Subtitle: Coming to Terms with What’s Possible at Ironman Wisconsin
[Thanks to Jon for the inspiration.]
I’ve been writing this post in my head for a long, looooong time. I’ve been up and down and back again on what I want out of this race and what’s realistic and what would happen if I had my ideal perfect day (or my worst nightmare day, but let’s not go there). And let me tell you, it’s been the source of a lot of anxiety in recent weeks. See: my pre-vacation emotional breakdown.
When I was in the midst of high-volume training leading up to my peak weeks, I had really high expectations. I killed a bunch of races earlier this year, exceeding everything I (and others) thought I could do. I figured Ironman would be the same way. I wanted to aim big and set no limits, and I had plenty of people egging me on with that mindset. But 140.6 is a different beast than any other race out there, and there are a million and three things that could go wrong that you just can’t predict, especially the first time around. So for my own sanity I had to step back and rethink those goals.
My friend Adam, who raced Louisville less than two weeks ago, had a great suggestion for how to approach a first Ironman. Go into it with no expectations, just to have fun — I KNOW, everyone says that, my coach has been drilling it into my head for weeks — but you’ll actually race well because it’ll be based on how you feel that day, not some arbitrary standard you think you may or may not be able to meet. And I’ll PR no matter what, right?
1. Enjoy the Ironman experience. I don’t expect to love every minute of this race. Hell, there are likely to be moments in which all I want to do is be off the bike or with my feet up instead of running (shuffling?) around downtown Madison. But when I get to the finish line, I want to be able to look back and say I took full advantage of the day. I want to smile. Soak up the unique atmosphere. Appreciate the spectators and volunteers. All that good stuff.
2. Give it all I’ve got. Ironman is a game of balance. No one can go balls to the wall for 140.6 miles, but no one wants to cross the line knowing they could keep right on running (note: I bet almost no one feels this way at the end of the race). I want to finish on my feet — able to celebrate at the line — but with absolutely nothing left.
3. Execute my race plan — and run a smart race. That said, the only way I’ll have a great day is if I execute every step of my race plan as carefully and closely as possible. I don’t have an awesome history with this, but I do have experience adapting when things don’t go my way. But my plan is thoughtful and detailed and yet wonderfully simple and something I think I can manage. If I nail it, the race will be a success no matter what the clock says.
4. Ride smart for a strong run. This is one of the key points of my race plan. Even though I’m a runner first, I’ve improved as a cyclist a thousand times over and this has been the strongest leg of each of my races. So I need to make sure I don’t leave it all on the bike course — I’d rather spend an extra 15 minutes on the Felt than an extra hour on the run.
5. Finish in the top three in my age group. This is more of a “hey, wouldn’t that be cool” goal. There are about 20 girls signed up for the race in
2018-24 and fewer are likely to start. If you look at times for recent years, a great day would put me in contention for this. It’d be pretty awesome to attend the awards ceremony on Monday and actually get an award.
So — now I’ll address what everyone is thinking. Yes, I have a general time goal in mind. Several time goals, actually. One is the “race plan” expectation, one would be the “great day” outcome, and one amounts to the “holy shit I kicked ass” finish. And yes, who doesn’t want to try for a Kona slot if it’s even remotely in the realm of possibility? The honest-to-god truth, though, is that it doesn’t matter. If you’d asked me a few weeks ago, the concept of a time goal would have been at the front of my mind. A huge source of stress. The only reason I was racing. I mapped it all out, came up with what I’d need for each leg to make it happen, stalked my competition, everything. But when I started thinking about the experience and what it was actually going to be like to finally finish this crazy thing I’ve been training for/living/breathing FOREVER, it ceased to be the primary objective. And, as a result, all my anxiety is gone. There’s no pressure. I’m just flat-out excited.
Am I going to race? Of course. If I get to mile 20 of the run and can bust out 8-minute miles for the last 10K, will I? You better believe it. If there’s a Kona slot within reach, will I lay it all on the line to take it? Abso-fucking-lutely.
But at the end of it all, there’s no telling what other people will show up to do, and it doesn’t matter because it’s my day. It’s about me. I’m bringing my “A” game to do my race, and that, folks, is what Ironman is all about.
[I know that at least one person out there thinks I’m lying. For once, I’m not.]
On to predictions. Here are my thoughts on what I generally think I’m capable of doing on each leg, mostly so you have a sense of where I’ll be at what time. I don’t know if these will hold when I put it all together (so don’t add them up and assume that’s the projected finish time), but here goes.
Swim — 1:07-1:15
I think I might surprise myself on this one. I’m generally a strong swimmer. None of my 70.3 swims have been particularly fantastic, and I’m not sure if doing the kicking-biting-punching mass start of an IM is going to make it better or worse. But I’ve had some great distance and tempo swims — both open water and in the pool — during taper and I think once I get the benefit of a wetsuit and draft it’ll be a solid start to my day.
Bike — 6:00- 6:20
The Wisconsin bike course is HARD. Like, really, really effing hard. It’s hilly and technical and requires constant awareness and smart decisions. I’ve done century rides this summer ranging from 5:20 to just over 6 hours in total time, and my 70.3 bike splits on easier courses are between 2:45 and 2:55. Which is to say, I still have no idea where my bike fitness really is. I always pull it out when it matters, so I’m thinking that around 6 hours with an average speed of just under 19mph isn’t too tall an order. When I actually did the course this summer, I averaged around 17mph but in 90+ degree heat. I’m more confident because I know where the hills are and how badly they hurt etc., but my plan calls for me to go “stupid easy” (thanks, Kevin) for the first loop and take it from there.
Run — 4:00 – 5:00 (yes, seriously)
The marathon is the big unknown. I understand and respect the 26.2 distance, but doing it alone, even sub-3:30, is not the same as doing it in any form after an iron-distance swim and bike. Four hours would have me averaging 9:09/mile, which is beyond reasonable on a regular day (see: Boston) but very ambitious in an Ironman. If my nutrition is on track and I don’t have any stomach issues, my legs will probably be fine to hold a decent pace. But the brick runs I’ve done don’t even begin to touch what this experience will feel like. The course is exciting — we run through the football stadium and around the state capitol — and challenging — a few tough hills on each lap — and if I have it together to run a strong last couple of miles to the finish I’ll be pumped.
Transitions — 10:00 total
Transitions are really long at Wisconsin because you have to run up the parking deck “helix” on the way out of the water, through the convention center, etc. T1 is much longer than T2. I’d give myself 10 minutes overall, split however necessary, to complete them. My transitions are generally super fast and efficient and I never waste time there. But I do want to make sure I’m comfortable before I head out for 6+ hours on the bike and an unknown amount of time on the run.
So there you have it. From here on it’ll be dispatches from the great state of Wisconsin, as I’m headed out tonight. I can’t believe the big event is just a few days away. It’s been a long journey. Here’s to the finish!