With Ironman Wisconsin 2018 just around the corner (no, I am not participating), I thought that this would be a good time to dig up my multi-part race report and edit it together into one extremely long blog entry. This is the longest race report I have ever seen (close to 10,000 words), and likely takes longer to read then to actually complete the event. You have been warned…
The alarm was set for 3 am, but I was already awake. This was the day that I had been thinking about for almost 3 years, unofficially training for 2 years (since my first 70.3), and have been actively training for the past 30 weeks. I was oddly quite calm.
I had less things to do this morning then most triathlon mornings. The bike was already in transition. My bike gear and run gear was already packed and checked in the day before. They were in bags in ballrooms inside Monona Terrace (the strangest place to have a triathlon transition…usually it is the middle of a field or parking lot, not inside a convention center). I only had to put on my tri-suit and regular clothing. Grab my wetsuit, timing chip, Garmin, swim cap and special needs bags (bags that we would check in, and we would be returned to us halfway thru the bike and halfway thru the run).
I had a bagel, banana, coffee and water. I was running to the bathroom every 15 minutes so I knew that I was starting the day well hydrated.
Once I got my stuff together, I made the half-mile trek to Monona Terrace. Special needs was set up on Main Street in front of the Terrace. Bike was on one side of the road, run was on the other. We handed off this gear and went off to the convention center.
The sky was starting to brighten. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. There was a hint of a breeze. The temperature was a little cool, but would warm up to a very pleasant 75 degrees.
I walked to the rooftop parking lot which served as transition. I checked over my bike, borrowed a pump to inflate my tires, did a quick inspection and attached Bento bag and under-seat bag with food, electrolyte tabs, spare tubes, CO2 canisters, and bike tools. I then went inside to the ballrooms. In the far left room, they had all of our bike gear bags lined up. I triple checked that the bike shoes and helmet were there. I then went to the room on the far right which had out run gear bags. I again made sure that I had running shoes and my bib packed. I then went to the center room. This was the weirdest of them all. It was the changing room section of transition (with a sign stating “nudity permitted”) . They had it divided into separate men and women’s changing areas, and they were lined with folding chairs. The room was carpeted. I entered and took off my street cloths (I had my tri-suit underneath) and put on my wetsuit, ear plugs, goggles and swim cap. All my regular clothing went into the “morning clothes” bag which would be collected at the swim start. Once ready, I returned to the hallway and got in the line to swim start.
Monona Terrace has 2 spiral parking ramps (one on each side of the building). These are known as the “Helix”. The walls were about 4 feet high and face the lake. These would be lined with spectators at the start of the swim. We walked down this ramp to the starting area. The access to the lake is quite limited. There are about 2500 participants and the lake access is a boat launch. It takes close to half an hour to get everyone in the lake for the mass start. This area was pandemonium. Mike Riley was announcing, music was blaring, hundreds of spectators were by the swim start and thousands were on the helix and on the rooftop terrace overlooking the lake. Helicopters were flying overhead. I entered the water right after the pro’s started…about 10 minutes before my start time. The water was deep and was recorded at 71.2 F that morning.
There is a waterski ramp in this part of the lake which is the starting line. They placed extra buoys to make a straight line at that location. The swimmers tend to form a very wide line by the buoys that is fairly deep due to the number of people starting at the same time. I lined up in the middle, by the ski jump, towards the back where it was not as crowded.
I spent the last 5 minutes before the race floating on my back and staring at the sky. The water was smooth and comfortable. I was aware of Mike Riley making last second announcements and of the large crowd that had formed. In a few minutes, the cannon would fire, and hell would break loose. But, for those few moments, I just lay there, completely relaxed, aware that the day I had been training for and working so hard for was at hand. I was ready, but had no idea if I could finish. I did not know what surprises and adversity would the day bring. How would I respond to them? I didn’t know. But, I did know that my real victory was the courage and determination that brought me to the starting line. Everything after that would be the celebration of my journey and my transformation…from obese couch potato, to Ironman hopeful. No matter what the day would bring, it would be a good day. It would be a personal victory. I had hoped for good weather and good health going into this day, and I had been given those things. Now, I would finish or not based solely on my ability and determination. Did I do enough? Did I train enough? Could I do this? I didn’t know. And, in many ways, it didn’t matter. I was here, floating on my back, in a zen-like calm.
I was at peace.
Then the cannon fired…
And all hell broke loose.
Swim: 2.4 miles.
The cannon went off and about 2500 triathletes made the mass swim start. Having that many people in the water at one time is quite chaotic and many suffer from severe anxiety in doing this. You get punched, kicked, and “swum-over” (doesn’t that sound fun).
I started towards the back and let a few seconds go before I started swimming. The most chaotic area was right in front of me but the crowd was already thinning out. I could pick my line. I started catching the slower swimmers and did not have to deal with the faster (and more aggressive) swimmers. I could not see any of the buoys due to all the splashing and all the arms flailing about, so I just started following the crowd.
Here is a map of the course.
There were hundreds of people at Monona Terrace to cheer us along.
The first stretch of the swim was a long straight path. I was able to stay in a pocket and find my rhythm. I barely got nudged at this point. All I could think of is that it was finally here. I was actually doing an Ironman!
As we arrived at the first red turn buoy, the first real traffic hit. Everyone got funneled around that buoy and it got very tight very quickly. There was a lot of contact but nothing too severe. I did not pick a good line coming up to the turn so I was close to the buoy where it was most congested. I was hoping to be more on the outside, but it was too late to make that adjustment. I was boxed in. I just tried to move with the herd. I quickly found that kicking a little harder prevented other swimmers from swimming over you. Tradition holds that we are supposed to “moo” at the first turn (a Wisconsin thing), but I was too busy just trying to breath and not get punched. Eventually, the congestion eased, but another turn was coming fast. I angled away from it so I would be on the outside and further away from the mass of thrashing bodies in neoprene. It worked and the second turn was much easier.
The next leg was the longest leg that seemed to go on forever. This was my first sign of trouble. Something that could destroy my day.
My stomach was bloating. I had swallowed a lot of air.
I have struggled with this problem ever since I started swimming again. I can’t tell that it is happening until I have swallowed a lot. It seems to happen at random, and has never happened during an event. If I notice it in time, I might be able to belch it up, but usually it has passed too far to be able to solve it this way. I stop and try to relieve it. No luck.
The bloating is never a problem for me while swimming. Once I am upright for 20-30 minutes, severe abdominal pain develops. Like doubled over and have almost gone to the hospital kind of pain. This had never happened during a race, and it would be an issue early on the bike. Typically, the pain lasts for a few hours. And there is nothing I can do to relieve it. I hoped that I was wrong, but I knew that my day might already be over…
All I could do now is calm down the breathing, try to make sure it doesn’t get worse, and finish the swim. I would deal with the bike when I had too.
I kept down the straightaway. Every few minutes, there would be contact and I would have to change course. But, mostly, I had my rhythm and was able to just keep trucking along.
I was wearing a sleeveless wetsuit and, by this point, my arms were cold and my hands were numb. Not a bid deal, they would warm up on the bike.
At that point, I could hear somebody shouting and I could not figure out why. I finally stopped since I thought that a course official might be trying to communicate something to us. I then realized that we were by Monona Terrace again, and I could hear Mike Riley announcing the race and could hear the roar of the crowds. That was a pretty cool moment! Shortly thereafter, the buoys changed color from yellow to orange. This indicated that we had passed the halfway point.
This pattern continued. Some minor contact here and there, but I was just kind of zoned out. I watched for the next buoy and kept my pace. The third turn buoy was fine (swimmers were so spread out by this point that it was not crowded at all). By the final turn, it got congested again. I have no idea why. But, there was a lot of contact on the final stretch towards the exit. I could here Mike Riley, the blaring music and the roar of the crowd. The boat launch and exit arch were in sight. I felt the concrete under my feet and was able to stand. The cameras clicked as we left the water, and volunteers were there to help steady us as we stepped into T1.
Swim Split: 1:28:07.
Total Elapsed Time: 1:28:07.
Time Remaining: 15:31:53.
Usually, in triathlon, transition is in a field or parking lot near a beach. The bikes are racked there along with all your gear. You run to your bike, swap out your gear and move on.
Transition in Madison is very different.
It’s inside a convention center.
So, the first thing you have to do in coming out of the water is run up to the wetsuit stripers who quickly removes your wetsuit for you.
Then, you run up a helical automobile ramp in a parking garage (seen at the far right side of the photo) lined with hundreds of cheering fans:
Once you get to the top, you go inside to the ballroom where your cycling gear is kept in a bag for you.
A volunteer screams out your number when you arrive and another volunteer grabs it, brings it to you and escorts you into the changing area:
He then brings you to a vacant chair and opens your bag for you and asks you what you need. He also asks if he can get you some water or a snack.
Transition with concierge service.
I was wearing a tri-suit under my wetsuit and toweled off a little. I put on my cycling shorts, socks, cycling shoes, helmet and gloves. I slammed a small bottle of gatorade and a salted nut roll. The volunteer put my towel, wetsuit, cap, and goggles into my bag and let me know that he would take care of those things for me as he escorted me to the rooftop parking and the sunscreen ladies who slicked me down. I then headed to the bike area. A guy with a megaphone then shouted out my number. By the time I got to my rack, a volunteer was standing in the aisle with my bike.
I then ran to the other end of transition to the mount line. This area was congested and I saw a few near crashes as I waited for the cost to be clear. I then mounted my bike and rode to spiraling helix down and out of the parking ramp (on the far left side of the building).
Finally, I was out of the weirdest transition that I have ever experienced and the dreaded bike leg began.
T1 split: 12:49.
Total Elapsed Time: 1:40:56.
Time Remaining: 15:19:04.
The Bike (Loop 1)
Bike: 112 miles.
Ironman Wisconsin is known for a very tough bike leg. My Garmin recorded over 5000 feet elevation gain. Some Ironmans are a lot worse, but Wisconsin is the most technical. You are constantly gearing, braking, and turning. You are constantly making decisions.
Here is a map of the course (click on it for a bigger view). It is a basic “stick and loop” course. Leaving transition, you ride a “stick” (one way) to the main part of the course. You then ride circular course (or loop) before taking the stick back to transition. In this case, the loop is ridden twice. The halfway point of the course is right where the stick meets the loop and you start your second lap.
I had the chance to ride the course back in July. I rode the loop 4 times (but never twice in a row), and I rode the hilly part of the stick twice (one out and one time back).
If there was one part of the course where I did not know if I could make the cutoff, it was on the bike. I am not a strong or fast cyclist. Doing just the loop would average 3 hours in training. That was for 40 miles. If I maintained that pace, I would miss the cutoff. The stick would take an hour each way. We had 7:55 for the bike plus whatever buffer we built up from the swim. (To clarify, you had to be in transition 10 hours and 30 minutes after the race started. You had a maximum of 2:20 for the swim, and 15 minutes for T1, for a maximum of 2:35. That leaves you with a minimum of 7:55 to do the bike. Any time you had left over from the swim or T1 could also be used). I was done with the swim and T1 in about 1:40, so I would have an extra 55 minutes. On the plus side, I would have right of way at all the intersections. On the down side, I had never done more then 40 miles on this course without a break, and I was already having stomach cramping.
I was nervous.
Leaving T1, we traveled down a highway leading out of downtown and were quickly turned onto a bike path. I later discovered this is the most dangerous part of the course. There are very sharp turns on a narrow path with a lot of cyclists jacked up on adrenaline trying to fly down the flat and easy part of the course. Many of the serious crashes that I heard about happened right here. Fortunately, everyone around me was courteous, rode slow and in single file. By that point, I was getting really irritated with my bike computer. It was frozen on the stats from my last ride, so I had no idea how far I had gone or how fast. After a couple on miles, I pull over to mess around with it. One of the buttons was stuck. Got it going about a minute later. By the time I started riding again, I felt the abdominal pain coming on. Two miles into a 112 mile bike ride, and I was already in pain. Wonderful…
The course is fairly uneventful until the last part of the stick (Whalen Road). This thing is hilly and goes on forever. There is actually one really big hill around mile 10 that nobody ever talks about. I was in granny gear and going about 6 mph (so was everyone else). Coming off the back side, I came close to 40 mph, and I was the slow poke of the bunch. This is all pretty standard for this course. This course is never flat, and there is always a whiff of manure in the air…
The stomach pains were bearable at this point, but barely. I was not passing any gas. Efforts to drink Gatorade were mostly unsuccessful. Small sips would dramatically worsen the pain. I had a bag of broken up Cliff Bars and tried a piece. That was a mistake. I was falling behind on fluids, salt and calories. My nutrition plan was falling apart fast. Fortunately, being bent over was the most comfortable position for me, and I was hoping that the pain would clear up fast enough to give me a chance to recover. In the meantime, I had to keep going.
We entered Verona, and the start of “the loop”. It was a quick ride thru town and we rode by the special needs area. We would stop there on lap two to recover anything we had set aside.
After that, the hills really started. Back into Granny gear and 6 mph, then flying down the back side again. Hwy G was a long and slow upwards grind. Nothing steep, but it was constant. There is a quick right onto Messerschmidt Rd (mini roller-coaster road) and then a right onto Hwy 92. Hwy 92 is the nicest road on the course. It is wide and newly paved. But it is an even longer upwards grind then Hwy G. Then, you round a corner and you see the hill heading into Mt Horeb(ble). This is the worst hill on the course. It starts steep and just gets steeper as it goes (and goes, and goes). There is a bit of a false flat, and then it gets steep again. Many local residents congregate on this hill to cheer everyone up, but it is still a thing of evil. I am always grateful to see the “Welcome to Mt Horeb” since I know that we have reached the summit and the pain is over (for a little while).
We pass by an aid station, but I fly thru. I have only been able to choke down half a bottle of Gatorade since I started riding a couple of hours ago. By this point, I had hoped to have consumed two bottles of Gatorade and would be getting two more bottles. But my stomach was still in knots. My mouth was so dry that I couldn’t even think of eating any of my Cliff Bars. I had a hard time swallowing my electrolyte tablets. I noticed to port-a-potties at the aid station, and realized that I had not peed since Lake Monona. Dehydration was already starting to set in. I was starting to get really worried that it would be my stomach that would derail this whole adventure. But, for now, I could just hope that the cramping would go away soon enough to recover.
There was a scary sight leaving Mt Horeb. An elderly women started crossing the street. She just hit the crosswalk button and started walking. Three bikers were flying right towards her. They all started yelling and she didn’t even look up. They tried to swerve away and one passed so close in front of her that I think he made contact as she staggered back a couple of steps. She didn’t fall, and started shaking her fist at the bikers while yelling some obscenities at them…so I think she was alright.
Heading out of town, we get to Witte Rd. This is my favorite part of the course. It is the cycling equivalent to a great roller coaster. Big flying downhills going 40+ mph followed by steep uphills that you can almost make to the top before going to granny gear and grinding your way to the next big drop. I am not a great bike handler, and I had the Vulcan Death Grip on my handlebars for this stretch. I also had nightmares about challenging this hill in the rain or in strong winds. But not today. Today I was flying!
Garfoot was next and that is mostly downhill, but with sharp curves, which makes it a little more nerve rattling. The first hill has a very sharp right hand turn and a lot of signs warning you to slow down. Despite this, an ambulance is parked at this intersection every year for this event. They even stack up hay bails to try to break the fall of the stupid and reckless. I rode my brakes down that hill and could barely get my bike under 15 mph (again, I could not imagine riding this course safely in the rain).
That road ended in Cross Plains…the final town before returning to Verona. This may be the only flat part of the course. Another aid station came and went. I tried to get some Gatorade in me. I had completed one bottle in about 2.5 hours. No other fluids or calories. No need to pee. It was getting worse then I feared.
A few turns out of Cross Plains, and we hit Stagecoach Rd. This is the equivalent of riding your bike on a washboard for a mile. I think I lost a filling, and every other cyclist was losing a water bottle or some other piece of gear. I was always concerned that this much rattling could cause a mechanical issue with the bike, but it never did.
Then, the part of the course that everyone talks about. The three bitches-three steep hills in rapid succession. Old Sauk Pass is the first. This one has a 6-7 degree grade, but is winding and just keeps going and going. The three bitches is also where the spectators come to party. People dressed in little devil costumes chase you up the hill with pitchforks. There are so many spectators, that they crowd onto the road making it even harder to get thru. But the energy there does help to propel you up the hill. A short downhill and a turn later, we hit Timber Lane. This is set steepest and the shortest of the three hills. You also get a short downhill leading into it, but the 9 degree grade does make you fight for the summit. After that, there is a bit of a breather and a few fun rollers before hitting Midtown Road. Another 6-7 degree climb on a curve. Fairly short, but a false flat at the top that keeps you in granny gear forever. This was also the most congested road of the bunch. When I went through, there was a car in each lane trying to get past each other on the steepest part of the hill. With all the pedestrians, there was only a narrow path between the two cars that we had to get in single file to pass. I am surprised that nobody fell off their bikes. At the top, well there were a lot of drunk guys in drag…
Afterwards, there was mostly downhills back into Verona. We passed by the Verona festival where they had a lot of vendors and some bleachers set up to watch us come thru. Another aid station was there as well. Another reminder of how much trouble I was in. The abdominal pain was starting to subside. Unfortunately, it was replaced by nausea, which was being caused by the dehydration. I still could not get fluids down due to the nausea, which was making me more dehydrated, which was worsening the nausea. This was the scenario I had hoped to avoid.
As we turned down main street, I choked down a little more fluids and almost choked on a salt tablet. I was closing in on the halfway point, but I have never felt this bad after a 56 mile bike ride. This was a tough course and I would have to tackle it again, under ever worsening physical condition. The good news was that I was keeping up a decent pace. I had 5 hours to complete the bike. Plenty of time if my body would co-operate.
But my stomach and bowels had shut down and I was going into acute kidney failure. I didn’t know how far I could go on.
I reached the split. A left turn would return me to transition.
I turned right and started the second loop.
The Bike (Loop 2)
As I started loop two, my abdominal pain had finally gone away. Unfortunately, since I was not able to eat or drink much to that point because of the pain, I was quite dehydrated, nauseated, and weak. I was way behind on fluids, calories, and electrolytes. I had only gone thru one bottle of Gatorade since getting on the bike. I had hoped to have consumed 4 bottles by this point. The bike special needs checkpoint was coming up. I had 2 fresh bottles of Gatorade in my SN bag and I figured that I should try to get as much of my remaining bottle down as I was spinning thru Verona. I guess that I should mention why I was lugging around my own Gatorade. The official (and only) sports drink for Ironman is Ironman Perform. That stuff turns my stomach on a good day. So, if I wanted any sports drink during this event, I had to bring my own.
Despite all of the stomach issues, I was making decent time. I was worried about the bike cutoff, but I had about 5 hours left at the halfway point. I had the time. None of the usual things were hurting. My “sit bones” were fine. So were the legs. No carpel tunnel issues or back problems either. The bike training really had paid off.
It was also a damn glorious day to be riding…sunny, warm (but not hot), with a slight breeze. The volunteers and crowd support were amazing, and I was still smiling and giddy with the notion that I was actually doing an Ironman! Despite everything with my guts, I really was enjoying every moment of this experience!
Special needs was a long stretch on the side of the road. There were rows and rows of bags, each about 25 deep and organized by bib number. As I pulled up, a volunteer yelled out my bib number in a megaphone. There was 1-2 volunteer at each row and they all pointed me down the road to my row and a volunteer was waiting for me with my bag. This was awesome!
He opened my bag and I swapped out my bottles, and tried to gulp down a third (smaller) bottle. Stomach wasn’t happy with all the fluids it received in such a brief time, and I wasn’t sure it would stay down. I did not need the baggie of broken up Cliff Bars (since I didn’t touch the ones I had with me), or the spare tubes/CO2 canisters (yay! No bike mechanical issues). Finally, I put on a fresh coat of sunscreen. The volunteer asked me if I was doing OK. “You’re really shaky, are you sure you are OK?” This was an eye opener. Volunteers could tell I was in trouble. I might be in worse shape then I thought, and I was only halfway thru with the bike leg. There was a salted nut roll in the bag and I tried a couple of bites but could not finish it. I down a couple of salt tabs with the Gatorade and hope I can start reversing the dehydration. But the volunteer was right, I was really shaky.
I set off on the second loop and the hills started right away. Funny how they seem so much bigger the second time around. The tummy voiced it dissatisfaction with all the fluid, but everything stayed down. I was going slower and working harder on every hill. The pack of cyclists had thinned and I was certainly drifting towards the back of the pack (which I knew would happen on the bike). I came to Mt Hobeb and the worst hill on the course. This was a long painful grind. It just keeps going, and keeps getting steeper. The crowd is out in force and they help propel me up the hill towards the next aid station. I had tried some Gatorade a mile back and could only handle a sip. I decided to grab a water bottle to see if I could get that down. I worked a bit better. Got about half the bottle down and poured the rest over my head (and ran over a traffic cone in the process….my bike handling skills are so non-existant…I am amazed that I have never hurt myself while riding).
I push thru town and fly down Witte road and onto Garfoot (sipping Gatorade whenever I think about it) and pull into Cross Plains. By this point, I was getting very weak and I decided to use the aid station as a pit-stop. They bring me a bottle of water and a banana. I tried one bite and had to spit it out. I was able to sip on the water and got a couple of salt tablets down. I tried using the port-a-potty and got a slight trickle. This gave me a glimmer of hope. I thought about sitting down, but I knew that I had to keep going. I was at mile 80…with 32 more to go. And the three bitches were coming up soon…
Again, the crowd support at the three hills was overwhelming. We were greeted and cheered like we were rock stars! The guys in devil outfits had left Old Sauk Pass, but there were more then enough left to propel me (slowly) up that hill. Timber Lane (with it’s 9% grade) was an even bigger party. Little kids were running along with the bikers on Midtown (and generally going much faster). Somehow, I summited the hills and coasted downhill and back into Verona. The Verona festival was still going, and bleachers of spectators were still screaming and cheering. It really was a great bike ride with amazing support and great weather on an awesome course…and I still could not stop smiling!
Another rest stop at the next aid station and I pedaled out of town. I hit the split again, and took a left hand turn this time, onto the stick and back towards Madison. I still had 16 miles to go, and a very long and hilly stretch down Whalen Road. At mile 102, I reached the last big hill. There was a bit of crowd support, but nothing like on the loop. I just had to get into granny gear and just grind it out.
As I covered the last few miles, my head was spinning as fast as my legs. I was getting fluids down but not fast enough to keep up, much less catch up. My legs were starting to have muscle spasm in odd places (likely from electrolyte depletion and dehydration). I was way behind on calories and I am surprised that I hadn’t bonked yet. The tank was out of gas. I did not want to quit, but I did not think that my body could keep going. I was weak enough and shaky enough that I was not sure course officials would even let me keep going. Worse, there was a part of my brain didn’t want to keep going. I could barely stand up, was sick and dehydrated, and had been competing for over nine hours…and I was going to start a full marathon? I could not wrap my brain around even trying such a crazy thing. The only ending I could see in my future was a DNF. No other option made sense. Any other option had no basis in reality. The truth was that I was out of gas. I had nothing left.
I could see Monona Terrace coming up fast. I had a sense of foreboding as spun up the parking ramp. I wanted to quit, and knew that this could be the end of my day.
I crossed the timing mat and entered T2…
Bike Split: 7:37:37.
Elapsed Time: 9:18:33.
Time Remaining: 7:41:27.
“There are two separate halfs to your fitness self. There is the training self, and the racing self. The training self does all the hard work. He gets up at 3 am. He runs in the dark, in the rain, in the heat, and in the snow. The training self ignores the snooze button, the fatigue, and the pain. The training self gives your racing self the gifts of fitness and endurence. The training self does all of the hard work. The racing self only has to show up a few times a year, and it only has one job.
He has to honor your training self.
He has to make all of your training self’s hard work and sacrifices worthwhile.
No matter what you do on race day, never let your training self down.”
-Coach Rick-Endurance Nation
“Ironman is about pain. It is about adversity. It is about pushing beyond your limitations and your expectations. It is about how the human spirit faces adversity… and overcomes it.”
I limped into T2. As I reached the dismount line, I stepped off my bike and my knees buckled. The volunteers had to catch me and my bike. The bike was quickly carted away as another volunteer supported me and escorted me into the changing room. This guy was bursting with energy and enthusiasm. He was my new best friend and cheerleader, and he was giving me a pretty good back massage as we walked. He brought me to a chair and sat me down as another volunteer brought me some water and a third brought me my run gear bag (these transitions are amazing!)
Despite all of this, I was in the pit of despair. I had to run a marathon. I could not even walk without help. How could I ever do this? The thought was overwhelming. I wanted to quit. Except, deep down, I knew that I didn’t. I had dreamed of this day for almost 3 years, and have trained so hard for it during the last 30 weeks. This was my one shot at this. I would not be back. The weather was perfect. I was healthy and had avoided injury. Many others never made it this far. I saw several crashes on the bike course. Some never made it out of the water. I still had my timing chip on my ankle, so I was still in the game. I was hurting and weak. I was painted into a corner. But, I wasn’t out yet…
I had 26.2 miles left…a distance that is painful on it’s own. What did I have?
I had over 7 1/2 hours. So I had a lot of extra time…but not enough time to just walk the whole thing. I could use that time wisely. I had a chair, an endless water supply, and an air conditioned transition out of the sun. My legs were cramping (from the dehydration) but were otherwise fine. I also had a massage therapist walking around transition giving athletes free treatments (did I mention that I love IM Wisconsin transition?)
So, actually, I had a lot.
My biggest problem was that I was dehydrated and my stomach was shut down and not absorbing fluids. How do I fix this? Simple: rest. Let my heart and lung slow down. Relax my leg muscles. Then my body could shunt blood flow back to my stomach and get it functional again.
So, I deliberately took my time in transition. I drank a lot of water. I slowly changed into my run gear. I got a leg massage (that was amazing)!
And, it was working. The stomach started accepting water. I had a salted nut roll and took a bite (then spat it out). Baby steps. I tried the Gatorade. Stomach didn’t like it, but I desperately needed the calories.
Then, finally, I got my head out of my ass.
I worked too hard to get here. I knew that Ironman would be damn hard. I knew that it would be a test of my ability, and endurence, and passion. I had been crumbling at the first sign of adversity. This had to end…right now.
The pity party was over.
I had 26.2 miles and 7 1/2 hours to get it done. I could piece it together if I wanted it bad enough. I just had to want it, be smart about it and never ever stop moving forward.
In order to do that I had to get started.
One foot in front of the other, I slowly shuffled out of T2, and onto the run course.
T2 Split: 14:03.
Total Elapsed Time: 9:32:36.
Time Remaining: 7:27:24.
The Run (Loop 1)
I left T2 behind me, determined to finish. I was going slow. Very slow. I would describe it as a “window shopping with my wife for a new pair of shoes” type of pace.
This was partially out of necessity, and partially out of strategy. I needed to do some running tonight in order to finish (there was not enough time to just walk the whole way). But, I wanted to relax enough to allow my stomach to start moving again, and to catch up on hydration.
The run course has some hills, but is mostly flat. It runs from the downtown Capital area onto the University of Wisconsin campus. It includes a lap around the Capitol Building, a lap in the UW Football Stadium, a few runs down State Street (party central) as well as some trail running. Here is the course layout. It is a two loop course.
There was an aid station just outside of transition. I was carrying a Gatorade bottle and I grabbed a cup of water. The water was going down. The Gatorade wasn’t.
I kept walking. I started feeling a little better. I tried to resist to urge to move any faster. I needed to give my body a break. But the walk did speed slightly.
I reached the next aid station. There would be a lot more food and hydration options on the run course. It was time to examine the buffet table.
Bonk Breakers, pretzels, chips, cookies…none of that sounded even slightly appealing. Then I noticed the fruit. I avoided the banana (that failed on the bike course) but the orange slice was good, and the grapes were great. Got a cup of those, and cup of water. I gave up any hope of drinking the Gatorade and tossed the bottle. By mile 2, I was jogging slowly. By mile 3, I was running. My plan was to walk the aid stations and the hills. I would run the rest for now.
I noticed that another runner and I kept passing each other, so we started talking. It was a great distraction and she pushed me a little harder then I would have otherwise. She truly power-walked the hills and ran the rest. I kept falling behind at aid stations since I always had to ask for the grapes, but I would then catch up. The course was beautiful and it just flew by. We got to run a lap thru the University of Wisconsin Football Stadium, past fraternity row, an extremely hilly and winding Observatory Road, and an out and back on State Street which is party center in Madison, and it was just rocking! It was the fastest 6 miles of the day. By mile nine, I was slowing a bit, and we parted ways. However, I was excited to see that I had already made it so far. My stomach was on the edge, but mostly behaving itself. I was starting to pee again, so my hydration was getting back on track. I was able to start popping the salt tablets regularly. Overall, I was less shaky and light headed. I was also making pretty good time! If I could just complete a half-marathon at this pace, I could probably walk the rest of the way.
We moved onto a much quieter part of the course, a lakefront walking trail thru campus. It was quite tranquil and gave me a chance to reflect on the day. There were highs and lows, but this was living up to everything I hoped it would be. There were hardships, challenges, and adversity, but it was still such a wonderful event to just participate in. I remembered what I kept repeating to myself earlier in the day. The victory was having the courage to line up at the start. Everything else was the celebration of my journey. I had lost sight of that, but I would not do so again. This was an event to enjoy and savor. It would not be repeated. I was fortunate just to have the opportunity and the health to participate. I found the calm that I had lost. That same sensation I had floating on my back and looking at a perfect blue sky. I had made it to my dream, and I was enjoying it again…
The miles kept clicking by. The pace slowed a little, but not much. I was walking the hills and the aid stations, and running the rest.
Soon, I was back on State Street heading towards the Capitol. I didn’t notice just how cool this course was on mile one, but I was certainly enjoying it now. Streetfront restaurants were packs and everyone was cheering as we ran by, heading straight for the Capitol Building. We did a lap around it and headed towards the split. I started running towards the chute and saw the sign.
“Second Lap-Turn Left, Finish-Go Straight”.
I could see the Finish. I could hear Mike Riley yelling “You Are An Ironman”. But, he wasn’t going to be saying my name. Not yet. It wasn’t my time. Not for a few more hours. But I would be back. And the next time I would be here, I too would be an Ironman…
The Run (Loop 2)
Coming out of the turnaround were the special needs bags. We had run past on the way in. Volunteers had announced our bib numbers as we passed so they had our bags ready for us as we returned. This stop was fairly straightforward. I ignored the Gatorade and Nut Roll. I swapped out my sunglasses for regular glasses (blind as a bat without glasses and I don’t do contacts). Finally, I grabbed my headlamp. Dusk was already upon us and the trails would not be well lit.
I left special needs and I started to run. My goal on the first lap was to run as much of it as possible and to build up a buffer. I wanted to be in a position to walk the whole second loop if I had to. Mission accomplished. My quick mental math allowed me to walk at a 20 minute/mile pace safely (actually, all I needed was a 21:30/mile pace). However, I was feeling good. Real good. I had legs and they wanted to run. Worked for me. The deeper I could get into the run, the safer I would be. So, I kept the same strategy…walk the hills and the aid stations, run the rest, and enjoy the final lap as much as possible!
I reached the first aid station, and they were just starting to serve chicken broth. I took a tentative sip. It was good. Real good! I quickly downed the rest of the cup, expecting a stomach revolt. It never came. This was a game changer! I now had an easy to consume source of fluids and electrolytes…and it tasted great after all the Gatorade! I was double fisting the stuff at later aid stations!
The night went on, and miles slowly racked up. I kept to my pace and my plan. My buffer kept growing. By mile 19, my legs were starting to tire, and I was getting weak again. I had reached the unpaved trails and it was hard to see my footing even with the headlamp. I made the strategic decision to walk to rest of the way. I had plenty of time now…a 30+ minute/mile pace would secure the finish line for me, and that is all that mattered at that point. I tried to keep a fairly brisk walking pace, and I quickly started to notice that everyone around me was walking too. I made some friends during that final stretch, and time crawled by. With the decision to walk came improved strength. My stomach and legs were feeling fine. I tried briefly to run again at mile 21. After less then a quarter mile later, I stopped, realizing that it was a mistake. I quickly felt worse and more unsteady. The last thing I needed was to roll my ankle. It was time to play defense.
I got back to State Street and the party was still on. The Capitol was ahead of me again, for the last time. As I was walking around it, I bumped into a FB friend. We compared stories during the last few hundred yards. We could see the finish line and parted ways. We were at the finishers chute and would each make this final part of our journey alone. I made the final turn, and headed down the chute…
There hasn’t been a day in the last thirty weeks that I didn’t think of this moment. During every workout my mind would drift to this single image, this moment in time. This was it, the culmination of a a 4000 mile/30 week journey.
Sore muscles and blistered feet were forgotten. The stomach settled. All of my senses were alive and in the moment.
The finish arch was in sight. The floodlights were all around me. The chute was lined with spectators, all cheering, all for me. I look around, and I was the only one in the chute. This was my moment.
I started to run down this final carpeted stretch. People were yelling my name. I must have given a hundred high fives. The flashbulbs were going off. I could hear Mike Riley announcing other peoples names as they crossed the finish line. For once, I was paying attention to this detail. After all the training and sacrifices for the last 30 weeks, after the physical and emotional roller coster of the last 15+ hours. After all the doubt and insecurities, I wanted to hear the announcement.
The finishers arch was almost upon me. More flashbulbs. More cheers.
And then, a few yards from the finish line, I hear it…
“Raymond Marier, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”
I vaguely remember pumping my fist as a wave of every emotion flooded my senses. I was drowning in them. It is a feeling that I cannot put into words, but it was completely overwhelming.
A few more steps and I crossed the finish line.
I was an Ironman.
Run Split: 6:09:35.
Finish Time: 15:42:11.
As soon as I crossed the finish line, I was greeted by two volunteers, one on each side. They were very nice, asked me how my race went, and congratulated me on my finish. It wasn’t until I watched the finish line video that I noticed that each was holding on to one of my arms. They were the finish line “catchers” and they were there to make sure that I didn’t fall on my face. They were quickly and quietly evaluating my physical condition. Was I able to stand? Was I able to walk? Was I coherent? Did I need to be carried to medical? They helped me to another volunteer that removed my timing chip, another which put the medal around my neck, brought me my finishers shirt and hat, and they got me some water and chocolate milk (I slammed both…stomach was working again) and they got me in line for the finishers photos. Once they were convinced that I was ok, they went back to the finish line to “catch” the next finisher.
The finishers photo is awful. I can easily see the physical and emotional exhaustion that I could not hide anymore. I had left it all on the course, everything that I had.
Once done, I headed out of the finishers area. The food tent was right next door. The smell of pizza made me instantly ill, and I kept walking. I did not have any “sherpas” with me, so I walked the block or so back to Monona Terrace to get my gear. On my way, I passed by the massage tent, and figured that it would be worth a detour. It was. The massage lasted over a half and hour, and really helped to release a lot of my stiffness and soreness. After that, I finally went to claim my gear. They had tied the 3 gear bags tied together (bike gear, run gear, morning clothes) and got them for me. The combo was quite heavy and hard to carry, but my strength was returning and I was shortly on my way. Transition was the final stop. As I entered, they called out my bib number and someone quickly returned with my bike. They triple checked to make sure it was mine and I was on my way.
The hotel was about a half mile away. Part of me wanted to go to the finish line and watch some of the final finishers, but I was too tired and carrying to much gear. Instead, I just made my way home. I did cross the course and saw a few runners trying to make the cutoff. I cheered them as they went by knowing they had enough time to make it.
Once I the hotel, I was a little to wound up to go to sleep. I desperately needed a shower to rinse off the sweat, the salt, the dirt and the sunscreen, and it felt wonderful. I called home and got some tearful congratulations. On the course, you feel so alone at times, and it is so good to know that loved ones were planted by their computers all day waiting for me to reach the next checkpoint and watching the live feeds of the finish line. I then checked my emails and FB to find that both were flooded with good wishes and congratulations. That was it. That put me over the top. The sea of emotions that had build up all day came pouring out. All the messages were so good to read.
Thank you to everyone that followed me and supported me on my journey. You have all helped me more then you can imaging.
With that, exhaustion overcame me and I crawled into bed and drifted to sleep…
It was a wonderful day. It exceeded everything I had hoped for and dreamed about. It had become an obsession, and parts of me are happy that it is behind me.
The 30 week training was a trial by fire. I worked harder then I ever had before. Physically, I traveled over 4000 miles. Mentally, the journey was much greater.
I have exorcised some demons during this journey. I have finally faced up to issues that have been swept under the rug since high school. I was never a jock. Never ran a mile. I was a geek, and always viewed myself as incapable of doing anything physical.
I had run seven marathon, and was finishing in the top 5% of finishers at shorter races. But I still made excuses. I was lucky. I was slow. I didn’t really belong there.
That has changed.
I just assume now that I can whatever I set my mind to. I have gone in search of my limits and still have not found them. The human body is capable of wonderous things if the mind just doesn’t get in the way. Now, instead of saying “you can’t” or “that’s impossible”, it says “show me what you got”…and that is a refreshing change.
This has basically been a pilgrimage for me, a journey of self discovery. And I did learn a lot about myself.
The day was hard. I knew it would be. I expected adversity, I just wasn’t sure what it would be. The nature of my burden surprised me (I always have a gut of steel), and it was difficult to overcome.
I stared defeat in the eye. It blinked first.
Yes, it would have been nice to have a smooth day with less suffering. But, that is what makes the accomplishment even more special. Facing the barriers, and overcoming them.
The event itself was fantastic. The course was very, very challenging. The weather was great which brought out the cheering fans and kept everyone in good spirits.
The volunteers were absolutely amazing, and I know that I did not thank enough of them. Many standout in my memory and, several times, their words or actions helped keep me going.
From the bottom of my heart, I thank you all.
And, thank you to my family who has supported me and sacrificed for me. Thank you to the Facebook group for motivation, explanations, insights, support, and laughs. Thanks to everyone who has followed me on this journey. I owe you all a debt of gratitude.
With all of your help, I am an Ironman. More importantly, I am a man with more confidence in himself and what he is capable of accomplishing. And, that alone, has made this journey worthwhile.
Nothing too embarrassing…
Here’s a more general event day recap video.