By Robin Rongey
with comments from Chuck in orange
How many times do you think it will
take before I say NO when someone suggests I do something stupid with them? So this is how the story goes. Just over a
year ago, my friend and teammate, Chuck suggested I do an Ironman with
him. Of course at first I was like “no
way” then after a while I gave in and said yes.
Chuck said I found the perfect race, Ironman Wisconsin, it’s a 5 hour
drive, it should be cool by September and it gives us all summer to train. So we had a plan and the minute registration
opened for the race, we were online and both in. Now this is something you need to know in
case you ever want to do an Ironman race, registration fees are awful, $650
dollars per person and don’t even think of backing out, not for any reason,
because they already have your money and they don’t care. I mean even if you break your tailbone, still
not a good enough reason to get your money back. So once you’re in, you may do what I did,
start thinking this was not one of my better choices.
Chuck and I got a training plan from
our friend Jeff. It was a 25 week plan, in just 25 short weeks we would be
called Ironman! Then about half way
through the plan, we started to hate training, every day, every weekend, our
whole life revolved around Ironman training.
We had to miss races because we needed to do long workouts, we had to
schedule early morning workouts to fit all the training into our day. It was grueling. Next thing we knew every time someone would
ask, “how is Ironman training going”, we would both say, Ironman sucks. By the time race weekend got here, we were
both just ready to get it over with.
I say IM weekend because that is what
it is, an entire weekend.
If you ever decide to do one of these races be sure to budget 3 days in a hotel along with that monster entrry fee.
You have to sign in on Friday, attend
the IM dinner and pre-race meeting on Friday night, drop our bike and
transition bags on Saturday, and of course hang out in IM village fulfilling
all your IM needs.
|Loot I bought, but said I wouldn't use unless I finished|
Chuck and I met in Madison and went
through all the motions to prepare for the race, We stood in line to check-in.
I couldn't believe the lines of people all over, but the volunteers had them moving along pretty quickly
|Line to check-in|
We went to the dinner/meeting and were
more nervous after than we were before all the stories were told and the race information
was given out.
|The Voice of Ironman|
I didn't even know Ironman had a voice before this dinner, but the guy was a great speaker and kept us entertained. Lucky too, dang dinner lasted almost three hours.
You are allowed to buy dinner tickets for friends and family so they can attend also. But they are pretty pricey ($30 each) for pasta, cold vegetables, and hard bread. Luckily we decided against purchasing them.
On Saturday we got our gear and bikes
checked in while Rob and Lori took photos.
|My Beautiful Bike|
We had pizza for lunch, and then had
dinner at noodles, carb loading you know.
Andrea, Russ and Madison came to cheer us on and they graciously helped
out by bringing my China doll with them.
If you don’t know who my China doll is, it’s my daughter, and between
her and Madison, I knew we would have a great cheering section, since they are
both varsity cheerleaders at their high school.
But it all comes at a price, I also had to go to the local mall and buy
a homecoming dress for China while I was there. Good thing I had Madison along,
I’m not good at this dress thing and she helped China pick out the perfect
dress. Oh and they got some
encouragement from a close friend while at the mall too.
|A little dress shopping|
So I guess you can say I had two
great accomplishments over the weekend, I made it through dress shopping alive
and finished a simple little Ironman.
And I found a cool backpacking and adventure gear store. They had a pretty good selection of backpacking stoves that I was playing with. I didn't buy any though, think I want to build my own like Patrick Albert, I love little projects like that.
Back at the hotel I double and triple
checked my gear, I set the alarms on my watch, phone and the alarm clock and
then went to bed. At 5:15 am on race day
we were off to do what so many people have never done. I felt like I was going to puke, and was
having a hard time eating, so I took some little white donuts with me, you know
that is the breakfast of champions.
Chuck and I did a final check of our bikes, then dropped out our special
needs bags and headed to the water.
We put on our wetsuits and were
standing there ready to go when I realized that I still had my socks and shoes
on. I hurried and took my shoes and
socks off, then we headed for the water, and I still felt like I was going to
|Why does Chuck look so happy -|
Because the 25 weeks of IM is almost over!
The swim took a long time, and I
found myself off course more than a few times, I was just trying to swim the
This was the part of the race I was most afraid of. Funny it worked out to be the easiest and most enjoyable leg. The kayak volunteers were great, there were several times I would look up and see one of them hovering near me, guiding me back into the swim course (I swim all over the place and can never seem to go straight)
As I stood up to run out of the lake,
I heard the voice of Ironman say, “Chuck Vohsen from St Paul, MO is out of the
water”, then the next words out of his mouth was “Robin Rongey from
Edwardsville, Il is out of the water”.
Chuck beat me out of the water by about 10 seconds.
There were several things I wanted to get out of this IM experience, one of them was the wetsuit stripping. (haha, I dunno why, just something that seemed cool). So I made sure I stopped and two volunteers grabbed my suit as I sat down and put my feet up, they yanked it off and I was on my way again in seconds.
I caught him on his way to transition, we
both ran in to change clothes and I just couldn’t seem to get things working
right. I finally just let the volunteer
help me with everything, she pulled my clothes off, helped me pull the dry
stuff on, got me water made sure I was eating, helped with my shoes and sent me
on my way. Chuck was much faster and he
was ahead of me when I got on the bike.
As I was running to my bike I could see China and Madison above me
hanging over the wall screaming. It’s
really hard to explain the feeling you get when you know the people who are
cheering you on really love you and want you to succeed.
I headed out on the bike leg and was
passing people, and at about 5 miles I passed Chuck, I didn’t even see him, but
I heard him yell, “Go Robin”. I yelled hey Chuck and kept pedaling hoping I
wasn’t going out too fast, but I felt pretty good, I was pushing the small ring
and not working too hard.
What came next was probably the
downfall of my race. I know you think it
was the crazy hard hills, but it wasn’t, it was the awful wind. I heard the wind was 15 to 20 mph, and I
believe that to be true, if not worse.
It was a head wind for most of the race and it never let up. At one point I was on a steep decent that
should have pushed me to 35 mph and I was going 18 because the wind was so
|Ah How I love a Good Headwind|
|At Least My Bike Looks Fast|
By now I was feeling so mentally distraught
because my average speed was much lower than I had planned, but all the
spectators on the course really helped me get out of my funk, they were
everywhere, cheering like I was their best friend. On the big hills they were 3 and 4 deep, and
some were dressed up in costumes, and they would run up the hill next to me
screaming that I could do it. The hills
were steep and long, and these people I didn’t even know were running beside me
doing everything they could to help me get to the top of that hill.
I was slowly cranking up this giant hill and seen a guy (wearing a tiny Speedo) had a sign on his back saying "Catch me if you can!!!" I called over to him "I'll go!" he took off running up the hill and I chased him. Hahah, another one of those IM experiences. Was a bad decision though, I was spent at the top and had to spin easy and recover for awhile.
The spectators were giving me crazy,
unimaginable support. Then at about 45 miles,
I see Russ and Rob, then further up the road I see Lori and China, and that
came at just the right point, when I was felling mentally drained and I needed
a boost. I started the second loop,
stopped at mile 58 for my special needs bag, where a grabbed my can of fruit
juice and some pretzels then headed back out.
As I rode I saw signs posted all over
the road, some encouraging, some funny, all helpful. One guy was holding a sign that said “smile
if you’re not wearing underwear”, of course I smiled.
|A Supportive Sign|
Some other signs I saw:
If triathlon was easy it would be your Mom
Triathletes have balls, other sports just play with them
What the F#%& took you so long?
Then it hit, disaster, the last 40
miles of the bike leg my quads started cramping, and I was having problems
seeing out of one eye. I thought the eye
thing was just salt getting all over my glasses, but later found it to be something
else. Oh and I saw a unicorn, I thought
for sure my race was over when I saw that, but then I realized it was just some
guy in a unicorn costume. I finally
finished the bike leg by riding back up the same parking garage ramp that I
rode out on.
|IN/OUT Bike Transition|
I was a little worried about riding back up the helix after 112 miles, but it turned out to be no big deal after the hills out on the course.
I had a little problem getting my leg
off my bike, but I got through it. I ran into transition and got through it
pretty quick, the volunteer helped me get my jersey on, got me water and found
me some Vaseline to put on my chaffed arm.
I was heading toward the run out, when a guy yells down to me from
above, to make sure I eat and drink. I
think it was because I was looking so skinny, I needed food, ok probably not,
but that’s what I want to think.
I started out on the run and came
around the first corner that runs right by the finish line. Standing there was Andrea and Russ cheering
me on, then I made the next corner and saw Rob, China and Madison. I stopped and hugged the girls then took off.
I don't know how to say enough about the crowds of people on the run course. It was a total holiday atmosphere. There had to be 100,000 people out screaming encouragement for us. Our race numbers had our names printed on them, so tons of people would call you out: "Go Chuck!" "Chuck, you're going to be an Ironman!" It was just incredible.
My legs were cramping, but I just
kept running, thinking I would just get some salty foods at the water stops and
work it out. Then I kept trying to wipe
my eye because I couldn’t see out of it, it was just blurry grey, when I
finally figured out there was nothing in my eye, I realized it was a low sugar
thing, I needed to get my sugar back up to get it to clear up. So now I was trying to eat grapes for the
sugar and drink chicken broth for the cramps, while fending off my upset
stomach. It wasn’t going well, but at least I was still running, stopping only
to walk through the water stops. I did
walk up observatory hill too, but I think everyone was walking up that hill. At mile 13.1 I started the second lap and
knew that there was no way I was going to finish in my goal time, but I just
thought, goal or not, I’m going to finish this.
I paid $650 dollars to do this and I’m going to get my money’s worth out
of it. I ran through the Wisconsin’s
badgers stadium for the second time looking at all the empty seats and thinking
that what I have been feeling on the streets with thousands of people cheering
me on, is probably what it feels like to play football in that stadium. The feeling was so amazing.
The crowds were still huge even at 10pm that night.
I had passed mile 18 headed for 19
and Chuck comes up next to me and he says “hey, aren’t you that Trek Mountain
Girl, I read you blog all the time”. I just acted like I didn’t know him and
said “yeah I am” and started laughing.
We were just getting to observatory hill for the second and last time,
so we started walking it and Chuck just about saved my life, he gave me some
ibuprofen which I really needed. At the
top of the hill I could tell Chuck was ready to go, I told him to take off and
not wait for me, so he took off. I was soon at my lowest point and feeling like
I might have to crawl to the finish line, when out of the blue, a guy cheering
on the side of the road held up a sign that said “Hey Stranger, I’m proud of
you”. Wow, I almost started crying, and then I thought, if he thinks I can do
it, then I can do it. The ibuprofen
kicked in and I started feeling better, then at the mile 22 turn around, I saw
Chuck ahead of me, but not as far as I would have thought he would be, we
yelled at each other and kept going. Oh, and my eye was getting better, although
still foggy I could now see things through it.
Chuck headed in and crossed the line
about 20 minutes ahead of me, enjoying every minute of it.
|Chuck is about to be an Ironman|
I soon came to the last half mile and
saw Russ, he jumped in and ran with me for a couple minutes then headed to the
side of the road to cheer me to the finish.
|Robin is about to be an Ironman|
I came around the last corner heading
to the finish line. Everyone was
reaching out giving me high fives, then I saw China, Rob, Lori and Chuck, I
stopped and kissed China and then ran through the finish line, with a smile on
my face, and a feeling of relief that it was over.
Then a volunteer put a big honking
medal around my neck, it was so heavy I couldn’t hardly keep it from pulling me
to the ground, ok, maybe not that big, but pretty darn big.
I was walked through the finish line
by the volunteer, handed a finisher hat and shirt, taken over for a short photo
shoot. Those are the pictures they later
sell to you for a million dollars, but you know you have to have one. Oh and I asked the volunteer to make sure I looked
good, I wanted a good photo, so the photographer made sure it was good. I walk out the end of the finish chute to see
China standing there wrapped in a blanket waiting for me with a big smile on
her face, which was exactly what I needed at that second. I knew I did it and not on my own, I did it
with the help of so many.
|Call Me Ironman|
So a BIG thanks goes to my family for
putting up with all the long training hours, to my workout buddies, Jenny, Russ,
Jim, Carl and Chris, who came out at 5:30 am everyday to train with me and swim
in a hot green lake while it was still dark outside, to Russ who drove a boat
around the lake following my slow butt so that I could get long swims in, to
Mark who’s training consisted of pulling my butt around on long bike rides, to
the guys at the Cyclery who rushed to fix all the code blue problems that I ran
into the bike shop with, to Andy who figured out how to setup my bike and shoes
so my foot quit hurting all the time, to the St Louis Cycling Club for their continued
support and all the good advice I get from Louie and Jim, to John and the
Wednesday night gang for allowing me to ride with them all year, and of course
to Chuck for talking me into one on the biggest events of my life. Wow that was
one big run on sentence. BTW, Chuck I hate you!
Oh and I can't express to you how great the volunteers were and the spectators too, I want to say THANK YOU, YOU ROCK!
So many spectators were in costumes, they cracked me up. Here are a few I remember:
Fat guy suit
1920's dance hall women - fishnet stockings and all
Dudes in grass skirts with coconut boobs
Lotsa dudes in little speedos. Whats up with that?
Speedo guy with suspenders?
Group of Leprachauns
Bikini girls with signs saying "Ironmen are sexy"
Bongo drum guy
Group of guitar guys
Tons of crazy hats all over the place
Now I know you’re wondering, so
what did I get for my $650 dollars, well I got a ton of great loot, backpack,
license frame, hat, shirt, book, medal and I earned the right to use them and
show them off. Best of all I can be
proud to be called an Ironman! In fact Chuck and I just go by the name Ironman
now, when he calls me, he just says “hey Ironman” and I say “how’s it going
|All the Loot|
I do it again, well if you would have asked me between miles 55 and 90 on the
bike I would have said “NO”, if you would have asked me between miles 16 and 20
on the run, I would have said “HELL NO”, if you would have asked me after I ran
across the finish line, I would have said, “NO WAY”, if you ask me today, I
would say “One more time, then I’m done”. So look for my next report in 2014.
Yeah, I'm still solidly in the "HELL NO" camp. I miss mud and rocks and sand and ropes and paddles and poison ivy and spiders and nettle and blisters and maps and compass and roots and snakes and most of all ......ADVENTURE!