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Monday, September 14, 2009

I'm Not a Cream Puff Anymore

Let's get the guesswork out of the way. Yesterday I completed the Ironman Distance for the first time at IM Wisconsin. Mike and i decided a year ago to complete this race as a celebratory milestone - our 20th anniversary along with my 40th birthday. I finished the distance, but did not make the final 17 hour cutoff time. I finished up the run leg of 26.2 miles with a final time of about 17:40. Although I do not have an "official" finish time, I finished the distance, I crossed the finish line (as it was being torn down while waiting for me), I was handed a Finishers Tshirt and a Finishers medal, but I will be listed on the books as a DNF (Did Not Finish). But this day was about the journey- before, during, and beyond- not about an arbitrary line drawn in the sand somewhere in Hawaii in the 70's.

I thought I would be devastated not to make the cut off. I'm not. It may sound nuts but reflecting back, it was one of the best days of my life so far. I have been reduced to tears too many times to count in the past 24 hours, but they are joyful tears. Over and over and over, I was reminded or made aware for the first time of people that cared about us, how we were doing, and hoping for the happy ending to the fairy tale.

I could dissect my day ad nauseum for you, analyzing every little place where I went wrong or where I could have changed the outcome, and there were lots of them. I'm not going to though. I'll just share how my day went. You'll see where I'm going with this.

PreSwim:
We arrived at 4:45, pumped bike tires, stocked transition bags with last minute wardrobe changes, and dropped our Special Needs bags off at the truck. Mike and I sat at the Terrace as we had a long time to wait for the start, trying to wrap our heads around the day. We laughed alot, I could tell Mike was nervous. Soon we ran into Phil, who was also participating, and CJ, who helped Mike bring down the stress level a notch. Mike spotted my mom and sister. Outside we saw Alison too. I was so glad to see so many important people in my life and know they were there. As we headed down the helix, it was so cool to see so many people we knew. They sent a shout out, gave us a hug, waved. Alison walked down with us, Mike Wolfgram had some last minute advice. Another blogger friend, Tiffany, came right out into the mix before we got in the water just to wish us well. It was amazing.

The Swim: 2.4 miles
The swim was pretty uneventful. I was worried about the mass start, the "washing machine." It was not bad at all. There were a lot of people-think about 2400- in the water with us, but it was not long before we were spread and could find our own little patch of water. I got beat up a little at the turn buoys, but otherwise uneventful. I was swimming next to the same guy most of the second loop who backstroked almost all of the loop and tried to swim over me several times. I thought about giving him a solid punch in the nuts to get him to go away, but I just let it go. :-)
After the start of the second loop I had to contain myself, I could hardly stop smiling. Every time I caught myself smiling my google leaked so I was working the hardest at containing the facial expressions so I didn't swamp my eyeballs. Not a bad problem to have if there must be one.

Transition (T1):
once out of the water, I looked over to Mike Reilly's booth and waved at the lady we met in the gift shop (more on that later.) Tiffany and her companion stripped my wetsuit (that was an experience!!) and off I ran up the helix to the gear room. I quickly grabbed my bike bag and headed to the change room to get help from a personal dresser (how cool is THAT!). Alison was there volunteering and she quickly scooped me up and got me changed and ready. She was awesome. Once dressed and ready, she gave me a huge hug and sent me on my way.
I headed out to the bike racks and saw more folks I know- Kari (trimama), Steve Knox who took my picture with his phone, and lots of others calling out. it was hard to weed out the voices of those I knew and those who were simply cheering.

Bike: 112 miles
As I set off down the helix and out onto the course, I felt like a million bucks. I couldn't have stopped smiling if I tried. I saw Erin with her Vislas along John Nolen and tried a wave. I said out loud to no one in particular, "this is awesome- you're going to be an ironman today."
As I rode along "the stick" I was biking strong and feeling great. It heads uphill somewhat, but I was in the small chainring, determined to keep a lid on the excitement and conserve. I felt like I was doing just that. I crossed over onto "the loop" and started my first loop. The feeling was incredible. There were people set up to spectate everywhere- in driveways, along roadsides, at corners, on hills. They were everywhere cheering, ringing cowbells, clapping, some in costume or blasting music from the back of someones truck or from someones porch. False flats, the long grind into Mt Horeb, the 3 "Bitch Hills" of Old Sauk Pass, Timber Lane, and Midtown? Not a problem, I sailed up them feeling like rock star. I heard my name called out over and over; the energy was palpable and I soaked up every bit of energy from it that I could.
My performance started to turn about 1/3 of the way through the second loop. I was still happy, but I was really heating up. I was wearing a helmet I was not used to wearing and it was black and not well vented. I started taking more water, was trying to keep up the calories and stay hydrated, but it was a formidable job. After the long, long grind into Mt Horeb-ble, I was feeling toasted. Near the top, I stepped off the bike and was feeling low. A guy at the corner got out of the passenger side of an SUV wearing a Chicago Police shirt grabbed the seat of my bike and told me "Get on, I am going to help you get going and I'll push you as far up this hill as I can." By the time I started the Bitches, i was very hot and tired and was starting to worry I might not make it back in time to make the 5:30pm bike cutoff. I saw my SWAT friends on Timber lane and they pumped me full of good karma and sent me on my way. They were pretty much the last of the spectators on a hill that was filled with people not that long ago. i asked if they thought I could make it back in time, and of course they said "Absolutely!!" but I knew my clock was ticking. I reached Midtown for the last time and as I turned the corner I had already decided I was going to walk that hill, that I didn't have it in me to ride it. I looked up and saw Lucas, Chelsea, my sister Michele and brother-in-law Jeff, with my favorite (:-) and only) nephew Jacob who ran along side me carrying a sign that read "Go Team Wimmer". They will never know just how much I needed that at that particular moment. I rode that hill because of them. About halfway up I stepped down for a couple seconds to catch my breath and re-group. A lady in a banana costume came up to me and said "Get on your bike, I'm running you up this hill right now." (True story, you just can't make this shit up - lol) And so, I was escorted up the remainder of the hill by a running banana.
Once over the hill, I used that energy to fuel my determination to make it to the Terrace by 5. As I had calculated many times, I knew I had to be done with the bike course and on the run before 5:00, hoping for 4:30 and be able to run 15min/mile to be in by midnight and make the cutoff. I hauled ASS back in on the stick, every time I looked at the Garmin I was at 20-21 mph. I flew back up the helix at about 5:10 and knew I was already behind and it would take the perfect storm of circumstances to pull it off. I saw my family again overlooking the bike timing mats and I gave them a wave and took off to get my bike gear off and the run gear on. I had work to do.

Transition (T2):
Alison met me at the door of the change room and pulled off the quickest transition on Earth. I needed that and I needed her and it made it all good. suited up, I headed on the run and again saw all of my crew. I got a big Jacob hug, I saw more of the awesome signs Lucas and Chelsea had made, and I saw that the had made Tshirts for this. I headed out and to my fate.

The Run: 26.2 miles
as I headed out back into the heat I knew I was behind the 8 ball, but I wasn't going to stop until they pulled my chip and packed me into the golf cart. I saw Jeff Hahn and Mike Wolfgram who had encouraging words and advice. I heard someone shout Jenny - way to go I'm the banana!" (that cracked me up.) My guts were full of Gatorade and Shot Blocks and I was feeling iffy. As I walked everyone in the crowd along the chutes through downtown was calling my name and cheering for me. I had no clue who most of them were or why they knew me. It took a while to know that most of them were just reading my first name off my bib number, so then I was listening for someone to call out Wimmer from the crowd. I walked as fast as I could, ran until I thought I would puke, and stopped the Gatorade and switched to Coke to settle my stomach, water, lots of ice, and cold sponges into my shirt to try to counter the heat. The heat was my biggest problem, with nutrition being second in line. I knew I needed to be under 15 min miles to make it and I was doing mostly 16s. I was too hot and sick to my stomach to push it faster. as the sun started to go down, I was hoping that was my shot to pick up the pace. I began running more and walking less, but it was a struggle as the walking was tightening up other muscles. I made the cutoff for the halfway point (9pm) back on State St with a little time to spare, but behind pace to finish. I teared a little bit, but there was no time to spare for a breakdown. I drew energy from those I knew on the run course at the time (Audrey, Angie, Brenda, Tina, Tiffany, and so many others). It never gets easier to reach the turnaround, see the finish chute ahead of you and turn to go the other direction.
I had to make the turnaround at other end of the course (mile 19ish) by 10:30 or they would pull me. Alison popped up every where- on her bike, along the walkway, on the path, on State at the final push to that next to last timing mat. With Alison and others along the course I made that cutoff with about a minute to spare, no time to waste. Mike Wolfgram appeared out of nowhere and walked with me. He pushed me as much as I could be pushed and said "you can do this- you need to do 13 min miles to finish." I knew that, I also knew that I had not done a 13 minute mile all day despite my best effort. I decided I was going to try as hard as I could at that point because he was there. everything hurt, I was cramping everywhere, my guts had stopped processing everything, and I wished I would puke but couldn't. I had had to pee for 6 miles but knew I did not have anytime to stop, even for 30 seconds. Mike walked with me the whole pathway in the dark by ourselves. He talked me of the ledge and kept me focused, quietly listening to my whining and redirecting my focus. Shortly I noticed a guy on a bike following me. I kept going, but soon told him that if they were going to pull me, to decide to do it in time for me to see Mike finish. Before long, Alison appeared again. She walked with me until I was approached by an IM guy who asked what I was going to do. I told them I knew I was not on pace and was not going to make the finish. He offered me the choice of riding the cart back or finishing on my own likely without course support and in the dark. I told him I was finishing what I started. Alison grabbed my hand and walked with me, told me she was walking it in with me, which she did. I found out later she had to work in the morning and felt terrible that she was out with me, but despite my encouragement she was there for the duration however long it took.
Eventually, we reached the capital square. Out of dark from nowhere, came my son Nick, who I didn't think was coming, followed by my mom. We walked to the chute which they left partially erected for me. All my family was there surrounding the finish- my dad, my sister, Jacob, Lucas, Chelsea, Mike, CJ & Phil, and Mike Wolfgram, with Nick, my mom, and Alison. I got some love in and was handed a medal and a Finishers hat and tshirt. It was amazing.

Connections Made and people who made my day yesterday or every day:
* On Saturday, I was chatting with a lady in the ironman store at the Terrace. Mike and I shared our story with her and she started crying and gave me a hug. She eventually introduced herself as Mike Reilly's ("The Voice of Ironman") assistant and said she'd be looking for us on race day. She hooted and hollered for me every time I saw her. How cool.
* When I went through Camp Randall the last time and was still struggling to make pace, I was greeted by one of the volunteers. She said "Are you Jenny Wimmer?" and told me she follows my blog. I wish I was together enough at that point to remember her name now but it escapes me. she walked with me around the football field and really lifted me up in a down moment. Again, how cool. If you read this, thank you, thank you, thank you.
*volunteers everywhere that were the best ever. No one is getting paid, yet everyone is asking, begging really, to help make you successful. The best volunteers on the face of the Earth, hands down.
* Mike Wolfgram, who was there all day. he was there for some of my lowest moments toward the end, and he left me only to go ahead to try to help Mike make the cutoff once we knew I was not going to get it done.
* My SWAT friends who were there every step of the way. They popped up everywhere all day. Awesome.
* My family- they were all there and it was amazing. I had no idea the amount of time they spent on the course, from start to finish. Not only did they put up with the crazies of training, but they were there all day, just to be there for us. Mike's mom was posting our updates all day through facebook even though she couldn't leave North Carolina. I have not said enough about any of them here, but I don't even know where to start.
* Alison Viemeister was there from beginning to end. it started with long training days all summer long and answering endless questions and calming nerves. This weekend she was Tri-Sherpa extraordinaire, seriously. She was the go-to person for my family of ironvirgins, she collected all our bags and our bikes while we were running, she was everywhere on the course somehow, especially on the run where she rode her bike ahead of us through the whole thing, stopping to encourage us, then riding ahead to be there again. she kept Mike's mom updated all day by phone, she even decorated my driveway the night before.
* Michelle Alswager, we went to HS together, ran in the same circles as acquaintances. Through chance connections she has become a lifesaver for me in this journey.
* Blogger and Facebook pals- There are so many people I have connected with and they all seem to be my biggest supporters. I was going to try to list them all out here, but I don't even know where to start there are so many. i love you guys, you are great.

This morning, we were again at Monona Terrace killing time while waiting to find out if we could snag a copy of the Athlete DVD. as I sat in a chair overlooking Lake Monona, I started reading through the Facebook updates from the day before. I had chills and tears streamed down my face as I read though them and the comments to follow. There were people posting comments and updates that I had NO IDEA even knew who I was, let alone cared how our day was going.

There are no words to express how much it meant to me to see people I knew, to receive words of encouragement yesterday and every day leading up to it. I didn't fully realize how wide my circle of friends was until now. Thank you for supporting me and thank you for your friendship. it means the world to me.

There is always the ongoing debate about who is REALLY an Ironman- the ones who go to Kona, the ones who go sub-12 hours, and so on it goes. I am not sure where my head is at with this. I didn't buy Finishers Gear today and the tattoo is on hold. I got the tshirt, I got the medal, the told me I was a finisher, but they didn't call me an Ironman. But I think in my mind, there will always be an asterisk next to today's finish. You know when you see something while reading and when you follow the asterisk to the bottom of the page there is a statement qualifying or justifying the word or phrase? That's how this feels. I am more of an alloy- one part iron, one part aluminum. This year, there is an asterisk by my name, next year that changes. Only next year, I would prefer that Mike Reilly address me as Iron Maiden.
It's time to do work.
Thank you for seeing me through one of the best days of my life.
I have pictures to post, but that will have wait until tomorrow.

13 comments:

Wendy said...

Your acheivement so far is enormous, your attitude exemplary. Rest and recover. 2010 awaits!

Jeff said...

Jenny -- what an amazing story. I am so proud to have followed you and Mike's dreams for the past couple of years. You're an Ironman (or Iron Maiden, as you prefer) in my book.

Thanks for sharing and inspiring.

Chubby said...

Iron Maiden! LOL.

Jenny, you and Mike are what I think of when I think of IM: ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Thanks for taking us all along on your incredible journey.

Jenny Davidson said...

It is wonderful! Jenny, I will see you in Madison in 2010...

Steve Stenzel said...

What a day, Jenny!! CONGRATS on getting those miles in!! Sarah and I are already saying, "I think we NEED to go out next year too!..."

Rest up! Kick back! And get ready to hit it hard again when the time is right. CONGRATS!!!!

the Dread Pirate Rackham said...

I like where your head is at.

You did a lot of hard work - and you're gonna keep going. Go Jenny!

Nat said...

Hi Jenny, I read you and your husbands blogs but haven't ever commented until now. I wanted to tell you that you both are AMAZING. What you have done inspires me every day. I was volunteering at IM Moo this year and got so excited to see how you guys were doing. You guys did great. I will be racing with you guys on the course next year and can't wait to meet you in person. Congrats, you are AWESOME!

Lisa Slow-n-Steady said...

Great story, great attitude. You are very inspirational. Great job!

S. Baboo said...

Great job, way to hang in there. Misty and I were tracking you and Mike through the day. So at the beginning of Ironman in 1978 the only goal of the race was to see who had the greatest fitness, swimmers, cyclists or runners…that was the bet and there weren't any qualifying times or standards for Kona, you just signed up to take on the challenge. There was no time cutoff and ANYONE who even finished was an Ironman. Some of the early times were in the 19+ hour range; I think I even have seen one in the ballpark of 26 hours. The 17 hour cutoff came about because of permitting issues, growing popularity and the expenses associated with supporting increasing numbers of people for virtually indefinite periods of time.

Making the 17 hour cutoff is certainly a blast and a worthwhile goal but I guess in my opinion you could say that you did it old school, pushed through to the bitter end with no expectations of great fanfare and glory, just one brave soul against 146.2 miles.

You are an IronMaiden!

Chris/Merremtris said...

Wow. Just wow. The thing you absolutely both know now without a doubt is that you *can* do it. That's more than lots of us can say...especially those still working on going the distance, like me.

What an inspiration you guys are!

Erin said...

This brought tears to my eyes. You have the heart and soul of an Ironman, and in the end, that's what counts. I am amazed and inspired by all you and Mike have accomplished on this journey, and I absolutely believe that you'll erase that asterisk and hear Mike Riley's voice say your name. Until then, congratulations, Ironman, on a battle hard-fought, and fought right. Awesome job on Sunday, and every day that got you there.

Athena Misty, aka "GeekGirl" said...

I was so relieved to find out you guys finished. You guys went the distance - you never quit, and you finished. There's no question in my mind about your iron status. I'm so happy that they gave you a medal. Who cares what list you're on?
It also appears to me that Mike made an effort to walk with you - am I right about that? What a great way to spend your anniversary. Congratulations to both of you. I know what it takes to make it to that finish line, and how much work it is, and how long a day 17+ hours is. Congratulations to both of you. I'm looking forward to following you both next year!

Duane said...

*140.6 miles, nuff said! :-)


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