I’ve Been MIA

Sorry for the week off, but I’ve been in Vegas working, eating, and drinking.  I’ll be back in full force with Vegas “Race Recap” of sorts and heavy posting tomorrow.

One note:  Got to run in Red Rock Canyon with a recently relocated buddy, Mark Spencer.  image

We Need Your Help at Ironman Wisconsin

Some of you may know we’re documenting our road to Ironman Wisconsin on video.  We’ve done a bunch of interviews and some training stuff along the way, but, since I do most of the shooting, I’m getting a little anxious about how we’re going to cover Ironman weekend.

This is really like a zero-budget process and I’m looking for ideas to help an organic ground swell of phone videographers on race day.  Do you know anyone who will be at the race?  Have any thoughts on how we can get the word out to people we may not know yet who’d want to help document this occasion?

I would like to set up a server so that anyone who shoots video at Ironman Wisconsin could upload it for use in the film.  It would be amazing if a bunch of people actually capture footage of the Fab 5, but that’s not necessary.

We’re planning to rent GPS chips so that our tracking can be in real time with Athlete Tracker’s free app.  This will allow people to know exactly where we are on the course and be ready to shoot.  Also, we’ll make sure our numbers and pictures, etc are readily available.

This journey has been amazing and the people involved have been the best part.  That goes well beyond the guys I’m training with.  People that race triathlon, along with their families and friends are the most generous and supportive humans, so I really think this can literally be an organic film made by hundreds of people.  Can you help spread the word?

Feel free to contact me with ideas and any questions.  mtarrolly@gmail.com.

Remember Who You Are

I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to waking up at 5 am, but when I do, it changes my day for the better.

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After a little warm up, Coach busted out the drills and my swim was feeling pretty good, but Wasky was the man of record.  I spent most of my energy just trying to keep up. 

Then, in the final relay, we were anchors of our respective teams.  We waited for our teammates to circle the buoy and back.  My crew was building a substantial lead, but Coach changed the plan.  Wasky and I would go head to head for all the marbles. 

Wasky and I stood shoulder to shoulder shaking gingerly like real swimmers.  His eyes had that distant, yet focused gaze that says, “I’m glad you’re here, but I have no choice but to kick your ass.” 

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We crouched into starter’s pose like sprinters and coach hollered, “Go!”  We dug into the sand, then water, and dove when it got too deep to run.  When I came up for air, I realized my goggles were now around my neck and I contemplated swimming without them, but decided to pull them up.  I lurched over the orange boom and promptly kicked the cable that holds it in place.  It was not a good start. 

But Wasky was still in range. 

I quickly focused and got on his feet.  It’s amazing how much easier it is to swim in someone’s draft, and by the time we got to the buoy I was literally swimming up his back.  We made the always awkward 180 degree turn and headed for home. 

That’s when I made a big mistake. 

Wasky is a faster swimmer and at that moment, I forgot or refused to believe it.  Instead of drafting him in, I decided to find my own lane and sprint to the finish.  My heart was pounding and I couldn’t see him anywhere.  I thought I’d passed him and was putting together an epic swim.  I sighted off the beach and all I saw was small waves in front of me.  Could I hold on? 

I dug deeper and hammered toward the shore.  My arms were baked and my legs felt the aftermath of last night’s Monogetti run.  But, it felt like a breakthrough moment.  I was head to head with Wasky, and it was my race to lose! 

I knew a straight line to shore could be the difference, so I started sighting every stroke.  On my third sight, I saw a bright yellow swim cap about 15 yards ahead of me and my heart sank.  Wasky. 

When I finally got to the orange pole and he was running out of the water.  My Cinderella story was not to be, but it was a good race lesson. 

99% of us doing triathlon should focus on racing against ourselves.  It’s great to push the envelope and get better in practice, but race strategy should be set, and kept. 

Every time I change my plans, I bomb.  The most common mistake I make is going out too fast, then fighting to hold on.  Not only does this make racing less enjoyable, it rarely works. Like today when I fell apart chasing Wasky.  

I’m doing a sprint triathlon this weekend and my plan is to negative split each event . . . and I’ll have to do it by feel because I’m not wearing a Garmin.  The more I train, the more I understand effort.  I know if I’m pushing myself just enough or maybe pushing too hard and if I let someone else’s pace dictate pace, it’s difficult to regroup. 

For me, it’s as simple as breath.  If I’m breathing too hard, I would be wise to slow down.  Settle into your swim, bike, or run meditation.  Remember who you are . . .  unless you’re on the home stretch of the run with a chance to topple Wasky.  

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It was a great morning and the only thing that would make today better would be if it was pint night at NRC

 

 

 

Convenience Store Wisdom

June is an animated woman that works at the truck stop across the road and right around the time I entered my pin number she told me she was fifty two.  Her hair is orange (but leans yellow), she’s missing some teeth, her glasses hang on a chain around her neck, and he always has a story . . .

“You know, I was just now thinking to myself about how good it was to be a kid.  You never believe that then, because all you can think about when your 12 is to be 16 and when your 16 you want to be 18, then 21, then 25 . . . But when you get in your thirties, you start to think, hmm… maybe this ain’t all I hoped it would be.  Cause, you know, when you’re an adult you start to realize all you do is work, and work, and work, and work . . . and pay bills, and pay bills, and pay bills.  And it’s harder now than ever.  When you’re a kid you don’t think about any of that stuff.  I remember when I was 12, my parents sat around the table figuring out what bills they could pay and what ones would have to wait.  They kept tellin me, “Enjoy bein a kid cuz bein an adult is hard.”  I never believed them, but I do now.  Only took me till I was 52,” she said with a big cackle.

June has figured out that being a kid is a pretty good gig.

The whole time she talked I juggled three thoughts:

1.  She is really striking a chord with me right now.
2.  Why does she open up with me so easily.
3.  This has blog potential.

But, as I headed to my car, my thoughts changed to how much I dreaded going back to work.  Then I wondered how she could stand behind that counter for 8 hours a day doing something she loathes.  One third of her life and half her waking hours.  That is a disastrous way to grow up.

“You know, I love my grand kids, but they are so loud.  I couldn’t have kids around anymore.  I cherish going home and being there in my silence.”

I am fascinated by how someone like June can end up in a lifestyle like hers.  We are amazingly adaptive.  We survive hell for a day, then hell becomes easier.  Eventually, we become very content in hell and almost thrive on the low level pain.  There’s a twisted comfort in the familiarity.

So, how do we get out?  It takes:

1.  A fearless leap.
2.  Unwavering commitment and focus.
3.  A clear goal.

I was (and still am on some level) living in that hell.  It’s really pretty easy.  You just figure out how to make it through the day, then numb it all with a lot of food, drugs, or alcohol.

The problem is, once you take that fearless leap, the pain grows more intense for a while.

It’s tough navigating murky waters and that’s why sighting is so important.  You’re not in a pool anymore.  It’s the damn wild west.  No line on the bottom to guide or contain you.  You can roam where ever you like, and that is a scary ass feeling at first, but once you adjust (just like you did in hell) you realize how fucking amazing life can be when you’re truly free.

Swimming in the Washing Machine

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Yeah, I know it’s nothing close to what it will be like at Wisconsin, but we do what we can.

Today’s swim was a series of “out to the buoy and backs” that left some of us overly familiar.  Racer K and I spent a large part of the morning beating the shit out of each other and, I think I can speak for him when I say, it was awesome.

The front line in this picture was given about a 20 second head start, then the back line of today’s stronger swimmers ran in to chase them.  We did this several times and the net result was a nice little cluster-f*ck at and around the buoy.

Sighting is huge, as is dealing with currents and waves, but for my money, the most valuable part of our open water clinics is scraping flesh . . . or worse.

When someone is running next to you, you will likely talk, size them up, or dig a little deeper to hold them off, but swimming is another story.  Especially in a lake.

You can’t see much of anything other than a horizon so whenever someone slinks up beside you or touches your feet, your first thought can range from simple “annoyance” to “holy fuck, there is a sea urchin trying to kill me right now at this moment.”

(side bar . . . I just extended that last sentence far more than I needed to by adding “right now at this moment.  It’s super redundant and frankly clutter, but I thought it may make it funnier, which I suppose it would to some, but certainly not linguists).

Yeah, so now that I’m getting stronger, I actually get a kick out of running into people on the swim.  Annoyance, yes, but it’s like solving a tactical mission, which doesn’t always go your way, but is still pretty cool.

Today alone I got punched in the ribs, kicked in the face, had my goggles ripped off and got dunked at the buoy, and that was all by Racer K.

On one of the “out and backs” I got pinned by two people as I tried to pass.  I had two options.  Go over the top or drop off and swim around them.  I chose the second but noticed how much effort it took to bump around in there before falling back, then restarting.  Clearly the best decision in the future is either veer off earlier or just dig in for all I’m worth and split the seam.

In the end we broke into two groups and had our customary session-end relay race.  Most of the time they come right down to the wire and there is no time to relax.  You are RACING with people all up in your grill and doing anything to beat you to the beach.  It wears you down, is often brutal, and I am very glad I’m getting that experience.

Running in Nashville – The Nasty

Last night hundreds of East Nasties gathered on a sweltering evening to knock out the group’s signature run.   If you live in Nashville, you’ve probably seen the black and white “East Nasty” bumper stickers, and all those people have earned it by finishing The Nasty.

The Nasty is a 5.9 mile run, laced with several rolling hills and 6 “big” climbs, including, Mount Nasty, which is a relatively short, but steep ascent at mile 4.  The legend that surrounds this route has an intimidating aura and most expect the worst, but I’ve come to really enjoy the challenge and think it always makes me a better runner.

The mood after running The Nasty ranges from exhaustion to exhilaration.  Mark or Duane stand around and reward everyone with their stickers.  The big one for the first time runners, and the small circle Mount Nasty for repeat offenders.

I feel lucky to have started running in East Nashville.  The Nasty, is basically a collection of the best climbs and descents my neighborhood has to offer.  You start with a slow downhill, into a climb, then a couple blocks of flat followed by another long climb, then two short steep descents and climbs, etc…  Then you get a long, very gradual decline to prepare you for Mount Nasty.  After that, it’s down into Shelby Park, around the lake and back out with a gradual, snake climb back to Shelby Avenue.  Then, it’s down into a big valley, followed by a final climb before you turn and head home to 11th and Holly.

While Nashville is no Boulder, I think we have a great hilly/urban environments for training.  If I’m looking for a flat/fast course, the Greenway is about a half mile from my front door, but if I go any other direction, I’m bound to collide with a bunch of hills.  And the more I run hills, the more I crave them.

Last night I ran the course with John Wasky (+2) who is training for Louisville and typically ready to crush the road waskywouldin front of him.  We talked a lot about the fatigue of Ironman training and ran most of the route (plus 3.25 extra miles) with heavy legs.  What amazed me about last nights run wasn’t that I was able to plow through tired legs, but how the cross training of triathlon is making my body so resilient.  Normally my feet, hips, and knees ache after a run (and especially in the morning) but last night and today I remain cautiously optimistic that I’m turning a corner with nickle and dime pains.

I told Wasky early in the day I wasn’t putting up with any of his “Sub-7 pace BS” and for 8 miles he seemed to agree.  But as we turned onto Shelby for the second time of the night and began a long descent that transformed into a longer climb, he turned on the jets and didn’t look back.  It was all I could do to stay on his heels as he seemed to pick up speed on the hill.  We crested, and I expected a deep breath or two to turn into a jog, but he rounded the corner hard on his way home.  I tried to relax as we belted our way past a porch party full of women for the 3rd time of the night, and he wasn’t letting up.  It was a 6 block sprint to the finish and sure enough, I looked at my watch and we were dabbling in the sub-7 range.  He casually lured me to sleep then tried to break my will, but I am schooled in his shenanigans.

Great run on a humid night in Nashville, TN.  The only bad news was that it wasn’t Pint Night at Nashville Running Company.

Crushing Iron Videos – Ironman Wisconsin Documentary

I’ve put together a video page on our site and will be adding a few more over the next week.  You can find them on the video tab at the top or by clicking here.

Are you really asking that?
Are you really asking that?
Racer K rockin the Sconnie Beer
Racer K rockin the Sconnie Beer
Daniel Smile
Daniel Smile
Confusing Question
Confusing Question
Intimidating Stare
Intimidating Stare

racerknee trace guys

Jim pounds the trainer
Jim pounds the trainer
Jim's East Nasty gear
Jim’s East Nasty gear

MarkNRC JimHotdog

Swim, Bike, Run . . . What’s Most Important?

I started Monday morning with a 2,500 meter pool swim because I overslept my 6 am Open Water Clinic.  2,500 meters.  To think that was just over half of the Ironman distance can be a bitter pill to swallow.

I felt pretty good about my effort, but during the day I had a craving for insider information on Ironman Wisconsin.   What are the secrets for making your day great?  Almost everything I read said the same thing, “Don’t burn yourself on the bike.”

So, after work on Monday night, I took that “don’t burn out” information on my ride with specific concentration on gearing down early going into the hills.  It was a “just ride” after all and after numerous bad efforts, I was looking for a reason to not throw my bike off the Shelby Bottoms pedestrian bridge.

The outlandish amounts of baby strollers kept my crushing urges in check.  It was a loveable, fresh, clean, and no burnout approach . . . that worked like a charm.

I paid close attention to my speed on the climbs and it was typically only a mile or two per hour slower than aggressive climbing.  The difference was, I rarely, if ever felt like I was breathing hard and crested every hill with energy to gear up and go after the downhill if I chose.

Most every expert points to the run as the key in Ironman.

If, for example, you think you have the capability of averaging 20.4 mph on the bike at Wisconsin, you’ll come in around 5 hours and 30 minutes.  But, if that takes all you’ve got, a 4-hour marathon goal could easily end up 5:30.  On the other hand, if you hold back a bit and shoot for 18.7 mph on the bike (a 6 hour ride) that may be enough to save your legs for that 4 hour marathon.  The 30 minutes you gain by hammering the bike nets you an hour loss in the race.

It’s taken me several long rides to realize racing a bike for 112 miles is no picnic.  I saw so many people walking the marathon at Louisville and, while I completely understand it, I don’t want that to be my fate.  Time is one thing, but running the entire course is one of those things I would just like to do.  I’m hoping I can pace myself well enough complete the run, and . . . make it solid.

So, swim, bike, run.  The masterpiece puzzle that wrenches the core of every triathlete.  Each event toying at your brain like a needy child.  They all want more of your time and the balancing act becomes maddening.  Swim wants to chill and hang out with dad and splash around in the water.  Bike wants to go on a long vacation.  Run wants to stay at home and work on the playground in the backyard.

All of your kids and their needs are important, but it’s looking like I’ll get the most long-term benefit from building that playground with Run.

Ironman Wisconsin Race Report – Guest Blog

One of the coolest byproducts of being in triathlon is the people you meet.  While I was over in Knoxville for Rev3, I had a chance hotel-gift-shop meeting the night before with a guy from Wisconsin . . . which automatically gave him a high score.  He was down to earth, genuine, and passionate about racing.  We had a nice, yet brief discussion and I told him about the blog, which he said he’d check out.  Later that week I got an email from him that professed high praise on Crushing Iron and the journey of the Fab 5.

We’ve since exchanged several emails and he’s been helpful answering questions I’ve had about IMWI.  A couple days ago he wrote and said, “Alright.  You stoked the fire.  Reading your blog and the race reports from the others you posted got me to break mine out from 2010.”

He warned it was long, but it was so engaging, I didn’t even notice.  I felt like the guys I’m training with, IMWI aspirants/finishers, and triathletes in general would love the read, so I asked if I could post it on our blog.  He said, “It would be an honor.”

IRONMAN WISCONSIN 2010 Race Report – Timothy Wacker 

First and foremost I want to thank Ellen and my boys for their support throughout this whole process.   Because of already full and conflicting schedules, Ellen and I don’t get to see each other much and Ellen was amazing during the sometimes seven hour training sessions.  She hardly ever complained about the time away from the family, and she seemed to know when I was feeling guilty about being away from the family, she knew exactly what to say to prop me up.  I will be forever grateful to them for allowing me to take on such an extremely selfish venture, and I share my accomplishment with them.  I would also like to thank all of my family and friends for their help in watching the kids, their support at races, their pretend (just kidding) in how my other races went, and their well wishes.  Without an unbelievable support system none of this would have been possible.  I also want to apologize for how long this is; I realized after starting it that I am writing it as much for my own future memories as I am for anyone else.daddf5fc-4133-41e3-95c2-0d78ab1216c2

This journey started officially one year ago when I volunteered at the Ironman Wisconsin Race in Madison in 2009.  I volunteered with the intention of signing up for the race the following year (2010).  Actually the journey started a couple of years before that after my first son Tyler was born and I was stuck in the house with an immobile little one and bored out of my mind.  Tyler was too little to put in the bike trailer so I convinced Ellen to let us buy a jogging stroller.  I had run in the past, but never more than a mile or so and never regularly.  Tyler loved the stroller and soon enough I was able to run more than a couple of miles at a decent clip and began to like it.  My cousin-in-law/friend Dan heard that I was now running and had a road bike (the skinny tire kind) and started pushing me to do a triathlon.  He had been doing them for a couple of years and signed up for his first Ironman that year.  He knew I had swum in high school and now with the other two legs in place he figured triathlons were the next logical step.  So I entered a sprint distance race (500 yard swim (in a pool), 14 mile bike, and 5k (3.1 mile) run).  I did it in September of 2007 and had a blast.  From then on I was hooked, I read as much about triathlons as I could, and still do.

My triathlon “career” progressed steadily from there, doing several races in 2008.  At that point Dan would tell me about a half Iron distance race he was doing and tried to convince me of that endeavor.   I still thought the distances were unreachable and couldn’t fathom swimming over a mile, biking 56 miles, and then running a half marathon (13.1 miles).  In 2008 I started improving enough that I thought a ½ Ironman, with good training, was doable in 2009.  The winter of 2009 brought an unbelievable presents in the form of beautiful second baby boy (Jacob) and a triathlon specific bike and race wheels (deep front wheel and a disc wheel in the back).  Not only did they make me faster, but the cool factor of these toys had to make me at least 1mph faster on the bike.  The other cool thing was after Jacob was a few months old Ellen started running competitively.

I completed my first ½ iron in Door County in 2009.  I still thought a full Ironman was ridiculous (and especially thought so after the race).  Before September of 2009 Ellen and I talked and she had way more confidence in me than I had in myself and she thought I could do a full iron distance race.  We discussed me signing up for 2010 and thought that the timing was right with the age of the boys and we both knew that another opportunity might not come along for a few years so I should take advantage of it.

I volunteered at Ironman Wisconsin in the 1st transition tent (where people switch from swimming to biking) and even with all that adrenaline and the entire atmosphere I still almost chickened out when September 14, 2009 rolled around and it was time for me to sign up.  Thankfully I called Ellen that morning and she told me how much she believed in me and that got me through the registration line.  So did her money, which she donated to the registration as my birthday present.  She thinks I am not serious when I say that I probably would have bowed out of line if I hadn’t talked to her; but it is so true.

So the 2010 season approached quickly and I wanted to make sure that I had a cohesive plan to get to Ironman Wisconsin 2010 in appropriate condition.  A friend from Watertown (and amazing multisport athlete) had a coach that he had relied on for several years.  I really listen to Carl’s advice, not only because he is crazy fast, but because he seems to approach all different aspects of racing with an objective, analytical methodology.  I knew I couldn’t afford the coach’s monthly fee (which is actually pretty modest considering what others ask) but I contacted Coach Mike Plumb with a request to formulate a plan based on my past performances, my abilities, limiters, time constraints, etc.  Coach Mike came through in amazing fashion and formulated a comprehensive 36 week plan to get me to Ironman.  I started in January with the plan.  There were a couple of setbacks (a horribly strained pectoral muscle, knee pain) but I was really happy with the way I had stuck to the plan and all of the gains I was seeing throughout the training cycle.  I PR’ed (personal record) a 5k and finished 3rd overall in a sprint distance race, all while training right through those races.  I did have two major confidence hits in the form of two ½ ironman races.  Both races had great swims and bikes but the runs were dismal.  Dismal in terms of time, and dismal in terms of how I felt at the finish.  Both of these runs were due to nutrition and hydration issues (which is often referred to as the 4th discipline of triathlon after the swim, bike, and run).  The first race I woefully under hydrated on the bike and had a death march on the “run”.  The second race I probably pushed a wee bit too hard and combined with record temperatures and humidity, the run didn’t hold together like I had hoped.  These were major confidence hits, but they were positives in that it helped me realize a major limiter in MY long distance racing and I knew I would really need to concentrate on these things in training if I wanted a successful ironman race.  So concentrate I did.  When September rolled around I had a good (I thought) hydration and nutrition plan that I had trained with and worked in training.

I had never prepared more for anything in my entire life.  I entered September of 2010 feeling prepared for the race, I had done the work, I had suffered through endless hours in the pool, lots of long bike rides, and felt like I had run trenches into the roads around my house.  I still had worries like “what if the weather is terrible, what if I get punched in the swim and can’t continue; what if my bike breaks; what if I roll my ankle or something silly on the run”?  I tried to tell myself that these were things that worrying about would not change, so I tried to minimize my worry because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to rid myself of all the worry.

Throughout the training season I had been doing all my swims, rides, and runs with IMWI in mind.  As my training progressed my hopeful goals of finishing times and splits got faster and faster.  I told almost no one of my inner desires and goals because I felt that if I talked about them, I would jinx them.  I was cautiously optimistic.  I thought that I needed confidence, but I was worried about the distance and being overconfident.  I had come up with several overall goals depending on a lot of things.  The official finish cutoff time for an Ironman is 17 hours.  I tried to convince myself that 16:59:59 was good enough and I would be happy with that.  I knew I would be happy, but I would be disappointed because I knew I had a better race than that in me.  I also had a goal of finishing before dark.  I had known for weeks that sunset on September 12th was 7:13pm.  Dan has been an amazing training partner, mentor, and advice-giver, but I find myself trying to compete with his times in races. Dan had completed the Wisconsin Ironman twice and his first time was 13:38 minutes.  I knew if I had a good race that I could come in under that (and he told me that I would come in WAY under that).  His second race was 12 hours and 6 minutes; a VERY respectable time.  At the start of my training this was unreachable, but as my training progressed, beating that goal became more and more achievable.  I thought that if everything went right, al the stars aligned and the weather was perfect, I raced, hydrated, and ate smart, under 12 hours was within the realm of possibility.  I was afraid to have such lofty goals.  Ironman is a race where it is very important to dole out your energy in smart increments.  An extra .5 mph on the bike could be the difference between a successful run and an absolute sufferfest.  This is why training and practice were so crucial.

Okay, on to race weekend-

Ellen, the boys, and I drove over Friday afternoon to Madison.  You have to register Friday afternoon, check in your bike Saturday, the race is Sunday, and you pick up your remaining belongings on Monday morning.  It is certainly a weekend long event.  Thanks to my dad, we had a hotel for the whole weekend, which was a birthday present from LAST year.  Got checked in on Friday and did a quick swim and run with Bill and Tony; two of the many wonderful people I have had the opportunity to meet during training for this.

Saturday the family and I went to the expo, I checked in my bike, and we walked around and checked out the sites.  I joined a charity triathlon team in honor of a little girl near and dear to me.  I raised some money, and because of this I was given a cool bib number (74) and an awesome spot in transition!  I was really trying to not let the event stress me out, but as Ellen can attest, I was getting crabby and stressed out.  Ellen had planned on driving the boys back home so I could sleep Saturday night and then getting up super early and driving back to Madison to see me start the 140.6 mile insanity.

Saturday evening I got surprisingly relaxed and laid in bed, read a book, and watched college football.  I ate a pretty big meal of rice, vegetables, chicken, and watermelon.  The time crawled along and I was quickly regretting Ellen and the boys driving home.  As much work as the boys can be, I desperately wanted Ellen and the boys there with me.  I went to bed about 9pm and woke up around 2:30 and did the wake up every 30 minutes thing until 4am.

RACE DAY

I ate my breakfast-Honey Stinger bar, banana, and bagel with peanut butter.  Sipped on some sports drink and made my way into Madison.  I wasn’t carrying cash so when I got to the planned parking garage and saw that it was prepay and cash only I got pretty lost in downtown Madison looking for an ATM.  Wasn’t too big of a deal because I was still plenty early.  I got all of my transition bags and bike set up with all of my needed fluids and nutrition for the race and tried to meet up with Dan and Ellen; who had both been up probably as early as I had and were at the race site.

All of the sudden it was 6:10am and I had to make my way to the swim start.  I can’t explain what a calming influence it was to have Ellen there to just hug and kiss me before going to the water.  She just gave me words of encouragement and it calmed me down so much.  I got into the perfectly temp’ed 66 degree water and started to tread water waiting for the cannon to go off.  Except for 50-100 pro triathletes all of the 2500+ athletes go off at the same time and it is known as a washing machine in the beginning.  I went off to the side to hopefully avoid some of the worst of the congestion (a tip given to me by several people).  The national anthem was sung and the cannon went off.  Weird, but I almost got choked up because 9+ months of hard work was about to culminate.

The start wasn’t as bad as I had feared, but it was pretty packed.  The worst of it was at the first turn buoy where everyone seemed to come to a standstill.  It was hard not to get irritated with people who apparently had no idea in which direction to swim.  I started to get upset and then told myself that it would be easy to wreck your whole race with a crappy attitude this early, so just go with it.

The swim is two laps of a sort of rectangle.  I checked my watch after the first loop and saw 33 minutes and change.  I thought I could swim somewhere between 1:05 and 1:10 so I was happy with that first loop.  The second loop was less congested, but on the back half of the swim I actually got bored, wanting to be out of the water, and lost focus.  I realized I had slowed down quite a bit.  I regained my focus and because there was actually clear water ahead, I was able to get into a nice groove and swim strong the last 1/8 of the swim and came into the swim out arch at 1:08:25 on my watch.  Certainly not as fast as I could have swam, but being under 1:10 I was happy.

The first transition starts with a run up the helix, which is a spiral parking ramp up to the Monona Terrace.  The volunteers stripped my wetsuit off in milliseconds and I was jogging up the ramp feeling great.  I heard a “WACKER” really loud and looked over to see a friend from Watertown.  It was the first person I saw that I knew and it was cool to have someone cheering for me.  Then I ran into the convention center; lubed up my race chamois pad, got my nutrition, bike helmet and shoes, and ran to my bike.  I remembered being in the volunteer position last year and I was floored that someone in the middle of this huge endeavor would take even a second to thank me; so I wanted to return that feeling and made a point of thanking every volunteer I could.

I ran to my bike; which was handed to me by two young girls (probably about 12).  I gave them the remaining energy chews I had and thanked them.  They seemed to think it was pretty cool to get those chews and I couldn’t wipe the grin off of my face.  Then I saw a PRO triathlete running to his bike, AFTER ME!  I couldn’t believe that I had beaten a pro in any aspect of the race.  I had planned on spending at least 10 minutes in T1 (1st transition) and when I saw that I had spent about 8 minutes I was ecstatic because I felt like I had taken my time.

The bike is known as a lollipop course, you ride “the stick” out of Madison into Verona, ride two loops (the sucker part of the lollipop), and then ride “the stick” home.  The Madison course is revered as one of the more difficult in the Ironman circuit because of the hills and the technical turns and descents.  There are four “climbs” that are done once each loop and a constant barrage of rolling hills and turns in between.

I started out and almost immediately 20 miles were gone.  I remember thinking “holy cow, 20 miles already?”  The first hill is in Mount Horeb and my plan then whole time was to ride strictly by heart rate and not worry at all about pace, distance, or time.  I wanted to make sure I didn’t try to push myself to reach any sort of milestones and end up pushing too hard.  I sat in my saddle and spun up the hill as easily as I could.  It was nice to watch so many other people try to get out of the saddle and mash up the hills, and while I was just sitting up easy and still passing them.  Thanks to all who have told me to take those hills easy; golden advice!  Next is the rolling hills, and awesome descent section of the course.  It was plain to see the cyclists who had been on the course before because of how fast people were taking the descents.  The second hill is called Old Sauk Pass and is a long and steady climb surrounded by people cheering.  Again I sat up, spun easy up the hill and was amazed at how many people I passed.  I tried to remember to thank everyone volunteering and keep a positive attitude.  The third hill is on Timber Lane and is short and steep.  It also has a mini-Tour de France atmosphere where people are dressed in costume and lining the streets and running up the hill next to you, cheering you on.  Really makes the hill feel a lot smaller.  I was high fiving the more enthusiastic people and one guy sort of grabbed my hand and it yanked my bike to the left.  “Okay, not more high fiving while on the bike” I thought, almost caused a crash.  The course is incredibly scenic and the short sections where there aren’t many volunteers or spectators are scenic.  The fourth and final hill of the loop is known as the mid-town hill.  Towards the top of this hill is where I saw Ellen and my cousin-in-law Dan for the first time.  While I was taking the hill easy and feeling good, when I saw Ellen, who is normally not super loud or outspoken, cheering her head off for me, I could have out climbed Lance Armstrong (or Alberto Contador for the cycle-minded).  In fact, it was so elating that I had to consciously dial myself back because I had started working harder without noticing it.  Then into the opposite side of Verona, which was an unbelievable madhouse.  They shut the whole center of the city down and it is an absolute party!  The main road is closed to all by athletes and spectators line the whole road.  After leaving Verona there is a short section on highway that gets you to the start of the loop again.  I lost focus on one of the short rolling hills and wasn’t paying attention to good shifting and I dropped my chain off the front chainring.  It was stuck in such a way that I couldn’t just pull it back on, so I had to stop and get off and put it back on.  No biggie, just a few second delay.

At the start of the second loop is where they keep the special needs bags.  The bags are there for extra nutrition, spare tubes and tires and anything else an athlete may need or want half way through the bike (and run) course.  I grabbed my gel flask and because of the awesome bib number I had, I barely had to stop because everyone else was near the opposite end of the special needs bag stop.  I was on my way within a matter of seconds.  I started through the rollers and started to feel pretty confident on how I was feeling.  This confidence worried me because there was a lot of race to go and I was nervous that this great feeling was a smoke screen to awful feelings later.  There is a section that is fairly desolate and it happened to be in to what little wind we had.  I started to have one of the down feelings I had heard about.  There was still a long way to go and the solitude made me want to be done with the bike.  I told myself that I knew these down periods would come and that once I got back into Mount Horeb the crowds would lift my spirits.  Sure enough, the hill and the crowds got me back again and from then on I vowed to not let negative feelings hurt my race.  I started cheering and thanking the volunteers with even more vigor.  This taught me that the louder I cheered for them, the crazier they went for me and the better it made me feel.  I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that I raced the last 50 miles of the race with a smile on my face the entire time.  A couple of times on the more difficult rolling hills volunteers had a tone of surprise in their voices when they said things like “you look really relaxed” and “looking comfortable, keep it up”.  It did wonders for my confidence. A funny aside on how the brain doesn’t run at peak efficiency:  I saw a bike I recognized from previous races as being owned by a coworker of a friend of mine.  He caught up to me and I asked him if he worked at Trek.  He said he did and I explained how I knew.  I asked him if he was on his second loop and he told me that he was.  I told him he was lucky he was so fast and so close to being done.  It took me most of ten miles to realize that I too was ON MY SECOND LAP and that I had actually left him behind shortly after that conversation.

I got into the Garfoot Road section of the course which has an awesome descent.  You start down a big hill with a hard right turn, down into a really pretty shaded valley, and then climb up another short hill that has a sharp right turn at the top of the hill.  If you do it right, you can use your speed and momentum to carry you right to the top of the backside of the valley without having to touch your pedals.  I started the descent and took a line much better and faster than I ever had before.  I was flying through the bottom of the valley and I knew I wouldn’t have to climb the hill at all.  There was a cyclist next to me going just a bit slower.  I was further to the left in the road than I ever had been and I didn’t know that there were fairly large bumps, like exaggerated ribbit-strips, toward the center of the road.  The bumps dislodged my hands from my brakes and it became painfully obvious as I reached to top of the backside hill that I was going too fast to make the right turn.  I couldn’t turn hard into the turn and try to ride the speed out because of the cyclist to my right.  I started braking as hard as I could to try and minimize the damage as the ditch and berm came closer and closer.  As the road turned right, I did not, and slammed HARD into the ditch.  I had turned sideways and my shoulder and side took the brunt of the impact.  For an instant my only thought was “oh no, my race is over”.  I had been going even faster than I realized and hit a lot harder than expected.  That lasted only a second as I realized that I was unharmed.  I checked my bike next and almost couldn’t believe that the bike wasn’t in pieces.  I noticed that the air from my front tire was leaking slowly out but nothing else appeared to be wrong.  When I realized that I had dodged an enormous bullet, I started changing my flat tire and shaking my head and laughing at myself.  I took my time changing the tube, making sure there was no obstruction in the tire, and that the tire was properly seated on the rim so I didn’t have another flat a few miles down the road.  I noticed another tube right next to where I was so I wondered if someone else had been as dumb, and then lucky, as I was.  Seven minute delay was all it cost me.  I wish I could blame the other cyclist who was blocking by riding in the middle of the road, but it was my fault by not being more cautious of the road and turn and trying to be like a pro going through the turns.  Lesson learned.  No more daredevil tactics and stay aware!  I was actually really happy with myself that I didn’t let even a bike crash and flat ruin my attitude.  I felt extra lucky about ½ mile later because volunteers were waving everyone to slow down because an ambulance was working on a “rider down”.  I didn’t look at my heart rate for awhile after the crash, but I knew it must have been elevated as I rode the last of the adrenaline from the crash.

The next two hills and in between sections went by without anything of real note.  I got to the midtown hill and saw Dan again.  I told him of my bike crash and he shook his head, laughed, and called me an idiot.  It was exactly what I needed.  I had been slightly worried that I wasn’t feeling some horrible road rash or something that I couldn’t easily see.  But when he looked at me and laughed, I was then sure I had really dodged that bullet completely.  Dan also told me that Ellen had driven back into Madison to the hotel to get the boys a much needed nap.  While I was obviously disappointed not to see Ellen and the boys, I was glad that she wasn’t torturing herself or the boys by staying on the course just to see me.  With about 30 miles left I was feeling good enough that I decided to try out my coach’s advice and push the pace and see if I could raise my average speed some.  I was able to up my average 1/2mph in those last 30 miles.  It doesn’t sound like a lot, but in that short of time with only a slight increase in effort I was really happy.  Through the craziness of Verona again and then onto the stick back into Madison.

I was feeling great, I had stuck to my nutrition plan better than I had even hoped, taken in enough fluids to have to use the bathroom three times while on the bike, and taken in plenty of calories.  I was feeling surprisingly strong.  I rode up the bike path and then onto the helix, which felt like a driveway instead of the three story climb.

The bike “catchers” caught me as I came to the dismount line.  I left my shoes on the bike and ran into the transition room.  I got my bag, sat down in a chair and yet another awesome volunteer dumped my belongings out while I put my shoes and socks on.  He seemed surprised at how relaxed and calm I looked (at least that is what he told me) and I told him that I felt surprisingly good.  I grabbed another gel flask and stopped at the sunscreen volunteers (yup, they actually have people who rub sunscreen on for you; I told you the volunteers were amazing).  I ran out from the terrace onto the square that was lined with literally thousands of people yelling and screaming.  The first mile was a concern of mine because I have a tendency to start out hard from the bike and the 90 seconds or so I gain can cost me A LOT more later on.  It was hard to not run like Carl Lewis (or Ryan Hall for the running minded) through the terrace and square.  I consciously slowed myself down.  Another brain strained moment- a lot of people were cheering for me by name.  I kept looking to see if I recognized these people and it took me most of a ½ mile to realize that my first name was printed really big on my bib number and that was how people knew my name.  Again, I shook my head at myself and laughed.  The run is an out and back two loop affair.  We get to run into Camp Randall Stadium and circle the field.  It was really cool to be able to do that.  The Camp Randall section of the run was THE ONLY section of the run course that was not lined with either spectators or volunteers, or both.  The support was absolutely amazing and it made the run go so fast.  I got to about the five mile mark and saw Dan again.  He ran next to me for a short time and told me how relaxed I looked.  Truthfully I was still feeling really good and still surprised at myself.  Dan told me that Ellen had gotten lost and was wandering downtown Madison.  I felt bad for her that an already insanely long day was probably feeling even longer for her.  It was a welcome distraction to worry about her instead of me for a time.  I hit the turn around and started back toward the square.  I saw Dan again and just as I was telling him to call Ellen and tell her not to worry about making it out; he told me that she was now getting set up near the finish line to see me.  This was just before a section where they had a huge screen.  On Friday Ellen was able to type a motivational message that I would get to see during the race.  I passed over a mat which read my chip and a short time later as I was passing the big screen I saw “WE HEART YOU” next to my number.  Again, Usain Bolt (fastest runner in the world) couldn’t have outsprinted me at that moment.  I was taking regular “pulls” from my gel flask and taking water and sports drink from the aid stations.  I had also been using the cold sponges in my top to keep me cool; even though it wasn’t really hot outside, the sponges helped a lot.  When I would pass an aid station with all the volunteers lined to help, I would just scream “thank you all so much for being here”.  At one point a girl responded “thanks for being awesome”.  She said it in such a way that I think she actually meant it; another boost.  I got into the square again and to this point hadn’t walked at all yet, which I was really happy with.  I started getting bouts of nausea which worried me, but hadn’t slowed me down as of yet.  I got toward the turn around and saw Ellen cheering like mad.  I stopped, gave her a big smooch, and hit the timing mat.  I wish I could explain the boost I got from seeing Ellen and the boys; it truly was instant energy.  I stopped at the run special needs area and put new (dry) socks and shoes on for the second half of the run.  My hamstrings were starting to get tight, but I was still surprising myself with how good I felt.  I took a walk break (which I thought was deserved) and started running again as I left the square.  Shortly thereafter the bouts of nausea started to get more frequent and last longer.  It wasn’t gut rot, it wasn’t muscular, but it felt like stomach flu symptoms.  I started walking the aid stations and by now I was so sick of gels that I stopped taking those at about 10 miles.  I saw Dan again at about 17 miles and I told him that the day was starting to catch up to me.  He told me of a friend who had just left in an ambulance so I felt lucky to be only dealing with some stomach issues.  Later I saw my friend Chris who asked me how I was doing.  When I told him of the nausea, he reminded me to try chicken broth, which I had heard volunteers yelling that they had at the last aid station.  I started taking in some chicken broth in addition to the water and sports drink at the aid stations.  My nausea was almost constant by about mile 20.  There were only two times that it went away in the last 6.2 miles.  Once when I saw the “WE HEART YOU” message and then at the finish.  At one aid station I grabbed some chicken broth and the volunteer warned “careful, it’s kinda warm”.  I thought, no big deal, the last couple of cups I had taken had been KINDA WARM”.  Apparently that volunteer lives on the sun because his ideas of kinda warm scalded my mouth!  I grabbed some water and cooled it down to drinkable temperature.  Even though I was hurting and my stomach was really bad at this point, I was starting to realize that finishing was no longer an “if” but a “when”.

I hadn’t told anyone of my true race goals because I thought it might jinx them, but I have three goals that all happened to land within about 20 minutes of each other.  Go under 12 hours; beat Dan’s best time of 12:06; and finish before dark at 7:13pm (12:13).  Apparently 134 miles of racing doesn’t help me the math skills because when I tried to calculate my current pace into my projected finish, I thought 12 hours and Dan’s race time had passed me by a long time ago.  I started working a little harder to see if I could finish before 7:13pm, which I knew was sunset.  I saw a couple of cops I knew working intersections and had to stop for a second just to shake their hands but otherwise I was doing my best not to walk at all.  I came up the hill into the square and Dan was waiting to run a bit with me.  He told me that I was going to do it and the excitement in his voice was palpable, and it got me excited.  My mind was still in a state of “if” and not “when” right up until ¼ mile left.  I saw my brother in the crowd snap a pic and then sprint toward the finish line; that made me feel pretty special.  I turned the corner and I could see Ellen’s smiling face in the crowd.  I was almost overwhelmed with emotion, but I ran straight to her and saw my dad, and neighbors all there cheering too.  I turned the very last corner and saw the finish clock.  I couldn’t believe it!  11 hours and 57 minutes.  I had actually broken 12 hours!  I started high fiving people and for a second felt silly doing it because I was more than three hours behind the winners.  Then I saw people actually working to move to get high fives and then I slowed and high fived as many people as I could; unbelievable rock star treatment. I crossed the finish line and was caught by a volunteer.  I saw my friend Bill who was volunteering and after they removed my chip I went and basked in the glow with my family and friends.  In that finishing chute I had forgotten all about my stomach issues, but once I stopped, I remembered them vehemently.  After getting congratulated a million times (I am NOT complaining) Ellen took the boys to the hotel and Dan walked with me as I tried to lose the nausea.  It wasn’t working and I puked into some bushes.  I still was on a high and just laughed about it.   Dan drove me to the hotel (I puked again, but thankfully not IN his car) where I got the biggest hug ever from Ellen, showered, and passed out.  I AM AN IRONMAN

OFFICIAL TIMES AND PLACES:
Overall time:  11:58:12

Swim: 1:08:36 (1:49/100m)

T1: 8:27

Bike: 6:03:46 (18.5mph)

T2: 3:21

Run: 4:34:03 (10:28min/mile)

OVERALL PLACE:  585/2550 (finishers, unknown amount of DNF)

AGE GROUP PLACE: 102/293

If you are still reading this, thanks for everything, and I apologize for the length.

Zen and the Bike

Okay, maybe yesterday’s post about cycling was a little harsh, but I have really been struggling with, what is ultimately, my best event.

The bike has always been my baby.  My hippie love child and warm blanket when everything else goes wrong.  But not lately.

Our estranged relationship may have started on the trainer.  Those 2-3 hour rides in the dead of winter were a new experience and frankly reminded me of walking barefoot on hot asphalt.  I poured on the chamois cream, but nothing seemed to ease the pain of stationary exercise.

After a month or so I finally got “used” to sitting in place on a bicycle while my dog sadly laid on the floor wondering why her daddy would do something so strange.  Eventually, I damn near even started liking the trainer.  My coach said, “Tough trainer rides build character,” and I was sold.  The pool of sweat below me was undeniable proof of a good workout and other than perpetually numb under parts, I felt great.

Then we started riding outside.

The first real outside ride was on Natchez Trace and it felt pretty good.  It was still early enough in the year, so allergies weren’t a problem.  Then, the Southern Bloom decided it would wreck me.536265_4814333965358_1613623106_n

A subsequent 3-hour ride left me with heat rash, blood shot eyes, and beat up bones.  I have done several mountain bike races on wicked terrain and never felt this awful after a ride.  The vibration, the extended aero position, and dust in the wind made me feel like I’d sparred with Mike Tyson in his prime and this pain uncovered a strange new fascination with getting back on the trainer.

So, as you can see, I am looking for my cycling happy place again.  I know my bike needs a re-fit, but is it that simple?  How can I translate my new found love of running through the pain onto the bike?

I’m gonna be honest, the 112 mile bike has me a bit concerned.  I know it’s one day and one shot, but 6 or more hours on my trusty Trek sounds like the last thing I would want to do right now.  It’s been suggested I get back on the mountain bike for a while, and I probably will, but if you have any other suggestions for finding my “bike Zen,” I’m all ears.