Sunday was my first ever spectathlon.
To make the drive to Madison easier, on Saturday night I slept over Jennifer’s house. After the pillow fights and telling secrets about boys, we watched some Arctic Trucker show on the History Channel. Repeat: Saturday night, Arctic Trucking show, History Channel. Who knew that Jennifer’s front door was a portal that accelerates your taste in television programs about 50 years?
After that round of excitement we were still able to sleep. We woke up at 3:30 am. On the road by 4:15 am heading towards Madison. Thnn we made our way over to the Monona Terrace. Unlike Kona, the atmosphere at Madison is one of high school hallway energy buzzing with crowds, cheer and chatter. Each athlete seemed to have a a cheering squad of family, friends, even pets. All wearing matching t-shirts telling so and so to swim, bike, run, or go go go or ironfan or asking what they are made of (FE of course). It was a mood of celebration, a contagion of energy.
The skies were blue, the winds were calm and the water glistened in the rising sun. It was the perfect day for an Ironman. Athletes were already being called into the water around 6:40 am. We find Karyn Austin and join her sitting atop a wall across from the swim start. Jennifer, Karyn and that guy decide to warm up with a few hoots and cheers.
On the surface the water looks calm. Underneath buzzes the nervous kicks and flutters of 2,200 athletes. The gun goes off. The kicks and nerves are released. We watched for a few minutes until the crowd quickly spread into even paced packs.
Once the swim was underway, we visited the Ironman store. We answer the question how many items can you emblazon with the Ironman logo? Many. Many, many, many. And I guarantee you that I will buy at least one. Or two. After shopping it was time to get serious. It was 8:30 am and we had neither food nor coffee.
So we start walking towards Starbucks. And who do we see? Short course speedstar Cathy Yndstead and Iowa tri cyclone Katie Weaver-Jongerius. We spend some time chatting. It is so great to meet blogland in real life! Cyberspace personalities come to life in ways you would expect. Jennifer jumps off the page in pink exclamation points, Cathy bubbles over with smiles, Katie’s words are full of pep and I……well, I might have said something about coffee. It’s 9 am. And I haven’t had any coffee yet.
Jennifer asks if I want to see her on caffeine today. I think to myself that I am probably making a decision I will later regret but I say yes and with that she orders a tall pumpkin spice latte. Little does she know that drink is like asking for coffee with her milk. Rookie. Is there even any room for caffeine in there?
Regardless, after about 4 ounces she announces herself overcaffeinated. We drive to get some bagels and then head towards Verona. Time to burn off the caffeine with some cheers. For about an hour we watched the bikes buzz by. The lead male professional rides by as do a few of our athletes.
Next we go back to Madison to position ourselves on the run course. After stopping in a few shops, we find a good spot to spectate around mile 8 of the course. Down the street is a beautiful view of the capitol. Athletes would run up this false flat, make a turnaround at a timing mat and come back down the hill.
The professional men run by at speeds that seem so inappropriate for Ironman. Then then women come by. Here’s the cyclist for the 1st place female, Hillary Biscay. This one made me laugh. The guy is riding a mountain bike with an aero helmet. He does realize he is already in first place, right?
The top professionals run by and then the top age groupers. Being a two loop run course we got to see that athletes fresh with a lightness to their step. Even a few smiles. You can easily see who has been smart about their nutrition and pacing versus who has given in to the Ironman game. There are those commanding the course and those being beat by it. Here is Jen Foley in control of the course and her Ironman.
Spectathloning is hard work and also watching all of these runners go by makes us hungry. Besides, we want to avoid the deadly spectathlon bonk. The point at which you run of of cheers and your feet shut down. So it was time for some instant energy. Enough of the bagels and healthy sandwiches. Give me sugar. Now. First a trip to the Starbucks (again) for a pumpkin scone. Then, a trip to the candy aisle to find “something else.” In the Walgreen’s, Jennifer finds her natural habitat between three bags of M&M’s and I settle on a bag of Bridge Mix.
We sit down at the curb picking through the bridge mix bag. New to the bridge mix, Jennifer keeps asking me what is inside of each chocolate piece like I have x-ray vision into chocolate covered candies. I like the caramel, she likes the peanuts. We both don’t like the malted milk balls and set them aside in a safe place. The gutter. We call this, those we left behind.
I decide to toss a few of these into the run course to see how long it would take for them to melt or meet death by foot. What can I say – sometimes spectathloning gets boring and you need to make your own entertainment. Jennifer says someone could get hurt on one of them. Of all the things that are likely to shut a person down during Ironman, malted milk ball seems the most unlikely. So I take the risk. It takes about 10 minutes before the ball is smashed. And no one suffered any injuries.
Athletes continue to run by. Some now are starting to walk. Drew Becker runs by and in a moment of help me this hurts in Ironman he says to Jen “coach, this f-ing hurts.” Yes, she says. It’s Ironman. Regardless he is running strong. Rebecca runs by looking like she’s just going for a short leisurely run along the streets. Katie has turnover that indicates her legs are fresh.
Wired and revved up by about 20000 grams of sugar, I am feeling energized to cheer again. Good thing because the race competition is heating up too. The pro’s are on their second loop. Here is Hillary Biscay keeping stride with fellow pro and teammate Luke Dragstra. Funny thing is that I remember Luke from competing in the Michigan tri circuit years ago. He was the guy at the race that had written Looking For SWF and his phone number on his back in black sharpie.
Hillary held the lead for most of the day until Karin Gerber passed her right here. What a great photo, eh? Eventually, Karin faded and Hillary took charge again.
The excitement of the pro’s goes by and it’s back to the age groupers. Some are clearly breaking through, some are breaking down. The interesting thing about Ironman is that you can completely breakdown and still have a good day. Case in point: Jen and I watched a woman walking with a volunteer escort. She didn’t look too great. She took a seat on a bench under a bus stop asking to just stop for a moment. She sat there for awhile going through whatever it was – too little water, too many miles, too much Ironman – then got up awhile later and we saw her running back with her volunteer on the course. About an hour later, I saw her at the run special needs turnaround. And that’s Ironman – you can find yourself sitting at a bus stop gathering yourself for about 30 minutes and still pull it together for a great race day. The perks of a really long race day.
About 9 hours into it, Jen and I bonked. We were exhausted. Our feet were barking. Our heads were hurting. The sugar that helped us up was now bringing us down. I sat down on the curb and let out a few feeble cries of “go”, “you look great”, “you can do this”. But then I realized it was time to call it a day.
We walked back to the capitol to quickly meet up with Kellye Mills. I watched the special needs bags being handed out. It seemed like it could be chaos but like most things at Ironman – they have the system down and things went smoothly.
When I arrived home I was completely trashed from spectathloning all day. Watching an Ironman is much harder than doing the Ironman. And the pain in your feet is just about the same. I’d much rather compete than watch. If I’m going to get blisters they better be from wet socks on the run. If I’m going to eat sugar it better be from a gel. I will confess that watching it made me want to do an Ironman. But then again that might have been the bridge mix talking.
And now, I recover for a few days before beginning my final push to my next spectathlon – Kona. The big dance. The world championship. Kerrie and Bree have been trash talking. Secret training. But I’ll be ready. Now my body knows what it’s like to spectate all day. I’ve already tweaked my fuel plan and have a better pacing strategy. I’ll be ready. Can you say the same?