I don't care how good of a swimmer you are, every IM triathlete has *got* to experience a profound sense of relief when the water is behind you and the remainder of the race awaits. There's just a certain sense of unpredictability associated with swimming, especially in a mass-start format like IM Wisconsin. You hear too many stories of people getting clocked so solidly during the swim leg that it kicks them out of the race - imagine training for over six months, putting in all the blood, sweat and tears that's required, only to get kicked in the eye and be forced to drop out within the first two miles of the race. Horrible. But it happens.
So, needless to say, I was thrilled - as always - to be heading out onto the bike course. Hit the porto-let real quick before grabbing my bike, and quickly made my way back down the helix. The first five or so miles on this course is pretty uneventful - the roads are narrow, and you are pretty much forced to follow single-file as you make your way out of Madison. Which is fine - it's nice to take a few moments to gather yourself after the swim and focus on the new task at hand. Of course there's always some idiot that's too eager to get going, and, sure enough, one hotshot took an unceremonious spill when he failed to negotiate a tight 90 degree turn not two miles into the course. Luckily, he was up quickly and didn't disturb any other riders.
I was much more surprised when I heard Drew call out my name and pull up beside me just a few miles later - it was great to see him, especially after having missed each other at the start, and it was good to know that he also had made it through the swim leg unscathed. We chatted a few minutes, during which time I looked over and saw probably the nicest view I'd see all day (except for the finish line, of course) - a ginormous field of yellow flowers off to our right. Considering that Drew and I last did this race in 2006, under a steady cold rain, this bright yellow field laid out peacefully under the morning sun just felt like a good omen.
As riding side-by-side is considered a penalty, we soon parted ways, and was again left to my own thoughts. I've had people ask me what one thinks about during the course of a six-hour bike ride, and, honestly, I can never really remember anything specific. Feelings come and go, little internal pep talks get thrown out there, snippets of songs get sung (sometimes out loud). Nothing too profound, that's for sure. But it's crazy how quickly the time flies by. The first loop - roughly 60 miles total - was over in a heartbeat. My nutrition plan - an area where I've failed miserably in the past - was going pretty well. One bottle of Infinit (275 calories), one of water, and one of Gatorade was already inside me, and I'd knocked back at least 3/4 of my gel flask and a package of Shot Blocks. I stopped at special needs and choked down a Balance bar, and stuffed another package of Shot Blocks in my jersey pocket. I had another bottle of Infinit in the bag, but it was warm and sounded gross, so I decided to just stick with Gatorade and water from there on out.
The second loop seemed to drag a bit slower than the first, but I was feeling great when I hit the hill leading up to Mt. Horeb High School. At that point, I knew that I just had the string of rollers along Witte and Garfoot, and the final three hills, before I'd be heading back to Madison. My nutrition faltered a bit here, as gels sounded less and less appetizing. I kept drinking as much as I could, and killed the second package of Shot Blocks, but that was it for the solid food. I was definitely excited to make that final turn-off back to Madison, just before the 100-mile mark, and it was nice to note the lack of any appreciable headwind. But it was even nicer to know that I'd soon be able to get off the &*@#%^ bike seat, which had by now pounded my nether regions into hamburger. Seriously, I won't get into details, but the pain I was feeling down there was ridiculous. A brief glimpse post-race was pretty shocking. Let's just say that I wouldn't wish that kind of pain (or injury) on anyone. Yikes.
Unfortunately, it was also at about the century mark that I got a bit of a scare. Both of my quads started to cramp up. Nothing horrible, but definitely uncomfortable, and it got me worried about whether I had taken in enough water and salt. The thing with IM is, you can feel great one minute and wiped the next, and it often depends on what you did or didn't do in the hours before. So, although I still felt good, generally speaking, I was afraid that maybe I hadn't done as good of a job as I had thought, nutrition-wise, earlier in the race (which, considering that I didn't have to pee AT ALL during the bike, was looking more and more plausible).
Anywho, I made it back up the helix with the cramps coming off and on, and handed my bike to another nice volunteer before walking (I couldn't run) into the Convention Center and toward T2. Grabbed my bag and found an empty seat, where another volunteer materialized out of no where and started helping me get my run stuff together. And here's another instance of extreme IM kindness - the athlete next to me, a guy in his late 40s or early 50s, saw me rubbing out my quads and asked if I was okay. Told him I was cramping up, and he immediately started digging into his own transition bag for salt tablets. I couldn't believe he was taking time out of his race to help me, a complete stranger, but he handed me three tiny ziploc bags with three pills each and told me to take one package immediately and then another if the cramping wasn't going away. I had salt pills in my T2 bag, courtesy of Drew, but I took the little baggies because I didn't want the pills to dissolve in my pocket.
I, of course, thanked this man profusely for his thoughtfulness, and, once again, thought about what an amazing event this truly is - how everyone out there has there own goals and dreams, and have invested so much in this one race, but so many will gladly go out of their way to help a fellow competitor. It's this kind of positive energy that envelops the whole day - it's like the air is saturated with it. I've never felt this kind of energy in such force during any other competition, and I think it's part of what makes an Ironman race such a unique and special athletic event.
After downing the three salt pills, I jogged out of transition, hit the porto-let, and was soon on the run course.
Bike split: 6:07.58.
Next up...the run.
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