IMWI Race Report 2011: Joe Vrablik
Ironman Wisconsin 2011
Warning: Long RR ahead…
So I’ve had a little over a week to truly let this year’s MOO experience sink in. I’m still riding a bit of a high from the race this year. Granted, you hit a bit of a funk when returning to reality, but reliving that day still brings a smile to my face.
This year was a bit different than past. I flew in Thursday and had lunch with Luke and Darlene. Between a nice afternoon with them and traffic getting out of Chicago, I didn’t get to Madison until around 6 and missed the Thursday race check-in. It was so nice out that, despite having a “travel” day on the books, I got out for a short run after checking in to the hotel. Enjoying my run and third lung (standard issue, they hand it to you when getting off the plane from Denver), I was already pumped up to race. Friday morning I get up, stop for some coffee and head over to check-in about 20 minutes before registration opens hoping to beat the crowd. I should have known better: there was already a line of about 150 athletes. Funny enough, I’m at the end of line when one of the race directors walks up and asks if I have my USAT card out. Saying I do, he responds “Great! You’re my guinea pig.” and then proceeds to walk me through registration, making sure all the volunteers have the process down. I’m through registration in about 15 minutes (the first record of the weekend!) and am pretty sure I had 150 or so athletes wanting to kill me as I walk out the door.
Dave and Mom were flying out Friday and stayed through the weekend so they could watch the race. I always thought I preferred to race on my own, but having family there to support you in the days leading up to the race can be nice. So, after registration, I assemble the bike and get a short ride in before heading off to the airport to pick them up. The rest of Friday was spent just taking it easy and showing them around Madison, pointing out some good places to eat and to catch the race. Saturday morning I go for another short ride and then a run with Dave. Drop off all my gear along with the bike at transition by noon, leaving the afternoon to kill. Hearing a lot of the course has been paved, we decide to head out and drive the bike course. Then an early dinner and attempting to sleep (emphasis on attempting: I sleep fitfully the night before a race, the night before MOO is always the worst).
Sunday I finally give up on sleep around 3:30. Take a long shower to help me relax then head downstairs for some breakfast. Kick Mom and Dave loose around 5 as I head down to transition, dropping off special needs along the way. Check all the gear and the bike, I then meet Mom and Dave to just kill time before getting in the water. Throw on the wetsuit and head down the helix a bit earlier than usual (I didn’t want a repeat of last year where I only had 60 seconds in the water before the gun went off). After the pros go off, they play the national anthem and then have a moment of silence in remembrance of 9/11. This was the first of many such remembrances throughout the day. Dealing with the normal pre-race nerves, I had a great conversation with someone racing IM for the first time. Hit the water, try to warm up a little and get loose with 5 minutes to go.
Being the 5th time I’ve swam this course, I don’t think there’s anything to add. It’s a swim. In a lake. The course is a 1.2 mile rectangle. You loop it twice. The only real difference this year was the traffic. There seemed to be a lot more of it. I took the inside line, but kept getting forced inside the buoys. Only time I’ve ever had a kayaker correct my line. Oh, well. Water was relatively warm. Was actually wishing I didn’t have the wetsuit on the second lap. Swim time was 1:32:48, about the same as my first year racing in 2006.
The ride this year started out great. Heading out of the terrace, I’m running through transition and grab the bike from a volunteer. Hear Mom and Dave on the bridge above me cheering. Ride down the helix, hit John Nolen (the main drive, not a person) and almost immediately start reeling people in. Weave along the bike path (my only real complaint about the course is that mile or so of no-passing on the path) and then out of Madison. From the get-go, I’m passing other racers. A few I play leapfrog with. The weather is good, little to no wind. I’m a little worried about being too aggressive, but going into the race AJ was encouraging me to go harder and take more risks than I normally would. Regardless, I’m feeling great, so I keep up the pace. After the transition in Mt. Horeb, we pass a neat little memorial for 9/11. The hills after aren’t bad at all. Feeling a lot stronger than I have in years. Especially the two big climbs on the way back into Verona before Midtown Rd. I’m just cruising up them. I’m a little worried about having gone out too hard, but I don’t dwell on it. Going through Verona, I hear Mom holler. Turning towards special needs, I realize I haven’t been passed by the lead pro yet. I start the second loop and never see him/her. I dare to hope (just a little) that I might be in for a special day. Then came the second loop.
After special needs and starting the second loop, we all hit the wall. Not really, but it might as well have been. Between special needs and Mt. Horeb we had the joy of a 15mph headwind along with temps in the high 80s. Nowhere near as bad as 2009 (high 90s that sad day), but much warmer than we had hoped. I could feel my heart rate spiking, so I backed off just a bit. Was very conscious of keeping up on my nutrition. On the hilltops out past Mt. Horeb we still had some wind, but it was crosswind at this point. Thankfully, the wind died down on the back half of the loop as we started the two big climbs into Verona. Then I thought my day was done.
Dropping down from the second climb, about 20 miles out from Madison, I hear a familiar sound from my rear wheel. Yup, I threw a spoke. Cursing to myself, I stop and take a look. No good, the wheel is rubbing. I know I’ll never make it in. Remembering a bike shop setup at the top of that last climb, I walk the half mile or so back to see if we can salvage my race. Unfortunately, they don’t have any spoke wrenches, but they pull the snapped spoke off and adjust the bakes so they’re not rubbing and send me on my way. The tire, though, is still rubbing. Thankfully, a mile down the road is another bike shop tent setup and they have all the tools. So I stop again. I take in some water as they do a quick and dirty true to the wheel. Looking at the tire, they comment on how it was a god thing I stopped. There was enough rubbing going on that I had maybe a few miles before a blowout. This downtime lets me bring down my heart rate, take in some fluids and collect myself. At this point, I figure I’ve thrown out any time goals again and am just hoping to just finish strong. They finish up and I take off for Verona.
I start reeling in some of the people that passed me while I had stopped. I cruise through Verona and actually see Mom and Dave this time (instead of just hearing them). I also see Luke and Dar had made it out. (That and heard a great cheer from Dar!) Feeling a lot better than I had for most of the second loop, I start hammering a bit more to try and make up for lost time. The racers around me must have thought I was nuts as I kept promising my bike that she only needed to get me another 10 miles. I spent that last 30 minutes terrified of my rear wheel just disintegrating. Amazingly enough, it held together despite me laying down my best average ever in an IM over that last 18 miles (Verona to Madison done in 56:01, 19.28 mph). Handing off the bike to a volunteer, I head into transition with no clue what my numbers are at this point. For the record, overall on the bike I finished in 7:01:28, 15.94 mph. A 20 minute bike PR despite losing 20-30 minutes to a thrown spoke. My only concern at this point is to get out on the run and try to match my time from 2006.
Transition was uneventful. Swap gear and I head out for the run. Off the bike, I felt good. Legs a little stiff, but they loosened up in the first mile. I had a game plan to keep up the pace best I could and walk the aid stations. Earlier in the season, I found that I was not doing the best job keeping up on the nutrition side of things. All day, and into the run especially, I was being more generous taking in gels than I had in past seasons. I stuck to that and found that my endurance on the run reflected well on the decision. I was able to maintain my pace and felt strong throughout the entire first loop. I came to find out after the race that my first two splits (mile 8.9 and 13.1) were 10:44/mi and 11:03/mi, respectively. Far and away better than any previous times.
Over the course of the race, I had been hearing one guy at various points shouting “GO D3!! You’ve got this!” He was at the top of the long climb on the bike course, then I heard him on State St. Coming into the last mile of the first loop, I hear him again. “GO D3! I’ve been watching you all season, and you OWN this!” Apparently, I’ve got a fan. Or a stalker. I’m hoping I run into him next season so I can finally meet him.
Finishing up the first loop, I restock on gels at special needs and ask a volunteer for the time. It’s around 6:15 or so at this point. Running the numbers in my head, I figure if this year plays out as past years have, I’ll slow significantly on the second lap. Barring a disaster, though, I start to hope I’ll be able to beat my previous best of 15:02. I might even be done before 9:30 or so. Since I told everyone I’d most likely finish between 9:30 and 10:30, I start looking for them. Hadn’t seen them yet, but you never know. Running by the capitol, I finally see Luke, Mom and Dave. I run over to them and tell them to be at the finish by 8:30 or so. (I come to find out later that Dave said they probably wouldn’t see me since I could be anywhere. “Or he could be right there” was Luke’s reply as I ran up to them.)
Heading out on the second loop, I’m feeling about as good as I did on the first loop. I’m still walking only the aid stations. I head into Camp Randall (UW’s football stadium) for the second time and am amused that the sun is still up (every other time I’ve run the course it’s been dark at this point). Heading back onto campus, I start extending my walks beyond the aid stations just a bit. As my legs tighten up, I start running again since I want to keep my run splits up as much as I can. It finally gets dark as I hit my last split prior to the finish, just north of 4 miles left to go. For the first 8.75 mi of that loop, I held 11:37/mi. Slipped a bit, but again, not as bad as I’m used to.
The last 4 miles go by in a blur. Meet a couple of guys from the Chicago Tri Club. I pass them and they start cheering, telling me to keep going. They paced off of me for about 2 miles before dropping back. We chatted for those miles, which helped keep us going. How is it I now know more people from the Chicago Tri Club than the one in Boulder?
Last mile around the capitol, I kick it up a notch. Come around the corner and see the finish line. More crowded than I’m used to. Sprint it in to have two awesome volunteers grab me and follow me for 10 minutes to make sure I was fine. Last split was 11:10/mi. for the run, done in 4:52:21 with 11:09/mi.
Coming into this race, AJ and I chatted a bit about goals. As this was my 5th go at MOO (hopefully 4th finish), he encouraged me to stop thinking about just finishing and start setting some overall time goals. So I decided I wanted to at least match my previous best from 2006 and try to beat it. That meant being done in 15:02:52 or better. I hit that goal beyond my wildest dreams.
• Swim: 1:32:48, 264/320 AG, 2018/2797 overall
• Bike: 7:01:28, 15.94 mph, 248/320 AG, 1759/2797 overall
• Run: 4:52:21, 11:09/mi, 191/320 AG, 1321/2797 overall
• Total: 13:43:23, 191/320 AG, 1321/2797 overall
For me, that’s a PR of about 80 minutes. To say I’m thrilled is an understatement. I’m still riding a bit of a high from it. I’ve gotten back into the pool and out for some easy runs in the last few days, not wanting to lose all of the gains I’ve made this year. I’ve found that I’m recovering a lot faster than I have in the past. I’m also starting to think a bit about the next few seasons. Nothing concrete, but I have goals starting to form in my mind. Granted, there’s 9 months between now and then, so a lot can happen. For now, though, I’m content.