Wednesday, September 12, 2007

"All The Way To The Finish Line" - Ironman Wisconsin 2007

Training, or the lack thereof...

As has become my annual tradition, I returned once again this year to compete in the Ford Ironman Wisconsin triathlon. As has also unfortunately become my tradition, my training was a bit light, and hampered by injuries. Actually, all had been going well up to the end of July. July 22 I did the Spirit of Racine half Ironman and was very pleased with my race, managing a time of 5:03 on a beautiful day.

It was July 28 that things took a turn. My next run after that race, I stopped after just 30 minutes with pain in my lower right calf. I've actually been having trouble with my right lower calf and Achilles tendon on and off since late 2004. But this year, I started doing virtually all of my running on trails to save myself the pounding of the pavement. This had been working very well, I thought, but now I once again found myself unable to run without re-aggravating my chronic right calf condition.

For the next two weeks I did no running, replacing all my runs with sessions on an elliptical trainer. On 8/16 I tried to do some easy running on a treadmill, and found myself with yet another injury. This time it was a sharp pain in the back of my left heel. What the hell?! I made a visit to my podiatrist (who is also an ultra-runner, so not the type to try and tell me, "Well, maybe you just shouldn't run."). He suggested I start using a night splint when I sleep, a heel lift in my shoe, work on my hamstring flexibility, and ice a couple times a day. So, that's what I did.

I continued to replace all my running with an elliptical trainer, so this meant I'd be going into Ironman with my last quality run being my half Ironman 7 weeks prior to race day. I had no idea what was going to happen out there on the run course, but I was going to find out :-)

Independent of the injuries, and pretty much by design, this would once again be an Ironman on very low training volume. I really just focus my training on completing my key sessions each week, those being my long bike and long run. Well, this year I guess it would really just be my long bike seeing as several of my long runs didn't happen. I typically just do one workout per day, five or six days per week, with a long ride on Friday afternoons, and a long run on Sunday. All my other workouts are typically no more than one hour. Taking a look at my training log, I see that my average weekly training volume in the 12 weeks leading up to race week was 7.5 hours. I know a lot of folks put in a lot more time than that, but I try to not let this Ironman thing overtake the other priorities in my life. So, that's all I give it. It keeps some mystery in race day :-)


I arrived in Madison on Thursday, got checked in, perused the expo, and all that good stuff. Friday morning I headed to the lake for a swim. I looked around for some folks from trinewbies, but I didn't really know what anyone looked like except maybe Joe Ryan. I didn't see him, but I did spot someone that looked familiar
from her picture on was kricket. We had a nice chat and then headed into the choppy water. It was very windy on Friday, creating some serious choppy waves coming straight into our faces on the first straightaway. I really wasn't in the mood to fight the whitecaps for very long, and since the weather forecast was looking good for race day, I made it a very short practice swim.

Then it was off to the Pancake Cafe to meet up with a few other folks from TNO. It was really nice to meet everyone, and put faces to the names. I was there with my wife Jennifer, and son Derek who is three. We got to talking about Derek running the kid's run the next morning. When we asked him where he was going to run, expecting him to tell us he was going to run around the capital square, he instead came back quite matter-of-factly with, "all the way to the finish line." How nice it is sometimes to simplify things like only a child can. We decided that was a pretty good mindset for all of us. And thus, the name of this blog was born.

Derek's run
Derek running with Bucky, Mike Reilly calling him in.
"All the way to the finish line!"

Race Day!

I awoke at 4:00 AM, had two Boosts for a quick breakfast, and put myself together. Had another Boost at 4:45, and started heading to the transition area at 5:00. Wow, were we blessed with a beautiful day for an Ironman. It's hard to imagine how you could ask for nicer weather.

Sunrise over
the swim start area on Lake Monona

I got myself body marked, checked my bike to make sure I didn't have a surprise flat, and headed into the Monona Terrace to relax, and to use the bathroom a few times. At 6:20 I started pulling on my wetsuit and gave my wife a call. I found out my family was on the helix so I could see them on my way down to the start. My support crew for Ironman is just unbelievable. My whole family converges on Madison for Ironman weekend to cheer me on and take in the experience...siblings, nieces, nephews, in-laws, parents. Sadly my parents were not able to make it this year as my Mom came down with a nasty respiratory infection just before the weekend. I know they really wanted to be there, and that is one part of why this report is so long. Since they didn't get to be there this year, I'd like to paint the details for them. Hopefully it won't take longer to read this than it took me to finish the race :-)

The journey down the helix begins.

I met up with my crew on the way down the helix and we had a nice chat. About 6:40 they suggested I might be a bit too relaxed about the day and suggested I should perhaps get a move on. And, with some warm well wishes, I was on my own...well, just me and about 2200 other rubber clad athletes.

The crowd, slowly making our way into the water.

The Swim

If you were not aware, I rather suck at swimming. I taught myself how to swim just so I could do triathlons back in 2001, and have really made no improvements since. Oh well. At least I know what to work on if I want to shave some time off these races. I got in the water about 10 minutes before the cannon blast, and picked my spot pretty far outside, and a ways back from the front. A little floating around, and "BANG!", we were off!

Since this was my sixth Ironman, I know just what to expect in the swim, but it doesn't really make the experience any more comfortable. 2200 people simply cannot occupy the same space at the same time, but we sure as hell give it a good go every Ironman. I largely avoided any real damage and just tried to get through it as best I could without expending too much energy. I generally stayed well to the outside to avoid the worst of the combat, and eventually found myself rounding the last turn toward shore. I've got to say, that's a good feeling heading toward the shore. And then you remember what's awaiting you...

Swim: 1:29:02, 337/399 in the M35-39 age group


Some of my support crew was right there behind the wetsuit peelers, so I gave a quick wave and a smile and headed up the helix. It was cool to see more of the crew on the jog up the helix since they've never watched from there before. I made a quick change in the Terrace, jogged out to my bike, and heard a shout from my brother on top of the Terrace. Clipped into my pedals, and I was on my way.

T1: 9:27

Just about to wind down the helix out of T1.

The Bike

Oh, this is probably as good a time as any to go through the long list of race-day no-no's I committed. They say, "nothing new on race day". Let's see... I swapped out my saddle the day before the race. I've been riding the ISM Adamo all season, but I've started getting some very sore spots at pressure points, and made the call to switch to my Profile Tri Stryke for race day. I picked up a new tri top at the expo...might as well give that a try. Just about the time I injured my calf I was really overdo for a new pair of running shoes. I'd been thinking of switching from Brooks Beasts to Brooks Adrenaline, so I picked up a pair. As I did no running in this time frame, all I'd done is some walking in the new shoes. Decided to go with them on race day anyway. They were handing out Wigwam running socks at the expo. I rather liked them, so what the heck, I went with those on race day, too. Oh, yeah, and I picked up a new visor at the expo, too. I always wear a hat when I run, never used a visor. Yep, that sounds good for race day, too. :-) What's life without a bit of risk, eh?

Anyway, back to the bike. What a great day for a ride. Happily, the bike was nicely uneventful. I pretty much stuck to my pacing plan, trying to hold my heart rate between 145 and 150 for most of the ride, particularly the first 60 miles. The Timber Lane hill was awesome this year. It was so lined with people they had to move out of the way a bit as I tried to get by another rider near the top. I didn't even feel that hill...on the first loop. My support crew was all gathered at the top of the Midtown Road hill, so it was great to get a boost of energy from the yelling and cheering and cowbell ringing. The sight of little Derek, scampering out from somewhere, wildly shaking a big red cowbell, wearing his "My Daddy's an Irondad", that image carried me along for the next two hours.

Just past my cheering section, under the red and black tent.

As I came into Verona near the end of the first loop, a sign caught my eye. It simply said, "KNOW YOUR REASONS". That message sank into my brain, then into my heart, and...tears welled up in my eyes. I knew my "reasons", but suddenly it hit me hard how much this all meant. KNOW YOUR REASONS. You see, later in the day, when you're somewhere in the middle of the run and everything hurts and you feel like crap, and the doubts and the negatives start to creep in...the question will come. "Why am I doing this?" When that question comes, you damn well better have an answer that means something to you. KNOW YOUR REASONS.

My son has become my reason. What I mean is this... As I grew up, through my 20s and early 30s, I never would have thought I was capable of doing something like an Ironman. To me it was just impossible. I figured those people...those Ironman people...they had some special gift for endurance or something that I just did not have. I thought they were extraordinary, and I was not. But, now I know that I am capable of doing things that once seemed simply out of reach...impossible. I dreamed bigger, and I realized that dream.

I want my son to grow up with a different definition of what is possible. I want him to start from a different start dreaming bigger dreams, earlier. I don't know what his dreams will be. I don't care if they have anything to do with Ironman. But I want him to experience examples of people "achieving their impossible". What I know is that he won't live a single day of his life thinking that something like an Ironman is impossible. I can't wait to see what his impossible dreams might be.

That's my reason. And, that's why it means so much to me to cross the finish line with him, either in my arms...or this year, even running with me, hand in hand, by my side. That's my reason. And, out there on the bike in Verona, with 56 miles and a marathon still to go, it hit me like a hammer. "All the way to the finish line", hand in hand with my son.


And onward that carried me like a swift breeze all the way through the second loop of the bike. I'd never felt more solid in my purpose during an Ironman.

Back through the hills, and their crowds, and back up Midtown hill past my family one more time. And with their rowdy cheers, it was back to Madison to get this thing done.

Bike: 6:15:28, 176/399 M35-39 AG


You don't feel the ride back up the helix at the Monona Terrace. You're just glad to be getting off the bike. One of the great volunteers grabbed my bike, I headed into the Terrace for a quick change, and I was off.

T2: 3:23

The Run

Oh yeah. The run. I really didn't know what was going to happen here given my earlier injuries and subsequent suspension of running. But, I had a feeling. There's something special about race day. I don't know what it is, but somehow my body knows that race day is important and it usually comes through for me. What I was hoping was that I could maintain 9 minute miles and manage the run in under 4 hours. I didn't know if I could, but that was my internal goal. After a few of the early miles clicked by, I checked my watch and saw I was indeed holding something a bit better than my goal pace.

I got a great boost again from my cheering section at the State Street turn around, a bit past 6 miles. My stomach wasn't really feeling all that great, and I could feel some blisters forming on my feet. Neither of those is anything new...typical Ironman pains to work through. I kept rolling along, running from aid station to aid station, walking through the aid stations taking in whatever nutrition I thought my body might be calling for. Other than that, I only walked just the steepest sections of the hills on Observatory Drive.

Somewhere in the first half of the run.

A little before the half way turn around, I got another shot of positive energy from my family, and capped that off with a few more high fives as I went by again after the turn around. I was starting to drag a bit now, and my pace was slowing some. But I was still running aid station to aid station and wasn't about to start walking in between them.

I got to look forward to seeing the family once again as I approached the State Street turn around for the second time, and was now past 19 miles. Derek had now awoken from a nap and I gave him a quick hug. Around mile 20, I starting eating some pretzels at each aid station, and this immediately seemed to help calm my stomach. Around mile 23 a guy came past me, and I dug a little deeper, found a little extra, and hung with him as long as I could. When that rubber band snapped, I started picking out people ahead of me as targets to pass. I was peeking at my watch, and I could see that if I kept up my pace I should make my sub-4 hour marathon goal.

Somewhere in the second half of the run.

Around mile 25 is when I started to smile. The spectators are great in the last couple miles of the run, and you really start to absorb their energy. It's like a magnet pulling you in. And, then I rounded the last corner, down MLK Blvd. I starting scanning the crowd, looking for my family or one of their signs. My brother was along the right side of the barricades and had Derek. I started to pick Derek up and a volunteer said, "no, he has to run with you". That was fine with me, I was just thinking I'd carry him part of the way toward the finishing chute and then set him down to run with me. But I was more than happy to run the whole stretch with him, and he hit the ground running. I checked behind me and slowed to let a few folks pass by, leaving Derek and me nice big gap in the final stretch of the finisher's chute for us to enjoy our moment. With Derek's hand in mine, I raised my other arm in celebration as we crossed the line together! "All the way to the finish line."

Derek and Daddy crossing the tape.
"All the way to the finish line!"

Run: 3:56:17, 71/399 M35-39 AG

Total: 11:53:34, 124/399 M35-39 AG, 571/2209 Overall

Post Race...

We got our goodies and worked our way to the back of the finishing pen. My catcher did a great job of not assuming I was okay, and guided me all the way to my family at the pen exit. Smiles and handshakes and hugs and high fives ensued. It really does feel good to finish an Ironman.

Jennifer, Derek, and me - happy.

I know little Derek is just three years old, and all of this Ironman stuff might not mean that much to him now. I know it's what I do as a father the other 99.999% of the time that matters most. But, hopefully one day he will look back on this and come to realize that there was a reason I wanted to include him in the magic of this 0.001%. Perhaps it will come at a time in his life when he's hurting, when he's doing something that just seems too damn hard, when the question comes into his mind, "Why am I doing this?"



  1. What a great race report, it brought tears to my eyes. It's been great to share the Ironman experience with you all these years. It's given me the courage to attempt things I never thought were posible, it's helped me get past that part of my brain that tells me "I can't do that". (something I took from your 1st Ironman race report and I carry that thought with me every day).

    You're my hero, Ironman!

    Love, Dave

  2. Thanks Dave. Glad you enjoyed it. Your turn next year :-) "You can!".


  3. OMG, this race report totally imbodies why I want to do an IM. I KNOW MY REASONS. I want to show, not just to myself, but to everyone I know, that anything is possible if you want it bad enough and if you are willing to work for it. Thanks for this, it's got me all pumped again.

    IM CDA 2008 bound....

  4. I'm glad you enjoyed it, Suzanne. Best of luck to you in your training for IM CDA! Sounds like you're at least half way there already :-)