A life changing journey!
by Vishal K.
Ironman Wisconsin 2023 race day is here!!
I began my day at approximately 4 am, enjoyed a good breakfast, did my warmups, packed all my belongings, and made my way to Monona Terrace. Upon arrival, I revisited the transition area and gear drop-off point to ensure everything was in order. Met my Coach Joe, Coach Christa, Experience Triathlon (ET) cheer group, wished all good luck and headed to swim start.
Swim Course: The gun goes off at 7am, and it is go time. First loop was smooth, I finished it in 51 min. I encountered some difficulties in the second loop, particularly in the last 900 yards or so. Sun was out full by the time I was in the second loop, Intense glare messed up my sighting. I was dehydrated as I was swimming non-stop for 1 and a half hours. Dehydration had taken its toll, making me feel slightly dizzy and disoriented. And to make matters worse, someone accidentally grabbed my right arm when I was about to breathe in, completely disturbing my rhythm. Seriously, it was rough out there. Wish there was a penalty for the swim. I hate when Ironman officials say “Those (Pros/PR chasing) are nice people. But if you are in their way, get away otherwise they will swim over you” WTF. Wish I had eyes on my feet too to see them. I tried to look around/inside for the guy who grabbed my hand, but did not see anyone. But before I realized it, my water phobia kicked in. I usually close my eyes and only open while breathing or sighting. (A phobia I carried since childhood. I nearly drowned as a kid when a snake popped right into my face while swimming in our farm well). My heart started pounding, I was putting extra energy to move through the water, I did not make much progress. In fact my Garmin watch showed zero pace around that time. I tried to switch to breaststroke, but my legs were cramping due to dehydration. To save legs for the remainder of the event, I stopped kicking and continued with slow paced freestyle swim. It was extremely challenging, but I survived. I had aimed to perform at a level closer to my training average swim pace of under 2:30 minutes per 100 yards. First loop I clocked 2:30 min / 100 yard pace. But the second loop was dead slow, 3:20 min/100 yards.
At the swim exit, I found myself unable to stand. Fortunately, my friend from ET Club, Chris Haff, was volunteering at the swim exit. He quickly jumped into action, rushing over to assist me. He guided me to a safe area, encouraged me to lie down, and helped me out of my wetsuit. In that challenging moment, thoughts of giving up on the IronMan race crossed my mind. I wondered if I barely met the swim cut off, would I be able to meet the bike cut-off? Will I be able to finish the race today? I was very depressed and I considered putting an end to the madness right there. Typically, the swim is the shortest segment of an IronMan race, only 10-15% of the overall course time. It was frustrating for me that I had struggled during this shortest leg. Chris calmed me down and walked with me until I regained my composure. I started going up the helix ramp, I began to hear some familiar voices Coach Joe, Eric, Tom, Christa, shouting “Looking good, Vishal”, “You got this”. This further helped to soothe my nerves. I continued running up the helix ramp. I met my family, gave a tight hug to my mom and wife, and felt an adrenaline rush. I decided that I am not just going to finish this race today, but I am going to crush it in the remaining legs (Bike n Run).
At transition, I saw Ivan heading to Bike start, wished him luck. Ivan has been a great friend, motivator and an inspiration to me. Ivan once bailed me out in the Steelhead IronMan 70.3 race when I was cramping severely at the run start. I pulled my shit together and decided to catch up with my partner. I popped in one CrampFix shot (tasted like hell but it worked), picked up all gears and the bike. Enthusiastic volunteers fed me, put on sunscreen, helped me put on bike shoes, knee brace, etc …. Wow!! Thanks to all the wonderful volunteers. I never had this smooth transition before.
I started the bike course around 10 am. It was a beautiful day, 70ish F temperature, a bit overcast, perfect for riding. I rode easy for the first couple of miles as my heart rate was still elevated (170 ish) from swimming. I could not use the aero bar with the trashed arms, so I had no option but to ride easy.
Per our game plan, I ride all the uphills with an easy pace, allowing everyone to pass. I caught up with most of them once the hill was over. Rest of the course I rode above avg. speed. I breathed a first sigh of relief when I caught up with Ivan around the 25th mile. Here onwards if anything goes wrong, I knew Ivan would be there to save my ass. I continued riding hard, I soon caught up with David H around the 45th mile. I was a bit surprised to see David. I drafted him a couple of miles and crossed him at the aid station. After the race I came to know that David exited due to illness 🙁
Around the 47th mile, I came across ET cheer group. I got a sudden surge of energy seeing the ET cheer group. With this new energy, I dash out to the second loop. And in no time, I was back to my ET cheer group energy refueling station :D. I might have taken a similar amount of time for the second loop but somehow felt that time passed very quickly. I got the needed energy boost again.
After completing the second loop, I started heading back, I dropped the speed to allow my legs to recover for the run. I finished the bike course in 7:33 hours, half an hour earlier than expected finish time (During training, it took 8+ hours to finish the same course). I nailed the bike course, I gained some time for the next leg and plus enough gas left in the tank for a marathon. Great!
Time for “THE royal treatment”, again had a similar experience in transition. Volunteers helped with all the things, I couldn’t say no to the pampering. I spent some extra time in the transition to enjoy the volunteer hospitality. The only thing volunteers did not do was run on behalf of me.
At Run start (5:30 pm), by now I was very much in the game, and had 7 plus hours at hand for a full marathon, more than enough to handle all kinds of challenges. I dashed out but after a mile or so realized that I cannot run on the beaten up legs with my usual pace 10 min per mile, so I slowed down to 12 min per mile pace and I maintained that till the end.
Madison run course was amazing, it was a two loop course in the downtown area, famous landmarks including the Capitol, State Street, Observatory Hill and the highlight was the run through the Camp Randall stadium. That artificial turf from the stadium felt so gooood. I wish the whole marathon was on that turf. No wonder why football players like diving. Run course was also equally challenging, 1000 ft elevation.
Per our game plan, I walked all the hills, kept my heart rate below 150 and saved my legs for the long run. Around the 12th mile, ran into Michael Park, my ET club mate. He was already in the 2nd loop, around the 24th mile. I got a chance to run with him in his last mile, talk to him the entire mile, and his race experience. So proud of you Michael, always something to learn from.
And seeing Michael cross the finish line gave me more motivation for the second loop. Second loop was very easy. By now everyone was walking, I must have crossed more than 100 participants in the second loop. I am glad I carried the Bike light with me, it helped on the Lakeshore trail. It was pitch dark and so many were just walking in groups. At a few spots, I was the only one, nobody ahead or behind me. And Thank god it was the second loop, and by now I knew the route. Otherwise I would have definitely added few extra miles like last year IronMan 70.3 Madison race 😀 (I missed the loop turn hehe).
I maintained the 12 min per mile pace till the end. Felt so good and proud of myself while crossing so many runners on the way to the finish line. Glad that I believed in myself and gave myself a second chance after the bad start.
And at the finish line, I heard the line that I was eagerly waiting for “Congratulations Vishal, you are an IRONMAN” I could not control my emotions, happy tears started rolling down. I spent so many countless hours imagining the finish line, I had so many plans like to jump at the finish line, do the Usian bolt’s signature pose, bite the medal like Nadal etc. But I kind of experienced a brain-fade moment. Instead of doing all the things I planned, I was crying like a baby. Surreal experience! Every emotion hit me at once, excitement, relief, accomplishment, overwhelm, gratefulness and maybe a little sad that it’s over! I fulfilled the dream that I was carrying for the last so many years. And when I met my coach Joe, I was speechless, words were not enough to express what I was feeling, I love you coach Joe.
Thanks again to my wife Sharmila, daughter Narayni for putting up with me. Thanks to my parents for coming this far to support me. Thanks ET club mates. I made so many wonderful friends, proud of you all. You guys are simply the best. I love you guys, so honored to be part of this amazing #TeamET.
I experienced something beyond happiness, a deep Joy. I had trained countless hours, rain, sun, cold and in the basement. It took a lot of energy and time. But this training and the race itself was life teaching. I learned so much about myself and others. I am fulfilled and satisfied. Whatta experience, life changing journey!