Ironman Wisconsin 2018

2 11 2018

I’m waaaaay overdue with this one, but I finally wrote what I could remember from my 2nd 140.6, Ironman Wisconsin. The first half of this post was written much closer in time to the race, whereas the latter half was written quite recently, and I think you’ll notice the difference. Oops.

Race Morning:

I woke up a little before 4. Today was the day I tackle Ironman #2. It was weird because in some ways, I felt like this was my first Ironman. 4 years had passed since my last full, which gives you plenty of time to forget the little details of the preparation, bag drops, etc. But at the same time, I generally knew what to expect from the day. I had actually re-read my Cozumel race posts in the days leading up to this morning, and that memory of just wanting to stop moving was now fresh in my mind. I was mentally preparing for a very difficult day.

I checked the weather to see that it was 50 and would only warm up to about 70 before cooling back down. 50 is a little chilly for this Florida girl to be wet and on a bike, but I knew once the sun came out it would be a beautiful day. The forecast did not help me come to a conclusion on what I would wear on the bike- whether to go with my TriMarni long sleeve jersey/jacket that is nice and toasty, or if I should go with arm warmers and newspapers. I had packed both in my bike gear back and came to the conclusion it would be a game time decision.

I put on my kit, braided my hair, and headed downstairs for breakfast. I had my usual pre-race meal of a Belgian waffle, PB, bananas, syrup and a dollop of yogurt, and a cup of iced coffee (hot would have been great this morning, but iced is easier/faster and what I drank all summer). Side note- at Muskoka, I purchased Belgian waffles from the bakery section (not frozen) and they were so yummy that it has now become my go-to prior to a race. Sometimes nerves make it hard to get down breakfast- but when there’s a yummy Belgian waffle waiting for me, the nerves don’t seem to matter:-)

After breakfast I filled all my bottles – I already prepped them with powders the night before so now I just needed to fill them. All 12 of them. Yes, I filled 12 bottles:

1 for pre-swim w/Skratch

3 to put on my bike, all with Skratch

3 to put in bike special needs, some with Skratch and one with NBS

4 flasks for my run bag, Skratch and NBS

1 bottle for run special needs, to refill my flasks.

And then I had a 1L bottle of water I filled halfway to sip on throughout the morning (note, I did not drink the whole thing!)

Phew, that’s a lot!

I finished putting things in my special needs bags, grabbed my bag full of water bottles and my transition bag, and headed out the door. I wasn’t sure how difficult it would be to find parking, so I left pretty early and made it to the parking garage just before 5.


Transition opened at 5 and closed at 6:30 and so I had plenty of time to get myself sorted. As I walked toward the terrace, I was able to drop my special needs bags in their designated drop off, which is right on the square just before the finish line. Then I headed in to the terrace to add my bottles to my run bag, and I also added 2 of my homemade PB & J rice cakes to my bike bag (and one was already in my special needs bag). After I made sure my gear bags were appropriately stocked, I headed to my bike to add my bottles, computer, and give my bike one last look over. There was definitely a nervous energy that you could almost touch in transition. It was surprisingly quiet with the exception of some small talk here and there and the distinct sound of tires being aired up. (side note: the woman next to me had an electric pump, which I hadn’t ever seen before at a race. That definitely was a different sound to start the morning.) Once I was confident in my set up (well, confident enough!) I headed out of transition and into the terrace to stay warm until needed to head towards the start.

One of the really cool features of IMWI is that Monona Terrace is essentially triathlete central for this race. It’s the convention center and the “changing tents” are actually conference rooms/ballrooms. There are real bathrooms to use- and this is one instance where I’m okay with the # of men being much larger than women because there was always a line for the men’s room, but never the women’s! And, in case of cold weather, you can hang out inside to stay warm before the race. I found a spot on the floor next to one of my TriMarni teammates and we hung out until it was time to head to the start.

After dropping my morning clothes bag, I eventually made my way into the swim corral. It was a rolling start, with people self-seeding. Marni had told me to line up with the 1:00-1:05 group, so I headed towards the front of the corral only to see the sign for 1:01-1:10. I kept wondering when the person with the sub 1:00 sign would show up, so that the faster swimmers would move ahead, but that never happened. I stood off to the side along the fence, right by the glasses table. I chatted with a few people around me, including my new friend Amelia, whose quick thinking to do a little swimmer dance when the camera came near, landed us a spot in the race-day video!


Soon, it was national anthem time and then the pro start, and then they started the AG athletes at 6:50am. Since I knew there had to be some sub 1:00 swimmers (and I hoped they had lined up near the front of my group) I let a few rows of people go ahead of me before I made my way under the arch and to the water’s edge. “Here we go!” I thought and I started my watch and dove in.


The water was in the low 70s, which to me felt perfect in my wetsuit- if even a little warm by the very end. The water was a lot calmer than it had been the prior afternoon when I dropped my bike off- I was so thankful there were no white caps. But that being said, there was a little bit of wind in the morning (which was only going to pick up throughout the day) which made it a little choppy. The swim is one big loop: first you swim parallel to the shore, then make a left and swim out into the lake for a little, make another left and swim for a good mile back, and then make another left towards the shore and swim all the way in. When I started the swim, I was sandwiched between two people and I felt like we were heading too far in towards the center of the lake rather than swimming parallel to the shore. After a few failed attempts to push them both to the right a little, I stopped, let them get out of my way and continued on my own course, towards the first turn buoy.

I feel like I was constantly surrounded by people- sometimes being able to catch a draft, other times I was being drafted off of. On this first segment, I saw a pink cap with a purple sleeved wetsuit swim up next to me and as soon as I saw the goggles, I knew it was Marni. I had been wondering where she was, and was happy to be along side a familiar face. She’s a super swimmer and I knew she would go sub 1:00, which was my stretch goal, so I considered trying to stay with her. But I knew I had a long day ahead of me and didn’t want to push it too hard on the swim. I’ve been really focusing on my IM effort being about 80%, so I told myself to swim my own race and stick to my own pace. She put a few body lengths between us right before the first turn buoy, and then shortly after making the turn, I lost her.

The swim out to the next turn buoy was pretty choppy and the sun was directly in our eyes. Again, I swam next to people pretty much this whole time, but again bounced between being the one drafted off of and drafting off of others.

Once we made the next turn, I knew we had a LONG stretch. This was the longest leg of the swim, and I just tried to find my rhythm and stay in my own race. For this section, I fluctuated between feeling really smooth and feeling like I couldn’t find my rhythm. I found feet when I could and got a little help, and other times, I had some open water. Just about the time I was thinking, man this is a long swim, when is it going to be done? I was nearing the last turn buoy! Hooray! Sure, we still had a ways to go, but OMG I’m almost done the swim leg of my Ironman.

As we approached the swim exit, I had a feeling I didn’t break 1:00 like I really wanted to. I was guessing maybe 1:02. I gave myself a little pep talk because 1:02 is totally respectable! Soon, I touched the ground and a volunteer helped me out of the water. I pressed lap on my watch and my feeling had been right- no sub hour. Oh well, I swam my own race and most certainly did not over do it out there, which was the smart thing to do on such a long day.

Official Time: 1:01:35

T1: I pulled my wetsuit off my shoulders and down to my waist. I opted to skip the wetsuit peelers because I didn’t want to lay down on the cold ground. As I pulled my wetsuit off my arms, I heard my watch beep. Uh oh, I think I just hit a button I shouldn’t have.

I have never experienced a swim exit/T1 like this before. It was absolutely insane in the best way possible. After the wetsuit peeler station, you continue to run towards the terrace and then up the helix for the parking garage. The entire way, and I mean ENTIRE way there were tons of people- often 3-5 rows deep cheering for us. It was seriously the coolest thing ever, and you feel like a million bucks. It was a GREAT way to end the swim and begin the next part of the race.


(Photo courtesy of Erin!)

Once I made it into T1, I had a volunteer help me get myself sorted. Man, I had a lot to get sorted. I decided that I had wanted to put on my compression socks for the bike for a little extra warmth. This required me to take off my chip (which I had safety pinned the strap) and then put them on while wet. Not the easiest thing to do, even with the help of a volunteer. I also made a game time decision to go with arm warmers and newspaper, rather than my jacket, so my volunteer was unwrapping my arm warmers. And then, I needed to throw my skratch chews and rice cakes in my back pockets. Finally, I was able to put on my helmet and sunglasses, grab my shoes and head out to my bike. I opted to carry my shoes and run in my socks because my bike was at the far end of transition, close to bike out. I didn’t want to risk falling on my butt because I was running in bike shoes! As I approached my rack, I called out my number and when I was at my rack, I put on my shoes and a volunteer gave me my bike. As I was leaving transition, I heard Karel yell my name. I looked up and searched the crowd to find him and wave hello. Time to go bike!

Official time: 00:10:11 (oops, that was a little bit long!)


Photo from Karel


I knew going in to this bike it was a tough and technical course, with over 5,000 feet of climbing (5,115 feet according to my Garmin). The “technical” part I think comes from all the turns. I mean ALL the turns. I think there are about 200 turns over the course of 112 miles! Oh, and everyone always complains about the conditions of the road- hello roads that are terrorized by horrible winters. The course is a “lolipop” with a stick and a loop, and you ride the loop twice. I had ridden a section of the loop a few days prior to the course and then drove the rest of it, so I had some sense of what to expect on race day. It was rough for sure, but I definitely ride some roads of comparable conditions here in FL.

I carefully rode down the helix to get started on the stick. I don’t remember too much exciting from the stick, other than having a slight tailwind. I looked down at my Garmin and was like WHOA, a little speedy there Steph, but soon I made a turn and the tailwind ceased. People joke that the ride really begins when you start the loop, and it kinda did feel that way. The roads got a little rougher and there was immediately a short punchy hill.


Another Erin Photo!

I’m not gonna lie, that first part of the loop isn’t really exciting. Lots of turns, rough roads and nothing much to look at. However, there was one house that had LOUD dance music playing and that was awesome. I feel like the interesting part of the course starts when you get to Mount Horeb. Mount Horeb is the longest climb on the course, and it’s really not that long. I got to the top with a smile on my face and spotted my TriMarni teammate Diane who was there to cheer. There was a decent number of people out there cheering, and a woman with a sign that literally made me LOL (but I can’t remember what it said!) It was fun to see people out on the bike course – which typically doesn’t happen- and this was only the beginning- there were waaaay more crowds to come!

The bike is infamous for what people call the three witches (or B@#$*!S) – three short but steep hills which are kinda a pain, and you get the pleasure of riding them twice. However, these hills are LINED with spectators. Seriously, it was like a tailgate out there- someone offered me a corn on the cob (which I almost took) at the second hill! The crowd’s energy was incredible and it just made those hills WAY more tolerable than if I was out there grinding alone.


Soon I was wrapping up my first lap and I couldn’t believe it! I was doing this thing and having a great day! I stopped at special needs and swapped out my bottles and grabbed more skratch chews and headed out for lap two. (I wasn’t going to write this because I didn’t want to sound like a jerk, but the one thing I remember from special needs is riding up and stopping in front of where the bags for my number were.  I had heard them call my number and I yelled my number as I slowed. There was no one there with my bag ready to go; the volunteer who presumably was manning the bags that were in my number range was standing off to the side eating a sandwich. I yelled my number again, and noted that the cyclist who had come in behind me and was stopped at the next row over was being assisted. I’m sure it was only seconds later – but it felt like forever until volunteers from the next line of bags down scrambled to grab my bag and help me out. I was super appreciative for their help but in the moment I was kinda frustrated. Looking back, I know how silly and selfish that is! The volunteers need to eat, and they’re VOLUNTEERING their time. And, it’s not like a few extra seconds was going to kill me!) I tolerated the first part of the loop, and enjoyed (well, as much as one can when riding 112 miles!) the last part of the loop before heading back on the stick. Ooh, that way back. It is so deceiving because you’re like “ooh, I’m almost done, since I’m done the loops.” No, no you are not almost done. You still have 12 miles, on crappy roads OH, and throw in a headwind. UGH. It was not the most pleasant final section of a ride, but I got through it. It was nice to also see one of my TriMarni teammates ride by me. We exchanged a few words to check in with each other and then he took off.

Soon, I found myself back at the Terrace! I switched to a low gear to ride back up the helix, and once at the top, I carefully dismounted, stopped my Garmin (I even joked with the volunteer about #priorities), and headed into the Terrace. I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t have that terrible feeling of OMG I just want to be off the bike. Sure I was ready to be done, but I didn’t have any ill feelings towards being on my bike. I’ll count that as a win!

Official Time: 06:12:59

T2: As I ran into the women’s changing room at Monona Terrace, I immediately heard “STEPH!” and was greeted by my friend Jess with a big hug and huge smile. Gosh, it was so nice to see a familiar face and such positive energy! Seriously, made my day! Jess was a super volunteer (she’s volunteered in T2 several times before and is a triathlete herself) and helped me get all ready for my run. It was definitely a quicker transition than the bike! She had me ready and off and running in what felt like record time!

Side note:  I realize that I have now had two super positive Ironman T2 experiences with friends named Jess. See IM Coz race report. I think this means it’s becoming a tradition?

Official Time: 00:04:08


I ran out of the Terrace into a beautiful, sunny, late afternoon. It was such a beautiful day out, and I was excited to see how epic this run course would be with all the spectators. I may have taken it out a teensy bit too fast, but I was energized by the crowds. I started out the run feeling solid- I was running well and I was hopeful I’d keep running strong. I saw friendly faces all over the course, including my AirBnB host and one of my old co-workers. I reminded myself to continue fueling and just keep putting one foot in front of the other. I was pleasantly surprised by how well I was doing.


Photo thanks to Kathy!

Unfortunately, I started feeling not so great around mile 11 or so. I had a little bit of an unsettled tummy, but I was just feeling sluggish. My hands were also feeling a little tingly and numb. I assumed that was circulation- maybe I was running really stiff in my shoulders or something so I kept trying to shake out my hands but nothing seemed to work. Around the halfway mark (ish) one of my teammates ran past me. She was looking great! We exchanged and few words of encouragement, and I kept trying to resolve my issues. I ate a tums, and that actually helped my tummy, but my run just kept getting slower and slower, and my walk breaks were longer and longer. I was getting so frustrated because I trained so hard this summer- I didn’t train to walk this much! I forced myself to run when I could, but again, I was feeling blah. That’s totally expected in the marathon of an Ironman, and so much of the Ironman is mental strength. So I just kept up positive self-talk and forced myself to keep moving forward.


Former colleague Danielle took this photo!

At one point, I though that maybe I should try going to the bathroom. I had kinda needed to pee when I started the run, but the feeling passed as I got further along. I had been drinking a fair amount of water so I wondered if I could get some relief that way. I love my Naked running belt and I love my one piece tri suit, but they are seriously a hassle to get out of, especially when you’re 15 miles in to the marathon of an Ironman. So, I just sat down on the porto potty and went, without pulling my kit down. Yup, I just told the internet that. Sorry for the TMI, but that’s the reality of an Ironman. The brief moment of being seated was nice, and my stomach felt a little better after going, but it didn’t solve all my problems.

The tingling in my hands didn’t stop despite me raising my arms, shaking my hands etc. so I started to realize that this must have been nutrition/electrolytes related. I started grabbing pretzels or chips at every aid station, but could only stomach so many. It helped a little but then I’d quickly be back to feeling blah. One of my TriMarni teammates was on his first lap and he caught up to me and we walked together for a bit. We played leap frog for a bit, but eventually we parted ways. I was getting incredibly frustrated by my pace because I knew I had a better race in me, but my out of whack electrolytes were causing me to have a stinky run. As I approached the aide station around mile 23 or so (I think?) I saw them handing out chicken broth and decided what the heck, it can’t hurt at this point, right? Everyone always talks about how great this stuff is, so why not give it a shot? I gagged a little at the smell (it’s been a long time since I’ve eaten chicken) but slurped it down. Within 1/4 mile (maybe, I’m not really be sure) I started to feel better. Like A LOT better. I started to run, and run well. The tingling was gone and it was like I was a new person. At the remaining aide stations that had broth, I took it, and continued to run strong.

I ran up State Street and around the capitol square with a huge smile on my face. I knew I was running fast, maybe too fast to really take it all in, but I just felt so good (finally). I could hear the finish line and just got so excited that I was finishing this ironman feeling GOOD. I could feel myself getting choked up as I came around that last turn to hear Mike Reilly calling my name. “Stephanie Gibson, You are an Ironman!” Seriously, there is NOTHING that compares to that finish line feeling. I crossed the finish line and was greeted by volunteers and a huge hug from my friend Rendy (she works for IM and was able to be at the finish line). It was so incredible to have a familiar at the finish line! I let the volunteers guide me to the food tent and wrap me in a mylar blanket, as it was starting to cool down as the sun set. I sat down to relax and revel in what I had just accomplished. I would highly highly highly recommend IMWI- the crowd support is second to none which makes fo an absolutely unforgettable day. Thank you Madison for a great event!

Official Time: 04:55:57



I crossed that line so proud of what I had accomplished, but I’d be lying if I told you I was satisfied with that run. It’s an Ironman and anything can happen, but I’m confident I have a better marathon in me.

For reference, here are my last few splits according to Garmin:

Mile 23: 15:55 (OOF!)

Mile 24: 12:49

Mile 25: 10:38

Mile 26: 9:47

Last .45 according to Garmin: 8:02.

I’m not sure when I’ll have another go at this distance, maybe 2019? Maybe not for another few years? That’s still TBD for now. But for now,  I’m gonna enjoy a little off season!




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