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Ironman Wisconsin 2007 Race Day

Early Morning

Bikes in the darkness

Preparing bikes in the early morning’s darkness

My alarm buzzed at 4 a.m., and I crawled from my sleeping bag to eat some lukewarm pasta for breakfast. I headed into Madison under the cover of darkness accompanied by my fellow racers. I doubled checked my transition areas to ensure all was still in place, but afterwards still had an hour and a half before the cannon. I found a relatively quite corner of Monona Terrance to relax, but the race announcer did his best to disturb my calm as his loud voice relentless boomed over the PA system announcing the numerous sponsors. Finally though, the fateful hour drew near and I donned my wetsuit before heading down the helix to the water. I followed the pack of Neoprene covered lemmings and entered the water just as the pro race started. Despite being an average swimmer, I positioned myself near the front of the starting line, about halfway between the shore and the first buoy. No need to swim those ten extra yards, and from this vantage point I could fully experience the mass start’s madness.

The Swim

Before the cannon even sounded, the starting line was very crowded and people constantly bumped into each other treading water. At 7 a.m. though, a loud cannon blast started the race, and things got even worse. The swim was incredibly busy, with over 2,000 people fighting for the same limited space. The entire first length I did not see a single buoy as the other swimmers obstructed my view. Sighting would have been of limited use anyway because I could only really follow the mass of people around me. The pack behaved like a school of fish — as it shifted direction its occupants had little choice but to follow the heard. The entire time, we were also very mindful of not letting the chasing predators catch us.


The low hanging sun as everyone began to enter the water

As bad as the straightaways were, the turns were exponentially worse. They caused a bottleneck, and the washing machine became even more hazardous. Taking the turns wide would probably have been prudent, but I jammed myself into the torrent which eventually spit me out the other side. Throughout the race, the sheer number of people resulted in someone constantly banging into me or grabbing my feet. Luckily, I only received one minor kick to the face which merely forced me to readjust my goggles afterwards.

Surrounded by all the excitement and with marginal open water swimming experience, I started too fast. Even during the first lap, my arms tired. I had barely started a very long day though, so I kept motoring forward as best I could. Unfortunately, it was hard to use long, relaxed strokes in the thick of the pack so recovering from the early error was difficult. By the second lap, some limited space had opened in the lake, but I still had plenty of company. Despite the multitude of swimmers I was never able to effectively draft. I would either be swimming over someone or else find the one gap among the mass of people. For the entire swim, I could only find a pair of feet to stick on for a couple minutes cumulative.

Although the swim was by far the shortest event in both distance and time, my stint in the water took forever. Time dragged on, and it seemed like I would never reach the big buoys marking the turns. Looking back though, my pace (1:16:46) was only a couple of minutes slower than expected, so I was just impatient and not overly comfortable in the water. Eventually, I completed both my loops and headed to shore. Upon arrival, volunteers threw me up the steep bank and shortly after becoming vertical I was back on my butt so others could help strip off my wetsuit. I jogged up the spiraling helix and got through the rest of transition without incident as I started off on a little 112 mile bike ride.

The Bike

The bike began by immediately coming to a stop after the mount line. Since I had emerged from the water with the bulk of athletes, there was no room to move forward at the top of the helix as everyone paused to saddled up. I actually came to a dead stop waiting for traffic to clear. Within a heartbeat though, the pack was moving forward again, coasting down the helix. The first couple of miles were extremely crowded, but the bumps and turns did not make that section of the course conducive to going fast anyway. (Later on, the hills would serve that purpose.) For me, the delays were not entirely bad, as they prevented me from hammering too hard in the opening miles. Unfortunately though, the course would eventually open up and allow me to make that mistake.

The trip to Verona to start the loops went smoothly as I moved with the mass of bikes. Although I honestly tried to avoid intentionally drafting (how can you seriously say you are an Ironman if you cheated your way through it?), keeping a full four bike lengths apart was basically impossible in the thick of the pack. There was physically not enough room most of the time. After completing a pass, the only options were to stay left illegally blocking or move to the right behind a bike in front. I usually got back in the right line and dropped back as much as possible, trying to avoid gaining any advantage from other riders.

Me biking

Going a little too fast on the bike

Although much of the bike course meanders through the middle of the country side, very few sections were void of spectators. People setup camp along the side of the road in the middle of cornfields to cheer and encourage the triathletes. Many others were watching the spectacle from their own bikes, easily riding the course in reverse. I even spotted a group of half a dozen tandem riders enjoying the day.

By far the best section though was the hills. Three significant hills per lap challenged the riders, but each was lined with fans. Especially on the second hill, people went wild as the racers went by, some dressed in all manner of costume. The tunnels of people were two or three deep and pressed close to the bikers grinding up the hills, ala the Tour de France. That in itself would have made the ride an awesome experience, and the fans’ energy helped propel me up the hills. Spinning through Verona was also great, although not quite as exhilarating as the slopes. Verona holds a festival to try and milk money from the spectators, and this mass of people provided a cheering passageway at least half a mile long through a fast section of the course.

One thing I learned during the bike leg was that I desperately need to learn how to descend. I am a relatively light racer that tries to stay aero, but I still got passed on downhills by smaller people riding lesser bikes. Then on the next uphill I would repass them. Conserving energy on the downhills instead of pushing it through the climbs would be a much for efficient way to race. Not to mention that I must have annoyed other bikers as we traded places back and forth.

By the time I reached the second loop, the cyclist had spread out more. The rush of adrenaline from the fans on the hills and in Verona gave way to an emptier section until the riders arrived at Mount Horeb. This stretch was the loneliest, but I powered through it and the crowds livened up again after that.

I endured the rollers and climbed the hills again as I survived both loops relatively unscathed. My second loop split was slower, but I was still feeling alright. I had been on the bike for well over five hours by this point, but the time had passed rapidly, and I was still comfortable. On my way back into Madison though, things began to fall apart. I became slightly light headed and my legs became weary. This fatigue was either from exerting myself too hard or not taking in enough calories — probably a little of both. In any case, the long day was starting to catch up with me, and I had not even reached the marathon starting line.

Riding back, I finally spotted Monona Terrace along the lake front. Soon there after I found myself climbing the helix to T2. At the top a volunteer took my bike, and in a quick whirlwind I changed into my running gear ready to attempt a marathon. I finished all 112 miles of the bike in 5:55:49.

The Run

Lap 1

Me running

A long way to go…

The light headedness that attacked at the bike’s conclusion persisted into the beginning of the run. Throughout the first three or four miles I felt close to passing out. Although I had ambitious plans for the marathon, those were quickly thrown out the window. I was questioning how far I could even run in that condition. I slowed my pace (not as if I could have run any faster though), and consumed everything I could handle at the aid stations. Pretzels and Gatorade eventually brought things under control, which allowed me to instead focus on everything else that felt bad.

Although running is my strongest sport, the bike had drained all my energy, and I was reduced to shuffling forward. I begrudgingly walked all the aid stations, thankful for the slight break and the ability to grab food but annoyed at not being able to run. Soon, I was also walking the small hills on the course. My definition of hills became ever more liberal as the day progressed and eventually expanded to encompass anything larger than a bump. I hate walking since it adds so much time and doubly as much for me since I am a horrible power walker. I did not resort to walking until my legs were already dead, so I lacked any ability to make even a respectable attempt at striding quickly. I was moving forward as fast as I could, but other walkers were still passing me.

The bike in Wisconsin is known for its hills, but the run course is mercifully flat — except for Observatory Hill. I knew about the obstacle but had only seen it on Simply Stu’s run course preview. This one hill made up for the rest of the course’s levelness. It was long, steep, and had one false plateau. At least after that climb the racers passed through a ton of support on State Street. Many people enjoyed a delicious meal in a sidewalk cafe while watching the racers struggle through their ordeal. The course then proceeded atop a soft bike path along Lake Mendota before looping back towards downtown. On my return to the capital the woman’s overall leader, looking strong, passed me. During my race planning, I had hoped to allow not even the men’s leader to lap me on the run. The best laid plans (or even the ones I made) sometimes go out the window after the canon fires.

Lap 2

I passed the turn around to undertake the second lap and was not too disheartened by seeing and hearing the finish line a hundred yards away. Mentally, I was resolved to endure a marathon worth of suffering so I circled the marker and headed back into the breach. The struggle took its toll with the bottom of my feet now aching after the long bike ride and hours of pounding the pavement. At least something different hurting distracted and entertained me for a while. Despite my miles being very slow, each one still seemed to tick off quickly. More than likely my mind lacked enough oxygen and energy to properly process everything occurring around me, so I just zoned out and kept moving forward.

Me running

Slowly moving forward

The other activity that helped me survive the run was concentrating on food. Specifically, I would spend the entire time between aid stations deciding what to dabble in at the next one. This kept my mind occupied and gave me something for which to look forward. I was not following a nutrition plan by this point and just grabbed whatever sounded best. Although this provided some immediate comfort, it was misguided long-term strategy. My stomach felt progressively worse as the miles dragged by. It was bad enough that I walked almost the entire length of State Street the second time around despite the large crowds. Shortly after departing their support, just as the course turned along the lake, my stomach had all it could take and most everything I consumed at the aid stations ended up on the street. I think the Coke was the worst culprit. It works for some people, but I never had it during training (so it was a mistake to drink it during the race) and rarely drink pop anyway. Nonetheless, I felt much better after expelling my stomach and could resume something that resembled running.

Most of the run, especially towards the end, was depressing and humbling. I was being dropped by fifty year old women and could barely mustard forward. My appearance gave some indication of my poor condition because several spectators offered consolatory cheers: “You can make it to the finish line even if you have to walk the remainder.” I know they were trying to help, but their echoes just reinforced that I was not reaching my goal of more than just reaching the finish. Luckily, in my deranged state I could not focus on their comments very long anyway.

Eventually though, my plodding brought me back to the finish line, very near to where I had begun the day. Although many people describe crossing the line as a life changing experience, for me it was not that magical. The cloudy evening gave way to a blur or bright lights and noise. I heard Mike announce my hometown but did not catch my name. I cannot recall ever running on carpet or the crowds. All that mattered was breaking through the tape and finally being able to stop. I was immediately grabbed by two catchers whose ensured that I would survive. Unfortunately I did not get a pair of coeds, but the volunteers were nonetheless very cheerful and helpful.

My disappointing marathon time was 4:54:47, which was somehow still seven minutes faster than my first marathon. I cringe at how woefully unprepared I was for that one.

The Aftermath

Me crossing the finish line

Finally, the race is over

After being processed through the finishing chute, I found my way to the food tent. I knew I needed to eat, but my stomach was not in the mood for anything solid. I sat around conversing with other finishers while nibbling on a slice of pizza. Eventually time healed my wounds, and I began to feel slightly better. It probably took me an hour to down that first slice of pizza, but by the night’s end I had eaten almost an entire pizza along with some sandwiches.

I waddled to Monona Terrace to retrieve the gear I had used during the swim and bike. Although they had just transpired earlier that day, it did not seem like I had done those other two legs that morning. I quickly forgot what I just did after transitioning to the next sport. With my gear a little less organized than when it was tightly packed before being used, I could barely carry everything and maneuver my bike back to my car.

Since I had survived, it was now my job to cheer on others still battling the race course. I donned my Scooby-Doo costume and took up position on State Street, encouraging others as they started their approach to the finish line. I rang my cow bell and clapped for everyone until the very last official finisher passed (78 year old Frank). I took a shortcut to watch this amazing man cross the line.

Having did my own Ironman, and it was now very early Monday morning, I headed back to my campsite for some much needed rest.


I was disappointed in my performance. Yes, I did earn the words “You are an Ironman,” but at my age with all the time and money I dumped into the race, I should have done better. I made the all too common mistake of going too fast on the bike which destroyed the rest of my race. If I had spent another half hour on the bike, I probably could have shaved well over an hour off my run. Then again, even going into the race I was paranoid of a poor result since every initial attempt at a new distance has ended in disaster. Although I read a lot of material on Ironman racing, my thickheaded nature only allows me to learn by making mistakes. Hopefully, I learned some lessons and can do much better next time.

Splits from Ironman Wisconsin
Finish140.6 mi.< 10:45:0012:15:43
Swim2.4 mi1:10:00 – 1:15:001:16:461:49/100 yd.Very crowded, started too strong
T1 6:12
Bike112 mi< 6 hr.5:55:4918.9 mph
T2 2:09
Run26.2 mi.< 3:30:004:54:4711:15 min/mileLegs did not have any energy

Place vs. Event

Place vs. Event

Detailed Splits
Swim2.4 mi1:16:461:49/100 yd.2.4 mi2.4 mi1:16:46
T1 6:12N/A 1:22:58
Bike20 mi1:03:4418.8 mph20 mi22.4 mi2:26:42
10 mi32:5418.2 mph30 mi32.4 mi2:59:37
10 mi29:3520.3 mph40 mi42.4 mi3:29:12
10 mi30:5819.4 mph50 mi52.4 mi4:00:10
10 mi34:1117.5 mph73 mi175.4 mi5:10:59Same as miles 20-30
10 mi31:4418.9 mph83 mi85.4 mi5:42:33Same as miles 30-40
10 mi32:4518.3 mph93 mi 95.4 mi6:15:18Same as miles 40-50
100 mi5:13:5119.1 mph100 mi102.4 mi6:36:49Century Split
112 mi5:56:4918.9 mph112 mi114.4 mi7:18:47Bike Split
T2 2:09N/A 7:20:56
Run3 mi24:278:09 min/mile3 mi117.4 mi7:45:03
2 mi22:1711:08 min/mile5 mi119.4 mi8:07:20
2 mi22:5311:26 min/mile7 mi121.4 mi8:30:13
2 mi19:399:49 min/mile9 mi123.4 mi8:49:53
4 mi44:1811:04 min/mile13 mi127.4 mi9:34:11
13.1 mi2:14:0610:14 min/mile13.1 mi127.5 mi9:59:28Half marathon split
3 mi33:3511:11 min/mile16 mi130.4 mi10:07:47
2 mi25:0912:34 min/mile18 mi132.4 mi10:32:56
2 mi32:5016:25 min/mile20 mi134.4 mi11:05:47Puked
4 mi45:3611:24 min/mile24 mi138.4 mi11:51:23
1 mi13:1913:19 min/mile25 mi139.4 mi12:04:43
13.1 mi2:40:4112:15 min/mile26.2 mi140.6 mi12:15:43Second half of marathon
26.2 mi4:54:4711:15 min/mile26.2 mi140.6 mi12:15:43Finish

1 Not sure on the exact mile marker, but the split was ten miles.