This past weekend seems like a blurry dream, but I will do my best to recount the important moments before I forget! Ironman Wisconsin went off without (eeeeh for the most part) a hitch! We arrived in Madison on Friday afternoon, just in time to pick up packets and spend a little time at the athlete village. I was extremely nervous and excited in the weeks leading up to the race. Although this was my second Ironman, I think I placed much more pressure on myself this time around- not only did I want to finish, I wanted to finish well.
Madison provided a beautiful venue, and great weather. After spending a day relaxing with a few friends and family, Sunday morning arrived very quickly. Race morning, the air temperature was about 48 degrees, and the water temperature between 70-71. Perfect. The swim was probably the largest culprit for my high amount of nerves. Swimming is most definitely my weakest of all three events, and the in-water mass start didn't add to my level of confidence. I entered the water around 6:45 for the 7am swim start, finding my way to approximately the middle of a 100m wide start line. Within minutes, I was surrounded by 3000 people, all of us treading water, waiting for the start of the race. The race went off, and the masses moved forward. I struggled for the first mile or so- fighting to swim in a straight line without getting kicked or punched. A kick to the googles left my right eye emerged in water. I smiled to myself, thinking, well- at least I can still see out of one eye! Staying positive is so important at these long races. By the half way mark, I had fallen into a steady rhythm, and I felt comfortable as we rounded the last buoy and headed ½ mile back to the transition area. I couldn’t help but smile as I pulled out of the water in almost exactly the same time I had completed the previous year…. 1:15. The crowds were amazing as I jogged up the helix to the top of the parking garage to the transition area. I quickly switched gears, putting on a tri top, bike shoes, sun glasses and my helmet. Smiling the whole way, I jogged out to my bike, and felt excited to get this leg underway.
The start of the bike was very crowded. Turns out 1:15 is a pretty common Ironman swim time, so I was in good company. We moved single file down a bike path for the first few miles. While I was antsy to pick up the pace and start moving up, I took this as an opportunity to get some calories in, and hydrate. I knew the temperature was to climb to around 70 degrees by the time I hit the run, and there were virtually no clouds in the sky. I had biked the course a few weeks prior, and felt some level of comfort in knowing what was coming next. I settled into a comfortable pace of around 19.2 mph. My plan was to maintain this pace for the first half, and then increase the pace for the second half of the bike course, if my body would permit it. All was going as planned. The spectator support and course support were amazing. Teammates and friends were scattered along the 40 mile loop, and I looked forward to each time I passed them. I felt good, I was smiling, nutrition was going great. Unfortunately, at mile 70, my shifter broke as I headed down a fairly steep hill. I tried to mess with it as I rode, but came to the realization that I wouldn’t be able to ride up any hills- as the shifter was defaulting to my highest gear. Trying to remain calm, I stopped at the first place I saw a group of spectators. Two gentlemen had a look at the shifter, and one went to his truck for a screw driver. They tightened the shifter, and my bike seemed to be holding the appropriate gears. After the 10 minute mechanical break, I climbed back on my bike and headed on down the road. While the shifter was tightened appropriately, it was now unaligned, and I slipped in and out of whatever gears my bike decided for herself. Frustrated, I tried to remain calm. I could not use my lowest three gears. On many hills, I had to stand and grind up, which was not in my plan. My plan was to spin up all the major hills, to keep my heart rate consistent. I knew keeping myself calm was essential- I had a marathon yet to run. The last 18 miles of the bike, we had a nice tailwind thankfully. While I was frustrated with the time the mechanical issues had cost me, I knew that was out of my control. I kept telling myself- the only thing you can control is your reaction, and your attitude. I tried to stay positive. I finished the bike in 5:58- about 10 minutes slower than my goal time.
Completely relieved to be back in the transition, I was so happy to be on my feet, and on to my favorite portion of the race- time to run. I settled into an easy 8:20 pace for the first 5 miles. The mechanical issues on the bike had distracted me slightly from sticking to my nutrition plan. I tried to focus on getting some calories in, and took fluids at every aid station. Again, the crowd support on the run course was amazing. High fives and smiles helped to push me along the course. I walked up two of the big hills on the course, but otherwise was feeling great. As I settled into the run, I progressively began to feel better and better. I knew my time goal of 10:54 was out of reach at this point, but I was having fun, and enjoying my run. In the last 5 miles, I tried to increase my pace, and push for the finish line. I wasn’t paying attention to my splits, but just counting down the miles remaining. As the finish line drew me in, I was all smiles, as Mike Reilly proclaimed: “Elaina Mertens, you are an Ironman!!!” Awesome.
I was completely unaware of my place throughout the 11 hours and 5 minutes I was racing, but just assumed that I probably hadn’t placed in my age group. My mechanical issue had me feeling a little defeated, and I thought the 10 minutes had probably cost me. Finding out I finished 2nd was a big shock!
I was unaware if 2nd place would get me a Kona spot, and waiting at the awards ceremony on Monday morning was one of the most nerve racking experiences of my life. As I heard my name called- “Elaina Mertens, you’re going to Kona” I couldn’t believe it was true. Years upon years of dreaming about this day- about this moment, and I couldn’t believe it was happening!
I am extremely humbled and honored to get the opportunity to compete at the Kona World Championships in 2016. I am beyond grateful, and am looking forward to another great Ironman training cycle, set to commence in a few short months. For now, I will enjoy my fat bike, trail running with my dogs, and most importantly, my fall wine drinking season!
Tapering 101…. The hard facts from a mediocre marathoner