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Home » Endurance » Triathlons » Ironman » Wisconsin 2006 » The Run

The Run

Downtown Madison was even worse than before, with half the streets closed due to the marathon and the other half inundated with traffic. I eventually found a parking spot and witnessed the front-runners pass before having lunch at Pizzeria Uno. It was disturbing to remember that as I devoured my meal inside a dry, warm building over 2000 people were still fighting the elements and their own fatigue to be Ironmen.

After eating, my group went to watch who would win this waterlogged race. I grabbed my Scooby outfit from my car (I had not worn it to lunch) to help celebrate. The winner broke the tape in a little over nine hours, which is not blazingly fast, but the weather slowed everything down that day. I stayed to watch several more finishers before I returned to my true calling — being a big loud idiot in an adult-sized Scooby-Doo costume cheering on runners.

While watching the run, I observed some of the carnage from the day. People ran along the streets of Madison shivering. Endless rain was not forecast, which left most people unprepared for the onslaught. The aid stations improvised rain gear by distributing garbage bags with holes cut in them. Although Garbage Bag Distributor was not an official volunteer title, people nevertheless stepped up to fulfill the role. Perhaps it was those enlisted to apply sunscreen since they probably were not all that busy. The runners were desperately trying to retain heat, but the trash bags could have provided only marginal protection. They must have been unimaginably cold and exhausted. After having been drenched and frozen for hours on the bike, they still dug deep within themselves to start, and then continue a marathon. And these Ironmen-in-the-making were still middle of the packers. Many others were still battling daemons on their bikes just to start the run. It was disheartening to witness the suffering, but even more so uplifting to know what these people were accomplishing and overcoming, each one continuing through this mess for their own reasons and propelled by their individual motivation.

The rainy, cold run course

I stood along the course for quite a while, cheering for every person who passed. It never stopped raining, but I had the benefit of a large tree sheltering me from much of the storm. Those actually competing did not have such a luxurious refuge though. Several runners said they remembered me from the bike course, which was neat to hear. How many other people must have wondered if instead they were suffering from hypothermia-induced hallucinations of a giant talking dog?

By this time I could feel my voice starting to get raspy from cheering all day and incessant clapping had left my hands sore. Not exactly comparable to what those on the course were enduring, but it was good to know that I had given my full effort in my little piece of helping make Ironman a success.

After reassuring athletes into early evening, I changed into running clothes to complete my own long run prescribed by my Chicago Marathon training. I ran along the Capital City Trail, away from the ordeal downtown and tasted a little of the racers’ misery. The wind blew the cold rain in my face while the darkness and emptiness tried to suck away any mental strength. Of course, I had not pedaled over a century and played in Lake Monona already that day. My run also began in dry clothing, a comfort the triathletes did not have. Even so, as my own miles elapsed, the relentless rain penetrated my clothing and the dampness began its attack. To have started soaked and cold and run for even longer than I did was truly amazing. Some incredibly hard iron was forged that day.

After a two and half hour jaunt, I arrived back to help carry those still on the course to the finish. I walked backwards along the course to bring an encouraging voice to some of the lonelier stretches. Scooby-Doo should have made another appearance, but I had not brought my disguise along. While patrolling the marathon, the number of competitors that actually lauded me cheering in the cold, wet conditions surprised me. I usually thank the volunteers during my own races whenever I am physically capable of talking, but I was especially humbled at the gratitude shown towards spectators. These athletes had suffered all day, but still had the decency and commitment to thank their audience. Although appreciative, there was no need for the thanksgiving as I was out there for them and having a good time anyway. It begs the question though, who is crazier — the person undertaking an Ironman in those conditions or the one standing outside all day in the rain to cheer? Perhaps it is that individual who cheers all day, seeing the ordeal first-hand, and then enlists himself for the same experience the next year…oh wait.

The Ironman finish area with the Capitol building in the background

The Finish Area

I traversed the course in reverse, reaching the Kohl Center before returning to the celebration at the finish line. For the uninitiated, the Ironman finish line is the best midnight party in Madison. Especially for spectators, it is a culmination of hard work (by other people) and a great excuse to celebrate. Even after a long, cold day hundreds of people pulsed to the blaring music under the bright lights and erupted whenever anyone approached the finish. It was in stark contrast to the dark, lonely pavement along the marathon route, which the Ironmen just conquered. The energy and accomplishment was palpable as the finishers came upon this oasis in the night. Watching winners cross alongside their families or carrying their children made the night all the more special. Countless hours of hard work and sacrifice was required to reach that tape, and seeing the fulfillment of that effort was a goose bump raising experience. I could not think of a better way to spend a Saturday night, despite the harsh conditions. Strangers stood shoulder-to-shoulder until midnight, knowing they were in the right spot.

The clocked eventually ticked passed midnight, and the long day was over. It had to be incredibly taxing for all the people that put in so much, but were unable to make it to the end. Even with the exasperating weather adding to Ironman’s challenge, having an official remove your chip must have been devastating. For the musings of one athlete’s thoughts who did DNF, read what Iron Wil wrote. It puts my write ups to shame.