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|IRON!! IMWS 2011- Matt Treter|
The weekend began Friday morning with a visit from the Ironman elves, who covered the front yard with M-dots and decorated the car. It was a wonderful surprise and a great way to kickoff the weekend. Thanks to Tifanie for patiently circling the neighborhood, waiting for me to go to sleep on Thursday. Also, thanks to Dave Voggesser, the master elf, who helped plan the operation and provided the army of M-dots. Tifanie and I drove to Madison Friday morning and got through athlete check-in right at 10 AM. While I checked out the athlete dinner that evening, Tifanie picked up my sister Lydia at the Madison airport. (I was floored a couple months earlier when she told me she was going to fly out from DC to support me on the course.)
Saturday morning I met some of the MSM crew at the swim start for a morning workout. A 15-minute swim, 25-minute bike, and 15-minute run was just the thing to get a lot of anxiety out of my system. I got that "What am I doing?!?" feeling Friday night and Saturday’s workout calmed me down. I dropped my bike, bike gear bag, and run gear bag off at transition Saturday afternoon.
Race morning began at 4 AM with the alarm, some coffee, and a PB&J. Tifanie, Lydia, and I headed downtown to drop off my special needs bags for the run and bike, get bodymarked, and stock the bike with bottles and food. From there we had a casual stroll across the top of Monona Terrace and then down to the edge of the water where Tifanie and Lydia could claim a good spectator location. As we sat there, I remember feeling very calm and even commenting that it really didn't even feel like I had a big race today. I was only thinking about the fact that I was going to do a swim that I had done three weeks ago. Biking and running were not anywhere on my radar.
At about 6:40 I headed across the starting mat and into the water, but not before running into a friend, Mike, who joined me. It was nice to be able to tread water next to someone I knew and could chat with. At 6:50 the cannon went off for the pro start. Ten minutes to go. It was amazing how every time I looked over to the shore, there was still a giant mass of triathletes entering the water. It got more and more crowded with everyone shoulder to shoulder in the water. How much time before 7AM? I went to check, but when I hit the button on my watch, it told me that the keys were locked. The keys were locked?!? I don't even know how to lock them...and worse still, how to unlock them. Would I be unable to start my watch and have no knowledge of time, speed, or pace all day? I spent a couple minutes pressing and holding different buttons in different combinations, but to no avail. Certainly someone nearby has the same Garmin and would know. A quick shout out to my neighbors in the water provided no luck. 7 AM must be less than a minute away. After a final panicked mashing of the buttons I see "Keys Unlocked" on the screen. Off goes the cannon about 15 seconds later and I was on my way. (Note to self: You need to determine how to unlock the keys.)
Running up the helix was the first of many incredible experiences that the day would bring. I often thought about how that run up would be tough and tiring after a 2.4-mile swim, but all the cheering spectators that lined both sides of the helix sucked you upwards. Before I was ready for it to end, I was at transition. The guys at transition were fantastic and made you feel like a star. They pulled all your gear out of the bag and lined it up for you. They put all your wet swim gear away for you.
Out I ran from transition to find my bike and see fellow MSMer Dave Ebeling. It was great to start the bike leg with someone I knew. Across the mat I went and was about to press 'Lap' on my Garmin but noticed that it was already on bike mode. Oh well, I guess the button got pressed when the peeler pulled the wetsuit off over the watch. (Note to self: You also need to determine how to lock the keys.)
Down the helix we went and we were on our way. My focus on the bike was to ride much easier than I would normally ride. I was going to ride not by speed, but by perceived exertion (as I don't have a power meter). I had been up to ride the course four times over the course of the summer and knew to be wary of the hills. My plan was to spin in an easy gear on all the uphills and work moderately on the downhills. I was amazed on the very first loop how many people would pass me on the uphills, out of the saddle, working hard. Once they got to the top, they would sit down and rest. So time and time again, they would work hard on the up while I worked less on the up, I'd pedal easily on the down while they rested and coasted slowly, and we'd end up at the same relative position as when we started. I felt pretty confident that I would see a lot of the people who were rocketing up the hills again on the run.
On the second loop, on Stagecoach road, I caught up with Dave Ebeling again as he made sure the rough stretch of road on the course did not bounce the water bottles off the back of his bike. We ended up riding the last 25 miles back to Monona Terrace together...not blocking, not drafting...but together. It was funny because as we were leaving Verona for the last time I heard one spectator tell his friend: "Look at them. See, they're working together." I also heard a funny: "Go matching jerseys!"
Up the other helix I went and handed my bike to a volunteer. (So nice not to have to re-rack my bike.) Another awesome volunteer got me set up with my run gear. Another application of sunscreen and I was on my way.
At the beginning of the run I focused on setting a moderate pace, something I could maintain for 10 miles. I'd wait to make any major decisions until then. I liked how the run course was set up. There are a lot turns and changes of direction that help you break the course down into small pieces. I saw my wife and my sister next to the Capitol building...a great way to start the run.
Next up was running around the football field at Camp Randall Stadium, which was a surreal experience. All day you have been surrounded by spectators who are yelling and ringing cowbells. Spectators are not allowed in the football stadium. It's like someone pressed the mute button. Silence. It was like taking a deep mental breath before continuing on. But before leaving I made sure to zip up the tri top, straighten the number, and try to smile for the photographer. Good. Now unzip that tri top...it's hot.
Observatory Drive was back on the course this year...the only real hill on the run course, but a nasty one. In a previous scouting run on the course, I had picked out a nice crosswalk where I would begin to walk, and another where I would begin to run again. It was in this interval where I got passed by Tom, my co-worker...my much younger co-worker. He jestingly said "Pick it up old-timer!" as he went by. It was great to see Tom, another first-timer, on the course having a good day.
But what goes up, comes back down and sends you onto State Street, which was another incredible experience. The sidewalks and restaurant patios were packed with people and I knew that I would see my wife and the group at the turnaround. The spectators are just going nuts along this stretch and I heard many shouts of "Go Madness!" along the way.
Back I went to the turnaround at 13.1. I tried not to look too long at the finish line, a mere half block from where I had to make a 180-degree turn to head back out. Instead, I focused on Dave Voggesser (working at the run special needs area) and the giant wedge of cheese he was wearing on his head. I was feeling pretty good at this point and decided not to stop for anything. My wife, sister, and friends were there on State Street to cheer me out onto the second loop of the run.
Miles 18-20 were the roughest for me. The sun was hitting that late afternoon burn, my legs were really tired, and I hit the bottom of Observatory Drive for the second time. I took an extra long walk to the very, very top and gathered myself. An easy run down the hill and I'd have the energy of State Street (and my support group) to carry me a bit. When I got back to the lakefront path, the sun had gone down enough for the temperature to start cooling down. Besides the drop in temperature, the crushed limestone and shade from the trees worked wonders. My legs came back and I started ticking off the final miles.
The finishing chute was amazing. The people. The lights. The noise. The emotion. I'm not sure how 8+ months of hard work and sacrifice can be worth that one fleeting moment, but it was. I heard Mike Reilly call me an ‘Ironman’. I looked for Tifanie down the chute. She was there. I didn't see her. I knew I wouldn't...I was just too overwhelmed.
I stopped. I stopped after 12 hours, 52 minutes, and 7 seconds. I stopped after 36 weeks and 4,400 miles. I kinda wanted to throw up, but I think that was the emotion and it went away after a brief moment. I could walk. It was pretty wobbly, but that was fine, I had nowhere I needed to be right now...and I had a volunteer holding my arm. Medal, check. Finisher hat, check. Finisher shirt, check. Wife, sister, and friends on the other side, double-check.
Shortly afterwards Tifanie, Lydia, and I met up with Tom and went to State Street. We sat at a table next to the course with some pizza and a beer and cheered on athletes for an hour or so. We then got our gear out of transition and went to the finish line for the final hour of the race. That is really a special time at Ironman as the crowds get louder and louder the later it gets, trying to pull every triathlete across the line by pure will before the midnight cutoff. I don't think I could ever not stay until midnight.
This was my first Ironman experience and it was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever gone through. Notice the use of the term ‘first’. There could just be another ‘Quest for Iron’ yet to come.
I suppose it would only be fitting to finish this blog with the actual finish: