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Triathlete Blog

On, Wisconsin!

By September 15, 2015No Comments

This past weekend was one that many of us midwesterners look forward to all year:


Recall, if you will, last year when I attended the race in Madison.  Spectating with an 11 day old, I watched my husband finish 3rd in his AG and punch his ticket to the 2016 Ironman World Championship.  A fire was lit.  I must do this race.  Though I had swore to myself over and over again on training rides that I would never do the course, a nasty course of hills, turns and something in the air that routinely I makes me break out in hives.  You know what you do when an entire state makes you break out in hives?  You sign up to do an Ironman in that state.

WHAT is wrong with me!?

By the time I committed to Texas, it was too late to transfer my entry from Wisconsin – so I kept it.  As it got closer, it became clear that I would do what Chris and our good friend, Todd, had done before – complete Wisconsin through mile 6 of the run as a solid training day for Kona.  My coach was on board and my athletes seemed to get a kick out of the idea of me sharing at least 120.2 miles of their adventure.

Thank you to my mom for watching the kids, Chris and I headed up to Madison.  Being without the kids, Chris tried to persuade me into living it up on State Street – go drinking!  Get dessert!  To his dismay, I wanted to treat this as much like a race as possible.  Except for training.  I went into the “race” with a full week of training.  A 2.5 hour ride on Tuesday.  A 16 mile split run on Thursday.  The day before, a bike, run and 4200 yard swim on the course itself.  No doubt with the past few weeks of training I was tired but still wanted to go into the race with a champion mindset ready to execute my details, manage the process and go through the motions of racing.


The capital building which stands judiciously in the center of the city & provides a majestic backdrop for the event.  

As I checked in at registration and gathered up my half dozen bags for assorted items, it kicked in: the feeling of race day.  Anxiety!  Like any other race, I slept poorly the night before, woke up at 3:45 am ready to embrace the challenges of the day.  I loaded beet juice and citrillune for 5 days, upped the carbs (but didn’t necessarily reduce all of the fiber – big mistake, should have done this!), abstained from coffee.

And as a side note, every time I’ve done a caffeine wash out prior to a race, I’ve confirmed that the boost I get on race day is never as powerful as when I just stay on the coffee.   Coffee, we’re back together again.

Going through this race was eye-opening as a coach.  I’ve coached plenty of athletes for Ironman Wisconsin.  Yet there are still so many things I didn’t know!  Chris dropped me off by the finish line but you actually have to walk back towards the capitol to drop off your special needs bag.  Another walk to the convention center to get body marked and bike prepped.  After that, I drank one packet of Via – and after the caffeine wash out for two weeks, I regretted this.  I was nearly out of my mind in transition not sure if I wanted to tackle someone or just run crazy laps until the gun went off.  Next time, skip the Via and wait until special needs of the bike instead!

While everything in Texas was very convenient and straightforward, everything at Wisconsin seemed to involve getting through throngs of spectators.  Getting to the swim start took much longer than I anticipated.  Around 6:40 am, I got into the water knowing that a good position would be important because of the mass start.  I situated myself left of the far left Roka buoy and was surprised to see that area fill in so quickly.  Asking around, I heard projections of people who expected to swim sub 57 to 1:05 – all on the front line.  I was up front with one of my athletes right behind me.  I expected to swim around 58 minutes.

As expected, the swim start was very, very aggressive.  Immediately I had people all over me.  I went between moments of nearly losing my marbles to convincing myself that this was not the place to lose my marbles – at all! I put my head up, noticed a sea of humanity around me, shrieked inside and said, KEEP SWIMMING!  The entire time I stayed left of the buoys thinking it would be less congested.  Seemed like everyone else had the same plan!

I expected the swim would settle down around 400 meters in but that never happened – instead, I stayed mixed up in this mass of bodies, mostly men, all over the place.  Finding feet – feet were everywhere, going in every different direction.  Next thing I knew I took a massive kick to my face, so hard that my goggles went foggy and my head ached.  BAM!  A quick readjustment of the goggles and I was back on my way!

(and after the race I realized I got a black eye – for the first time in over 15 years of racing!)

The way back into shore didn’t ease up, I was now pinched into a tighter space with this thick group of swimmers.  I exited in a little over 1 hour, slower than I expected but not significant.  Never judge the outcome of your race by any single split!

The run up to the convention center is up the helix, lined thick with people.  I caught a few faces but the rest was a blur.  Mostly it was me trying to wrestle my way out of my wetsuit (I skipped the strippers).  I ran into the convention center, got my bags and into the changing tent.  With the temperature around 45 to start, I decided to put a bike jersey over my tri kit (in retrospect, this was unnecessary).  I began the longer run out to my bike.  I was advised by others to carry my shoes to my bike – I should have listened.  It was long!

Liz on Swim

Down the helix and on to the bike course.  And, transition took me a little over 6 minutes.  Now I see why these transitions are so long – there’s just a lot of ground to cover.

The first 15 miles were an unknown to me.  With my athletes, I’ve ridden the loop in Verona many times.  But ‘the stick’ as it’s called was uncharted territory – it goes on a bike path, through a parking lot.  It was actually quite more technical than I anticipated and slow.  Not to mention your typical poor road quality resulting from rough winters.  After navigating was felt like a dozen turns, traffic cones and a no pass zone, you are dumped on to the roads of Dane County.

The stick contains a few rollers but nothing like what you encounter in the loops around Verona.  The hills are long and short.  Straight and curved.  It’s a little bit of everything and what makes the course most challenging is that you are always doing something – there is no rhythm.  You’re climbing, descending, braking, turning, drinking, eating.  I spent a good amount of time sitting up out there!

Being at the front of the race, it was desolate and at times lonely.  I would dare to say that if you got a drafting penalty at Wisconsin, you were likely trying to draft.  This was one of the most spread out races I’ve ever done with the exception of the hills which naturally got congested.  I expected to be passed by overzealous men as was the case in Texas – but here, this wasn’t as prevalent.

It felt like any other training day out there.  But it truly was a beautiful day.  Occasionally I reminded myself to look around and soak in the Midwestern glory – a beautiful sunny day, cumulous clouds, 60 degrees, rustic red barns in a horizon of fading green corn.  All set against the bluest skies.  It was majestic.

Soon after the Verona loop starts, you begin the gradual and deceptive 15 mile climb towards Mount Horeb.  This section contained some headwind that picked up throughout the day.  It was around this time when I noticed how off I was feeling – whether it was cumulative fatigue, a rough swim or not removing fiber, my stomach was all sorts of angry.  Still, I kept up with my drinking, eating and salt tabbing.

Not being one who feels bad in a race often, I had a steady stream of negative, annoyed chatter going through my head.  As I often tell my athletes, this changes nothing.  You don’t need to be relentlessly positive in racing.  You just need to be relentlessly present.  I executed my plan and just waited for it to pass.  When it didn’t pass, I just kept moving forward.  Nothing changed.  I figure if I can beat myself on my worst day of training with my worst thoughts possible, I will be successful on race day.

After Mt. Horeb, you go through a few roads with a series of long, steep climbs.  This course favors the descender with high power and mass to generate momentum enough to get up and over those hills.  I didn’t necessarily have the best gearing for the course (standard crank with 12-25) – in hindsight, a compact crank would have been a much better (and more pleasant!) experience.  Still, I focused on riding as smoothly as possible and going by heart rate.


The party scene on Midtown Hill.  Note the clown on the right, that’s Well-Fit Iron Alum, Erik.  He was popping out of the treeline & honking a horn along the road to Midtown both times I passed through. 

Next, there are three big hills to conquer:  Old Sauk, Timber and finally Midtown.  Each hill has a Tour de France feeling, lined thick with spectators in costume, with bullhorns and clearly enjoying some of the best craft beer around!  I continued to feel absolutely wretched so put the biggest smile on my face to feed off the crowd who kept shouting – great smile!  Keep smiling!  Yes, I thought to myself, it’s either smiling or getting off this bike to toss it into a cornfield!  My choices are limited here, folks!

Liz on Bike

Me, smiling.  Me, thinking:  when I get back, I’m going to toss this bike off of Monona Terrace. 

Despite how I was feeling, my body gave me no excuse, everything was lining up just fine out there.  My HR fluctuated within my range, my power was right where it needed to be.  The last part of the course takes you back on the stick with the only saving grace being tailwind – finally!  My speed was slower than I anticipated but that’s out of my control.  I figured I would ride closer to 5:45 but finished up with 5:52.

In the end, my IF was around .77 and by some miracle of smoothness my VI came in at 1.03.  TSS was well over 300.  This was all by plan – Greg and I talked about riding a little higher IF to see what would happen on the run.

Finally back to the helix where you bike back up (hey, what’s one more hill anyways?) and then run back into the convention center.  And, yes, I changed into run shorts and was out of there in around 3 minutes (incidentally I recently read on a forum where someone declared no Kona qualifier would change into run shorts – hey, this one did!).  In Ironman, comfort rules, people.

For all of the low feelings I had on the bike – the stomach upset, the negative chatter, the disdain for every turn of the course – I got on to the run and felt absolutely amazing.  The 66 degree temperature surely helped that but I couldn’t believe it – my legs felt ready to go.  My HR was in low zone 2, my pace was under 8 and I had the absolute pleasure of knowing that I would stop in 6 miles.  I passed a few women early on, enjoyed some talk with the other competitors.

Around 5 mile, Chris and Amanda approached me.  They had been given strict orders to find me around mile 6 and, if necessary, pull out a shepherd’s hook to take me off of the course.  Sure enough, on bikes, they were circling, like vultures.

Me:  I’m going to stop in another mile.

(spectator walking by:  WHAT THE?)

Me:  I’m doing Kona in a few weeks.

(spectator:  Fuck that!  You’re winning!)

Me:  I don’t care, I’m stopping.

Amanda: Are you sure?  You’re winning your age group.

Me: Doesn’t matter.

Amanda: You’re well into the top 10 overall.

Me:  I have hated every minute of this! 

Husband: You look great!

So much for support from family and friends?  They seemed to have some hidden agenda of trying to talk me into continuing but I had prepared for this moment – you see, I purposefully didn’t pack any salt tabs and took a gel a mile too late.  My energy was starting to lag and I finally understand why years ago I saw a woman taking a nap in a bus stop on State Street.  I wanted nothing at mile 6 but to do the same!

And so, soon after Observatory Hill (that’s a doozy, isn’t it?) I walked over to a timing tent.  Gave the volunteer my chip and asked to DNF myself.  He questioned me.  He questioned my husband – why?  Are you sure?  Then called in my number.  I was done for the day!

I made a beeline for Chiptole and then sat on the curb eating corn chips while watching everyone else run a marathon.  The rest of the evening was blur of looking for athletes, shouting names and high fiving.  It’s an infectious atmosphere but a very long day.  In the end, all made it to the finish line – several first timers, some big PRs and one Kona qualification.

Liz and Greg

“You’re doing it!  YOU are going to be an Ironman today!”

And now, the final push to Kona begins.  It has been a long season.  I am approaching the point not where I am tired of training but tired of fitting in the training.  Tired of making it happen.  Tired of sacrificing.  The onset of autumn naturally inspires me to want dark beer, cider doughnuts and candy corn.  These are not exactly performance foods – so they will have to wait.  Taper is near (there IS a taper at the end of this, right?  PLEASE?) and Max keeps asking me how many days until “Hawai-ah” as he calls it.  Soon enough, kid!

On, Kona!