Trek Women Brand Manager Leslie Prevish recounts highlights from her journey to complete Ironman Wisconsin on September 11. The grueling 140.6-mile race includes 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking, and 26.2 miles of running, as well as good dose of determination and maybe a touch of insanity.
At mile 20 of the marathon, the moon saved me. I was on a pretty dark section of the race that had few spectators. In the solitude, I wondered whether I was going to make it to the finish with my exhausted body and stomach cramps that had started with my first mile.
I hope that the highlights below from my training and race day experiences may inspire others to take on this journey, or any formidable goal, that requires committing to a plan and finding the resilience to overcome challenges along the way. “La vita e’ una sola” is one of my favorite Italian phrases, which means, “You have just one life to live.” So live it!
Training: 5 a.m. wake-ups and killer kaiserschmarren
- I estimated that I put in 600 hours / 1700 miles of training over the past six months. Most of it was solo, but sometimes I rode or ran with friends, who kept asking me when this “Crazyman” was over so I could go out gallivanting again.
- My circadian clock loves the night, so I detested the 5 a.m. alarm, which I had to change from a buzzer to a Christian rock station so I wouldn’t throw it across the room after interrupting my REM cycle.
- Most of my weekends included long runs and several centuries getting acquainted with Alessandro, my gorgeous Project One Speed Concept. After I got him, I realized how much difference a great bike makes. Not only does it make you faster on the bike course, but your legs are fresher for the run.
- I loved the long runs, except for one in Austria after scarfing down a delicious regional dessert, kaiserschmarren, which was made with eggs and buttermilk and tasted like a mix between pancakes and French toast. Unfortunately, the next day my gut was screaming for 14 of the 18 miles. But it was so darn good going down that I actually ate another later that day before departing for the airport. Seriously.
Kaiserschmarren: delicious, but definitely not training food.
Final Prep: Finger freeze and family support
- Bike prep and practice was KEY. I had co-workers supervise my numerous flat-changing attempts, freezing my finger on a CO2 cartridge once after it slipped off the stem. You really have to manhandle those puppies.
- In the race, I had enough CO2 cartridges on my bike and in my halfway bag to change half a dozen flats, or fill up a kiddie pool if I decided to take a break from the heat. Thankfully my Bontrager R4 Aero tires kept punctures away!
- A few days before the race, I sent out emails to the folks on the prayers lists I had laminated and put on my bike and run bottle. I asked them to pray for “Crazy Les” and told them I’d be doing the same along the 140.6 miles. I enjoyed thinking about memories with them, and it helped to know that their prayers were giving me extra strength.
- Anyone who’s done a race knows the importance of family and friend support, especially in the moments of self-doubt late in the race. My sister, her kids and my aunt came in, bearing signs and purple shirts with “Iron Woman Les” that helped spur me on throughout. My 4-year-old niece yelling “Go Aunt Les!” at the halfway point during the run brought tears to my eyes.
A sea of swimmers take off - survival of the swiftest!
Swim to Survive
- I kept to the outside during the swim to avoid flailing arms and feet. After getting bonked on the head near the beginning, I spent the rest of the race keeping an eye out for wayward arms, legs and the occasional guy who would cross in front swimming perpendicular to the rest of us.
- I was amazed by the number of dudes who swam like tractor combines, plowing through the water without much regard for anyone around them. Another athlete told me after the race that she tried to surround herself with pink caps (women, not men). Good tip!
- Dad, who passed away when I was eight, was on my prayer list for the first lap. He got shorted though, as I was praying more for myself to make it out of the melee alive. So I thought about both him and Mom during most of the second lap, when I was able to get into a good rhythm.
- It felt awesome to climb out of the water one minute faster than my last iron attempt. Crowds were cheering loudly as I ran up to transition, excited to change and start the next phase of my journey.
Alessandro, my Speed Concept has definitely helped my bike split
Downhill Pursuit and Sour Puss
- The course had many rollers, or “stingers” as another racer called them. I LOVED flying down, and hit a top speed of 44.7 mph. I’d trade passes with guys who would catch me on the uphills. Most were encouraging and one cheered, “Go get ‘em babe” as I passed him. On the other hand…
- One guy, I’ll call him Sour Puss, seemed annoyed at getting “chicked,” scowling at my attempts at small talk and I even heard an expletive near the end. I managed to reel him in with 10 miles to go, upped my cadence and never looked back.
- The crowd support on the steep hills was unbelievable, and hundreds of people had signs, were dressed in costumes, playing music, and having their own Ironman parties. Wisconsinites can be pretty wacky, which I love.
- I stopped way too long at the halfway point to access my special needs bag and wait in the portapot line, so my second loop time average was really slow. But I enjoyed hearing the youngsters at the aide station gush over my bike’s “rad” paint job.
- I kicked it up in the last 20 miles and averaged nearly 21 mph. The Speed Concept’s aerodynamics are incredible and my computer had an average speed of 17.2 mph, which made me grin as I rode up the circular parking ramp into transition, nearly 2 hours faster than my last attempt.
Still feeling good on my first trip through the stadium
Please Call My Name by the Light of the Moon
- As I took my first few steps, I realized my gut was not quite ready for a hard run. I had to nix my “gel every 4 miles” plan and alternate between cola and chicken broth at the aide stations. Surprisingly, slices of orange wedge made me perk up too.
- The college dudes made me laugh when they yelled “nice skirt!” between swigs of their PBR’s. My friends were surprised I wore a skirt, as I can be a tomboy at times, but the SkirtSports skirt was super-comfy and, combined with my sweet Oakley shades, made me feel like a rockstar.
- Running through the campus stadium was a bit eerie at first because it was so quiet, but also helped provide a strange sense of peace and acceptance that I was going to get through the race, one way or the other.
- The crowd support on State Street blew me away, better than in any race I’ve ever done. On my second lap down the busy street, I kept smiling at folks and willing them with my eyes to please call my name. Many did, and each time I got a jolt of energy that kept my legs moving forward.
- Some miles weren’t so bright though, and at mile 20 I was struggling when I looked up and saw a brilliant full moon. Its beauty and brightness brought clarity to my befuddled brain. I thought about how lucky I was to be healthy enough to do this while so many others, like those who died on 9/11, would never have the chance. I picked up my pace—and head—and pushed on.
- When I saw the finish line arch, I started sprinting, grinning ear-to-ear because I took off three hours from my previous time, despite belly issues due to the heat and lake water. I remember hearing the crowd screaming and cowbells ringing as the announcer called out, “Leslie Prevish, you are an Ironman!” The feeling of elation as I crossed the finish line will forever be imprinted on my mind.
I’ll admit it is hard coming down from the “iron high.” I keep thinking about challenges to keep myself accountable—and motivated—to swim, run and bike. I’m noodling the idea of doing The Great Floridian next month. And I think I’ll hit a few cyclocross races, or maybe a mountain bike race on the new Lush. I’m definitely doing an adventure race with the Neko. None of them are as fast as Alessandro, but I am sure we’ll enjoy some off-road fun this fall.
Maybe you can join me? Or set your own goal and tell us about it on the Trek Women Facebook Page.
My aunt Kathy with me at the finish.