I always say that anyone can do an Ironman. The question is can they commit to the training to have a great race day? After this year, I have renewed respect for anyone who works full time and trains for Ironman. Balancing it all, or even not balancing it, is a challenge.
Training was definitely a challenge this year. Juggling work, kids activities, teaching classes...and...by the way...who needs to sleep, right? You are training for an Ironman. You can sleep after it's all over. Waking up at 4:30 am most mornings to work out prior to 8+ hours of work really starts to zap the joy out of life after a while. So, I guess what I am confessing is that I trained just enough, but I didn't train enough to have a GREAT day like I did at IMLOU. I recognized this going in to race day and decided to take what the day brought, not stress, and try to minimize the pain.
Unfortunately, the week prior to IMWI, I had some bike issues which had to be addressed. Remember that addage of "Don't try anything new on race day"?. Well, not this girl. Not this year. My cleat on my bike shoes broke and had to be replaced. I had gearing issues which needed to be fixed. Taking your bike into the shop on Tuesday before you leave on Thursday is generally a bad omen.
Cheryl and I left for Madison on Thursday. We arrived at Menona Terrace just in time to get checked in, but that's about it. Check in was quick and painless except Cheryl and I kept getting the wrong volunteers. I wanted the person who was going to chat it up and give me whatever information they had in their head. Cheryl wanted the volunteer who said here is your stuff move along, but no matter where we went Cheryl got the chatty volunteer who offered her too much information. Maybe I just looked unfriendly?
As a side note, when we arrived in Madison, the lake looked as unfriendly as possible. There were white caps on the waves. Luckily, one of the volunteers did explain there were lots of storms in the area all day. He said he expected the water to look much better tomorrow once the storms had passed which made us both feel better.
After checking in, Cheryl and I decided we needed to recon the "stick" portion of the bike course. It's the one portion of the course we hadn't ridden yet. We quickly discovered why. Who knew we had to ride on a bike path and take a 90 degree turn? That's just plain crazy. Luckily, I knew I'd be coming out of the water with the middle of the packers so I wasn't worried about congestion.
Next we wanted to drive the run route. I wanted to see the hill on Observatory Drive that everyone talked about, but lack of food and impending darkness drove us to call it a day and head to the hotel.
On Friday, I knew my number one priority was getting in that lake. I needed to know how murky the water was, how cold it was. After my disastrous Olympic swim at Carlysle in 2012, I knew putting my face in that water was key. We went to the Ironman store and purchased towels because neither one of us remembered to bring towels for the practice swim. Cha-ching $40... you are welcome, Ironman.
We met Gene and Teri at the terrace and walked down to the lake together. WIth forced effort, we put on our wet suits dreading the water. I looked at the shore and wondered how did I get here? IMWI seemed like such a good idea a year ago, but with race day less than 48 hours away I was wondering what the hell I was doing.
|Gene, Cheryl and I at the practice swim on Friday|
I told Gene and Cheryl my plan was to swim 100 yards. I didn't feel the need to do more than that. I just needed to wrap my head around THAT lake, THAT water. Gene took off to do a lap in front of the terrace. Cheryl and I decided to take the swim in pieces....first swim to the ski ramp and make sure we weren't losing our minds, and then swim parallel to the shore. As we left the ski ramp, I knew I needed to spot quite a bit since there were several people swimming in various directions. At one point, I put my left hand in the water to stroke and saw someone swim diagonally in front of me. I popped my head out of the water and began to laugh. A good laugh in THAT water is just what I needed. I didn't let the surprise get into "my box". I left the water feeling comfortable, even happy, confident that I could get in the water Sunday and not let the water demons end my day too soon.
On Saturday, you would think that relaxing and kicking back would be the order of the day...but not for us. We decided to purchase knee hi socks to cut off for arm warmers which all had to be done before dropping off our gear bags. Once the bags and bikes were taken care of, we went to lunch and waited for my sisters to arrive. They wanted to tour the bike route to figure out where they should sit to see us. As we drove the route, someone would say "Oh this is a nice hill", Cheryl or I would say "This is nothing". The big ones were still ahead. It took forever to drive one loop of the course. I think they began to understand what a challenge we had ahead of us.
Saturday night back at the hotel we decided to soak our wet suits in the bathtub so they would be easier to put on Sunday morning. At bedtime, I was hoping I would just drift off in a peaceful slumber like I did for IMLOU. It was not meant to be this time. My mind was alert. Not worrying about anything in particular, but I just couldn't get my mind to shut down. I asked Cheryl what time she wanted to get up. She said 5 am...and not a moment earlier. OK.....this made me nervous.
As Jeff drove us to the terrace, I looked out at the water. It was an eerie calm which should have been reassuring but for some reason it wasn't. I don't think anything could have calmed my nerves that morning. We parked across the street from the terrace and walked to the terrace to find special needs. Luckily, we ran into Michael Henderson who told us special needs were up on the square. Ummm, oh. I turned to Jeff and said I am not walking back up there. He was a great sport and took mine and Cheryl's bags for drop off.
Meanwhile back at the terrace, I was trying to hold my breakfast down. I really could have hurled at any moment and was really hoping my family did not want me to talk much. I laid down on the floor and put my feet up on the wall and tried to block everyone and everything out. Jeff returned with Nate Troyer who was waiting for us at special needs thinking surely he'd see us there. Oops. I guess that was information I didn't retain when I read the athlete's guide on Friday.
Finally at 6:40 we decided we needed to put on our wet suits. We pulled them out of the garbage bag and a tidal wave of water exploded on the floor. Maybe I should have drained them a bit more? I put on my wet suit and immediately started shivering. The water inside my suit was so incredibly cold. The cuff of my pant leg was flipped up and as I turned it correctly another deluge of water soaked the carpet. I was begining to feel guilty for the amount of water on the floor, but the humor of it I made me chuckle which I needed to do.
We slowly walked down to the lake and the need to hurl overcame me again. People were already wading in the water like insane people! We stopped along the lake wall to zip up our wet suits and put on our caps. I was still feeling quite surreal that we were actually going to get into the lake and swim 2.4 miles!
As we entered the chute for the lake, I turned to see a young woman hugging her boyfriend/spouse/significant other with great tears in her eyes. STOP IT! Get out of my box. I did not want see any emotion from anyone else. I need to stay in control.
|Waiting for the canon to start|
We entered the lake and scooted to the right so we could stay on the rocks before the race start. Luckily, we ran into Gene Pflederer who stood and talked to us for a bit. On a positive note, the lake water didn't feel cold at all thanks to the cold bath water which soaked our wet suits. I put my face in the water, checked my goggles and checked my reaction. All good. The national anthem played and Mike Reilly gave us the 1 minute warning. Gene looked at Cheryl and I and said, "You want to go out there?" - meaning by all of the crazy people. Firmly, I said NOPE I am staying right here. I figured if I was going to be able to stand, not get caught in the washing machine, and start the swim feeling in control I would start my race day off in an amazing manner.
The canon went off and Cheryl and I stared at each other with a look of fear. We had agreed to wait 15-30 seconds before starting to swim. Cheryl looked at me and said "I forgot to start counting." I just laughed and pulled my left arm out of the water and said "We have our Garmins."...and we watched the time tick away.
It was time to start my long day. I was on the rocks and I really didn't feel the need to move toward the buoy line. My goal was to stay wide of all the commotion through the entire swim. This was probably the best decision of my day. I swam about half way between the shore and the buoy line. I only ran into 1 or 2 people and I didn't get caught up in the anxiety of everyone around me. The worst part of that decision? I swim to the right. So I constantly had to correct myself so I didn't end up swimming to the shore and away from the buoys.
|A different view of the swim|
We came to the first turn and I was probably 30 feet away from the buoy. I was extremely happy with this. At that time, I started to run into more people. At one point, I popped up quickly and one of the kayakers asked if I was ok. I said Yes...I just had someone swim right underneath me. I started swimming, I'd bump into people, I'd stop. I'd start swimming, bump, stop. Finally, I started to get annoyed and decided screw them I was going to swim right through the if they got in my way. Being polite was doing nothing for my time.
My 2nd turn was closer to the buoy and a little bit more hectic. I ran into the same guy about 3 times in a row. We both popped out of the water and he said "Sorry I'm a really bad swimmer." Yah, I thought I was bad, but he literally swam an "S" in front of me bumping into me 3 times. Enough was enough. I swam away from him.
Because I do swim to my right, the kayakers are always guiding me back in toward the buoy line waving, waving, waving at me. I remember seeing the terrace and thinking this should take me about 5 minutes to swim by....but with every stroke it didn't seem to move. I think it took me at least 15 minutes to get by it. I was sure I was in a current and not making any progress. I looked at my watch at one point and saw my time. 1 hour. I was so happy. I thought I'm doing great!!!
Finally, we made the finally turn - the fish hook back to the shore. The problem is that I didn't realize how long that hook was. It seemed to last forever. I kept swimming right, the kayakers kept re-directing me, I kept swimming....forever! I finally came out of the water at 2.67 miles at 1:44 by my watch. UGH.
I left the water with a sense of relief. My first major hurdle was over. I exited the water to find the wet suit strippers. Boy, they sure did make stripping my wet suit easy. Why can't I have a set of those at home? lol I ran to the helix and then decided to walk up the helix itself and take in the moment. While the other athletes ran past me, I took in the atmosphere feeling like I was a rodent in a hamster wheel. People stared and clapped for me. I stared back watching their excitement to cheer on everyone who wanted to hear "You are an Ironman" by midnight.
I got to T1 and found a volunteer assistant. I have to laugh at this point because Endurance Nation tells you to put everything in your transition bags in the order you need them top to bottom. My bag was neat and orderly starting with my sports bra down to my bike helmet and shoes. I watched my volunteer dump my entire bag out on the floor. Oh well...so much for that plan.
My volunteer handed me my bra and tri top. As I was struggling to get my tri top down over my wet torso, I heard Jen Hazelman say "She's mine. I've got this one." lol With a sigh of relief, I asked Jen to help me with my top. I knew she'd do whatever it took to get me out on that course and it was comforting to have a friend there. Jen gave me the low down on all of the T3 athletes she saw come through.
It was at that time that I realized I had screwed up. My plan was to put my Stinger Waffles on my bike Sunday morning, but somehow Saturday night I had convinced myself that I put them in my bike gear bag. Not so. So instead I was happy as a lark for the 5 powdered donuts I had put in my transition bag. I didn't think I would really eat them but here I was trying to stuff it all in my mouth without water even!
|Coming down the helix|
At the top of the helix, I heard someone shout my name. I looked to my left to see "the boys" from T3 cheering me on. I told them I was going for a little bike ride and I'd be back soon....yah, just a little bit of hell for 112 miles.
As I left the helix, I could easily identify my family. Tiffany had created shirts for everyone with Team Head Team Leber on them. In this picture, I was shouting at them that I loved the shirts because I'd be able to identify them on the course.
I got on my bike and reminded myself of the Endurance Nation plan...first 10 miles...just ride along. Take in nutrition. OK...good plan. On Friday, I had packed all of my treats in little baggies. I dug out the first baggie which was full of salt pills, ibuprofen, hot tamales and chewy Spree. Yes, I am a freak. As I opened the first bag, I promptly dropped it on the floor. Son of a ............ugh. OK, just start drinking the Ucan. I finally leaned down into aero position and realized I hadn't fastened the velcro on my aero bottle. I was saved from nutrition disaster #2. I felt seriously fortunate that I hadn't lost that bottle.
I safely navigated my way through the 90 degree turn on the bike path. I crossed over the highway and entered the expo parking lot. Yes, we have to traverse through a parking lot. Feeling extremely cocky, I made my way down a small hill into a 90 degree right hand turn... and almost bit it in the parking lot. I am not really sure how I didn't fall but once I got my heart rate back down I was back on track. I felt pretty good to start the bike. I cheered on all of the people who passed me. Good for them. I'll see you later I thought. As we neared the first water station, I heard the whirl of a disc wheel behind me...zoom and he was passed me. I watched him moving along and suddenly he was on the ground skidding on his left side with bike still attached. Ouch. That's going to hurt. I never found out if he was able to finish or not.
As we approached the first loop, I had another biker who I kept playing cat and mouse with. She'd pass me on the uphills. I'd catch her on the downhills. Just like Endurance Nation said I would do. Finally, she introduced herself and said "I'm an 8 hour biker. Looks like we'll be doing this all day." I smiled and agreed, but thought to myself I'm not an 8 hour biker. Geesh. We played cat and mouse a while longer and then suddenly I realized she wasn't there anymore. The mouse got away.
The biggest problem I had on the bike course was deciding where to stop to reload my nutrition. I decided to wait until Mt Horab Cemetery where my family was supposed to be waiting. I got to Mount Horab and didn't see them anywhere. I stopped by the cemetery knowing I couldn't wait any longer and refilled my aero bottle. As I pedaled down the road, I came across my family at a later spot. I shouted I had just stopped and kept moving along.
My plan was to have Ucan every 90 minutes but I also paired it with my treat goody bags....Chewy Spree and Hot Tamales. Call me weird but Ironman (or long training days) is the only time I can justify having pure sugar since I am a Type 2 Diabetic. I turned onto Bourbon Street where I saw Nate Troyer and stopped to refill my nutrition and talk for a minute. I still had my knee hi arm warmers on and decided to stop at the porta-potty as well. I really didn't need the arm warmers and didn't want to litter on the road...so down the porta-john they went.
|On the 2nd loop - not happy|
By the start of my 2nd loop, I knew I had bike issues. When I would transition back to the large cog, my chain wouldn't hold and would drop back to the small cog instead. I spent about 5 miles holding my gearing so the chain would stay on my large cog, but finally decided that just wasn't a smart plan for the rest of the day. I would just have to ride in the small cog. When I got back to Mt Horab, I stopped to talk to my family. Apparently, when I skimmed the Athlete's Guide, my brain didn't retain anything. I looked directly at Jeff and said I need to know my bike cutoff times. By my calculations, I didn't think I was going to make it off of the bike on to the run. Suddenly, all hell broke loose. So many questions coming at me at once. My niece, Tiffany, asked me what was wrong. I was very short and said "Nothing. I'm just slow." Don't ask me why, but I couldn't explain what all was happening with my bike. I just felt rattled. I reloaded my nutrition and took off. I asked Jeff to let Nate know what my cutoff times were so he could shout them out to me. I knew I wasn't going to stop and talk to Nate this loop. I was getting worried about being swept off of the course.
Knowing the WI bike course is a tough one for me, I typically put my head down and ride. So I was surprised when I came upon Nate at the corner of Garfoot Rd and Highway KP, not where I expected him to be. He shouted "You've got til 5:30 so let's go!". Every mile that I passed I re-calculated my speed and estimated finish time. As I came up on a rise, I saw Nate again. He was walking up a hill talking to me. I was finally able to tell someone about my bike issues. His response was perfect, "Nothing you can do about it now. Just adapt and overcome." It was the best thing I could hear. No sympathy. Just deal with what the day has brought to you. OK....let's get it done!
As I finished the 2nd loop, I saw Jeff waiting to cheer me on. He told me later he saw a van with flashing lights behind me and thought they were coming to sweep me off of the course. Thankfully I was still ahead of the sweep line and kept chugging. Jeff moved on and waited for me further down on the "stick", the out and back portion of the course. Having family on the course really does motivate you. Having Jeff and Nate leapfrog down the course really did help me distract from my worry.
As I approached the helix, I dreaded getting up that dumb thing. I was sure I was not going to make it to the top. However, it didn't seem to be as bad as I built it up to be. Instead, I found myself at the dismount line with the volunteers asking 3 or 4 times, "Have you got your legs?". Umm, yah, get me off of this dumb thing! I was ready to move on!
I finally made it back to the terrace. In my mind, I thought I had to be out of transition by 5:30. I had already came up with a plan to grab my shoes and runnings shorts and change in the porta-potties if needed. I was not going to be swept off of the course by seconds. Fortunately, I was wrong. I just had to be off the bike by 5:30. I entered T2 with a sense of relief and confidence. I knew I could complete the marathon in 6 hours. I was good to go!
|A little love from my baby to carry me on|
As I entered the square I found a trash can and asked a spectator to throw away the rest of my bar. I didn't want to get penalized for throwing trash on the floor. As soon as I entered the square, I started to run. According to Endurance Nation, the first 6 miles of the marathon should be slow. I was fine with that! The one thing I didn't like is that I never did a recon on the run course. I had no idea where I was going. In hindsight, I now understand why we couldn't find certain parts of the run...since they are not drivable roads!
I had to stop to use the porta-potty in the first few miles. That made me happy since that meant I did a good job of keeping hydrated. On the negative side, people do some nasty stuff in those porta-potties. Put that #$%@ down the toilet! Ugh!
Obviously, it was very easy to identify teammates when they were wearing T3 gear. I saw Gene who shouted "There she is!". I wondered if that meant he was worrying about me. After all of my anxiety about the swim, I definitely understood. As I entered the stadium, I met Michael Henderson as he was leaving it. I shouted a greeting and he gave me a vague wave. I thought that was odd, but kept running through the stadium. Once back on the road again, I caught up to Michael who said he wasn't feeling well. He felt dizzy and was trying to get it under control. I walked with him at an aid station and then took off running again. Don't get me wrong. I was not running the entire time at this point. My strategy was to run until I an aid station....but I walked more than that. I just listened to my body. My goal, after talking to Mike Dillard about his IMLOU experience this year, was to keep a 15 minute mile pace. If they could complete IMLOU under the extreme heat conditions they had to endure, I could complete IMWI without my maximum training.
I had told my family I would like to see them at Observatory Hill since I knew from everything I read I would be walking it. With my runner's knee there was no way I would push it and run up a huge hill. Jeff, Abby, Nate and my sister, Pam, were all there. Asking me how I felt and cheering me on. It sure felt great to see your loved ones. I ran toward State Street and saw "the boys" again. Ed was holding a beer and I asked him if that was for me. He put it on the floor and slowly stepped away as if saying "It's yours if you want it." I laughed. I needed a laugh.
|In the Stadium|
I kept chugging along, keeping under my 15 minute mile goal pace. Well...my original goal was 12:30 but with Ironman you should always have a Plan B...Plan C, and even a Plan D. I came back to the square feeling pretty good. Everyone always asks how you feel about the turn around...seeing the Finish Line and know you still have 13 more miles to complete. Honestly, I didn't notice it at all! I was worried about Special Needs. I had my brand spanking new arm warmers in my Special Needs bag. I paid $50 for those suckers and I wanted to make sure I got them back. I grabbed them out of the bag and took off again. I tried to put them on but they were tight and really I wasn't cold. So instead I handed them to the first person I saw along with my hat which I no longer needed.
Some parts of the running course are pretty dark. I was constantly on the look out for other T3 members, but somehow I missed a lot of them. At one point, I heard Heidi Henderson yell, "Go, Carla!". Dang! Where the hell did she come from? lol. She was on the way back in...her final few miles. I was really happy for her. I knew she'd come to Wisconsin and kick some butt.
|Abby was excited for me...until I crossed the finish line. |
Then she was done!
I climbed Observatory Hill and found Jeff, Abby and Nate again. I told Jeff my goal was to finish before 11:30. Always have a goal. No matter what. The game may change on you, but just change with it. On this loop, Abby was full of energy and ran with me for quite a while. Her energy and chatter distracted me. It was just what I needed. Jeff, with his bad knee, tried to run ahead and get pictures of us running together. All I could think was he's going to get hurt.
Having your name on your bib can be positive or distracting. You get a lot of spectators who use your name to cheer you on which is really cool;. however, after a while you stop turning to look who is shouting your name because 90% of the time you don't know them anyway. At one point on State Street, someone shouted, "Keep it up, Camilla." I just laughed and thought he's had too much to drink. I hit the turn around and heard someone else yell my name. I turned and thought I saw Jen Crider, Heidi's sister, but I haven't seen her in so many years I wasn't sure if I was seeing things. I didn't think she was coming up to the race!
I still felt pretty good, but the lactic acid was starting to set in. It was harder to re-start running each time. I got to the final four miles and decided I could walk most of it and still be happy. I ran into a guy who said this was his 4th time to complete IMWI. He said, "I'm pretty sure my bike is going to be on Craig's List by 12:15." He gave me a chuckle. I completely understood. I thought I never wanted to see Madison again.
I kept walking with a very deliberate, determined pace. If I was going to walk, I wasn't going to saunter. I still wanted to cross that finish line as quickly as possible but I was definitely walking. My IT bands and quads were screaming at me every time I ran. Obviously, what did that tell me? I didn't run enough in training. But it is what it is. I entered the back side of the square and the volunteers asked what I needed. They were great and ran it to me rather than having me come to them. I kept walking until I was back on the flat section of the square and took off running for the finish line.
I started running toward the chute arms in the air. Today may not have been spectacular. It may not have compared to IMLOU, but it was still a great experience. I put my arms in the air and celebrated another milestone, another Ironman. I saw "the boys" standing along the chute. I slapped hands with the crowd. I heard THE MIKE REILLY say "Carla LEEBER, you are an Ironman" as I crossed the finish line. As soon as I crossed the line, I did my Ironman finish dance. This time it was apparently caught on the video. I was done. I was happy. I was ready for bed.
|Finish Line Dance|