Ironman Wisconsin, 09/13/15


Last Sunday marked my first attempt at the full Ironman distance after completing 8 half distance races.  I’ll start w/ the Cliff’s notes version, and then go into  more detail for those that are interested. 

The race consists of a 2.4 mile swim in Lake Monona, a 1-loop 112 mile bike around the surrounding hilly farm country, and a 2-loop 26.2 mile run through Madison covering State St to the shores of Lake Mendota.  The forecast was close to perfect.  Cool start warming into the 70s by mid day and then cooling by the marathon finish.  Mostly sunny w/ 8-10mph winds….though they were higher out in farm country.  My race plan was turned upside down by a Sept. 5 bike crash where I went over my handlebars, spraining the AC joint in my left shoulder and fracturing a rib under my scapula.  Much of last week was spent wondering if I could do the race, and not what times I could project.  After essentially 9 months of prep, I went against a Dr’s recommendation and was going to give it a try, fully being able to accept that I may have to drop out as early as the swim portion of the race.  The goal was to finish, not hit any particular times.  The swim is a mass start, meaning 2500+ people all start at 7a.   I was cautious and let the pull of all those people do much of the work.  Limited effort got me through the rectangular course in 1:27.  When you finish you run up a circular ‘helix’ parking ramp lined w/ people who have started gathering at 5a to get a good spot.  It is loud!  The bike course starts w/ a 16mi straight shot out the town of Verona, where you do a 40mi loop twice, that never seems to be flat, around rural farmland, before you head on the same 16mi ‘stick’ back in to town.  Hills are not my strength on a good day and the shoulder was bothering me early.  I had planned to hop off the bike at least 4 times during the ride to stretch and give my body a 1-2min rest.  The 1st loop went ok, the 2nd was a struggle and I finished in 7:12.  Very happy to hand the bike off.  With my rather slow bike time, T2 wasn’t real busy, but given the shoulder discomfort, I wasn’t able to get changed real fast.  I didn’t know what I’d have for the run as I knew I would feel pain w/ every left foot strike.  Started w/ a 10:30mi pace wondering if I would be able to hold that for more than 5k.  My pace was consistent through 13.1mi and I hit the mid-way point in 2:21.  It was painful, but I tried to focus elsewhere.  I pushed the 2nd loop a little harder to finish in 4:35.  This was certainly the highlight of my day.  When I started the marathon, I thought breaking 14hrs for the race would be a challenge as I figured I’d have to factor in walking.  Fortunately that didn’t happen.  Total time 13:45.  I took my time coming down the finishers chute, high 5-ing Olivia as Megan took pictures.  The crowd is huge by triathlon standards.  At least 4 rows deep not including the bleachers that are set up.  As I approached the Ironman red carpet, I heard the voice of Ironman, Mike Reilly, say “Scott Hirth, you are an Ironman”.  Wow---no tears surprisingly.

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For those who want more detail, here it goes:

After having seen Andrea complete IMWI the two previous years, I couldn’t resist giving this race a try myself.  The allure of Madison, where I spent a lot of time in my college and post college years, the way the city really gets into the event, and the challenge of one of the toughest bike courses on the IM circuit drew me to give this a shot.  Andrea was totally on board when I surprised her w/ a text msg a couple days after registration opened in September of 2014 asking what she thought about my signing up.  Normally this race fills in a day…even hours.  For some reason, 2015 didn’t.  We knew there would be juggling of the family schedule, but knew we could make it work.  We both like to stay as involved in the kids activities as we can, knowing that those days grow fewer each year.  Olivia had expressed interest in playing travel softball and I said I would help coach.

I  started training in earnest in December with the first race on the calendar the half Ironman in Oceanside, CA in late March.  After the advice of Sandro and others who workout in the morning regularly, I switched my 4 weekday workouts to early morning before I leave for work.  While getting up at 4-4:30a isn’t fun, I found the intensity of the workouts to be much higher than going after work and a long commute home.  Oceanside is a great early season race, though there’s never a bad time to go to So Cal.  The bike course is hilly and the run can get hot.  I didn’t set a PR as I cramped on the run, but it was a good race.  After battling cramps again at an Olympic race in FL in April, I decided to see a PT Andrea had seen for plantar fascia.  In a nutshell, I needed to do a  lot more stretching.  This worked out well for our next half Ironman race in Racine in July.  My performance wasn’t a PR, but close and I continued to learn a lot about nutrition/hydration strategy that would be used for IMWI.  By that time, I had gone away from solid food during these race altogether, using Gatorade Endurance and GU Roctane as drink, and PowerBar as gels. 

By June the long training weekends had started to build with 75 mile rides followed by a run.  By August we had built to 100+mi rides followed by as much as 15mi off the bike.  The fitness that I gained was off the charts.  I would never have thought this possible in early June.  75mi rides + 10mi runs were no longer dreadful workouts.  And in the lake, 2-2.25mi swims were good recovery.  While not a natural swimmer, I usually scheduled my swim workouts after a hard bike or run, which helped keep me fresh.  The third Saturday in August we did our race day rehersal.  2.25mi swimming, 100mi bike, and 15mi run.  Started at 7a, finished by 7:15 at night…with rest/food breaks in between.  The idea was to get the body used to what it would feel like to be in motion that long, and how it would react to our individual nutrition/hydration strategies. 

The final Saturday before the race we got together w/ Gary, Heidi, Jenny, Chris, Tom, Drew, & Dave to swim for an hour and the ride 30mi.  Roughly half way through the ride, Andrea blows a tire.  I was riding a ways back.  I look down, and then behind me, as it was a loud pop.  Before I know it, I look up and Andrea is stopped parallel to on coming traffic trying to get off the road.  I slam on the breaks, and almost was able to stop.  Instead I hit her back wheel, flipped over my handle bars and landed on my left shoulder.  Pain was almost secondary to disbelief that this could happen on a ride where we were riding at a very casual pace…the week before the race.  We spend hours in the ER.  Xray showed grade 1 sprain of the AC joint on top of the shoulder.  10-14 day healing process.  Doing anything w/ the left arm was quite painful.  We made an appointment to see an Orthopedist Thursday.  He took another xray, this time of the shoulder, and found a fracture of the top rib under the scapula.  He says, “I guess you are out of the ‘competition’.”  We discuss his opinion and go over why such concern.  His biggest issue was that I would get slammed during the swim which could cause breathing difficulty and maybe even puncture a lung.  Andrea and I let him know that as of that time, my plan was to give the race a go and see how long I could last.  It was a friendly discussion.  Lastly he gave me a cortisone shot for the AC joint, which really helped.  Andrea massaged the shoulder nightly, which helped relieve pain around the rib fracture.  I went to swim at the pool before we left for Madison Friday a.m., working on modified strokes.  We did a practice swim in Lake Monona Friday afternoon which went ok.  Then rode our bikes for a few miles which was comfortable as long as I remained in aero. Sat a.m. I rode again and then ran.  Running was much more painful than I thought it would be.  The rib didn’t like the constant jarring against the pavement. 

So that brings us to race day.  Forecast was for 40s in the a.m. warming to 70.  Little wind and full sun.  We dropped off out T1 and T2 bags on Sat, so all we had to do was fill tires and add a pair of shoes to our T2 bags.  Go to find the girls, Nunez, Kate and Janet on the helix where they will watch the swim.  As most are aware, I’m not real talkative before a race.  I like to go over strategy, pacing, and try to visualize the ideal race in my head.  The thought process here was a little different.  The goals that I had thought about for months went out the window 9/5, and if I were to get to the finish line in the allotted 17 hours, it was going to be about pain tolerance. 

My plan for the swim was to start on the buoy line, but a ways back from the lead pack.  I needed to make sure I didn’t get hit on the left side and get knocked of the race early.  The swim from the shore out to the start line felt surprisingly good on the shoulder, so I was optimistic.  By 6:58 a lot fewer people were on the front near the start buoy, so I moved  a little closer.  7a and the cannon goes off…I felt more tension on the shore watching in 2013 and 14 than I did at this start.  Let’s get our long day started.  I sighted often making sure to stay to the left so as to keep other swimmers away from my left shoulder.  It felt easy being dragged along by other 2500 people in the water.  The first two turn buoys were total chaos w/ everyone trying to cut right to the corner.  At the 2nd one, it was almost as though the crowd came to a halt.  Once on the long back side, I found some space and my splits were better than I expected.  The pull of the swim stroke was a little more sensitive as time went along, but not agonizing.  In the end, I was very pleased to be out of the water in 1:27 and having very little contact w/ the other swimmers.  The run up the helix didn’t feel real great, but the huge crowds made me forget about it.  My transitions were not real quick, but again this was about finishing, not necessarily going as fast as I could if healthy. 

The bike course has seemingly constant rollers with 3 sizeable hills that start around 40mi.  I had planned to take at least 4 breaks on the bike to stretch, with the 1st at 28mi at Mt. Horeb HS.  Shortly after that I got a drafting penalty following some slow poke up a small hill.  Seemed nit-picky to me, but referee told me to stop at penalty tent around 56mi, which I would just use as my 2nd rest stop.  Half done in 3:24 which didn’t seem too bad to me.  Unfortunately, the penalty stop was just the start of a disappointing 2nd loop.  I used the 5mins to fix a loose aero bar and stretch.  The winds started to pick up, and around 80mi one of the screws where the saddle attaches to the seat post came loose, causing the seat to rock back and forth.  I hopped off and took a quick look and hoped if I kept my weight back, I could get thru the last 30+mi w/o taking the entire saddle off to fix it.  After a few miles, this wasn’t working, and I became concerned that if I didn’t take the time to fix it, the saddle could fall off altogether, which could easily send me crashing down.  Of course when I took the saddle off, I had no marker to note exactly what the seat position was, so it took me 3 subsequent stops to get the saddle to a position that was remotely comfortable to finish the ride.  At least the winds were at our back for the last 16mi and I was happy to be done biking in 7:12.

I really had no idea what to expect on the run.  I figured run 1mi, walk 1mi could be a very real possibility given the pain.  I was able to hold a 10:30 pace w/ HR in the 140s for the first 5k w/ no walking except aid stations.  The ribs actually hurt more when I stopped to walked, so I decided to run thru them as best I could.  It was hard to take a deep breath and I was losing some sensation in my triceps area and the fingers on left hand were tingling, so I figured I’d run this 10:30 pace as long as I could.  They had chicken broth out around 7mi, and I knew from Andrea and Gregg E that this was very helpful for the IM marathon.  Keep the sodium stores high and keep the cramping away.  I was back at the Capitol in 2:21, half way home and still feeling strong with pain being manageable.  However, I know from experience…and talking to the IM veterans…that such run strength can go quickly on the back half of the marathon.  I picked up the pace slightly as I ran thru State St, which was as rowdy as ever.  I even ran an 8 handle mile out near Observatory Dr in the 18mi area.  With 10k to go, I opened it up a little more, pushing the pace and ignoring whatever pain there was.  Sub 14hrs was well within sight now…and thinking about the Dr telling me I was “out of the competition” brought out a lot of emotions…tears and a fire to bring it home and close out the season w/ a bang.  The bands were still raucous on State St at 8:30p as I closed in on the final 2mi.  As I approached the Capitol, I thought about how Andrea had told me to take it all in and enjoy the finish.  I had talked to her and Drew for weeks re what it feels like to make that final turn down MLK drive to the finish…with Drew saying ‘that turn is what you pay $700 for’.  Mike Reilly’s voice at the finish line was very audible by this point.  I slowed almost to a walk trying to spot the girls and other friends.  Then picked up a slow jog down the red carpet into the bright lights of the finish line.  13:45.  What an adrenalin rush…unlike any other race I’ve ever done.  I’m caught by Nunez and Kate and give Andrea a huge hug…as she had already finished in a stellar 13:12.  A lot of people give credit to their spouse after long distance races like this…and deservedly so.  Her knowledge of the race is one thing, but the motivational boosts and more importantly nightly massages to the sore shoulder after the crash were such that it’s not a stretch to say I wouldn’t have finished without her.

Time to heal up and hopefully play golf before it gets too cold.  Congrats to Andrea, Gary, Heidi, Jenny, Tom, Chris, Dave and the 2500+ on their finish.  And thanks to all who turned out in Madison Sunday…and followed online at home.  I may not have been smiling often, but I did hear you.

I’ll be back 9/11/16.

Scott