The alarm was set for 3 am, but I was already awake. This was the day that I had been thinking about for almost 3 years, unofficially training for 2 years (since my first 70.3), and have been actively training for the past 30 weeks. I was oddly quite calm.
I had less things to do this morning then most triathlon mornings. The bike was already in transition. My bike gear and run gear was already packed and checked in the day before. They were in bags in ballrooms inside Monona Terrace (the strangest place to have a triathlon transition…usually it is the middle of a field or parking lot, not inside a convention center). I only had to put on my tri-suit and regular clothing. Grab my wetsuit, timing chip, Garmin, swim cap and special needs bags (bags that we would check in, and we would be returned to us halfway thru the bike and halfway thru the run).
I had a bagel, banana, coffee and water. I was running to the bathroom every 15 minutes so I knew that I was starting the day well hydrated.
Once I got my stuff together, I made the half-mile trek to Monona Terrace. Special needs was set up on Main Street in front of the Terrace. Bike was on one side of the road, run was on the other. We handed off this gear and went off to the convention center.
The sky was starting to brighten. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. There was a hint of a breeze. The temperature was a little cool, but would warm up to a very pleasant 75 degrees.
I walked to the rooftop parking lot which served as transition. I checked over my bike, borrowed a pump to inflate my tires, did a quick inspection and attached Bento bag and under-seat bag with food, electrolyte tabs, spare tubes, CO2 canisters, and bike tools. I then went inside to the ballrooms. In the far left room, they had all of our bike gear bags lined up. I triple checked that the bike shoes and helmet were there. I then went to the room on the far right which had out run gear bags. I again made sure that I had running shoes and my bib packed. I then went to the center room. This was the weirdest of them all. It was the changing room section of transition (with a sign stating “nudity permitted”) . They had it divided into separate men and women’s changing areas, and they were lined with folding chairs. The room was carpeted. I entered and took off my street cloths (I had my tri-suit underneath) and put on my wetsuit, ear plugs, goggles and swim cap. All my regular clothing went into the “morning clothes” bag which would be collected at the swim start. Once ready, I returned to the hallway and got in the line to swim start.
Monona Terrace has 2 spiral parking ramps (one on each side of the building). These are known as the “Helix”. The walls were about 4 feet high and face the lake. These would be lined with spectators at the start of the swim. We walked down this ramp to the starting area. The access to the lake is quite limited. There are about 2500 participants and the lake access is a boat launch. It takes close to half an hour to get everyone in the lake for the mass start. This area was pandemonium. Mike Riley was announcing, music was blaring, hundreds of spectators were by the swim start and thousands were on the helix and on the rooftop terrace overlooking the lake. Helicopters were flying overhead. I entered the water right after the pro’s started…about 10 minutes before my start time. The water was deep and was recorded at 71.2 F that morning.
There is a waterski ramp in this part of the lake which is the starting line. They placed extra buoys to make a straight line at that location. The swimmers tend to form a very wide line by the buoys that is fairly deep due to the number of people starting at the same time. I lined up in the middle, by the ski jump, towards the back where it was not as crowded.
I spent the last 5 minutes before the race floating on my back and staring at the sky. The water was smooth and comfortable. I was aware of Mike Riley making last second announcements and of the large crowd that had formed. In a few minutes, the cannon would fire, and hell would break loose. But, for those few moments, I just lay there, completely relaxed, aware that the day I had been training for and working so hard for was at hand. I was ready, but had no idea if I could finish. I did not know what surprises and adversity would the day bring. How would I respond to them? I didn’t know. But, I did know that my real victory was the courage and determination that brought me to the starting line. Everything after that would be the celebration of my journey and my transformation…from obese couch potato, to Ironman hopeful. No matter what the day would bring, it would be a good day. It would be a personal victory. I had hoped for good weather and good health going into this day, and I had been given those things. Now, I would finish or not based solely on my ability and determination. Did I do enough? Did I train enough? Could I do this? I didn’t know. And, in many ways, it didn’t matter. I was here, floating on my back, in a zen-like calm.
I was at peace.
Then the cannon fired…
And all hell broke loose.