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


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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.


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Overthinking Ironman Wisconsin – 3 Days Out

Overthinking Ironman Wisconsin – 3 Days Out

It’s easy to overthink an Ironman race and almost impossible not to.

It’s 7 AM on Thursday morning before Ironman Wisconsin and I’m sorting through just about everything, including my life.  I’ve been getting up very early (for me) the last couple days in effort to acclimate my body to the start.  And the one thought I keep having is . . . why don’t I just get up early all the time?

In exactly three days I will be in the middle of a chaotic swim with 2700 other people in Lake Monona.  Quite a contrast to the ticking clock on my mother’s kitchen wall.

Mike Reilly will have done everything in his power to fire us up, but keep us relaxed in the same breath.  It’s swimming into the abyss with friends and family awaiting your return.


I’ve thought about this swim no less than a million times.

I’ve walked barefoot down the helix on the cool concrete trying to convince myself I’ve put everything I need in transition bags.  I’ve talked briefly with friends.  I’ve felt the lake splash my feet, then the trickle of cool water in the back of my wetsuit.  I’ve floated next to strangers trying to read their eyes through tinted goggles.  I’ve gazed back at the shore and seen thousands of spectators hanging from Monona Terrace.  I’ve looked into the distance at a buoy so far you can barely see it.  I’ve recounted my swim training and wondered if I’m ready.

I’ve heard the blast of a cannon.

I’ve felt the chaos of flailing arms and kicking feet.  I’ve sighted too many times at the start. I’ve made contact with other swimmers.  I’ve recovered.  I’ve found a free space in the water and settled in.  I’ve found my breath and watched the spectators trail off into the distance. I’ve even “moo’d” at the first buoy.

I’ve pictured smoother water this time as we make our first left turn and swim 200 yards to corner buoy two.  I’ve imagined myself feeling stronger as I begin the long back-stretch of the swim course, nearly a mile on its own.  I’ve promised myself to go straight with the buoy line.  The traffic will be thinner, but there will still be contact, and I’ve expected it when I least expect it. I’ve stayed calm in my own space and relaxed.

I’ve made turn three and swam two hundred more yards to the final turn.  I’ve felt the smile on my face knowing it’s almost over.

I’ve made the final turn and looked straight into the eyes of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Monona Terrace.  It even more beautiful from 500 yards away in the water.  The path is wide open now and I do everything in my power to keep a solid stroke.  To stay focused and relaxed.  I force myself to slow down because it’s natural to over churn the pace.  It’s a long day and don’t want to start my bike gasping for air.

I’ve heard the music and cheers as I get closer to shore.  I’ve felt my hand hit the bottom of the lake and nothing compares to that feeling.  The simple comfort of ground beneath you.  I’ve taken two more strokes and pulled my feet forward to run under the arch.  I’ve unzipped my wetsuit and given a thumbs up to friends and family.  I’ve made my way to the winding helix.

I’ve done it all, so many times.  Now, I just have to do it.  But I can’t help thinking that all of this thinking is fruitless.  What’s really important is that I embrace the moment.  The feeling of being in the middle of an unbelievable event with so many other positive and growing people.  I never really used to think of competition this way.  It’s always been about gritting teeth, muscling up, and kicking ass.  Certainly that will and must happen throughout the day.  But the privilege to be able to do something like Ironman ultimately means we have one responsibility – enjoy the day as a celebration of how far we’ve come.

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“You think about it at some point during the day, almost every day . . . if not every day.” – Daniel


Ironman Wisconsin – One Week Out

Ironman Wisconsin – One Week Out

Well, it’s official, one week from today I will be on the Ironman Wisconsin course with about 2700 other nut jobs.  Of course I say that in the most endearing way because I believe what we’re doing is, not only incredible, it’s what humans should be doing.  It’s simply a great testament to how things have changed, and proof that we don’t have to resign our lives to the recliner when we hit 50.IMG_0583

I am a cauldren of excitement and anxiety.  My concerns this time aren’t bout finishing . . . but, like most, I wonder if I’m ready for what I think I’m capable of.

The reality is “I’m as ready as I’m going to be.”  Still, you always wonder if you could have done more.  And the answer is probably, “yes.”

The reason for my uncertainty is once again lack of long mileage training.  What’s worse is, after only riding 70-miles one time before Ironman Chattanooga last year, I promised I would rectify that problem.  But I didn’t.  So, if you’re worried you haven’t done enough this season, feast on my numbers.

– Longest ride this year is 65 miles.
– Longest swim 3500
– Longest run 12 miles

But that’s only part of the story.  I’ve upped the frequency on everything, just kept it shorter, and mostly harder.  I’ve also paid a lot of attention to active recovery in all three.

So, the question is:  Will this wacky strategy work?

I hope so.  Ha.

My base theory is:  I’m a latecomer to endurance and at my best training happens when I’m energized and looking forward to the next workout.  The “shorter” workouts also keep me focused on technique, which I think pays off in long-term form late in the race.  We can train a million miles but the mental game is where it’s at on race day.

We will all face these three questions dozens of times during an Ironman:

1.  Should I stop, tread water, and get my bearings, or keep swimming?

2.  Should I coast this flat, or keep peddling?

3.  Should I walk for a while, or suck it up and keep running?

Hopefully, the answer is always the latter.  That’s the difference between a PR and just another race. It’s one day.  There’s no fear of being recovered for pending workouts.  It’s about being smart, but tougher than you’ve ever been.

I think the reason I tend to cut workouts short is that I usually stop when I know I could keep going.  I try to build mental feel-good victories and bank on race day energy carry me the rest of the way.

90% of my focus the last 5 weeks is to burn a comfort zone for swim and bike into my brain.  I’ve concentrated on varying paces, active recovery, and what it feels like to dig a little deeper when I “can’t.”

My biggest goal has been to build a positive and loving relationship with my bike so I don’t want to throw it into Lake Monona after 112 miles.  Then it comes down to finding a zone and pacing the run.

It will be another long and grueling experience that will test me more than most things I’ve faced in my life.  And even as I say that, I can’t truly imagine the feeling because the pain never ceases to amaze me.  So much pain, so much doubt, so many thoughts about why we do this sport in the first place.

But, when you hit that Finisher’s Chute, you know exactly why you came.  You know you’ve just crossed a hurdle 99% of the people are afraid to attempt.  You know that you can do anything you set your mind to.  It was worth every minute and you immediately vow to give it more next time.  But for that now, you’re done . . . and all you have to worry about is hugging friends, family, and volunteers.

Follow Crushing Iron on Facebook for updates from Madison this week.