I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately–mostly on how things have changed since the decision to do my first Ironman. It’s been a rocky road, but ultimately it was exactly what I needed to loosen the rocks inside so I could discover what’s truly important.
I was digging through the archives of Crushing Iron and found this (which was one of my first posts) and it’s interesting to note how I felt at the time vs. where I am now. It’s a reminder to be patient in life because (though I could “see” the future) I genuinely feel like I’m only now starting to understand what is possible. Ironman training can be a pain in the ass, but it’s a long, slow grind that can have a major impact on many areas of our lives.
Ironman Wisconsin: Registration Day (first posted in 2012)
Let me tell you, if Ironman Wisconsin is anything as stressful as “registration” for Ironman Wisconsin, I am in deep shit.
Registration opened the day after the race at noon and I was reading stories around the web that said it could sell out in as fast as 15 minutes. There were five of us signing up and I was a wreck thinking that I might be the only one to not get in. It didn’t help that my boss called an 11:00 am meeting out of the blue.
Like most bosses, he is a big fan of hearing himself talk and this strategy session had me glued on the clock. I thought I was good, but he opened a can of worms at 11:47. It wasn’t much of a stretch to act like I was sick and run out of that office at noon, because I was getting queasy.
His can of worms was flying right over my head, and at 11:59 I stood up and declared the meeting over. He looked at me like I was crazy (I probably was) and asked where I was going. I said I had something to do and I was confident the rest of them were more than qualified to finish the meeting.
It was a bold move and I’m sure there was probably enough subordination to get fired, or at least a red flag in my file, but I didn’t care. I would have quit at that moment and, as it turns out, still might.*
It’s not just the Ironman that has me thinking about walking from the corporate world, it’s what the quest stands for. Getting to the point where I actually believe I can do a full Ironman is a major change in my thought patterns. I am turning into a different person, and that person is me.
* I finally left corporate America about a year later.
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For nearly 15 years I worked as a marketing director in local television. My job was to get people to watch our station, primarily the news because that’s where the most money was generated. Essentially I would write, produce and oversee the promos that were designed to keep you tuned in after the show you were watching: “Tonight at 10, neighbors are stunned by the shocking discovery police made in this quaint little house on their quiet dead end street.”
I spent most of my day figuring out how to seduce you into watching something you probably didn’t care about. My strategy was to find the most “compelling” (read salacious) piece of a given story, then share just enough to create fear, curiosity, or outrage. Or, as one consultant explained it to me, “Basically, you want to figure out how to make your promo say, ‘Watch tonight or die!'”
Eventually it was just too much.
I had to get out of that atmosphere, and for the most part I have avoided further pollution. But this political circus makes it difficult.
I got into running, then eventually triathlon because I wanted to be a more consistent version of who I believed was the real me. That person is happy, passionate and compassionate, but when he was buried in the muck of manipulation and negativity he lost his way.
At the core, the quest is my favorite thing about triathlon. It’s an open admission by human beings that they want to be better people. They want to get the most out of their mind, body, and soul by pushing the limits of themselves. They face with their demons.
Occasionally, I’ll get caught up in my own game of tricks and fall down a rabbit hole of headline-trickery. Next thing you know I’m knee deep in slander, aggression, and negativity. I can feel my mood shift, my body tense, and my outlook get trampled.
The irony is, the people sucking me down these rabbit holes are every day people who have learned the tactics once reserved for “experts” like marketing professionals in TV news. These people, often friends of mine, will write a delicious looking headline (maybe like the one for this post) that makes me salivate for more.
I’ll click their links and join the angst-party for 10, 15, or 60 minutes before I start to realize it was all a hoax. It’s all one big trick to suck you into their bitter thoughts; not unlike a drug addict looking for a partner in self-destruction.
During periods when I’m not reading or watching news a funny thing happens. I start thinking the world is a pretty good place. I have a great family, good friends, and freedom to do just about anything I want whenever I want. I also tend to believe this is true for most people I know.
Watching news (or reading someone’s Facebook rants) has little if anything to do with being informed. It’s typically a disguised ploy to get attention . . . or make money.
TV news perfected the outrage-seduction technique, probably around the time OJ Simpson was on trial. People couldn’t get enough of the scandal, power struggle, and devisiveness. It was a mountain of sugar and our teeth were craving the sweets.
But it’s out of control. In triathlon terms, we’ve desperately overtrained and need to relax under a tree and look around for a minute.
How else can we explain the fact that while we swim, bike or run, the world seems like a perfect place? There’s simply air, water, and oxygen. The problems fade away and we bask in the moment of that experience.
Momentum is a powerful thing. The media knows this and exploits it on a daily basis to please their stockholders. They will unleash just about anything with little thought under the protection of “freedom of speech” with no regard to responsibility of those words.
Next time you’re training, think about momentum and use it in a positive way. Let it whisk you to a better place with calm, clear, and constructive thoughts. Swim, bike, or run as far away from “news” as possible.
The closer I get to my race, the more I look at Ironman videos. Here are a couple from Ironman Wisconsin that I’ve done with the help of my brother.
The first one was made as trailer to promote a documentary with the the Fab 5 on our journey to Ironman Wisconsin 2013, but with training and some life detours the project hit a wall. Lately, I’ve been energized to make something happen with the footage, so we’ll see.
Please follow Crushing Iron on Facebook if you’d like to see more of this type of thing.
In 2013 I did Ironman Wisconsin and drove the bike course the day before. That was a mistake, but it definitely convinced me not going to take the course lightly.
Hills always seems worse in a car for some reason and while I’m sure there are some flat sections, I don’t remember many. Just up and down up and down.
There were also lots of turns, which I wound up liking as a distraction. There’s nothing worse to me than laying in aero for hours on end. In the end, that hellacious bike course treated me to my favorite ride of my life. Here’s why.
Warning: I don’t wear a Garmin and describe most of this by memory and feel.
The “stick” is roughly 13 miles and takes you out to the “lollipop” or loop of which you circle twice. The loop is where the hills are, but the stick plays an important part, especially on the way back.
When you wind out of the Helix, you ride along the lake for a few minutes, then roll onto a bike path (which I believe is a no-pass zone) for a short stint. Then you’ll pedal through the Colliseum parking lot, cross over the Beltline and weave your way to a country road around mile 5. This is where (according to elevation maps) you’ll start your first climb of the day, but honestly I don’t remember it being a big deal.
Around mile 10 you’ll hit the top of that climb and this is the point when you should make a mental note of what the backside of that hill will look like when you’re closing in on home. In some ways it felt like the toughest 3 mile stretch of the course around mile 100. The wind was right in my face which I hear this is common for that point of the race.
Before the race, a friend of mine promised that the crowd support on the bike would shock me . . . and he was right. As soon as you hit the loop, you’ll start seeing little parties all over the place. People sitting in front of their homes grilling out and allegedly sipping beer. Then you’ll experience small towns like Mount Vernon, Mount Horeb, Cross Plains, and Verona, all with with people lining Main Street. You’ll also see the swarm of spectators lining the sides of the “3 bitches.”
The 3 Bitches is the nickname for the three big climbs on the course, of which you do twice. These hills are genuinely in the middle of nowhere and it amazes me how many people come out to cheer you up the climbs. They dress in crazy costumes, run alongside you, and party with you all morning.
After the 3rd Bitch you’ll be ready for some relief and Verona will satiate that demand. It is genuinely packed 4 deep for two blocks and it’s your moment in the sun . . . enjoy it before you head out for loop two. Rejoice as you go through the second time knowing you’re almost back to the stick for your return to the Helix.
Aside from the great spectator support, the course will offer classic farm country including a lot of barns, silos, and cows to calm your nerves. It will also offer a lot of turns, short and long climbs, and screaming descents.
The day I tackled it I was having trouble with my big chain ring and literally rode the entire course in my small front ring. I think it may have hurt my time a little, but in retrospect I also think it saved my race, especially the run. The truth is, the small ring actually felt fine, especially because I coasted most of the downhills in recovery.
Many have told me this is probably the one course that could be ridden just as successfully with a road bike. At the time I was terrible in aero and Wisconsin kind of lets you get away with riding in an upward position more often. The climbs for sure and the fast descents had me a little nervous about not being close to a brake.
I’ve read anywhere from 3500 – 5,000 feet of gain on this course. And most grade estimates range from 1.5 – 2.2 % on the big climbs. I suppose that seems about right, but I in general be ready to gear, be ready to climb/descend and be ready to enjoy incredible support from my home state people who come out like it’s their very own Tour de France.
Being a part of the Ironman Wisconsin Swim is probably the coolest sporting energy I’ve ever felt. Nearly 3,000 triathletes bobbing in the water before a canon blast unleashes mayhem.
When I raced IMWI in 2013 I was obsessed with the swim. It intrigued and scared the shit out of me. I watched every video I could find and tried to imagine myself in the middle of that madness.
Eventually, on a perfect Fall day in my home state, it happened . . . and this is how it felt.
I had an odd sense of calm that morning, probably something to do with facing the no-turning-back factor. But the reality was, I had only swam the full distance once before in my life and my history of freaking out in swims was well documented.
The best thing I did that morning was get into the water early. It’s a floating start, and, with the Fab 5 nestled around me, I breast stroked to my position 20 minutes before the gun. There is nothing like getting used to the feel of a wetsuit and water temperature to calm your nerves.
The scene is incredible. I swear I looked at the shoreline and shed a tear. There are literally thousands of spectators hanging from the rafters of the Helix. It’s a mind-blowing sight and amazing that so many people will come out that early to support friends and family. It’s a moment that will soften your heart.
I settled into the middle of the group near the ski ramp. My guess is that the expanse of people fills a rectangle around 100 yards wide and 50 yards deep. Starting position is a big deal in this race.
I felt like my swim was “pretty” good at this time and my logic was to start in the front row, but 50 yards away from the fastest swimmers near the buoy line. It meant my swim would be 15-20 yards longer to the first turn, but avoiding the chaos of aggressive swimmers seemed well worth it. The goal was to start slow and gradually settle into my race pace, which I hoped would be around 2:00 per 100 meters.
My strategy worked . . . for about 10 feet. That’s when an avalanche of swimmers from behind me started pummeling my body. They swam over me, collided with my ribs, and kicked in and around my face. It was a free for all and I had no choice but to flip a switch.
The main goal when swimming a mass start is to locate open water and the only choice I had was to swim faster to get there. I dug hard for about 200 yards, deflecting other swimmers most of the way. Finally I found some breathing room and settled down.
The swim course is a rectangular box with the buoys on your left. I breath to my right, so using the buoys for sighting my direction was not really in play. In hindsight I think sighting too much was probably my biggest mistake on this day.
I should have just trusted the flow of the crowd. The more I sighted, the less I seemed to see and the more I self corrected instead of moving forward. Correct left, correct right, etc . . . is a recipe for zig-zagging and it’s probably what I did most of the day.
The first turn is to the left and there’s a tradition of “mooing” as a tribute to the cows in Wisconsin and I had a weird angst about that as a home-grown boy. In a way seemed like screaming “Yee-ha” cornering a buoy in Tennessee.
Anyway, it was all I could do to breathe at that point, but I begrudgingly “moo’d” under the water as kind of a “fuck-you-but-I’ll-play-along-sort-of” and scrambled my head in the direction of the next buoy.
The problem with sighting buoys is that unless you can see the second one in line, it doesn’t do you much good because you need a long-range angle.
I wanna say it’s about 200 yards from the turn buoy to the second turn and that’s when I started noticing how choppy it was. I was bobbing up and down as I swam and my sighting paranoia made me stop to gather my surroundings 3 or 4 times. That short leg wasn’t too bad, but it was also really crowded, so I drifted away from the straight line again. As I hit the second turn buoy I knew I was in for a battle.
The backside of the rectangle is about 1700 yards long and there is not much to sight from, so I tried a trick. I went to the inside and kept the buoys on my right. It’s perfectly legal, but I felt like a loner.
The waves were really throwing me around and it was all I could do to locate buoys. “Just get the next one” I repeated over and over. But this is exactly why sighting one buoy at a time is a problem. Occasionally I realized I was taking a 45 degree angle to the buoy instead of going straight. At one point I literally t-boned another swimmer. One of us was really off course.
Once you make it to the third turn you have about 500 yards left and adrenaline alone will carry you. You’re swimming right at the huge crowd. You start to hear the music. The energy just feeds your body and sighting is easy because of the Helix in the background.
I have to say, my hand hitting the shore underwater might have been one of the best feelings of my life. A huge part of me wanted to bypass the rest of the race and run across the street to the hotel bed, but when you stand up and see the crowd, hear the screams, and feel the energy, it’s like a vortex sweeping you away. You run toward the swirly helix and it’s lined with people dancing, playing drums, and throwing you high fives. It’s impossible not to be pumped for the brutal ride that lay ahead.
Here’s a short video I made of the Wisconsin Swim Start in 2014 as a spectator. Follow Crushing Iron on Facebook.
I haven’t written about it much, but I’m in preparation for Ironman Wisconsin, which I also did in 2013. Over the next several weeks I will revisit the course, environment, and lessons learned. Make sure to follow Crushing Iron on Facebook to catch all of these posts.
It’s noon in Nashville and I’ve yet to ride today, but all thoughts are on the Wisconsin Bike Course, especially after watching the Mountain Stage of the Tour de France the other day.
I’m not here to say it’s as crazy as the madness on Mont Ventoux, but as an amateur Ironman, the crowd support on the hills is as good as I’ve seen.
The Ironman Wisconsin Bike is surrounded by lore that’s hard to get out of your mind. It’s synonymous with hills, and while I realize it’s relative to where you train, I don’t think it’s quite as bad as its reputation.
The hills aren’t devastating climbs, but they are certainly relentless. You cannot ride this course well if you’re not ready to eat them for lunch. There are many corners and around most of them waits a new hill a tantalizing climb for desert.
The mindset has to be attack. Your head will likely drop at the sight of another hill, but keep attacking and recover a bit on the descents. Eventually they will be over until you get back to the Helix and have to ride up a swirly to return your bike. But, you will be dying to put your feet on the ground and that last climb will feel like nothing.
In general, I think this picture is a pretty good representation of what a day on the Ironman Wisconsin Bike Course will look like.
I ran across this finish of the Ironman European Championship on Twitter and found it to be an excellent source of entertainment. The video shows pro triathlete, Mel Hauschildt, coasting toward her Ironman European Championship, but about 50 yards out an Age Grouper guy bursts by the camera crew and Hauschildt to claim his own glory (which turned out to be 25th overall and 4th in his AG). I posted a few of the tweets below, including one from 2015 Ironman World Champion, Jan Frodeno, who was not impressed by this guy’s move.
The first thing is, most people really aren’t themselves when running down the Ironman chute. I have literally been out of body in good and bad ways. That said, there’s no doubt that guy has has been spraying “I beat the woman’s champion,” all over Deutschland.
This is clearly no longer a “race” at this point and Mel was just cruising in her glory, slapping hands with all the fans. He’s just lurks in the draft ready to pick her off like Peter Sagan.
I’m also not sure about his “Let me hear you” arm pumps to the crowd. It’s actually pretty hilarious, but frankly, most triathletes seem to think they’ve won the race no matter their finish position.
LET’S FIX THE FINISH LINE!
A few people in that string of Tweets suggested having two finish lines. One for the pros and one for the age groupers. To this I say, why stop there? Let’s have a separate finish line for every age group! It could look similar to the starting gates of the Kentucky Derby. Maybe add turnstiles just to make sure people aren’t going too fast when they get their picture taken.
Someone else was a little upset by how narrow the chute was, and I have to agree. The danger is really unfathomable. Can you imagine if two runners moving the same direction were to exchange body fluid or inadvertently knock off someone’s race visor? It would ignite Twitter rants of exceptional proportions.
RACING WITH PROS
I have raced alongside pros several times and let me tell you, they are not necessarily the friendliest bunch while on the course. In at two of my runs, everyone was winding both directions on a snake-like, out-and-back greenway and the pros would not hesitate to cut the corner by running right into my lane. This, of course, forced a survival of the fittest moment and needless to say . . . both times I meekly stepped to the side and ate a banana on the grass.
While I don’t know this for certain, I have detected an ongoing friction between top age-groupers and pros. Age groupers are like wild dogs creeping around a moonlit neighborhood while pros are on a peaceful stroll with their significant other. Some of these age-groupers just can’t seem to shut off testosterone.
I love pro triathletes and wish they were in all of my races. I think it adds to the fun and excitement, but the reality is, age groupers want to kick ass too. It’s all relative. By my count this guy finished ahead of 19 male pros that day, which is pretty impressive. Can’t fault a guy for running to the wire.
Ironman isn’t yet the King’s sport, and I’m not sure we need to be so uptight about etiquette (with the exception of mass swim starts). That said, it’s ultimately kind of a weak move stealing Hauschildt’s thunder and I fear it could spark a rash of inappropriate Ironman finishes. At this rate we’ll soon have grown men doing summersaults across the finish line at Kona. Oh wait . . .
What if sugar were illegal? It would probably be the hottest drug on the market. People would be strung out all over the place, crawling on their knees on clandestine trips to the inner city for cookies.
On the other hand, what if heroine was legal? In a way it is, in the form of the wildly accepted prescription drug, OxyContin. Your neighbor may be a closet heroine addict and not even know it! From that page:
What is OxyContin?
OxyContin (“Oxy” or “OC” on the street) is a time-released pain medication. It was developed in 1995 for people needing around-the-clock pain relief, so they don’t have to take pills as often. OxyContin contains oxycodone, which is an opioid drug, like morphine, codeine, heroin and methadone.
WTF? And we wonder why our screws are loose in this country?
Let’s face it, we are vulnerable and addictive creatures, but I still think the fact that “drugs” are illegal in this country is comical. I especially enjoy the buildings that proudly raise the sign, “Drug Store” above their bricks.
“But those drugs are good for you!”
That is some funny shit! But, like they always say, “Follow the money trail.”
At the core, this is all about stimulation. We need energy and stimulation to feel good! And who am I to argue with that shit?
Is feeling good too much to ask?
Think about it, alcohol is basically sugar and alcoholics tend to replace their drinking with pies, candy bars, and cake. Who can blame them (me)? It feels good. It fills a void. It numbs the pain.
“a medicine or other substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body.”
Everything is a drug!
In a way, drugs are simply energy (good and bad).
Cold water on a hot day. Good news otherwise introduced into your body by a cell phone. Negative thoughts under a blazing sun during an Ironman. And cotton candy.
I guess it all comes down to drawing the line. Understanding how to corral destructive behavior. Stopping when we’re ahead.
I often think about life as a series of transitions. Getting out of bed, into the shower . . . into your car for work . . . getting to the next mile marker. Each one of those actions takes energy and motivation has to come from somewhere. Mostly, I think the best solution is getting your body and mind in a place that understands your purpose and passion. If that foggy-headed transition needs an occasional bump of sugar, so be it.
Over the last few months, I’ve turned into a podcast freak: Joe Rogan, Tim Ferriss, Fat Burning Man, Bulletproof Radio, The Frog Bros., and on and on . . . I often wonder if it’s tied into my Ironman training and an incessant quest to “get better” at everything.
But lately I’ve been more interested in “letting go” by overriding information with music. Music is far more spiritual and healing than the justice-warriors taking over social media.*
The other day I was listening to Nashville’s Lightning 100 while daydreaming on a long, traffic-ridden drive back from nowhere. Music filled my air-conditioned cabin, but I didn’t hear the lyrics until a line from the chorus of Leon Bridges‘ – “Better Man” caught my ear:
“To get back to your heart, I’d swim the Mississippi River if you’d give me another start, girl.”
Suddenly, my Ironman-justice-warrior was in overdrive and I’m not kidding when I say my first thought was, “There’s no way this dude could swim the Mississippi River.”
That is proof of many things, but mainly it is a frightening reminder of what Ironman training can do to your brain. It just so happened I was driving over a Cumberland River bridge at the time and looked down at the daunting water and thought, “No fucking way can he do that.”
Then, I was like, “well, maybe he’s just talking about swimming across it at a really narrow point.” But then I questioned my own rationale, “I don’t know though, I’ve spent a lot of time on the Mississippi and even a side-to-side is no joke!”
When the next chorus came around, I started feeling the soul in Leon’s voice and thought, “Maybe he could swim the Mississippi River.” I mean, people say they’d climb mountains for a girl, and if he’s in good shape, which I’m assuming he is because he sings and breathes deeply, maybe, just maybe, with a strong current in his favor, he could at least swim far enough to get her attention and prove that he’s for real about this shit. It’d wear him out though, and any designs of getting action that night would be a long shot . . . but in reality, he’s really only looking for a another start.
Regardless of whether or not Leon could swim the Mississippi River, he got my attention and I did a little digging. I dove around his website and dude may or may not be a swimmer, but he is a legitimate package of raw soul.
He has a short film by rock photographer Danny Clinch called, “This is Home,” where Leon talks about carrying the torch of soul music and honoring those before him. The film, which takes him back to his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas also states “In one year, Leon went from open mics to the global stage.” The beautifully shot piece even features how his impeccable style has been driven by Thrift store discoveries. But while there are several visuals and songs that reference rivers, nowhere is there a mention of swimming.
I really don’t know how any of this relates to Ironman training, but let’s just hope it reminds us that big dreams can happen – whether it’s climbing a mountain from the innocent beginnings of sprint triathlons and open mics, or the seemingly insurmountable quest to swim the Mississippi River.
* This is not a reference to the podcasts.
Follow Crushing Iron on Facebook and enjoy the sweet sounds of my new favorite swimmer and singer, Leon Bridges.
Many people are baffled by my willingness to share training secrets like the controversial run/nap/run or swim/mow lawn brick, but it’s simply in the spirit of leveling the playing field in my age group. And clearly my strategy is working after getting 21st place in Chattanooga Waterfront triathlon.
The competition is listening and obviously better at my own strategies than me. Or . . . they are really smart and ignore everything I say.
But even the most skeptical readers will want to pay attention to this new discovery. It’s a bonafide winner that I’ve tested at least once . . . with excellent results.
FORCING A POSITIVE SPLIT
Most will say that the best race strategy (though very difficult in Ironman) is to negative split your run. This means the second half of your marathon will be faster than the first . . . well, good luck.
Actually, I do agree with that principle and am always looking for ways to achieve it. But, since nothing has worked, I decided to try something totally different.
The other day I went out for my “long” run of the week (10 miles) and held a pretty consistent 8:30 mile pace. It felt pretty good and knew I could probably hold it for the last 5 miles, but decided to do something harder . . . back that pace down to 10 minute miles.
One reason was that my heart rate at an 8:30 pace was about 15 beats too high. I’m honestly targeting an 8:30 pace at Ironman Wisconsin (I know, long shot) and want to teach my body how to use stored fat better keeping the heart beats to a minimum.
For most of that last 5 miles (with the exception of a couple pick ups) I held 10 or a little slower. It was extremely hard to hold back, namely because I want all workouts over as fast as possible. And frankly, it hurt my hips and knees a little more to go slower. I’m fascinated by pain and noticed that when I picked up the pace up to 8:30, the pain shifted into my feet. I assumed it was because I was “exploding” more than landing. It was an interesting experiment and confirmed my suspicion that sometimes easier to run faster.
Though it hurt a little more, there was no doubt in my mind that a 10-minute-pace for the marathon is very doable. But, it also told me (based on heart rate) my 8:30 goal may be a little optimistic. It’s probably more like 9-10 at this point, but I’m gonna keep playing with this little theory. Conditions should be much cooler in Wisconsin, so we’ll see.
A couple years ago a trail running partner used to scold me for always running fast. I’d take off and do whatever I could to always go faster and faster. She’d always say, “You know, there’s room in your life for a 10 minute pace.” I always laughed, but maybe she’s right.