Ironman Wisconsin 2014 – The Race of a Lifetime

Ironman Wisconsin 2014 – The Race of a Lifetime

laura and suzy at finishby Laura C.

After a year of preparation, 4am wake-up calls, long rides on the weekend away from my family, and numerous other sacrifices, the week of Ironman Wisconsin had finally come! I spent the week leading up to the race meeting with Coach Suzy, packing, double checking my bike, eating as healthy as possible, and staying hydrated. My family, friends, and neighbors showered me with support through signs on my door and in my yard, well wishes, and good luck cards. I was excited in a nervous way!

Friday – I headed up to Madison, went to packet pick-up and got checked into our hotel. After my time at Monona Terrace, I went back to the hotel and starting packing all of my gear bags before my family arrived. Friday was Mike’s 40th birthday, so we went out for dinner with my Mom and sister and kids. I felt bad that after he had sacrificed so much this year in support of my Ironman dream, his 40th birthday also fell on this weekend. But Mike is such a good sport, always putting others first and he took it in stride like the rock he is!

Saturday—I woke up thinking, “This is the last day. Tomorrow is the big day!” I met up with Russ, Jada, and Jim, who were all staying at the same hotel as me, and we did our last ride together. Afterwards, my family went to watch Emma and Henry run the Iron Kids fun run. Lynne and I ran with them on the course that circled the capital, and the kids loved it, finishing strong and getting their medals for participating. We spent some time walking over to the Terrace to scope out the course and to review where my family would be spectating Sunday.

Proud Iron Kids finishers!

Proud Iron Kids finishers!

I did my last swim, dropped off my bike and gear bags, then spent the rest of the day resting at the hotel and packing the last of my equipment for Sunday. Saturday night was the Experience Triathlon team dinner at Francesca’s. It was great to see the other athletes competing, as well as the cheer crew and my good ET friends. After a great dinner, we went back to the hotel and tried to sleep, although that was tricky with the big day looming.

Sunday—September 7th, the day that had been etched into my mind all year, had finally come. I ate my typical race-day breakfast and thought about the day ahead. I took deep breaths to stay calm, said a long prayer, then left to meet Russ, Jada, and Jim to walk to the Terrace. One of the best parts of being in Experience Triathlon is the camaraderie that you experience on race day. Prior to being with ET, I always felt much more nervous on race day. And lonely. It took so much stress and anxiety away just being with friends who were also competing. We dropped our special needs bags, got body marked at the Terrace, and checked our bikes one last time. Then we headed out of transition and met up with many of our other teammates, cheer crew, and Coach Suzy and Coach Joe. Before long, it was time to get into my wetsuit and think about heading to the water. Coach Suzy walked with me down the helix and gave me a few last words of wisdom. “Take it inch by inch, stroke by stroke, pedal stroke by pedal stroke, foot strike by foot strike, and you will get there.” Up until that point of the morning, I had been holding it together pretty well, without too many tears. Her words were perfect, reminding me to stay in the moment and take it all in, but I think the enormity and all of the emotion that comes with Ironman hit me again. I teared up a little, but was able to take some deep breaths and get composed.

Swim-I got in the water and made my way to the spot where I had planned to start. The swim was the part of Ironman that I was most nervous about. I’ve spectated this race twice and the mass start is such an epic and moving, yet frightening, scene. I’m a strong swimmer so making the swim distance wasn’t my worry. Rather, it was the mass start and the bumping and contact that worried me. I wanted to be calm, I wanted to have a strong swim and be happy to be part of the amazing scene! I floated on my back in the water, gently treading, and looked up on shore at the thousands of fans there to support all of us. It is something I’ll never, ever forget. Soon, Mike Reilly counted us down and the cannon went off. I polo swam for several yards and then put my head down and went. I got bumped, but it wasn’t bad. I kept swimming. I got kicked. No big deal, I expected that. I kept swimming.   I got sucked into the draft and made the first turn, hearing people mooing, per tradition. I was thrilled that I had remained calm through the start, now I just had to do my thing and keep swimming. Somewhere after the 2nd turn it felt like my chip was getting loose. I quickly felt it and made sure that the Velcro was still connected, then tucked it back under my wetsuit. Next, I got kicked in the eye/goggle, which hurt a ton, but didn’t bother me. In fact, it made me realize that I was staying focused and tough in a really “kick a$$” event. I swam hard the 2nd half of the course and thought about the helix and all of my family and friends that were waiting there for me. This was probably the strongest swim I’ve had in my triathlon career, and it was so cool that is was happening at Ironman. I put my feet on the shore feeling awesome and so proud, and ran up that helix to high five my family and friends. I saw my family in the “747 Cheer Crew” shirts that Mike had designed, and my long-time friends Jen and Mary. Running past everyone on the helix was definitely one of the most memorable moments of the day!

My Cheer Crew

My Cheer Crew

T1—I quickly got changed with the help of an amazing volunteer, ate my pbj sandwich like planned, and then got on the bike.

Bike—My sweet friends, Jen and Mary, were just passing by as I got to the mount line and it was fun to see them before the long journey on the bike. After I got down the helix and was out on the narrow path near John Nolen Drive, I was shocked by how fast some people were going and it made me a little nervous. There were some sharps turns and I absolutely didn’t want to crash that early in the day (or ever for that matter!). Sure enough, as I passed under a bridge on the bike path, someone about 10 bike lengths up crashed, and from the looks of it, his day was over just like that. I rode very conservatively on the “stick” and concentrated on drinking as Laurie, ET’s Team Dietitian, had advised, and mentally reviewing my nutrition plan. Once I got to the “loop”, I started executing my nutrition plan and kept eating as planned. Even though I had practiced during training with all of the foods I was consuming, it seemed like I was constantly eating and thinking about eating—especially beef jerky, which was my major sodium source.  🙂 I did the best I could with my nutrition and hydration and I knew I would soon be coming to Timber Lane and would see everyone again. It felt effortless riding up Timber Lane and her two sisters, and as always it was such a lift to see and high-five the cheer crew.

Riding up Timber Lane!

Riding up Timber Lane!

For me, the most challenging part of the bike course is near Mt. Horeb. Jen and Mary had planned to be there cheering and I was so grateful to see some familiar faces at that point in the race. I made my way through the 2nd loop, quickly grabbed more food from my special needs bag, found a volunteer who had sunscreen, as I felt like my skin was getting fried by the sunny weather, and took a potty break. Overall, the bike went quickly and I felt strong throughout the ride. I was careful to save my legs on each and every climb and babied my legs on the final hills of the “stick” on Whalen. Once I hit the 100 mile mark, I became reflective and thought about all of the hours I’d put into this race and how much I had enjoyed the training. I was excited to be almost off the bike and finally at the helix, but felt a little sad as I contemplated this last ride.

Thanks, Susan G!

Thanks, Susan G!

T2—Back at transition, I changed again, this time into my run gear. I used the washroom, got some water and more sunscreen, and walked a little to get my body and legs used to being upright.

Run—I started my last run of this summer with a huge smile on my face, so thankful and happy for the amazing experience I was having. I remember my lips and mouth feeling so dry and it seemed so hot out, but I couldn’t stop smiling as random people said my name and cheered. So fun! My plan for the run was to keep my pace very slow, walking through all of the aid stations and on the bigger hills. I had plenty of time until the finish and was excited to be on the run because I could actually “chat” with my family and friends, as opposed to the swim and bike. As I made my way out of transition, one of the winners (I never checked if it was the male or female overall winner) was crossing the finish line and I could hear the announcer and the crowd cheering him/her home. I made the turn onto State St. and looked at the ET cheer spot for the crew and spotted Jeff P. but not many others. I can’t remember when I saw the rest of the crew and my family, but I knew I would. I executed my plan, maintaining a slow run pace, walking the aid stations and hills. Once I got near Camp Randall stadium I saw Jen and Mary. I’ve known these ladies since junior high, so we have lots of history, good stories, and fun memories. These dear friends made about 20 signs for me, all with different quotes or sayings from over the years. They had even reached out to old college friends for quotes and things that would put a smile on my face. They were on their bikes and rode to different points on the course from Camp Randall to near the Student Union. Each time I ran past, they would hold up a different sign. I couldn’t wait to get back to them at each point so I could see what the next sign would say!

Funny signs to keep me going

Funny signs to keep me going

Pretty soon, I was near the lakefront path, then heading back into town. I saw several ET teammates on the run course—Russ, Darryl, Jada, Jim, and Heather and they all looked strong. Back at State St. the world famous ET cheer crew was out in full force and I couldn’t help but smiling even bigger, especially with Susan’s sign. I saw Coach Suzy and she seemed so happy! I was excited for her. I made the turn-around and came back down State St. I couldn’t believe how good I felt and that I was able to actually run the marathon part of this race! Coach Suzy chatted with me as I ran and told me, “You just have a half marathon left. You can do that in your sleep!”  So I kept running and soon saw Jen and Mary again, along with my family! I expected to see my family on State St. near the Capital Tap Haus, but they surprised me by also being “on the move” like Jen and Mary and they met me at the other end of State St. Emma and Henry each ran with me a little and high-fived me.

Emma and Henry cheering for Mom!

Emma and Henry cheering for Mom!

My Mom, sister, and Mike all gave me hugs, which meant more energy too! As I passed Jen and Mary for the last time, they held up their final sign which was my very favorite Bible verse, Isaiah 40:31. “Those that hope in the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall run and not grow weary.” With roughly 6 miles to go that became my mantra and I repeated it over and over again in my head as I came closer to the finish. I was still running (slow) and I was so excited that I was still able to run and be strong this late in the race. One truth I’ve experienced in training for and finishing Ironman is that each of us is much stronger and more capable than we can ever imagine; there is so much inside that we never tap into unless we dare greatly. I’ve longed for and trained hard to have a race like this where everything falls into place; it hasn’t always been my day, but today it was and how special for it to happen at Ironman!

The last mile was hard. It was a gradual uphill and my legs were finally feeling a little wobbly, like they might just give out on me. I think it was also mentally difficult to see this day coming to an end. Such a bittersweet feeling. As I made my way toward the glowing Capitol building and the sounds of the finish, I thought about all of the hours of training, early morning wake-ups, time away from my family and friends, everything that I had poured into this event. I also thought about my Dad and how cool it would have been for him to see this. Though he wasn’t there in person, I know that he was watching over me and would have been proud.

Finish—I finally made the last turn and all I could see was the bright light. The sound of the crowd was deafening. I raised my hands and blew a kiss up to my Dad as I crossed the finish line and became an Ironman! This truly had been the race of a lifetime for me. Everything fell into place the way Coach Suzy and I had planned and discussed.  I could not have done it without her.  It feels great, yet sad, to say that I don’t know if any race will ever top this one!

Thanks—I couldn’t have had a day like this one without the help of so many people. First, to my husband, Mike—thank you for being so devoted, encouraging and self-sacrificing so that I could undertake this journey.

Thank you, Mike!!

Thank you, Mike!!

Emma and Henry, thank you for lifting me up with your sweet notes, hugs, and words when I felt worried and discouraged (especially during our vacation in Wisconsin 🙂 ). Mom and Lynne—thank you for believing in me and making the trip to Madison to help with the kids and to see the race. It wouldn’t have been the same without you there. Jen and Mary, my sweet, creative, sign-making childhood friends—you two kept a smile on my face the entire day. I’m so appreciative of the efforts you both put in to follow me around the course all day—I’m very blessed to have you ladies in my life.

Coach Suzy and Coach Joe—without your training, advice, friendship, and encouragement this year, this finish and amazing day would not be possible. I want to thank you both for Experience Triathlon and the outstanding support the team provides; being a part of ET has changed my life. ET Cheer Crew—you guys are world-class and the loudest, classiest, most fun group out there. You radiate energy to every ET athlete! Laurie—You came up with an incredibly accurate, spot-on nutrition plan for me that allowed me to keep going all day without issue. I’m pretty sure it will be a while before I have a taste for beef jerky, but Thank You for the amazing job you do! Thanks so much to Susan G and Amy H for taking care of my bike and bags, and to Coach Sarah for all of her cycling knowledge and massage expertise. Thanks to Spokes Wheaton for all of the repairs and tune-ups on my bike leading up to Ironman. To my fellow ET Ironman Wisconsin teammates—it has been so much fun training this year with all of you. Thanks for being there during the long group rides, workouts, camps, and socials. Congratulations to all of you for awesome finishes. 2016, anyone?! Finally, thanks to all my neighbors, family, and friends who tracked or followed me that day, watched me cross the finish line from home, and who sent messages of support and congrats. I’m ever grateful to each and every one of you!

Mementos, Ironman Wisconsin-2014

Mementos, Ironman Wisconsin-2014

Enjoy over 1100 photos from our epic weekend in Madison on the ET Photo Gallery!

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  • I’m sooo happy for you Laura!! What an amazing journey you had. I’ll always cherish the moments we shared along the path to your dream. Your emotion touched me deeply. Especially this moment at the finish line when you saw Coach Suzy. 🙂

  • WOW ~ what a journey we’ve had together, Laura!!! You are absolutely right…I WAS so happy when I saw you on State St., and every other time I saw you looking strong and smiling throughout the day! I can’t even begin to express how gratifying it was for me as your coach to watch “The Race of a Lifetime” unfold in front of my eyes…it’s proof positive of what can happen when you follow the plan, stay focused and committed during the highs and lows of Ironman training, and GET IT DONE!!!! Congratulations!!