Race Coverage

"Every Step, Lap, and Bike Pedal Had a Purpose"....


Post-race Report/Reflections...
@ Madison, Wisconsin

By Caryn Herrick


I have wanted to do an Ironman ever since my freshman year of high school when my swim coach, Mark Larson, was training for Kona. When I learned about the event, it was absolutely awe inspiring to me. I said definitively to myself: “I am going to do an Ironman one day.” Every year, my dad would record the Kona Championship on NBC and I would watch it all the way through. Again I thought, “I can do that one day. I will do that one day.” I never thought that it would take me until age 29 to make this dream happen.

This was my very first triathlon season and it has been one hell of a learning process. I signed up for IM Wisconsin the first day registration opened and every day for a year now, this race has been in the forefront of my mind. I went into this year of training without riding a triathlon bike in my life and without any sort of training/nutrition plan or coach. It wasn’t until May of this year when I took my tri bike to the road for the first time…it was like riding a bike for the first time! Fortunately, I did have a background as a competitive swimmer. And because I would run during off seasons of swim and after I graduated college, I maintained a good running base. I knew that if I were to just add in the biking, I could actually make this Ironman thing happen.
And I DID make it happen. On September 8th, I officially became an Ironman....


On race day I was of course a bundle of nerves. It was at least comforting to be back in Madison, which felt like a second home to me since I went to grad school there. It just felt like it was meant to be to do my first IM here. I ate my standard breakfast: black coffee, yogurt, banana, and granola and nervously got into my tri suit, braided my hair, and double and tripled checked I had everything set to go. At 4:40 am, Peter, Jeff, Mary and I left our hotel and walked a mile and a half to the Monona Terrace to the transition to get settled. Before I knew it, we were making our way down to the shore to get lined up for the swim start. Man, that swim! The water was super choppy and difficult to sight for the buoys because of all the waves. A kayaker even had to cut me off to direct me to the right course because I was going to wrong way! (CRAP) I was shocked to find out that I actually maintained a 1:29yd pace, which was my goal for the swim anyway.

Screen_Shot_2019-09-12_at_10.19.07_AM.pngThe bike was pretty windy and I went a lot slower than planned, (I thought I’d be able to at least average 19mph) but I must remind myself how fortunate I am that nothing major went wrong. No penalties, no rain, no flats, and god forbid, no crashes. Biking is definitely my weak spot. I’ve never trained with a heart rate monitor or power meter so I basically push myself based on “feel.” I am also infamously terrible at drinking and eating enough. I admit that this was the first time I have ever grabbed a water bottle during the bike at an aid station. I am so nervous about doing things one-handed on my bike (whether that be reaching behind me or between my legs to take a drink from a bottle, or reaching in my pouch to eat something), that I really pay the price nutrition-wise. I ended up running out of water and just stopped completely and had volunteers help re-stock my bike with a bunch of water so I didn’t have to take any chances. Another first: I brought nutrition with me that I never trained with before. That is a definite no-no, but I was super lucky that I didn’t run into any GI issues once I got to the run. In hindsight, I definitely should have drank more and consumed more calories than I did, because I definitely hit a bit of a wall when I got to the run. A few days prior to the race, Jeff and Mary so graciously drove Peter and I through the bike course so we had an idea of what we were getting into. I kept reminding myself on the first loop of the course to have restraint and save my legs so I had enough gas for the second loop and of course the marathon after. I know this is unpopular opinion, but the climbs were my favorite part of the bike course. There were so many people lined up cheering for you on either side. Plus, what goes up, must go down. And the downhills are always fun. Taking the “stick” back after the second loop was tough. I thought I’d be able to make up speed here, but it was a headwind for the majority of it back into town.

It is a blissful feeling to finally make it back to the helix of the Monona terrace and FINALLY get off the bike after 6 hours! Now, I have done plenty of bricks with training, but once I dismounted my bike–wow…my legs have never felt so wobbly. I tried to run through transition, but my legs just wouldn’t let me. Luckily, they loosened up after I got my shoes on and made my way out of the transition. Overall, the run went…okay. Again, I went slower than planned, but that just comes down to training and improving my nutrition plan. It was cloudy and cool, so conditions were great for running. I kept my breathing controlled and grabbed whatever I thought I thought I could stomach at the aid stations (which ended up being water and couple of potato chips at each aid station, and a few SIS gels that I had with me). At about mile 10 I almost felt light headed and I wondered if I would pass out. Thankfully, that sensation left me and I just kept trucking on. My legs felt like lead and I simply could not keep up the pace I was planning on. It was also so great to see all of my friends and family come out to cheer me on, and that totally lifted my spirits.

I think my body went into a bit of shock once I crossed the finish line. Immediately, my legs locked up on me and I could barely walk. Then my body temperature plummeted and my body started shaking and my teeth chattered uncontrollably. All of my friends and family came to congratulate me and I had troubles getting sentences out. I always imagined that after crossing the finish line I would automatically burst into tears and relish in the moment, but I think I was too physically deprived in every way to feel much other than my body screaming at me.

I ended up 5th in my AG and a podium spot with a final time of 11:12. I admit that I had a goal of breaking 11 hours, but I am so proud of myself nonetheless. Once I returned home from Madison (and my body was able to recover a tiny bit more physical-wise), the enormity of what I accomplished took over me. I started to sob uncontrollably as the “post IM blues” set in. HARD. It was like a delayed-onset of all of the feelings that I thought I would experience crossing the finish line. I think that it was a combination of realizing that a goal you wanted for so many years was finally achieved, and how something that dominated your life in every way for an entire year was over. I am embarrassed to admit that this occurred on Tuesday morning when I returned to work–it goes without saying that I left and took another personal day…

All in all, I had a great first triathlon season. I am so thankful to have met Peter and the entire Gear West group. Without them, I don’t know how I would have done all of this. From the very beginning to the very end, Peter has been my ultimate training partner. I can’t help but laugh thinking back to the several days we spent running (and slipping) up/down snowy covered trails in Afton when it was nearly blizzarding out or our 4:30am Saturday alarms going off to spend the day biking 100 miles. And as crazy as it sounds, I had a lot of fun with it. Every step, lap, and bike pedal had a purpose. It makes you feel like you have a greater meaning in your life because you are trying to achieve something greater than yourself. I definitely had made my fair share of “rookie mistakes” this year, but I feel nothing but optimism and excitement to keep improving and growing in all three disciplines. So long as I keep having fun, I foresee myself sticking with this triathlon thing ;)

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