July 21, 2013
This looked like a fun event. Swim was in Lake Michigan which can be interesting. But I did another Ironman 70.3 in Lake Michigan last year and the swim was wonderful. The bike course is flat and one of the easiest in all of Ironman. The run was flat too. The big variables were Lake Michigan, and weather (tempurature can be very hot and we were riding a heat wave going into this weekend).
I left Minneapolis on Friday for the drive to Racine. I knew I would be passing through Madison (home of the full Ironman Wisconsin) and wanted to drive the 112 mile bike course just in case I ever decide do to an event that crazy. I left early and the drive was fine. Got into Madison and parked the car. Noticed I did a bad parallel parking job, so I jumped back in, turned the key, and…nothing. Battery was dead. Called AAA, waited over an hour, got jump started, got the battery tested, and it wasn’t holding a charge (it’s 7 years old, so that wasn’t a surprise). Got it swapped out. Over 2 hour delay, but finally made it to the bike course. It’s a brutal two loop course. My Garmin got an elevation gain of just over 5000 ft (side note-I don’t trust the elevation gain data anywhere…everyone get’s different data. Ironman reports about 3000 ft gain. I find I get about double of what race directors report, but my Garmin and other people’s Garmin’s tend to give similar data. Anyways, any elevation gains reported here will be my unofficial data). By comparison, Kansas was 3000 ft gain (for half the distance). So, on paper, Kansas is just as hard or harder (except that you have to do Wisconsin twice). I did Kansas last month and got a good time, but it kicked my butt, and I don’t think I could have done it twice. From there, I made my way to Racine.
I got up early, and drove the bike course. Nice flat course (1100 foot elevation gain). Roads were in fair condition…and very bumpy. Afterwards, I went to the expo, got the bib, chip, shirt, and I buy a couple things. I went to transition and checked-in the bike. The heat wave had broken and temps were supposed to be in the mid 70’s on race day. The lake temp bottomed out though. it was mid 70’s the last few days, but the water “turned over” and the temp dropped to 59-61 degrees. I bought some neoprene boodies and headgear just in case. In bed early.
Race Day (Sunday)-Pre-Race:
Got up at 1:30. Got ready and left. Wanted to get there early due to limited street parking and parking ramps were a couple of miles away. Got there an hour early and had time to re-check my gear. Got in when transition opened and got all set up and started the 1 mile walk down the beach to the start. The swim course was straightforward. Swim a couple hundred yards out, then swim parallel to the shore for a little more then a mile and swim back to shore. The water had warmed up a little (66.5 degrees) but the surf was pretty intense. Lots of crashing waves. We were reassured that the water was actually pretty smooth farther out where we would be swimming. They lied.
Race Day-The Swim From Hell (or The Swim Through Hell):
I was in wave 15, plenty of time to watch others starting. You could actually walk past the waves before it got too deep, so that helped. My turn came, and I lined up at the back. Walked past the sandbar and dove in. There was one buoy before the turn buoy. By that first one, I knew this would be hard. The waves and current was strong. I was gulping water every time I tried to breath. Getting anywhere took a lot more work then it usually would. I had to grab hole of the turn buoy to catch a breather (note: you can stop and rest anytime you want and hang on to anything…as long as you don’t use it to make forward progress). I thought that it would get easier since I would be going parallel to the shore instead of into the waves. I was wrong. Made it halfway to the next buoy and had to grab a kayak. The lifeguard was very friendly and supportive. I talked about quitting, but she reassured me that it was perfectly OK to just go from buoy to buoy and kayak to kayak. I could stop for a break at each one if needed (I have done multiple triathlons, swimming is a strength and have never grabbed a buoy or kayak…this was very new for me). She noted this was hard water to kayak in, and was the second worst she had seen the lake this year. Great. So I caught my breath, tried to relax, slowed down my breathing, spotted to next buoy and moved on. I stopped at every single buoy and kayak. Some were farther then others. A couple of times, the water calmed down just enough that I could get into a rhythm, but it never lasted for long. I got to one buoy and panicked when I found there were no handholds. They were actually at the top and I spent way too much energy trying to flip it. I was in real trouble if I couldn’t. I was finally able to flip it and grab hold. I was about a quarter of the way at this point. I always had a lot of company at these rest stops. Kayakers were great. By the half way point I noticed that I was wheezing. I have exercise induced asthma, but it never bothered me on the swim before. That was a game changer. It wasn’t of full out attack, but I knew that it could happen at any time. My arms were pure lead by this point, and all forward progress was painful. I was coming up to a kayak and really needed the break. Someone else was already hanging on. As I came within a couple of feet, the swimmer freaked and said her leg was cramping up. She tried to get on the kayak (bad idea) and flipped the kayaker. I watched in horror as he was trapped underwater. It looked like he was stuck about 20 seconds before he could wiggle out. Other boats came to help, but there was nothing for me to grab on to. While I was treading water, my right calf started to cramp up. I tried to relax it and it settle down. The next buoy wasn’t that far, but I didn’t think I could make it. But I had no choice. It wasn’t about racing anymore. I was in full blown survival mode. Somewhere, I got an extra bit of energy (adrenaline I guess) and was able to keep the panic at bay. I grabbed the handhold and knew I was safe. Decision time. Do I just wait and get someone to pull me out, or do I finish what I started. Took about 5 minutes. My breathing wasn’t getting any worse and I was able to slow it down, and I was able to calm down. Leg cramp had disappeared and I was 3/4 of the way. I spotted the next buoy and carried on. I grabbed a kayaker just before the final turn buoy. He told me the tough part was done. After the buoy, I would be just riding the waves into T1 (he lied). I swam to the turn buoy and it was very contested. Got punched and kicked a lot. Finally started towards shore. The waves were crashing into me and I could feel a bit of an undertow. I had to work so hard just to stay above water. Grabbed the next buoy and held on for my life. Asthma was really kicking in at this point. I could see the swim exit arch…so close but so far. Made my way to the final buoy and grabbed on like my life depended on it. About 20 yards away, swimmers could stand up. Let go and breast stroked the rest of the way. The waves were crashing over my head during this last stretch, then I could suddenly feel the sand under my feet.
Swim Split 1:05:52 (my usual is 40-45 minutes).
I walked out of Lake Michigan completely spent and exhausted. I had to run a few hundred feet to a paved trail into transition (transition timer started as soon as you left the water). No way I could run it. I was barely standing at that point. The wetsuit felt so claustrophobic, so I was at least able to get it off to my waist. I got to the paved path and they had wetsuit strippers (thank you to volunteers since they decided to do this on their own…70.3 don’t usually have wetsuit strippers). I stagger into T1 and grab my inhaler. I could breath again. And I just sat there for about 5 minutes. The thought of doing something, anything, was overwhelming. I could just leave. My car was a block away. But, the hard part was done, and I worked way to hard to walk away without finishing. I gulped down some Gatorade, and slowly got my stuff together. I mentally regrouped. Put on cycling shorts, socks, shoes, gloves, sunglasses, sunscreen, helmet, bike. And I walked to bike out.
T1 split 13:02
This was the fun part. Weather was perfect. Course was flat and I was getting good speed. Course was pretty and scenic. Spent most of the first half of the bike re-living the swim. The fatigue from the swim (which never bothers me) was catching up with me. I slowed down and actually came to a full stop at the last 2 aid station and just ate bananas, bonk busters, and drinking water. Still my best ironman bike split.
Bike Split: 3:25:35
Uneventful, but slow.
T2 split 5:36
The run was an out and back 2 loop course. So, I did the same 3.3 miles 4 times. The sun was out, it was getting warm, and there was no breeze for the 1st leg. This sapped what little energy I had left. The clouds rolled in, tempuratures dropped, and a breeze started. It was quite nice, but I was tired out. Goal was just to finish. Chatted with someone for about 5 miles. Volunteers were great and I made it to the finish.
Run split 2:32:03
Final time 7:22:03
Final thoughts: I was hoping to go sub 7 hours here, but the swim killed those goals. I had swum Lake Michigan once before (last year, my first Ironman 70.3 was Steelhead, also in Lake Michigan). The lake was calm that morning and the swim was great. After this event, I will pay attention to the swim leg before I sign up for one of these. Waters can be treacherous and I don’t ever want to find myself in a similar situation. If I hadn’t done Steelhead already, I would not do it in the future. I have one more Ironman event this year…Muskoka. Small lake with a brutal bike…and I am OK with that…