Ironman Wisconsin 2011 Race Report

The race. It was long and so is this post. Get comfortable. 

SWIM (2.4 miles):
Water temp – very comfortable with a full wetsuit
Water quality – minimal waves
Start – treading water 
Equipment – Orca Speedsuit, circa 2005, Barracuda goggles, Garmin 301XT (for the whole race)

Mass start with a big group clumped together right near the line, very densely packed together. I avoided that area and started back where the other non-swimmers were enjoying a little more space between racers. Little bit higher amount of contact than normal, but was able to get myself moving pretty well. The mass start of ~2800 people meant that I didn’t really have to worry too much about sighting, which was sweet. Racers definitely spread out by the second loop, but I swear the most violent contact (got a few kicks and had to push someone off who tried to swim over me) was on the home stretch back to shore! 

I had a pretty good sense of my time here and was expecting 1:30. Was happy to find my actual time was a few minutes quicker. Thank you to all of the other racers I drafted of off and who kept me on the course!

Rank – 1577 overall (2797), 74 (145) in my AG
Time – 1:23:53

T1 (9:02):
Yes! Saw some of my fans right away – Lindsay, John, Steve, Zach, Cara – and blew them a kiss 🙂
Wetsuit stripper!
Jogged up the helix parking structure – ugh. Long.
I wore my bike kit for the swim (thank you, Heather!), which made the transition otherwise fairly easy. Socks, shoes, gloves, helmet, sunglasses, sunscreen. Got my bike and another volunteer helped me put my Garmin 310XT on my bike mount… switched from T1 mode to Bike mode and I was off…

BIKE (112 miles, 3778 ft climbing –
Course – out, two loops, back. Continuous hills, some sharp turns.
Weather – sunny, warming as the day went on, headwind on the second loop
Road quality – varied
Bike – 2009 frame (built/bought in 2010) Cervelo RS, size XS w/clip-on aerobars 

Started slow, due to all of the turns on the course as we navigated our way our of town and onto the bike path (no passing allowed). Saw a crash around mile 5 – medics already on the scene, rider appeared ok, but obviously hurt and being taken off the course. Once out on the road, I slowly started drinking (not too much at once, trying to avoid any GI issues) – had a bottle of Hammer Perpetuem and a bottle of some sort of electrolyte drink (Gu or Clif, I think). Tried to take it easy out to the beginning of the first loop – just warmed up and got ready for the HILLS! First loop was great. Hills were constant, but very manageable. Roads were crowded and I was definitely in the process of making up time from my back-of-the-pack swim. 

Crowd support through the towns and up the more significant hills was pretty incredible. Streets lined on both sides, folks out in costume, posters, noise makers and even a drill sargent! I saw my fans as I went through on the start of my second loop – Zach, Cara and Steve cheered so loud that a nearby racer had to ask me, “If they’re that excited now, what are they going to do when you finish?” My only possible response – “I am VERY lucky.”

Felt good starting loop two – until the headwind became really apparent. I confirmed with a few other people that I wasn’t just really tired. Yes, headwind. Ugh.

Special needs bags were waiting around mile 58. More sunscreen application, new bottle of Perpetuem and Gu Brew and a bag of salted boiled potatoes. So yeah, what DID I eat out there? On loop one I had a few bottles of water and Gatorade, in addition to my drinks. Couple banana halves at aid stations. Tried to eat my strawberry Pop Tarts (always unfrosted!), but found that it they were more crumbly than usual – and chewing wasn’t really working out so well. The potatoes were wonderful. What didn’t I eat? I didn’t eat a single Clif bar. I think I may have had one gel/Gu, but don’t really remember. Turns out that drinking was the way to go for this event!

So yeah, headwind. Then around mile 70, my butt was pretty sick of riding. Continued anyway, of course.

Mile 95 – I was really sick of riding. Done. Annoyed with the headwind, sad that my mph average wasn’t improving. Definitely wondered (probably aloud) who decided that 112 miles was better than 100 miles. At mile 95, five more miles seemed way better than 17 more miles – which may as well have been 40 more miles, given how I was feeling horrible.

Around mile 99, I finished the second loop and headed back towards town. M2 had warned me that this part was NOT flat, or even downhill, but actually had some up to handle. Still, fueled by anger, eagerness to get off the bike and a reduction of headwind, I rolled into town and actually reported my fastest split of the day. Rode up the helix and gladly handed off my bike.

BIKE SPLIT 1: 54 mi 54 mi (3:06:05) 17.41 mi/h
BIKE SPLIT 2: 94 mi 40 mi (2:30:32) 15.94 mi/h
BIKE SPLIT 3: 112 mi 18 mi (55:54) 19.32 mi/h
TOTAL BIKE 112 mi (6:32:31) 17.12 mi/h

Rank – 1270 overall, 44 AG

T2 (5:55):
Grabbed my watch, ditched my bike and headed in to the Monona Terrace on wobbly legs.
Changed bike shorts for a running SKIRT, thin socks for ones with more padding. Added running shoes, running hat, race number, body glide on a few problem toes and under my arms. Additional sunscreen… and I was out.

RUN (26.2 mi,
Weather: HOT at first, probably in the mid-upper 80s, light/occasional breeze, cooled a little as the sun set
Terrain: some mild hills, one short steep section
Road: Mostly pavement, short section with trails
Route: Two loops with lots of out and backs

I came off the bike expecting to feel bad, but not horrible. When I started “running” and saw my pace hovering around 11:30 min/mile, I knew I was in trouble. My legs felt like absolute crap. My confidence dropped way down. Around mile one I had a quick bathroom break, hoping that would make me feel a little better. Nope. Started walking the aid stations and a little in between, Drank some Gatorade and water, had some banana. My cheering group knew I was in rough shape as I slowly made my way by with a sorry little hello and a forced smile. 

Everyone said to have the Coke (actually, Pepsi), on the run, but that once you start, you have to have some at every aid station (about a mile apart). Lena cautioned me against starting too soon, as she had some GI issues on the run that she attributed to the Coke. I waited until mile five. I needed something to help me get moving… and thought it was worth a shot. 

Somewhere around mile eight, I realized that I could finally go a little farther without walking. From there, I found myself feeling better and better, and by mile 10, I realized that I would probably actually finish! Some of it was probably energy from the caffeine, but also, my legs just felt a little recovered from the bike and then remembered how to run. 

As I started to feel better, I could finally interact with my friends and family that were spread out on the course in three different spots – Amy, then Mom, Sister and Izzy the dog, then Steve, Cara and Zach. They got some very gross hugs, high-fives and lots of love! I was so happy to see them along the course and really felt my attitude shift up each time I saw their familiar faces. Amy made a tshirt that just read “BIRDWELL,” my sister made some tshirts that said “Go Kelly,” and Cara made a poster. Steve, Cara and Zach chalked part of State Street, which I sadly saw *after* the race. Again, I am SO LUCKY to have such amazing cheerleaders.

Back to the running part. I did stop somewhere for more sunscreen and Vaseline and continued to walk/run the aid stations and hills, but was generally running around a 10 min/mile and felt okay. Loop number two was much better. Somewhere around mile 18 a woman asked me about my goal time. Uh, 13 hours? She was aiming for 12:59:59, so we ran together for two miles. It was nice to have company and I got some energy from encouraging her to stay with me. At mile 21 though, it became all business. I was feeling emotional (to the point that my breathing was getting messed up since I was almost crying and had to tuck those feelings deep, deep inside) and also very focused. My fans could tell that I was in some sort of mode and Steve yelled out for me to catch the lady ahead of me, which I did. Looking back at my Garmin data, I felt like I was cruising by at 7:30 min/mi, but really, I was somewhere around 9:30-10 min/mi. Amazing how putting that much distance on your legs skews your perception of speed and effort! 

RUN SPLIT 1: 8.9 mi 8.9 mi (1:41:06) 11:21/mi
RUN SPLIT 2: 13.2 mi 4.3 mi (44:57) 10:27/mi
RUN SPLIT 3: 21.95 mi 8.75 mi (1:32:42) 10:35/mi
RUN SPLIT 4: 26.2 mi 4.25 mi (41:46) 9:49/mi
TOTAL RUN 26.2 mi (4:40:31) 10:42/mi

Rank – 917/2797, 30/145 AG

The finish was incredible. I was officially an Ironman. I was carried off by the volunteers and got my swag, walked around with them until I felt okay enough to go on my own – when I fell out of the finisher’s corral and directly into my boyfriend’s arms and then eventually all of my friends and family. I’m actually crying as I type this, over a month later, because it was such a powerful experience. 

Other result info – total geeky numbers stuff is all here. I was super happy to find that I continued to improve at each split! Obviously some of that is a direct result of my bike and run being so much stronger than my swim, but still, pretty sweet. 

Stairs were challenging that night and the next day, but otherwise, I was walking okay the next day. Took me about 5 weeks to get back to feeling like I was back to 100% capacity – albeit a diminished capacity due to the break (not totally off, but not like training), etc.

Will I do another one? I. Don’t. Know. I do know that I saw cows. Mooo.

Ironman Wisconsin Race Report – part I, pre-race

Ironman Wisconsin Race Report (part I)

Boring stuff here, mostly… but potentially useful if you’re thinking about doing an Ironman yourself, or going to support a friend.


Wednesday, September 7. Early morning flight, barely four hours of sleep. Steve and I managed to pack my bike into Darin’s bike case and keep it under 50 pounds. This was not easy. Also, I had no idea what to bring with me – or rather, I knew that I wanted to bring EVERYTHING with me. Clothes for training rides and runs, clothes for rain, sleet, snow, sun, more sun. Sunscreen. All the CliffShots in the world. Many water bottles. I ended up flying with pretty much all the clothing I wanted, but decided to buy most of my bars/gels when I got to Illinois.

Arrived at O’Hare around 1pm on Wednesday and was picked up by my mom, sister and my sister’s dog. Wonderful to see them and get to spend time with them – they had no idea what all of this was like and so it took a lot of explaining about all of the steps and the importance of various parts of the weekend. Still, they’re family, so they went along with me and my crazy plans. We stopped at REI for the bars and gels and then took my bike over to a shop that an old friend of the family had recommended. They promised to have JB cleaned up and ready to race by noon on Thursday.

Big scare on Wednesday – got a call that my bike chain was really worn. Worn to the point that I needed a new rear cassette. WTF? This bike is only 18 months old! My old bike’s (a triple, not a compact double, used for centuries, but only used for sprint & Olympic distance tris) chain seemed to last for close to three years before needing a new chain. Guess I rode a lot. Um, okay. Fix it. And replace the new cassette. This was a really tough call because I wasn’t really having issues shifting, but now that they told me that it was in need of repair, I’d be stressed about it. Of course, they only had a Dura Ace rear cassette in stock. Rad. I always wanted a super high-end rear cassette. And have loads of money sitting around for one. Oh well.

Thursday, Sept 8 – picked up the rental car, picked up my bike and headed to Wisconsin. Managed to get up there in time to be the LAST PERSON to go through registration. Weighed in at 125.2 pounds. Not the 120 I originally planned for race day. Again, oh well. My mom was very patient while I went through all the steps and then at the very end, Cara Peck, one of my best friends, was waiting for me! (She and her boyfriend were visiting Wisconsin for a wedding and football game and stayed an extra day to cheer for me on Sunday. Awesome friends.) Pretty chill night. Short 30 minute jog along the lake. Mom and I went on a walk. It was warm, but in the 80s – not the 90s!

Friday, Sept 9 – Went to the Ironman store and spent too much money (for a bike kit that kind of looks like it’s for the Texas Longhorns, not so much IMoo) and waited in a long line. Met up with Cara Peck, who supervised me while I enjoyed a swim in the lake. Mom and I drove the bike course and I got out and did a little ride, just to stretch my legs, go through my bike gears and test some of the hills. I had hoped to do a longer ride on Thursday (per coach’s recommendations and based on what my friends did at IM Canada), but didn’t have enough time. Regardless, the drive gave me a pretty good idea of the course – some really nice roads, some crappy roads, lots of hills, no mountains… AND WITH COWS!!!!! HOLLA!

I missed my training buddies and thought about how different it would be to have a house filled with other Ironman hopefuls. I imagine that it could have been kind of stressful – lots of nerves in one place, everyone wanting to make sure their stuff is set up how they want it… but then you don’t feel bad about dragging someone out for a long drive to see a bike course, or for your constant need for small snacks, or all the waiting and preparing of gear bags and figuring out how to freeze bottles in a hotel room (enough racers and you can rent a house), etc. You also get to get a table with all your friends at the pre-race briefing (boring for those not racing) and pre-race dinner.

Mandatory pre-race briefing & dinner –

Pre-race briefing – safety, course outline, drafting rules. Pretty normal stuff. Good to get it all tucked in the brain, even though I’m going to need all of the help the volunteers can offer when it comes to what to do in transition so I don’t get lost in giant Monona Terrace!

We were treated to some great speakers during dinner, including the announcer who tells everyone “You Are An Ironman” as they cross the finish. Interviews with the oldest and youngest racers and a couple who does the whole thing together.

And – we finally learned how the race director was going to handle the fact that this race is on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. All first-responders (police, fire, emt, military) were given VIP seats at the dinner. They also got special bibs so they could be identified at the race with special bike racks just behind the pros. Additionally, they auctioned off, at $4000, a poster that was signed by all the pros and first responders. Money went to a charity associated with the Madison Police Department. While I’m sure there were other people commemorating the day in their own way, a local fire fighter who helped on 9/11 was very public about his cause – does races in a normal wetsuit, then changes into an orange polka dot bike jersey to remind Wisconsinites about organ donation (that’s the symbol on the WI drivers license) and then runs in his FULL fire uniform. Which weighs 100 pounds. WOW. For more info on Robert V and Code 3 for a Cure, click here.

Overall, a very positive way to remember 9/11 – by giving thanks to those who helped, instead of those who did harm.

Saturday, Sept 10 – Woke up to a farmer’s market right on the capital square! Walked around a little, had some breakfast and realized that the weekend was heating up. I had high hopes for a low-80s kind of Sunday. Oh well. I forced myself to drink lots of water on Saturday and kept my bottle close by as I did the last few Ironman tasks before Sunday – needed to drop off my bike and my transition bags at Monona Terrace.

Monona Terrace is this giant, Frank Lloyd Wright designed (but not built until after he died) convention center, conveniently located near Lake Monona, one of the three lakes in Madison, Wisconsin’s capital. At IM Wisconsin, your transitions do not happen outside in a tent, parking lot or field – it’s very civilized. You go INSIDE to one of the many big conference rooms, get your bag, then go to another room (men/women) to change. Head back outside and get on your merry biking or running way. Still, seeing thousands of these bags covering the conference rooms was mind-blowing. Overwhelmed, I went back to the hotel to take a nap.

The rest of the day involved very little walking, just some prep for Sunday – bottles, special needs bags, and then an early dinner. My latest pre-race dinner has been some sort of non/low gluten noodle/grain with meat/turkey + marinara sauce. Gnocchi totally fit the bill and I was magically able to score us a table for 4:45pm. After a nice walk back to the hotel, I sent my mom out to the casino with her friends and tried to get some sleep.

Steve, my boyfriend, who had to attend a funeral in Utah on Saturday, managed to just wake me up for a second when he arrived around 2am. What a sweetheart.

Race day report to follow.