My Ironman Journey

My Ironman Journey

sue ironmanby Sue A.

“One foot in front of the other….don‘t walk off the course….let your friends pull you in…..”

These were the words that were running through my head as I walked through the darkness of the UW campus on the shores of Lake Mendota with the injured, the tired, and the hopeful. This was the final leg of my first Ironman and the end was in sight, but extreme stomach issues had forced me to slow to a walk for the last nine miles. The words that ran through my head weren’t mine, they were actually Coach Joe’s from that morning during our final prerace chat, and little did he know that they would resonate with me through the entire day.

The morning dawned crisp and clear, a perfect pre-fall day. The weather report had originally called for mid-60’s but had improved as the week progressed. We woke and dressed – my sister Julie who was also doing her first Ironman today, my wonderful boyfriend Chris and sherpa for the both of us, and myself. I was ready – nine months of training culminating in this day. The training wasn’t without its trials – early on we experienced what seemed like never ending rain on our rides, we didn’t get an open water swim in at Centennial Beach until mid-June due to bad weather… and then there was the woman in the Hummer who turned in front of me on Campton Hills Road, causing me to lay my bike down to keep from hitting her head on, and put an end to my carbon frame.

Despite the setbacks, here we were. I was ready to go and excited for the day. We entered the water and the gun went off, beginning the day in earnest. A few minutes into the swim I started experiencing quite a bit of contact but wasn’t intimidated as I am an experienced open water swimmer. I wasn’t prepared for the constant contact however – there seemed to be people coming at me from every angle, cutting me off, hitting me in the head, grabbing my leg, to the point where I started to take in water. The remainder of the swim became a battle to clear my lungs, forcing me to slow down considerably and stop several times to keep from having a full-on asthma attack in the water. I was never so happy to finish a swim, and though I knew my time was considerably more than the sub 1:10 I was hoping for, I looked forward to changing and getting on the bike.

The bike was a gas… perfect weather and high spirits made me excited to get out on the loop, where I knew most of the crowds were. The difficult swim made for a challenging first few hours. I still had quite a bit of water in my lungs and was having a hard time taking deep breaths, which made it difficult to recover from the constant hills on the course. The great thing about the Ironman distance though is that you have a lot of time to fix things when they go wrong. In this case, time was on my side and by the time I hit the three big hills at the back end of the loop I was in better shape. The breathing difficulties actually helped me to negative split the course, a strategy Coach Joe and I had discussed a few times, and by the time I was heading back to Madison on the stick I felt good enough to open it up some. My mood remained great – the crowds were phenomenal, and it was wonderful to see the world famous ET Cheer Crew and my kids twice on the tough 2nd hill. Due to the negative split my power levels were in great shape to set me up for a strong run, and after almost 112 miles I was ready to be done with that bike!

I dropped the bike, changed again, and headed out onto the run course after exchanging a few positive words with Chris. I started running confidently, and continued to feel pretty good for almost 5-6 miles. I ran past a few people I knew, including Julie who had come into the race with foot issues and knew her run would be challenging. I walked with her for a bit, gave her a few Tums and some words of encouragement, and continued on my way. Soon after the stomach cramps started, and my hopes of a solid run leg went out the window as they became more and more frequent. I was taking in coke and water and whatever I could get into my stomach, but it was too late to salvage – I didn’t have enough in the tank to keep running. So I walked in the last nine miles, through the campus, through the darkness, in parts of the path where all I could see were the glow sticks from the other athletes who were still out there. I ran into a few teammates who all encouraged me to keep going, and thought of Coach Joe’s words many times. I knew I would make it well before the cutoff so my mood was still positive, and once I turned back toward downtown my excitement grew. Less than a half mile from the finish Chris found me, and asked me how I was. I told him, “This isn’t the day I was hoping for, but I’m happy and looking forward to finishing.” As I turned the final corner to the finisher chute my stomach settled and I went for it, running to the finish, and with a big smile and my arms held high. I was an Ironman!

Once I finished and the post-race excitement calmed down, I reflected on the events of the day. All of it – from the tough swim, to the long, long bike, to the difficulty plagued run – was part of the experience, and part of my Ironman journey.

Enjoy all the pictures of our amazing weekend in Madison on the ET Photo Gallery!

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  • Drew Repoza

    Congratulations, Sue! Way to hang in there and accomplish your goal! I never had a doubt you’d get this done, because you were always so strong in all of our training rides and runs together.

  • Alyse

    Great story on perseverance!

  • Fall down seven and get up Eight! Sue, you showed us what the true spirit of the Ironman is all about. It’s not when it goes easy, it’s when it almost brings you to your knees. When it hurts so bad that you think you just can’t go on. When your soul is completely exposed and there is no place to hide. This, is the Ironman. So, so proud of how you pushed through all the demons and got.. it.. done! I will always remember our special moment-in-time at the finish-line captured on the video by Dennis and Mary. 🙂

  • Sharon Kirkland

    Congratulations on finishing your first Ironman. It wasn’t easy, but you kept going! So happy for you!!!

  • rob

    Great job Sue! You kept going no matter what. You are a true Ironman! Congratulations.