Considerations from the road, from a charity athlete and coach.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Race Report: Ironman Wisconsin 2009!
It was one of the most surreal experiences I've had. Perhaps after a year of preparation and visualization, to actually take part in the day itself was more than reality. And for the same reasons, there was never any thought in my mind that I would not succeed.
The athletic pursuit wasn't terribly different than a super-long training day (or days!) but was energized by literally thousands of screaming fans all along the course! I couldn't get enough of it - I could hear the music and the cheers through my earplugs in the lake. I would spin on up hills like usual, but see people going crazy that I was doing it and smiling (I am one of those unusual guys who likes climbing). And on the run, by the setting sun, groups of people still cheered. "Go Team in Training" was common, and certainly my favorite.
Our day began well before the 4:00 alarm went off - ever since we ran Disney in January, maybe Dad thought that you have to get up at 2:50am for every race. By 3:30, the smell of coffee had made it into my room where I was kind of still asleep, so I got up and started packing up my gear. My bike and transition bags were dropped the day before, and I wasn't worried that they contained what they were supposed to.
We arrived on site around 5:20; the sky was starting to brighten in advance of the 6:30 sunrise. Boats were gathering in the water, athletes were pumping up bike tires. I prepped my bike and found a spot to lay down overlooking the lake, with my brothers David and Jon. Everything stayed easy - breathe - and natural; we visited the bathroom, we made our way to the beach, we found a quiet spot on the grass to watch and then begin loosening up and suiting up. I was comforted to have my Ironman finisher brother Jon with me through the morning.
Go time: I made my way to a place near the back of the sea of black wetsuits heading for the beach. A man asked if he could have a little of my drinking water for his goggles - helping him with this simple request reminded me of the way I feel about triathletes as a supportive community, and whatever bumping and nudging was about to occur in the lake would have more to do with a common goal than animosity. Just before entering the water, I spotted Art - my first TNT mentor and coach - for a superb send-off.
I sat in the water near the beach, wide and back to allow for some quieter water, at least to get started. Little did I know that the start cannon was about 10 feet to my right, and its explosion was pretty darn exciting!
And so I swam. I've never gone 2.4 miles in a row before without a single stop, but I did what I was supposed to: swim easy, swim downhill, swim long, swim slowly - and it all came into place. I could hear the crowds on the shore, and see them lining Monona terrace. Soon enough, I spotted my family 5 stories above - they were displaying balloons and an enormous sign. Just for grins, mid-stroke I made a giant wave in their direction. Crazily enough, they waved back! Apparently my family and the people around them were dumbfounded that they would pick me out of the field of about 2,500.
I could hear the pro's names being announced exiting the water as I rounded the red buoy to head out for my second lap. By that time, I had brought myself in from the fringe, and was feeling more solid about being in the pack. I could sense the "toilet bowl effect" of everyone swimming together, though I wasn't able to get into a good draft. I was glad to be out there and feeling pretty good, save a headache from my mask being a bit too tight. I took a few hits here and there, but tried to pretend that they were all from hot women.
Then there were the infamous wetsuit strippers. I had to have them help me, because that just seemed like so much fun! Then - what are the odds - I heard "Kelly Yapp", and spotted her just ahead. I was able to catch up to my teammate and walk to transition with her. Usually, getting out of the lake I feel seasick, but today that was nowhere in sight, I was fresh. I grabbed my bag, made my way to the "get naked room" and changed into biking clothes. Because I had a superstar-low number, I walked all the way down the rows and rows of bikes to mine at the end. I wanted to run, but my training book told me not to (it also told me I would want to run). This image from the day before the race is of *half* of the bikes; mine is against the wall at the far end. A volunteer called out my number on a megaphone, another had my bike unracked and ready for me. Throughout the day, the volunteer support was so much more than I expected. I was a complete VIP - people did whatever I asked of them, and immediately.
I put on my shoes, carefully clipped in, and headed down the helix to the bike course. As promised in my training book, "you will feel better than you have in the last two months" was absolutely true. I exercised great restraint as I got rolling and settled into my aerobars, and kept the pace easy. Living in Madison and being very familiar with the bike course was a tremendous help - I knew all the terrain, road conditions, bumps, and turns. It was funny to see the big piles of launched water bottles just beyond the bigger bumps. The day was gorgeous and sunny, though the temperature made it up to 85, and the heat was strong. I took my time at the water stops to refill my bottles, dump some extra on my back, and keep on eating - indeed, as the miles went on, eating became less and less interesting. Again, the volunteers were great. Justin from Endurance House was up in Cross Plains, and refilled my bottles while I used the bathroom, I mean, the support made me feel elite. Police were at practically every intersection, roads were closed off, motorcycles cruised around with referees.
The fans. They had driven out all over the county to cheer along the course. My family was stationed in the spots we had discussed, and brought more friends with them! TNT Teammates, friends from church, my Ironman insurance agent, my Ironman dentist - they were all over the place! Jenn had placed inspirational signs along the route including lyrics to my favorite song, and her favorite quote from my training manual, "Maintain task orientation", which I'm pretty good at. :) The huge crowds on the climbs reminded me of scenes from the Tour. Along the way, I had some nice conversations with fellow riders near my pace. At one point, the pro men's field went zooming by me, finishing their second loop as I was finishing my first. I thought a car was coming up, but it was just their awesome disc wheels. I kept my excitement under control and rode steadily, and was glad to have plenty of energy to start the run. Coming into the home stretch, my eyes saw physically what my mind had visualized for the last year, the sweeping Madison skyline beyond the lake, and the tears bubbled up again.
I was curious to see whether the marathon would feel anything like my practice transition runs... like whether my legs would run at all. A volunteer took my bike and I moved smoothly through T2, and found Jon and David on the other side. Jenn and mom were also in the crowd as I came out of the chute (with a hat full of refreshing ice I had just picked up.) It felt better than I expected it to - partially because my shoulders and butt were ready to get off that bike! Just as the summary of Madison says in Triathlete magazine, "spectator support on the run course is unparalleled." People were everywhere, and going crazy. As I began my marathon, top finishers were completing the race on the other side of the road. From there, anyone could be in front or behind me, because of the two-loop out-and-back course. My first mile split was 8:57 - oops, I guess I wasn't going as slowly as I thought :) I eased it off some more, focused in on my form, and settled into the race. I walked through the water stops to take on nutrition, alternating Gatorade and cola. In standalone marathons, I've done well with gels too, but the previous 9 hours were catching up with me, and my stomach became my top limiter. Not what I was expecting - I thought my legs would be burning up. So I regrouped a bit, walked when I needed to until I felt settled, then just kept trotting along. I felt surprisingly solid - I know the fans helped a lot, all through the night.
Some highlights from the run - when my guts were good, I was in a comfortable pace and moving forward, which I wasn't exactly expecting! I forgot to get the ibuprofen out of my special needs bag, so I did it all straight-up; I also refrained from using my last energy bean because I thought it might trigger a digestive meltdown. The lap around Camp Randall was a thrill, even if the empty stadium was eerily quiet (I started a rousing "If you wanna be a badger, but no one joined me in song). I passed several TNT Teammates several times, and was especially happy to run into Kelly, who was on my first Team with me, and who has been a great friend and training partner this year. Her new yellow tires brought her flat-free to the run course to bring it home!!
The Team in Training water stop at mile 4 (and 9, and 17, and 22) made my day. There was Coach Art, Coach Chris, Madison Manager Lori, Wisconsin Director Kim, Mentor Pam, and my teammates and friends, current and past. Hugs all around, big high-fives, and even a couple solid chest-bumps. Our mission was immediately present: no day-long race could possibly be tougher than who-knows-how-many days of chemo and questions; we do these races for joy, yes, but we do them to raise money to be helpful. Walnut Street under the Campus Drive bridge was a family reunion and a giant celebration.
The run course featured a climb over Bascom Hill (which was a great walk location) and some stretches along the crushed-limestone lakeshore path. The sunset through the clear sky was gorgeous, and the air stayed mild into the night. I was mentally prepared for the turnaround - a half a block upstream from the finish line: you see it there, you see others heading in, and then you turn around a cone for one more half-marathon. It's *supposed* to be hard. The night went on, the path became dark, and the way became quieter, but still we moved forward without a doubt. Lindsey from the bike shoppe, who installed my race wheels, was there with some encouraging words; my neighbors Kirke and Sarah; my family; coach Jackie; and even into the night hundreds of cheering fans kept the athletes rolling in. It was indeed a test of patience and endurance, and was rewarded with a glorious finish.
The run down the finish chute was epic. Literally unbelievable. Fans all the way around the corner, two blocks long. Not competing for time or position, I remembered to look back and give way to a woman who was sprinting past (for whatever reason), and then take a little time to slap some extended hands and soak up the moment. And there it was, the announcement I had heard in my voice and in my dreams, and now from Mike Reilly to all the world forever: "Dan Tyler - Madison - You are an Ironman! Way to go, Dan!"
Team in Training is the major fundraising arm of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
First and foremost, we raise money to defeat blood cancers such as Leukemia, Lymphoma, and Myeloma.
We enable people from all walks of life to train for and complete endurance events: marathons, half-marathons, 100-mile century bike rides, and triathlons. Since its inception in 1988, more than 390,000 participants have logged more than 90 million miles and raised nearly $1 billion.
I volunteer as a mentor to help remarkable people discover their abilities to go the distance – fundraising and on the course – and continue to participate.
2010 - Another successful season at the races!
3/14: Shamrock Shuffle
4/24: Crazylegs Classic
5/30: Madison Marathon (water stop)
6/20: Triterium Triathlon
7/24-25: Scenic Shore 150 bike tour to benefit LLS
8/1: Ripon/Green Lake Tri
8/29: Chicago Triathlon with TNT
10/31: Athens Marathon (2500th anniversary!)
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