I am pleased to report that I completed the Ironman Wisconsin Spectathlon in 18 hours and 4 minutes. I am also once again certain that spectating an Ironman is 100 times harder than doing the event. When you do an Ironman you have a steady stream of calories, fluids, crowds of people cheering for you and permission to pee on yourself. When you spectate you stand on the side of the road holding in your pee because you are afraid you are going to miss the one chance you have to see someone for the next 3 hours.
It’s safe to say I didn’t drink much yesterday because I didn’t want to miss out on any opportunities.
I’m not even sure where to begin. But let’s start at the beginning which was roughly 4:50 am when I woke up saying to myself “I get to do an Ironman today.” Of course I didn’t but I woke up with the same giddy anticipation and nervousness that I woke up with on the day of my first Ironman, Kona 2006, when I said to my husband at 4:30 am: I get to do an Ironman today.
Today was different – I get to watch 22 of my athletes do Ironman Wisconsin. I was just as giddy and even more nervous. It’s one thing to be responsible for yourself but when you take on the responsibility for that many adults – when you take their money, their trust and their time and in exchange help to deliver them to a finish line…well, it’s nervewracking!
We headed over to the swim start around 6:20 am. Little by little I found my athletes and then a few others. Some looked nervous, others were teary-eyed, many were smiling, all looked ready. We watched the swim start from The Helix. Before we knew it, the gun went off and 2400 swimmers starting eating up the water. It was an impressive sight.
Within an hour, athletes were running up The Helix to transition. Thus began the screaming, jumping, high fiving, cowbelling that would last the rest of the day. It was not even 8:30 am and my voice already hurt. But it was worth it. 2.4 miles of swimming is a huge accomplishment and all looked thrilled to be done!
Next up we decided to grab some food before heading out to the bike course. It was already 9 am and I was well undercaffeinated. Got a big coffee and headed out to Midtown. Midtown is the last long hill on the course. True, Ironman Wisconsin is very hilly but did you know that Louisville actually has more feet of elevation gained? Wisconsin has a few “series” of hills but also some long stretches where you can put your head down and ride.
The athletes were trickling by right on time. When I saw them coming up the hill I would start running with them shouting whatever I could think of to motivate them, troubleshoot or encourage them for the next 40 miles until they looped around again. I told Chris the hardest part is having something meaningful to say to them otherwise you fall into the trap of LOOK YOU GREAT or YOU'RE ALMOST THERE which doesn’t really help much when they hear it from…oh….thousands of their not so close friends.
Seth came by with his usual coolness and smile. That would be the smile of man who took my husband's suggestion when he said two numbers that would make him happy on the bike: 12 - 27. He took that bike straight to the shop, got a 12-27 and found those hills much more enjoyable than his practice rides.
Midtown Hill was classic specating. The street was lined with spectators at times so thick that the cyclists had one lane to make their way cautiously up a hill. Some did it with ease. Others with a nervous OH CRAP and a flop. Chris and I were playing a game of “Guess Who Has a Compact Crank” as we watched the athletes climb – or grind – the hills. The worst part – they had two loops of this. The ones who spun their way up the hill made it look too easy and fluid. Others were walking up the hill. Still others were either so wrongly geared or underprepared that they just fell over. And then there were the few who cramped so badly – for whatever reason you cramp – that they just stopped in the middle of the hill moaning. Ouch.
This guy was right next to us chasing riders with a giant cornstalk and saying things so witty yet bizarre that I swear he was having the comments fed into his ear by someone else. From out of the corn, Ironfans for Ironman! Or something like that. When we asked him what he was doing he said:
It's hard to stalk The Bus because he moves so damn fast. I gave it a good try and I'm impressed by the knee lift I was able to achieve in those capri pants. I was reminding The Bus to pace himself out there.
On the second time through Midtown, I started to remind all of them to run smart races, to pace themselves, to resist the urge to blow out the first 6 miles. After about 4 hours of shouting, jumping and convincing people they loved every minute of riding their bike up the hills I was trashed. Take each athlete I coached out there and then all who I just knew out there. Multiply that by a 10 second uphill sprint while shouting at them. And do it two times. It’s safe to say that I spent the better part of 4 hours in zone 5c.
Around 2 pm we decided to head to the run course. Grabbed another quick meal and sat on the curb of State Street. This is possibly the best place to spectate. There’s endless food, bathroom and coffee nearby as well as the fact that you can see your Ironathlete four times!
As each athlete approached, I got ready with something to say. Quick, think! How do they look? What do they need to hear? What is their personality!?! Their goal? Karin approached first. She had a best case scenario time and she was on pace for it. All she had to do was hang on for…26.2 miles. I could tell she would do it. She was all smiles and I just wanted to cram about a thousand feelings and YOU CAN DO THIS into the 10 seconds I had with her and I just said “run it mile to mile, you can hold this pace all day you know you can!”
This is Erik. I'm calling him The Sleeper. He's really The Smiler but today he was The Sleeper out there because he pulled out a performance I couldn't believe. Not only that but he smiled every mile of the way. It was at mile 19 that he came running by me and shouting I FEEL INCREDIBLE! Can I bottle that up and just throw it at people!?
Others kept streaming toward us. I realized how good it was to have a coach out there because I could help them troubleshoot whatever was happening. Whether it was a sloshy stomach, a sore calf, am I going to make it, my knee hurts, I’m peeing too much, I haven’t peed all day, I can’t eat, I don’t know what to eat, I could shout something that they could do or just refocus them to keep them on track.
We were at mile 6.5 of the run which was also about mile 19.5 of the run. So we either saw athletes totally fresh, totally cooked from an overzealous bike or totally done as they hit the wall. It was an interesting place to be filled with lots of interesting comments and spectators. I loved the group in purple shirts walking around with (are they still called) boom box blasting Ludacris and following some guy on course. My favorite comment was from one of mine, Dave, a short courser who decided to do Ironman. As he ran away, he turned around and said:“Liz….this is a really long day.” YES, it is! (Bruce also informed me it was a long day)
But you could see that most people had made peace with the longness of the day or whatever was or was not going their way. For most of my athletes out there, it was their first Ironman and I told them that was the beauty of it – they had all day. It doesn’t matter if you finish in 11 hours or 17 hours, you are still an Ironman. A few got stuck in places, whether it was a low mental or physical place I could see it – they would run by saying something about a cramp, a this, a that….you realize you have two choices out there. 1 – Stand in one place spinning in a circle with your misery/pain or 2 – keep moving forward. That’s what we were there to tell them; just keep moving forward, one mile at a time, one foot in front of the other.
And when they passed us on the second loop, around mile 19, all you could say at that point is no matter what you’re feeling, a bum knee, a calf cramp, a blister – you could do anything for another 7 miles. I remember chasing Mike down, his knee was hurting and all that I could think to say was you’ve gone 134 miles, what’s another 6? He started running again – with a little bit of a kink in his step but he started running again. By the way, thatis Donna and her 4 sponges. She was so excited to finally be running!
I saw Ryan at about mile 19 where he muttered something about peeing every mile. He tried to wait in line for the porta potty and I think he could sense the get your ass moving in my eyes, looked across the street and said I'll go use those. I told him it was less than a 10K to go! Keep moving and get to that finish line!
Seth out on the run course with only 7 miles to go. In Ironspeak, that's not very far.
Around 12 hours into the race I was starting to lose my steam. I had been looking for faces for so long in the crowds of athletes running and walking and biking towards me that my vision was going fuzzy. I started feeling seasick. Chris told me to focus off in the distance and not to follow the faces at they go by. He was right. It helped but still, I’m not sure what was more tired; my feet from walking/running, my voice from shouting or my eyes from searching. People had been throwing empty cups at me, I was covered in sweaty highfives or hugs, I was hoarse and my feet ached. I feel like I did the Ironman and I bonked about 4 hours ago with no end in sight. But I had to go all the way. This could be a 17 hour race!
Around the 13 hour mark, we headed to the finish line. Some had already crossed the line, others were nearing. It's always invigorating to watch the finish line. Mike Reilly has a way of making everyone feel like they are a winner out there. I handed out a few well earned beers and then we helped Dave back to his hotel. By 16:04 into the race, everyone had crossed the line, I exhaled and then called it a (very very very long work) day.
Finally in bed at midnight, I was replaying the day. Bits and pieces from all three segments of the race, the faces, the exchanges we had, the smiles, the memories. I felt like I had done the race myself and I was reliving the highlights. Except they were highlights of other people in the race and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I couldn’t fall asleep, I was overtired, wired. I tossed and turned and at 8 am on Monday I said the word: coffee. AMEN!
I am smilingwith the memories and honestly I cannot think of anything else to say but congratulations to all of the athletes and that it was so exciting to share their special day. THANK YOU!