Some days are just too real. I spent most of Sunday thinking about how good my life is, reflecting on how much had changed since I struggled through Ironman Wisconsin 2014. This race, this reality. I am so grateful for how my life has come together, and this race brought it all into focus. I donated bone marrow six months ago, almost to the day. I completed the Ironman, hand in hand with my handsome and supportive fiance, faster than before, happier than ever.
It's amazing what running can bring to your life.
This year, we upgraded our Airbnb accommodations and stayed in a three-bedroom house just a few miles from the start line. Thursday night we tested our bikes with a ride to a friend's brewery, because I wanted to make sure my race wheels were all set before we packed up. We went for a short run Friday morning before driving up to Madison. We picked up our packets and backpacks with Mark, six-time IMWI finisher and birthday boy. The backpacks are really cool this year - They're the waterproof roll down bags and look really slick. I like the poster this year, too, which is currently adorning my cubicle, just in case my coworkers need a reminder about how badass I am. This year's "gift," termed loosely since we paid for it, was an IMWI flag that will be flying at our house for years to come. I think it beats out the 2014 gift, which was a bike multitool.
We also went for a short swim in Lake Monona sans wetsuit to get a feel for the water. We showered up and went out to dinner with our fellow Ironman competitors before turning in early. We're a wild bunch.
Friday night we went to bed early and I slept 10 blissful hours, thanks in part to a melatonin spray, a cool room and very plush sheets. When we got up, it was raining. I rode my bike to the finish line and watched a few of the Ironkids finishers, then rode up and down the lakefront path before turning in my bike and transition bags. I felt relieved my stuff was in someone else's hands.
After that, we hit the grocery store and had lunch at home before retiring to the couch to stare at our laptops and the TV for a few hours with our feet up. We hosted a pasta dinner for our fellow athletes that night and again went to bed before 9 p.m.
Alyssa had a flat in transition, and I couldn't find any gatorade, so the day started off peachy. I ran to the Starbucks at the square to drop off all the special needs bags, then met everyone in the Philips' hotel room. I realized I was the only one who missed out on body marking in the process, so after I got into my wetsuit in the room, I stopped at the front desk of the Hilton for some DIY body marking.
We were in line to get in the water at 6:40 a.m. and we barely made it. My feet hit the water as I heard Mike Reilly say we had 30 seconds until the start. Something to note: I always cry at the start. Always. I was panicky that I would have as shitty of a day as I did last time. I didn't have much time to think about it, or even soak in the moment this year. I swam out to the far side of the ski jump, took one glance over my shoulder at the shore and then the cannon went off.
And so it began.
Because my swim sucked so bad last year, I was basically on my own the entire time. That also meant I had zero frame of reference as to what an Ironman swim is actually like. In a word: violent. I got kicked so hard in the left eye that I had to flip onto my back to extract my goggle from my eyeball. I'm surprised I don't have a black eye. I got elbowed in the face a head, had my legs grabbed and generally jostled for position for the first half of the swim. After the first quarter mile, my panic settled, and at the first turn buoy, I'd gotten into enough of a pattern to breathe bilaterally. I never looked at my watch, except when I thought someone kicked it off my wrist. By the time I got to the back half of the course, I was passing people constantly and generally pissed off about the state of this swim field. I should have gone further in to swim with the seasoned athletes. I focused on passing them to the left as close to the buoys as I could. In the homestretch, I noticed very few pink caps, so I thought I must be doing well if I was in the boys club.
I came out of the water, heard my name (thanks for saying it right, Mike!) and saw the clock. I swam a freaking 1:13 - 27 minutes faster than my 2014 meltdown. I really should take a master's swim class; I could probably be a menace in the water.
I got my wetsuit stripped and ran my butt up the helix, then had a fast and smooth transition into my bike gear thanks to a volunteer. After sunscreening up, I grabbed my bike and headed out. Because I never found gatorade in the morning, I was out of water within the first five miles. Rookie mistake, I was making up for that lack of hydration for a while.
My bike was mostly uneventful. The Zipps were a dream - every damn downhill felt like I was a magnet being drawn to the center of the earth. I was fast. I saw high 40s on one of my downhills. I never had mechanical issues. I did see the aftermath of one of the accidents on the course and thanked my lucky stars that I didn't recognize the bike. I took a gatorade and a water at every early aid station, and then focused on grabbing whatever food I could in the later stations. I took a salt tab every 30 miles, I had two gels in the last loop and had two or three advil as well. I felt some tightness in my lower back that radiated down my left leg, but it was mostly just annoying. You better believe I walked up Barlow with zero regrets. Around mile 95, Brent and Alyssa caught up to me, which was a welcome relief. I was worried where the hell they could be, so it was nice to see a familiar face.
We rolled into transition together, and I had another fast transition into my run clothes. I got out onto the terrace after a quick sunscreen and waited for Brent. Alyssa and Mark took off and I saw them at turn arounds. Brent's feet hurt and it was hot, so it was slow going on the run. We walked the aid stations, filling up on chips, pretzels and mini cliff bars. When the chicken broth broke out, we were happy campers. The coolest part about the run, in my opinion, is the lap you take around the stadium where the Badgers play. Never on the run did I doubt we would finish. We had more than seven hours to run a marathon.
About halfway through the run, we enjoyed a pumpkin spice latte. Please don't judge me. It was awesome. The miles didn't exactly tick by, but we chipped away mile by mile.
I will never forget approaching the finisher's chute the last time. The lights, the noise, the overwhelming emotion. We did it. Faster than before and together. I didn't hear Mike say my name. I was savoring the moment of finishing this incredible feat hand in hand with the love of my life.
The video is pretty stellar:
Not sorry for the PDA. This was a hard-won moment.
I cried at the finish, per my usual, and collected my shirt, medal and hat. We sat in the finisher's area for a while contemplating what we had just accomplished. It was crazy. It was incredible. We were Ironman finishers.
We returned to the Philips room to collect our morning gear and shower, then went back to the finish line to collect the rest of our group and get dinner. I had a cheeseburger and couldn't stomach a beer, and it was also midnight by that point.
So here we are. Two-time Ironman, with 30 minutes-ish off the last time and room to improve. Mike said my name right, the medal and shirt is way better this year, and I am just damn satisfied with what I accomplished.
I wouldn't change a thing about this life I am fortunate enough to live.
Cost: Like $750
Pros: They put on a good race - there's a ton of volunteers, beautiful things to look at and a fun environment. The crowd support is unparalleled.
Cons: Did you see the cost? Also, the new bike course is not my favorite. Barlow is a beast, and from what I've heard, two cyclist got hit by cars. Ironman needs to get it together fo real.
Will I do this race again? ...