Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ironman Wisconsin 2012

Well, here it is...my Ironman Wisconsin Race Report. I've procrastinated on writing this for a while, mostly because I needed some time to decompress, get the emotions under control (OK, in all my pre-race online reading, why didn't I hear about Post Ironman Depression Syndrome until I was in the midst of it? It's absolutely, totally real), and get an objective view on the whole thing. The short story-- I had a fantastic first Ironman race that really, was just the cherry that topped off what was a very meaningful, even transformative year for me as an athlete and person. Not everything went perfectly, and there are certainly some pangs of regret about certain parts of my day, but I really can't complain about my result, and now "get" this race distance....which will be nothing but helpful in the future.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself. Backing up....

I headed up to Madison on Friday, hit up the athlete check-in, threatened bodily harm (jokingly) to the poor volunteer who weighed me in if he told me my weight (I learned my lesson at Buffalo Springs on that one...no one needs to know what their weight, right in the midst of carbo-loading!), and got the helll away from the expo as quickly as possible. I've got to say, in the days heading into this race, my mentality was way different than I've ever experienced. In one word, I was SCARED. Not just nervous, not just anxious, but straight-up scared. I'm not sure what I was afraid of. Maybe the pain, maybe things going wrong, maybe failure, who knows, but I was scared. Throngs of anxious athletes around did nothing to relieve that feeling, so I got as far away as I could, starting assembling my bags of gear, tried to drive the run course, and eagerly awaited my parents' arrival. Because when you're 32 and really, really scared, all you want is your parents. Or maybe that's just me.

Me and my dad, checking out the swim course
Saturday, up early to get in a little swim, bike, and run. The swim felt great, so did the run, and as for the bike....well, I didn't crash:) That's actually a big thing for me. Last year, during my pre-race workout the day before my last race of the year, the Austin 70.3, I crashed HARD. As in, busted my helmet and my bike, scraped my sunglasses from sliding on the concrete, and caused numerous bodily injuries that resulted in a trip to the ER. So now, every time I'm warming up on the bike the day before the race, my primary goal is to not crash. Success, this time.

Checking in my bike. LOVE my Parlee TT.
The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. I previewed the part of the bike course I wasn't familiar with. I ate a massive brunch in Mt. Horeb (the best part about the day before a long course race is permission to brunch, and I love me some brunch!) I checked in my bike and my gear. I panicked a bit about stupid stuff, because that's what I do. I got more and more scared, and finally, around 9:30, tried to fall asleep.


I woke up a couple minutes before my alarm (always), choked down my breakfast, filled up my water bottles, briefly contemplated just crawling back into bed and skipping this whole Ironman thing, and then, at 5:15AM, headed on down to Monona Terrace. I figured arriving at transition at 5:30 AM for a 7:00 AM start would be sufficiently early; I was wrong. There was a back up at the entrance to the transition area, with seemingly every athlete having brought their entire support crew with them to take pictures as they got the numbers written on their bodies. By the time I worked my way through the crowd and got to my bike, I was starting to really stress about time. I quickly pumped my tires up, loaded my bike up with calories, and hustled back out. Through this, I still felt terrified, unhappy, a little tearful. This negativity was new for me, usually I'm somewhat calm on race morning, but not today. There were no smiles, just dread. And fear.

At 6:30AM, according to plan, I got into the water and slowly made my way towards the front. My plan was to start near the front of the pack, but over to the right, away from the buoy line. Then I got in there, the crowds didn't look too bad, and I adjusted my plan, moving farther left. And shockingly, getting in the water actually calmed me down quite a bit. The anxiety melted away, I felt calm and ready, and I just focused on conserving energy and floating for the 20 minutes before our start. 5 minutes to go, I spotted a pack of women (pink caps) also lined up close to the front, and I moved towards them, figuring that we ladies would be more gentle with each other during the mass start.


At 7:00 AM, the cannon fired, and I took off, fully expecting to have the crap beat out of me. After all, there were 3,000 people starting at the exact same time and I'd chosen to line myself up towards the front, in the line of fire. Surprisingly, the first couple hundred meters were relatively contact-free. I found open water, took a couple hits to the face and head, but that was it, and started thinking, "this is it? This isn't so bad at all!"

Of course, those are the types of thoughts that only precede a turn for the worst. Oddly, as the swim went on, the contact intensified. The most open water I found was in the first couple hundred meters, after that it was grabbing, hitting, dunking, etc. And here's what I noticed.....I was surrounded mostly by dudes. They'd hit me, and I'd hit them, but we'd all go along on our way, no harm no foul, just part of the game.

But any little tussle with another female, and it got personal. Ladies, what is it? Why do we get personally offended when another girl hits us? Or is it just me? All I know is that I was swimming next to a pink cap for a while, until she decided that she wanted to wallop my head not 3, not 4, but 5 times in a row. So I may or may not have momentarily switched into beeyotch mode and thrown a hit back that way. Then, it was ON. She switched into MEGA beeyotch mode and came after me. Tried to dunk me. Grabbed my shoulder. I tried to move right....she followed. Just throwing punches with every stroke. Grabbing my legs. Eventually I stopped, turned almost 90 degrees, and swam away from that crazy lady. Wow.

But that was about the most eventful part of the swim. It felt long, especially the 1700 meter back stretch, but I was enjoying myself and kind of reveling in excitement of it all. During the swim, I had all those positive emotions you hear about during Ironman. So happy to just be out there, to have made it through the summer of training intact, to have my goggles still on my face. I loved it.

I came out of the water almost exactly at 1 hour, which was my aspirational goal.


The transition from the swim to the bike at Wisconsin is long but chill-inducing. You run up the helix--- basically the corkscrew going up into a parking garage, and it's lined with crazy cheering fans. It was like nothing I'd even imagined. I had a big ole goofy grin on my face and was seriously overwhelmed. I jogged up, continually scanning the crowd for familiar faces. Coach Keith gave a cheer, and it gave me a lift. A little later, there was Liz, with a thrilled look on her face. She ran right next to me for a moment, giving me an update on my place that I couldn't understand over all the yells, but she seemed excited and I became so as well. That helix was so amazing, I didn't even notice that it was a long, long hill.

The rest of T1 was uneventful and efficient. Somewhere around 5 minutes, which given the length, was perfectly fine. I headed out and made a long, long run across the parking garage to my bike, which a volunteer had waiting for me when I arrived. That's service for 'ya!


Off we went on the bike, and I still had a big ole grin. The first 16 miles, or the "stick" out to Verona, I tried so hard to hold back. I spun easy, tried to get started on my hydration and nutrition, and just kept saying to myself, "chill out, chill out, chill out." Pretty soon that became "chillax, chillax, chillax," because 'chillax' is such a cool word, right? I did everything in my power to ride easy, but it was hard. There were dudes just FLYING by me. Over and over and over. I tried to remind myself that this was the plan and I was fine, but my mantra got a little more serious..."Chill the f---k out. Ignore them. Chill the f--k out."

Moving into the Verona loops, and I felt in my zone. I knew this course. I rode this 40 mile loop 10 times this summer. It was familiar. Like clockwork. The winds were a little worse than usual but I kept an eye on my power, and it was fine. My legs felt a little more tired going up the hills right outside of Verona, but I didn't dwell on it. Guys kept passing but I stopped caring because there weren't many women passing me, so I knew I was OK.

Photo (c) Dan Lee

We got to the three big hills in Cross Plains, the ones that seemed so tough in training, and they were absolutely packed with spectators. Climbing up the first hill, I saw Sharone, who used his bull horn to alert several scantily clad members of the Well-Fit Elite team, positioned further up the hill, that I was on my way. I got some high-fives and some laughs at the speedos and bikinis and that hill was over before I knew it. The second hill, I knew my family and my friends, Andrea, Kristin, and Chris would be there, and I rode up with that big ole fat grin, scanning the crowds for familiar faces and seriously, almost crying when I saw them. Then it was a short break until the Midtown Hill, where I knew Liz and Lori would be. I got part way up, spotted Liz who screamed her lungs out and ran up with me, and hardly even felt that hill either.

Second loop, just like the first... after a very, very quick stop at Special Needs to replace some nutrition that I'd dropped. It got a little harder and I was a little worried that I'd been riding too hard, so I pulled back on a reigns a little and tried to relax. The wind was annoying, the stretch into Mt. Horeb a little quieter, but every once in a while I'd see something that made me laugh. Like the guy dressed like a banana. Or the man, likely a local who pulled up a chair and a radio and sat on a corner to watch the race, but both times I went by, was completely and totally engrossed in his newspaper and seemed to have no awareness of the race going on around him.

Around Mile 80, as I've been told would be the case, I started to feel a little tired, bloaty, just ready to be off the bike. But this course is laid out just perfectly for that 80 to 90 mile lull, as the three mega hills with the spectators pop up just in time. This time, the hills felt a bit harder, but again, the energy I took from my friends and family was invaluable. Again, first hill, the now-drunk-Well-Fit friends, including Henry, who told me I was in 4th. I had no idea if that was 4th in my age group or 4th overall (aside from the pros)....and actually, at that time, it may have been one in the same. Hooray for the stacked 30-34 age group! Second hill, family (snapping photos) and friends. Third hill, Liz and Lori and now Jen, who said, "you're in fourth. Don't panic, but they're right there and you've got this!"

And for the rest of the bike, I did just that. I tried not to panic, tried to stay calm. Things were going well. I was in the thick of it, and felt strong. Until around Mile 95 ( I think), when I had that thought you never should have--- "well, I've made it this far without a flat tire, I think I might make it." About 4 seconds later, I hear a bizarre, extremely loud honking/ squeeking noise. It sounded like an alarm. More than 5 and a half hours into the race, my mind wasn't right, and I panicked that something on my bike had broken. I had new tires and had never had a blow out--- maybe there's some sort of alarm-sounding noise when you have a flat??? (yeah, that thought actually entered my mind).

Then, Erik, a Well-Fit athlete I've known for a few years, jumped out of a bush, dressed in a creepy Joker-meets-clown outfit, honked his clown horn, and screamed "go, go, go, go, go!" Scaring the crap out of me for a second time. The infamous creepy clown. I'd seen him the night before and knew his clown costume plans, but all I could do was whimper and yell back, "Erik, you just scared the living shit out of me!" It took a few miles to bring my heart rate back down after that one.

With the Creepy Clown after the race
Coming back into Madison, I caught back up to a girl in my age group who'd passed me early on, and we traded positions multiple times in those last ten miles. I consciously decreased the effort, started to think a little about the run, and really, felt an overwhelming sense of relief that I'd gotten through the bike without incident and was actually, a little ahead of schedule.


I tried to dismount my bike and almost fell on my face. But for the kindly volunteers, I would have. Yeah, not that most coordinated one, right here. But they just yelled, "shake it off," and I was on my way.

Uneventful T2 except I saw Bernadette. Along with Erik (creepy clown), Bernadette was one of just five members of a training group I joined in 2010 in preparation for the Steelhead 70.3. It was my first real triathlon experience, and our little training group was so tight. We all varied so much in ability and strength and age that there was no one iota of competiveness among our group and we became really, really good friends. Anne, another participant, was out doing Ironman as well. Erik was, of course, scaring everyone in his Creepy Clown get up. Bernadette just adopted two children, but she'll be back triathloning soon, and it was so good to see her! And Ryan...well, he fell in love and got married and fingers are crossed that he finds his way back to the sport.

Anyway, back to my race.


I took off right at the same time as a girl in my age group, and I believed we were running in 3rd and 4th. She took off like a banshee and I tried to follow....which was a bad idea. My legs felt horrible right from the get go, but I didn't slow down enough to let myself settle in, instead chasing Adrienne and clicking off a couple 7:20ish miles....way, way too fast for me at the beginning of a marathon. I kept telling myself to slow down, slow down, but I didn't, and that is my number one regret about this race, as it came back to haunt me in the end.

By mile 6 or so, I'd finally settled into my goal pace, but it didn't feel great and I was, frankly, a little panicked. I tried not to think about the fact that I still had 20 miles to go, but I couldn't escape the reality. I saw Liz in that mile and she told me I was doing well, that all the girls in my age group were within striking distance, but all I could say was, "Liz, this does not feel easy." I really wanted my run to feel easy for the first 8 miles or so, that was my plan....and it didn't.

Photo (c) Dan Lee
Liz and Lori and Andrea and all the friends and family I saw on State Street gave me a bit of a push, and by Mile 7 I was back to the "OK, I can do this" mode. That lasted until about Mile 11, when my pace fell off significantly, sort of without warning, and I panicked again. I walked the aid station, which was not in my plan (I wrote, very adamently, in my race plan "you will not walk at all"). Suddenly, I felt like I was failing. I saw Liz again in the 12th mile (this course is set up so well for spectators!) and almost broke down-- "I'm walking already! What do I do?" She told me it was in my head (she was right) and to keep moving forward. A block later, I saw Karin, and asked her the same exact question: "What do I do?" Her answer: you just keep moving forward. I knew that. I so knew that. But to hear other people say it....it helped, and I got back under control for the next few miles.

The rest of the race, things got slower. A lot slower. I was frustrated, but I just couldn't move faster. The Kona slot, which was well within range, slipped away, and there was just nothing I could do about it. There was more walking, mostly through the aid stations, but up a few hills, too. There were extra bathroom stops as I foolishly ditched my fuel plan and started chugging coke, which my stomach did not like. To the people who tried extremely valiently to pull me out of the funk, to get me moving well again, believe me, I appreciated it beyond words, but I couldn't really physically respond. I just couldn't get into that next gear very easily, and didn't have the mental willpower to force it. Something to work on before the next one of these. But I did keep moving forward. Not all that quickly, slower and slower throughout the race, but I never truly quit, and for that, I am very proud. This could have ended badly. I could have walked it in. I could have melted down mentally, like I did in Lubbock, and stopped and cried on the side of the road. But I didn't. And that is growth.

Finally, I got to the last mile (right after tripping on a curb, wiping out, and having YET ANOTHER volunteer tell me to "shake it off") and just ran it in as best I could. I got to the finish chute and relished every second of it. I gave high-fives to the spectators (including Andrea!) and crossed the line at 10 hours, 45 minutes, and 00 seconds. Before the race, I told my parents that my "ideal" time was 10:45:00. Doesn't get much closer than that:)

Chip on the wrong leg, coulda slipped under 10:45

I finished, and I was so happy, yet at the same time, so sad. The rational part of me kept saying, "Amanda, 10:45 for your first Ironman, that's great, that's EXACTLY what you wanted!" The emotional side...didn't like how that run went down, and felt like if I had just been mentally tougher, I could have gotten that Kona slot. Or at least finished stronger. I had a lot of friends and family at the finish line, and I wish I'd shown more pure joy and happiness. It was there. It was just....there was frustration, too. I have a habit of blaming myself for a lot...beating myself up for mistakes, for not being tough enough. That's always my go-to--- I'm just not mentally tough enough. That's a lot of harsh judgment I'm puting on myself. And now, I wish I'd cut myself a break for a little, allowed myself at least a few moments of pure celebration, satisfaction and pride after the race, which really did go very, very well, instead of immediately pulling out the iPhone, looking at results and saying, yeah, Kona slots are never going to roll down that far.

Final takeaways--- I am really very happy with my debut Ironman. Sometimes, I forget about the process, but this time, the process was everything. I don't talk about it much, but almost exactly two years ago, I had knee surgery following a really, really bad (and somewhat mysterious) injury. My surgeon told me I would never run again. Everything I read also indicated that there was no way I was going to be able to come back from it and get back into endurance sports. After a very, very, very long rehab process, I decided to give it a go. Foolhardy, probably. But to go from two years ago, being convinced that I'd never run again, to finishing an Ironman in the top 10 Overall Amateur...that's huge. And I, frankly, forget to give myself credit sometimes. It's been a long journey.

And just in the last year, since I started working with Liz as my coach, I've made huge, huge strides. I'm a different athlete and a different person. In a good way, I think:) Liz has been absolutely invaluable, is a freaking genius, and got me in absolutely the best shape of my life. To get me to the starting line without injury would have been huge in and of itself, to get me there feeling ready to really throw it down with the best girls in my age group is humongous. I think there are more good things to come, and though I may whine a little too much or complain or try to make her explain to me why I'm not right.at.the.level.I.want.to.be.right.now.no.later.right.now, I hope she knows how much I appreciate how much she's done for me in so many ways and how cognizant I am of how far she's taken me.

And to the friends and family who came up to Madison to support....seriously, it meant absolutely the world to me and gave me a huge, huge boost to see you. And to those who cheered from afar, tracked the race, sent me messages, or even just showed a whole LOT of patience when I fell off the face of the earth socially due to just being, well, tired from all the training, I'm so, so thankful.

So, I've ruminated on the race a little more than is healthy. I'm hoping by putting this Race Report up, I can "close the chapter" and move forward. Because there are exciting things to come! Next stop--- Florida! Then....Iceland (random, right?), then London. Then... a few more places, followed by Ironman New Zealand. In March. OF 2013. Yeah, I already signed up for another one, and one that's less than six months away, no less. YIKES!


  1. Well done - fabulous race report. You really did have an amazing race for your first IM! And lots of exciting stuff to come!!!

  2. I loved reading your race report! In my untrained opinion YOU ROCK simply for the fact that you even took on such a challenge...let alone finished strong! Congrats! - Jackie H