It’s official. I finished, and I am now an Ironman. I finished in 15 hours 15 minutes and 30 seconds.
It was an emotional day for quite a few reasons. On Saturday, after checking in my bike and transition gear at Monona Terrace I learned that my grandpa had passed away. So as I prepared for and raced in the most challenging race of my life, I was grieving the loss of my grandpa B. I thought about him a lot through out the entire day, and held back my tears many times as I thought of my mom telling me that I’d have an ironman angel with me every step of the way.
The whole Ironman experience was amazing from start to finish. I felt very lucky that we had such fantastic weather. Minimal wind, sunny and a high of 75 degrees. It was close to perfect in my book.
Here is a recap of the incredible day.
Swim: I’m not going to lie, the swim was brutal. A mass swim start of 2,700+ people is amazing to watch, but it’s pretty freaky to be a part of. Coach Joe’s strategy of swimming to the inside of the course and cutting in to swim around the outside of the turn buoy was a great strategy. This allowed for me to deal with a lot less traffic and swim faster. The worst part of the entire course was at the corner buoys. They were awful due to the crazy amounts of people trying to scramble around the buoy, and it really was a scramble. Arms and legs everywhere clawing to get around the floating marker. I had to hold onto a kayak after turning each buoy just to slow my heart rate down and get my nerves under control.
The most challenging part of the swim course was the sun. Throughout the entire back side of the course (over a mile in length) we had the sun pouring into our faces making it very difficult to see where the heck we were swimming. Again, I had to grab onto kayaks just to see where the next buoys were. As I turned the final buoy, I was able to sight the large brown building that I noticed during the Friday practice swim. It made a nice tall object to use as a sighting marker and as long as I swam towards it I knew I was heading in the right direction. All things considered, I finished the swim in 1:29:28 which I’m happy with as I was hoping to finish under 90 minutes.
T1: As I crawled out of the water, there were volunteers standing in waist-deep water assisting athletes onto land. As you traveled up to Monona Terrace, the banana peelers were ready for you. The banana peelers are volunteers that help you peel off your wetsuit. Let me just say that they are fantastic at what they do. All you do is pull the wetsuit past your hips, sit down on the ground and then poof! They whip it off in one slick pull.
Next I traveled up the helix, a spiral-style parking ramp that is lined with spectators cheering wildly at us all. As you head into the bike gear room volunteers are waiting to grab your bag for you. Once you have your gear bag you travel into the changing room. Many people change their clothes, but I just grabbed my nutrition/fuel belt, helmet, shoes, sunglasses and was on my way. I made a quick stop at the volunteers who were gloved up and ready to smear your body with sunscreen and then I proceeded to grab my bike. As you travel down the many rows of bikes, the crazy-awesome volunteers were shouting your number so that someone could grab your bike for you and get you out of the bike course as quickly as possible.
Bike: I mounted my bike, coasted down the helix ramp and began my 112-mile trek through Dane County. I knew that this was a challenging bike course so I made sure to take it easy and not go out too hard. I also kept up on my nutrition plan which included the soft-boiled potatoes, Honey Stinger waffles and energy chews and I took advantage of a couple Bonk Breaker bars at the fueling stations. I was very happy with my nutrition plan the entire day, it was a huge component to my success that day.
This bike course is extremely hilly. There was plenty of crowd support on the three toughest hills known as the Three Sisters (or the Three Bitches depending on who you ask). Spectators line these hills as if I’m biking in the Tour de France and help cheer you up the hills. There are all sorts of signs, costumes and words of support that you will read, see and hear on these hills. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience.
Now for the not-so-glamorous part of Ironman – instead of making pit stops at the aid stations to use the ports-toilets I chose to save time and just pee while biking. Yes, that’s right I peed my pants intentionally – FOUR TIMES! Over my 7 hour 16-1/2 minute bike ride I peed my pants on four occasions. Yes, it’s gross, but if I had to stop and use the ports-toilets that many times I would have added at least 15 minutes to my bike ride. Only endurance athletes understand that this is perfectly normal for these types of situations. I’m actually pretty proud of the fact that I am able to pedal and pee at the same time. Not many people have that skill. Then at each bottle exchange station I would snatch a bottle of water from a volunteer and rinse off my shorts between drinking gulps of water (all while pedaling). The whole routine seemed to work out really well.
As I reached the 100-mile marker, I was definitely ready to be done biking. The last 12 miles were pretty long and tough, but I knew that I had to just keep pedaling and I would get there eventually. I tried very hard to keep a positive attitude. The sight of Monona Terrace was a good one. I knew I was going to have to bike back up the helix so I managed to un-strap my bike shoes and remove my feet from them before hitting the incline of the parking ramp. With my feet on top of my shoes I biked up the helix and allowed the volunteers at the dismount line to catch me (since I didn’t trust my legs to securely plant onto the concrete and support my body). Once off my bike I handed it off to a volunteer and headed into the terrace to find my awaiting fresh pair of tri shorts and my Nike Free running shoes.
T2: As I grabbed my gear bag and walked back into the changing room I was feeling pretty excited to begin the last leg of the day. As I stripped off my tri shorts I got a brief whiff of them. YOWZA! They smelled awful (think worse than strong cat urine). It was disgusting, and yet somehow I found it hilarious at the same time. Who pees themselves four times while on a 112 mile bike ride? Only an Ironman.
I was so glad to put on a fresh pair of tri shorts – you have no idea! Then I carefully picked up the urine-soaked shorts and threw them back in the bag. A mental note was made to mention to my husband while on the run course that he should not open the gear bags when he picked them up later that evening.
Run: As I traveled out of the changing room I again made a pit stop at the sunscreen-gloved volunteers and was ready to go. Surprisingly my legs didn’t feel too bad so I figured I better get running in case my IT band problem flared up later in the race and I wasn’t able to run as much. I stuck to my plan of walking on the uphills and running during the downhills and flat portions of the course.
The course involves two 13-mile loops, and has one very large hill on the UW-campus at Observatory Hill (it was a lot steeper than what I imagined). I tried to enjoy the experience of Ironman as much as possible at this point. I was confident I was going to finish well within the 17-hour cutoff, and didn’t want to push myself to the point of “hitting a wall” and not wanting to continue.
The highlights of the run course:
1) Running through the crowds of State Street, and seeing my support crew that included my vuvuzela horn-blowing (that soccer horn banned from the 2010 World Cup) husband and bestie SS. Between my support crew and the cheers from the crazy-fun crowd it was all incredibly uplifting and entertaining.
2) Running through the tunnel and around the football field of Badger Stadium. The soft astro turf was a delight on my feet.
3) Before it got dark, I enjoyed the view from Observatory Hill that overlooked the lake and beyond. It was beautiful.
After about mile 10, I was getting pretty tired and walked for the majority of the course. My feet were also hurting from pounding the pavement for so long, but fortunately my IT band was holding up fantastic. I decided to run when I felt I had the energy, and walked when I was feeling like I couldn’t run. When I hit mile 23, I knew I only had about a 5K to go. So I kicked it into gear and pick up my walking pace and sporadically would run to certain markers I could see in the distance.
As I got near the capitol, a volunteer told me that I had one small hill left then it was home stretch. As I power walked up the hill, I noticed that I was walking with a group of three other athletes. I knew that I wanted to travel down the finisher chute alone so I decided to just GO FOR IT! I took off and bolted for the finish line. As I hit the top of the chute I took in the sight of the lights, crowd and cheering. There are no words to describe the energy in that finisher chute. I found myself with a wide smile and a fist pumping into the air. As I pumped my fist I found the crowd cheered louder, so I just kept my arm in the air. As I neared the finish line, the infamous Mike Reilly shouted Alexandra Larson, you are an Ironman! It was priceless. All of the sweat, pain, money and time that I put into that day was worth it.
The question I’ve gotten a couple times now is, “will you do another Ironman?” My response is always “not anytime soon”, but I definitely haven’t said I won’t. I learned a lot about myself in the experience, and maybe some day I’ll decide to do another. I will say that for a large-scale event such as this one, it is run like a well-oiled machine. I think a significant part of their success is the amazing volunteers that come back year after year and are experts at what they do. From the banana peelers to the sunscreen applicators to the volunteers in the changing rooms. They were phenomenal at what they did in their roles, the volunteers truly made Ironman Wisconsin an amazing event.
It Takes A Village
From the beginning of this whole adventure I’ve been saying that it took a village for me to become an Ironman so I’m taking the time to give a big big big thank you to those who have helped me reach my goal.
- To the massage therapists and physical therapists who helped me overcome the many muscles aches and injuries that come with all of that training.
- To Coach Joe for preparing me the past nine months for this enduring race, and putting up with my insanely busy spring and summer. You have quite the patience to put up with my many life events, crazy schedule and lack of uploading my training data (especially in the past month).
- To my friends who came out and joined me to weight lift, swim, bike and/or run. Your company made those workouts fun and kept me going week after week. I truly appreciate our friendship.
- To my family for your love and support.
- And most importantly my husband. When I started this whole thing a year ago, you were a boyfriend who said you’d support me as I trained to be an Ironman. Then you became a fiancee and then a husband. I am so thankful that you stuck with me throughout this journey. Between buying me a new wet suit when I thought I had lost mine, to kicking me out of the house when I didn’t feel like going to the gym… And most importantly waking up at 4:15 am on race morning and cheering for me the entire day, all while carrying my gear to and from the hotel and driving me to and from Madison. You are quite a guy! I couldn’t have done it without your support. I can’t say it enough, thank you.