On September 9th I raced my most important race of 2012 – Ironman Wisconsin. I devoted the entire year to this race and all my workouts and races were planned with this race in mind. After 27 years of racing triathlons I have concluded that I am not that great at the Ironman distance races. The bike portion (my weakness) of Ironman represents about 2% more of the race than the Olympic distance races. But I was going to embrace the challenge and as they say in Vegas, I was all in.
My primary goal was to win one of the 3 qualifying slots for the Hawaiian Ironman. My ultimate goal was to win my age group. The best I’ve ever done at an Ironman was a 5th place podium finish at Ironman Coeur d’Alene in 2007. I did the inaugural Ironman Wisconsin in 2002 and placed 6th out of 243 men in the 40-44 age group in 10:19:40. To aim to win was bold, but it would not happen unless I believed it could be done.
The weather on race day was clear and sunny, but fairly cool with a high temperature of 70. That sounds good, but I was hoping for something warmer. I usually race pretty well in hot conditions as some of the bigger guys suffer a bit more in the heat. Oh well, at least, it was a beautiful day.
The 2.4 mile swim was in Lake Monona. The swim is very spectator friendly. People line up on the elevated Monona Terrace for a great vantage point. It really is a beautiful scene for the athletes and spectators, alike. The water temperature was 74 degrees. I actually got a little sweaty by the end of the swim because of my wetsuit, but I felt comfortable and in control for the entire swim. This was my 14th career Ironman race and I typically get a minor calf cramp with such a long swim, but not on this day. The swim went great and I came out of the water in 1:03:47, good for 13th place. In 2002 I swam 1:00:22 so I was very pleased with only losing 3 minutes over 10 years.
The transition run (T1) to the bikes is really cool. From the water’s edge we run up a circular parking helix 4 stories to the top of the parking garage where the bikes are parked. The crowd lines both sides of the helix so it is really exciting to be cheered on by a few thousand people. Before I knew it I was on the 112 mile bike course. Out hotel was at mile 2. My wife, Laurie, and my Mom were there on the side of the road to cheer for me so that was an especially big boost. They are the 2 most important people in my life so I was very pumped for a good ride.
The bike course is shaped like a lollipop. We bike out for 15 miles, then do a 40 mile loop twice, then bike back the final 15 miles. This bike course is regarded as one of the 3 most challenging Ironman bike courses as it is very hilly. I’m a good climber on the bike so that is precisely why I selected this race. The bike is my weakness, but I can climb with most anyone. I try to avoid the flat courses where the more powerful guys blow by me. Around mile 25 I saw my friend, Tim Schertz who was spectating on his mountain bike. Tim won the age group at this race in 2011 so he has all of my respect. Tim urged me on and I felt really good at that point. The next 15 miles presented the tough climbs. The crowds were great on the climbs. I saw everything from 6 guys wearing Speedo’s with suspenders, being mooned, to possibly a naked man and naked woman strategically positioned behind their respective signs.
At mile 40 I was approaching the top of the 3rd really tough climb on the loop section. The crowd was very enthusiastic on both sides of the road. My best friend, Bruce McNair, and his son Brian were at the top of the climb cheering for me. Bruce has been THE best friend since 1st grade. Bruce has finished Ironman Wisconsin 3x’s so he knows how hard it is. That moment meant so much to me. It was THE best moment of this year for me and one of the highlights of my racing career to have Bruce on top of that hill screaming his head off for me.
At mile 60 I started feeling a bit weak and my stomach was a bit uneasy. I hoped I would rally before the climbs got tough again. But at mile 70 I totally cracked. It was the worst feeling in the world. The big problem was that I had absolutely no energy in my legs. When I had to do those 3 tough climbs again it was all I could do to turn my pedals over. I had gone out too hard. The only good news was that I had a lot of time to read the signs and admire the spectators as I was barely crawling up the hills. I was pretty worried as I knew I still had 42 miles to race on the bike.
I actually did not take in any calories from mile 70-90. I suspected part of my problem was too many calories during the first half of the bike. I did rally at mile 90 and managed to bike respectably for the final 22 miles. Mom was sitting outside the hotel at mile 110 so that was so great to see her. I later learned that my 91 year old Mom was out there for 90 minutes in the morning and then another 3 hours during the afternoon. How cool is that!
My bike split was 15 minutes slower than I had hoped – 6:14:46 (a very sorry 17.93 mph), compared to 5:45:18 in 2002. I knew I had to be aggressive so I have no regrets. I suffered a lot on the bike for over an hour, but mostly I had a great time. I came off the bike in 27th place. I still had a slim reason to hope. I was in 25th place off the bike in 2007 when I finished 5th and qualified for my 5th Hawaiian Ironman.
I started the Wisconsin run 7:30:04 into the race. I figured if I could run a 3:20 marathon (in 2002 I ran 3:22:22) I might have a chance at a Kona slot. The final Kona slot in 2011 went to an 11:11:24 finisher. 2011 was a warm day with temperatures in the upper 80’s explaining the slow times. For the 1st 8 miles I maintained a 3:16 marathon (7:30/mile) pace. It was fun to run Observatory Hill at mile 4 where I proposed to Laurie during the 2002 race. I started to slow down after mile 8, but was still alive. I saw my friend Sef Cuesico 2x’s on out and back sections who was also doing the race. We encouraged one another. Sef is an athlete I am coaching and he was on his way to an excellent race (12:20:09). It was good to have a friend going through the same experience.
Laurie told me at the half marathon point I had moved up to 12th place and that some old guys ahead of me were walking. I was dying, but I was not going to walk! I got great support during the run from Laurie, Bruce, Tim and Sef. I really had fun competing. The marathon finishes with the state capital building in the background – a very pretty sight. I finished the marathon with a split time of 3:35:45 (8:14/mile) and an overall finish time of 11:05:49. I moved up during the run, but not enough. I placed 9th out of 179 men in the 50-54 age group. The 3rd and final Kona slot went to the 3rd place finisher with a time of 10:25:07. I placed 232nd out of 2,336 overall finishers. The winning time for my age group was 10:17:19 by Andy Mixell. I beat Andy by 18 minutes earlier this year at the Racine 70.3 – go figure!
I wanted a better result out of this race, but honestly I’m very happy with my race. I had a good race, but not a great race. I needed to have the perfect race to get a Kona slot. I was very aggressive so I have no regrets. I did not have the perfect race, but I did have the perfect day. It was really special having Laurie, Mom, Bruce, Tim and Sef all out there for me.
To see photos of my race, click on this link: