Wednesday, September 23, 2009


September 13, 2009 Madison, Wisconsin

The night before the biggest race of my life I set my alarm for 3:45am. I wanted plenty of time to fill my water bottles, gather my gear and mentally prepare. However, a good night’s sleep was not in my future. That night was similar to just about every Christmas eve where you have so much adrenaline and excitement bouncing around in your body there is no chance for shut eye. So, I tossed and turned until my alarm went off and then I nearly catapulted out of bed like a wild banshee! Who cares if I didn’t sleep a wink it was GAME TIME!!

Sleepy eyed Dan just watched as a zipped around the hotel room, gels in one hand Gatorade in the other, smiling ear to ear like a crazy girl between bites of oatmeal!

After I zipped up my lycra and squeezed into my bike shorts we headed to the race start. First things first, and that was to drop off my “special needs” bags. The Ironman lets you fill 2 bags with anything you desire and these are picked up at mile 56 of the bike and mile 13.1 of the run. I filled my “special needs” bike with sour pickles (my secret weapon and I will discuss this later), and my favorite gels. My run “special needs” bag was filled with more of my secret weapon. Now off to the bikes! What a site this is: 2500 triathlon bikes (some worth more than my car…way more) all racked neatly and numbered. My number: 2130. I checked and double checked my tire pressure. Filled my water bottles, kissed my bike...the Quintana Roo…kissed it once more for good luck….and headed off to body marking. The nice volunteer lady marked both my arms with my number 2130 and the back of my left calf with my age. Now I was ready to squeeze into the wetsuit and head down to the water…the start of the race. Some Anxious athletes were zoning out…some were dancing to the song blaring over the loud speakers and some were listening intently to the race directly count down the minutes until go time. I looked around me…this is it…this is the moment I had been training for...for 360 days 20 hours and 3 minutes...but who’s couting? The sun was just rising, the water was calm, the energy was high…everything was perfect…and then I burst into tears...I was so nervous. Dan gave me a hug and told me that he was proud of me no matter what happened. And that he knew I would finish and that is what IRONMAN is all about. IRONMAN is the determined spirit that we all have deep inside. IRONMAN is about enduring. And he believed in me and he knew I would cross that finish line. So I wiped the tears form my eyes, zipped up my wetsuit, left my cry baby self on the beach and plunged into the cool water. The time was 6:30am. We were required to get into the water 30 minutes before the gun went off. So, I floated on my back and watched the sun rise…not a bad way to pass the time….

The announcers voice was heard loud over the speaker: Ladies and gentleman you have 11 seconds, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1….and the cannon goes off! If you want to see what an Ironman swim start looks like google “Lake Placid Ironman swim start.” The best I can explain is it is a chaotic blender of wetsuits, white water, arms flailing, feet kicking, people gasping, and high energy –sounds fun, doesn’t it?! Just make sure you swim fast enough or athletes will swim over you....

Fast forward to 300 yards before I exit the water. I look down at my watch underwater...Holy crap! I am going to swim under an hour! Go Amber Go Amber! Man, oh man, my hands are tingling. Ignore it! Kick those legs! As I exit the water, a bit dizzy and disoriented I look again at my watch – 59 minutes! Perfect!
I sit my butt on the ground and 2 awesome volunteers rip my wetsuit off me like the peel of a banana! I sprint up the spiral helix to where bike is located. The Ironman is so well organized that as I am running up the helix volunteers in transition have already located my gear bag and bike and are waiting for me. Another awesome volunteer sits me down in a chair, puts my bike shoes on me (!), wishes me luck and like a tornado I have mounted my little Quintana Roo and off I go....on a 112 mile biking extravaganza!
Goal: Have fun, stay relaxed and don’t start “racing” until mile 80 of the bike course. I am thinking... Keep the cadence up. Remember to drink. Let the others athletes go. It’s a long, hilly ride - be patient! Ironman Wisconsin bike course is one of the hardest on the Ironman circuit because you have to consciously make decisions all day. You can’t power up the hills the first 80 miles and think you won’t bonk – because you will! The course throws hills and technical descents at you all day – descents that have you going 40 mph in the aero position with cross winds ready to hit your race wheels and take you out! The bike course is fierce!!
And I was smiling all day long and even mooing at the cows! I came through the first loop of the bike course in 3rd place in my age group and 17 overall. However, I was feeling low on energy and knew it was time for secret weapon numero uno: my peanut butter sandwich! I had stored part of one in my bike jersey pocket. However, the temperature was already in the mid 80’s, the winds were high and looking at the sandwich was as far as I got to eating it. That is the tricky thing about weather – high temps can ruin your nutrition plan. My gut did not want any part of that sandwich. What about the pickle? I reached back into my pocket. ARGH! A hot mushy pickle! Here big bite...chomp, chomp, chomp...yummy...delicious! And we are back in the game! I was only able to drink and eat parts of gels for the remainder of the bike because of the heat. And last 15 miles of the bike was a struggle. I was going back and forth with some girl in my age division. At this point I had been riding for over 5 hours and was starting to feel shaky and light headed. The wind and sun were taking their toll. The girl I had been battling with flew by me yelling “get ready to run your butt off!” Here we gooooooooooo....I came off of the bike in 4th place in my division.

Dan yells at me from the sidelines “You are in 4th in your division and the 3rd place girl is walking!” I look down. Ugh. I feel like I have been run over by a mack truck. However, I think about what my coach told me before the race. “Amber, you are going to see a lot of people walking. Don’t walk – whatever you do – don’t give in!”
So I asked myself, “why do I want to walk?” Well, lets vision is blurry, my quads are about to explode and I have lost all eccentric control so I can’t run downhill very well, my feet feel numb, my hands are tingling, I have sticky gel all over my forearms, my shoulder are sunburned, my gut is cramping, I have a killer side stitch...but disregarding the latter...I’m feeling pretty good! So lets go Amber – move your those legs! Go get third place! Here we go! Oh, wow! The crowd was so loud! I love these Wisconsin cheese heads! I feel great now! Check the pace. Oh, (expletive)! 6:50?! Slow it down woman! I hit the first mile just under 7:00. Well I will be paying the marathon Gods for that later! Come on, now! Settle down! I am thinking ‘I love the Ironman!’ Dan yells: 3 minutes to 2rd!” Nice and steady… Dan yells “2:30 to 3rd!” Good job, Amber! Ignore the pain. You can handle this! No excuses! Let’s go! I see the 3rd place girl up ahead. Its mile 22 of the marathon and mile 136.6 for the day! I look at her. She’s fading! Push! Just a few more miles! How badly do you want this? Are you willing to fail? Oh wow, I can’t see straight…Go pass her Amber and don’t look back! You’re in third! YIPPY!!
And there is the finish line! Finally! And the announcer yells: Amber Cullen...from Concord NH...YOU...ARE... AN...IRONMAN!!!!

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Great write-up Amber! You kicked some major butt out there! Way to go!