prior to the actual race.
Training was now officially over and the most important thing was sleep and proper pre-race nutrition. I attended a meeting for all the participants at the Monona Terrace, brought my aerobar-fitted Trek 5200 to the bike start area, and enjoyed the festivities and free performance food samples at the Ironman Village.
There was an excellent pasta dinner on Friday night during which we got to meet all the Ironman participants. I sat with members of the UW Triathlon and Cycling clubs. For many of us this was a first Ironman. I didnâ€™t ask, but I wonder for how many this was a first triathlon period, as it was mine. On Saturday I packed the race bags. (Each participant had a bag for each transition area. All our biking clothing and supplies that were not already on the bike were in the swim-to-bike bag, while running gear was in the bike-to-run bag). I brought along some flasks of Hammer Gel for the biking and some fruit snacks for the running. It was recommended to bring a little real food along for a treat in the middle of the run.
Saturday night I went to bed at around 9:30PM and set my alarm for an early 4:15AM. In the morning I had a bowl of cereal, some yogurt, a banana, and peanut butter on toast. After getting marked with my race number and double-checking the location of my transition bags, I headed down to the water at 6:30AM. This was the first time I had worn a wetsuit and its buoyancy was amazing. My anticipated time was 1:30 so I positioned myself accordingly. The swim was two laps of a rectangular course, totaling 2.4 miles. There were a large number of people and swimming without kicking someone or being kicked was near impossible. I finished in 1:30. As soon as I had gotten out there were volunteers that helped me strip off my wetsuit. I then had to run up the ramp to T1. After 12′ 50â€ T1, I jogged in my biking gear to my bike and headed off. It felt great to be back on something so familiar.
The biking course was two long laps connected to the start/finish by a short connector portion. I felt great for the first lap and averaged around 22. I imagine that some people came to the Wisconsin Ironman because they thought the biking section would be relatively flat. Little did they know that glaciers had sculpted Wisconsin into a land of rolling hills, making the course actually quite hilly. Despite the pain and burning in my legs, the cheering crowds that lined the lengths of the hills motivated me during the longer and steeper hills. I felt like Lance Armstrong climbing Lâ€™Alp dâ€™Huez.
I had come prepared with two water bottles filled with Cytomax and was carrying two flasks of Hammer Gel. At the pre-race meeting I had learned the importance of staying hydrated but more specifically of staying hydrated while maintaining proper salt levels. On Saturday, I had bought a bottle of Lava Salt and had prepared some Endurolyte capsules from Hammer Nutrition. I brought enough tablets for about one salt tablet per hour. The recommended dosage was about 1-2 per hour but that amount was dependent on how much one sweats. Turns out I sweat more than the equivalent of one salt tablet per hour. With about 40 miles left to go in the bike I ran out of tablets. I was hoping that the salt in the provided Gatorade and Gu would suffice but they did not. I could feel the beginnings of that dreadful twinge in the muscles that occurs before a full-blown cramp. The cramp eventually came at the worst possible time, while standing to climb a steep hill. Both legs locked up at exactly the same time. The bike slowed to a crawl as my pedaling ceased to provide forward force. I just barely unclipped from the pedal before I fell to the side. Then I just had to wait and kneed the lactic acid out of my legs. The rest of the biking was not all that fun. I could no longer crank hard for fear of triggering a cramp. But my biggest worry was how I was going to be able to still run a marathon. My only hope was to find some more salt tablets. Luckily, the later portions of the bike were relatively flat so my legs were able to recover enough that I felt like I had gotten a second wind. Sadly though, I noticed that my average speed had fallen drastically due to the cramping and the extra time taken to stretch at the rest stops. I finished the bike in 6:43, averaging of 16.7MPH over 112 miles.
After being on a bike for over 6 hours, running was a welcome change of pace. Luckily, I was able to find someone with some extra salt tablets during T2. With that salt and the salts from chicken soup, Gatorade, and more Gu, I was able to slowly complete the marathon. (By the Ironman’s end I had consumed so much Gu that the taste had grown revolting). By the time I got to the run my goal was no longer time-based; I just wanted to finish. Food and Gatorade stops were approximately every two miles and I took every chance I could get to rest my legs by walking.
The run was also two laps with the start/finish being at the entrance to the Monona Terrace from the Capital Square. Again, the crowds were very motivating, especially on State Street and around the Capital. However, the best part of the entire Ironman was the final two miles. I picked up my pace dramatically and was passing people left and right as I finished at around a 6-minute mile pace. Another second wind must have kicked in because I felt very fast. I crossed the finish of my first Ironman with a run of 4:55 and a cumulative time of 13:33. I was more muscularly tired than cardiovascularly. I grabbed my post-race clothes bag, changed into a warmer outfit, and talked with my parents near the finish. They had brought me one of the free Cousins Subs that was available for the finishers and some water to drink. Strangely, I felt worse at that moment than I had during the entire run. It was a feeling very similar to the spacey feeling that I occasionally get that consuming protein fixes. It was almost as if my body could not believe that it was done working at a high level. Thankfully, with the drink and food and a few minutes of just sitting down, I could again walk again. The hot shower back at the apartment felt great and, miraculously, I was able to walk and bike to class the very next day. I wore the Ironman Wisconsin finisher t-shirt with pride. I donâ€™t think I have ever worked so hard for a t-shirt before.
My Ironman experience is something that Iâ€™ll never forget. Though it is expensive both fiscally and physically, Iâ€™m looking forward to training for and racing in one again. I am not signed up for Ironman Wisconsin 2005 but am contemplating participating in it again in 2006. For me the reward not only comes from finishing but also from the training. Training forces you to get into great shape. Though this was my only Ironman, I now feel like a veteran in regards to the multitude of changes that I should make to my training regime. In the future Iâ€™ll actually train in the open water and concentrate on combinations of workouts to more accurately simulate the real Ironman. Also, cutting down on my total transition times of almost 25 minutes would be a very easy fix. Though I did not meet my pre-race goal of 13 hours, I realized during the tough second lap on the bike that just finishing would be outstanding; it would have to be.
I also found a guy who wrote about his Ironman Wisconsin experience, though I’m not sure if it was the same year that I did it.