Better late than never I guess. It has taken me all this time to come to terms with my race at Ironman Wisconsin. It was an epic day in so many ways, yet disappointing too. This was my second Ironman finish thus far. I absolutely love this distance. I tend to thrive on the long stuff. Something about suffering for over 11 hours brings out the best in me.
Capital Building- Madison, WI
Race Morning: My dad and I stayed at a Wyndham Resort approximately 45 minutes outside of Madison, WI. It was an early morning wake up. However, the condo had all the amenities of being at home. So I woke up, enjoyed my breakfast and coffee before hitting the road.
Once we got to the race site, time flew by as it always does. The sun was rising over Lake Monona, athletes were scrambling into and out of transition areas and body marking was packed. I kept telling myself to breathe and everything would go smoothly. Body marked, check. Bike tires pumped, nutrition put on bike, bike bottles filled, check. T1 bag/T2 bag in position and ready to go, check. There was nothing more for me to do so I made my way to the swim start.
“I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.” -D.H. Lawrence
Going into this race I had so many miles under my belt. I was confident. I did 5×100 mile bike rides, countless 70-80 mile rides, 16-20 mile runs. I felt great. My training was spot on. I crushed every workout. I ate, slept and breathed this race. I wanted to get a Kona spot and I knew in order to do that I had to train like a Kona qualifier would train. I spent six months devoting my time and energy to this race. I had some idea of what time I could do in each leg of the race but I wasn’t dwelling on it. I made the decision to put everything on the line and race as hard as I could for as long as I could. I wanted this more than I have ever wanted anything in my life. I live for this.
“Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.”
“The great thing in the world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.” -Oliver Wendell Holmes
Swim: This was a one loop, mass start swim. I have never done a mass start before so I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly nervous. I decided I would line up towards the front and close to the buoy line but not right on it. I got into the water early so I could casually swim out and find my spot in the mass. I made sure to look at the other athletes around me to make sure I wasn’t paired up beside some olympic like swimmer dude. Everyone seemed to be okay around me so I calmly treaded water and listened to Mike Reilly as he started to get everyone pumped up. “You are going to be an Ironman today!”
Before I knew it the canon sounded and we were off. It was extremely congested for about 200 meters. I was swimming over people. Pretty sure people were swimming over me. Kicking, slapping, you name it. Pure chaos. However, after about 200 meters, it started to calm down and I began to find open water. I was swimming side by side with a guy who seemed to be holding the same pace as me, I was unsure what that pace was but figured I would stick with him until we made the turn to the straight stretch.
Once I made the two turns and was onto this straight stretch, I consciously started to pick up the pace. Like I said, I had no idea what my pace was but I tried making it hurt a little bit. When I did Ironman Lake Placid I didn’t do this. I just wanted to complete the swim and not be taxed when it was over. I had clear water, I could visibly see the buoys and I was relaxed so I figured why not? The swim went by so fast, honestly. Before I knew it I was exiting the water. I took a glance at the clock.
Swim Time: 1:03:58
“It’s so on!” I remember saying that as I saw my swim time and made my way to the wetsuit strippers. Off came the wetsuit and I started running towards the helix. This is one really cool thing about Ironman Wisconsin. You have to run up the helix and into the conference building for T1. I thought running up it was going to be a bruiser but it was lined at least 3 rows deep with screaming spectators. I felt like I was running on the clouds. Effortless. I felt like such a star.
I ran into T1, grabbed my bike bag and into the changing tent I went. I quickly put on everything I needed for the bike, except my bike shoes. I had a long run to my bike. It was closest to the bike out so I decided it would be safer to run barefoot across the concrete and put my bike shoes on once I got to my bike. This worked out well. To the bike mount line I went and then it was down the helix to start 112 miles of cycling bliss.
Bike: What a beautiful bike course! After descending down the helix, athletes ride 16 miles out of Madison and then do a 40 mile loop twice and then 16 miles back into town. I drove the course days prior to the race and it seemed like it would be a fun ride. I knew I had to bike hard to stay towards the front in my age group, but I didn’t want to over bike it because I still had a marathon to run. I made sure to eat and drink according to my plan. Drink every 10 minutes, eat every 10 miles. I grabbed something at every aid station.
The hills were relentless on this course. I thought it would be an easier course than Ironman Lake Placid however, after riding this bike course I think it’s the other way around. With the Lake Placid course, you have a 7 mile descent. The Wisconsin course there are no true descents. Constant rollers and climbs with short downhills. A few technical spots that could be potential chain droppers too. Short, steep climbs with sharp turns at the top, followed by more inclines. This is a tough course to try to pick up any extra speed. But I loved it. I stayed aero majority of the time and felt comfortable and relaxed.
“If it’s hurting me, it’s killing them.” -Sebastian Kienle
Around mile 20 on the bike I was stung by something. Bug? Bee? I’m not sure. I started to panic thinking “oh great, what if I have an allergic reaction? What am I going to do?” but it never came to that so I was safe.
I did not pack a bike special needs bag. I carried as much as I could on my bike and made sure to grab something at every aid station. Bananas are always a big hit for me on the bike. So I just stuck to that. I wasn’t going to waste any extra time stopping for special needs.
Ironman does a great job shuttling spectators out to the 40 mile loop on the course. Once I headed out and my Dad saw me on the bike, he jumped on the shuttle that took him out to the 40 mile loop. I wasn’t sure exactly where he would be because honestly, I have never seen so much crowd support on a bike course. I thought Lake Placid was crazy. This race out does it. I swear the entire bike course was loaded with spectators. Every significant climb, spectators were at least two rows deep. I felt like I was in the Tour De France!
My dad was at the end of the loop. It was great to finish the loop and have my dad there cheering for me. It gave me that little burst of energy I needed to cycle on to loop two. A familiar face does wonders when you are out there flying solo. I gave him a thumbs up and carried on.I checked my overall bike time on my computer and I was somewhere around 3 hours. I remember thinking that may have been to fast for the first loop but my legs felt good so I tried to maintain that same intensity for the second loop.
The road to success is always under construction.
The second loop went just as fast as the first one, maybe even faster because now I knew what to expect. I knew where the course would get technical and where I could try to pick up some speed. But before I knew it, I was making the left hand turn for the final 16 miles into Madison. I was getting choked up. I remember glancing down at my bike computer and doing the math in my head. As long as everything stayed smooth and nothing drastic happened, I would probably have my fastest bike split to date.
Up the helix to the bike dismount line. I dismounted, took off my bike shoes and booked it into T2. It was time to run.
Bike Time: 6:08:19
T2: I ran into T2 which was in a different room than T1. I grabbed my run bag and made my way to the changing tent. One thing I made sure to do in the days leading up to the race was to take a mental picture of where my transition bags were located. They were all placed in rows by number. I didn’t want to have to rely on a volunteer to get my bag for me. Sometimes they just take too long. I needed to make up time any way that I could.
The run out from T2 was not as long for me and before I knew it I was making my way out onto a marathon course that I knew absolutely nothing about. But I liked it that way. I raced well not knowing what to expect all season. This was nothing different.
Run: I made a conscious effort to take the first few miles out slow, or at least try to. I have a tendency of running too fast off the bike. My legs certainly felt great starting this run and I knew if I played my cards right I could have a good marathon. I had no idea what place I was in but I knew I was having an outstanding race. My swim time was better than expected and my bike was strong too.
The first loop: State street was just as expected. Energetic and up beat. I couldn’t help by smile as I passed through the crowd of spectators. I really felt like a star. Next came the University of Wisconsin stadium. The course takes you down the ramp and onto the football field. You run one loop around the field and then exit the stadium. I have never been on a football field before. The stadium was empty, no spectators were allowed in there but it didn’t matter. I still felt like I was on top of the world.
I knew that there would be two hills on the run course. Technically only one hill that you had to run twice since it was a two loop course. So you would run the hill at mile 5 and mile 18. When I got to mile 5, the hill, was just as I expected. Some what of a bruiser, but I kept my head down and ran on. After that was a short downhill and then a left hand turn back onto State street. Yes, you get to run that awesome street a total of 4 times. It’s just not possible to get down on yourself on this course. Even if you feel terrible, it doesn’t last long because the crowd support is there to lift you up again.
As with the bike, I made sure to keep up with my nutrition and hydration. I can’t eat solid food on the run so I stuck to gels. One gel every 5 miles. I grabbed water at every aid station too.
The second loop starts close to the finish line. The turn around is right there in front of the Capital building. I stared the finish line down. See you soon. And it was back out for loop 2.
“Come out of the masses. Stand alone like a lion and live your life according to your own light.” -Osho
Loop Two: I was able to manage a thumbs up to my dad on State street and made my way back out on the course towards the stadium. My watch was a little off mileage wise but I still getting mile splits and I knew my pace was staying some what consistent. However, I really had to pee and for some reason could not do it as I was running. No matter what I did I couldn’t do it. My stomach actually started hurting, like the muscles. I had no choice but to stop and hit the toilets before I went into the stadium. I have never done this in a race, ever. But the discomfort I was feeling made it easy to make a decision. Once I solved that problem, I felt better and trucked on.
Mile 18, the hill, again. It was worse this time. I made sure to grab an orange slice at the aid station before the hill. I found that it’s easier to run uphill when I have something in my hand. It seems to take my mind off of the uphill battle. I passed a lot of athletes on this hill. Many were walking. Some walking and talking. Some hunched over. Some grunting. I tried to block everything out and just keep moving. The faster I got up the hill, the faster it would be over.
Around mile 20 I started suffering. Doesn’t everyone at this mile? The Wall. I polished off a bag of Powerbar cola shots. I had to shuffle through the aid station to make sure I could get all the fluids down. I knew I only had a 10k left which consisted of a short out and back, a run by the Univeristy of Wisconsin stadium, one last slog up State street to the Capital and then to the finisher chute. I checked my watch, did the math and knew I had the potential to run a sub 4 hour marathon, let alone accomplish a significant Ironman PR. That was all the motivation that I needed until I approached a female with a 31 on her calf. She was running but it resembled more of a shuffle. As I got closer to her I realized she was one of the girls in my age group who blew by me on the bike course. I remember thinking I’d see her on the run. Surprise! I ran by her, told her good job, she grunted and I picked up the pace. I wasn’t sure if she had anything left but I wasn’t going to stick around to find out. More motivation to get to the finish line quicker. Little did I know, this pass bumped me up in the age group standings.
I remember making the right hand turn onto State street. I started to get choked up. I got one last burst of energy and before I knew it I was making the turn for the finish line. Honestly it was all a big blur. I was trying not to cry because then I wouldn’t be able to breathe. Yet I was crying. I was running as hard as I could toward the line. I passed a guy in the finishing chute, took one look at the clock and broke down.
Then came those famous words that everyone dies to hear from Mike Reilly…
Ashley Stumpp from Northampton, PA…. YOU. ARE. AN. IRONMAN!
“I’m making my dreams come true.” -Anonymous
Run time: 3:56:45
Total time: 11:17:18
Age Group Ranking: 7th overall, 30-34 female
Overall rank: 24th female
As I said earlier in this race report, I had an idea in my mind of times that I could have potentially done on this course. I kept them to myself but will reveal them now that the race is over. I figured my swim would be somewhere between 1:05-1:10. I cut back on my swimming a lot this season to work on my bike and run. Yet I surprised myself. I swam my fastest Ironman swim to date. Exceeded that time goal. I thought I could bike somewhere between 6:15-6:30. Beat that goal. Lastly, I thought I could run somewhere around a 4 hour marathon. Beat that. Not to mention, ran a marathon not far off from my stand alone marathon PR.
I did not have an overall time goal in mind. I knew my time from Lake Placid the year before. I knew the weather conditions were not ideal either. I wanted to be just under 12 hours. I knew that if I was able to fire on all cylinders I could set myself up to have a good race.
11:17. No more words needed.
Kona spot? Not even close. This is probably the most frustrating and disappointing thing about this race. It seems that even when I’m at my best it’s still not good enough. I have a funny feeling this may haunt me for awhile…