Tag Archives: Ironman Triathlon

Another exciting triathlon weekend…

…as a spectator.

As many fans gear up for the first NFL game of the season, I have been glued to my iPad watching real time results of so many friends across the country tackling their last big races of the year.

So many stories. So much inspiration.

Yesterday, two of my friends did their second ever triathlon…and their first Olympic distance and first race with an OWS. They ended up first and second in their age group.

Today, another friend is competing at Cedar Point Rev3 70.3 triathlon. She has completed several 70.3’s and this is her last one before she can register for her first full distance Ironman (IM Florida 2017…on her birthday).

But, the main event has to be Ironman Wisconsin…the same race I completed 2 years ago. So many friends are there that it is hard to keep track of them all. Many are veterans looking at setting a new PR. Some are first timers who are just hoping to finish.

Three of them have unfinished business.

The first is an outstanding athlete who I competed with 2 years ago. I met at a century ride a couple of months earlier. She got a stress fracture in her hip the week before the race. Her orthopedist grudgingly gave her the green light to swim and bike, but firmly told her not to run. She crushed the first two legs of the race but made the decision to put flip flops instead of running shoes in her T2 transition bag. I remember feeling like death coming out of T2 wondering how I could ever finish (I could barely stand up or walk), and I heard her cheering me on from the sidelines. Her day was done. I still had a chance. That gave me the mental push I needed to keep going. She has taken a break to recover, and is there to finish what she started.

The second is a middle of the pack Ironman who keeps going back despite having to concur panic attacks on the swim every single race. Last year, he got a DNS since he needed urgent spine surgery. He was told that one wrong move could paralyze him. Now he is back to race again.

The third athlete reminds me of me…but with a lot more heart and courage. He lost 100 pounds and lined up at the start with me in 2014. He fell a little short and got swept at mile 15 on the run. He was first in line to sign up for 2015. That year, he had a very rough bike race and his legs kept cramping up. He reached T2  but missed the cutoff by less than 30 seconds. His legs were so badly cramped that he could not unclip as he came to a stop that he crashed his bike. Since this was the bike in at T2, it was being streamed lived as we all watched in horror as the ambulance arrived. He was ok, and again 1st in line to register the next day. If Ironman was measured in the size of someone’s heart and determination instead of finish time and distance, he would be the IM Wisconsin Champion. I have followed his progress this year…and he is ready. His swim split was 11 minutes faster than last year and 19 minutes faster than2014.

I will be glued to the live streams all of these champions cross the finish line in Madison.

Is this inspiring me to sign up for another Ironman? Nope…not a chance. I am thrilled by that race, but have no desire to do it again.

But it is inspiring me to try and do more than just show up at nationals next year. I know I won’t be competitive, but I can give it my best effort. It is also making me wonder about a return to the 70.3 distance. It has been two years since I have done anything but a sprint. Ironman launched a new 70.3 in Ohio this year and will be launching a new Ironman 70.3 in Madison Wisconsin next year.

Maybe I can build up to those as my “A” races of 2018 and 2019.

Time will tell…

 

UPDATE: Everyone successfully finished their events. The three athletes profiled above are all Ironmans now.  Another friend (that I didn’t know was racing) finished first in her age group and qualified for Nationals. It was a great weekend. Now the long  hard triathlon off season begins. Of course, that also brings the fall running season. I completed back-to-back 10 milers this weekend in preparation for the Twin Cities Marathon Weekend next month. Not used to running more then 5k anymore…

 

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Race Report: HITS Sprint Triathlon-Waconia

August 21, 2016
Wacconia,  MN
Triathlon #17
Event #102

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When it comes to races, participants usually have a script visualized in their minds eye. Sometimes it’s a dream. Sometimes it’s a fear. Mostly, it is a vision of what has gone before, and a realistic a hope for something a little bit better.

Some races transend expectation. This may be good or bad. Occasionally, they are both. A race that baffles the racer at the end of the day in every possible way.

This was one of those races. Nothing followed the script. Nothing was even close. It made for my worst and best race in recent memory.

My training volumes and intensity have been down from last year. I showed up to participate, not compete. But, I had thoughts that I could get my first ever podium finish. This is not because I thought I could smoke the competition. Instead, I remembered that this was a very small triathlon. Most participants got a podium award. Unfortunately, I was in the largest and most competative Age Group last year. Despite a decent showing, I ended up 5th out of 6 participants. If my age group happened to be a little smaller this time, I could get lucky and score a third place finish…maybe.

I found out last week that HITS would not be returning the Minnesota next year. Judging from last year’s event, this was not be a shock. About 50 participants in the full, 100 or so in the half, and small showings in the Sprint and Olympic distances. The medals and shirts were the same for everyone. The course was dull, even for a sprint, with only a small number of volunteers. Despite rock bottom pricing ($200 early bird pricing for the full), HITS just never caught on. Turnout is much better at local events (participants, volunteers, spectators). So, it was no surprise that this event was absent from next year’s calendar. I am starting to wonder is there even will be a 2018 HITS calendar. HITS has dropped events in Texas, Arizona, Colorado and now Minnesota. This leaves only events in New York, Florida and California. I wasn’t planning on running this event in 2017, but the loss of competition in the market is never a good thing. I truly hope that they can make a comeback.

The forcast called for a cold front to come through town the day before the event. Predicted morning temps was to hover around 50F. Fortunately, there wasn’t enough time for the lake temps to drop. The swim would be wetsuit legal, but comfortable. The run would be nice. I expected to freeze on the bike course, and I started going through my cool weather cycling wardrobe. The day before my race, HITS held their longer events (140.6 and 70.3). Those guys got clobbered with cold, rain, wind, and whitecaps. I definately got the better day of the weekend to compete.

Unfortunately, I did everything wrong leading up to this event. My training was sidetracked. I did not swim or bike for a month before this race. My running volume was down as well. I spent the day before the race watching Gwen Jorgensen win a Gold Medal in Rio (while Sarah True received a heartbreaking DNF). That night, Canada’s rock band – The Tragically Hip – streamed their final show online. The lead singer was diagnosed with brain cancer and had just had a craniotomy, chemo and radiation, and decided that he wanted to tour one last time. I had to watch the show. It was electrifying. But it also wasn’t over until 11:00 pm. Since I had a 90 minute drive to the race site the next morning, and the early transition time, I had to get up by 2:30 am. That gave me about 3 hours of sleep….

 

PRE-RACE:

The weather turned out better and worse then expected. It ended up being warmer (high 50’s) but felt colder due to strong winds. As I arrived at the venue, I could hear (but not see) the waves crashing against the shore. This immediately started to mess with my confidence. This is odd since I have swam in far worse conditions without issue. But the cool morning air, strong winds and the sound of the waves messed with by head. I suddenly had a bad feeling about this race.

It is a small event. Parking was close to the park and I got there just as packet pick up was starting. Generic shirt again (and wrong size), chip, bib, stickers and back to the car I went. After getting most of my gear together, I hiked back to transition and got my area organized. HITS does provide a nice transition area with benches for each participant. After setting up, I decided that it would be easier to get my wetsuit on in the back of my SUV instead on the wet grass…so another hike back to the car. I was walking back to transition for the last time when I took note that I was walking barefoot…I had left my running shoes in the car. My head was clearly not in the game that morning.

After everything was in place, I headed to the beach and saw the water for the first time. The waves weren’t as bad as they sounded, but there were a lot of them, and there was a very strong current coming towards the shore.

I was the first to hop in the water for a warmup. The water was very comfortable…but the anxiety skyrocketed as soon as I started taking a few test strokes. The current and frequent waves made it impossible for me to get into a rhythm and I started panicking. The more I swam, the worse it became. I started to doubt my ability to do this event.

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We were called back to shore for a quick pre-race briefing. It would be a mass start from the beach. I didn’t really pay attention to the rest as I was trying to get my heart rate and breathing under control. I couldn’t. Moments later the horn sounded. I let the small mass start (50 or so racers) go ahead and then, with an intense feeling of foreboding, I followed them into the water…

 

THE SWIM:

Let’s just sum it up. The swim was a complete disaster. It was my worst swim since Ironman 70.3 Racine (with the freezing lake temps, six foot swells, the current and the undertow). At least there, I had a reason to panic.

I may have been 100 feet from shore when I felt certain that I was going to drown out here. I actually turned around and started heading back to the beach. I then saw a paddle board that was closer and headed towards her instead (mostly because it was closer). I tried to calm down (didn’t really work) and the paddle boarder agreed to stay near me (since I was already about in last place and marked by the lifeguards as the most likely to need rescuing).

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The course was a triangle. The first leg, I would be fighting the current the whole way. The second leg, I would have waves coming onto my right side (the side I breath from), and the third leg, the current would help me back to shore.

I swam another hundred feet and had to latch on to the board again. I was doing head up breast stroke half the time. I doubt I took more then 5-6 freestyle strokes in a row. This pattern continued until I reached the turn buoy. I grabbed on to it for a break. I looked around me and there were a couple of struggling swimmers nearby, but almost everyone was long gone. I was dreading the second leg. Waves would be hitting me in the face as I tried to breath. I figured that the first one would send me into a complete panic. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. I was able to keep my face above water, but I never found a rhythm. I was still doing a fair amount of breast stroke. I was still taking breathers on paddle boards and buoys.

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By the time I reach the final turn buoy, I started to wonder if I would miss the swim cutoff. We had thirty minutes to complete the swim. It felt that I was in the water longer then that. I checked my Garmin and realized that I never started to timer. I forgot that I could have just looked at time of day since we started racing as a mass start at 7:00 am. I was having that kind of morning.

I started the final leg, and the current finally started to help me. I started to get into a rhythm, but I still fighting a very high anxiety level, and a certainty that I would get my first DNF. After what seemed like an eternity, my feet touched the sand and I crawled back onto the beach.

Swim Split – 26:57

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T1:

I expected to be handing over my timing chip. Instead, I was directed to the wetsuit stripper. A quick strip later and I was in transition. I looked around and I few stragglers we’re heading out on the bike and I was the last one there. I knew I passed at least one swimmer at the end of the last leg, so I was not dead last, but I was very close. I had to start catching up. I had to vindicate myself a little bit on the bike. I tried to get through transition as fast as I could, grabbed my bike, and headed out of T1.

T1 Split – 2:38

 

THE BIKE:

I looked at my Garmin. It still wasn’t on. But time of day was 7:30 am. So my swim + T1 time was 30 minutes. I knew that I had made the swim cutoff and wasn’t going to get an automatic DNF. But it had been close. I felt angry and embarrassed. I knew I wasn’t quite dead last, but I was close. I least nobody would likely be passing me on the bike. Hopefully, I could start reeling people in.

It was time to redeem myself.

I attacked from behind. In the first mile, I spotted the couple that had left transition just as I arrived…

“On your left!”

A mile later, I come to another rider…

“On your left!”

Then my first group of riders…

“On your left!”

You get the idea.

By the time I had reached the turnaround (it was a simple out and back course), I had lost count.

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On the way back, I counted how many were behind me. Twenty two. Not bad…

The ride back was lonely. I passed one more cyclist. Didn’t see anyone else. The stronger cyclist were way ahead of me, and I was all by myself in the middle of the pack.

It was a cold ride. Being fresh out of the lake didn’t help and the windy conditions made it worse. But the hard cycling and the sun did make for a pretty comfortable ride back.

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A few more miles at a steady pace and I was back in T2.

Bike Split – 44:10

 

T2:

I just tried to not waste any time. Certainly room for improvement.

T2 Split – 1:13

 

THE RUN:

I had found some redemption on the bike, and wanted to keep that going on the run. I still knew that a podium finish was a possibility and didn’t want to just miss it because I got lazy in the final few miles.

The first part of the course is a dirt trail. Unfortunately, torrential rains had struck the night before, and the trail was a mud run in locations. I maneuvered through as best I could and got to the road that we were racing on.

If it was cold for the bike, it was ideal for the run. I didn’t think that I would be reeling anyone in, but I wanted to be passed as little as possible. The course was again a simple out and back. On the was out, someone just flew past me. Fortunately, it was a female and not in my AG. I remembered at this point that the body markers had not placed the competitors age on the calf…I would not know if someone was in my AG or not. This would become a big deal later on.

I reached the turnaround and got some water. Several seconds later, I passed someone going out towards the turnaround. He looked my age. I glanced at his calf. His age wasn’t recorded. I had no way of knowing if he was in my age group or not. But a voice in my head told me to make damn certain that he didn’t pass me. I look further back. He still had a little bit of concrete between him and the turnaround. I had a comfortable lead with 1.5 miles to go.

I passed a small number of walkers on the way back in. None of them looked like AG competition. I glanced back occasionally. He was gaining on me, but I didn’t think that he could make up the rest of the distance in time. He was running out of run course.

Soon, I was back at the muddy path. I tried to stay in the grassy areas so I didn’t slip too much. A fall here and I would be overtaken. But, I safely maneuvered the path.

I got back to the park. I just had to get to the picnic pavilion and it would be over. Head down, final sprint, and I crossed the finish line.

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Run Split – 28:27

Finish Time – 1:43:25

 

POST RACE:

It certainly wasn’t the race I wanted. The swim was a disaster. The bike went well, but I was had significantly less training then last season and my bike split was slower then 2015. My run was a little faster this time, and my transitions were improved. But I was seven minutes slower overall. A podium was still a possibility, but it just depended on what the rest of my age group accomplished this day.

I got my medal and a bit of food. The first page of race results was printed and taped to a table. I looked at it. Nobody in my age group on the list. Maybe I had a chance after all. An announcement stated that the award ceremony would take place in about 30 minutes. So, a went to transition, grabbed my gear and headed to the car. After a quick clothing change and loading everything into the vehicle, I headed back to the park to see if I got lucky. I did not feel optimistic.

Upon my return, they were just setting up. I returned to the results board and a second page was posted. I scan down the age group column and started to curse. Two back-to-back M45-49 had made the list. I didn’t see anyone else in my AG. I was still in the running for third. There was still a glimmer of hope.

One last scan of the sheet and I saw it. My jaw dropped because I saw my name…

It was listed next to the first M45-49 result.

I had just won my age group. First place.

I scanned the sheets again. Nobody ahead of my in M45-49. There was one right behind me however. I was right to listen to that voice in my head. The guy chasing me on the run course was in my age group….and he was fast. His run split was 21:53. He had made up 6:30 on me in the run. If he had been 16 seconds faster, he would have won my age group. But he didn’t. I held him off. I was on a podium for the first time…and I was alone at the top.

 

AWARD CEREMONY:

I looked at the results again and took a pic. I texted my wife…and a few friends. I could not believe what I was seeing. The award ceremony was starting and I headed over.

The awards just kind of whizzed by. I was in a fog for most of it. The announcer got to M45-49 and I held my breath. He announced my name. First place!

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I was just dazed after winning the award. Someone I was talking with earlier in the day had come over to congratulate me. He then asked “So, are you going to go to the Nationals?”

USA Triathlon National Age Group Championship. The 2016 event had just occurred a week earlier in Omaha. Some of my most talented triathlon buddies had qualified and attended. I remember reading their race reports and thinking how cool it would be to attend…but that I had no chance in the world of qualifying for it.

“You do know that you just qualified for Nationals right?”

No. No, I didn’t know that.

I got a dry mouth thinking about it. This is thiathlon equivalent to qualifying for the Boston Marathon, or the Ironman World Championships in Kona.

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USAT is the national triathlon organization. They sanction almost every race in the country. They select and train the Olympic athletes, set up collegiate programs, and have a series of regional and national championships. Most events are open and no qualification is needed…except for the Olympic Distance National Age Group Championship (the sprint event held on the same weekend is open to everyone).

I started to do some research. Triathletes qualify by completing a USAT sanctioned triathlon of ANY distance (super sprint to Ironaman) and finishing 1st in their Age Group OR in the top 10% of their age group. This race was USAT sanctioned, I was first in my AG, and a sprint was acceptable distance. There was a little bit of fine print, but none of it seemed to affect me. I reached out to friends who had just finished the race a week earlier, and they confirmed what I suspected. I had just qualified for Nationals.

They warned me not to hold my breath. Next year’s championship schedule would not be announced until the end of the year, and I likely would not get an invitation until January, but I had made it. They also confirmed that the event will be in Omaha for one more year. The venue would be perfect for me. Omaha is a 6 hour drive from home (I could not imagine shipping all my gear and flying to the race), and it was a calm inland lake for the swim (I just could not bring myself to doing an ocean or Great Lakes swim again). It would be a year until the event, so I would have time train for the longer distance in the spring…and get out to do some open water training since I clearly need it. Finally, the schedule shows that the Olympic Distance is held on Saturday, and that I could also do the sprint on Sunday. Sounds like an amazing opportunity!

So, yeah, I had a script in my mind for this event. I would be middle of the pack. It would be my best chance of the year to get a podium spot if luck went my way. I panicked on the swim, I almost turned around and quit. I almost missed the cutoff on the swim and almost got a DNF. Instead, I persevered, had a strong bike, a strategic run, I won my age group, and I qualified for 2017 National Championships. None of that was ever in the script. Sometimes, dreams come true. Occasionally, things you couldn’t even dare to dream of will come true as well. You never know what race day will bring…

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A Degree of “Extreme”…

A common conversation among Ironman Finishers is which Ironman race is the hardest.

This happens A LOT.

It generally starts with a newbie asking which races are easier or beginner friendly. Then the standard disclaimers start up. “There is no such thing as an easy Ironman”, “They are all 140.6 miles”. Everyone agrees that there is no “easier” Ironman. Then people start expressing that some races are “more hard”. Of course, the “more hard” races are always the events that the speaker has participated in. Funny how that works out….

Level of difficulty will always be subjective in these conversations. Much of it has to do with the participants own strengths and weaknesses. Are they technically strong cyclists? Can you run in the heat or cold? Wetsuit legal vs warm swim? I would, of course, play up IM Wisconsin’s very technical bike course with the big elevation gain and the mass swim start whenever I would wade into these pissing matches…assuming that there would never be a true winner in these debates…until now.

LAVA Magazine (official publication of Ironman) has endorsed IronIndex.com as the official ranking of all Ironman races (this ranking also includes all Challenge/Rev3 races worldwide). A total of 50 of the biggest and most well known Iron Distance races are ranked in terms of their overall level of difficulty. They are then branded as “Standard”, “Difficult”, “Intense”, and “Extreme”. To put it in perspective, the Ironman World Championship is 9th on the list and ranked as “Intense” (only eight races worldwide are listed as “Extreme”).

Imagine my surprise to find that the race I completed (Ironman Wisconsin) listed as the 6th toughest race…in the world (and considered an “Extreme” event)!

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Mind Blown.

It is listed as a tougher race then Malasia. Malasia! That race has a “monkey zone” on the bike course. Participants are warned not to eat or drink anything in the monkey zone since the monkeys are aggressive, not afraid of humans, and will attack you on your bike. The course guide advises that participants should carry a big stick when riding and a tutorial on how to use that stick if attacked. Somehow, that race is considered easier then Wisconsin.

Of course, there are a lot of disclaimers for such a list. It only considers current Ironman and Challenge events. Discontinued events (Ironman Tahoe and Ironman Muskoka are both off the list), other series (HITS), non-Iron Distance (X-Terra), and independent events (Alaska-Man, Norse-Man) are conveniently excluded. The list also assumes “average” weather conditions. Ironman has been cursed with some bad weather of late (108F at Coeur D’Alene, hypothermia conditions in Florida, forest fires in Tahoe, modified swim due to poor water quality/shortened bike due to flooding and construction/suspended run due to lightning in IM Texas this year. Variables like these would dramatically affect the course’s level of difficulty on any given day (I was fortunate to have ideal weather for my race day).

So, does the “extreme” ranking matter? It shouldn’t, but to me, it does (at least a little bit).

Had I seen this rating before registering, I may have reconsidered my decision to participate…so I am glad that I never saw this beforehand. But it reaffirms to me that my training was no joke. It reaffirms that crossing the finish line wasn’t beginners luck. That victory was earned, and I did something remarkable that day. I may not be able to repeat the achievement, but it emphasizes that I am capable of completing something that is (almost) impossible.

But I still think that mutant monkeys would be harder…

 

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Looking To The Future – It’s Time To Hang Up The Running Shoes…

In a few short weeks, I will be running my 100th event…the Red, White & Boom Half Marathon. It has been a constant event on my schedule since I started running in 2012. It seems like a fitting 100th event.

The 100th event milestone is also a good opportunity to look back on my journey and reflect on my future goals.

Over the last several month, I have had a chance to do just that. I have realized that the time has come to make some decisions about my hobbies of racing, running, and triathlon. I have come to one unavoidable conclusion.

It is time to quit.

…and I am very much at peace with that decision.

This does not mean “never again”, but racing has become a part time job that interferes with all other aspects of my life. Fitness and wellbeing need to stay. A full calendar of events, lost weekends of traveling to forgettable races for another non-PR and a shirt I will never wear…that all needs to go.

As many of you already know, my training and motivation have been…uhhh…nonexistent this season. Those who follow my blog will not be surprised by this. I tend to be all or nothing in my passions, and running has dwindled down to nothing.

Of course, I had a few reality checks lately. We lost both of our dogs to illness, we got a new puppy, I had a couple health scares (false alarms), an aging mother who is developing more health concerns, and life in general is just making its presence known. This has resulted in my workouts dropping to a couple of 45-60 minute sessions per week. I was not running outside due to cold weather, icy roads, a couple of irresponsible dog owners in the neighborhood, chronic ankle injuries, a prolonged bronchitis, and a general lack of interest in the whole thing.

Since Ironman (easily the highlight of my running career) I have struggled with dwindling interest. I have tried going back to running only. Hated it. I tried shorter events (and fewer of them). Those just seemed like chores when they came around.

I am tired of the expense, the stress and the time lost in traveling to events. Even local events are a 1 hour drive each way, plus extra time for parking and a lot of sitting around waiting for the event to start. A 5k takes up the better part of a weekend day. Don’t even get me started on the “no race day packet pickup” with the 2-3 hours of driving the day before the race.

Yep, the passion is gone.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy running and triathlon. I appreciate the health benefits. But this schedule of 2-3 weekends a month being filled with one thing or another has worn out its welcome.

I am also tired of having my hobby define who I am. Running is a small part of me, not the sum total of what I have become.

As a result, I will be making some serious changes.

For starters, no more traveling. It is too expensive, takes to much time, and involves too much stress.

Next, far fewer events (i.e.: practically none).

The only event that I will certainly continue until I stop running completely is the Twin Cities Marathon Weekend. It is one of the biggest and best running events in the nation, and is the highlight on the calendar every year. There is a phenomenal expo, a marathon, a 10 mile, a 10k and a 5k…as well as multi-event challenges. I can do as much or as little as want to. Also, if any event will rekindle my passion, this would be the one.

Aside from that, I will likely have a sprint triathlon on the calendar somewhere. I have the gear, and one event on the calendar will keep my bike from rotting in the garage. A bike ride in Elm Creek Park is a wonderful summertime experience, and I just need an excuse to get out there. The premier sprint Triathlon in the Twin Cities is Lifetime Minneapolis Triathlon and will likely remain my triathlon of choice.

This gives me a summer triathlon and a fall race. I may do something in the spring as well, but there is no obvious must do local event. Likely, I will just sign up for something at the last minute depending on schedule, weather, and motivation. Next year, it will be the Hot Chocolate 15k in April since I deferred the event this year (due to a conflict with Star Wars).

I may run an event or two at the last minute. If the weather will be beautiful, and I have a quiet weekend on tap, then I may sign up for a race just for the fun of it. But the days of developing massive training plans, and of planning my life around races, are behind me.

I had actually made this decision before WDW Star Wars. The stress of getting flights, shuttles, hotels, park tickets, and fast passes was getting to me. When I made that decision, I felt a heavy burden drop. Knowing that Disney was my final race-cation allowed me to enjoy it a lot more (and I felt less guilty spending the time and the money knowing that I would never do this again). Fargo was likely my final out of town trip for a race. Red White & Boom may be my final half-marathon (time will tell). This made for a bittersweet weekend in Fargo, but I was at peace during that final long run.

For the rest of this year, I have a fairly light schedule (by my previous racing standards), and I do intend to see it through. I have three sprint triathlons over the summer, and the Loony Challenge (5k, 10k, 10 mile) at the TC Marathon Weekend in October. It will be a final tour of some well loved events that I will likely enjoy even more without the headache of planning for 10 additional events down the road.

I am not absolutely ruling out a return to marathon and big events at some point down the road, but this return is unlikely and would be far off on the horizon. I currently have nothing on the radar. The only thing that I feel that I am missing from my running resume is a world marathon major (Chicago or New York). The thought of training, dealing with the lottery, and hassle/expense of travel is more then I want to deal with right now, but maybe someday. Alternatively, I may just sign up for one final Twin Cities Marathon if I feel compelled to run one more big race.

Another option would be going to Boston as a charity runner. The cost of this would be huge (I doubt I would be a successful fundraiser, so I would write a check to a charity I believe in). This would be an amazing way to finish the journey, but such an endeavor would be far in the future, and only if the passion was there to warrant the time, stress and expense.

For now, the running “career” is over. It was a fun streak which included the following accomplishments (by the end of the year):

-16 marathons in 11 states
-over 25 half-marathons
-over 100 events
-10 century rides
-18 triathlons
-5 Half-Ironmans
-one 50k ultra
-2 marathons in 2 states in 2 days
-membership in Marathon Maniacs, Half Fanatics, Dual Agents, and 50 Marathon States Clubs
-Ironman Wisconsin
-good health, improved self confidence, and a bucket full of memories.

Looking forward, I will continue with wellness and fitness, and I will show up to a couple of events a year for the simple joy of participating. I will blog race reports for the rest of the season, but I doubt that I will have much to say beyond that. I am following many athletes here and will continue to chear for all of you from the sidelines.

To everyone who has followed my journey and who has offered support, I thank you all. You have lifted me up when I was down, shared in my successes, and have given me more then you know…

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The Final Marathon?

So, was Des Moines it? Was it my final marathon?

Short answer: I hope not.

The real answer is that I just do not know. But it probably was.

Over the past few seasons, I went from couch potato to Ironman and ultra-marathoner. I enjoyed seeing how much I was capable of accomplishing and trying to push myself further. Now that those milestones have been accomplished, I lack the drive and motivation to keep doing these events. Training takes too much time, and I just do not enjoy it any more. I am burnt out and exhausted. I am also questioning the health benefits and risks of ultra endurance training. There are studies indicating possible increased health risks for ultra athletes. They show that marathon runners have the same life expectancy as couch potatoes. I am not convinced that more is dangerous. But I also believe that the health benefits hit a plateau after a certain point. Running five marathons and one ultra this year was way too much for me, although I checked off the final goals that I wanted to achieve (ultramarathon and back to back marathons). I never had a DNS or a DNF. It has been a good run. But I need to re-evaluate my goals and my future in the sport. After a lot of thought and consideration, I plan on the following changes.

1) Things that I will NEVER do again:

Ultramarathon:
I am glad I tried it, but I really wasn’t motivated or enthused about it going in, and I was undertrained for the event. If I am honest, I hated everything about it. The small scale, the endless small loops, the trail running. I am happy that this one is behind me.

Ironman:
Unlike the ultra, I loved this event. The day was the best racing day of my life. The training was a wonderful experience. But it is far too much to do as a lifestyle. I sacrificed too much and I knew it was a “one and done” before I even registered. Overall, it exceeded my expectation and I treasure the memories.

Century Ride:
I have done ten of these. Six solo century rides, three Tour de Tonka, and Ironman Wisconsin. Again, more isn’t better. I learned to dread getting on the bike for my 6-8 hour training rides. Despite a good bike fit, everything hurt afterwards. I racked the bike for months after Ironman and only pulled it out for sprint triathlon training this season. The shorter rides were so much more enjoyable. I learned to enjoy cycling again.

Ironman 70.3:
This one surprised me. It likely should not be in the “never” category, but it is highly unlikely that I will ever do another. I have completed 5 of these and enjoyed them all (well, except the swim at Racine). But they are big events to train for and traveling to these venues is a chore. I had planned to do one this year but Wisconsin Dells got cancelled, and the rumored Ironman 70.3 St. Louis never happened. I found that I was relieved. That told me a lot. I find that, looking back, my Ironman journey is complete. I have everything that I wanted from the experience and that the book is closed and I feel very comfortable with that decision. If Ironman announced a 70.3 in my backyard, I would have to consider it, but right now…I would pass on the opportunity.

Olympic Distance Triathlons:
OK, this definitely shouldn’t be in the “never” category. But I never enjoyed the distance. It is to long to be a sprint and it is too short to be an endurance event. It seems to be the worst of both worlds…which is why I haven’t done one since 2012. At almost 4 hours, it is a long event. Since I won’t be doing 70.3’s anymore, it may end up being my occasional “long” triathlon events. But, for now, I am very happy with the sprint triathlons.

2) Things that I need to change:

Less training:
Already doing this. Exercise and fitness need to be part of my life, not take over my life. The three hour runs need to go. 30-60 minute runs or swims and 1-2 hour bike rides give me all the health benefits while allowing me time to be with my family, to do my job, to enjoy summer and to have other hobbies.

Less winter “training”:
I hated training for a spring marathon. Running in the cold, in the dark, through snow and ice was an invitation to injury. Wearing twenty layers of gear was miserable. Running twenty miles on an indoor track or treadmill made me hate running. I have friends who are serious runners and will battle through these condition as a badge of honor to be ready for a spring event. I, on the other hand, feel that runners need an off season. Up north, that off season is winter. Sure I will run on the treadmill, and even get outside when the weather cooperates. But it is a good time to do some strength training, swimming, elliptical cross training, or get on the bike trainer while catching up on movies. Change things up with no big event on the horizon. Sure, I will schedule a spring 10 miler or half marathon, and I will run 8-10 miles outside when weather permits. But feeling that I have to do a 3-4 hour training run in a blizzard is not for me.

Less traveling:
Destination races are fun. But doing too many gets expensive, keeps me away from home, and gets to be a chore. My inexpensive hobby is costing me a fortune. So, I will try to limit destination races to one/year (well, this isn’t happening next year…maybe 2017!) These will either be a destination that truly excites me, or something close by that I can drive to and only cost me one night hotel (Duluth, Fargo, Trinona).

Less event photos:
The bigger the event, the more compelled I feel to buy the photo package. I need to be WAY more selective. The cost adds up fast! I will be less motivated to buy the package for smaller and local events. I will consider it under special circumstances, or if I spot an incredible photo.

Less event swag:
I bought Ironman everything after the event. I also bought stuff after the first 70.3, marathon, half-marathon, etc. I got every kind of gear for every weather condition. Aside from replacement running shoes, I should be good forever…

Less events that I have to drive two hours to pick up a bib the day before a race:
I live in the extreme suburbs of Minneapolis and St Paul. Having to get a bib the day before can be a 100 mile round trip plus parking-frequently on a work day. This is especially annoying if there isn’t much of an expo. Twin Cities Marathon doesn’t bother me since I want to spend 2-3 hours at the expo. But Team Ortho or Hot Chocolate? No thanks. I will favor events with same day packet pick up or that will mail out the bib for a reasonable fee

Fewer Events:
When every weekend has an event, it becomes a chore and eats up free time. They aren’t special anymore.

No more Team Ortho events:
I have run all of their events for years. I have the same swag that I never wear. They are overpriced and always disorganized. They were fun, but not worth the money. (The 2015 Minneapolis Duathlon was postponed until 2016…so I will be doing one Team Ortho event next season…unfortunately).

Less focus on PR’s:
As my training volume has decreased, so has my speed. I doubt that I will ever improve upon my 2014 PRs, and I am ok with that. I will run races for the joy of running and to motivate me to stay fit. That is enough.

No marathons in 2016:
This is an absolute. I need the break. Marathons always seem like a good idea when signing up, so I am taking this off the table for awhile.

No more marathon “season”:
If I run a marathon in the future, it will be as a single and isolated event. It will be a decision that I make to go through a single training and recovery cycle. I will embrace the whole process or not commit to it. Marathons are special. Doing six in a “season” strips all the joy out of it.

Spend less money:
Seems to be a recurring theme in the above points…

So, what does this leave? Well, believe it or not, I still love running and running events. In 2016 I will follow the “2 hour rule”. I will not sign up for any event or do any training longer then 2 hours. So, races will be 5k to half marathons, and triathlons will be sprints. Bike rides will be limited to 2 hours or less. I am much stronger at short to medium distance events, I enjoy them more, and they are easier to train for. It is also in line with what most recreational and fitness runners do. It will be a part of a healthy lifestyle…

The schedule still looks fuller then I wanted for 2016. I won’t be doing the Team Ortho series, or any other series for that matter. Only three triathlons in 2016, the two Lifetime Sprints that are nearby, and HITS Wacconia. I plan on doing the Loony Challenge every year. It is a 5k, 10k, 10 mile combo during the Twin Cities Marathon weekend. It lets me be part of the biggest running weekend in the Twin Cities, get involved with our corporate team, get an armful of bling, check out a great expo…all without actually running a marathon. I am also headed to both DisneyLand AND Walt Disney World for a pair of  Star Wars themed Half Marathon. I love Star Wars and Disney and these will be the most enjoyable run-cations that I have had in a long time. So much for my “spend less money”, “buy less swag”, “don’t buy photos”, “travel less” rules that I just laid out…

In 2017, I will consider bumping up the running a little by adding the MN Running Series, and I MAY consider doing ONE marathon…but only if I am feeling a true desire to run and train for one. I won’t force it. It has to be a fall marathon for the reasons I listed above. The only bucket list marathon that sounds appealing is to run one of the World Major Marathons (Chicago or New York). Both are fall marathons so I could throw my name into the 2017 lottery and see what happens. I will actually be surprised if I feel the desire to apply for one of these races, but I am leaving the door open to the possibility…

The downside to this approach is that a lot of races that I wanted to check out will never be run. I had a big “parking lot” of events that I wanted to get to, and I did get to complete several of them (Twin Cities, Grandmas, Flying Pig, Detroit, Pittsburgh, KC, Des Moines, Houston, Route 66, and Disney). Many others are just being deleted from the “to do” list. These include LA, SF, Big Sur, Portland, Seatle, Fargo, Little Rock, A1A, Toronto Goodlife, Toronto Waterfront, Ottawa, Philadelphia, and MCM. Sigh…so many “what if’s”…

The question is…will I want to do it. I don’t know. I hope so. I don’t want my marathon “career” to end in Des Moines. But I know me. I tend to be all in or all out. I get obsessed with something for awhile, then lose interest, then forget about it and move on. I worry that this pattern will repeat itself with running. That is why I am trying to plan things so carefully. I want to adjust my activity to my level of interest and stay in the sport. But I know that, even if I keep running, that I may have no interest down the road in returning to the marathon once I have moved on.

I hope that the revamped 2016 season will rekindle my interest. Time will tell…

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2014 Ironman Wisconsin Race Report

With Ironman Wisconsin 2015 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…

Pre-Race

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.

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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.

The Swim

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).

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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.

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Here is a map of the course.

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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.

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Swim Split: 1:28:07.

Total Elapsed Time: 1:28:07.

Time Remaining: 15:31:53.

T1

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.

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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:

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Once you get to the top, you go inside to the ballroom where your cycling gear is kept in a bag for you.

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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:

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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).

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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.

T2

“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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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…

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The Finish

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.

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A few more steps and I crossed the finish line.

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I was an Ironman.

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Run Split: 6:09:35.

Finish Time: 15:42:11.

Post Race

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…

Final Thoughts

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.

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The Videos

Nothing too embarrassing…

Here’s a more general event day recap video.

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When Dreams Die (and When Are They Really Needed?)

A friend and fellow blogger posted about the power of dreams, and of dreaming big. He also wrote eloquently about having the courage to chase your dreams. He correctly argues that we should not fear failure in our decision to peruse our biggest dreams and to take a chance. Dreams can be empowering and can motivate us towards greatness. He then wished me luck in finding a new dream to peruse and success in perusing it.

I had to think about that one.

Rod an I are friends on blogs, on Facebook, and in life. We have similar backgrounds (obese and sedentary, finding fitness and running in our early forties). We both developed a passion for running. We both strived to improve our skills as we moved forward. We both found, at some point, a lofty goal (or dream) to compell us to push past our perceived limits.

Last year, I completed my dream of finishing an Ironman Triathlon. Rod is still striving to achieve his dream of qualifying for the Boston Marathon.

Both dreams were huge for two former couch potatoes. Both dreams were possible but had a significant risk of failure (for the record, I have no doubt that Rod will be successful. He has the genetics, the vision, the drive and the work ethic). This risk of failure pushes us harder and further…but only if the dream is fully alive in our hearts and minds.

At some point, dreams die.

They can die because of loss of interest, or due to other priorities, or from simple failure.

Dreams also die because of success.

i can think of no faster and more complete death then a runner crossing the finish line. Even when summit ink Everest, you have to get back down first. As soon as you break the tape (first marathon, first Ironman, first Boston or Kona finish, first 5k, etc.) the dream is over. Once accomplished, the dream is no longer a dream. It is a reality.

Dreams take up a LOT of room in your psyche. You may plan your day or week around it. You dream success, you dread failure, and you plan your life around the journey. When you succeed, all of that ends instantaneously. It is replaced (temporarily) by joy and elation which fades, and is replaced by a fact. That fact may help define who you are (marathon finisher, Boston Qualifier, Gold Medal champion, World Record Holder, etc) but takes up very little amount of space in your psyche. There is suddenly a lot of free room and empty space. There is a sense of loss and a “now what?”

Often, people simply try to accomplish that same dream again, or to be even more successful at it. They try to capture lightning in a bottle…again. I don’t think that way. I enjoy running marathons. But I have completed several and they have all blended together. It is no longer a dream. It is a reality. I can still enjoy the challenge, but it is different somehow.

That seemed to be my problem. I didn’t have a goal or dream. Without that, I lacked motivation, passion, identity.

I thought that I had a foolproof post IM strategy. I was tired of all the swimming and cycling, so I threw myself at my first love…running. It didn’t click. I kept dreaming up new goals. Cross country skiing, faster marathon finish time, 50 marathons in 50 states, ultramarathon. Nothing worked. I was going through the motions and hating every minute of it.

There are two sides to the dream coin. One side has the vision and the drive to accomplish something extraordinary. But on the flip side, it implies a dissatisfaction with the status quo. The “now” isn’t good enough, so we must vie for something better.

There are times that this is true, and that these challenges are worth the sacrifice. But, at some point, we are living the dream that we sought to find, and we blur past it looking for a new “better”.

My original dream was better health and fitness. I was never an athlete and struggled to accept that image of myself. I accept that now. Others will seek out my advice and preface it with the comment “You’re a runner”. I am at an ideal body weight, in good shape, and exercise regularly. Those are all things that I wanted to say but couldn’t four years ago. I have achieved my dreams. I have also achieved my dreams of a loving family, financial independence, an enjoyable career, and the respect of my colleagues and clients.

Why do I need to create a new dream to chase instead of simply enjoying the “now”? Why do I need a reason to run farther or faster, instead of just enjoying the simple act of running. Creating those artificial dreams and chasing them made me miserable.

I don’t need a new dream to chase at all times.

Dreams are organic. They germinate and grow slowly into a passion that you must pursue. It is best if you await their arrival. They tend to surprise you when they arrive. Those are the dreams will spark your imagination and push you to greater heights…

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I Am Campaign

I came across this on the Ironman Coeur D’Alene FB page. A local graphic design company has been making inspirational posters for athletes, sharing their stories and inspiration. Taken individually, they can be funny, sad, whimsical, or inspiring. They always tell a story. Taken as a whole, they are quite powerful. Everyone that shares the starting line with you has a story to tell. When we see that, we become a stronger community. They just got mine to me yesterday. I encourage others to check out some of the stories. Many are quite powerful. Check it out at the link below, and share your story…

http://www.tran-creative.com/iam/

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When “Failure Is Not A Possibility” but “Success Is Not An Option”…

How does that affect your race. How does that affect your motivation.

When I started running three years ago, I had a pretty good idea what my physical limits were. I should be able to complete a 5k, and I might be able to muddle through a 10k. But a Half Marathon was something that only “real” runners could complete. I could “never” do that.

Well, I could, and I did. I have done it 21 times (so far)…

Ever since then, I have wondered where my physical limits would be found. Whenever I thought that I have pushed myself to the brink, I found more reserve in the tank. I still don’t know where my limits really are.

I think that I am about to find out.

There is one thing that I wanted to add to my running resume. I wanted to complete an ultramarathon. I consider that to be at least 50k (31 miles). Looking at the ultras around here, all were longer, trail runs with limited support. That isn’t what I had in mind. I came across the FANS 24 hour run. It is multiple loops around a small lake. Each lap is 2.1 miles with two aid stations. Your “finish distance” is the total that you completed in 24 hours (whether or not you were there the whole time). You can leave anytime. I figured that this would be perfect. I would have no time limit (I literally have all day and all night), and lots of support. If I logged my 50k in five hours, I could pack my things and go home. Alternatively, I could try to sqweak out a little more if I felt up to it. Either way, I would have an automatic PR at the 50k.

Now that I am signed up, and it is almost upon me, I wonder what my strategy will be.

I cannot technically “fail” as there is no DNF in this race. If I run 10 feet, then that is my finish distance. Of course, anything under 50k would be a disappointment…but that is all but impossible (unless I get injured).

I also cannot fully “succeed”. To finish this event would be to run/walk the entire 24 hours. That greatly exceeds my training. My longest run is about six hours. My longest event was just under 16 hours (most of that time was cycling), and I was much better trained at that point.

No, I will not be there when the event officially ends. So, it will be the first time I have ever left in the middle of a race. In a very real way, that is a failure. I will leave when I can’t do it anymore. I will leave when I find the limit of my endurance.

Will this just get me to throw in the towel at 50k? Or will this push me to keep going a little further since I will hate to admit defeat. I have calculated the number of laps needed for multiple milestones past 50k. I know I will never do this again, so will that push me towards successive milestones? 75k? 50 miles? Double Marathon (52.4 miles)? 100k (62 miles)? 75 miles? Maybe…

At some point I will have scream uncle and walk away with the event still going. It will be my first failure. It may also be my greatest success…

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74 Seconds…

The world of long distance triathlon can be unforgiving.

Bike mechanical, weather, nutrition, fitness…a lot of things can go wrong in a long distance triathlon. As a “back of the pack” long distance athlete, I have always been worried about getting the dreaded “DNF” (“Did Not Finish”). I have seen many fall. Some front of the pack athletes fall due to bike crashes, nutritional errors, or weather. Others just ran out of time.

I followed a married couple last fall in Ironman Florida. The weather was brutally cold, windy and raining. They were both on the run course (he was several miles ahead of her) and doing OK. He crossed her path and could tell that she was slipping into hypothermia. He turned in both of their timing chips and brought her back to their hotel and put her in a hot shower until she warmed up. Both were multiple Ironman finishers.

Someone I raced with in Wisconsin turned his life around. He lost a lot of weight and trained harder then anybody. At 300 pounds, he still competed and got past the halfway point on the run (about 128 miles into the race) before officials pulled him off the course for missing a cutoff time. He is currently training to race it again this year.

Someone I biked with was diagnosed with a hairline hip fracture one week before Ironman Wisconsin. She was told that she should stay off of it and that running was completely off limits. She finally got the green light from her orthopedist that she could swim and bike. She crushed those two sections of the course. When she arrived in T2, the only thing in her transition bag was a pair of flip flops. She left her running shoes at the hotel so she would not be tempted to try to complete the marathon. She has more strength and courage then I can even imagine and she is planning a comeback in 2016.

The Ironman 70.3 (aka “Half-Ironman”) has historically been more forgiving and lenient then the full distance. At Ironman Kansas 70.3, they announced that they would not be enforcing the finish time cutoff on the run. The run portion of the event was held on walking trails. Since public roads were not closed for that portion of the race, they would stay until the final runner crossed the finish line, and they would celebrate the finish with them.

Also, 70.3’s typically have a wave start. The final cutoff has always been 8 hours and 30 minutes, but the clock used to start when the final starter crossed the starting line. So, if your wave started 10 minutes before the final wave, then you got an extra 10 minutes to finish. That rule changed this year. Everyone has the same amount of time. The clock starts when you cross the start line. You must finish in 8:30:00 or less.

Ironman 70.3 Hawaii took place yesterday. It is a tough event. Unprotected ocean swim, windy and hilly bike course, and the run takes place midday…with a high temp of 87F with high humidity. I followed a friend and his finish time was 8:31:14. After competing for eight and a half hours, he missed the final cutoff by 74 seconds. His wave started 16 minutes before the final wave, so he would have been an official finisher last year, or the year before that. The race was still going when he crossed the finish line, so he got his medal, finishers hat, finishers shirt, and finishers photographs. He was announced as a finisher as he crossed the finish line. He completed the full 70.3 mile course. But, when he looks up his time, he will see those three letters “DNF”. I can’t imagine the heartbreak. For three years I trained for Ironman Wisconsin. All I wanted to do was finish. I worried about the possibility of the DNF the entire time I trained. Fortunately, on race day, I never reached a point that the DNF was looming ahead of me. I finished with over an hour to spare, and walked the last 7 miles (when I physically could not run anymore) knowing that I had the extra time to spare. He knew by the halfway point of the bike that he may not be able to meet the cutoff. He was way behind on the run and battled back. He battled to within 74 seconds before running out of time. He had more inner strength then most on the course that most finishers. He never gave up. He embodied the spirit of Ironman.

This is why, at every Ironman event, participants wait at the finish line for the final finishers. That last hour is a celebration of the human spirit. One sign I saw at a race sums it up the best…

“The first finishers may impress us, but it is the final finishers that inspire us.”

 

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