Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Ironman Wisconsin 2014 Run

In case you missed them:  Bike Recap,  Swim Recap

I was surprised that when I decided to run after the sunscreen station that I could actually run.  Maybe those brick workouts really did help?

As I ran under the Run Out arch I clicked my watch over to the run and was trying to switch it to the screen with heart rate.  One volunteer then shouted, "You've got plenty of time, don't even worry about your watch!" While I wasn't really worried about my pace it was a little bit of a revelation to me that I had a ton of time to finish.

I had set up my watch for intervals of 5:00 running/:30 walking and that was my tentative plan for the run.  It was set up to beep at those intervals but I had turned the vibration feature off to conserve some of the battery in case I was out there for a long time. Good plan, poor setup because when the crowds were cheering I could not hear my watch at all.  

In the first mile, you run around the capitol and onto state street. By the time I got out onto the run course, the first pro finisher was only about 15 minutes away from the finish line so the crowds were already gathered near the finish.  It was loud and awesome.  The bibs had our names on them so spectators would often yell "Go Alyssa!" which to me, makes the cheering even more awesome.

The first mile takes you around the capitol building and onto State Street. The music was a thumpin' here! As I was running by I heard Amy yell out! Then a couple hundred feet later, my cousin Kristin popped out and started running with me! She told me I was way ahead of the schedule I had sent out to everyone. This is what I send to everyone

Swim: 7:00 - 8:30 am                                  Actual 7-8:17
Transition 1 : 8:30 - 8:45 am                      Actual 8:17-8:25
Bike: 8:45 am - (3:20 - 4:05 pm)                Actual 8:25-3:02                 
Transition 2: again 15 minutes                   Actual 3:02-3:07
Start Running: 3:35 - 4:20 pm                    Actual 3:07
At the turn around on the run course:  6:00 - 7:00 pm 
Finish: 8:30 - 10+++++++ pm (before midnight my butt better be across that finish line)

When my first mile ticked off at 9:40, I realized I was going way way too fast.  In no way was I going to be able to run the marathon that fast so I slowed down.  Every time I reached an aid station I would slow down and walk as well.  

One the way out, you run through Camp Randall (the Badger's stadium), the turf feels really good on the feet (and felt even better on the second lap).  A photographer was snapping pictures on the field and it made me wish I had written "Go HAWKS!" on the backside of my bib. 

The course continues out towards the campus area.  For the majority of this part I was running and walking only at the aid stations and hills. Around mile 4, I saw Rachel and her husband cheering!  She asked me how I was feeling and I responded, "Okay." I'd say that's pretty good for just biking 112 miles!  I got to see them two more times as the course passed by them again.  It was so nice to have her cheering out there because those miles were some of the lonelier miles!  

Around miles 5 and 6, I once again ended up on State St. -- this time a little further out from the capitol -- this area is the bar area and  the streets were packed again.  It is always great when people are cheering for you and telling you that you look great.  Kristin and Molly were here again and Kristin ran alongside me while Molly snapped some photos.

Kristin told me that Matt and my mom and dad were cheering around mile 12 and that I would see them there.  That gave me something to look forward to and I kept ticking off the miles.  

Around mile 11 as I ran back towards the capitol and the start of lap 2 I hit a bit of a low spot.  I realized that I had to run that whole loop again and I was getting tired.  The novelty of the run course had worn off. I knew the hills would be coming.  Plus it doesn't help that the turn for 2 is so, so close to the finish line. I was walking a bit more during this portion and right before mile 12 I saw my cheer squad again.  

Matt walked with me for a bit and tried to show me the time on his watch.  I stared blankly at his watch because my mind was tired and I could not read the clock.  He told me that it was so early and that I was going to finish. I conjured up some more energy and started running again.  

State Street was just as awesome going through again and that pumped me up.  Going close to the finish line wasn't too terrible and I made the turn for the 2nd lap.  Right after the turn is the run special needs area.  My back was tight and cramping so I stopped to get my packet of Biofreeze to loosen it up.  While I stopped, the volunteers offered me a chair to sit in and I turned them down by saying, "If I sit now, I might not get back up!"  

Before the race, I read a lot about the mental aspects of racing an Ironman and one of the things that stuck with me is that the race will have high points and low points--be prepared for them.  Miles 11-13 were one of those low points for me.  But soon I was feeling a little better and the second lap didn't seem to bad.  

My dad even ran with me for a little bit. :)

My pace slowed down on the second lap but I was still mostly running (that looked more like a shuffle) and walking anything that looked remotely like a hill and all the aid stations. I was only able to eat one Gu on the run and the idea of eating more sounded terrible so instead I drank Perform and cola and ate orange slices.  When the chicken broth came out, I took a cup of that wherever available.  The salty goodness was like liquid gold.  It was warm and even though I wasn't cold (I still took sponges and cups of ice at a lot of aid stations), the warmness made it go down so easily. 

The second lap was more of the same. I did see a lady running without shoes on and she was carrying her Vibrams-like shoes in her hand.  Amazingly, I did see her finish later in the night too! My feet were killing me.  The good news is that they hurt so bad I didn't even know my legs hurt.  The longest training run I completed was 16 miles and that hadn't gone well at all so I was thrilled when I passed 16 miles and was still moving along. 

I passed the 20 mile marker and it was still light outside.  I thought to myself that maybe I would be able to finish before it was dark.  That turned out not to be true but it kept me running for a bit. I remember a wave of relief when I started heading back toward the capitol again.  Only a little bit longer I thought. I was both passing and being passed by people and a few times we would speak a few words to each other.  Around mile 24 I picked up a glow necklace at an aid station.  The sun was setting quickly. 

Getting back to State Street and the loud music was a huge boost.  I knew the finish line was close. I walked one final time on the hill near the Capitol Building and then I started running towards the finish line. The crowds were so amazing.  It seemed everyone was cheering for me.  I made sure to space myself out from the other finishers so I could have my own moment of glory across the finish line.  

I took my time high-fiving a whole bunch of spectators. 

Matt tried to snap a pic of me but I guess I was moving too fast!  I crossed the finish line and I heard Mike Reilly say "Alyssa Neiers, you are an Ironman!" I had the world's largest grin on my face as proven by my finisher's pictures.  

I was immediately helped by two finisher's line catchers and as they started walking with me I was just overcome with emotion.  I started to hyperventilate a bit which caused me to start coughing.  The volunteer asked if this was my first Ironman.  And when I nodded she just said, "I understand, it can be emotional." And it was. I was so amazed by what I had just done. 

The volunteers walked me over to get my timing chip taken off, then to get my medal, finisher's shirt and hat.  Next they got me chocolate milk, water, and tried to get me a space blanket, but they had just run out. Instead I told them I was fine and got in line for my finisher's picture. 

I was a little bit in disbelief as I wandered over by the athlete food tent. My family was standing nearby so I talked to them for and my mom kept asking me if I was okay and if I could walk.  I thought I would be so exhausted I wouldn't want to walk another step, but I was surprisingly feeling okay.  My mom later told me that she thought was my cough was so pathetic at this point.  Every time I coughed it was really painful and yet the cough was so small.  My lungs were all seized up from the long extended effort. 

I hit up the athlete food tent for some crappy pizza, a sub, and some orange slices.  And I finally found a space blanket.  I didn't need it right away but it definitely came in handy later when I started to cool down.  

I waited for Kelly while eating some of my food and resting on some steps.  Getting back up was hard! I was so excited when Kelly came down the chute! I tried to take a video but I had Ironman brain and forgot to press record.  Duh.  

After watching Kelly, I hugged my parent's and we all took off for our respective accommodations.  Ironically, I made it through the Ironman without any tears but I cried in the shower because holy chaffing! Owwwwwwwww! I had some big spots.  Matt headed off to bed because he has limited vacation and had to work the next day.  I was all pumped up on adrenaline still and headed back to the finish line to cheer in the final finishers.  

If you want to be inspired, the best place to go is an Ironman finish line close to midnight.  The energy was amazing. Out of this world amazing! I cheered my heart out as people came in closer and closer to midnight. I even shed a few more tears as the final finishers crossed that line.  These people pushed themselves to the limit to make it to that finish line. 

I had a wonderful, wonderful race experience and it is still hard to believe how well the race went for me.  My mantra for the stay was "In the box" and I think I did a good job staying on my race plan.  Even looking at my run splits, I did a good job of continuing to "run" late in the race and only had one mile over a 13 min/mile pace. 

Avg Pace

It seems like almost a different person that wrote this post about all of my doubts leading up to the race.  When I forget again will someone remind me that I can do hard things.  

Many years ago I pitched the idea of a triathlon to Matt. He thought I was talking about doing a full Ironman and told me that was crazy.  That planted the seed in my head that some day I would do a full Ironman.  I finally realized that dream.  

Ironman Wisconsin
September 7, 2014
2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run
Madison, WI

Swim: 1:17:16
T1: 7:52
Bike: 6:37:15
T2: 5:05
Run: 5:08:25

Thank you to everyone who cheered me on--both online and in person.  My spectators were absolutely wonderful and seeing them always boosted my spirits.  

Monday, September 15, 2014

Ironman Wisconsin 2014 Bike

The bike begins with going down the helix on the other end of the terrace. Which then leads you out on John Nolen Drive for a short bit before dumping you onto a small bike path.  This is all part of the "stick" as the bike course at Wisconsin is a lollipop shape.  You go out 16 miles on the stick then ride two of the 40 mile loops before coming back in on the stick.

The bike path is narrow and it's sort of a slow-zone with a few sharp corners and no room for passing.  I saw one crash under a bridge on this part of the path and I heard of a few others! I hope everyone was okay but it was a reminder for me to take it easy on the sharp curves.

My mantra for the day was "stay in the box" which might sound strange at first. But I used it to remind myself to stay true to the paces that I've trained for and that it didn't matter what the person next to me was doing. The only person I needed to worry about was me. I wasn't going to win so it didn't matter.  For the bike, I wanted to focus on keeping my heart rate around 150 bpm. I knew it would spike up on the steep hills but I wanted to keep it contained when riding downhill or on the flatter portions.  So when I was getting passed fairly often on the way out on the stick I reminded myself that good pacing would pay off later.  And I mentally patted myself on the back for beating them in the swim! Ha! It's a long day so I can be a little petty.

I tried not to draft off of other athletes because I saw a few bike officials out on the course but at times we would get so crowded in.  The hillier it was the worse the crowding got.  I was pretty thrilled on the hills for the first loop and was passing people up them.  Of course, they would soon pass me on the downhill and flat parts later.  I am so glad I switched my bike over to a compact crank! One guy I kept passing on the hills started making comments like "Hello climbing legs!" as I would go by him! Once I responded, "I love hills!" I was having a great time and the thoughts running through my head were "This is the perfect day" and "I feel so great." I had a big goofy grin on my face for most of the bike ride.

Right before I got to the aid station in Mount Horeb I saw my mom! I saw her before she saw me so I waved at her!

On each loop there are some infamous hills named the three sisters (or b**ches) because they are steep! The crowd support on these hills is legendary.  Like Tour de France style insane.  Spectators line both sides of the road and they are all cheering and the music is playing.  At the first hill, a guy dressed in a devil costume chased me up the hill for a while and asked me how the swim was and how my day was going. I, of course after all the positive pep talking to myself, responded that the swim was perfect and the day was perfect. PERFECT! I saw many more great costumes including a guy with his shirt off holding a sign that said "Free Lube" which made me laugh.

The crowds really pumped me up and carried me up those tough hills! Plus I got to see Amy again! On the second of the three sisters on Timber Lane I spotted my cousin Kristin and friend Molly! It makes me so happy that so many people came out to support me the day of the race!  Next I passed back through Verona where Matt was cheering.  I didn't see him but I heard him cheering but I couldn't look around because I was refilling my aero bottle at an aid station.

Quickly after that we went through a turn and I hit a bump and my full aero bottle went flying off of my bike! Thankfully it skidded across the road and a helpful spectator grabbed it for me so I didn't even have to fully get off my bike.  Thank goodness because I don't think I could have made it the second half of the ride without that water available.

Right after Verona is special needs.  I stopped to grab my extra tube and air cartridges because at the athlete meeting they told us we wouldn't be getting our special needs bags back so I didn't want to lose those.  I spent like $10 on that stuff! Plus I had a peanut butter sandwich in there and some more Honey Stinger waffles and another Bonk Breaker bar that I threw in my pockets as well.  Just a note on my outfit--I wore a Moxie cycling jersey with the Moving Comfort Juno bra and Pearl Izumi Elite cycling shorts.  I opted for the nice cycling shorts instead of tri shorts because I wanted to be comfortable the whole time on the bike.  The Moxie jersey was great because it has three big pockets.  I didn't even eat all the fuel I carried! Plus it was cute! I got a lot of compliments on it!

Right after special needs I stopped to use the porta potty.  I had to go since the swim but I couldn't figure out how to actually pee while I was swimming and I wasn't about to pee on my nice bike! I still was holding my peanut butter sandwich so I just stuffed that down my top while I was in the bathroom.  Triathlon is so glamorous.

Loop 2 was more of the same. It was a little less crowded which was much better.  The hills still weren't too hard. I just dumped it into the easiest gears I had and tried to spin up them.  The crowds on the three sisters weren't nearly as huge as the first time around but they were still awesome! I saw Kristin and Molly again before Verona! Once I was in Verona I saw Matt and his friends Keith and Devon. Then a minute later I saw my mom and dad! Later I found out they weren't even trying to see me there, they were just walking back to the car!

Before I knew it, I was headed back towards Madison on the stick! I still felt great and the only thing that was bothering me was this screw in my bike seat that I kept rubbing my inner thigh on.  And it tore a hole in my favorite pair of bike shorts! :(  But my legs still felt good and my neck and back still felt pretty good!

As I was approaching the 100 mile marker I chatted briefly with a guy who grumbled that the course was measuring long.  This was a great time to use my mantra because I was not going to be bothered by this at all.  I figure everyone has to ride the same course so what does it matter if it comes out to 112.5 miles instead of 112.0.  Plus my watch was measuring slightly behind anyways.

Since feeling like it was so crowded on the loops, it was pretty strange on the way back in to feel fairly alone for quite a stretch.  I could almost always see someone in the distance ahead of me but this was the only stretch of time where someone was not right in front of me or behind me.  I actually enjoyed that part.  There is one significant hill on the stick and I was getting a little bit tired of the hills by then but I just kept checking in on my legs and my heart rate and was still thinking really positive thoughts. I am so glad I rode all those really crappy hilly rides back in Iowa this training cycle.

The bike course ends by going back up the helix to the terrace! As I came up to the dismount line I slowed down and easily put my legs down as I've buckled my legs in situations like this before.  Thankfully my legs held up just fine and I passed my bike off to a volunteer and ran inside the terrace.  T2 is similar to T1 in that you run through a room and pick up your bag and then go into the change room.

I once again got my own volunteer and she was so great.  She dumped my bag out and organized my shoes and socks.  I changed out of my bike shorts and into my running shorts and changed out my socks for a new pair.  She helped me empty out my pockets of my bike jersey and all I put back in was the Clif Citrus shots that I think taste like Mtn Dew. She also grabbed me a cup of water which was very refreshing.  Before I left I slathered vaseline over my top half where I normally get chaffing from my sports bra.  Once outside I got slathered with sunscreen before heading out on the run.  I was a little bit tired from the bike ride but my spirits were still high! I was going to be an Ironman today!

For nutrition on the bike I ate: 1 regular-sized Almond Butter and Honey Bonk Breaker, 1 mini Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bonk Breaker, 3 Honey Stinger Waffles (I think, I can't remember if I had 2 or 3), 1 Clif shot citrus gel, and one peanut butter sandwich.  At the aid stations I was taking a bottle of Powerbar Perform for my bike cage or a bottle of water to refill my aero bottle.  I was trying to eat every 45 minutes to an hour throughout the bike ride.

Bike Time: 6:37:15
Average Speed 16.92 mph

T2: 5:05

Friday, September 12, 2014

Ironman Wisconsin 2014 Swim

This race is getting 3 posts because it lasted a LONG time and I have so much to share.  Where to even begin?

For a race, I felt like I was actually able to sleep in a bit. I got up just after 5 am and did the usual breakfast of toast with peanut butter and banana. Then I got dressed and braided my hair.  I was excited and a little bit anxious.  The day I had been waiting for was finally here.  I was going to be an Ironman.

I gathered up my special needs bags for the bike and run and my water bottles to put on my bike  At 5:30 am Kelly, Matt, and I began the short walk over to Monona Terrace. Kelly found this great apartment less than 0.5 mile from the race start on Airbnb for the weekend.  We referred to it all weekend as "Hipster Hideaway" or the "Humble Hipster Abode".  It was very quirky but the best part was we stayed for 4 days and the cost was like the same price we would have paid for one night at a hotel that close to the start line.

We dropped our bags at special needs and split up so Kelly could do look for her dad. I headed to transition to pump up my bike tires and put my water on my bike.  Getting into transition was a bit chaotic because there were people everywhere! People were getting body-marked and hitting up the porta-potties and milling around.  Once I got to my bike I realized I left my bottle of Perform behind somewhere (I later found it in the bike special needs bag). I figured it was no big deal and would just grab a bottle once I hit the first aid station less than 1 hour into the bike.

I hit the bathroom line where I once again found Kelly.  I was a little bit worried that I wouldn't find her again after we split so I was happy to have her back! We picked up Matt and started making our way down the helix to the swim start. Athletes were allowed to get in the water at 6:30 am and it was just getting light out at this time.  Kelly found a nice gentleman that let us use his wetsuit lube.  I
warmed up by trying to get into my wetsuit.  I have to take a break halfway through every time to recover.  It takes a little bit of body contortion to get that thing on.  From the two practice swims we did in Madison, I knew I needed to get the wetsuit pulled up high enough to be comfortable in the shoulders.  That makes swimming so much easier for me. After one last pep talk and good luck kiss from Matt I headed towards the swim entrance.  We got in line at about 6:40 and I am glad we did because it took awhile for us to get in the water. In fact, while the National Anthem was playing people were still lined up waiting to get into the water. As we were getting in the water I gave Kelly a final hug and told her that I would see her at the finish line! I swam out to just right of the boat (right of no. 4 below) and hung out while floating in my wetsuit.

At 6:50, the cannon went off for the pros.  Mike Reilly, the voice of Ironman, kept us entertained by announcing a few of the athletes that were competing.  We all cheered for the hundreds of volunteers and thousands of spectators! Before our cannon went off, someone sang the Star Spangled Banner and a whole group of athletes sang along.  It was surreal.  I was here and I was doing the Ironman.  I shed a few tears inside my goggles.  All the months of training, sacrifices, missing out on weekend social things. early bedtimes, and several fearful cry sessions were culminating right here. I let all of the doubts and fears go.  A strange boost of confidence came over me.

As the start time drew nearer, the area where I was treading water got more crowded.  I reminded myself to stay calm.  Before I knew it, the cannon was sounding and everyone was swimming. My plan had been to stay wide most of the way till the first turn buoy but the crowd I was in was pushing towards the buoy line and I just followed suit.  It was pretty crowded but it didn't ever feel terrible to me. Sure my arms and feet were hit a few times but I never got swam over.  A few times I would get squeezed between two swimmers who were converging but I would just stop and move to the inside of them and keep swimming. I am not a very aggressive swimmer so this worked well for me.

The entire terrace and helix was covered with people and since I breathe mostly to my right I saw them for a good portion on my way out.

Once I got to the first turn buoy I made sure to MOO! It sounded so cool out there.  The force of the crowd of swimmers just pulled me along.  I found some feet to swim on for a bit.  The whole time I just reminded myself to glide, breathe out, and just keep swimming.  The swim is in a big rectangle and on the backside as we were swimming parallel to Monona Terrace I hit a bit of a lull.  It seemed to take forever to get to the orange buoys that meant I was halfway done. But soon enough I was at the third turn buoy! I seemed to be passing a few more swimmers then which gave me a little boost of confidence.  My shoulders still felt good so I just glided on in to the swim finish.

I stood up once I got to the volunteers that had waded into the water.  Turns out they were there to help people step up onto the cement pad from the rocks because I slammed my big toe into the ledge of it and almost fell back over.  Ouch!  From there I ran to the wetsuit strippers as I pulled my wetsuit down to my hips! I dropped down on my back and the guy helping me had my wetsuit off with two big pulls!

The helix was packed with people! It is a long run from the swim start up the helix to transition, but the energy is insane! I heard Matt yell my name as I reached the top and I turned to wave! From volunteering last year in T1, I knew there was a huge rush of people coming into transition at 1:20 to 1:30 so my goal was to beat that rush. I picked up my bike clothes bag and ran into transition and I got my own volunteer.  She dumped my bag as I pulled off my swimsuit and pulled on my bike shorts. She helped me get my jersey on and stuffed my pockets with my nutrition.  I put on my socks then rubbed Aquaphor all over my behind while she stuffed everything back into my bag.  I grabbed my shoes and headed off to pick up my bike.

It is a long run through all the bikes so I opted to not put my shoes on till I got to my bike since I was near bike exit. As I was running I heard my name and saw Amy!  Did I mention I had superb spectators?

I yelled my bike number when I got close to my bike rack and a volunteer grabbed my bike while I put on my shoes! I ran with it to the mount line and began my ride!

Swim Time: 1:17:16
Pace: 2:00/100 m

Thursday, September 4, 2014

ready or not

I’ve arrived in Madison for Ironman Wisconsin.  Tomorrow Kelly and I will head over to Monona Terrace to check-in and receive the coveted Ironman backpack.  We plan to jump in the lake to do a little swim as well.

I’m trying to stay calm and keep relaxed but it’s tough.  When I spotted Monona Terrace on our way into the city a little a little ball formed in the pit of my stomach and my heart rate increased.  In short, I’m nervous as hell.  Training hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped.  As it rarely does for me. Especially in the weeks leading up to taper and taper itself.  My swimming especially has suffered.

When I signed up for this race almost an entire year ago, I knew training would be a big commitment.  However, I don’t think I realized how much of a commitment it would turn out to be, nor can I wrap my head around it now.  I’ve missed out on a lot this summer – several weddings, weekend trips, quality time with my family, and time with Matt.  Yet I’ve still skipped long rides, runs and swims and cut other workouts short.   Weekday workouts have also suffered.   When I signed up I could not have predicted that I would be going through one of the busiest stretches I’ve ever had at work or that I’d be trying to plan a wedding or that Matt and I would finally be living in the same place. Trying to get in a workouts after 12 hour days at work seemed overwhelming to me and that led to skipped workouts.  And hanging out with my fiancĂ© trumped going to the gym.  Ideal no, but after like 7 (8?) years of long distance and not being able to cook dinner together or watch TV together, it was worth it to me.

Gratuitous engagement picture 

Thinking about the race is overwhelming.  140.6 miles is a long ways.  My thoughts vacillate between, “There is no way I can do this” and “I’ve put in enough long distance stuff to do this”.  I really doubt there is a point where I could really say, “I’m 100% ready for this.”  I don’t think that exists. Training will never go perfectly.  Life will get in the way. Even if I would have trained more I would still be wishing I could have done more.  I wish I had gotten in a 20 mile training run and a 120 mile bike ride but it just wasn’t in the cards this training cycle.  I also wish I could be 15 pounds lighter so I going uphill on the bike was easier but I like eating ice cream so oh well.

They say it’s better to show up to the start line 10% under-trained than 1% over-trained.  I’m certainly not over-trained so I have that going for me.  I have a lot of doubts and fears.  Doubt in myself that I can finish.  Fear that I will have to DNF.  I’ve had more than one breakdown in which many tears were shed and Matt has had to talk me off the ledge.  But as Matt reminded me, if I don’t finish I will not have disappointed anyone.  I might as well give it the good college try.  I have nothing to prove to anyone else except myself.  

So ready or not, I’ll be in that lake when the cannon goes off at 7 am on Sunday morning.

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