Ironman Wisconsin 2016
2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run*
Sunday, September 11, 2016
Knowing that you want to do an Ironman is the first step. Deciding which one to do can be hard. For me, it was an easy choice after volunteering and spectating IMWI 2015. The crowd support is beyond fabulous, and being on the giving and receiving end of the volunteer support is wonderful as well.
I feel the the biggest key to an overall successful Ironman was preparation. Of course the training, but also the prep work for packing and being ready to go a week prior.
Jennifer Borst, Preparation Prodigy
I printed off my athlete guide and highlighted items of importance: athlete check-in, bike drop-off, athlete briefing, color of bags for special needs and gear bags. When I say I was ready to go a week prior, I mean that, outside of the clothes I was wearing, everything was labeled and in a bag. For me, the key was taking myself through race day. I had freezer bags labeled with the color of the bag I would receive at check-in, as well as a list of the items that needed to be in it, so that I wouldn’t have to think anything through once I got to Madison. Worked like a charm. I wasn’t rushing around trying to purchase last minute nutrition, looking for different clothes, etc.
We left Iowa Friday morning and I did athlete check-in not long after we arrived. I had highlighted the early times of every meeting or event because I didn’t want to be rushed. Athlete check-in took me nearly 2 hours. After that we had lunch and went back to the room. I was able to place all my bags into their bags and talked myself through the day one last time. Ready in less than 10 minutes seems good! I was able to sit down, enjoy a glass of wine, visit with our friends the Millers and simply enjoy the evening. I confirmed an early morning swim, bike, and run with my mentor Steve Cox, and off to a blissful sleep I went.
Saturday morning… For some reason mother nature and I disagree on what training should look like. I feel it should be an overall pleasant experience. She thinks what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. So she provides, sleet, wind, downpours, high humidity, insane heat… or turns Lake Monona into a small hurricane just to see if I’ll get motion sickness. As Steve and I were walking to the swim, he noticed the change of weather and agreed. It’s a good thing he controls race day weather.
So in the rain we go down to the lake. We go for a little swim and the rain wasn’t too bad after all. The water felt great. After the swim it was still pretty wet and we opted out of the bike ride and I opted out of my run. I was getting chilled after the swim and decided to get a hot shower, eat, and proceed to the plans for the day: bike drop, athlete meeting.
Everything went smoothly and according to plan. We had dinner reservations at 5:00 with all of the Tri Racers. I was able to talk through some last minute electronic device questions with Coach Greg, and I was good to go. Back to the hotel, in bed, feet up, glass of wine. Don’t judge, it’s red and has anti-inflammatory powers.
Ironman Wisconsin 2016 Race Day
Of course I didn’t sleep! It’s the night before I make an attempt at becoming an Ironman! The alarm went off at 4:00. I stuck to my race rituals: shower, Stinger, protein shake, coffee, and water.
My plan was to walk to drop off my bags at special needs, go to my bike, air up my tires, get my bottles on my bike, and go to the swim start. Like a charm. Planning, planning, planning. I ran into my friend Erin Jansen on the way to bike transition so we walked in together and hung out for a bit that morning. Hugs and well wishes and Husband Luke and I walked to the swim start. I took my water and my GU and another Stinger in case I got hungry. Nerves had kicked in so I didn’t get the Stinger down. The GU went down at 6:30 as planned.
The Swim and T1
I don’t recall off the top of my head, but I think I heard the water temp was 78°F that morning. Maybe it was a few degrees cooler, I’m not sure. I honestly didn’t care as long as someone didn’t try to take my wetsuit away. I walked down to the water and waited until 6:55 to swim out. That was my practice swim. No more, no less.
My plan for the swim was simple. I’m not fast, so stay away from the front where the fast people go. I’m not quite the slowest, so stay away from the back. I’m steady, so sit in the middle and hope to finally figure out how to get in a draft. I heard Mike Riley say, “Finish what you started and you will be an Ironman!” … and the gun went off and I started.
I was fortunate to have an overall good swim. I got hung up a few times but was able to get clear of people and keep moving. The buoys seemed pretty far apart to me on the way back but I figured it out. I did have some dude grab onto my left ankle about 500 yards out and I think his plan was to yank me out of his way. Don’t do this to people. It’s stupid and may get you a black eye … that’s what it may have gotten him anyway. ;-) I was happy to see my watch and the gang of Tri Racers as I stepped onto dry land. Perfect!!!
Swim Time: 1:36:34
Wetsuit strippers. First time I have used them, it was awesome. I did have to wait for just a moment, but they got to me and got it off. Running up the helix was nothing short of awesomeness. The crowd support was stellar. What a great start to the day. Everything was marked and clear and there was no doubt where to go or what to do. A lady offered her help to get me changed, and off to my bike I went.
T1 Time: 11:48
The Bike and T2
They were yelling out our numbers as we came through and then I saw why. They unrack your bike and hand it to you. That was pretty cool. Down the helix I went.
There is nothing easy about the IMWI bike course. Even on the downhills you must maintain control. I had ridden the old course once, and biked the new course twice before.
My bike plan was simple, keep my HR and power from spiking. My HR needed to average 150 or less, avoiding spikes too much above 155. Overall, I was a bit shocked that in the end my HR averaged 140. I kept it in check and pulling back multiple times paid off. It’s easy to get caught up in passing other cyclists out there. I had to reign that in. I was targeting 125–130 NP (Normalized Power). I watched my Edge a lot for this number and kept thinking I could push it a bit more but opted out. I ended up averaging 120. This may have saved me later in the day…
Again, the crowd support and volunteers, amazing.
My nutrition plan was to eat one Margarita Clif Shot Blok every 20 minutes. Margarita for no other reason than that they have 3x more sodium than the other flavors. If I got hungry or cranky, I would eat a Stinger Waffle. I also had three bottles of Carbo Pro with me, and one of the bottles had a GU tablet in it. My plan included a stop at special needs to eat at least one Uncrustable, if not two. There was some concern about GI issues if I ate two, but I had practiced a couple of times and didn’t have issues, so I would make that call when I got there.
I got there more quickly than I thought I would. Yay for that. I was going to get off my bike, use the bathroom, refill my bottles with water and Carbo Pro and walk for just a minute. That didn’t happen.
What did happen was that I applied more sunscreen and Chapstick, ate nearly both of the Uncrustables, refilled bottles, and skipped the long line at the porta potty. I didn’t have to go and decided if I did I would stop somewhere else. I went to get back on my bike and had one of those dumb moments where you push your pedal forward to clip in and watch your chain dump. I cursed myself briefly, fixed it, and took off.
This was mile 60. I felt good … until mile 70. Then I started to get hot and a bit cranky. I had just eaten so it shouldn’t have been a carb issue, just a tired issue. I had my moment of pissing and moaning to myself before the moment of tears and being grateful that I had made it to this day. I was back on track and counting down the miles.
I saw my people … specifically Laura Zinn in Verona in a Tri Racer tank jumping up and down and screaming “Go Jenn Borst!!!” … and Devin Miller yelling on the bullhorn … then Luke again, because Luke was in seven different spots on the bike course. No really, the plans and maps he had been laying out over the weeks prior were impressive. He should consider selling it to people next year: “Spectator's guide to seeing your athlete, not once, not twice, but SEVEN times.” I knew Greg was at Mt. Horeb, Luke was at the roundabout beyond, the little bar after Barlow, and I can’t really give you the other landmarks, but I saw him and then Greg again at the end of the bike. This gave me some push to get through the last miles.
The way back sucked. The wind had picked up and the rollers were not such a great time. But I made it through that and saw the helix. Yay, almost off the bike. My neck was pretty ticked off at me by this point. Then I heard, “Get your ass off that bike and run!” from our very own Doc Laura. Going up the helix was a bit more challenging than I had anticipated. I made it into transition to change for the run.
Bike Time : 6:51:20
I took my time in T2. I stopped briefly to offer some words of encouragement to a gal lying on the floor moaning. She was tired and didn’t feel well. I felt bad for her and decided I could spare time to tell her she was so close and keep going. "Dip deep sister, you got this."
Back to my own prep. I needed all my hair up off my neck and wanted a change of clothes. I had zero desire to run 26.2 miles (Haha*) in my kit. Oh, and I finally went to the bathroom again.
Down the chute to begin the run I went. I saw Luke right away and he had my boys on FaceTime. I needed this. I needed the little boost of telling them I would see them at the finish line. It was time. Let’s go get this run done and be an Ironman. The finish line is waiting.
T2 Time: 10:21
The Run and "The Incident"
The run … oh the run. Things were solid.
The plan, again, was simple. Keep my HR in the 140s. The average running pace I was aiming for was around 9:30. I was hoping to not stop at porta pottys unless something went wrong. My intent was to walk through aid stations and drink water. Every third mile I would eat a GU. If my stomach got crazy, I would halve the GU and use my salt lick.
The day was still going pretty perfectly in my eyes. I was seeing my friends. It was awesome. I felt good. I saw Greg and he asked me how I was doing. I said, “I’m all right.” I remember him saying, “Do me a favor and stay all right.” Okay, I could that. I was getting tired, but knew it was part of the day.
I was approaching mile 11 when I felt the onset of the stomach talk begin. By 13 I was at the capital and it was telling me it was less than happy. I knew this would happen. I had been warned about it. I knew it would pass and I had to push through. Laura Zinn walked with me and listened to me whine for awhile. I saw my kids and was able to put on a smile momentarily and hug them. I attempted cola. That just sloshed around and didn’t work for me. I saw the Thorntons, and Jim offered some words of encouragement. He didn’t like the cola either; that made me feel better, even if I didn’t say so. So on I went. Things got better slowly after this, as I knew they would. It’s just about making it through the rough patches.
The stadium the second time through was still my personal least favorite place to be. I didn’t like running on that turf and there was no air moving in there. I was happy to be out both laps.
Leaving the stadium the second time is where I started to hit the wall of fatigue. When I get to this place, I just shut down. I look forward and I just run. I don’t think. It’s like setting the cruise control on your car. I think this is a feeling a lot of people don’t really understand. Shut down the pain, the fatigue, and emotion, and just run. I literally count a cadence in my head. By this time volunteers were becoming few and it was getting late. I knew I was still doing great on time and wasn’t too far behind where I had planned to be. I had left enough in the bottom of the tank to be able to push the last three miles if I stayed on task. I did stay on task. Too much so!
For those of you that continue to ask why and how, I would respond with two questions:
- Have you done an Ironman?
- Have you done IMWI?
First off, being out here from 7:00 a.m. until … 13+ hours later, your body starts to get a little pissed off at you. Things start to "ache" a bit, and you shut it down. I have since learned it has a name. It’s called “Ironman fatigue.” There is no other choice than to tell yourself to keep it together and keep going.
Secondly, until you are out there in Wisconsin to see the little out-and-backs, you simply don’t understand how one can always be on the course with others, going the same direction, and yet miss a turn, especially when cones are being moved by officers and there are no longer volunteers to say, ”This way.” In my humble opinion, and the in the opinion of Ironman finishers I have spoken with since, your job should not be to have do any thinking at this stage of the game other than keep one foot in front of the other. As four-time Ironman Steve Cox said to me, “Even terrific athletes make boneheaded mistakes, it’s nothing that is devoid of any of us.”
Shit happens out there. Be it fatigue, lack of course support, etc., it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, no matter what part doesn’t go as planned, you better damn well be prepared to handle it both mentally and physically. In my case, I was beyond fortunate to have an ironmate, an IM coach, and his wife who were on their game that evening.
I approached the capitol that second time tasting the finish line; my dream and all of the hard work was in sight.
Then I heard Luke yelling, ”Jennifer Borst, stop!” WTF. That’s right. Stop. Seriously? The finish line is less than a half mile away. It was then that I looked at my watch and went from my best running pace of the day to, "You have to be (insert multiple expletives here, and basically from here on out) kidding me."
And so here it began. “The Incident." Luke caught me, stopped me, got on the phone with an official. So back at the last aid station before the finish. Luke doesn’t give an option, he rather tells me, we are running back to mile 17-ish where I got off and I’m going to have to run the rest in again from there. (More expletives from me.) So off we go.
The first two-ish miles extra, I followed Luke, and yes, I was wimpering and whining all the way. I didn’t say I couldn’t do it. I just remember asking how far back out mile-wise I had to go and wondering how I would make my legs put more miles in at this point. I saw my watch at 21 miles, so I knew in theory they would hold up for the 5+ that I needed anyway.
Now in my completely sane mind, my question was, "Why can’t I just run back on the course until I get in the missed miles and then turn around and finish my 26.2?" Luke’s clear mind was saying, "Because you missed a timing mat you have to hit." Fine. I’ll get back out there and then find course support to see if I can hit the mat, do the out and back I missed, and get a ride back to where I left off. I can do this.
By this time Millers had found us heading back out and they stayed with us. We found support. Luke got another official on the phone and started the process of note taking and making sure I didn’t DNF. Devin was telling me to keep moving. Laura was observing my physical and mental state of decline, but kept telling me how strong I am. I heard Luke give the wrong bib number and I was able to correct that part, but I was going downhill quickly.
Luke hung up and said, “You have to re-run the route.” I looked at the volunteer ladies in the cart and asked if I can re-run the route and then can they take me back to where I left off. The look of pity and the words, “We can’t give you course support,” sent me over the edge.
I bent over, leaned on top of the cart and moaned. All I could do was ask over and over again, “How am I going to do this? I don’t know how I’m going to do this.” When I stood up, that’s when the lights started to go out. I looked at my HR and saw that it was high, but I didn’t know if it was dehydration or the events that were causing it. Then I got chilled. Again, was it the cool night air or was it dehydration? In either case, things were not good. In that moment I realized that if I passed out, I would be taken away by course support or by ambulance, and all of my hard work, the sacrifices, would be in vain.
It was time to deal with a perfect day gone less than perfect. It took every fiber of my being to move. I told them I was ready and let’s go finish what I had started.
Luke was torn. He asked me if I wanted him to stay with me or go to the finish line. I begged him to stay at that turn around out of complete fear I would be lost again. My mental state had taken a big hit. Laura Miller, bless this woman. She had an injury, yet she ran/walked that entire seven miles with me, made me drink, and got me over the largest hurdle of that day. Greg showed up, and thank goodness he did, because it was dark out there. His bike had a headlight and that was huge. I didn’t realize he was there at first. I guess at some point I realized it and I recall telling him I had screwed up my pacing. I may have even apologized for that.
Greg reminded me that my top priority for that day was to be an Ironman. I needed to hear that. Nothing else mattered right now. I just needed to keep my feet moving and run when I could. At some point I got over the mental battle of what had happened and was getting back to as normal a state of mind as one can under the stress of 13-plus hours. I recall talking to myself on downhills and saying there was no reason I couldn’t jog those. I tried to jog as much as I could knowing that the longer I screwed around out there, the longer it would take to get to the finish line.
I am certain I cursed most of the mile markers on the way back. My watch had died so I had no idea where I was at with pace or HR. Greg and Laura were diligent about going around the aid stations and slowing down or going ahead of me so as not get me penalized for any type of support. Though at this stage of the game I’m not sure I would have had tolerance for anyone commenting on the help they were offering. As far as I was concerned everyone was getting support from people cheering alongside the routes all day. This was no different; they were just there to keep me positive.
The Ironman Wisconsin 2016 Finish, Finally
So that last two hours was long, unplanned, and memorable. I think about mile 24-ish, Laura Zinn joined in on the fun. Then at 25, came K and Joe. I was near the end and had a support club that wasn’t letting me quit. They dropped me off just before the capital. Z went to the outside of the fencing and ran down. Cory Jansen came up beside me and ran me to the chute.
After seeing the video, it became very clear why people thought I was injured or possibly collapsed: Two things happened in the last moments before I crossed.
- My 68-year-wise dad and mom showed up and were in that chute. I heard them and I saw them. Later I found out that my dad saw me the first time and sprinted to the end to alert my in-laws and my kids I was coming. I saw them, but I knew if I stopped to go hug them, I may fall over. So the tears started to roll. Greg’s words echoed in my brain, “You can collapse after you cross the finish line.”
- Mike Reilly was there. I heard his voice announce someone. No one else was close enough to me to have to share the moment. I needed to get to that finish line.
So about that finish line… For those of you who have experienced this, you know what I’m talking about. People are yelling at you, the lights are bright, the music is loud. You take that moment and look around and feel it. Really feel it. Months of training got you here. The Ironman logo rug, the time clock, and the voice. I don’t know where I found the last bit of energy to throw my hand in the air, but I’m so glad that I did. It was one last, “Yeah!! I did it.”
“Jennifer, Jennifer Borst you are an IRONMAN.”
So in the midst of emotion, fatigue, and yet pure joy that I had made it… I got weak, fast. I looked up and saw that my parents had made their way down. I saw all the Tri Racers… my kids… Luke… and I was completely overwhelmed and overcome.
I don’t think I was even speaking clearly by this point and I’m shocked they didn’t force me into the med tent! I hung onto Luke and tried to hug everyone and thank them. Of course it didn’t (and still doesn’t) feel like enough.
To have a husband who chases you down on the course to save you from a DNF, a coach who works with your husband to see the problem and quickly figure out the next steps, to a team who spreads out to carry you in. It was by far the best Ironman experience I could have ever hoped and dreamed of. It was hard and amazing and crazy and great and beautiful and tougher than I could have imagined. I can’t wait to do it again. Only I plan on stopping at 140.6… which should be the finish line! ;-)
Run Time: 6:42:32
Overall Time: 15:32:35
Complete results for Ironman Wisconsin are on the Ironman website.
Considering Ironman Wisconsin? Read more reports from this race!
Image Credits: Greg Grandgeorge, Luke Borst, Laura Miller, Jan Borst.
Used with permission.