I was super happy and excited to be back in Madison for Ironman this past weekend. Madison, Wisconsin is one of my favorite places in the country. Along with having some amazing friends that live there, the town is the most athlete friendly town I have ever visited. Tons of bike paths, running trails, pools, and plenty of open water for unlimited summer activities. Unlike Ohio, it seems like everyone is involved in some activity. It is very refreshing and sets an awesome reputation for the Midwest.
I could not believe that Ironman was here already. This was the most amazing race of my triathlon adventures in 2010, so knowing that I had spent a year planning and training for this race was a little unbelievable. However, I felt very ready and confident to take on this 2011 challenge knowing that my athletic abilities have improved tons this year with new coaching and intensity.
Race morning was very calm. Even though most of us don't sleep well with night before with anxiety, the morning is usually peaceful for me. I know I have done what I can to prepare and the race is just a time to celebrate all the hard work. There is no more or less you can do race morning except let go and jump in!!! The water was perfect, not warm, not cold, flat, and semi clear. I had time to warm up, making sure I got into the water early before the masses. The pros were all together and there was great energy right before the gun. I was feeling like I might actually be able to hold on to some feet this race.
So off we go, and I hung on.....for a few hundred meters, then I was alone. I was feeling sorta bummed. I still have trouble going out hard at the beginning. I think I'm doing well, but everyone else can go hard too. The good thing is that I could see a few of the girls just meters in front of me and focused on keeping them in sight. I did fine for the first lap, but by the second lap the gap got bigger as I did not have any draft to ease up the swim a little. So I just gave it what I had and got through. My time was about 6 minutes longer than I knew I could swim. However, its such a long day and race, that I could not get caught up on a long swim.
I have to say though, coming out of the water in Madison is something that everyone ever racing ironman should experience. I swear its fricking amazing! There are a mass of wetsuit strippers all ready, waiting, and skilled at their task. Once off, the long transition begins. It may be the longest but it is the most fun and perfectly staged transition. All athletes have to run up a parking lot helix that is 4 levels, and it is lined with the loudest, most energetic crowds. Running uphill after swimming 2.4 miles is not an easy task, but with screams so loud and encouraging there is no way that you are motivated to fly. I saw every one of my friends on the helix. I knew they would be there and their cheers filled me up with some amazing adrenaline.
I got out on the bike and felt great. I knew this course really well, and had it broken up into parts to focus on each section as I got to it. First lap felt really awesome, even though the winds were starting to pick up a bit more than expected. It wasn't anything I could not handle. My favorite section is when we ride up the hills at Old Sauk Pass, Timberline, and Midtown. The support for the riders at the most difficult part of the ride is fabulous. On Timberline, the crowds are like a mini Tour De France. People lined the street in costumes, banging drums, and running by your side as you ascent the steep hills. The motivation and energy I experienced as I went through those sections is something I wish I could hold on to throughout the entire ride. We all know that 112 miles is tough and presents ups and downs, and can get quite lonely. The spectators out there in the farm fields of Wisconsin really make a huge difference for the athletes living out their goals and dreams. Thank you to all of the spectators for making a difference in our day.
The second lap did come around though and I wasn't feeling as strong. The winds picked up a bit as well. I hammered as hard as my body was willing and finally did make it back into town. My time was, again, a bit longer than I had predicted I could race. Afterward, comparing gps results, the course had been 2 miles long. Not that it makes any difference because I was still off, but looking back made me feel a little better.
T2 was a breeze, even though when I got of of my bike I wobbled around for a few seconds before being able to run into the building for my bag. I got my shoes on and started running. Instantly, I got really nervous. I didn't feel confident that this was going to be a strong run for me. My running has been better than ever in training the past few months, and I predicted I would be hunting people down on this leg. I got into my head....damn it!!!!! The first few miles were a struggle for me, as they are for most everyone, but I did a little run walk thing to get a grip on myself. I still had a long way to go. When I ran, I was running just over 7 minute miles, so what was my problem!!!! My body settled into feeling ok, and same with my mind. I got into a pace I could hold, although not as strong or fast as I knew I could run. The back side of the loop has some nice shade and it was hotter than last year, so I was grateful for that. I walked the aid stations and was able to pick up a nice stride after each mini break. When the second lap came around, I saw my parents cheering for me and got a pep in my step. This was their first ironman spectating experience. I was really happy to see them. I needed it. So the next 6 miles when pretty good. I could see where a few other professional gals were in front of me at the turn around. Unfortunatly, I didn't believe that I would be able to catch them. With 7 miles to go and tiring, it just didn't seem possible. This is not a good way to think. Anything is possible if you want it to be. In conclusion, I made it to the finish with a good last 3 miles of digging deep. I didn't quit and crossed another finish line becoming, once again, and Ironman.
Although, not my most stellar race, I am very grateful for the experience. Madison is just such a wonderful town and place to race. I would not give this day back for anything! I learned a lot about myself, where I am physically and mentally. I had put so much pressure on myself for this race that I think parts of it backfired on me. Last year I came into this race, my first ironman, without any expectations. The outcome was more than I had ever believed would happen in a million years. I truly believe this is the best way to race. I must just do my best without any expectations set on my performance. Every race is different, even on the same course. Every moment plays out just as it is intended. I took a long time to reflect on the ups and downs, positives and negatives of the day. I do remember that I am still fairly new at the sport and just learning how to race. I am blessed to be able to compete against some of the most outstanding athletic women in the world. I learn a lot from them and am very grateful for the opportunity.