20 May

My idea:

Technologically-assisted team tag.

Here’s how it works. The team captains hold a GPS that tracks the enemy team captain. Everyone is wearing belts with those flag-football flags attached on both hips. The teams start in the city, miles apart, and move toward each other with the help of the GPS navigation. The objective is to tag the opposing team captain. But anyone who is tagged (i.e. flagged ripped from belt) is out of action. So you can spread your team out as you get closer to each other and take out the opposition one by one.

Ideally, each team is on hands-free walkie-talkies so they can communicate with other team members and coordinate ambushes and whatnot. I figure teams of about 10 people would be ideal, and I’m thinking the captains need some other name. The “target,” maybe? The “coxswain”? The “Q-Bert”? I don’t know where that came from, but I like it.

06 Oct

The Big Day: The Run

Well, it takes a day to run the Ironman, but apparently it takes three weeks to tell people what happened.

To tell the truth, I don’t even remember it that well. I do recall being out of the saddle as I rode up the parking ramp. I was trying to keep the weight off my rear wheel, and I kept lookind down at it to gauge whether it was flat. Of course, at that point, I don’t think I would have stopped to change the tire, so I don’t know why I cared.

In any case, I looked up just as I was rounding the final turn and I saw bright orange shirts on every level of the terrace. I rode to the transition, careful not to go too fast, which I have a brief history of doing. I was under the impression that I’d have to park my bike before going to the transition area, so it took a few seconds for me to register what the man holding my bike was saying to me. I looked at him, confused, when he wouldn’t let go of my bike. Then he repeated himself, and, following his directions, I ran into the transition zone.

I assume I changed clothes, but I don’t have a really vivid memory of doing so. I remember seeing people near the finish line on MLK cheering me on. And I remember getting to mile 2 and thinking about how far away from the start it seemed.

I checked my watch occasionally and calculated that I was running 8:40 miles, which I was happy about, but I knew I’d be slowing down in the later miles. I tried to stay disciplined — avoid running too fast, walk through the aid stations, don’t race other people. It was much easier to reign myself in on the run than the bike.

I drank mostly water at aid stations. Tried Gatorade and Coke once, but both gave me a very brief gut-ache. For the last few miles of the first lap, I kept hearing some guy behind me belch loudly every time he went through an aid station. Finally, on University Avenue, I looked back at him and saw a blond woman in a bright green windbreaker. She caught up with me just as an unfortunate woman with a large chest was running by us in the outgoing lane. The belcher said, “Ouch!” I laughed.

“At least it’s not cold and rainy,” she said.

“At least we’re not swimming.” I replied.

We laughed at each other and then ran side by side for the next three or four miles. It was the best part of the race. Just to run in silence next to someone else who was going through exactly what you were going through — it was comforting.

My original plan was not to eat on the run, since I typically don’t deal well with food while running. But around mile 15 or so, my body was telling me to abort plan A. I ate a bite of banana at the next aid station and waited for stomach pains.

None came.

So I ate another piece of banana at the next aid station. And another one 2 miles later. And on and on. “Bananas = good” was the moral of the story.

With three miles to go, I splurged on a GU. And let me tell you, most notable post-GU effects ever! I definitely got a kick of energy in the last ten minutes or so. I was really picking up the pace in the last half mile; some other woman was coming with me, right on my heels. We entered the fenced section by the capital, where you can really only fit two across, and there was a guy up ahead on the right. I figured I should sprint ahead of the woman to my left to pass the guy; otherwise, I’d be slowing and allowing her to get up on me.

When I ran ahead, I heard the woman whisper, “shit,” which I took as my cue to leave her behind. Eleven and a half hours and the two of us were racing in the last 150 meters.

I couldn’t hear anyone at the finish line — not that I remember anyhow. I remember finishing, getting my finisher medal, and a backpack, and then standing in line to get my picture taken. Then I remember talking to everyone at the fence. There’s a video of that scene, taken by my father-in-law. I’m all smiles. I shake hands, get some hugs. And then I exhale, and my face shows my true exhaustion. It’s almost funny, actually.

At that point I said I’d never do it again. But now, three weeks later, it doesn’t seem so bad. In fact, two days afterwards, it didn’t seem so bad. I’m not making any promises about the future. I’m just saying, I’m glad I did it.

Beyond the finish line

27 Sep

The Big Day: The Bike

There’s less to say about the bike, I swear.

I was a little slow getting my clothes on in the transition, but I eventually got suited up, checked my pockets for food, and took off. After a couple steps, though, I decided maybe I should take the long sleeve shirt I had stuffed back in the transition bag. I figured I could tie it around my waist if I got too hot. So I walked back to my bag, pulled out the shirt, and put it on as I started running out to the bike. Best move of the day.

It felt great to be on the bike. What with the adreneline and all, I had no problem getting up to speed once the roads straightened out. I passed hundreds of people in the first 10 -15 miles; by the time I got to Verona, my average speed was 20.7 mph, which is too damned fast when you’ve got another 100 miles and a marathon to complete. I tried to settle into a more reasonable pace, but I had some problems.

See, 18 mph would have been reasonable. It would have felt a little slow, but it would have allowed me to conserve energy for the second of the two 40-mile loops you have to complete before heading back to Madison from Verona. But there were all these other people going 19-20 mph, and I could keep up with them, so I had to.

(Does that make sense? “I could so I had to”? It should really be the slogan of the Ironman. It’s really what it’s all about. I mean, people don’t do this stuff for fun.)

Soon after departing Verona for the second loop, I was starting to feel a bit tired. I remembered something one of the guys in my summer swim class had told me: “the 80-mile mark on the bike is, time-wise, the half-way point of the race.” That’s when you want to feel like you’re just starting to kick it up a gear. I was at the 60-mile mark. I simply couldn’t keep up the 19.7-mph I had averaged by that point in the race.

I still sped up the hills, which, I discovered, are my strength on the bike. I never got passed on a hill. On a few of them– the ones lined with spectators — I felt like a real bad-ass as I got up out of the saddle and dropped my competitors like Lance on the Alpe d’Huez.

But on the flats and downhills, I was trying to conserve my energy.

As I came into Verona for the last time, my back tire almost lost traction. And as I was whizzing by the neon orange “Perfect Storm” signs on Main street, I could feel the road a little too well. At the next turn, which I took slowly, I pulled over and checked my rear tire. It was way low. I’m guessing about 60 psi, which is basically half-full.

I could have stopped, replaced it and went on, but I knew I would have lost ten minutes in doing so, and there’s always the risk that the offending particle — whatever it was that caused the flat — would escape my notice and remain in the tire. I also could have just pumped up the tire without replacing it, but I only had one CO2 cartridge (stupidly), so if the tire lost air after wasting my only cartridge, I would have been in real trouble.

So I decided to keep riding. The flat would slow me down, but it wasn’t bottoming out, so I wasn’t doing damage to my wheel. And besides, I probably needed to slow down. After all, I had a marathon yet to run.

I took turns very slowly, and I made sure to get out of the saddle and lean forward whenever I went over bumps. Somehow, the tire remained inflated just enough to get me the 15 miles back to Madison. My average speed had come down significantly, but the forced rest may have helped me in the long run.

Ha. Get it? The long run?

23 Sep

The Big Day: The Swim

The day began at 4:45 am. I woke up after a not-so-bad night of sleep, and I commenced getting nervous. For breakfast, I had a bowl of Grape-Nuts in soy milk with lots of blueberries.

I checked the weather online. The forecast was pretty bleak: rain all day, high of 60, east winds at 8-10 mph. I clicked on the hour-by-hour forecast, hoping that the morning hours’ prediction was for calmer winds at least. I had gone out for a quick swim on Saturday amongst northeast winds blowing at 15 mph and it blew (ha!). When I was swimming into the headwind, I kept getting pounded by the waves, frequently right when I was trying to breathe.

After checking the forecast, I got a little more nervous. As long as I could survive the swim, I knew I’d be alright. But I was beginning to doubt whether or not the swim would be survivable.

Eileen and Amber drove me down to the Monona terrace. We somehow managed to get a free parking spot pretty easily. I walked over to the capital square to drop off my bike special needs bag. It was 5:30 am — still dark out, obviously — but the square was full of people: volunteers shouting out directions, nervous athletes being led about by nervous spectators. We proceeded to the bodymarking area at the east end of the terrace parking lot, where I got 568 written on both arms and on my left leg.

Next, I checked my bike, pumped the tires, and put my water bottles in the cages. I knew I’d be too nervous to think clearly, so I had actually typed up a morning to-do list. After prepping the bike, I went inside and tied orange string to my transition bags so they’d be easier to see when I needed to find them.

Then I waited. It was a zoo inside the Terrace; it gave me the chance to get a little more nervous. Eileen, Amber, and I sat down and watched people. Everyone seemed pretty energized as they chatted with each other, walked from room to room, or began struggling into their wetsuits. I, on the other hand, I had slipped into my usual pre-race mode — lying down, yawning a lot.

Inevitably, the time came for me to fight with my own wetsuit, which just solidified the fact that I was actually going to get into a 73-degree, choppy lake at 6:50 in the morning with 2400 other people and attempt to propel myself forward.

Around 6:35 or 6:40, I said goodbye to Eileen and Amber, and started walking toward the east end of the Terrace. On the way, I saw the guys I had biked with for most of the summer and joined them on the descent down the “helix.” I tried to stay next to Steve, who I knew would be the fastest swimmer among us, but when we got down to the ground level, I lost track of him. Everyone looked the same in their wetsuits and swimcaps.

My secret plan was to enter the water and simply wade over towards the course a little. I was thinking I could avoid treading water the whole time. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same plan, which meant that the entrance into the water was getting clogged up with waders. The line moved slowly towards the water. When the pros took off at 6:50, I was still probably five minutes away from even getting in the lake.

When I did finally get in, I swam out to the ski jump, where there were fewer people gathered. I figured I could at least spread out and not expend so much energy treading water, and actually I was right.

I don’t really remember how the race started — whether there was a countdown or a gun fired or what. But when everyone else began swimming, I did too. The first 30 seconds were alright. Not too crowded, a clear view of the course. But then everyone started converging on the course and chaos ensued for the next hour and 17 minutes.

The outward-bound swim wasn’t as bad, what with the wind at our backs. But as I progressed further, the congestion got worse. Frequently, two swimmers would converge in front of me, forcing me to stop swimming so that I wouldn’t run right into their kicking legs. A few times, I felt a hand grab my lower back and pull me backwards. And every few minutes, someone swam onto my legs, causing them to sink down, sapping my momentum.

Around the turns, it was worse. Everone was cutting in close to the large orange bouys, slowing down, and then scrambling to speed up. It was slow-going. In retrospect, it definitely would have been faster to go wide around the corners.

On the in-bound swim, the water was worse, and the bouys were harder to see. I actually swam inside of them for the entire length, and I ended up cutting inside the turn. A guy in a kayak was yelling and I stopped to listen. “You guys are way off!” he was saying. I looked over and saw that the corner buoy was about half a pool length away. I momentarily considered swimming out to it, but the stream of people going around it dissuaded me.

So I just joined the guys I had been following the whole time, and continued toward the next big corner buoy. I was worried I’d be penalized; I’m sure the kayaker saw my number on my swim cap. But I’m also sure that a hundred other people had cut the turn.

The second lap seemed to go by a little faster, though I got kicked in the nose once. When I rounded the last turn I was so happy to be swimming toward the shore. When I got in, I jogged up toward the wetsuit pullers. I was a little dazed and off-balance, and everyone was walking, which threw me. I thought we were supposed to be hurrying. When I sat down on the ground to let the pullers take my wetsuit off, their urgency sped me up a little. I grabbed my suit and started running up the helix.

03 Sep

Ironman countdown

A week from today, I’ll be suffering through the Ironman. It starts at 7:00am. I’m thinking the swim will take me about 1 hour, 15 minutes. Then I’ll get out of the lake, run up the parking ramp of Monona Terrace, change into my biking clothes, and get on my bike.

The bike ride will take about six hours. So I’ll finish it somewhere around 2:15, I’m guessing.

Then comes the run, which will be miserable. Here’s where I’ll probably need the most encouragement. I’ll look like this:

Ironman outfit

-without the dog peeing behind me, of course. I won’t be smiling either. But I’ll have on this exact outfit, complete with orange and black Harley-Davidson hat.

If you’d like to see what the course looks like, this guy named Simply Stu (who I prefer to call Disco Stu), has created a video of it at his website. In fact he’s got the bike course and the running course, though they’re both 30 minute videos, so they’ll take a while to download, especially if you have a slow connection. Click: Bike Course; Run Course. At the bottom of his posts, he has a link to “direct download,” which will get you the videos.

The Ironman website also has maps and a “Spectator Guide,” if you’re interested. If you offer me food from the sidelines, I’ll have to respectfully decline. However, I’ll gladly accept a cold bottle of Vitamin Water spiked with testosterone.

Actually, that might be illegal, too. I’ll have to check the spectator guide.

There’s also a site called Ironmanlive.com which will be tracking everyone, so you can tell approximately where I am on the course.

I have no idea how easy it is to drive around to different points of the bike course, but the run course is all pretty much in the downtown/campus area, so it will be very easy to traverse as a spectator. The bike portion is pretty cool, unless the only thing you’re interested in seeing is me. If that’s the case, I recommend blowing up the above picture and carrying it with you.

If you do end up turning out to watch the event, I’d love to see you out there. I get motivated by demeaning comments like the following:

  • You call that race pace, [expletive]! C’mon, you [expletive]!
  • Balls to the wall, [expletive]!
  • Nice outfit, mama’s boy!

Seriously, though. If you are watching this thing and you take the time to single me out, you can say anything you want to me, including cliches (“Keep it up!”), lies (“Looking good!”), poor attempts at motivation (“Only 126 miles left!”), or over-the-top remarks (“Yeah, Beotch! Time for the Smackdown!”)

Okay, that’s all the self-promotion I’m gonna do. A week from now, I’ll let you know how it went.

P.S. My number is 568. I’ll have to wear a belt with the number displayed, and I’ll get the number written on my arms and legs.