Solving The Ironman Puzzle

Solving The Ironman Puzzle


By C26 Lead Coach–Robbie Bruce

“What you are training for?”

“What Ironman will you do next year?”

“Have you started training yet?”

“What is your A race for next year?”

If those are the questions you’re asking,  maybe it’s time to re-think “how and why” you participate in triathlon.

I openly admit I haven’t always thought about triathlon this way.  I have “used” the sport over the last 12 years of my life for a variety of reasons.  Some for good and some for bad.  However, over the last three years, my views on most everything has changed.

I have grown to believe that triathlon should compliment your life, not consume it. It should help you grow as a person, not define who you are. This is something that I cover with any new athlete I take on as well.  Growth as a person and growth within the sport are the most important “goals.”

One of the great things about Ironman expanding so rapidly and taking a monopoly over long distance triathlon is that races stay open longer.  Gone are the days where you HAD to camp out at your computer and register immediately in hopes of getting a coveted slot to your chosen Ironman.

As of this writing, every single North American Ironman race for 2017 is……….Open.  I think it’s amazing and will hopefully change the criteria for how many athletes choose a race.  The When, The Where, and The Why. It allows athletes to choose an event and a destination based on their desired journey.

Forget the days of being pressured into signing up because all of your buddies did, because everyone else is doing an Ironman and so should you, because if you don’t then what the hell will you be able to talk about for the next year.  Now you can choose races based on how you want to grow and what it will mean to you

Over the weekend my wife hung up our racing “medal board.”  It has over 50 medals from the last 10 years.  It’s not on the wall of our home to show off accomplishments, but as tokens of a journey.

Every time I look at a medal it reminds me of a time in my life.  A journey.  A reason.  A piece to my puzzle.

I thought, how appropriate would it be if these were all shaped as a puzzle piece?  I could lay them all out on the ground and connect them in a way that represented what they meant to me at that point in my life.  They all fit together and have their place.  It shapes who you are.

To be perfectly honest, some are flat-out painful to look at. They remind me of a time in my life I would love to forget.  Others, while the time and place where insignificant, I was able to remember where I was mentally, emotionally and spiritually before the race and it makes me proud of the journey.

My medal from Ironman Wisconsin is probably the best example.

The memory I took from Wisconsin actually had nothing to do with the race itself.  It was a memory from the night before. I sat back in the corner of our hotel restaurant rocking my 7-week-old son Hayden.  About 20 feet away stood my beautiful wife and mother, best friends and other family and friends.  They ate, laughed, and enjoyed each others company.

For many different reasons it stood out as a reminder of how far I had come in my life and a grateful appreciation for all those who have stood beside me along that journey.  It represented resiliency, love and hope. It is a medal I am incredibly proud of.

If you are still planning your 2017 schedule or just have no idea what to do, then take some time to reflect. Take this time to do some inventory and contemplate the journey you want to go on. You just might find that 2017 might not be the year you decide to see how fast you can go, but instead . . .how much you want to grow.


Robbie Bruce has coached over 50 athletes to their first Ironman finish.  He has worked with a wide range of abilities including beginner level and first time triathletes to Ironman 70.3 and Kona qualifiers, seasoned veterans and Junior USAT All- Americans.  His underlying focus with all athletes is blending a positive life change with a once in a lifetime performance extending beyond the finish line. 

Follow Crushing Iron on Facebook

IRONMAN Is Acting Like Donald Trump

IRONMAN Is Acting Like Donald Trump

I’m not taking political sides, just pointing out how easy it would be to do and say something that would make it easier for people to support your brand.  And while it should go without saying, I fully understand there are more important things in North Carolina than a bunch of triathletes finishing a full Ironman.  People’s lives have been devastated by floods and talking about a race seems frivolous.  But this blog is about triathlon, and training for my first Ironman was a life-changing experience for me.  I didn’t lose my home, but I did temporary lose my sanity, some bad habits, and eventually my job.  Ultimately, Ironman racing is about controlling ego and hopefully becoming a better person along the way.  Maybe all of these interrupted races are a sign . . . and one Ironman can use to check its own ego.  


When I heard about Ironman North Carolina being shortened to one 56-mile bike loop, I was bummed for everyone racing–especially the first-timers.  I just can’t imagine if that happened on my first Ironman. It would have been a major blow to my ego.

I have no idea if there really are more natural disasters these days or if it just seems that way because of the proliferation of video and insane amounts of weather coverage.  Likewise, I have no real facts about Ironman races being altered because of external forces, but it sure seems like it.

This year Ironman participants have been through postponements, cancelled swims, and altered bikes.  Part of me was expecting Ironman to shorten the run at Chattanooga because of the heat, and I fear the huge number of DNFs will plant that idea for future races.

Ironman has created a monster that is losing focus on where it came from.

There’s obviously a growing interest in the sport and they seem to be adding races as fast as I buy Snickers bars.  It’s capitalism at work, but the bigger you get, the more lawyers you need.

And those lawyers are there to do one thing . . . protect the stockholders.

While I fully get why they have to shorten the bike course at North Carolina, I have a hard time accepting their reticence softening the blow for people who have made this their first Ironman. This the triathlon-example of a product recall and the companies that handle those situations best are the ones who quickly admit there is a problem.

Here are a few things I think Ironman should do to make this right:

  • Offer everyone in the race 50% off 70.3 vouchers for 2017.  This would be a great way to infuse their shorter course races with energy, and build a more loyalty among people just dabbling in the sport as a bucket list goal.
  • Give each first timer at North Carolina the option of a $50 entry voucher (bought on site this weekend) that’s good for any race (full or half) in 2018 as long as they sign up on the day registration opens.  This allows Ironman to keep the money they have, take next year to figure it out, and offer a future refund that allows everyone to have another shot. I’m guessing 50% wouldn’t even use it but then it’s on them.
  • Give anyone who is racing an Ironman for the second (or more) time 50% off a full in 2018. (Also to be used on day registration opens).
  • Sell all IMNC merchandise for at least 50% off.  They’d still be making money, but that would be Goodwill they desperately need right now.

I’m sure everyone racing North Carolina is doing whatever they can to make the best of a bummer situation.  I’m reading stuff like, “We’ve trained, we’ve done the work, we should wear the medal with pride.”  And while I agree with that, the reality just isn’t the same.  Ironman has promised something it won’t deliver.

I also appreciate the optimism from everyone that’s pledged to finish the marathon, then get on their trainer for 3 hours to make it “real,” but that is just an unfortunate thought.  I can’t imagine running through the finish line after a marathon, hearing “You are an Ironman,” then riding a trainer for 3 more hours?

Ironman has a powerful brand and they keep making decisions that are chipping away at their legacy.  Frankly, they are acting like Donald Trump, when it would be so easy to smooth things over by admitting they’re wrong or can show compassion once in a while.

Ironman has a lot of money and giving back to its athletes when their dream is stripped seems like a small price to pay for the future of their brand.  I don’t care what it says in the fine print of the disclaimer, give these people the product they bought, or deliver something of equal value.

Follow Crushing Iron on Facebook

Moms, Daughters and Ironman

I was just at Ironman Louisville watching some friends kick ass (video coming soon) and realized how easy it is to get caught up in the fast people . . . the ones crushing the race.  The finish line is always exciting and I was celebrating at 4th Street Live, but none of that moved me like what I was about to see on my walk back to the car.

Everyone I knew was having a solid race and about to finish under or around 11 hours.  It was around 6 o’clock and, after a very long day, I found myself back near transition in a daze.  That’s when it occurred to me that people were still out on the bike.

One scene in particular caught my eye and I decided to get one last shot for the video.  It was this young girl in the photo below, standing alone with a sign in the middle of the road.


Other than a few workers taking down signs, and two other women 50 feet away, this girl was completely alone.  The silence was interrupted by the two women who yelled “Hurry up, you only have two minutes!” to a cyclist who fought to finish in time.  As I walked closer to the young girl, she sat down on the yellow line with her head in her hands.

I stopped and asked her if she was okay.

She looked at me with heavy eyes and said, “Yes, I’m waiting for my mom . . . she’s still out there.”

I thought, wow, “still out there” could mean anything.

“Have you heard anything,” I asked.


I had no idea what to do, but her mom had likely been on the bike for at least 9 hours, so I decided to wait a while to make sure she was okay.  I was exhausted, I could only imagine how her mother felt.

The girl’s face was washed with uncertainty as she stared at the desolate concrete road.  Then, in what seemed like divine intervention, I heard the girl yell, “There she is!” as her mom appeared out of nowhere.

It shook me from a daze and I looked to see her mom cruising toward us at a slow pace.  She hugged her aero bars and casually looked at her daughter and said, “Hey you.”

The little girl grabbed her sign and started running.  She was yelling, “I love you mom!” the whole way.  I watched with a smile as mom and daughter faded into the distance.

I cursed myself for not having my camera rolling, but quickly realized video couldn’t have done this justice.  My imagination will always remember those little legs kicking off to each side and that sign flopping in the wind as she ran alongside her mom.

I thought my day of spectating was over, but it was this little scene that changed everything.  It reminded me that Ironman is definitely more than a race, it is a test of will and an arena of support from those who love us.

It had been about 30 seconds since the two women yelled out the 2-minute-warning and I hoped for the best.  I have no idea of she made the cutoff, but I’m certain their mother/daughter bond was stronger than ever.

Follow Crushing Iron on Facebook



Ironman Wisconsin 2016 Race Report

Ironman Wisconsin 2016 Race Report

I’m not going to lie, Kona was in the back of my mind again at Ironman Wisconsin.  But I knew it would take a perfect day, and the competition isn’t getting any easier.

Exhibit one:  I’d like to congratulate  the winner of my age group (50-54) Pierre Heynemand who clocked a cool 9:33:16, which was also good for 4th overall.  (If anyone knows him, please put us in contact).

As it turned out, I needed to be in the 10:44 range for Kona, which meant I’d not only have to be perfect . . . but lucky.  The following is how that dream slowly unraveled.


The Swim – 2.4 Miles

For the life of me I will never understand why people wait so long to get into the water at Wisconsin.  It’s a floating mass start and I spoke with a spectator who told me she saw 5 people quit after a couple hundred yards (presumably because of anxiety) – evidently all were on shore when the cannon fired.

I know what anxiety feels like, and it’s not cool.  In fact, I felt it Thursday on my practice swim.  It had nothing to do with other people and everything to do with the fact that I slapped on a super tight wetsuit and started swimming without letting my body warm up or get acclimated to the water.  My heart was racing and I couldn’t slow it down.

That incident rang in my head until race morning, so I zipped up early and was treading water at least 15 minutes before the start.  I actually thought about a short jog to warm up, but it seemed impractical.

The big question was, where would I line up to start? I’d watched countless swim videos trying to figure that out.  I briefly contemplated the inside line because my swim training was better than ever, but the bout with anxiety loomed large so I decided to start in the same place I chose for 2013, on the right corner of the ski jump.

I’d lose about 25 yards, but the logic seemed solid.  The ramp is about 20 feet wide, so once we cleared it I expected open water to my left. Then, I thought I’d slowly drift toward the buoy line as we swam 1000 yards to the first corner.  That plan worked for about 20 seconds.

I’m not sure what it is with people, but they start 2.4 mile swims like they’re scrambling from sharks.  In a matter of minutes people were all over me and I was all over them, much like I expected.  But what I didn’t expect, was for it to last the entire swim.

There’s a tradition in Madison where the swimmers “Moo” when they make the first turn.  As I got to the first red buoy, I took a look ahead and it seemed like 15 people were treading water yelling “Moo” at the top of their lungs.  No movement, just a moo-party, and I crashed it head on.

That pretty much summed my day in the water.  Tons of contact that stripped momentum, and it never got better.  Even the last 500 yards into the swim exit, which was perfectly clear in 2013, was conjest-fest.

The other thing about the Wisconsin swim is . . . sighting is really tough.  I’d pegged the rocks to the left of a small bridge as a perfect line on my way out, but I couldn’t see either object to save my life.  Then, you make a turn and stare right into the morning sun for a couple hundred yards.  On the long 1700 leg, forget it.  It’s buoy to buoy and every other one is about the size of a Teddy Bear.

I felt really strong until the home stretch.  I think the contact wore me down a little and even though I cut 6 minutes from my last Wisconsin swim, I was hoping for another 5 minute cushion and felt the first bit of Kona air seep from my body.

Swim Time: 1:14

The Bike – 112 Miles

By most people’s standards I was undertrained for this bike course.  My longest ride was just over 60 miles, but I rode a lot of 2-3 hour rides, including a bunch of hills in Nashville.  I think my plan was solid if I had started it earlier in the year.

I spent a lot of time in training calibrating my “internal power meter” and feel like I have a good connection to my effort levels.  The plan was simple.  Stay in my comfort zone until I hit Barlow Road, climb hard, recover into Verona, then crush the second loop.

My buddy, and coach, Robbie and I drove the course on Friday with a keen interest in the mystery of Barlow Road.  It was a new hill this year due to construction, and the online chatter was stuff of legend.

Hills usually seem worse in the car, but Barlow didn’t seem like anything special at the time, but at mile 40 while riding a bike, that hill was legit, especially in an Ironman.  I’ve heard the last section is a 20% grade and I have no reason to doubt.  I’ve seen race video of dozens of people walking their bikes up that beast, and the good news is . . . it will be back next year.

My speed target was 19.5 m.p.h. for the ride and when I got to Verona it was at 18.75.  I saw my mom, brother and his friend Jay, then cruised through the thousands of people lining both sides of the road. When I got to the end I saw my cousins Tim and Jeni, her husband Phil, and of course my uncle Butch, self-proclaimed Verona-bike-corner-safety-official, who was very animated as he pointed out pot holes to the riders.

Average speed is really the only thing I use on the bike, and to that point, I felt like my effort was safe.  That said, I knew getting to 19.5 wasn’t going to be a picnic and proved nearly impossible.

I heard somewhere that there are over 50 hills on this course and I wouldn’t argue that for a minute– but the real villain on loop two was the wind.  I train in a very windy location I call “The Lab” so I’m used to wind, but obviously not after 60 miles of hills.

It’s probably my imagination, but every time we hit a flat section it felt like the wind was in my face.  Long, grinding, 2-4 mile stretches that seemed almost tougher than the hills.  And crosswinds on some of the 45-50 mph downhills left no room for sight seeing.

I tried moving the average speed needle but the closest I got was 18.95 mph.  From there we hit another long climb and by mile 75 I kissed my Kona fantasy goodbye.

I rode this course in 2013 in 6:03 and even though I’m a much better cyclist now, I was flirting with a slower time as I reached mile 90.  The last 22 miles were all I could do to get my ride under 6 hours.

Thankfully a good chunk of the last 10 miles had a little wind at our backs and I was able to hold on and come in at 5:59.

I really thought I rode well and might have left a tiny bit out there, but Wisconsin is a relentless course.

I cannot imagine how hard it would feel if the spectator support wasn’t so incredible.  I try to explain it to people, but you really can’t.  It’s almost like the fans understand just when you’ll need them.  Even on the loneliest of hills in the middle of nowhere people will drive their PA system out, put it on the roof and blast music in the middle of a cornfield.  I’ve done Chattanooga and Louisville, but Wisconsin fans bring 10 times the support.

The last half-mile winds along the lake back to Monona Terrace.  The bright blue sky reflected off the water with the Madison skyline in the background.  That view alone was almost worth 112 miles of pure hell.  I held it together, climbed the helix and nearly forgot I was about to run a marathon.

Bike time: 5:59

The Run – 26.2 Miles

Just once in my life I wanted to get off the bike and feel like I could actually run for a while.  Not shuffle along at a 10 minute pace, but run.  As I dismounted my Trek, the first sign was not good.

I “Herman Munster’d” my way into transition and re-calibrated a run strategy on my way out the door.  It came down to this . . . start SLOW!

It occurred to me during training that when I started a post-bike run slowly, using full feet instead of mid-foot out of the gate, my legs seemed to respond better.  Essentially I tried to start the run how I thought I’d end it with slow and heavy strides to wake up my run legs.  It seemed to work.

The run at Wisconsin comes off the top of the Terrace and winds into the finisher’s chute for a few steps then circles the state capital on three sides.  After the first side, I thought I’d just finished the second side and started to feel delusional.  I hoped that wasn’t a sign for my day.

The perfect weather made the beginning of this run electric.  People were everywhere around the capital and the first two blocks on State Street were lined with bustling outdoor cafes and race signs.  My plodding began to feel like floating.

I don’t wear a Garmin, so I hit start on my chrono watch as I crossed under the Run Out.  At mile one I looked at my wrist to see 7:51.  I thought, “there is no way in hell I just ran a 7:51 mile,” and hit restart. I thought maybe the marker was set in the wrong place, but in retrospect I may have run that fast with all the crowd energy.

At mile two it read 9:24 and I thought, “You know, that’s probably more likely, but I really don’t feel like being chained to my watch all day.”  From that moment on, I stopped looking at my pace and listened to my body.

I started my watch at the beginning of the race, so I had the overall time and kept a loose eye on that.  I knew I was in a decent spot but wouldn’t be sneaking up on Pierre anytime soon.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my first 4.2 miles were at a 9:04 pace.  I felt pretty good and climbed Observatory Hill without a problem.  As I hit the bottom of State Street (roughly mile 7) I actually felt kind of jacked.  It’s an up and down that is just swarming with people and the energy carried me away.  I saw my buddy Pete and I think we were both a bit startled by my pace at that point, especially considering I woke up at 1:30 that morning and raced on 3 hours of sleep.

You come in from lap one the same way you left and drop halfway down the Chute before turning around 75 yards from the finish line.  It’s an evil ploy, but also nice because a lot of people are there with motivation.

My first half came in just over 2 hours, which left me about 2.5 hours to get under the 12-hour mark.  The only choice I had at that point was to keep doing the same thing.

My longest run going into this race was 12 very hilly miles, so I got to a point where I just didn’t want to screw it up.  For the rest of the day I more or less cruised by walking the aid stations and getting my fuel right.

Not obsessing over my time proved to be a somewhat pleasurable alternative.  I was taking it one mile at a time and they seemed to be showing up quickly.  Shortly after that torturous out-and-back I saw Mile marker 23 and knew I was golden.  One little 5k and I would be cozily tucked in a race blanket eating pizza.

The last three miles were much different than 2013 when I was delirious and giving it all I could to break the 12-hour mark.  This time I looked around and soaked it in, but not before one steep little hill in the Camp Randall parking lot shocked my IT band.

The same thing happened last year at Chattanooga, but with 5 miles left.  I quickly remembered the only thing I could do was relax and not let it get in my head.  It’s just another in a long line of pains that creep up on your run that you can’t let get the best of you.

With no real hills left the IT band was fine and I started feeling guilty watching others just start their second lap.  Oh, how that would have sucked, but I guess it’s all relative.

I scaled State Street for the last time and played with the crowd.  I skipped the final aid station and could just barely hear them announcing finishers on the other side of the capital.  There’s not many better feelings than being less than a half mile away from the Ironman finish line.

It was about to be over.  No panic attacks in the water, no technical issues on the bike, and no cramping or over-heating on the run.

When I turned the final corner into the Chute, it nearly took my breath away.  Both sides lined what seemed to be 10 deep cheering for . . . me.  It’s wild.  Why me?  I don’t know them, but they don’t care and for that moment we were best of friends.

I bounced onto the carpet, raised my hands in celebration, then it happened . . . my water bottle flew out of my belt onto the ground.  Three more steps and I stopped with an incredulous look on my face.  Kind of a “26 miles in the belt and now you want to fall out look?”  I briefly thought about leaving it, but thought better and slowly shuffled my way back and did an excruciating bend-down to pick it up.  It was the exact opposite of ballet, but the crowd went wild.  It was the weirdest little magical moment I’ve experienced in sport.  Thousands of people cheering me for picking up a water bottle.

I regained composure and rode the wave of the cheers closer to the line when I saw my friends Jim and Rebecca who drove all the way from Nashville to spectate.  Then I saw my mom and brother who have given me more support and encouragement for this little dream than I probably deserve.  I reached out to touch their hands as I went by then let a guy pass me before standing on the finish line.

That’s exactly when all of the excruciating pain, wonder and worry leaves your body.  Two women put their arms around me and walked me away to my medal.

I didn’t even think about the live camera at that moment, but stopped just at the edge to look back at my time.  It read 11:44 and change and I gave a kinda “hmm, not bad,” look before walking out of frame.  Then one of the women said, “Aren’t you going to wave at the camera?”  That’s when I pulled what could easily be considered a pretty big “dick move” by stepping back into the camera to ham it up and say hi to my dad who was watching at home.

It was done.  I’d finished my fourth Ironman in pretty solid fashion with a 11:43, 15 minutes ahead of 2013, and it teased me just enough to think I can really do this Kona thing if I put in more effort.

But for now, I will be spending this week with pizza.

Run: 4:19
Race Time: 11:43


Follow Crushing Iron on Facebook for many more Ironman Wisconsin thoughts and videos. 



Ironman Wisconsin 2016 In The Books

Ironman Wisconsin 2016 In The Books

I will dig into my race at Ironman Wisconsin much deeper, but thought I’d drop a few quick thoughts on an unbelievable weekend in Madison.

The Environment

The main reason I worry about the weather before a race is because of how it will impact spectator support.  I really enjoy crowds and I just cannot believe any Ironman has better support than Wisconsin.

I’ll get way into specifics of this, but it goes so much deeper than the actual fans of the race.  It’s the people around town who “don’t really care” and their genuine intrigue and open arms for the event.  I never once felt an “Oh, great is f*cking Ironman weekend” vibe from anyone. Everyone seemed awed and inspired by our accomplishments, and frankly, I wish more people in life where like that.

The Conditions

The weather was truly perfect from a temperature standpoint.  It was 51 degrees outside when we jumped into 74 degree water.  It was sunny all day and the high was about 75.  That said, my friend told me his bike read 84 degrees at one point out on the road.

What I didn’t expect was the wind.  The forecast said 5 mph, but that must have been in the city because it was gusting out on the bike course.  It was seemingly in our faces on every flat section of the course and a strong crosswind on the downhills made a few of the 45-50 mph descents white knucklers.

The sun was out for the entire run, but there really is a lot of shade on the course.  The trail along the lake for sure and several other side streets made for a nice break from the typical Ironman-run-heat.  At least for me.

The New Hill 

The bike course added a new hill this year and it is named Barlow Road.  There must have been a thousand posts about it on Facebook, so I eventually decided it was over-hyped.  We drove the course on Friday and frankly, Barlow Road didn’t seem like it was that bad.

But, once we got out there on a bike, and got past the first two short climbs on Barlow, I was in for a rude awakening.  I’m not sure what the grade is, but that last section is legit, especially on an Ironman course.  I’d halfway planned to ride it in isolation, but was very happy to see a bunch of people out there cheering us on.

As much as I loved climbing Barlow, hopefully they go back to the old course next year so riders get a couple extra hills.  God knows that course doesn’t have enough of them!

Ironman 70.3 Wisconsin?

While we were there Ironman announced a 70.3 in Madison for next June.  I’m assuming that’s the end of Racine.

I read a quick overview of the course and it looks to be quite different other than the swim, which is nice because the Ironman Wisconsin course is truly a treasure and I’d hate to see it watered down.

Race Reports

If you did Wisconsin and are writing a race report, please send a link to  I would love to post an excerpt and link to your page.  Mine is coming soon.

Taping down the infamous Ironman run-turn-around

Follow Crushing Iron on Facebook for updates on Ironman Louisville and Chattanooga, plus the Wisconsin tribute video . . . all coming soon.

Images from Ironman Wisconsin

Images from Ironman Wisconsin

Nothing says Madison like this.  A beautiful scene just up from the Ironman Finish Line.  image1

The Finish Line going up.


This has me seriously contemplating watching the swim from my hotel room.


Lake Monona in all its glory.  Just a crisp, blue (with a hint of an orange ski jump) a far as you can see.


Another shot of the state capital on a beautiful Fall day in Madison.


Say what you want about Ironman, but they get $35 for a shirt while most races give them away.  I definitely like this year’s version in black.


Follow Crushing Iron on Facebook.