I have the day off today! I went back to work Tuesday after Ironman to find that I was scheduled to work 18 of 19 days in a row. Since I worked 10 days straight up to Ironman to get my 4 days off, I was not exactly excited. Yesterday I found out that I actually only work 17 of those 19 days, and today was a bonus day off. Yahoo!! So, first thing this morning, I’m getting this very long overdue race report up. It will likely be a very long one, so grab a cup of coffee :)
Ironman is different the second time around in many ways. The most comforting for me this year was that things were much more familiar. Steve and I stayed at the same bed and breakfast in the same room. It was our fourth trip to Madison and the first time that we knew we wouldn’t need directions. We knew where things were at The Terrace. Packing was much more relaxed and methodical. The plan was set.
Best of all, the people that we kind of knew this time last year all felt like old friends.
Saturday our personal support crew got into town. My sister Steph, my brother Matt, and Steph’s boyfriend Jon made the trip out, so we treated them to supper. They were there bright and early Sunday morning after a night of debauchery in their hotel room. What great race support!
Steve and I woke up early, ate our oatmeal, and headed to the Terrace. We took care of a few last minute things in transition, handed our clothes over to Steph, Matt, and Jon, and then the two of us just quietly sat together for a few minutes in the Terrace. Before we knew it, it was time to don the wetsuits and make our way down the helix. It took us over a half an hour to get from the top of the helix into the water. We were all packed together, and Mike Riley kept yelling at everyone to get in the water and move away from shore. The music was blasting, Steve and I were walking hand in hand, and all of the nervous energy was palpable. We finally made it into the water with just a few minutes to spare. We heard Mike Riley tell us we were going to be Ironmen today, smooched one last time, and then the cannon sounded.
Most people have seen pictures by now of the swim. It’s as crazy to experience as it is to look at. There are hands and feet and bodies and heads everywhere. Thankfully, the visibility was pretty good, and I managed to avoid all but one kick to the head. There was plenty of other contact, though, and a few times were downright viscious. Twice I had someone grab my calf and pull backward and once I had someone deliberately shove me from the side. Somehow I managed to be swimming in a pack of people that preferred to be perpendicular to the buoys. There were several times when I looked up only to see a very off-track wetsuit swimming directly across my line of vision, colliding with everyone along the way. For the most part, though, my swim was pretty uneventful. I started far to the right of and behind the buoys, worked my way to the inside, and stayed there. I drafted when I could, which was fairly often, and after I had rounded the buoy that signaled I had 1/4 of my swim left, I knew I was on my way to a big PR. I swam relaxed, but at the same time, I knew I needed to keep up the pace because I didn’t know what the bike would bring. I had no idea. I exited the water in 1:34:07, nearly 20 minutes faster than last year.
Robby B! He was the first face I recognized coming out of the water. A quick visit to the strippers, and my wetsuit was off! I ran into T1 super excited. I waved escitedly to my famly while running up the helix, and they told me that Steve was already out of the water. He’d had a great swim too.
As a huge group of us were mounting our bikes right out of T1, one guy just plain fell over. I think he was OK, but I felt really bad for him. What a terrible way to start the bike! I braked down the helix – no need to get crazy here. I had a lot of miles ahead of me. As I made my way onto John Nolan, I noticed that my odometer was acting funny. I looked down at it for a couple of seconds to figure out exactly what the problem was, and I did something really stupid. I stopped paying attention to the road. I think it was only for a few seconds, but all of my adrenaline and excitement probably clouded my judgement. The next thing I knew, I was flying through the air and hitting the pavement. Hard. I have no idea how I landed, but judging from my bruises and scrapes, it was sort of sideways Superman style. I looked over at my bike to even see what happened, and by now you probably know that I hit a construction cone. Of all of the embarrassing things to hit on your bike, a 2 foot high bright orange cone has to be the worst. The spectators let out a horrible noise when I landed. Total shock and concern. One guy ran over to me to make sure I was OK. I was so embarrassed, and I just wanted to get on my bike and get out of there. I have never wiped out like that before. A quick eval revealed that I had some pretty big scrapes and sore spots, but I didn’t think anything was broken on me. I picked up my bike, still a little delirious. I looked down and saw that the chain had come off, so I went to put it on. That’s when I realized that I had a big problem. The chain went on fine, but I couldn’t get the back wheel to move when I turned the pedal. I checked my brakes. They weren’t locked. My handle bar was bent in, though. I bent it back thinking that maybe it was pulling funny on my cables. Still nothing. By now, I was working with a sense of slight panic, extreme embarrassment, and deliberate urgency. I grabbed the brakes and shifted them a little to the side, and finally, the wheel moved, barely. A guy next to me was trying to help. I politely thanked him but told him I didn’t want to get disqualified. I turned the pedals. The wheel was now moving, but it couldn’t make it a full rotation without catching. It was bent. I decided to get on my bike, see how it would work and reassess the whole situation after I had been on it a bit. When at I got on it, the whole crowd cheered, just like they cheer when an injured player walks off a football field after laying there for a few minutes. Totally. Embarrassing. I have no idea how long I was stopped there. Maybe five minutes? Maybe ten? It didn’t matter. I was back on my bike and on a mission. I made it another mile or two before I needed to stop. My odometer magnet was rubbing on my frame, and the wheel was still rubbing against my brakes. I readjusted and forged on. Still rubbing. My wheel was just totally bent, and I knew there was nothing more I could do. Lots of people passed me, which is normal when I start the bike leg, but instead of light spinning, I was working hard to muster a 13 mph average with the wind on my back. That’s when I realized that I’d never make it. My legs were already feeling fatigued after only a few miles. There was no way I’d get over the hills on that wheel. A couple of people mentioned that my wheel looked like something was wrong as they passed me. One of them was Bob, a great guy that I had met at WIBA and had seen again at the Chisago half. I told him about the crash, and he wished me luck.
I felt a little sorry for myself, but I knew it was my own fault. I had thrown away a good swim and a beautiful day because I had stopped paying attention for a couple of seconds. I normally pray a lot on the bike leg during triathlons. It’s definitely the lonliest part and the part where the most can go wrong. I prayed even more unusual this day, though. I prayed to God, and I prayed for my Grandma Aggie to be with me.
I know I’ve mentioned my Grandma before. She died of a massive heart attack 5 years ago at the age of 62. She was an amazing woman, my hero. She learned to downhill ski in her 50s. She took us grandkids on roller coasters and any other adventure we could talk her into, and she was always, always there for us. Call it what you will, but I’ve always felt her presence with me during tris. At about mile 6, I asked her to be with me, and in my head, I knew that she was telling me that she was but that there was nothing she could do. I had to get to the next aid station. I pedaled on. At mile 12 or 13, I hit the aid stations. I hoped there was either tech support there or someone who could call tech support for me. I was in luck! One of the Inside Out guys was there! “Can you true a wheel?” I begged. I thought that even if he could straighten it a little, I may still have a shot at making it the next 100 miles. “Well, let’s see here, I might have…” He trailed off. “Let’s go back to my car.” We walked several hundred feet back to his race support vehicle, and then he did the most amazing thing. He pulled out a shiny new wheel that he said I could use for the rest of the bike (they put the broken one back on in T2). I breathed the biggest sigh of relief and started telling him and the other guy working there how much I loved them. I didn’t know that the race support guys offered such extensive services. He put my cassette on the new wheel, made sure everything else looked OK, and around 20 minutes later, I was off and absolutely grateful. Good thing I didn’t need a front wheel. They had already given that one away, and I got their only back wheel. Guess someone really was watching out for me. (Side note: I sent Inside Out Sports a love letter Tuesday after Ironman. I never got a reply, so I really hope that the right people got the email.)
I spent the next 100 miles telling myself to keep moving and that I was nt allowed to complain. It was truly a gift to be able to ride those miles at all. The accident could have been so much worse. I could have been seriously hurt or my bike could have been completely out of commission. I was riding on a borrowed wheel and a prayer – lots of them actually. I enjoyed the other riders out there. I took in the scenery once again, and I had fun with the fans. I got to see Triteacher, Matt from WIBA, and Jeremy from the Chisago half. I thought of Steve many times out there, especially when I passed the alfalfa fields. He’s such a farm boy. He loves that smell. I prayed again for now flats and for a smooth finish. I knew that 20-30 minutes to spare would be cutting it close, but I made it in with a smile on my face. Bike time: 8:36:30 - WAY slower than last year’s time in the cold rain, but considering the circumstances, I am happy I finished it at all. My cheering section was waiting for me at the end of the bike. I was so happy to see them and relieved when I found out that they hadn’t seen me crash 111 miles earlier. I told them about the crash, and they told me that Steve was doing well on the run.
IM Able once said that the reason that the marathon is so doable after a 112 mile bike ride is because you’re so darn happy to get off the bike. She is absolutely right. My butt and feet couldn’t have been happier to be off my bike. I saw Siren on my way into the change room, and she helped me get my bag. I changed my clothes and was about to run out the door when I heard a “SARAH!” I turned around to find Iron Wil just behind me. We had both thought that given our times in races all summer, we’d probably meet somewhere on the run, but I had assumed that my bike crash had nixed that possibility. “TRACEEEE!” I squealed like a four year old. Then we gave each other the biggest hug. “Here, I’ll wait for you. Let’s get you dressed. We’re gonna DO this!” That girl is one speedy changer, and in just a couple of minutes, we were out the door together.
We ran together off and on for miles. I told her the story of my crash, and we both kept saying how we couldn’t believe that we had found each other in T2. I was so excited for her. She looked strong, and I knew that this was going to be her year. The run was actually pretty uneventful. I saw Steve at about mile 3 or 4 (his 11 or 12), and he said that he wasn’t feeling so good. I was all prepared to give him a pep talk the next time I saw him, but he looked really strong, and I knew he’d be just fine. I am so proud of him. I met up with Bob from WIBA again at about mile 14 1/2. “You made it!” he exclaimed, and I told him my story. I reminded him that we needed to be at State Street by 10:30 and then it was all about the finish. I knew I’d soon be able to call him Ironman. I also saw Erin, Stu, Tri Dummy, and a few others I knew out there - all ahead of me of course, and they looked great!
Miles 21 to 25 1/2 were pretty tough for me. My quads were giant knots, and I ended up walking most of those miles. I was disappointed that I wasn’t going to beat last year’s time, but I was grateful for the day and for the chance to finish at all. In retrospect, I’m not sure if it was the extra cranking on the bike or dehydration that did me in. I only peed once during the whole race. I think the dry air on the bike made me underestimate how much fluid I needed to be drinking. My skin felt salty, but I was never visibly sweating. I was a little worried that I was drinking too much, and being a health care provider, I couldn’t help wondering if I was secreting too much ADH and that’s why I wasn’t peeing. By Monday afternoon, I was still 4-6 pounds down from my pre-race weight, so I was really dry after all. Live and learn!
At mile 25 1/2, I started running again, knowing that I couldn’t finish the race walking. I saw Steph just up the road, and she was on the phone with my mom, who was apparently telling me to hurry up and finish already! I ran down the chute high fiving everyone like I was some kind of rock star or something. I sure felt like one. I waved to Matt, Jon, and Steve. Mike Riley was standing in the chute telling me that I was an Ironman, and then the race was over. 16:19:45, 27 minutes slower than last year. Xt4 put a finisher’s medal around my neck and gave me a huge hug. Thomps came up to tell me that although the second time around is harder than the first, I didn’t need to make it harder. More hugs. I got my picture taken with my medal and then turned around to see Wil. She finished just around a minute behind me. We both lost it. We’d done it. We were Ironmen, both of us, and we just sat there in a big sobbing embrace knowing what that meant.
Steve and I met back up with my family. They put in a crazy amount of hours that day just to cheer Steve and me on out there. I hope they know how much it meant to me. I shared with them the full battle story and showed them the resultant carnage.
I got to See TacBoy and Greyhound as finishers and told them my story. Soon after, I learned that IM Able, though she put up a great fight, just didn’t have her day. I am so sorry, girl.
We collected our bags and bikes and walked back to our hotel. I showed them my broken bike, and it was so hard to drag that Matt just carried it the whole way. I don’t know how I made it those first 12 miles.
I didn’t sleep that well. Usually after long workouts, I sleep like a rock. After really tough ones, though, it hurts every time I move. Still, that king sized bed with the really great sheets couldn’t have felt better.
The next morning, we went back to The Terrace to buy some finisher’s gear and to pick up our certificates. I saw Bubba and Stu who both had amazing PRs. Great job guys! Then Steve and I drove home so he could teach a class and I could get started on 10 loads of laundry and lots and lots of dinner.
If I’ve forgotten anybody in my race report, I’m really sorry. Everyone out there at Ironman helped to shape my experience, and it meant the world to me. It was a pretty rocky day, but I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. Guess I just had to earn this one!