Hey all -
It’s been another 18 months, and I wanted to check back in and say that I successfully completed Ironman Wisconsin a few weeks ago. It was a wonderful day, finished with a smile on my face, and ran a sub 4 hour marathon. I had no issues with my Achilles the entire race, and this was really the final mental hurdle to my recovery. I really doubted that this would be possible when I set out training for the event, but it’s true what everyone says, you will get over this injury and can get back to doing whatever it is you want to do. For any that are interested, here is the race report (it’s lengthy, so be forewarned):
Ironman Wisconsin Race Report
Pre Race: The three or four days leading up to the race were each filled with moments of excitement and anxiety. I had to concentrate on continuing to push the food and fluids, as I didn’t want to let my nervous stomach ruin my day before the race even started. The evening before the race, I ate well, thanks to Jody, we had corn pasta with meat sauce and salad, it was perfect! I mixed up my bike nutrition drinks, 2 – 24 bottles of double strength Perform, with 6 scoops of Endurolytes in each. I froze one of them for my special needs bag while the other just went in fridge. I probably laid down around 9 PM, we were leaving for Monona Terrace at 4:00 AM. I don’t think I slept a wink, laid there all night going over my race plan in my head. I heard someone say that the sign of a good taper was not sleeping at all the night before the race….I hoped that was true!
At 3:45 AM I got out of bed and had my light breakfast of toast with almond butter and honey. It’s been my pre workout staple the entire summer, so I wasn’t ready to mix it up at all at this point. I mixed up a bottle of Perform to take with me for the car ride, also had a banana in case I felt like I needed something else before the race started. We made it to Monona Terrace and parked. We got there a little earlier than I would have liked, but better early than late. First stop was the special needs bag drop. Since we were early, the volunteers were still building the big boxes that housed the special needs bags. It only took a few minutes and my bike special needs bag (frozen nutrition drink, 5 gels, 2 bars, extra tube, extra CO2) and my run special needs bag (gels and burts bees lip stuff) were packed away.
Next stop was filling up the bike with nutrition. It had been racked the previous day in the transition area, so it was easy to find. I spent some time filling up water bottles to use to fill up my aero drink bottle on my bike, but once I got to my bike, I realized that there was a pallet of bottled water in the transition area for athletes to use. Lesson learned. I filled my bento bag with gels and power bars. I stuffed one of the gels in my jersey pocket, as I wanted it right before the swim start. I borrowed a pump from a friend of Dad’s and pumped up my tires. I let some air out the previous day to prevent a blow out in the heat the day before the race. I checked that I was in the right gear and that brakes and derailleurs were working. All was good, and I said goodbye to the Felt for a few hours.
I met up with Dad and the large group from Lodi. Everyone was feeling a little different…some looked glazed over, others nervous chatter, others relaxed. We were in Monona Terrace, right by the bathrooms, so it was jam packed. I probably peed 3 times in there, I’d been staying on the Perform and Water for the past few hours, to make sure I was hydrated to start the race. I had a little banana as well. It was getting close to 6:30, I applied some glide around my jersey and on my neck to try and prevent the inevitable wetsuit hickey. I also applied sunscreen, and in hindsight, really didn’t need to do that as I was lathered in it by volunteers in the transition area….again, lesson learned. My wetsuit went on easy….it felt super tight back in May at my first Tri, but the summer of training had trimmed another 6 lbs off my frame. Dad zipped me up, and I zipped him up. It was then when I realized that we were getting ready to start this thing….holy shit, we made it. Thousands of miles and hundreds of hours later, we were really going to do this, together! Well, not exactly together, but we would be racing on the same course all day….and little did I know, we’d see each other at some point later in the day.
When we walked out of the Terrace, I was surprised that it was light out…we had been working in the dark for the past few hours, the sunrise over the lake was beautiful. People were already starting to line the helix, which we walked down. There was loud music blasting and the adrenaline from 2500 people was suffocating. I still had my morning clothes bag in my hand, just looking around and soaking it in. Dad told me that I missed the drop for it, and needed to turn around. It was tough to work back through the herd of athletes, but people were accommodating and I dropped the bag. This bag has all of my clothes that I was wearing that morning, and could retrieve it after the race. I was still in the zone, and realized that I had my flip flops on still…damn! But just then, I saw Amy…we looked at each and had a moment. She started crying, which immediately triggered my response and I followed suit. It was an incredibly special moment in the day for me, one that I remember and smile at most when I reflect. I hugged her, it was quick, but very meaningful. Next to her was Jay, my friend and mentor/coach through this whole process. I thanked him and hugged him, still crying. The herd of athletes continued to move towards the water, and I realized I couldn’t hang out here forever. The announcer, Mike Reilly, was really getting after people to get in the water…it’s not exactly a speedy process getting all the athletes through a 20 foot chute into the water. I was still with Dad and we slipped into the water together.
We quickly got our faces wet and headed out to find a spot for the start. We still had about 15 minutes to go, we were roughly in the middle of the start, but more towards the back of the pack. My goggles were leaking, so I spent a few minutes tightening up the straps and got a good seal. Dad mentioned that he felt that were too close to the front, as people started filling in behind us. I just floated there, it was cool, when you put your ears underwater it was dead quiet, and then you’d pop up and the music was blasting. I preferred the quiet, just trying to collect my thoughts and get ready for the cannon. The pros went off at 6:50….and before I knew it, our cannon went off. I looked at Dad, he said, “see you at the finish” and we were off.
The Swim: For the previous week, the image that kept me up most at night was this mass, deep water swim start. I imagined goggles being kicked off, bruised ribs, cramped legs from kicking away people swimming over me, bloody nose….you name, I thought of it. Funny thing though, the start was very tame. It’s like people were all playing nice, and somehow everyone decided that since we all had the same fear, we’d avoid it by not swimming all over each other. I couldn’t believe each time I looked up to sight how much open water was in front on me. Once during the first straightaway it got claustrophobic, I noticed I was right along the buoy line which is not where I planned on being. There was no way out though. After a few strokes, it cleared out.
The plan was to bilateral breath as much as possible. I was actually able to get into that rhythm pretty quickly. This allowed me to see to the right (towards the Monona Terrace) which was awesome. While I felt like the pace was very slow, I was expending very little energy. I kept thinking about mile 18 on the run, everything I did for the next 10 hours needed to set me up for getting to that point. So while I was concerned that my swim would be slow, it was much better then extending myself this early in the day. The swim was a two loop affair, two rectangles that were 800 M x 200 M. On the back half of the first lap, I stayed right on and inside the buoy line. You can swim inside the buoy line as long as you come out and round the corner buoys on the outside. There was lots of open water using this strategy. On the second lap, I tried to find some faster feet to draft off of, but couldn’t find any. Everyone I came upon I needed to pass as they were going too slow. I had one guy that zig-zagged over the back of me, pushing me under, a few times. The third time he came over me, I jabbed him with an elbow in the rib and never felt him again. On the final leg, I was really in a zone and hardly sighting at all. As usual, as soon as I let my guard down, WAPPP….I got kicked right in the face by a scissor kick, someone doing the breast stroke. It stunned me, but I brushed it off and knew the swim finish was close. As I came in towards the shore, the music and the crowd got louder and louder. I was finishing the Ironman swim…and was so excited I went a bit wide, but a kayaker quickly yelled at me to get back on course. I started scrapping the bottom with my hands and stood up. A few wobbly steps and I had my legs under me….done!
Pre Race Goal: 1:15 – 1:20
Actual Time: 1:11:11 582 OA, 93 AG
T1: I saw Jay out of the corner of my eye right when I came out of the water. I pointed to him to say that I got it done. I got my goggles and swim cap off, and per the recommendation of my dad, I held them in my hand as I pulled my arm out of the wetsuit. This kept them stuck in the sleeve of the wetsuit. I spotted a big, fit guy to strip my wetsuit. I was on the ground and he yanked it right off me in seconds. I was up and jogging in no time. To get to the transition area, we needed to run up the helix of the parking garage. This was awesome! There were spectators lining the entire thing and they were all yelling and cheering for us as we ran up. I thought about where Dad was, but knew that I had to race my race. I ran into the bag room, yelled out my number and a volunteer had my bag waiting for me. Quickly into the change room and another volunteer had me sit down and emptied my bag onto the floor. He worked with me from head to toe, making sure I had everything I needed. Helmet, socks, Bike shoes, race number. He said, “I don’t see your sunglasses?”, but I reassured him when I said that they were on my bike already. Due to the length of bike racking area, I had decided, based on advice, to run in my socks with my shoes in my hands. No use risking a broken cleat or a calf cramp. The volunteers were yelling out our numbers as we ran, so that other volunteers further up could get our bikes ready. I was racked right in the middle of transition; I was really surprised with how many bikes were still left in transition. At that point, I had no clue what my swim time was, but figured I was middle of the pack, but the number of bikes still in the racks told me I must have done better than that. I ran with my bike and shoes to the end of transition where another volunteer held my bike while I put on my shoes. I ran the final little leg to the mount area, hopped on, and started down the helix on the other side of the parking garage. My HR was around 160 leaving transition, which is actually about as high as it got all day.
T1 Goal: I had no clue, thought both transitions should be under 15 minutes for both.
T1 Actual: 7:57
The Bike: The IM-Wisco bike course is a stick and loop affair. The plan was to ride the first 90-120 minutes at a very easy pace. Jay’s advice had been spot on all throughout my training, and prior to the race he said that 50% of my performance/finish would be based on whether I could hold back on the bike. In my training, the bike was always the thing I pushed the most on and felt the strongest. Now, for 120 minutes, I was pedaling along, in zone 1. People were passing me like crazy, and even though I knew that was the plan, it was hard to stomach. I had the legs, but to quote my training plan, there is no such thing as a good bike split if it’s followed by a poor run. Nutrition and hydration were in the forefront, I would take in ~350 calories per hour in the form of Powerbar, Clif Shots, and concentrated Powerbar Perform. All my Endurolytes were mixed in the Perform as well, and I had a second bottle of it waiting for me in my special needs bag. All I would get at aid stations was water. The first loop went by very fast. The hills between Cross Plains and Verona were awesome; fans were lining the course like Alp D’Huez in the Tour de France. My Garmin was giving me 5 mile splits, HR, and total time. I purposely left MPH off my display as I didn’t want that to drive any of my decisions. I wanted to negative split the bike course, but I just kept going easy on the bike, as I felt decent about my splits and didn’t want to push it at all. In the back of mind, I wanted a 6 hour bike, but I let my z1/z2 performance dictate my pace/time, not how my legs felt. The second loop was a bit more of grind, but still, I had absolutely no leg fatigue, cramping, or soreness at all. While I got passed by ~300 people in the first loop, my same steady pace yielded much less passing on loop two, if fact, I started passing people back. I would also find myself yo-yo’ing with people, they would pass me up the hill, turning over huge gears, disc wheels cranking while I spun steady. Then on the crest and downhills, I’d keep the pedal pressure on and pass them back as they recovered. I was chatting with folks as well, one time I told someone that the day was going by too fast and how enjoyable it was.….he kind of looked at me like, “Fuck You”….and moved on. I smiled, not thinking that some folks were really suffering already. One thing that helped me on the hydration was that I began to see loads of salt on most people’s backs during the second half of the bike. It didn’t feel hot, but it was….so I spent lots of time drinking and dumping cold water over my head. I pee’d 4 times on the bike, on the fly. While this was very easy and saved time, my bike shoes still stink, any suggestions? With the increased water consumption, I went through my concentrated energy drink with endurolytes a bit quicker than anticipated. I didn’t have any for the last 30 minutes of the bike, so I made a note to get more on board in T2. I saw Jay once in Verona in between loops. Amy yelled at me too, but since lots of folks were yelling my name as it was printed on the bib, I didn’t catch her. The most distress during the bike was over the railroad crossings. It was a war zone with bottles, tires, CO2, etc flying everywhere. I never lost anything, but had to dodge a few bottles. The ride back the stick into Madison was downhill with some wind at the back so it was smooth sailing. With about 3 miles to go, I thought my back tire was getting soft. It indeed was going flat, but I wouldn’t find that out until the next morning when I was packing the bike back up to leave. There was a sliver of metal in the tire. To finish the ride, you climb back up the helix in the parking garage. I hopped off and a volunteer grabbed my bike and I headed in to T2.
Pre-Race Goal: 6:00.
Bike Split: 6:22 (17.57 mph). 885 OA 137 AG (Was passed by 303 people on the bike).
T2: Pretty uneventful, although it sure is nice to have full service transition areas! I guess that’s one of the perks of a $600 triathlon. I got my gear bag in one room and when I was running to the change room, I saw Amy and Jody right in between. They yelled at me, and in hindsight I wished I would have stopped for a hug….but I ran right by and just smiled. The changing room was much busier in T2, my volunteer grabbed a chair and unfolded it for me to sit on. I was quick out of my bike shoes and he asked me about changing socks. I skipped the sock change..….next time, I’d change ‘em! I swapped out my race belts for one that had my gels loaded on it. Visor and I was off. I took down 2 Endurolytes with water before I left the changing room. I stopped for a few seconds to get re-lathered with sunscreen. Just a marathon left….bring it!
T2 Actual Time: 3:33. Both transitions total 10:30…not bad.
The Run: I had anticipated walking up the first little hill after T2, but my legs felt so good, that there was no way I was going to walk past that crowd. I couldn’t help but smile, the people were so encouraging, yelling your name and telling you that you could do it. It was really amazing…I’d heard about the crowd support on the IM-Wisco run, but to feel it and experience it, way exceeded my expectations.
The plan was to take in nothing during the first mile and run a 9:30 min/mile. I was successful with the former, but was surprised with my 8:30 min/mile split. I kept repeating in my head, “what do you need to be doing right now to set yourself up for mile 18?” Slow down, so I did. Had some minor side stitches during the first few miles, but they worked out quickly. People were fresh and friendly on the course….lots of chatter about how nice it was out. It was warm though…and I had decided late in the bike to up my Endurolyte consumption on the run to 3-4 pills/hour. I had also decided to walk every aid station. I read ahead of time that there was an aid station roughly every mile. While I didn’t count, it felt like closer to every 1.5 – 2 miles. At each one, I slowed down and walked. Took ice down the front of my tri top, 2-3 cups of water, cold sponges and water over my head. Every 30 minutes I took down a gel and 1-2 Endurolytes.
Miles 1-6 just flew by. Ran my lap through Camp Randall stadium which was a highlight twice during the day. Just 24 hours earlier, I’d been at the Wisconsin/Oregon State game, and was feeling pretty overwhelmed with the amount of people and Ironman on my brain. Now it was dead quiet in there, and running that ¼ mile around the field on the spongy turf was a nice reprieve from all the work being put in that day. The second highlight came around mile 6 when I ran up and down State Street. The crowd was 4-5 deep on each side of the road, and everyone was yelling your name. I kept the cadence high and a smile on my face and tried to look at everyone in the crowd as I passed by.
I ran into Jay on State Street. I asked him where the old man (Dad), and he said about 40 minutes back. 40 minutes, dang, he must of had a great bike! He asked me how I was feeling. I said that I felt great, and asked when I should start turning it on. He saved my race with his response, saying to wait until the second loop. I think if he hadn’t been there to give me that advice, I would have taken off at that point and probably blown my run. It’s a testament to how important it is to have a great mentor for this event, especially for a first timer. We had chatted lots prior to the race about why people continually come out and race hard on the bike and walk half the marathon. I couldn’t believe that so many people could make the same mistake, over and over. Well, I probably would have been one of those people had it not been for some sound advice prior to and during the race.
My thoughts shifted back to Dad, 40 minutes back. When I arrived in Wisconsin earlier that week, I was still under the impression that this whole Ironman experience was first and foremost, a bonding experience. We had not talked about racing against or with each other. I thought that it would be sweet to cross the finish line together, but Dad threw down the challenge at dinner one night. He said that I would get ahead of him on the swim and bike, and then he would track me down on the run. While I was taken a back a bit, I also knew that he had much more run in his legs, having just qualified for Boston and New York with a 3:30 marathon. My longest training run was 2 ½ hours or 18 miles, and just once at that distance. It could play out that way. Now that we were underway, and he was 40 minutes back, I thought it still may unfold like that…..only time would tell.
Then I ran across him….and as usual, I had to yell at him to get his attention. “Dad!!!” “Dad!!!” We exchanged a high five and I turned to the person next to me and said proudly, “That’s my Dad!”. She said that was awesome. I tried to calculate how far he was behind me, but couldn’t do the math. We had struck a deal the day before the race that if one of us caught up with the other with 3 miles or less to go, we’d come in and finish together. I tried again to wrap my ahead around our distance difference at that moment, but couldn’t….was my brain failing me?
I saw Amy at the tail end of the first lap. Again, I wished I would have taken a moment to stop and give her a hug, but something kept pushing me. I was thrilled with the first half marathon, it was right around 2 hours and I had great legs left. I’d read about how cruel it was to finish the first half marathon right at the finish line, only to have to turn around and head back out for the next 13.1 miles. I never felt that way. It was around 4:45 PM, and it was the first time that I thought my sub-12 hour goal was possible. I also had secretly hoped to finish in the day light….which also was now possible.
It was during the second lap, that I noticed how many people I was passing. There were people walking, throwing up on the side of road, keeled over with medics around them….the sounds of ambulances could be heard quite a bit. While I felt bad for those who were in trouble, I also got energy from passing them. I also began to run with a guy who sprint for like 400M and then walk at which point I’d catch up to him and he’d take off again. This went on for at least 2 miles and then I finally left him. I wondered about the strategy, but never asked.
The second time up the Observatory hill was a bit slower, I had walked it the first lap, but much quicker. Coming down the back side of it was when I started to notice some burn in my quads. I hit mile 18, the perverbial “Wall” and sure enough, it started to hurt. State Street came again, around mile 20 this time through. It was just as good this time around….people were still hootin’ and hollerin’….and while it was sweet to be in the run, I thought it must be fun to catch a buzz in a local bar and scream at these nuts on the Ironman run. That little stretch felt great, even though the legs were starting to ask to stop, I kept focusing on my cadence and turn over. I counted 1-20 paces over and over for a bit.
Miles 20-23 were the worst. With every fart sensation, came the fear of crapping my pants….luckily that never happened and it was just gas that passed. A few weeks prior, I had asked some family and friends to give me some things to think about during a rough stretch of the run. I knew it was bound to happen and I wanted some things to take my mind off the pain. Here were some of the highlights:
· “What Time is it?” “Now”
· “Where are you?” “Here”
· “What are you?” “This Moment”
· “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” Emerson quote
· How lucky I was to be here, doing this.
I thought of all the weekend mornings I was out of the house by 5:00 AM. The support I had from Amy and the girls and all my friends. This is what I trained for….make it happen…turn over the legs, 1-20.
Then I came up on a friend of Dad’s, Paul. I hadn’t seen him pass me on the bike, buy figured he would, he is an animal on the bike and was definitely after a big bike split. He had done Wisco the year before and was a good source of knowledge about the logistics of race day. I came up to him and said, “Paul, how’s it going?” He turned around and said, “Damn, you’ve got a good run going”. I said humbly that the day was going well for me. He said he was hurting, cramping a lot. We walked an aid station together and then I just drifted out front and never saw him again. This was another one of those uplifting moments. While I knew it wasn’t really a race, it felt so good to track someone down on the run, the patience and game plan was paying off.
As Jay called it, the “Road Kill” was severe. Mile 24, Jay popped onto the course. He ran with me for a mile or so, asked if I could keep up that pace for the next few miles. I can’t remember everything I said, but I do recall something like “I’m mowing ‘em down” and “I ran his ass down!” I would say at least 50% of the people left on the run were walking. I wanted to be humble, but I wanted to use the energy I got from passing people to help carry me to the finish. A volunteer yelled at Jay, “no pacing”. He popped off and said, “Enjoy your finish” This mile with Jay was another one of the highlights, it was so special to share that moment with someone I knew and with someone who had been there and knew what I was feeling.
I focused on my form. I felt that I was one wrong step away from a bad quad or calf cramp. My feet were sloshing around in my shoes from all the water, ice, and pee that had made it’s way down my leg into my shoes. I kept the turnover as high as I could go. The run finishes up and around the Capital. I kept making a turn and thinking that was the turn to the finishing chute, but there was one more leg. It kept going, but then I heard Mike Reilly’s voice calling out peoples names. I pulled my sunglasses up off my face, so I could see everything clearly, it was getting on to dusk anyway and didn’t need them. I looked for Amy down the finishing chute, but couldn’t pick her out, it was so loud. I heard my name being called and I raised my hands and became an Ironman.
Pre-Race Goal – 4:00, having never run a marathon, I figured based on some training bricks that I could hold a 9 min/mile…it was a stretch goal.
Actual: 3:58. 360 OA 74 AG. I passed 525 people on the run that day…with just a 4:00 marathon…incredible!
Total Time : 11:43
Post Race: Two volunteers grabbed me and escorted me to a table full of goodies. All I wanted was some water, I saw Amy and Jody and gave them a big hug. Amy snapped a picture. I didn’t want to sit still, my legs kept wanting to move, but I was definitely tired. I remembered the gift I had for Amy. I carried a necklace that I had gotten her with me during the race. It was in a zippered pocket in my race shorts, and although the baggy was wet with Lake Monona and sweat, it was in one piece and she loved it. I grabbed some pizza and potato chips and found a quietish spot on some grass next to the finish and sat down. I laid back in the grass and quickly realized that I was going to have trouble getting moving again. My phone was filled with texts and emails….they were so awesome to read right after the race, people had been following the race all day. The sun was setting and I knew I needed another layer, which Amy had for me in the backpack she lugged around all day. My feet were drenched, and I told Amy that they may be in pretty bad shape. I took off my shoes and socks and they were white, wrinkled, and heavily blistered in areas. It felt great to give them some much needed air and I swore that I would take better care of them the next time around. Next time around? Yeah, funny thing was I already was sensing that this chapter was over and was thinking about what was next…I can’t help it, it’s how I operate. I was an Ironman!
I knew Dad would be coming in soon, so I rallied to get up and start moving a little bit. He crossed the line around 13 hours and since I still had my finisher’s medal with me I went in to see him. He was glazed over, sat down, and tried to muster a smile, but all he asked for was something to throw up in. The volunteer, sweet as she was came back with a small Dixie cup…yeah, that wasn’t quite going to cut it. We got an emergency space blanket on the ground and he sat there for a while. I gave Jody and Amy an update and after about 15 minutes we headed over to the medical tent. 14 lbs is what they said he lost, I think the scales were off at either the weigh-in pre-race or right now…because that didn’t seem possible. You have to almost be unconscious to get an IV post-ironman, so since they weren’t offering that up, we loaded him in the car, and Jody took him home. He was pale, and his face was sunken in…definitely dehydrated, but I knew he’d be OK. The only thing that worried me was the fact that he had to get up in 7 hours to head on a 10 day backcountry canoe trip. Luckily a physician was going with the group, so that was reassuring.
We needed to gather bikes and gear bags. I was still in a bit of a fog from the effort, but overall was in pretty good shape. Jay was a lifesaver again during this time as he helped retrieve the car and get all the stuff loaded up. He asked what sounded good, and I settled on Wendy’s French fries and a chocolate frosty. Damn it tasted good. We were home by 11…what a day, what a week, what a year….the journey had been incredible and the finish was better than I ever dreamed.