Karen did it! And we at TeamWILD are so proud of her! Here is her Race Report. Please share it far and wide, as her journey is particularly inspirational. And she’s a great writer! Karen has had type 1 diabetes for over 20 years. GO KAREN!!!
Ironman Wisconsin 2012 Race Report
It’s hard to know where to begin this race report. Skip ahead to ‘Race Day’ if you want to avoid all the background. Or get this synopsis: I came, I saw, I swam, I biked, I ran, I walked, I blew snot rockets, I laughed, I kept track of my blood sugar, I thanked volunteers, I coughed up green chunks. I triumphed. Yeah, you read that right. Green chunks. I mean, triumphed.
My Ironman journey began years ago when I signed up for the Bolder Boulder 10k and began training with FastForward Sports (F4), my fantastic training group. Since then, I’ve moved on to half-marathons, then triathlons, and eventually the big daddy, Ironman. In 2011 I trained with F4’s Ironman group and went with a team of 11 women from TeamWILD: We Inspire Life with Diabetes to compete with great joy in Ironman Wisconsin, right up until the last aid station on the bike course, around mile 100, where I encountered an errant badger in the road and crashed.
Okay, I’m lying about the badger, but not about the crash. It was a disappointing end to the season as well as a worrisome and painful end to my race, and after a couple of days in the hospital I limped home to nurse my broken body parts, having signed up for this year’s Ironman Wisconsin 2012.
This season, I had three goals: train hard, see finish line, cross finish line. I enjoy most of the training, and it went well, but it was kind of mentally exhausting for me to do it two years in a row. In addition, there wasn’t anyone in my training group this year who was similarly paced on the bike (and I was far behind the rest of the group), which I found really challenging. I was hoping that on race day I wouldn’t be so caught up in trying to make bike cutoffs (and avoid the wandering badgers) that I didn’t enjoy the day. Ironman is a LONG day, and the culmination of these two years’ training, and it meant a lot to me to savor the atmosphere and delight that I was there at all. While making it – I really, really wanted to make it.
Tony and I left Boulder the Saturday before the race (8 days out). We decided to road trip this time and visit family in Southern Wisconsin before heading up to Madison for the race. On the way out we stopped for the night in Des Moines, IA, where we spectated at the 5150 (Olympic-distance) national championship triathlon and cheered on Deanna. Fun, and it got me in race mood! On Labor Day we met my family at the Walworth County Fair and saw the kids’ sheep and sampled some delicious fried food. Then a couple of days at the farm — my sister was suffering mightily from what she (and the whole family) called ‘allergies’ during this time.
On Thursday we went to Madison. It was becoming evident by this time that I had caught my sister’s ‘allergies’, aka the common cold, and I was not pleased. But I checked in for the race, talked to lots of people, got weighed (123, a fun number), and picked up my many bags for race day. The race bags made it all seem very real!
Tony and I went for a check-the-bike-and-make-sure-it’s-all-okay ride through the UW campus, where I went to school about 25 years ago. What a walk (ride) down memory lane! After the hot and very humid weather early in the week, the weather was just about perfect, and Madison really is a lovely town.
On Friday I met up with Russ, my training buddy who was the other FastForward IM MOO racer this season, and we went for a short swim in Lake Monona., the race venue. The water seemed clearer this year; still green, though. The water temperature felt good, and there were tons of IM racers out there with the same idea, so the energy was fun. Russ said that he’d already been hearing people talking smack in the elevator of his hotel, lamenting that they might not be able to maintain a 7-minute-mile pace in the marathon at the end of the IM. I noted that I was quite sure I wouldn’t be able to maintain that pace, myself; since I’ve never run a single mile in 7 minutes or less, it seemed a safe bet.
The athletes’ dinner that night did a great job of revving up the racers. We met the oldest and youngest male and female racers, watched some inspiring short films, and heard Mike Reilly, the Voice of Ironman, tell us all that we WOULD be Ironmen. I believed him, but was concerned that my cold, which was now full-blown, or my blood sugar, which had been particularly insidious in its refusal to behave on long training and race days this season, might derail me.
By Saturday the cold was undoing me, and my coach, Michael Kelly, told me that my priority was sleep, sleep, and more sleep. We had a short visit to the amazing Madison Farmer’s Market. I took a couple of naps, drugged up with a cocktail of a few ineffective things, and tried to eat a lot of fruit (to complement my steady diet of post nasal drip).
I mean, I didn’t care that I had a cold, or how long it lasted, but I felt awful and did NOT want to feel like crap on race day, because at some point on race day of COURSE I’d feel like crap and I couldn’t take the thought of the double-whammy. That could be worse than the stray badger that took me out last year. I dropped off my bike and transition bags, got excited talking to other racers, and called it a night VERY early in the evening, while Tony and our friend Amanda met TeamWILD and Trimonster friends for a beer.
RACE DAY, September 9th, 2012
I woke up before 4am with a blood sugar of 184 and had breakfast of peanut butter and honey on bread, taking 80% of my normal amount of insulin for this. We were staying on Lake Mendota at the Edgewater, per Amanda’s suggestion (where she stayed for the race last year), and it was a fantastic place – funky with lots of character and a great location, within walking distance of race activities but not plunk in the center of the hubbub. I walked with Tony and Amanda down to the Monona Terrace, dropping off my special needs bags at the Capitol on the way.
I visited my bike and got in line to get my tires pumped up. It’s lucky I went to a mechanic, because as soon as he touched my tire valve, it broke and POOOF all the air escaped loudly. I didn’t panic, though – it was early, he had lots of tubes, and he quickly (MUCH quicker than I could’ve) changed the tire out as coincidentally another broken-valve emergency victim approached him. I left my CGM (continuous glucose monitor) receiver on the bike, as well as the GPS tracker I had rented for the day from myathletelive so that people could track me throughout the bike and run portions of the race.
I headed down to the Swim In. It was cold, so I peeled off my outer clothes and replaced them with my wetsuit, which felt all warm and snugly (rather suffocatingly so, outside the water).
I wore my Medtronic insulin pump on the swim, in a waterproof Aquapac, with a 100% basal dose. Becky, who I was waving to when I took myself out hit the badger last year, soon approached, then Russ, who’d worn his special floodwater pajama pants for me that morning, because they amuse me so. A bunch of the TeamWILD women in their WILD gear found me for last-minute cheering and pep talks, and then I said goodbye to Tony and we racers headed to the water.
It was really congested going over the timing mats, and Mike Reilly was entreating everyone to hurry up. I treaded water with Russ for awhile, and then he went ahead to his chosen start space, someone sang the Star Spangled Banner (so weird that we do this at sporting events – really, my race was many things, but patriotic it was not), and BOOM! the cannon fired. Woo hoo! Round 2!
Last year’s swim was a double-loop affair that race organizers turned into a single loop this year. I thought this would mean less body contact than last year, but it was not to be. There was some contact on and off throughout the swim, including my first-ever elbow encounter that dislodged my goggles. That was soon fixed, and I continued on. In the middle of the swim (I knew it was the middle because the buoys changed color), I stopped to eat a GU.
Things clogged up at the very end of the swim, when we were funneled into the finish arch. I was indignant that others were invading ‘my’ water, as usually I can expect some free water back where I swim. Alas, evidently there were many of us swimming the same speed this year. I exited the water with a 1:48 swim time, and quickly got my wetsuit stripped by enthusiastic volunteers.
After running up the helix and seeing (and hearing) lots of friends and family screaming for me, I ran inside to get my transition bag and take care of my various transition tasks in the changing room. My blood sugar was 261, and I took a small amount of insulin for the high as well as a 75% bolus of insulin for the snack I ate, and then set my basal dose to 135% for the bike. (Note from Mari: at TeamWILD we work with you to help you figure out your insulin strategy to fuel your performance!)
I put on my bike socks, helmet, sunglasses, and sunblock, and ran outside to my bike with my shoes in hand. At the bike, I calibrated my CGM and put on the GPS tracker so people could now find me on the course from their smart phones.
Ah, the bike. Wisconsin’s bike course is difficult, and I’m not the speediest thing on two wheels. I have a new tri bike, which fits me a lot better than my old road bike, and has the added benefit of being very pretty so she gets lots of compliments. In addition, my F4 teammate Rebecca has the same bike and had posted a >18mph average on the Ironman Canada course two weeks before, so I kept telling myself that this was an 18mph bike, never mind about the difference between Rebecca’s and my engines. I do really _like_ the bike portion of any triathlon, and the IM MOO course is lovely, with lots of green and some challenging (but short!) hills that seem to go on and on. And did I mention the weather? It was PERFECT!
About 20 minutes into the bike ride, my CGM started alarming with an error that’s often fixed if I calibrate it from a fingerstick reading. I stopped to check my blood sugar…and my meter wouldn’t turn on. I tried again and again, but the screen remained blank. So now I was looking at 8 hours on the bike with no way to check my blood sugar at all – no meter, no CGM. Now, if my blood sugar could be relied on to follow an established pattern while I was on the bike, this wouldn’t be such a big deal; however, again and again this summer I’ve had problems with high blood sugars on the bike, not always at the same time in the ride, and being unable to check for the whole bike would greatly increase my chances of having race-ending problems (never mind the wandering badgers).
I didn’t panic, reminding myself that there were many TeamWILD friends and athletes out cheering on the course, and when I saw Tony about an hour later, I let him know that I was doing great but had no way to check my blood sugar. Tony put the wheels in motion…
I found out later that the TeamWILD crew did a number of things, including procuring someone’s extra meter as well as buying a new meter, and got official race approval to hand me something on the course (racers are technically not allowed to take anything from spectators – only volunteers, race workers, and other racers).
Every 15 min or so I’d take my meter off its Velcro’d position on my bike and check to see if it was working…and lo and behold, after a couple of hours, it was! I stopped and checked, and was 294, the highest number I’d see in the race – while certainly not ideal, believe me, it could’ve been much, much worse. By the time I came to my special TeamWILD aid station, with my loaner meter being held out for me, I was able to tell them that my diabetes mechanical woes were over. My CGM hadn’t recovered from the error, so I had to reset it; a couple hours later (while I was still on the bike), it came back and gave me fairly reliable data the rest of the race.
The spectators were fantastic on the bike course, like last year. I saw a couple of tubby guys wearing only Speedos with painted chests, cheering at the top of a hill. There was a creepy clown who came out of corn fields at different points on the course. There were inspirational and funny signs: “Chafe Now, Brag Forever”, “Chuck Norris Never Did an Ironman”, “Sparkle, B*tch!”. The volunteers were diligent and encouraging, and I did many bottle handoffs with nary a drop.
My family was in Verona near an aid station and I saw them screaming both times I came through. Tony and Amanda showed up at different places on the course (they were on bikes), and the cheering section on Shady Oak Lane was exhilarating – many TeamWILD friends were there, and I could swear I saw Lorrie in a dress – I’d say I was hallucinating, but it was on the first loop of the course and I wasn’t that tired yet!
In terms of eating and drinking on the bike, I was aiming for (and achieved) 50-55g of carbohydrate (200-225 calories) and a bottle of liquid per hour. The first 3 hours’ nutrition was all packed in one bottle that I’d put on the bike in the morning. After that, I took Perform (like Gatorade) off the course, and supplemented with Honey Stinger chews and salt tablets. Other blood sugar numbers I saw on the bike, once my meter fixed itself, were 185 and 163, and the CGMlog shows me hovering in that range for some time. I’ll take it! I saw someone checking his blood sugar out on the bike, so I know I wasn’t the only person doing the race with diabetes.
I stopped at the final aid station on the bike course. I needed to change my basal insulin dose to 75% in preparation for the run, which would start in about an hour. Volunteers rushed up to give me water and Perform, and I happened to mention that this was the site of my crash last year. SO glad I mentioned that! One of my volunteers had helped me last year, and then had no idea what’d happened to me after they carted my unconscious self off in the ambulance; she’d actually just been talking to some cohorts about my crash, and called them over (to witness my triumphant return, I guess!). She was so glad that I’d recovered, was doing the race again, and was going to make it this time!
Back along Lake Monona and into Madison; the bike was over! I had fun! I was doing fantastic on time and hadn’t needed to worry about the bike cutoffs! There were no badgers in the road! Up the helix with my screaming fans and into transition 2 after I handed off my bike to yet another eager volunteer. First off, I checked my blood sugar again; it was 152. In the changing room I washed off my feet and changed socks (Okay, I peed on the bike. A few times. My bike shoes may never recover), and noticed that Kathleen, a woman I know from Boulder, was near me. She’d also been in T1 at the same time, and we decided to start the run together. That was a good call, as she ran (and walked) with me for the entire first loop of the run – 13.1 miles; it was great to have the company!
The run of an Ironman is 26.2 miles. That’s a marathon. After a 2.4-mile swim and a 112-mile bike. You can imagine; or maybe you can’t. Imagine night falling, and then it’s dark. Really dark. I was tired. Crazy tired. At some point I just wanted to bury myself in Tony, after blowing about 3lbs of snot out my nose, and cry.
And the cold; that nasty cold. So far it had resulted in one coughing fit in the water, and a few coughing fits on the bike. In addition, I’d farmer-blown my nose a good 100 times or so on the bike course; I was glad that I’d had problems with allergies here in CO during my long rides this summer, as I’d had lots of practice and had perfected my snot-rocket technique.
On the run, I realized that if I breathed deeply I’d have a coughing fit, and by that time I was worried that would lead to vomit (I would not be the only person out there with that problem, believe me), so I was keeping my breathing fairly shallow, which meant I couldn’t have an all-out effort such that I was panting; but really, running _hard_ at that point was a laughable notion, anyway, so it was fine.
And there were people cheering – the goofy college kids out singing to us (horribly!) on their front porch, the woman who dressed up her dogs who she’d command to bark encouragement as we trudged by, the crowds of racers’ loved ones (including my own family) lined up along State Street late into the night.
And there were other racers to share with – the second time I went through the football stadium (you run through the football stadium!), I was with a young man who said he hadn’t been in that stadium in 10 years; I told him for me it’d been 25! I walked up Observatory Hill with a nice man named Jim, and a woman named Denise and I were leapfrogging for miles. There was also the sense at this point in the race that THIS IS IT and I was about to be an Ironman, and it was pretty freaking incredible.
Let me mention my own cheering section, here. A number of times on the run, mostly in the dark of the second loop and after Kathleen had run up ahead, I had between 1 and 4 bike escorts. (This is technically not allowed and my escorts were trying to be courteous; they were also cheering those running near me). Tucker was playing the “Ironman” song from a boombox in his backpack, Karyn was periodically yelling “Karen Lipinsky, you are my hero!”, and Nate and Kathy were trying to be encouraging without being quite as obnoxious J. My sister and niece Kenni ran/walked with me for a portion of State St – Sue can walk at the blistering pace of 13:30 min/mile and I was hoping she’d speed me up a little.
At the beginning of my second loop I had 4 TeamWILD women, including diabetes educator Jenny, talking to me about the diabetes strategy and how things were going. How fortunate to get on-the-spot problem solving by a diabetes professional and 4 endurance athletes with diabetes themselves! Regarding my blood sugar, it was running somewhat high (this has actually never happened in the run portion of a tri, but then, I’d never been out there for this long in a race before), and three times on the run I took very small amounts of insulin to bring that down. I was trying to get in 40g of carbohydrate an hour, but I ultimately didn’t eat quite that much.
A couple of blocks from the end of the race it really really hit me, and I turned to Karyn and Tucker, who’d found me on their bikes again at the Capitol, with a huge smile.
THIS WAS IT!
The finish chute of Ironman is a surreal experience. People were sticking out their hands to high-5 me left and right. I’d been racing for something approaching infinity and was more than a little loopy. Mike Reilly was announcing me (and the people around me), the lights were BRIGHT and the music was LOUD and everybody there was just so damned happy for me.
And I realized THIS is what I’d trained for, long and hard, for the past two years, and THIS is what I missed because of that pesky badger last year, and that I’VE DONE IT and I stepped through the finish arch and hit the stop button on my Garmin and the race was done. I’m an Ironman. And it’s glorious.