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That Was Then, This Is Now

My husband has a great idea — what if we posted some old race reports? It’s been so long since my races, I wondered if I still had them.

Gotta love cloud-based technology. My Ironman Wisconsin race report (from 2004) is below. So much has changed between then and now: the number of Ironman races in North America, my viewpoint on the sport (and my capabilities), and my reliance on friends and their knowledge to get me through. This time, training and racing is less about proving to myself that I can do it. This time, it’s more about getting back that feeling of accomplishment, getting back to that level of fitness, and finding a way to sacrifice less but still have a great result.

I’m not sure that I’m capable of a PR at Lake Placid. But I know a lot more now (than I did in 2004) about what it takes to race strong, and where to focus my training attention. So, this time, I think training is less about mental preparation and more about physical preparation. Which in some ways seems more daunting.

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On Saturday, September 25, 2004 4:05 PM, Monique Means wrote:

Well, it’s been 10 days since I finished Ironman Wisconsin and I think it’s been sufficient time for me to reflect on what exactly it took to get me there. I finished in 14 hours, 19 minutes and 1 second – more than an hour less than my projected time. It felt great – honestly the coolest, most overwhelming and rewarding feeling I have ever experienced. Infinitely better than a Duke win against Carolina at Cameron, and light years beyond last year’s Marine Corp Marathon finish. There are fewer than 10,000 Ironman North America finishers each year – and I am one of them.

Overall Time: 14:19:01
Overall Place: 1425; Overall Place in Division: 66/134
Swim Time: 1:22:23
T1 Transition: 9:35
Bike Time: 6:58:39
T2 Transition: 7:25
Run Time: 5:41:01

For those that want proof that I finished, check this link. (thanks for sending it Julie!)

For those that want to know what the race was like, read below (I will admit that this race report is more for me than it is for you – I apologize for the length). For those that only want the stats, here they are. (Yes, I am “Type-A-Cubed” and saved 95% of my receipts and logged all of my training miles.) Regardless of how scary the numbers look, it was 100% worth every penny, hour and mile!

Total Cost: = $9,698.01 (and that doesn’t include the grocery bills)

  • Cost per IM Moo Race Mile = $68.98
  • Cost per IM Moo Race Minute = $11.29


Total Miles Logged in Training = 3,313

  • Total Swim = 79.9
  • Total Bike = 2659
  • Total Run = 574.5


Total Family Sightings During Race = 9

  • Total Time Seen Family During Race = 90 seconds (obviously an estimate)
  • Average Family Wait between Sightings = 1 hour 35 minutes

The Set-up

I trained my butt off for the last 10 months. Pretty much every waking moment that I wasn’t working, traveling or eating, I was training or thinking about the race. If you ask Greg, my family and my friends, fun became a relative term. I obsessed about the race, convincing myself that I was, in fact, an athlete.

Days before the race, I was incredibly nervous. I knew that I had trained enough, and that I was prepared, but there were some major hard bodies there who just looked intimidating–like guy who rode around the IM Moo village with the zebra-striped jersey that matched his zebra-striped bike. He and the elite athletes could make you feel like you showed up at the race with your floaties for the swim, and a bike that had a basket and streamers on the handlebars. When the woman put my IM Moo wristband on me, I thought, “Oh my god, I’m really doing this.” Scary and exciting both.

The Swim

Stacey and I woke up at 4 am just to be sure that we didn’t have to rush. I began to eat my breakfast – a bagel with peanut butter, a banana and a bottle of water. I rechecked special needs bags for the bike and run, adding my Accelerade bottles and making sure I had enough variety in my mid-race treats. We watched MTV’s Insomniac Theater and jammed out to tunes that kept us from focusing on what we were going to do. Just before we left, I played U2’s Beautiful Day, twice, as my final motivation.

We got to the Swim start around 6:15 – and I was so happy to see Mom, my sister Holly, and her husband Matt – who all came out to Madison for me. Mom held up a great big green sign with white bold letters that said “GO MO.” I almost cried; mom did. The day before, she had told me that she brought two handkerchiefs with her because “It was an emotional day for her.” Little did she know…

The excitement was unbelievable. Music was playing as 2,188 athletes put on their wetsuits and caps (I later learned it would be the largest start in Ironman history – it turns out that fewer people dropped out than expected, and that the race was well over its projected 1800 figure.) As I headed to the water, I looked up at my family and saw Greg, standing on the sideline, with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on his face. His eyes looked excited and he made me feel so proud, so relaxed.

It was an open water, mass start – which means that all athletes (pros and age groupers, men and women) were treading water waiting for start. When the cannon went off, I could hear the music – Coldplay’s “Clocks” and I focused on the beat of the tune and sang the chorus repeatedly to myself. As I searched for a rhythm to my swim, I looked out on the shore and saw thousands of spectators. I heard their cheers, the blaring of the music and the cow bells they were shaking so vigorously. I thought to myself, “I’m doing an Ironman swim. This is incredible.”

I spent much of the hour and 22 minutes searching for folks to draft off. My coach had reminded us to use others to our advantage here – to save our strength. I used very little of my legs on the swim, and focused on smooth, strong strokes, and finding my next big guy to become my “swimming friend”. Believe it or not, the two loops went pretty quickly. Other than a kick to the jaw and about two dozen folks trying to swim over me, I had a good time. I learned to stand my ground in the water and “fight back” for my own swim space. Weaker swimmers seemed to yield to stronger ones. I just faked it and it worked.

As I rounded the last buoy and headed for shore, I actually was kind of sad that it was over. I tried to savor every minute of the experience because I wasn’t sure if I would ever get a chance to do it again. I got close to the dock and was pleasantly surprised to find two guys who had the job of pulling folks over the entry ramp and onto the dock. I remembered Julie’s comment, “Thank everyone, thank all the volunteers and spectators, and smile all day.” I thanked these guys profusely and ran up the ramp to find the next set of volunteers –the “Peelers.”

Yes, believe it or not, these people have the sole responsibility of pulling off your wetsuit. Talk about the best job to checkout the hard bodies! I had pulled my wetsuit down to my waist and found a pair that was looking for a triathlete. I sat down in front of the Peelers and they ripped my wetsuit off my legs, yanked me up and handed me my suit as they pointed me up the ramp to the transition area. This too, was pretty cool. A volunteer yelled out my number while another retrieved the transition bag that held all of my bike gear. This lady met me at the changing room door and she followed me to an open chair. She was fabulous. She dumped out my bag and said, “what first.” There was incredible energy in the room and I was surprised that I could think so clearly. I worked from the top down; and the volunteer helped me put on my clothes, and even gave me my socks individually. She was from Iowa and was there to support a friend of hers who was competing. I thanked her profusely, wished her friend luck, and ran to find my bike.

The Bike

I had heard about this next part, but hadn’t yet experienced it. As I ran out the changing room toward the bike racks, I stopped at the next set of volunteers – put out my arms and yelled, “Sunscreen please!” Instantaneously, three people with rubber gloves slathered my arms, legs and neck with SPF. One woman even tucked in the tag from my shirt so that I wouldn’t chafe –incredible.

So, imagine a parking lot, 1.5 football fields in length, holding 2200 bikes. The sight is spectacular. I ran through the entry, looking for the row that held bike 2107. I grabbed her (my bike, that is) off the rack and ran as quickly as I could in my bike shoes to the other end of the transition area. It was like rush hour with people merging into the center lane – organized chaos. I crossed the mounting line, took a deep breath, and got on my bike. As I rode down the helix (read, circular parking garage exit ramp), I thought “slow and steady – ride smart, ignore the jackasses passing you. They’ll get penalties later for drafting.” As I hit the straightaway, I saw the big green sign, yelled for my family and waved past them. I felt good, but the hard part was up ahead.

The course is described as “technical,” which means you have to have a strategy to riding the hills. You can’t just coast downhill– you actually have to pedal as you descend so that you have enough momentum to help you get up the inclines. Since I had ridden the course earlier in the summer (which was one of the smartest training moves I made), I was well prepared. Others on the course, however were not. After the first 15 miles, the bikers thinned out and I was able to set my own pace for the day. My coach had told me, “Monique, you’re a strong biker, but go easier than you think you should on the first loop. Save your energy for the second loop. But more importantly, save your legs for the run.”

He was right. I was a strong biker. But even then, I felt smart about how I rode. I was conservative, and focused only on my odometer’s readout of MPH and total miles. Time wasn’t an issue here – I was looking only for a good, solid ride. I ignored my heart rate monitor and went by how I felt. I focused on eating every 15 miles (260 calories – two calories for every pound I weigh). That meant a Cliff Bar or two gels about every hour. I also focused on taking electrolyte tablets – one every 10 miles – to ensure that I had enough sodium in my system, and that the calcium and magnesium was sufficient to settle my stomach.

It was hot. Very hot. The original forecast for the day had been high 60s, however it turned out to be mid to upper-80s. My coach and other IM veterans had told me, “It might not all come together for you out there. Have a contingency plan if your stomach doesn’t agree with you. If you can’t get the calories in, you can’t race.” Well, my endurance drink (like Gatoraid with protein) just turned my stomach. Though I had trained with it all season, today was the day that I just couldn’t do it. So, instead of panicking, I made a conscious effort to drink even more water – taking a bottle every 10 miles at the aid stations – and kept on going. At mile 40 when my stomach still was sour and it was time for “Round two” of the food, I gave myself 5 miles to sip some water, and then treated myself to the Peanut Butter Cliff Bar. All was well.

Again, the volunteers (3500+ in total) and spectators were amazing. 20-40 people were at every aid station handing out water, Gatoraid, GU, oranges, cookies, etc. For everything except for the water folks, I remembered Julie’s comments and said, “No thank you” instead of just shaking my head as I rode past them. The best volunteers, however were on the two big climbs on the bike course. I felt like Lance Armstrong as I rode up those steep hills – at 6 mph and in my lowest gear – just hoping that I had enough momentum to turnover the pedals and not fall over. These people lined the road, two and three deep on the hills and were yelling, “2107 – you look good” or “2107, keep smiling, you’re almost there.” They blasted radios, clapped their hands feverishly and shook the hell out of those cowbells. At one point, a guy in a devil costume even ran up the hill beside me. I pushed myself as hard as I could and tried to focus on anything other than my efforts as I turned over the pedals –I was singing the choruses of songs I knew – “Beautiful Day” got more airplay than I ever thought possible. When it really got tough, I though about my first triathlon coach, Suzy Blanton. She died almost two years ago in a bike accident in Colorado – a severe loss to all who knew her. I though about how she would be just like the other spectators – jumping up and down and telling me that I was going to be an Ironman. (She must be so proud.) Though I felt like heaving after every major hill, I slowly pedaled on the downhill, caught my breath, and looked ahead for the next obstacle.

The only training partner that I saw on the bike was Christine (who had an amazing ride!) and we jockeyed back and forth during the first 15 miles. To make the time pass after that, I made other friends along the course. I would say “hello” to people as I passed them, or encouraged them by saying “see you on the downhill.” To those who would pass by me, I would say, “if you pass me, you have to say something nice.” For the most part, bikers would chuckle and then say encouraging words like, “you look great” or “good luck.” That made it not so bad when you felt like you were getting lapped. The best part though had to be around mile 80 when I passed a buff-looking woman on a really expensive bike in the last of three successive rolling hills. She looked at me with a combination of disgust and respect as she said, “You’re climbing really well.” Now that truly made me feel great.

I don’t know much about the friends I met – Mr. Oliver, Greg from Madison or the man I called “Mr. Smiley” (because he had a smiley-face drawn on his calf), but these athletes gave me hours of camaraderie and made the hills of Madison so much more palatable. Though we kept jockeying for position, I enjoyed the game of keep-up and hoped that I would have more of a chance to see them on the run. I hope they had great days.

As I hit mile 100 on the bike, passing the last, big hill on the way back to town, I passed a man who said “get me off this bike.” Much like the swim, I was almost sad that it was over. I thought to myself, “I could easily go another 30 miles if I had to.” As I got to the downtown area that circled Lake Manona , I looked out to the Helix and realized, that I was going to make it. All the fear that I had about crashing on my bike – in my mind, the real potential obstacle I had to finishing the race, my eyes got teary. I was going to be an Ironman. I only had a marathon left – and that seemed so possible. I pushed myself up the Helix (which, in retrospect wasn’t as cruel as it seemed at the time,) and jumped off to give my bike to some really nice Wisconsin student. I thanked him profusely.

The Run

I made one mistake at Ironman, and that was forgetting to change my shorts in transition (which makes me laugh because I made a similar mistake at my ½ Ironman earlier this year.) Somehow, when the volunteer held up my extra clothes, I just had no idea what they were – and thought, “if you don’t think you need it, you don’t.” It wasn’t until mile 1 ½ that I realized my error. Since it was so hot, I had dumped a glass of water over my head and couldn’t figure out why my pants were so wet – imagine the horseshoe chafing from 26.2 miles of running in those puppies. It wasn’t pretty.

I slowly ran the first three miles but realized that the effort was too much. Running was almost unbearable in the heat so I realized that my original plan to only walk the water stops was too optimistic. I decided to walk ½ a mile – and then modified that plan again. Anything flat or downhill, I ran. Anything remotely uphill, I walked. The reassuring part – virtually everyone around me was in the same boat. I have never seen a race where there were more “pedestrians”. (At the awards luncheon the next day, I learned that this was one of the harder races because of the heat – finishing in my time then seemed so much sweeter.)

The best part was seeing my family and friends so many times. Because the course was two loops, I got to see my coach, and Ed, as they continued through their second loop. I saw Lizzy, who gave me so much motivation when every time she passed me she yelled “You are my Hero”. I loved it (thank you Lizzy). I witnessed Tracey’s amazing marathon as she passed me just after the special needs station at mile 13.1 – what amateur runs a 4:15 marathon at Ironman anyway? Then, I got to see the faces of so many others – Stacey, Marcie (who beamed when she rapidly recapped the story of making the bike cutoff), Lance and Matt – who I wished I had seen earlier in the run (apparently, his freshly-laundered shorts had missed the rinse cycle and began “blowing bubbles” when they got wet. Apparently all the spectators just stared not knowing what was happening!) Seeing all of my familiar faces made the experience seem so real – and seeing them along the way was so fitting.

And then there’s my family. Even when I looked horrible – and I knew it – they lied and told me that I looked great. They ran down the blocks with me, and cheered so loudly that others in the crowd would say “you have quite a fan club.” I did. I do, and I knew I was lucky. Holly even called my dad in Virginia to give him the play-by-play – and passed along his well wishes to me “live”. Now that was inspirational.

Eventually it got dark, and as I passed along State Street , I jammed to some 80s tunes and stopped to get a glow-in-the-dark-necklace. It was after the turnaround, maybe around mile 17, and I knew I was on the homestretch. I picked up the pace and headed toward the mile-long path in the woods. Other than the finish line, this is my favorite visual from the run course. Imagine a dark trail, with only the glow of necklaces in front of you and the glimmer of flood lights in the distance. I was torn behind wanting to savor the moment and getting inspired to pick up the pace. I kept going and pushed myself to the next aid station.

It was about mile 20 that I realized the blister on the bottom of my foot and the exhaustion from the day were going to keep me from running most of last six miles. I jogged some, but in all honesty walked quite a bit. Did I have any shame in this – absolutely not. Instead, I made friends along the way – hearing my fellow athletes’ stories and learning about what made them want to be an Ironman. It seemed fitting to end my race with a group of folks – both like me and so unlike me – all together in the same journey. As I got to mile 25, I realized that I had moved far beyond my fellow walkers. Gail suddenly ran past me and said, “Monique, it’s one more mile – come on and run with me. I’m aso proud of you.” I thanked her and told her I couldn’t do it. The odd part was, I knew I could, but for some reason I didn’t want it to be over. My entire life for 10 months was suddenly going to be over in a few short minutes. My body wanted it over but my emotions just weren’t prepared. As I reached the capital, people started yelling my name and saying I was going to be an Ironman. My eyes got glassy and then I just kicked into a sprint.

I saw the finishers’ line – and just focused on the hole between the logos. The stands that lined the path were filled with screaming families, friends and finishers. The spirit was electric and so uplifting. I wanted it to last forever. I threw up my arms, looked to the sky and felt the most amazing, rewarding, electrifying, all-consuming feeling of excitement, relief and gratification. It only took a second to cross that line, but the feeling is there still.

My “catchers” (volunteers at the finish line who take care of you after the race) asked me three times if I wanted to go the medical tent. I was smiling and crying and breathing hard and all I could say was “no thank you”. (They apparently had some major emergencies that day and at least three of fellow training partners got the scenic tour of the medical facilities.) I got my medal, t-shirt and photo, and then scanned the crowd for my family.

As if she appeared instantaneously, there was Mom – beaming from the crowd. Holly, Matt and Greg were all right behind her. I felt like the most fortunate person alive – I had a body that would let me do something so extreme as Ironman, that my friends and family would sacrifice so much along with me to help me accomplish this dream, and that in the end, Mom, Holly, Matt, and of course Greg, would spend their whole day following me around the course, cheering their hearts out and making me feel so loved. I am so lucky.

At 11:30 , we went back out to the finishers line to watch the last few Ironman have their moment of glory. Seeing people running down the chute with those fabulous smiles was incredible. Those that brought their children across the finish line with them – now that warmed your heart. At midnight , the announcer concluded the event and, coincidentally, played “Beautiful Day” by U2. I turned to Greg and just cried. It was actually more like sobbing but I couldn’t stop. It was happiness for what I accomplished and sadness for the fact that it was over and exhaustion and pride and love and all of those emotions from the day that finally came out. 10 months of sacrifice for one day – and it was done.

The End

A friend of mine sent me a wonderful congratulatory note that said, “how does it feel to have finished the Ironman before XXX people” Funny thing, I don’t look at it that way. I finished an Ironman – period – and finished it an hour less than my anticipated time. With the exception of the pros, each athlete was competing against only himself or herself. Was I sad when a 58-year-old-man or a 25-year-old woman would pass me on the run? Hell no. I encouraged them and said, “you get em” or “have a great race” or “see you at the finish.” Why? Because people race against themselves at Ironman. They race for all different reasons that are known only to themselves. You don’t have to know what it is, but you respect it.

For me, it’s about the ultimate goal and the journey to get there. It’s about patience, and planning and sacrifice and pain and endurance and commitment and friendship and love and a new appreciation for myself. Now, it’s also about reward – and I will forever be, an Ironman.

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About the author

Now a 5-time Ironman finisher, Monique is starting to think that, perhaps, she might actually be an athlete. Triathlons were supposed to be a hobby to alleviate the anxiety of turning 30, but more than a decade later, and after a 5-year hiatus to start a family, she’s hooked again.

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