Race Report: Ironman Wisconsin Sept 11, 2011

Whit in front of lakeside Student Union at Univ of Wisconsin

This was my biggest event of this first pro season.  I had registered for IM Wisconsin last year, the day after the race when registration for Age Groupers opens at noon Mountain Time.  My friend Jess and I sat by our computers and clicked away at the Register Now buttons, hoping hoping hoping we’d make it in before it filled up.  The registration site gets overwhelmingly busy, and sometimes these triathlon events fill up with max participants in a matter of an hour.  It’s pretty stressful!  And this in one whole year before the race is going to even happen.  Talk about commitment.  And just hoping that your coming year won’t throw you too many curve balls and make you give up your slot (which may be refunded to you only by a certain date…after that you are out of luck – making the WTC less popular with some).

Anyway, I was able to turn pro since then, and now the registration for me for races is much less stressful and requires a whole lot less planning.  So that’s nice.  But, my point being – I had been looking forward to, counting on, and training for this specific race for a whole year.  2011 marked the 10th year this particular Ironman has been put on in the capital city of Madison, WI.  It is a really cool city – home to the Badgers of University of Wisconsin, as well as a very fun and happening downtown area that surrounds the Capitol Building.  Most of the time we were there, we were engaged in pre-race, race, or post-race specific activities, but we did get to roam around some of the campus and check out a little nightlife and cool restraunt scene by the capitol.

Unfortunately my friend Jess who registered with me last year ended up changing her plans earlier in the year, so she did not attend this race.  But another friend from Montreal, Canada named Dierdre did come and race.  She is such a cool girl – we had  a ton of fun with her.  And of course my best guy, sidekick, and “manager” Lucas McCain attended in support of me.  Plus we have a lot of fun together no matter what, so hopefully he felt like it was a little bit of vacation as well as…a lot of work.  haha

We arrived on Thursday afternoon, flying both our bikes (so Lucas could do some riding while he was giving up a long weekend for me) into Madison.  We rented a car – thank you to Lucas’ friend from Enterprise who helped us out with a deal…man, all this travel stuff adds up!!)  We checked into the hotel, said Hi to Deirdre who had arrived earlier, and set out to drive the Bike Course.  Ironman Wisconsin is known for it’s very challenging, hilly bike course.  It is a lollypop-style course – about 10 miles out to a loop, which racers will ride twice, then head back the 10 miles to the Transition Area.  We drove the loop to get a feel for the terrain – and wow, was it every hilly.  Absolutely beautiful, though.  Lots of farmland, fields, some shady woody areas, and three different small towns.  It would keep you interested, that’s for sure.  And keep your heart rate up!  Lucas and I had a great time driving, laughing, noticing and commenting on the route and terrain, and stopping for coffee and snacks multiple times.

Friday was a day to do some training and get accustomed to the area.  I met up with my fellow first-year pro friend Jackie Arendt, who I had met at the Buffalo Springs Lake half ironman back in June.  She is from Wisconsin and lives in Madison.  We met for a swim in Lake Monona (race course), and had planned to go on a ride afterwards but the timing didn’t end up working out.  I headed to the Convention Center for a pre-race meeting, and to do all my checking-in (which is quite a process of waiting in lines to receive your race bag full of numbers, timing chip, and other important race-day gear and info).  Lucas went out for a long solo ride, to which I later ended up joining him for the end.  It was good to actually pedal on the course, even though we’d driven it the previous day.  It was helpful to feel the road surface beneath the bike tires, and to gage the efforts it would take to ascend the hills.  Whew..it was also a little daunting.  But, Ialways have to remind myself that even if I don’t feel like a million bucks and ready to ROCK a couple days, or the day before, a big race — The hay is in the barn; the gas is in the tank — in other words, I’ve done all the work to prepare myself and I am ready for this.  No matter how sluggish I may feel right now.  Some of it is nerves, anyway.

That night we went out for dinner and to walk around the streets surrounding the Capitol building.  Such a fun atmosphere.  Apparently it is standard practice to have “Friday Fish Fry“, because most all the restraunts advertised this dish and we asked about it.  Another typical treat there is “cheese curds” – well, we one-upped this “delicacy” by ordered FRIED cheese curds as an appetizer.  Oh yeah, love me a pre-race food extravaganza!!  (They were delicious).

Turning in bike, day before the race

Saturday I did a short ride, a very short run, and then Dierdre and I went down to the race venue to turn in our bikes and all the gear you have to drop off the day before the race.  Lucas had gone for a long run, and we met up with him down at the Expo.  He helped me with last-minute bike tuning (and had also been more-than-helpful with all the bike-putting-together and gear-sorting in the days prior), and then I dropped it all off, dusted off my hands, and resolved to have a peaceful and restful remainder of the day.  We made a couple stops before heading back to the hotel to relax (one stop being the bakery at Whole Foods…we had planned to cook a delicious and healthy pre-race dinner in the hotel, but were lacking in the dessert department…one has to wonder how many other Professional Triathletes would toe the line the next day with chocolate mousse cake and raspberry crumb bar coursing through their veins…hmmm…)

Pre-race fuel

I slept okay….it’s never expected that your best night of sleep will be the night right before waking at 4am to race all day long.  Tossing and turning and trying to flip the OFF switch to your brain is what happens for hours as you attempt to convince your body and mind that the next day will just be “another long day of training”, or “everything we’ve been working towards and totally worth it”, or “an opportunity for greatness or at the very least…a learning experience”… wa-wa-waaaah.

4am Alarm.  Lie in bed and will myself up.  It’s not like I’ve been sleeping there anyway.  Eat oatmeal and banana for breakfast…mmm…I’m pretty sure dinner is still sitting in my large intestine…put on skin-tight race suit, oh-so-cozy at this time of the morning, slather myself with sunscreen – another enjoyable task at 4:15 – check and re-check the last-minute gear bags and bottles of specially-mixed calories…load the car…and drive.

Arrived with plenty of time to find parking, put gear bags in proper places, check on bike in Transition Area (left there the day before), stand in line for port-o-potty, put on wetsuit, get nervous, head down to swim start, get real nervous, look around crazily for Lucas – oh good, found him in crowd!!  Smiled and waved and felt better.  Jumped into water, a bit chilly but not too bad (mid-70s), warm up for 10-15minutes, tread water at start line…6:50am…GO!!!

Swim:  2.4miles.  The swim was good for me.  I have struggled a bit this year with my open-water swimming, and this day I felt strong and consistent with my stroke.  I even found some feet to follow (draft, which is legal and a smart move) for a while.  The Swim Course was two rectangular loops.  Time:  1:00:39.  Came out of the water 4th female.  Lucas had placed himself in the crowd right next to my bike rack, where he cheered for me and told me my placement – very helpful.

The transition from swim to bike is interesting at this event:  you have to run from the water up a spiral driveway up to a parking lot (where all the bikes are racked) and then into the Convention Center building where you change your clothes or just drop your swim stuff and don your bike shoes, helmet, etc.

Bike course:  112 miles.  Constant rolling hills, beautiful scenery. Click here for route.  My favorite part of this race.  I passed the 3rd place pro woman about 15miles in.  I was later passed by another pro (Jessica Jacobs, who ended up winning the women’s race).  Then I passed another, Heather Gollnick (a very accomplished pro and experienced pro) around mile 80.  So I was in 3rd place, feeling strong, as I headed into T2 (second transition) and then out onto the run course.  One thing I had been told over and over about how to ride this bike course was not to give too much away in the beginning.  Those hills will drain you, and if you’ve pushed too hard too early on in the bike portion, you will pay for it later with fatigue (later in the bike, or later during the marathon).  I feel like I did a good job pacing myself yet riding strong, on a course where I had little to no experience.  Time:  5:24:33

Run course:  26.2 miles.  Yes, a full marathon.  (Here is the part where I get those looks from people if I’m explaining to them the distances that make up an Ironman…they look at me – or they say outright – “A full marathon?  Are you CRAZY?!”  Yes, folks, yes I am.  And today was no different.  I ran out of T2 feeling strong and positive.  But by mile 3 I was wondering how 23.2 more of those would go by without me breaking down and giving up.  To feel like that so early on can be very defeating, obviously.  But I also knew I had to draw on previous experience, reminding me that there are multiple ups and downs during a race this long.  You can feel awful, then you can have a burst of energy or a break-through mile and feel much, much better.  Then you can fatigue again, your stomach can turn, someone may pass you, you can get negative thoughts in your head…and down you go…you have to dig deep and literally fight in your head with yourself about what choice you’re going to make in those critical moments of discomfort/pain/honest-to-God hatred of this sport (“I’m never doing this again” is a very common thought and mantra among racing Ironman athletes…until you cross that finish line!)  Click here for route.

I did not have a stellar run.  For various reasons I just did not have a lot of umph in my legs or my body.  I felt fatigued the whole way, and man that is a long way to battle fatigue and discomfort.  I did feel like I was literally fighting to keep my 3rd place.  The 4th place woman, Soledad Omar, was gaining and gaining over the course of the marathon.  With 4 miles to do, I saw her about a quarter mile behind me from a turn-around.  I knew I had to go.  I knew I had to dig deep and fight for my spot, not giving in.  If she passed me, well, then she was faster and deserved 3rd place.  If she couldn’t do it, then I would be victorious.  Not only to claim a podium spot, but in my mind I’d claim victory as well.  You fight hard in those moments of pain, and one must draw on all sorts of inspirations to keep going strong…I thought about my parents, my brothers, Lucas – who was there in person cheering me on and encouraging me to do my very best no matter what – my friends, other athletes, my coach, my boss and employees at work who support me, my clients at work, so many people who seem inspired by what I do and in these critical moments – they are inspiring me.  It’s like you look for reasons to keep going outside of yourself.  ” I don’t care if I do this”, you want to say, but “I’ll do it for them” seems to be a reasonable back-up option.  Run time:  3:29:33

I felt exhausted and dehydrated when crossing that finish line.  I sat and sipped water and chicken broth till I could see straight and get up on my wobbly, tired legs.  I went over for a big sweaty hug from Lucas, so thankful to be DONE and to have hung onto (and earned, with heart) my 3rd place position.  3rd place in my first pro Ironman race!  I am proud of it.  And so grateful for this healthy, able body, and for all the support I’ve gotten in all areas of my life.

One more thing to add – race day being September 11, and marking the 10-year anniversary of the American Twin Towers and NYC tragedies, there were various acts of commemoration.  Many participants also added their own memories, motivations, gratitudes, and tributes… There was even one 9/11 First Responder fire-fighter who did this race:  swam, biked, and then walked the entire marathon in full fire-fighter regalia.  He finished in just over 15 hours.  It was very touching to see this kind of tribute.


A big THANK YOU to my current sponsors, who are crucial supporters of their athletes:

TYR, thanks for the wetsuit, the racing kit, the gear and clothing and monetary support

GU Energy, thank you for the fabulous nutritional products I use for training and racing.  Your newer lines of “Roctane” ultra-endurance formulated products are wonderfully-developed and great quality that really helped me perform this day.

Rolf Prima wheels, I LOVE my TDF 58SLs!  They are fast and furious out on hills or flats.  Thanks so much.

And again, thank you to my family, friends, Lucas, workplace (Frasier Meadows Retirement Community), and a few key generous monetary supporters (I think you know who you are, if you are reading…) — I am pursing and living a dream.  It’s worth the sacrifices now, as I will not always have all these pieces in just-so place to enable me to push my body, mind, spirit, relationships, and life to the max.

Deirdre and I in front of Capitol Bldg

Lucas and I at finish line, midnight

Swim Start, Lake Monona

Part of run course, downtown, and spectators

Nighttime Capitol finish area

Awards Ceremony

Whitney Garcia, 3rd place

Lucas on UW Campus

2 Responses to “Race Report: Ironman Wisconsin Sept 11, 2011”

  1. Amy says:

    Yay Whitney! You are such an inspiration and I’m so proud to say “I know her!” I’ll share your story with Leyton who just finished his first youth triathlon! Following in Auntie’s footsteps!

  2. aunt Lynnie says:

    Hey Whit,
    It is all about your mental strength. Congratulations on not giving up but gutting it out. It makes your finish even sweeter! You really are amazing!! And happy birthday tomorrow. You card really is in the mail. Tell Lucas I said hi and was very glad he was there with you! Love you!!