Saturday in Madison was my second go at the IM bike course. Before the weekend began, I had grand ambitions to ride the full 108-ish miles again — against my better judgment and the advice of my coach — because I felt like I needed to take advantage of every last second of course preview time.
Thankfully, my body had other plans. Nearly eight hours worth of training on Friday really took it out of me, and I was smart enough to acknowledge its resistance and go for a shorter day instead.
There are no extra credit workouts in triathlon. There are no extra credit workouts in triathon…
The bike course lends itself well to all kinds of distance variations. Some people went out to ride the full course, but many drove out to Verona to ride just the loop while others (myself included) started at the hotel to ride the stick, one loop and back. This gave me about 65 miles in total and a chance to see every inch of pavement one more time.
It was great to be able to do the course without having to pay attention to a cue sheet or street markings because I recognized every turn, and I got an even better sense of how to handle all the challenges it throws at you. And it’s just plain beautiful out there. Yes, I was riding on very tired legs after restless sleep and in scorching heat. But it left me in a funk about just how ugly race day might be.
I have to keep telling myself — and it’s something Katie said that weekend and my coach has since reinforced — that training rides are never going to feel like race-day effort. We’re tired and it’s going to be slower and hurt more. And so much of IM is about execution rather than fitness that it’s crucial to let some of this fear and frustration go and focus on planning and problem-solving. I can’t let workout stats — Iove you Garmin, but — eat away at my soul.
So that’s my mission from now until Sept. 11.
Anyway — after another short brick run and an epic ice bath (made with lots of trips to the hotel ice machine), Katie and I headed into town for lunch and, naturally, ice cream. We were planning to come back to the hotel, take a nap and then attend the evening camp session, but in the end we decided to forgo the talk and just recover from the last two days with a gigantic pizza (not kidding, 20″ for the two of us, the guy at the counter when we picked it up thought I was nuts) and TV. Plus, I had to take my bike apart and repack it. Going to bed at 9pm has never felt so good.
The EN folks on Sunday morning were planning to give a rundown of the transition area at Monona Terrace and then lead an 8am run on the IM course. I needed a 2:40 long run and wanted to do an entire loop before my flight left at noon, so I decided to start on my own at 6am to give myself plenty of time to ice, shower, eat and get to the airport. I figured the Terrace will be marked on race weekend and I’ll have plenty of opportunity then to figure out where bike out/run out etc. are located, and I was definitely more interested in knowing how I’ll manage to run 26.2 miles through Madison.
Our hotel was about 2.5 miles from the start of the loop — and I got a little bit turned around — so I ended up running about 17.5 miles with the out-and-back. Perfect, and right under my planned total for the day.
Unlike the bike course, the run course isn’t marked in any way, so I had to take a map and attempt to navigate it myself. There are a fair number of turns onto tiny side streets that I know will be obvious in the race, but they definitely confused me and forced me to stop and wander around intersections more than a few times.
Overall, though, the course is fantastic. It takes you by the state capitol building, through the quirky downtown streets, around major campus sites and along a shaded lake path. It’s mostly flat with one section of hills along Observatory Drive (only two or three, but they’re steep). There are several out-and-backs with sharp turnaround points, and most of the course we’ll see four times on race day. I’ve heard the crowds are amazing because, with the exception of a little bit of trail, there’s no spot that’s isolated from where people can gather. Every marathon I’ve done has had lonely spots where it’s just you and your pounding feet and crazy mind games. I don’t expect this to be one of those.
After my run, I grabbed a bowl of cereal from the hotel breakfast bar, ate it while sitting in an ice bath, showered, packed my last bit of gear and called a cab to the airport.
Now that I’ve had plenty of time to digest this adventure, I can say that I’m really glad I went. I left the weekend discouraged and wondering if I’m as prepared as I thought, but I think that’s right where I needed to be to get through my last weeks before 9/11. Nothing about the course was what I expected, but I’m glad to know that now rather than be surprised on race day. I didn’t get a lot out of the organized camp itself, but it was a great excuse to make the trip, meet some awesome people and preview what I’ll be doing in just over a month. It forced me to reevaluate my nutrition, think carefully about my race plan, from gearing to pacing to mental strategy (that’s one thing I learned from the EN guy — “race in a box”) and all in all calm down about all the expectations I had for myself and others have placed on me throughout this crazy experience.
So, Madison — I’ll see you again in a few weeks, and I’ll be ready to destroy you.