2010 Ford Ironman Wisconsin

Dan and I made the last minute decision to drive up to Madison on Thursday instead of Friday.  This turned out to be a critically important decision.  Because we made it up to Madison early we were able to get through registration before the crowd and had time to ride portions of the course.

The drive was uneventful.  Having someone to talk to made the time pass and relieved some stress.  Getting to eat at JJ with the other Rabbits on the way up also added to the excitement.  The registration process was also smooth.  It is quite an experience going to a well-organized, established event.  No details were spared.  Interestingly, it was the first time I have ever been weighed before an event.  I guess they want to make sure you don’t lose too much weight (dehydration) if you have to go to the medical tent on Sunday.  We all compared our weights and decided the scale was heavy.  On the way up Dan and I listened to some podcasts from Endurance Nation.  They had made fun of the “bigger, badder” t-shirts that Ironmen wear at check-in to try and intimidate other competitors.  So I was very self-conscious of what I was going to wear.  I didn’t want to be one of “those” guys.  I opted for my IMBA t-shirt.  It was still multi-sport related but didn’t scream “hey, look at me, see how cool I am.  I did this race”.  It was sort of alternative.  I got quite a few compliments on the shirt.  Mostly from vendors that were happy to see a mt. biker at such a tri-geek event.  Luckily I brought the credit card as I dropped some coin on Ironman swag. I was a little hesitant purchasing items from a race that I could potential DNF out of.  Everyone else was doing it so I did too.  When I mean everyone else I mean all the other rabbits.  You can see from the photo that we all think alike.

Later that night a nice dinner turned into having a little too much to drink.  We celebrated at a swanky restaurant on the square and the evening spilled over into the bar next door.  I was drinking some kind of local hoppy beer.  Not quite sure what the name of it is but it was a little too smooth.  Not too many people in the bar at that time of night with Ironman wristbands.  I guess I know who are the real Ironmen…..

The rest of the rabbits planned on swimming Friday morning.  It was cold, windy, and there were white caps in the water.  I opted to sit out the swim and stretch on the shore while everyone else struggled in the water.  I just didn’t want to expend the energy.  Eric, Nicole, Dan, and myself then hopped in the van and headed out to the course.  Does anyone know how hard it is to not drink caffeine?  I feel like a vegetarian in a meat locker; John in “Brave New World”.  Everything has caffeine.  We stopped at a Subway for lunch and I had to either drink water or hopefully the rootbeer won’t have caffeine.  It’s been like that all week, a constant struggle.  It must be a caffeine industry conspiracy.  Anyway, after a brief lunch, we drove the course.  Let’s just say my excitement turned into apprehension.  The reconnaissance revealed a very hilly, undulating terrain.  It worried me.  However, once we stopped and rode the 2 major hills I felt a little better.  After all it was just another ride with some hills………..  This knowledge turned out to be critical during the race because I now knew when to ease up and rest before the “3 bitches”.  I was happy for the foresight.  The loop was long and I was happy when we arrived back at the hotel.

Friday night was pretty cool.  Dinner at the expo.  There was a presentation with rules, course details, and some entertainment.  Did I mention all-you-can eat pasta?  Interesting  information I learned from the presentation; almost half the field were 1st time Ironman competitors, 25% are female,  there were some 70-year old competitors, a couple of 18-year old competitors, a mom with 5 kids, and a couple of people that lost over 80# training for the Ironman.  While we were at the presentation Travis and Clarence were out drinkin’.  A couple of real HardyBreeds.

Saturday was a day of preparation and hot tubs.  We spent the day assembling our gear bags and checking in our bikes.  Dropping off the transition bags and bikes the night before is always stressful.  Once the work was done Dan and I rested and watched “Hot Tub Time Machine”.  It was hysterical and created some comic relief from the stress.  A must see.  Later in the day Dan and I were fortunate enough to have dinner with our wives.  They had arrived just in time to see the event.  Needless to say, Saturday was an early night.

Race morning was actually pretty smooth.  I wasn’t as anxious as I thought I was going to be, so I was able to have a decent breakfast.  There was plenty of time to distribute our special needs bags and use the facilities.  There was even a calming few minutes in the plaza for stretching and reflection.  However, as I waited in line for the port-o-potties and watched everyone don their wetsuits I began to get nervous.  The long walk down the Helix to the water seemed to take forever.  It was wall to wall people all headed the same direction and with same nervous energy.  I entered the water with about 5 minutes to go.  This was ideal for me so I didn’t have to tread water that long.  I was able to find some “personal space” and think about the long day ahead.

The MC got the crowd worked up into a frenzy, the music was pounding, and the gun went off.  Like a bunch of mothers with their teenage daughters at opening night of Twilight, it went from build-up to absolute chaos.  All 3000 of us were off swimming the same direction and clobbering each other.  It wasn’t like we were doing it on purpose; you just couldn’t help it.  I was clawing swimmers and was getting pounded on the heels.  People were stroking over the top of my head and dunking me.  It wasn’t long before I was gasping for air.  Never in the entire 1:22 swim was I alone.  Never did I feel like I could make a full stroke without worrying about running into someone or someone else running into me.  No rhythm was ever established.  Still, the swim really didn’t seem to last that long.  I was happy with my (average) time.

The transition was made difficult by the long run up the Helix.  I anticipated walking but really didn’t feel like I needed to.  The area was a little chaotic but the volunteers were amazing.  They got you everything you needed and would even help you dress; crazy.  I thought I really took my time (10:33) but my T1 was probably less than average.  I was surprised to find out a volunteer was going to get my bike for me.  By the time I got to the rack the guy was getting my bike and I was off running down the transition zone to the bike mount.  I didn’t even think about my Garmin that I had laid across my handlebars.  I was too nervous about donning my shoes at the bike mount (something not advised by Endurance Nation).  About 2 miles down the road I realized that not only had I just lost an expensive piece of equipment but I would never know my speed, pace, or time the rest of the race.

The bike course simply killed me.  It was so brutal.  Always up and down and never flat……never. There were 3 major climbs that just destroyed any kind of rhythm you might have developed.  Although, on 1 of the climbs there was a Tour de France-like atmosphere.  People had to get out of the way so riders could get through, people were running next to you, and everyone was screaming words of encouragement.  Strangely, my impression was that I was looking through a window in dead silence (except for my breathing and pain) seeing the fans from inside a silent room.  The action and noise seemed distant or detached.  It was actually invigorating.   To make matters worse there were even times when the nearest rider was 30 seconds up the road.  It always helps my motivation to have riders around me.  I was alone ALOT.  This definitely slowed my pace.  The other part that affected me was the cramping.  I was cramping so bad.  At one point on the last climb my legs basically locked with every down stroke.  So I stayed seated, gritted my teeth, and struggled through it in my easiest gear.  The final 10 miles were a little down hill so I think that allowed me to recover a little.  Ironically when I hit 112 miles after 6:20 (17.7 mph) I didn’t feel too tired.  I was hoping all the training had paid off.

Again, I purposefully took my time in T2 (9:56).  Again, the transition area was chaos but the volunteers were so helpful.  At one point I had to tell the volunteer to get away; I needed some “alone” time and just rest.  He obliged.  So apparently 8 hours had passed and nary a rabbit was seen.  Just like in training all those hours the previous year I was alone, inside myself.

The first mile of the run was great.  The strides seemed effortless and crowd was encouraging.  At mile 2 I said to myself “hmmm”.  At mile 3 I was suffering and wondering WTF.  By the stadium I was walking.  From the stadium I was in the hurt locker.  I just couldn’t get relaxed nor get into a rhythm.  I started to look for places to lay down but was too embarrassed.  Once we hit a dirt trail I spied a place in the shade  near a turn that was isolated and I could hide.  I vowed that upon my return to this area I would sneak away and rest.

That shady area didn’t come soon enough.  My worst fears came true, though.  As soon as I layed down 3 or 4 people came up to make sure I was OK.  I just wanted to rest in anonymity.  So I shrugged them away and proceeded to wet myself laying in the serene grass.  I wanted to lay forever but the pendulum of the internal clock was swinging: tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.  The guilt was maddening.  Even though I just wanted to finish, let’s be honest, I wanted go under my goal of 13 hours.  This was not helping.  So I pounced up and got back into my jog/walk rhythm.  I was not doing well and had to walk every couple of minutes.  It was pure agony.

As I rounded the corner heading into the 13th mile (run special needs bag area) I caught a glimpse of Sandy.  Instantaneously I screamed out “can you get to Walgreens?”   While she was answering “yes” I asked for a Mt. Dew-full strength.  Rarely do I see her run and never have I seen her run so fast.  She bolted to Walgreens and had a Mt. Dew waiting for me as I exited the Special Needs area.  I knew outside assistance was a crime and could cost me a few minutes but I didn’t care.  The first few swigs were like nectar from the gods.  Not only had I not had much caffeine in awhile but a regular Mt. Dew even longer.  As I stood there I thought I was going to pass out and had to crouch down.  Then I rested my head on the railing.  But all I could hear was that tick tock.  So I downed most of the Dew and headed out for the second half.  Prior to leaving I asked Sandy for the time.  I didn’t know my pace or overall time because of the Garmin issue but felt I was way off target.  She was excited to tell me that I had hit all my transition goals right on.  It was 6:00.  I was on pace for just under 13 hours.  This gave me some encouragement.

By the time I ran out of sight from the finishing area every muscle in my legs cramped…..simultaneously.  My legs were locked in extension and I couldn’t move.  I had to pull over, stand there, and try to stretch.  After a minute or 2 I decided to suck it up like I did on the bike and take off.

It was like when the Grinch’s heart grew to normal size.  After a 1/2 mile or so something miraculous happened.  The cramping started to dissipate and my sky-high heart rate and breathing rate dropped.  I began to feel pretty decent.  Each stride felt less and less effortful.  My grimace turned into concentration.  I began to actually enjoy the run.  I was passing runners and walkers with every step, having to weave my way through the carnage.  My legs felt fresh and eager.  It felt like I was flying.  Spectators were acknowledging the contrast between my speed and all the racers I was passing.  I was beginning to catch people who were struggling on their 1st lap.  By this time the sunlight was dimming and I wanted to finish in the daylight.  I didn’t want a glow stick.  So I ran as fast as I could sustain a decent pace.  Run, Jason, run.  I’m not sure if it was the Mt. Dew or what but it was an extreme turnaround.  I actually ran the way I was capable of.  The first 20 miles were so miserable, I was happy to finally be able to run to my ability.

I was going so fast toward the finish I tried to slow down so I could get some good photos.  Vain I know.  It didn’t work.  The photos suck and they missed my “gun show” pose.  The volunteers had to reach out and grab me to slow my progress.  I collapsed to my knees.  The clocked stopped at 12:34, nearly 30 minutes faster than my expected time.   My marathon took 4:31 (10:20 pace)Immediately a swarm of volunteers took hold of me and began to make sure I was coherent and physically able to walk.  I was still on the high from the last 30 minutes of running.  The volunteer support during the entire event was phenomenal.  The volunteer that grabbed me when I finished not only held my medal, he got me a t-shirt, got me a Coke, and stayed with me in line for the medal photo and all the way until I exited the finishing area.  He was my personal escort.  How professional!

Usually when I finish a race I can’t wait to do it again.  Not this one.  I was just happy to finish.  The hardest part about the race wasn’t the  race itself.  It was the 12 months of training and sacrifice.  Every meal was scrutinized. Every waking minute was spent efficiently.  Every mile was contemplated.  My whole life was focused on September 12, 2010.  I am glad it is over.

I am thankful for my family (wife, kids, and Mom) giving me the support to pursue a life goal.  I am thankful for all my training partners pushing me to my limits.  I am thankful for my Dad instilling in me a work ethic.  I am thankful for all the rabbits that offered emotional support.  Thank you to all that supported me in this endeavour.