After an amazing weekend, I am finally home from a long weekend in Madison for the Wisconsin Ironman Brick Adventure (WIBA). It was a ton of fun and a great learning experience. There is so much that I want to document and remember that I am going to break this up into two posts. Apologies if it gets really boring, but I plan on going back and re-reading this post before race day to refresh myself with anything I learned.
I arrived in Madison on Friday after the 6 hour drive from Grand Rapids. The ride itself was uneventful for the most part with just a bit of traffic in Chicago. I bought an I-Pass after my last trip to Madison so that I could avoid the cash tolls on I-90 and that ended up being a big timesaver. The only problem was that the stupid stickyback Velcro didn’t stick to my windshield so I would have to hold it up every time I went through a toll – an extra challenge when one hand is on the wheel, one holding up the I-Pass, and still needing a hand to shift.
I stayed just outside of Madison in Middleton so that I could take advantage of a 50% off discount. If you need a place to stay in Madison between now and the end of August, check out http://www.ncghotels.com/ironmanwisconsin for 50% off a bunch of hotels. They are all pretty much outside of downtown Madison, but the furthest I had to drive all weekend was 20 minutes.
After checking in, I headed downtown to walk around before dinner. Driving in downtown Madison kind of sucks until you get used to it; lots of one way streets and funny intersections. However, it is a breeze to walk around. I parked pretty right in between the Capitol and UW’s campus. State Street runs between the two and is lined with lots of restaurants, bars, shops – a total college town feel.
I had over an hour to kill so I put out a call on Twitter/Facebook looking for a good place to grab a drink. Kristin @ The Lazy Marathoner came through with a suggestion of the The Old Fashioned – a bar/restaurant just steps away from the Capitol. Their specialty is carrying 150 varieties of WI beer. Um, yes please! I asked the bartender for his recommendation of a good summer beer and he suggested Potosi Steamboat Shandy. It was absolutely delicious – cold, crisp and refreshing.
I grabbed a quick picture of the Capital building before heading to Gino’s for dinner. In just 11 weeks, I’ll be crossing the finish line with this as a backdrop. Can’t wait.
Dinner at Gino’s was a lot of fun. The food itself wasn’t anything spectacular, but it was a good opportunity to meet people. You could just feel the energy and excitement from everyone in the room. Around me, I saw with Dave (WI will be his 6th IM), Kat (WI will her 2nd), Kristin (fellow first timer), Stacy (2nd IM), her husband Bryan (first timer), and Dan who just did his first sprint tri this summer and wants to train for the 2012 IMWI. When they asked who was doing IMWI for the first time about 90% of the people raised their hands.
We exchanged war stories and how our training was progressing while guzzling down pitchers of water. Apparently this restaurant had no idea how much water triathletes will drink because they couldn’t keep the pitchers full. Like I said, the food wasn’t anything extraordinary, but it was still good. We may even go back there on race weekend simply because I know I can eat the lasagna and not have any issues the next day because of it.
After we finished eating, they had a couple of presentations. The first was by Will Smith (not this Will Smith – this one). He is a retired professional triathlete from New Zealand who now lives in Mt. Horeb. He talked about the IMWI course as well as training in general. One thing that really stuck with me was when he was stressing the importance of running off the bike during trainer. He said, “You aren’t runners, you are triathletes. Triathletes run when they are tired.” Isn’t that the truth? Coming from a running background this has taken a while to fully understand, but it makes perfect sense.
After Will Smith, a representative from CycleOps did a presentation on training with power. It wasn’t really a pushy salesman type presentation which was nice, but I really didn’t get anything out of it. I did however take him up on the opportunity to borrow a PowerTap wheel for my ride the next day.
After dinner, I headed back to the hotel and hit the hay.
First up on Saturday was a long open water swim in Lake Monona. I had a light breakfast before heading out to Law Park – right near the swim start. We couldn’t swim the exact course because they didn’t have buoys out (and IMWI doesn’t have a cheaters buoy line :-p), but there was dock that we could swim out and back to. Each out and back was 1.2 miles. It sounded like most people were only going to do one loop and I really wanted to do two. I figured I would just get going and if it looked like I wouldn’t be alone out there, I would do the second loop.
Here is a course preview of the swim.
The first 300 yards of the first loop sucked. My goggles were leaking like sieve. These goggles have NEVER leaked on me before. I had to roll over on my back and adjust them multiple times before I got a tight seal. Thankfully, the adjustments on them are super easy to make. Once I got them fixed, the swim went much better. I keyed in on a swimmer ahead of me and one to the right. The trip back to the swim start was slower than the out. It seemed choppier than the way out for some reason. Nevertheless, the three of us finished up the first loop together. I popped up, looked at the other guy and just said, “Again?” He nodded and we were off.
The second loop went surprisingly well. I kept waiting for the wheels to fall off an it never happened. The longest I had ever swam before was 2 miles and that was last year in the pool. I mapped out the course online afterwards and it came out to almost exactly 2.4 miles (about 2.35). My time ended up being 1:05:27 and I couldn’t be more happy with that. Looking at my splits, I did start to slow down at the end, but that is to be expected.
First out: 15:47
First back: 16:32
Second out: 15:38
Second back: 17:29
The lake itself was fairly clean. However, we were warned that as the summer weather heats up the water, the algae will grow. Not looking forward to that, but it is what it is.
After the swim, I jumped in my car and headed out to the bike course. I chugged a Gatorade on the drive to replenish the calories I lost during the swim.
For the bike course, rather than start downtown, we drove out to Fireman’s Park in Verona. Fireman’s Park is on the loop portion of the bike course. As soon as I got there, I changed into my bib shorts and got my bike situated. While I was swimming, the CycleOps rep swapped out my wheel with the PowerTap wheel. I got my Garmin synced up with it and was ready to ride.
Right after we took off, I hooked up with a couple of guys (Skip and Jesse). In short time, we turned and faced out first climb of the day. In reality, it wasn’t a big climb by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a tough simply because our legs weren’t warmed up yet. At the top, we were greeted by our first downhill of the day which began a series of rollers.
This course was just an absolute blast to ride. The whole time, we just kept remarking how much fun we were having. There was never a dull moment the entire time. The course is constantly changing, up and down, left and right, up and down, left and right. I counted over 30 turns per loop based on the cue sheet which is crazy considering the last half IM I did had maybe a dozen turns total.
When most people talk about the IMWI bike course, they talk about the 3 big climbs. I’ll get to those, but first the fun part – the descents. There just some absolutely crazy down hills that totally make up for the climbing. The first one we encountered was on Witte Rd. You basically turn left on to Witte and are staring straight down. Check out the course preview at 16:08 to get a feel for this part of the course. We flew down the hills. It was like a rollercoaster except that instead of putting our hands in the air we were holding on for dear life. This section was actually probably equally uphill as downhill, but the downhills would propel you so far back up the next hill that you barely even noticed them. It is very crucial to be comfortable going all out on the downhills here so that you get that extra propulsion to the top of the next climb.
Right after Witte Rd is Garfoot Rd (17:40 in the video). This descent alone drops about 300 feet as you wind through beautiful tree lined roads. We were hitting 45mph with the brakes on as we angled through the turns. It is a feeling I have never felt before – what a rush! I am sort of concerned about what it will be like with 50+ other riders potentially going down the hill at the same time though. It did seal the deal on NOT renting race wheels for race day. Speed and comfort be damned, there is no way in hell I am riding deep dish wheels for the first time on this course. Even Jesse, who owns 808’s was rethinking whether or not to use them on race day.
There was one other crazy descent that comes to mind. At the top of the hill, the bike course markings even had “slow” painted on the road. I can’t find this one in the video, but this was the scariest because it had a sharp left curve right at the bottom of it. This one I would not recommend going down while aero unless you are super comfortable on your bike.
Ok, so the downhills are out of the way, on to the climbs. If you watch the entire video, Stu (the narrator) highlights 3 climbs. I would say that there are really 4 climbs per loop. And just remember, you do that loop twice, so 8 climbs.
The First Climb
This climb isn’t really considered one of The Big 3, but I think it is worth mentioning. This starts at 14:25 in the video and is the climb up to Mt Horeb. It is probably the easiest of the climbs but it is also the longest. It starts off with a nice false flat, before steepening out as it winds up to Mt Horeb. This is definitely a climb that, with practice, you can stay aero for in a low gear and spin your way to the top.
The Second Climb
This is the first climb in the video and starts at 22:10 and is called Old Saulk Pass. This is by far the hardest climb on the course in my opinion. In is long, winding, and grueling. On my second loop, I honestly thought I was going to have to stop and walk. I watched as my odometer went from 8mph, to 7mph, to 5mph, wondering how slow I could go and still remain upright. Just get in a low gear and keep spinning.
Quick detour on the topic of gearing. Someone asked at dinner what cassette would be best for this course and Will Smith recommended a 12-25 minimum if not a 12-27 (what he uses). There were a couple guys this past weekend with 12-23’s and I can’t imagine climbing with that. If this paragraph didn’t make any sense to you, go visit The Professor for a quick and dirty intro into the world of gear ratios. He taught me and I am sure he can teach you.
The Third Climb
Just when you thought you accomplished something by making it to the top of Old Saulk Pass, you hit the third climb (2nd in the video). It is probably only a mile at most from the top of the previous climb. This one is on Timber road and starts at 23:05 of the video. It is the the steepest climb of the day but by far but also the shortest. We were warned during dinner that the crowds are so thick at this hill, you are basically are going up it single file. You will want to weave back and forth as you climb but there is simply no room. They said whatever gear you are in at the bottom you will probably be in at the top so choose wisely.
The Fourth Climb
The final climb is on Midtown Rd and at 25:10 of the video. This climb wouldn’t be nearly as bad as it is except for the fact that you have to turn left onto Midtown and immediately begin climbing. You don’t get to carry any momentum into this one. Again, just keep spinning those legs and you’ll eventually crest the top.
After the final climb, it levels out with a few gentle rollers before the you start the second loop.
As for our ride, we stopped at a gas station right before we started the second loop. We loaded up on Gatorade and water before tackling the 2nd loop. At this point, I was way ahead of my pace. I got caught up with my fellow riders and was going harder than I had anticipated. It is definitely not what I want to do on race day, but I was OK with it during a training ride to get a feel of what the hills would be like on tired legs. As you finish up each loop you head back into the town of Verona. I kept seeing signs for Verona and to give you a idea of where my mental facilities were at, on the first loop, I kept signing, “Ma, ma, ma, my Verona” to the tune of My Sharona. But on the second loop, my scholarly side kicking in and I had flashbacks of high school Brit Lit; "In fair Verona, where we lay our scene."
Despite being tired, the second loop was just as fun as the first, if not more fun. It was almost more fun because we now knew exactly how hard we could push it on the down hills. We also knew were all the tricky turns were. Something Kristin had told me before was that this is a very technical course and after riding it, I couldn’t agree more. I honestly think this would be a very difficult course to do without riding the loop at least once before race day. There are lots of turns were you turn and are immediately climbing. So, if you don’t know this ahead of time, chances are you are going to be in a bad gear and suffer through the climb. Gearing is a huge part of this course and knowing which gear to be in and when is critical.
We hit up the gas station at 80 miles to stock back up. At this point, the miles were starting to wear on me big time. I had pushed harder than planned and didn’t know how much I had left in the tank. I really wanted to do the full course though which included riding into Madison and back. We had actually gotten lost a bit between the first loop and the second loop so we decided to just ride out 14 miles and then back (we were at 84 when we started it). Normally, the course starts in Madison, you do two loops and then head back, but because we started at the park we just did the out and back to Madison at the end. Because we only had to do 14 out, we actually lucked out because part of the course is difficult to ride without the streets closed and is even on a bike path for a portion of it.
The last 28 miles was hard. I got a bit lucky in the fact that Jesse got a flat about 13 miles in so we got a quick break while he changed it. He was pretty speedy though and had it fixed in no time. While this part of the course isn’t super hilly, after the long climbs of the loops every incline seemed torturous. Around mile 100, my left knee started to act up again. Still don’t know what the deal is with it but it only bugs me at the end of long rides and mainly when I am climbing out the saddle or pushing off from a stop. I ended up taking it pretty easy all the way back to the park. I ended up with 112 miles in 5:54 for a pace of 18.7mph. My goal for race day is 18mph which I now believe is totally doable.
So, what did I learn? A lot! I learned that this is truly a fun course to ride and to enjoy it. I also learned that I have to go easier on race day – at least on the first loop. After the ride I was talking to a guy and his advice was to go “stupid easy” on the first loop. Whatever feels easy, go easier. But most importantly, I learned that I can do this. It isn’t impossible. Hard, yes. Impossible, not in the slightest.
After the ride, there was a picnic at the park. Most of the riders chose to only ride a single or double loop course with maybe only a total of 15-20 of us riding the full 112 miles. So, by the time we all got back, a lot of people were already packing it in. I made it just in time to win a CycleOps t-shirt (I would have rather had won the trainer thought) before hitting the showers.
After showering up, I inhaled a brat, burger, chips, cookies and copious amounts of pop. I have been really good with the pop and the only times I have indulged have been after races to boost my sugar levels. I sat around chatting with the guys I rode with and a few other people. I even talked with a woman from Toledo who was wearing a GR Triathlon shirt. The CycleOps guys had brought back their margarita trainer that they introduced last year. Check out this post by Steve in a Speedo from last year if you haven’t seen it yet.
I finally packed it in and headed back to my hotel. I had two missions: find calf sleeves and take an ice bath. I forgot my calf sleeves at home and there was a running/triathlon store right by my hotel. I ended up with a pair of CEP sleeves. I like them better than the Zensah ones I have but not as much as the RecoFit ones. As for the ice bath, normally I would do the ice bath immediately after the workout but that wasn’t an option today. I took my cooler and headed to the ice machine and filled up.
I was feeling much better after the ice bath and was even feeling hungry again. I decided to walk around to see what my options were. I was a little hesitant to eat at a restaurant because my stomach was still a little queasy. However, In the distance I saw this gem.
As I got closer, I could hear Shipping Up To Boston playing. Shipping Up To Boston is the ringtone on my phone, so you could say that this place was, in a sense, calling me.
Some of the best recovery food ever. I just sat at the bar and enjoyed it. Perfect way to end a great day of training.
Stay tuned for part two!