After a week and a bit to think about it, I am finally ready to write my race report for Ironman Wisconsin on 9/11/11. I arrived in Madison by myself on Wednesday before the race. I spent Thursday, Friday, and much of Saturday completing the usual pre race preparations - checking in, getting gear bags ready, short workouts, walking around the expo, and resting. On Saturday morning, the Optumhealth Performance athletes had a get together for any last minute questions etc. It was good to catch up with some people I had gotten to know at training camp at the end of July. Dad, Leah, and Nicholas (my fantastic support crew) arrived on Saturday afternoon and I was very happy to see them. We hung out at the hotel for a while, went and got Dad checked in, then headed downtown for dinner. I think everyone else doing the race had the same idea and we ended up waiting 40 minutes at the third place we tried. But the food was good and it was well worth the wait. We then headed back to the hotel and Dad took Nicholas to spend the night at his hotel, for which he deserves saint status. We got up to the room and I got all the usual night before stuff done - bottles and nutrition ready, special needs and clothes bags ready, and was ready for the morning. I actually was able to get a good night's sleep and woke up about 4. I didn't feel the knots in the stomach nervousness or the force the food down feeling I had before the last 2 ironmans so I was able to get a good breakfast in and had no stomach issues. Leah and I headed off to the race. We parked and started the short walk. It was at this point, shortly before 6 am, that I realized I forgot my heart rate monitor. So Leah ran back to the hotel and got back to the race and found me before 6:30, for which she deserves saint status. In the meantime I got body marked, got my nutrition on my bike, and sat inside against the wall wondering why the hell it is that I do this again. When Leah got back, I got my wetsuit on and we headed down towards the water. I kissed her goodbye - wish I knew how she felt at this point - and made my way toward the boat ramp for the in water start. I got in the water kind of late, shortly before 7, but managed to get decent inside positioning for the start.
THE SWIM - The swim start was definitely the easiest of the 3 I have experienced. People aren't running, they r in the water swimming. I experienced very minimal contact and got a great line on the inside of the buoys. I settled in and found a good rhythym. I checked my watch at the end of the first lap and saw 27 something. I was on pace for a good swim. I found somewhat of a group to draft with on my second lap and was actually having some fun out there. I got out of the water with a high 56 minute swim split. My personal best by 2 minutes and I was very happy with it.
T1 - I felt like a rockstar running up the helix with screaming people lining either side all the way up to transition. I saw my coach as I got inside and he was yelling "awesome swim Don, great swim!!" Sat down in transition and had about 3 people helping me because not too many people were in there yet. Another OHP coach who also recognized me was helping me get suited up and giving me reminders to take it easy and play it safe in the first 20 minutes of the bike. I then headed out to my bike where the volunteer who handed it to me said, "you have a beautiful wife and son - I had taped a picture of Leah and Nicholas to my aerobar. "Thank you," I said and headed out on my way.
THE BIKE - I headed out on the bike and took maybe 20-30 minutes to settle down my heart rate and get comfortable. About 16 miles in I started my first of 2 40 mile loops. I was familiar with the bike course as I had ridden it during a training camp about 6 weeks prior, so I knew what to expect. To be blunt, the course is hard, hilly, and technical, but I was confident. I was feeling good, my nutrition was on track - 200 calories of carbopro with nuun and a gel every hour, amounting to 300 calories an hour, of course sipping water as well. This loop has 3 major climbs. Each climb is lined with screaming fans in costumes and signs who run along beside you, exactly like the Tour de France. I again felt like a rockstar. The fans give you so much adrenaline that you can't even feel the effort you are putting forth to get up the hills. My coach was at the top of one of the hills and I gave him the thumbs up as I rode by. After the first loop, the adrenaline had worn off but I was still feeling decent. I got my special needs, drank my red bull and woke up a bit. This is where things sort of get interesting. It was around mile 70 that I suddenly found myself on the ground bleeding out of my elbow and both my legs. I wish I could say I crashed with someone or that it was someone else's fault, but I can't say that. I was alone, I remember looking down, then looking up. Something must have caught my eye and I must have hit my front brake. My bike flipped up and over me and I landed on a combination of my chest and elbow judging by the condition of my arm and my bike jersey. I got up, walked over to my bike and saw that my xlab wing on the back had literally snapped off, so everything was sort of dangling from the back. The first to arrive was a state trooper who radioed my name, then a volunteer shortly after. They gave me the option of getting medical help on the spot or continuing on to a town called Mount Horeb, about 6 miles up the road. I rinsed off my elbow with some water, got back on the bike and started riding, I was not going to quit this damn race if I was still conscious. After five minutes or so I had to stop cuz my xlab wing was dangling and rubbing my rear wheel. I zip tied my tool bag to my seat, but my wing was still dangling there precariously looking pretty stupid I imagine. I made it to Mount Hored where there was medical at the aid station. The volunteer checked out my bike, which, aside from the aforementioned xlab wing, was completely undamaged, thank GOD!. The paramedics on duty couldn't help me themselves or I'd be disqualified, so they gave the volunteer some gauze and some wrap and he patched me up and I was on my way, with about 40 miles to ride still. The 3 climbs were not as easy the 2nd time through and I cramped pretty badly on the last hill with my quads locking up on each pedal stroke. I was not going to get off my bike and walk it up, like I saw several other people doing, so I hammered through the pain and cramping and made it to the top and spun out the legs on the descent. After the 2nd loop it was time to head back to town. There was a tail wind on the way in so I actually felt pretty good and gained some speed in the last half hour. All in all my bike split was 6:30 even. Looking at my GPS files from the race a bit later I saw that I was stopped for about 15 minutes in all. It could have been worse. My coach always talks about having a plan B, I just never thought it would happen to me. Up until that point, I had never once crashed my bike out on the road during a race, and only once in training in 6 years. Well my luck ran out, but I didn't let it ruin my day. I could've quit and justified doing so but I didn't. I only comtemplated doing so for about 0.68 seconds. That reference is for you little brother! Backtracking a bit, I even got a few more comments on the picture that was on my aerobars while I was out on the bike course. That picture saved my day.
T2 - Anyway...made it into T2 and saw Dad, Leah and Nicholas on the way in. She didn't look like she knew I was hurt, neither did Dad. When I came out of the changing room I saw Leah out of the corner of my eye. I was not in a very good place mentally and needed to hear something...anything. I was almost in tears and I told her I had crashed, that I was hurt and that it basically was going to be a long night so as not to worry her if I hobbled in as the last finisher or something. She said "we love you and you can do this." I kissed them both and turned around and headed out the door.
THE "RUN" - I started to run and felt like crap. My legs were bruised and bleeding and I couldn't bend my left arm. It was hot out too, probably mid 80s. I tried several times in the first hour to run, but every time I did, my heart rate would spike and I had to walk because I didn't want to end up getting an IV on the spot like a few other people on the side of the road flat on their backs. For the first maybe 8-10 miles I tried this a few times but the legs wouldn't fire. Maybe I was in a state of mini shock from my crash, maybe it was mental, maybe it was because I had just ridden a bike for 6+ hours and it was really hot out, I don't know. What I do know is that it wasn't happening. I found myself starting to lose the mental battle and was having my own little pity party out there, almost starting to cry a few times because I was so pissed off for a number of reasons. Around mile 9, I came across my coach... I told him what happened and that I could not run. He told me to keep moving and to do what I could to get to that line and said a few other things to build me up. I knew it, but I still needed to hear it and it helped. About that time, I ran into Dave, another guy from Grand Forks who was doing the race. GI issues had screwed up his race and he was relegated to walking because he couldn't keep calories down. It was at that point that I decided I was going to let the day be what it was and just finish. I walked for probably 16 miles with him. There were long periods of silence with periodic talking and high fiving kids cheering along the way. Before we knew it, it was around the 14 hour mark - I finished Florida in 11:56 and Coeur d'Alene in 12:45 - and we hit the 25 mile marker. Slowly but surely we had walked the marathon. Both of us made attempts to shuffle a bit but these attempts were short lived. The balls of my feet were on fire, my arm hurt like a bitch, but I was going to be an Ironman once again. I probably could have done it without Dave, but it wouldn't have been as fun. It might have even been faster who knows. The athletes were pretty spaced out when we got near the finish so I sent him on ahead and thanked him for helping me turn my day around. I rounded the corner and caught Dad, Leah and Nicholas out of the corner of my eye at the beginning of the finisher's chute. This time, I took it slow, high fived random people on the way down, and crossed the line. I was indeed an Ironman for the 3rd time. My coach was there, he hugged me told me he was proud of me. He told me this race threw me a curve like any race can and I dealt with it and persevered and that it took lots of mental toughness. Of course I got my hat, shirt, medal and finisher's photo. Finally I found the family and gave them all hugs and kisses. Leah said she was more proud of me now than after either of my either 2. I think I understand why.
Matt...You obsessively followed along all day like I expected you would, so thanks buddy. Leah even told me you texted her in the car for updates because you weren't near a computer...That's also something I would do. It was good to read all your encouraging words after the race. Everyone else..it's amazing to know how many people followed me and commented throughout the day. I appreciate all the words of support and congratulations. A week and bit after, I am feeling pretty good, aside from a bit of a sore arm still.
Leah - You know me, you know what I need before, during and after races, your mini pep talk in T2 kept me going. Thanks for all your sacrifices and I love you!
Dad - I could not have done this race without you there. It means a lot that you've been at all of my races. So thank you.
Nicholas - It was really cool to have you watching me buddy! One day you'll understand why Daddy does this and maybe even do one with him! It was a special day having my son see his first Ironman. Hopefully many more to come!
Plans for next season...There are no Ironmans on the calendar for next year. I am taking a year off from the Ironman distance to focus on having more time with family and to do things like travel and visit friends in far away places. Ironman is a huge family and financial sacrifice for everyone involved and the training is very time consuming. I do still plan to race next season. I'd like to focus on some short races, add more speed to my training, and maybe do one or 2 70.3 distance races. Leah and I will sit down maybe some time in the winter and figure out our summer. As for my next Ironman? It will be 2013. I'd like to take a shot at Lake Placid if I can get into it. If not, then maybe Arizona, Canada, or Louisville, that's the short list. Of course there's always the big show in Hawaii, you never know... :-)
I hope you've all enjoyed reading. Again thank you all for the support. God Bless!