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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

2010 Ironman Wisconsin The thoughts and rumblings inside an age-group athlete

It was an early rise at about 4am after one of my most restless nights of sleep ever. I got in a simple breakfast and then double-checked everything for about the tenth time in 24 hours. I rode downtown with my dad and Kate and thought about everything that I have put into this one day. We parked a block away from the finish line, which is a block away from transition, perfect! A quick walk up to the capitol to drop off my special needs bags for the bike and run and then I headed down to get body marked and wait in line for transition to open. I was the third person to get into transition and walked the ¼ mile distance to my bike alone. Got to my bike checked my tires…120psi just where I want them, loaded up the nutrition and fluids. I walked away from my bike knowing the next time I saw it I would be getting on it! Got inside to the Monona terrace and once again double-checked my T1 and T2 bags. Once I was done I found quiet spot with my dad and Kate and waited until it was time to head down for the start.

To be honest I could not believe how calm I was all race morning. Everything was going so well and it was very surreal that the day was finally here. For two years I had been a spectator looking in, and now I was the view of an athlete for the whole day. My family finally got down and we all met up. I said my final goodbyes on the helix and started the walk down to the water, getting my wetsuit on in the meantime. All athletes before entering the water have to walk over a timing mat to activate their timing chip so it was a bit of a bottleneck, and I was a little worried if I would be in the water for the strict 7am start. Right before I stepped into the water I turned around and could not believe how many spectators were up at 6:45am to watch the start, incredible.

Once I was in the water I floated right to the front line about halfway in between the shoreline and the boat ramp. I have always been fond of being swam over then having to swim over someone and being more exposed to kicks and accidental punches, so the first row was my spot. I checked with people around me and no one was expecting to swim better then 1:05 so I was in the right area…I hoped. U2’s “Beautiful Day” started and soon enough I heard “One minute until your Ironman starts”. Still I was not the least bit nervous. There is was laying on my back in the water, looking into the beautiful blue sky, on an absolute perfect race morning and looking over to the Monona Terrace, packed with thousands of supporters lining every inch of all four levels a quarter mile long. My time was finally here, I started my watch a minute early and then set my sight forward and just waited for the cannon.

“Boom” the cannon fired and we were off. The first couple hundred meters I must have been inside a magical bubble because I felt as if there was no contact whatsoever, or maybe I was wide enough to avoid all the commotion beside the buoys. I heard all the horror stories of people losing goggles, getting kicked, punched, or elbowed, and I waited for it, and nothing came. 5 minutes in and those nerves I thought would never show up did, and in a bad way. I had to stop dead in my tracks, tread water and let my stomach discard what I had consumed before the race, and all I could think was, calories lost, damn. That sick feeling stayed in my stomach through the entire swim and it helped bring in some negative thoughts into my head. Soon the excitement was gone and now my mind was occupied with thoughts of just how long a day it was going to be, and do I really want to do this? Reality had finally set 500 meters into the swim and I was already in a low spot your not supposed to hit until the second half of the marathon. The second loop was mostly uneventful I stayed wide again and sighted off swimmers on my left, oops I almost swam into one of the white boat buoys, NOT the orange swim course buoys, maybe some people are not the best to sight off (lesson learned). As we swam the back half of the course I watched the Monona Terrace pass by me. It’s one of those moments you just swell up inside and think how incredible this really is. Before I knew it I heard the rumbles of Mike Reiley and it was time to make the last turn towards shore and sight towards “large silver building” just above the swim exit. I promised myself to leave my swim behind me and get on with my day.

Once I was out of the water I immediately felt great. Maybe it was the crowd, or maybe it was the relief the swim was done. I got stripped and started my run/jog up the helix. I have always looked for an adrenaline rush that is better then when I ran with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain a couple summers ago and this was it! Friends and families were everywhere and lined every inch of the transition at least 5 deep. I must have had the biggest smile on my face and my family went nuts when they saw me, my attitude just change 180 degrees right their in a matter of seconds. I got inside the terrace grabbed my bag put my gear on and headed towards my bike. Being in the male 25-29 age group and having bib#259 my biked virtually had valet parking in transition. I was put next to the pro’s rack so I enjoyed a leisurely jog through transition barefooted and just took in the atmosphere that is Ironman. I grabbed my bike, headed to the line, mounted and started to get ready for the best 112 mile bike ride of my summer.

My bike plan was simple, take it easy through the first loop, don’t push too hard on the hills, take it a bit harder the second time around, and then spin my legs on the return home and get ready for my first marathon ever. I just had to remember to eat, eat, eat, and get the necessary fluids in which is extremely important, as I was using the bike to bank calories for my run after. The first RR tracks I hit and the first bottle I lost…oh well aid stations are every 10 miles so what is 10 miles without water? I felt good on the bike, really good, it was almost too good. I wasn’t going hard at all, passing others the whole way to Verona and my HR was continually dropping into the 140-145 range, right where I wanted it. I attribute this to a perfect bike taper done the three weeks coming into Ironman. I got to the 40 mile loop right on schedule, I was gaining position on everyone else, feeling great and eating exactly how I planned. After passing Verona I entered the most mind numbing 10 miles on the bike course (which we had to do twice) from HWY G to HWY92 full of false flats, and choppy roads, but I rode on still feeling great. I caught up to a training friend on met this summer, chatted about the swim for a little wished each other well, then went back to my race. The first significant hill of the day presented itself in Mt. Horeb, my endless training rides on the course throughout the summer told me exactly how to climb this hill and I did so in perfect fashion staying in my saddle, spinning effortlessly. I looked over to my right and there was my family again. I hit another aid station about 30 miles into the ride and then all the sudden my stomach started to rebel. “Uh oh” I could no longer take in any gels, and the pure sight and thought of taking in another was not pleasant. I tried to eat a Cliff Bar instead and my mouth dried up so fast I couldn’t swallow any of it. “Ok time to change the plan” I thought and so I planned to pick up a couple of bananas in Cross Plains. I went up and down the rollers of Witte Road with ease and then I pushed it a bit after the descent on Garfoot using the free speed I had collected on the descent to push the pace. Once I got to Cross Plains I grabbed a couple bananas but only ate one and dropped the other. I tried again for another gel shortly after, my stomach said “no”. Before I knew it I was at the climbs up Old Sauk Pass, Timber Lane, and Midtown Road and they were incredible. I have biked these road countless times the past couple of years, but this time they were full of family and friends on both sides of the roads screaming and cheering for us and even some running up beside us made it seem like we were in the Tour De France. Each hill I climbed I felt great and never saw my HR rise above 155. As soon as I entered for the second time Verona I felt like the course had thinned out magically and now I had Main St all to myself as I raced through town with crowds once again on both sides this time probably 10 deep and an announcer calling out my name “Ben Cagle #259 from Madison, Wisconsin” the crowd roared, I guess it helps sometimes to be the hometown kid! I stopped at the special needs bag pickup quickly to get my second bottle of Gatorade (about another 150 calories), and grabbed some combos, still nothing, my stomach could only take in liquids and bananas for some reason. Off I went and about 2 miles later my aero bottle cage broke off dangling right in front of my handlebars next to my front wheel on a descent that I was hitting about 35 mph on, NOT GOOD! Once I got to a flatter portion of the course I ripped that sucker off, tossed it to the side and went on. Once again losing my water bottle, and now I only had 1 bottle cage to hold my fluids so I kept my Gatorade (those were the only calories I could take in) in that. I finished my last tough climb of the day up Midtown road and I still felt great! How could I be feeling this good with not being able to eat for 50 or so miles? Once I returned to Verona the second time my energy level dropped like no other. I was tired, I wanted off my bike, and worst of all I still had 20 miles to go.

I returned to Madison and rode the last ½ mile or so with my feet out of my bike cleats and on top of my shoes for an easy exit off the bike. I spun one final time up the helix handed my bike off to a volunteer and was curious to see how my legs would respond to running on the ground. Maybe it was the fact that I stopped about 5 times on the bike, or that I took the last 15 miles very easy, but I have never felt that good after riding for that long on my bike. I was surprised by how good I felt, and my initial idea of taking a couple minutes in T2 to rest and regroup wasn’t really needed. I grabbed my T2 bad sat down, took my helmet off, put my runners on, grabbed my fuelbelt and off I went for the marathon. I saw the race clock just as I hit the run start, it read 7:29:xx. I wanted to be about 15 minutes faster at this point but “Great if I can pull out a 4:29:xx marathon I can break my goal of 12 hours” I thought. I was very pleased to be in this position given my slower the expected swim, and bike legs along with the problems I had on the bike.

I ran out to start the marathon (my first ever) and was immediately greeted by family and friends with a nice sign saying “Welcome home, now run a marathon!” yeah lets do it, I thought. The first mile is much easier then it should be as you run past spectators lining every inch of the capitol loop and State Street and I reminded myself to hold back. I still ended up ticking off a 7:45 mile, which was a lot faster then I had planned for, and only had to run another 25 miles. Once I hit the first aid station by the Kohl Center I established my rhythm and goal of running to each aid station and then walking through the aid stations. The miles started to slowly tick away and I was still feeling great. How could this be happening to me without eating for so long? I continued with my pace and soon was on State Street, just past the 6-mile mark.

am sure I started to pick up the pace here, but I couldn’t help it feeling so good and feeding off the energy of the crowd. I had ran the first 6 miles at almost 10 minutes per mile, the exact pace I wanted to hold for all 26.2 miles.

Soon I got off State Street and started the back half of the first loop of the marathon. This would be the hardest part of the run course. Running on a trail along the lake through a wooded area full of bends and curves that had me thinking if I would ever reach the 9-mile turn around. I kept to my pace and continued to walk through each aid station taking in fruit, pretzels, cookies and whatever else my stomach could handle. My original nutrition plan was now out the window and I was in full on “I want everything and anything my stomach can handle mode” Upon reaching the 9 mile turn around I head back towards the capital to start my second half of the run. My pace had now slowed down by about a minute per mile but I was still somehow feeling decent enough to pull through. Getting back to the capital loop came at the perfect time. The crowd support was amazing and helped me push through miles 12 and 13 rather easily. I hit the mile 13 turnaround grabbed my special needs run bag and deserted my fuelbelt as I was not using it enough and didn’t want to carry anything else. The only mistake I made was not take out my salt tablets, which I found out I would need badly for the last 13 miles.

I headed out for my final loop and the last 13 miles of the marathon. And then it hit me, like Clay Matthews coming off the backside for a sack. All the sudden I couldn’t move my legs, the mind said, “run” and the body said “no”. My stride shortened and even while walking wasn’t even that impressive. I was now being passed while walking by other people walking! I got to the stadium tried to run again, but still nothing. The only comforting part of this was that I was talking to someone who was on his 4th Ironman, and was having his worst one yet, even the vets struggle. Once I was on Breese Terrace I walked with my dad,he could have not met me in a better place. We walked the length of the street together shared the events of our day, and then we took different directions and he said he would see me at the finish. I tried running again and still nothing responded in my legs. I don’t know how to describe this feeling, but it was so weird that my mind kept saying, “RUN!”, and my legs kept giving the brain the middle finger. My pace had gone from the magically 10 minute miles to a 15-minute mile walk. I was loosing time fast with no sight of the end near.

There I was mile 18, lying on my back staring into the evenings setting sun. My stomach wanted nothing more, and was now starting a mutiny against me. I turned over and puked whatever was left in my stomach. Just at that moment a kind spectator saw me and asked if I needed anything, “yes! I will take a cookie and coke please.” Boom! As if Houdini himself appeared he pulled out a can of coke (cold I might add), a cookie, and bag of endurolytes out for me. I got back up and resumed walking. This was the hardest part of the race for me, and while most have the hardest part come physically, mine came mentally in the realization that I would need to run 2-3 minute miles to break 12 hours. My time goal was now out the window, and for me that was a hard thought to digest. It was at this point that I told myself to just finish as strong as I could and enjoy the last 8 miles of this whole day and appreciate everything that I have done, I would go for 12 hours another time, but for now I had to finish the task at hand.

I found a small bridge about 50 yards ahead and promised myself when I was there I would run again. And then just like it hit me I was able to find my legs again, my stride was not impressive, but I was shuffling forward and getting closer to the end. A mile later and I was on State Street once again, and for a moment all the pain was aside, now with the crowd just carrying me forward. I found Kate and she ran alongside of me, I have to admit that might have been the best part of the run. Seeing just how happy she was helped my spirits tremendously. I exited State Street and set off for the long stretch on the Howard Temin Bike Path once again, the loneliest part of the run, but not before my sister caught up and found me. I could just see in her face how proud she was of me, and she was having a blast on Street Street drinking the afternoon away with everyone. She somehow managed to meet up with me a ¼ mle away from everyone else, obviously winded and a bit intoxicated, but nonetheless being a great supporting sister and running with me for a bit.

For the last 8 or so miles I adjusted the plan I decided to take each mile at a time. Mile 19 was the finish line, and then mile 20 was another finish line, they were small victories, but small things always lead to big things. All of the sudden I was at the last turnaround (mile 22), “time to take this thing home!” I thought. I was going to do it and just had to run 4 more miles, easy to say when it feels like someone is pulling the muscle right off the bones in your legs. I guess that is what happens after 136 miles of work. Mile 25, it was now dark and I planned on it still being light, but this was it the final mile. I have dreamt of this mile for the past year and know every inch that it lines up to the finish. I passed the final aid station, or as I know refer to them, free buffets, zipped up my jersey and just took in everything that is the Ironman atmosphere. Once again the street was lined 3-4 people deep probably the last third mile. I could not tell you what was going through my mind at this moment, or just how big my smile was, but I do know that my legs felt like they were running on a could, and as I got closer to the line the feeling of pride swelled up inside of me. I let the runner behind me pass me so I could have the final stretch to myself. My whole run down the finishing chute is really just a blur, but as I crossed the line I put my arms in the air and let out the biggest scream of pride and happiness I could muster at that point. It was done, and I was finally an Ironman. To know what it feels like to cross the line is something that you just have to find out on your own, I really can’t describe it in words, but boy was that a feeling of elation.

I was caught at the line by two volunteers who walked me all the way to the athlete exit where I was met with the best damn support crew one could have at this event. I passed on my finishing picture at first because there was one person who deserved to be in that picture with me. I grabbed my mom and brought her back for them to take our picture, she deserved this just as much as I did.

I took a quick visit to medical and weigh in at a whopping 162 pounds, I was 178 that morning. I spent a few moments in the medical tent and just witnessed the people who were coming in. With the favorable conditions this year one lady who has volunteered every year said this was the last chaotic year in the medical tent. Yet people kept coming in, barely walking, puking, looking like just came from a week in the desert. One guy next to me was so delirious I couldn’t help but laugh. One minute he wanted a cookie then next he was puking just as hard as a kid on his 21t birthday, at one point I think he was hitting on the nurse, but maybe that was him being so delirious. I exited the tent met my dad and drove home.

Kate and I returned at 11 to watch the final few come in. The last hour is pretty special seeing the people who were doing that for 16-17 hours. One man came in who was blind. What amazed me about this man, was not only did he do this without his sight, but he trusted 3 people to guide him from swim, to bike, to run to get him their, talk about courage! I wonder how he felt during the swim portion.

So here I sit sometime removed from Ironman and over the disappointment of not reaching my goal of going under 12 hours. I had a hard time with this for a couple weeks, and Kate along with others wondered why. Why you ask? Well it’s simple, being an athlete in training and consistently surrounding yourself around others who are, or have done the 140.6 mile journey you realize how possible it is. You make a believer out of yourself, and for me the 140.6 miles was a distance that I thought was crazy and one point. But then I started to bike 40 miles, then 60, then all the sudden I was biking over 100 miles. I learned to run, then run further, and I always knew how to swim. The training was about building up my abilities to cover the 140.6 miles in one day, and as soon as I realized that was possible I wondered how fast I could do it. I made the goal of 12 hours based on my training abilities, and the goal was just not some lofty goal that was never reachable, because I constantly proved it in my races and training, I knew that I could do it. Coming up short meant that at some point in the day I failed to execute how I wanted, but failure always leads to success later on. So in 2012 I will be back again, going for Ironman #2 and to take what is mine, the fire is already burning!

2010 Ironman Wisconsin By The Numbers

2200 Expected caloric intake during bike leg

1000 Estimated actual caloric intake during bike leg

777 Minutes it took to finish the race

354 People that passed me on the marathon

151 People I passed on the bike leg

16 Pounds lost on during the race

5 Miles walked on the marathon (Miles 14-18)

4 Times I had to pull over at aid stations on the bike after loosing my bottle cage

3 Minutes I spent showing the mile 18 marker what I had eaten that day

0 Times I thought that I wouldn’t finish


Monday, October 18, 2010

IM Recovery - I have been craving wings everyday!

Well it seems as if my recovery from Ironman has come and gone. The obvious sign would be that it is 2:00am Monday morning while I am writing this with not the slightest bit of fatigue to put me to bed. That is compared to the weeks after Ironman where I would just doze off in the middle of the day, or wake up exhausted while the whole time my body was never feeling fresh. Now here I sit mentally, physically, and emotionally recharged and ready to go again. The only problem is that the days are getting shorter, the air has a cold bite to it, and the snow is soon gonna hit. So after my last race in 2 weeks (Haunted Hustle Half-Marathon) it is time to put 2010 behind me and start prepping for 2011.
Before we get ahead of ourselves I just want to comment on how great a recovery can be after an Ironman. The Friday after the race Kate and I took a nice vacation to San Francisco. This trip was purposefully planned to coordinate with the Brewers vs Giants series, and is the main reason why we ended up in S.F. that week. I only brought my running shoes and even those were never touched. It felt great to sleep in, eat whatever I wanted (basically anything in sight), and drink beers from one brewery to the next. We went to two Brewer games, spent an afternoon at the zoo, walked around Castro Street, watched a sunset next to a dead seal (yes you just read that correctly), and tried out the public transportation scene (trust me it really is a scene in S.F.) We also had some of the best sushi I've ever tried. If you notice, I made no mention of Fisherman's Wharf, Golden Gate Bridge, or Alcatraz. We skipped most of the tourist locales, even though we stopped at the Wharf for an hour or so, but instead just meandered through the city with no real direction everyday. It felt great to just for once not have a set schedule every day, or make sure I was in bed by a certain time, eating the right foods, and to just simply relax and enjoy each others company. After all we started this whole relationship back in March, and I felt like until that week I couldn't even tell you the color of Kate's eyes because it seemed as if I barely ever saw her this summer(they are brown if your curious), but ironman training will do that to you, you just simply don't have much time away from it.
After we returned from our trip we started the 4-5 month stretch of living in different cities. Kate is in Milwaukee, and I am in Madison. Not far away at all only a 90 minute drive apart, but just enough to not see each other too much. My birthday came and went along with some much needed time with family. Living this interim stretch at home with my parents has been a surprisingly good time. No longer do I have to deal with the roommate situation that has seemed to have been an "up and down" battle me for the past 7 years. I've set aside some money and prepared to finish my college degree this spring in LaCrosse. But mainly it has been very relaxing, the stress that Milwaukee was causing me was too much and I am so glad that I am out of that city.
My grandma has moved into my parents house temporarily as well, and even though it is not the best situation I have come to truly enjoy every minute with my Grandma. She's an amazing women who is 86 years young, suffers from glycoma, and is battling with lung cancer as we speak. And yet everyday she shows the bravery and courage I could only hope to have. I get to sit down with her and talk every day, mostly about the past and what has made her happy every day to this point in her life.
I have even raced a couple times on very minimal training as well. Did a 10k with my brother (his first ever) and wasn't expecting much and finished with a 46:16, yet another PR for the year! My brother finished just over 50:00 which I probably couldn't have even done at this time last year, way to go Nick! And then there was the Green Bay Duathlon last weekend. Usual routine here from the summer, work late the night before, drive up early race morning, and then sprint back home. This occasion was a bit more of a stretch in that I drove to Milwaukee Saturday night (2am) then drove up to GB a couple hours later so I was racing on almost zero rest and still put in a good performance. One thing I would like to change about next year would be to spend more time post race at the race rather then get in the car and get back home to work. If these races would start from when you woke up until you reached your house again I think I would win every time. It seems like Kate has the car running at the finish line and I just ride my bike right onto the rack and get in the car after the race sometimes.
I have written my IM race report which I guess I should post sometime in the near future, and am now turning my focus onto 2011. Obviously the goals are to get faster and build my endurance base, but aside from that I am debating which race I will make as the "big one" of the season. I have put some serious thought into running a stand alone marathon, but only really want to do this as it will get me to work on my run base A LOT. I really want to try and race 3-4 70.3's and try to use that as a good chance to understand how my body works in longer distance races. One thing I know is that I want to stretch my season longer and add in more races. Finally coaching is something that I am really starting to research and possibly pursue, more on that later. Until now next time I will make another attempt at sleep.