Madison 70.3 wasn't originally in the plans. The plan was to be out in Boulder cheering for and supporting Jacqui in her Ironman for the weekend. Unfortunately, the injury bug caught her and she was forced to make the call that racing most likely wouldn't be the smartest decision. With 10 days until the race, I was able to get a spot on the start line for Madison 70.3 since the weekend was then open for me. I debated a little bit as the Grand Rapids Half Iron race was the same day, but I had a few athletes racing in Madison, and I wanted to test the race out as I just LOVE the Madison area.
Doing some pre race prep, I was able to make the quick 90 mile drive the week before the race and get in a course recon bike ride. I knew this course wasn't the same at the full Ironman, and figured it would be nice to know what I was getting myself into. After riding the course, I was questioning if I really wanted to race it! What a tough one to race! Hills and wind seemed to be the theme, but I told myself that if the wind wasn't so bad, the race itself would be a lot of fun.
As race day got closer- the wind in the forecast looked scary. 20-30 mph sustained winds with gusts in the 45mph range. Yikes! As with every forecast, I tried to remember that weather changes in the blink of an eye... so instead I focused on what I would need to do in order to execute a good race.
With the race being so close, Jacqui and I hit the road the day before the race around 1pm and made the quick drive up to Madison. Check in was quick and easy and I was even able to meet up with athletes, Kati and Megan, before jumping into the lake for a quick swim. Luckily, the water was much warmer than what it was the week prior. Reports showed it went up over 11 degrees in the span of a week thanks to the 90+ heat wave that hit the midwest. The only problem: WIND. WOW was it windy.
After a quick bike drop off and dinner, it was time to finalize all the race gear back at the hotel and an early lights out due to the looming 4am wake up call.
Immediately, I went outside to get a check on the weather. Wind was still there! But definitely went down from the day before. As long as it held off we would all be ok. The other problem: HOT. Even at 4am, the temps were already in the low 70s. It was going to be a scorcher of a day. Over the last few years, I have preferred the heat as it tends to really open up the field of racing. I've learned how to cope well and adjust in the heat and even have put out some great races in 90+ degree days such as in Kona.
It was a fairly relaxed morning. Nothing out of the ordinary- got the bike checked out, got in some pre race nutrition, and had plenty of time to spare. I was hoping for a swim warm up, but the lifeguards didn't seem to get the memo on what time they were supposed to arrive and left all the athletes overheating on the beach standing there in their wetsuits.
The start of the race was a rolling start. I've come to love these as it lets you self seed yourself. With age group waves, you end up catching others and fighting to make your way through the swim (unless you are first wave). It just makes a messy start and overall swim as people of different swim speeds are spread out all across the course. I seeded myself in the 27-30 min group as I was thinking a 28 min swim was right around where I would be.
As we rolled out into the water, I got out to a quick start and was swimming right where I wanted to. I focused on strong and efficient pulls and was feeling great. About 7 mins into the swim though, something clicked and I felt drained. No energy, no focus...I went from good to bad quickly. My form was junk and I felt like I was fighting the water. At the first turn buoy, I wanted to get out and be done. I wasn't sure what had happened, but it just wasn't pretty. Others were quickly passing me and I tried to refocus and tuck in behind them, but they would be gone and out of sight before I could even respond. Maybe I had taken it out much too fast? Whatever it was, I thought that my race was over with and that there would be no way I could make up the ground lost during the swim.
Eventually I rolled up onto shore feeling completely out of it. I was tired, dizzy, and not really knowing where I was. I didn't even look down at my watch because I didn't want to get discouraged. I did hear my dad shout out 32...which I figured was 32 minutes. So I was definitely a bit disappointed with that, but it turns out he was yelling out what place I was in. Swim time: 29 mins. Not that bad considering how terrible I swam.
The bike didn't get much better.
Immediately, I started riding and the watts that I typically ride at just were not there. There are some races where I come out and I have to control myself to dial back. Not today. I was fighting for every watt and they weren't coming very easily. I made the decision to dial back a little as I knew it was going to be a long day in the heat, wind, and hills. Early in the ride, I hit a bump pretty hard and it seemed like from then on, my power meter acted up. It gave me numbers all over the board, primarily reading 0 watts. This may have been a good thing as seeing low numbers the entire ride may have frustrated me even more. Instead I had to ride on feel and effort.
Early in the ride, I was passed by another rider. I made it a goal to not let him get too far away and let his efforts hold me accountable and dialed in. As I neared the initial climbs around mile 14, I made the pass on the rider as I was a bit smaller and figured it wouldn't have to work as hard to get up. My legs and body were coming around a little bit, but I still just didn't have the normal 'snap' that I feel when racing. It was going to be a big mental test to see how hard I could press on for the remaining 3.5 hours of the race.
I rode hard when I was able to, but needed to dial back at times to regroup and refuel. The course itself was just as hard as it was the week prior. Hotter, still some wind, and those hills definitely didn't get any smaller. To add to the difficult course, many of the hills (I'd call them small mountains) had turns at the bottom. So after you worked so hard to get to the top and then enjoy the free speed coming down the other side, you were forced to break and slow down considerably to make a sharp turn at the bottom. Then go right back up! It was on one of these tricky sections that I had a friend join me making the course even more difficult. The friend? A big german shepard sprinting at me as I'm trying to make my way up a hard climb. I was barely moving at 9mph as he popped out of no where and had his mouth wide open ready to take a chunk out of my right calf. I unclipped my right foot ready to defend just as he was about to get me. He seemed to stop just as I unclipped, but then came charging back at me. I had a little gap and sprinted to try and hold him off, and it worked! The only problem....my heart rate was through the roof it took me the next few miles of easy riding to regroup and feel normal again.
The rest of the race wasn't too eventful. We had a nice tailwind to push us back into town, but the hills never went away. I missed a turn on the crowded bike path as we were finishing which was a little frustrating, but I was able to stop and turn around to get back on track.
I didn't count myself out, but I had not felt that miserable starting a run probably in over two years. I tried to focus on good form, fast turnover, and making sure I was staying on top of hydration and nutrition. But my legs felt like big weights and it was hard to get rolling. Through the first mile, I took a glance and saw 5:40. Not too bad, but I typically will go out in 5:25 range (and feeling A LOT better). I caught 2nd place shortly before mile 2 as he walked through an aide station. It was then that I figured I wasn't the only one hurting. I was able to get the update that 1st place was just up the road so from there I completely dialed back. I caught first around mile 3 and had a big sense of relief as I was able to go into cruise control. From then on, I never looked at my watch to see what I was running. Rather I just stayed as comfortable as I could.
The run course was fairly challenging...every hill stung quite a bit more than the previous one. Luckily the first 8 miles or so were pretty shaded which kept things cool, but the hills made things interesting. A few more updates were that I was around 4 mins ahead of the 2nd place guy which was nice to hear. But I didn't know how fast they were running and my entire body was not cooperating. Step after step, I trudged my way through the miles. The last 2 miles seemed to take forever as there was a STRONG head wind. The wind normally doesn't effect me too much, but on that day, I struggled with it. I took a quick few glances back and couldn't see anyone, so I took it very easy to finish up the race and get to the finish line.
To cap the day, the most exciting part happened just as everyone was about all packed up and ready to head home.
Good friend and pretty much my first athlete that I started coaching, Megan Hode, was targeting a 70.3 Worlds slot. She raced Chatty 70.3 early this year and came up just a touch short. So she too signed up for Madison in hopes to try again. As we sat at the awards, her age group was allocated 2 spots for Worlds. The two spots were taken pretty quickly and I could tell she was pretty defeated. We all sat in silence waited for them to finish up. The last age group (female 18-24) had 1 slot for worlds. And guess what...nobody took it. The announcer fumbled through his papers and said the slot would go to the next biggest age group. And wouldn't you know it...it went to Megan's group (30-34). Two spots passed, and the announcer called Megan's name for the spot. I still get chills sitting there watching it happen. You can get a full read on the details on her blog: meganhode.blogspot.com/2017/06/punching-my-ticket-to-worlds-wisconsin.html Give it a read...it really is a great story! So congrats to Megan- all of that hard work paid off!!
As mentioned, it is a little unknown what is next for me. I'll try to get the next one planned out a little more in advance, but no promised. I do know that I will be cheering Jacqui on as she targets her Kona slot at Ironman Lake Placid next month! Should be a great summer and big finish to the year!
Thanks as always to my great sponsors and supporters:
Until the next one!