I've had some pretty emotional races. And when I woke up Sunday morning, I felt awful. Tired, sluggish, and my legs were actually sore from moving my life just 72 hours prior (Shhhhh don't tell Ryan that part). I was sure this "last minute race decision" was going to be one of my not so best ideas. But when I went to bed Sunday night, Ironman Wisconsin 70.3 was easily the most emotional race I've ever raced.
|Spoiler Alert: It was an amazing day|
World Championships here I come!
After I crossed the 70.3 finish line in Chattanooga
and realized how close
I was to qualifying to for the 70.3 Half Ironman World Championships, I was itching for one more shot to punch my ticket. Ironman Wisconsin 70.3 was exactly 3 weeks after IMCHOO 70.3. Just enough time for me to recover, get my legs back in working order, and prepare to start this process all over again. I snagged a spot on the startline, booked a last minute hotel for myself, Rob, Mark, Ryan (also racing) and Jacqui, and hoped for the best. If you've been reading along, you also know that I had just moved
only a few days before race day. My "taper" was anything but as I moved boxes, beds, couches, TV's, dressers, and the rest of my life. Once I was officially in the house, I cleaned like a mad woman. I was also having part of my loft reconstructed so as the dust was flying, I was doing my best to catch it before it hit the ground. Basically I did everything that Ryan would advise me not to do before a big race that held some serious potential.
But sometimes you can't help life. So this was going to be a true test.
Once I sealed the deal (less than 7 days after IMCHOO 70.3), I decided to head North to test out the bike course to see what I just signed myself up for. A year ago I NEVER would have considered using a Wisconsin race in an attempt to qualify for the World Championships, but no one ever got anywhere by hiding from what they're afraid of. But once we all got there, Ryan and I both agreed, this course was worse than "The loop" for the full Ironman course that we use to train during the summer. The hills attacked you one after another and with NO mercy as there many times you had to take sharp turns in the middle of a descent (wasting all your free energy on braking) just so you could immediately start another climb up a brick wall. And then, the road quality. I'll just say, the roads could use some serious work before next year's 70.3. Well, it's a good thing you didn't tell anyone what your plan was because it's likely not going to happen on that bike course. You've gotten stronger, but not that strong.
After that fateful ride, the weather forecast for the race kept getting hotter, and hotter. And the WIND! If I made it off the bike without any blood due to being tipped over on one of those scary decents, I'd be happy. Things were looking worse and worse for me. Tired body from the move, unmanageable bike, and uncontrollable weather. Damn it Megan, I guess this just isn't meant to be.
|But that view! Gets me every time|
Mark and I rolled into check-in on Saturday afternoon around 2pm and the sun was alive and the wind was vicious. At times, the 40mph gusts had me two-stepping on flat ground, without a bike underneath me.
Hahaha, this is going to be just great. We met up with new fast friend/RyBread Racer Kati (who we met at this year's March Madness) and eventually found Jacqui and Ryan. I think on some level, we were all nervous for our own separate reasons. But we did our best to keep the nervous chatter to a minimum.
|Ready to take on the day!|
Rob was still sleeping from his longer that usual night shift and was planning on arriving later in the evening, so Mark and I jumped in Ryan's car and went out to dinner with him and Jacqui. The Great Dane didn't disappoint. My bison burger might have been better than I've ever had it and the beer went down quite nicely. Well, at least your pre-race fuel is on point, even if your race isn't.
Rob rolled into town just as we were all about to call it a night. Luckily, he was tired enough from the long week of work that going to back to bed right away didn't even phase him.
My alarm went off at 3:30, I was out of bed at 3:45, grabbed my breakfast and went downstairs to eat by myself. We had 5 people in a pretty decent sized suite, so we weren't crammed for space at all. But 1 bathroom for 5 people (2 of which are racing and have certain pre-race needs) was slightly flustering. But we made it work pretty smoothly and soon we were on the road to Olin Park.
Being one of the last people to sign up for this race, I was assigned a bib that was not with the All World Athletes. I was also no where near my age group. I was at the end of the lineup with all the old men. (Literally, the guy next to me on the bike rack was pushing 75, easy. But so sweet as he helped with a few last minute adjustments with my bike). BUT! My bike position! I've NEVER had a better bike position. I was literally the FIRST bike out of the water at the end of the rack. Yea, I'd have to run the farthest with my bike, but I didn't care. The fact that I didn't have to fight for space and search for my bike in a frantic hurry during the race was golden.
|Matilda liked her space too. It was quite nice.|
We had plenty of time to get everything set up and even visited the porta potties more than once, just to be sure all systems were ready to go. And they were. It was getting close to go-time and Ryan and I took off for the start. Kati planned to start a little farther back so she gave herself some space before she jumped in the herd of people.
|Ready or not, it's race time. |
Ryan and I hit the crowd and he tried to drag me over the fence (like we did in Texas 2 years ago when I overslept and we had no other option 😳) But I kindly convinced him to just say, "Excuse me!" through the crowd. He'd find his space on the starting line with time to spare. We said our goodbyes and that was the last I saw of him until the finish line.
We entered the water 1 at a time (but very quickly) so it probably took about 10 minutes for me to hit the water after the gun went off. This was the first chance I had to swim a true 1.2 miles this year (and in a wetsuit!) so I REALLY wanted to see what I could pull out of my hat. Goal: 35 minutes. Current 1.2 PR: 38:51 in Grand Rapids last year. My toes hit the water and it was quite chilly. I knew it was going to be, but this was a little worse than I anticipated. It didn't last though, the farther out we swam, the warmer the water got (odd, I know.) But at the same time, the chop started to pick up. It's been 3 years since I've swam in this lake and had completely forgotten that it can get quite choppy due to how large it is. I have recently been doing a lot of open water swims and knew a 35 minute swim was doable for me. I made the first turn buoy and was feeling great. Once I made the final turn towards home I could tell the chop was no longer is my favor. With every stroke I took I was being pulled out to sea. Alright Megan, this is why you've been swimming your ass off all winter. Use that pull you've worked so hard for.
And I did. I swam that final stretch hard. I was not about to let a little choppy water keep me from getting out of this water quickly. I reached shore and looked down at my watch. 36:52. Solid 2 minute PR. I'LL TAKE IT.
|I hear my name, but can't find anyone...|
The run out of the water wasn't to bad for this race, but I made sure to utilize the wetsuit peelers this time. They were completely empty and I spotted a lady and a man who looked ready so I pointed at them and laid down and within 2 seconds my suit was off. I hopped over someone's head as I made the run to enter transition. I looked up and saw Rob right in front of me.
|I always forget my swim cap and goggles til the very end.|
|Transition action shots|
|It'll be a cold day in hell before I go without socks..|
My transition time wasn't great, about 4 minutes, but the more I race the more I realize that if I stay relaxed and situated in transition, my actual race is better. So as I exited bike out, I prayed my long transition wouldn't bite me in the ass later.
I hopped on the bike and knew it was go time. This was the biggest test of my day. The first 3 miles of the bike were on a bike path which I hated. But Megan, it's a bike path. It's meant to ride a bike.
No, it's meant for runners and for bikes out for a Sunday stroll or teaching your kid to ride without training wheels. It's not meant to race. I used the bike path to get comfortable, take in my nutrition out of the water, and ready to hammer once I hit the road. Once we hit the pavement the hills started. And the wind, it was definitely alive. Coming from the South, the wind was a strong headwind for the first half of the bike. With the occasional crosswind gust that took my breath away.
|Coming out of transition always makes me nervous|
The hills ticked off one by one. I've learned my lesson in Madison. Even if you feel like you can handle a hill in the gear you're in (or only go down a gear or 2) think again. At the base of all the significant hills, I dropped into the little ring and then slowly went lower the higher I climbed. Easy spins up the hills. Don't trash your legs for the run. Make sure you spin easy up the hills.
I hit mile 15 and knew my least favorite part of the course was coming up. A significant climb in a gorgeous neighborhood. Once we exited the million dollar homes, we turned and were greeted with an amazing descent. Except, you had to ride your brakes the entire time (while the winds gushed into your face) so you could make a sharp left turn and immediately start climbing again. This is when I noticed how much my climbing has improved. Even though I was spinning easy up all of these hills, I was passing people left and right. But as soon as we reached any sort of descent, I get passed like I'm standing still. Yes, I'm still timid on some of these descents, but I've gotten much better. But in the same breath, that's just how science works out. Newton's law of gravity. What goes up must come down. Heavier things come down faster. It's science, right? At least that's what I'm telling myself...
|Staying aero even while climbing|
PS - Sorry Ironman, I can't buy ALL the pictures.
I knew I wasn't going to be seeing any amazing fast times on the bike due to the terrain and the weather. And the same was true for everyone else racing. So I just had to make sure I was smarter than the rest. Ride smarter. Control your climbs. Don't freak out when you see your splits tick by.
The majority of the first 30 miles was spent with my head down as much as possible. Don't come out of aero, make yourself smaller.
A little hard to do when you feel like the wind is going to blow you off the road and you need to be upright on the hoods in order to control your bike. I did the best I could, and even allowed myself to fly down some hills that normally would have freaked the hell out of me. You don't get to Worlds by riding your brakes.
The last 20 miles there was a significant amount of tailwind but the cross wind gusts and headwinds were still very much alive. It's just coming from all directions today.
The last 15 miles my splits started to come back to normal. The hills were bare-able and the wind, well it was still there. But this was my final push, so that's exactly what I did. I approached transition and my watch read 3:05. 18mph on those hills in this wind, OMG I was so happy. My feet hit the ground and I knew right away, my run was in good shape.
I made sure to control my bike as I ran to the end of the rack. Transition 2 is always simple. Shoes and helmet off. Belt and shoes on. Go. But this time, I allowed myself to walk through the aide station knowing that were would be 0 walking the rest of the day.
|Quick costume change|
|Fluids. All the fluids, all day.|
|Enjoy those last steps while you can.|
Ryan told me a few days before the race, "If you run any sub 8 minute miles out of transition I'll be so mad at you."
Ok, he didn't actually say those words, but he did tell me it was a big no no. The heat was going to start attacking on the run and he didn't want me to fall victim. I didn't want that either. So I took off and kept it in control.
|Yep, I'm right where I want to be.|
Leaving transition, I didn't see Mark, Jacqui or Rob the entire run. Usually the run is where you see spectators more than once due to the setup of the course. You also usually see other athletes on small out and back sections. But this course took you 13 miles around the entire lake. Not exactly spectator friendly. Nor do you see any other athletes, besides whoever you're running with. I said goodbye and prayed for myself.
I was a good girl and my first mile clocked in at 8:27. I felt great. Not to hot, legs were in good shape. Let's hope it stays this way.
The first aide station appeared and I started my routine. Water over the head. Water in the mouth. Water on my arms. Ice in my sports bra. Keep that core temperature down. Don't let yourself get hot.
At the end of aide station one, I heard a volunteer yell, "THIS GIRL RIGHT HERE! What do you want, I got it all!" Eric Knight. King of the Ironman Wisconsin Facebook group. We had finally met back in November and he recognized me and was ready to help. I grabbed as many cups as I could from him and yelled back, "I want to go to Worlds!"
After mile one, the hills started. Whoever said this run course was flat was a liar. I was expecting to lock and load in a nice little comfortable pace, saving some energy to pick up the last 3 miles. Well, the hills kept showing up, one after another. And I was starting to get worried that my conserved energy was being used on all the hills. I did the best I could to stay focused and not worry about my time. Don't let any girls pass you. If they do, they better be older or younger than you.
The sun was out to zap energy out of any living creature on that run course. I ran through every sprinkler I could find. I let a group of girls soak me with their super soakers. I continued to pour water over myself at all aide stations. I was in a zone and a rhythm. It was hot, yes, but I never noticed it scorching like it actually was. I've learned my lesson. When racing in the heat, stay wet. Your body is cooler when it's wet.
I heard my name a lot on the run course, which surprised me because it wasn't listed on my bib. I tried my best to respond to all the support, but I had a one track mind. To anyone who yelled my name or even screamed, "YEA RYBREAD!" Thank you. You have no idea what something like that can do on a day like that day. It can lift you out of a rut like you wouldn't believe.
Around mile 9 I spotted a guy on a bike that I recognized heading my way. Bill Bishop. Ryan and Jacqui's coach. He saw me too, put his hand out and asked me how I was doing. I wanted so badly to filter myself and tell him I was great, but I couldn't. "Hot. I'm starting to get hot.
" I told him. He encouraged me and I pushed along, knowing that I could run 4 miles in my sleep. It's only 4 miles, you can do this no problem.
Around mile 11 you hit John Nolen Drive and finish up the last 2 miles on the bike path through downtown and around Monona Terrace. I was doing the best I could to keep my focus when I heard some bikes behind me, getting closer and closer. They're not going to hit you. They'll go around you.
Except as they got closer and closer, I heard the click of the chain practically in my back pocket. And at the same time, something touched my shoulder. Bill. Thank God. I almost jumped out of my skin as he rolled by me. "Keep it up Meg, stay strong!"
he told me.
I'm not sure what it was about that, but something clicked. I realized I was less than 2 miles from the finish line. Aright Megan, it's time to really start the hurt.
I slowly picked up the pace little by little. About the same time, a girl came from behind and passed me on the right. I saw her calf and read her age. 32. NOPE. I took off and re-passed her. She was on my tail, not giving up. You've gotta outrun this girl. You can't let her pass you.
My watch read 7:45 for about a quarter mile. Soon she started to back off a little. I did the best I could to keep my pace, knowing I was less than a mile from the finish. And let me tell you, it's a good thing I did. With less than a half mile to go, I passed 2 more girls in my age group. One girl was walking over the final bridge. The last girl, I zoomed by her up the final hill. I was starting to get dizzy and woozy. I was running on empty but I couldn't stop now.
|Whose idea was it to put a photographer on this hill?|
The last hill is literally within the last 200 yards of the finish. You reach the top and immediately hit the red carpet. I glanced over my shoulder once or twice to make sure I didn't have any women on my tail.
|The coast was clear!|
Everything was burning. My lungs, my legs, my skin. I could see the finish line but I swore it was a mile away.
|This is what delirium looks like|
|Race pictures don't get much worse than this.|
When I crossed the finish line it was first time I was thankful to have the catchers there with me. I was wobbly. I had a hard time walking straight to the exit. But I couldn't handle them touching me. I spotted Bill Bishop (who somehow managed to get into the finish shoot) and told my catchers, "Take me to him. He's with me."
I finally looked at my watch and saw my run time. 1 hour 56 minutes. Total time: 5 hours and 45 minutes. I'll take it. I was so anxious to know where I finished in my age group. Knowing I had passed 3 girls in the last mile really got me excited.
|It took me a few minutes to snap out of it|
After I was able to think clearly again, I went to the athlete food tent to get food for myself (but also for Rob and Mark. They deserve food after waiting and waiting in the heat all day) I started to feel the life come back to me as I ate my cold turkey sandwich. But only a few bites. My stomach is never quite right immediately after a race, and today was no different. I knew Rob had to take off and head home right away. His work schedule is semi insane this summer, and he had to be at work at 7pm that night. I hugged and kissed him goodbye. He promised that his fingers were crossed for me. I so badly wanted him to stay for awards, but knew I couldn't complain.
|Candids might be my favorite 😘|
|He'll do anything for me, I swear|
|Before our photographer left, we snuck in our sibling photo|
Shortly after we said goodbye to Rob, we found Kati as she finished. And she finished STRONG! It was a good day for RyBread Racing all around. Ryan walked away with the overall win, and Kati CRUSHED her goals for the day!
|Best photo of the whole day.|
Next up: 140.6!
|At this point, I was pumped for my crew|
But had ZERO idea where I stacked up for the day
|I can't thank this girl enough|
She's meant to race
Spectating for such a competitive spirit isn't easy
|Ryan's Dad showed up and couldn't contain his excitement for his son!|
We all took a quick lake bath, grabbed our bikes, and ran across the street for some real food before awards started at 4pm. It was a long wait for the awards ceremony. The World Championship roll down ceremony is always after the age group awards. Ryan claimed his victory and soon, it was time to see if I had made it. I had recently found out I finished 9th in my age group. There's a chance, there's a real chance here. Fingers crossed.
The announcer finally got to my age group, female 30-34. There were only 2 World Championship slots in my age group so it was going to be SUPER tough and a long shot if I got it. The first 4 girls in my age group denied the slots. They either already a slot or couldn't make the race that weekend. Number 5 and number 6 accepted the slots immediately. My heart was broken. I texted my mom and told her it was a no go. But if there's anything I've learned over the years, it's that you never leave until the very end.
The last age group, females 18-24, were given 1 slot. But NO ONE accepted the slot. In a situation like this, that slot immediately gets re-allocated to the next biggest age group. I was on the edge of my seat. The announcer fumbled through his papers and finally said, "Ok so this slot goes to the female 30-34 age group. Where did we leave off? Number 7!"
YOU HAVE TO BE SHITTING ME RIGHT NOW. Omg. OMG. Number 7 was nowhere to be found. Neither was number 8. It was official. I was headed to the World Championships!
I ugly cried. A lot. My hands shook as I tried to fill out the paperwork. I couldn't believe what had just happened. I somehow managed to grab the LAST slot of the entire day. And it gets better. The female Championship race just so happens to be on my 30th birthday. Does it get any better than this? I've recently realized something. Last year, my brother celebrated his 25th birthday with a Cubs World Series Win. Yes, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series on his 25th birthday. And this year? I was about to celebrate my 30th doing what I love. At an International level. Guys, it doesn't get much better than this.
|If only they all knew how much it means to me that they were all there|
Mark immediately FaceTimed my parents so they could see me in all my glory, crying and shaking. It took a few minutes for them to understand, rightfully so. I had already told my mom that it didn't happen. But once it clicked, the screams and tears were flowing. I stood in line to pay and called Rob, but he was taking his pre-work snooze. It took about 15 minutes for him to call me back but it felt like years. He knew, when he saw my missed call, he knew I wouldn't call and try to wake him up for just anything. This must be a special phone call.
This is where I get a little more emotional. My thank you list is quite long. I might have crossed that finish line and I might be racing the World Championships, but I sure as hell didn't get here alone.
Rob. I don't even know where to begin. I have turned myself into an intense triathlete from a so-so casual runner. This whole process is enough to scare away any significant other that doesn't share the same passion. But he's never left my side.
He understands my crazy. He finds ways to make it to as many races as he can. Hell, he even enjoys it now.
He knows what this means to me. At this point, we're both so invested in this sport, I know he feels like he's out there with me on the course. And I can't thank him enough.
My brother. More than a brother. Sidekick and brother and best friend all in one. He's part of the reason I entered this sport. "You know, you could be an Ironman."
He used to tell me. He's my water boy when I need him. My training partner when I ask. And one of my biggest fans. Between him and Rob, we're a trio not to be messed with.
My parents. From day one they've always told me I could do anything I wanted. They follow me all over the country. Even my mother, who doesn't travel well, is considering making back to back trips to Chattanooga in September to see me race. My father has surprised me at races more than once. They've watched me train day in and day out. They know what it takes and I think they may have wanted this slot more than I did.
Ryan. I can't even begin to express my gratitude. He's put up with my clueless days as I entered this sport. He's wiped some tears when training flops and when races get canceled on me. He's taught me everything I know about my bike. His quirks, he's got plenty. But a lot of them are valid and I've picked up a few. He's literally held my hand every step of the way to this World Championship race. And I've been able to race with him more often than not, and learn from him every step of the way. And in 3 short months, we'll both be toeing that line at the 70.3 Half Ironman World Championships. Not many people can say that they've experienced that with their coach. I'm a damn lucky girl.
ALL OF MY FAMILY AND FRIENDS. Diving head first into such a demanding sport/hobby like this can sometimes cost people some relationships. But for me, it's done anything but. The calls. The texts. The well wishes from EVERYONE. Whether you've been on the race course or cheering from home over the years, I can't thank you enough. They say it takes a village, and I'll be damned if I don't have one of the biggest, most supportive villages. I've already heard from quite a few friends that plan on making the trip down to Chattanooga in September to watch me race on my birthday. And I want to cry just thinking about it.
|Right where it all began.|
Guess what guys, WE DID IT!