Saturday, November 19, 2011

2011 Ironman Wisconsin Race Recap

As I sit down to begin writing this race report, it has been over two months since I participated in Ironman Wisconsin.  Some of the delay in getting this report finished ties to a crazy life that leaves me very little spare time.  That being said, I think most of the delay is a result of my brain needing time to process and deal with a not so great day.  There were plenty of reasons why the day was not great but I hold myself accountable to push past obstacles and I did not do a great job at that with this race.  I will recap what I know went wrong but please note that none of these are meant to be excuses.  My time is 13:45:57.  Honestly before sitting down to write this report I could not have told you what my time was (at the point where the day fell apart, I didn’t really keep my eye on the clock……..just gave everything I could to get to the finish line).  I believe I was in much better shape than a 13:45.  I am not talking sub 11….although I think with the right amount of bandwidth in my life I could get there……but I certainly was in a position to break 12 hours.  That very simply is why I struggle with this race.  I was poised to have a great day.  Training was going perfect…..or at least as perfect as my life allows.  Ridiculous events intervened and I didn’t cope with them well.

Ironman Wisconsin according to my kids
I had hoped the weeks subsequent to the race would allow me the time to feel better about my performance but that simply has not happened.  I unfortunately look back on this race as somewhat of a letdown even though I know I should be proud to have pushed through and crossed the finish line.  To me, not crossing really is not an option so that thought never enters my head.  I do these races for very personal reasons.  It would take a serious crash and the inability to walk to keep me from the finish line.  Sometimes it is the very personal reasons that create the letdown.  I look inside myself to rethink what I could have done to get better results.  I remember being on the course talking to Isabella and my Dad and apologizing.  There was also a time I was in excruciating pain on the bike where I told Isabella to hang with me and keep me whole long enough to get to the run but we will get to that later.  Anyway, what follows is my day.  I tried to reason never writing this report but one day I will want to look back and remember the experience.  Some time in the future I will also want my kids to read about this day.  I saw them a few times during the run but ‘Ironman’ for them is something very different.  They spent their day with Mom at a children’s museum having no idea about the details of my day.  My son, Jaden, wants to do an Ironman at some point in the future but he probably could not define exactly what that entails.   Maybe these words will make a difference for him and for my daughter Thalia.

As I stare at the computer, putting words to paper is a struggle but this is what I came up with:

I will begin with a quick recap of the months of training leading up to Sunday August 21st.  In summary, they went much better than I had expected.  When I signed up for Ironman Wisconsin, I wrote a post about it (click here) describing that, for me, the race was not about time.  It was about the journey and many other things.  I lead a very crazy life.  I work a lot.  I put a lot of time into charity.  I put a lot of time into my family.  Ironman training would have to work around all of this which meant a lot of late night runs, late night bike trainer workouts and many early mornings of exactly the same.  Outside of my long rides, I would say that 85% of my workouts took place while the sun was down.  Even those long weekend rides began as the sun was cresting my garage.  I had fellow peeps signed up to compete in Wisconsin but they usually start later in the morning and that would limit time with the family which was not part of my plan.  If it were not for my amazing friend, Emily Conlon, all of my rides would have been solo.  She was brave enough to battle my crazy hours and a friend enough to provide me some company on my journey and for that I will always be grateful.  If I am to say any more about my training season, I would say that my swim workouts suffered, as exected, because of my schedule.  My training schedule included 3 swims per week but not once did reality match the schedule. Many times, I only managed 1 swim during the week.  With about 45 days until race day, I panicked about the swim and tried to cram by using a pool buoy.  To build for the long distance, I made myself pull for 2,000 yards each of my remaining swim workouts.  Not kicking and having to use my upper body was my attempt to make up for lost time.

This takes us up to August 20th.  Emily and I signed up for the Cool Breeze Century.  I love this ride and I certainly love hanging with my friend so this was to be a great day and a great day is exactly what was delivered.  We rode the distance averaging 18mph and I did not even feel winded.  On this day, I would have run a kick ass marathon off the bike.  I ended this day feeling unstoppable.  I had made it through my last long ride completing an injury free 9 months of training. I would have one more 4-2 brick (4 hour ride followed by a 2 hour run in case you made it here without knowledge of triathlon training) the following weekend and then enter my taper to race day.  This 4-2 brick would never come because of a ridiculous fluke accident the following day, August 21st.

August 21st was also to be an amazing and emotional day.  A great friend to many, Laura Maloney, wanted to have a party.  It was called Laura’s Heart Warming Party and it would not be any ordinary get together.  I met Laura through Team in Training where she has been a participant on my marathon team but more importantly has been an honored teammate for as long as I can remember.  You see Laura is a blood cancer survivor and helps keeps participants connected to the cause.  She unfortunately has recently seen cancer come knocking again and it has her very sick.  We had been having some difficult conversations about the future and in one of those conversations, the importance of this party was made clear to me.  As such, I reached out to another friend, Lori Jomsky, and we proceeded to make the party happen.  Laura has a lot of friends that are very loyal so the extent of this party planning was to set up a Facebook event and send it out.  From there, the party took care of itself.  Plenty of food, drink and people showed up at Laura’s house.  It was a tough day for me (and probably most in attendance) because it was obvious cancer was taking its toll on our friend.  Cancer had made our friend physically weak but it certainly had not penetrated her spirit, which remained as strong as ever.  This spirit helped make for an incredible day.  It was amazing to see all of the love and support showed by so many people.  You might be wondering how an amazing party for a cancer fighting friend could possibly interfere with my path to Ironman Wisconsin.  Well, at some point during this party, my friend Javier Rivera decided to throw me in the pool.  This sounds innocent enough but in my attempt to resist, Javier and I fell to the ground on the way to the pool.  When I got out of the water, folks pointed to my bleeding knee and foot.  I was perturbed at what I knew would be an inconvenience but the wound didn’t look too bad.  I figured everything would be fine in a day or two but this all changed when I got home and began to clean the wounds.  I poured Hydrogen Peroxide on my foot and when the foam cleared it was obvious the wounds were far deeper than I had anticipated.  I became very concerned and as hours, days and weeks went by, my concerns were validated because the wounds refused to heal.  In hindsight I should have went straight to the doctor but you live and learn.
From August 21st through race day, I would not be able to train.  I would not……..except for a one hour work meeting……even be able to put on a shoe.  No matter what I did, the wounds would not heal.  I missed my 4-2 brick.  I missed every workout.  With about a week to go, I finally went to see the doctor and he gave me some antibiotic to put on the wounds after telling me my race was at risk.  Those were the words I both feared and knew were coming.  All I could do was use the antibiotics and pray.  To say I was frustrated in the 3 weeks leading up to race day would be an enormous understatement. 

•I was frustrated because I had done everything right for 9 months.  I had remained injury free and with the race in sight I felt it had been stripped from me.
•Training for an Ironman takes a lot of time…..time that I already said is in short supply in my life.  Between my wife, and myself so many things were rearranged to allow me the opportunity to compete.  To go through all of that for so long and then have something obscure intervene was tough to accept.
•I was also frustrated at myself for being upset with Javier.  He is a great friend and an even more amazing person.  I wanted to reach out and make him feel better about everything but I couldn’t and for that I will always be sorry.  Truthfully, much of my desire to heal was so that Javier would not feel bad.  I wanted to have an amazing race day so that Javier would not bear any weight from this stupid accident. 

That didn’t happen though.  My race was not amazing but I would like to go on record to Javier and say I am truly sorry.  I know my friend would never intentionally do anything to harm my race or me.  It was all simply unfortunate circumstances that we can chalk up to a bumpy journey to race weekend.  I really am disappointed in myself for letting all of this get into my head.  As a coach I have shut people down many times during the taper to race day.  When it came to my own experience, I let the lack of training down the stretch cut into all that confidence I had built up for 9 months.  In my defense, some of this lack of confidence came from some intense pain and a complete lack of understanding of how a foot that looked as horrible as mine could hold up for 140.6 miles.

Race Weekend

Before getting to the race, I want to quickly comment on the days leading up to the race.  Most folks know I am very active with Team in Training, which is all tied to my story shared on this blog.  A few years ago, some fellow Team in Training friends created So Cal Collective.  To be a member of So Cal Collective, you have to meet the following criteria:

a)be a Team in Training alumni, and
b)have completed or be training for a Half or Full Ironman.

So Cal Collective Practice Swim
The group has grown significantly over the years which makes sense given the exploding popularity of triathlon in general.  Although a member of So Cal Collective, I have not been very active training with my teammates……….not because I do not want to but because of the scheduling issues I have already documented in this report.  It really is the story of my life.  Even at Team in Training, I am crazy active in the teams I coach but rarely show up to practice for the teams I participate on.  I raise a lot of money so I do not think folks mind except for those that miss my remarkable sense of humor.  Anyway, the days in Wisconsin leading up to the race afforded me the opportunity to meet many of my So Cal teammates for the 1st time.  This really was a highlight for me and, truth be told, it made me a little sad for all the training time I missed with them.  Everyone was very cool.  All were Great people!  They made me feel welcome even though I was an absent team member.

Pre Race Dinner with So Cal Collective
We grabbed meals together for the first few days until Crea, Jaden and Thalia would arrive on Friday night, September 9th.  I even did my first workouts in 3 weeks with these guys.  I had a 20 minute swim in Lake Monona then we all took a very short ride to test bikes followed by a 2 mile run.  Albeit short workouts they were enough to raise some concern for me.  Just 20 minute in the water and my much healed wounds got soft and opened up.  If 20 minutes had an impact, what would a 1.5 hour swim do? (yes……..I am slow in the water).  On the bike, my foot didn’t feel too bad but on the run, the flex in my shoe was hitting right where my foot wounds were.  It did not feel pleasant but at this point I had a better attitude.  I would do what I could do.  I think my teammates helped in this regard.  Many of my new friends were battling their own issues….IT bands, calves, etc, etc.  Several already anticipated walking the entire marathon.  They had a good attitude about it though and that helped to make me stronger.

Saturday, September 10th arrived………..I dropped off my bike and my transition bags and back to the hotel I went.  Usually this process is very stressful for me.  If you haven’t done a full Ironman, you are used to dropping off all of your gear race morning.  At 140.6 events you drop your bike and gear off the day before.  Saying goodbye to your belongings can be a little intense but I wasn’t too concerned this time around.

Saturday night…… to bed.

Race Day 

Race morning, as they always do, started bright and early. I would argue that most race mornings start the night before because your mind is already on the race when your head hits the pillow.  Instead of a sound sleep, your mind is living out the race before it happens or simply making sure you never hit too sound a state out sleep out of fear of oversleeping. I had rented a separate hotel room for my gear…..yes it gets its own room so I don’t stress about my kids disrupting everything I have set out.  I usually would sleep in this room the night before the race but on this race morning I woke up with the rest of the family.  For some reason, I just wanted to be close with them before this day kicked off.  I am not really sure why but one reason is probably that I would not see them until the run on race day.  Ironman starts too early for a 3 and 7 year old and especially a Mom that would have to wake them up, get them ready and fight the crowds alone with them.  That plus the fact that the bike course really does not bring you back to town until your 112 miles are behind you meant I was many hours from seeing any of them again.

I got out of bed well before my alarms went off and made my way to the ‘gear’ hotel room where I ate some of my breakfast and prepared my fluid for the bike.  I went through my Special Needs bags to make sure I had what I needed.  Special Needs, for those unfamiliar with Ironman distance races, is basically the half way point of the bike and the half way point of the run.  You can put things you might need at that point of the race.  For me, my bike Special Needs bag includes hydration/nutrition for the second half of the ride plus CO2 cartridges/tubes in case the 1st half of the race was a battle with flat tires.  Because my foot was a big uncertainty I also put in extra socks in anticipation of a bloody mess.  My run Special Needs bag had more socks and a sleeve of Shot Blocks.  Once I finished breakfast I woke up Crea as I promised her I would.  One last hug, a pre race photo and I was off.
Swim start to the right.  Helix to the left. You bike up that at the end of the ride.

After a mile walk I arrived at the race site.  I dropped off my bags, visited my bike to drop off my Garmin and hydration then found some SoCal peeps and chilled out.  I guess before I chilled out, I doctored up my foot.  I covered all my wounds in Liquid Bandage hoping to keep it dry before getting to the bike.  I had a bottle of Liquid Bandage in each of my transition bags as well.  Anyway, with 30 minutes to go or so, we all proceeded to head to the water, get in our wetsuits and take a test swim.  The water was calm and felt great.  After the test swim, we all just stood at the edge of the water waiting for the 7am start.  While waiting I decided to make sure my watch was ready to go and set to chronograph.  I do not swim with my Garmin.  It is on the bike.  I use a Timex Ironman for tracking my race time.  When I looked down at my watch, it was blank…..BLANK.  Not simply on the wrong setting but completely dead.  Crea had taken my watch to get the battery replaced before coming to meet me in Wisconsin.  She tried out a new shop that apparently did not waterproof the watch so I was minutes away from race start with no ability to track my time.  I was so upset that I threw my watch into Lake Monona (sorry Wisconsin!) where it probably still sits today.

As a side note here, a dead watch really should not have mattered.  When I registered for this race, it wasn’t about the time.  When my foot injury transpired, race day was even less about the time.  I had many conversations with my wife and Emily Conlon about my mental state regarding race day.  They were supportive that if I gave 110% I should be proud and that pushing through the obstacles should be what I am proud of.  Crossing the finish line is what I should be proud of.  I told myself the time didn’t matter a 1,000 times but my actions kept showing I didn’t take it to heart.  I cannot figure out why really.  I think it is because I have friends, both real and virtual, that I didn’t want to disappoint. I think it is because I know what I am capable of and regardless of what I say, I have internal time expectations.  If I am minutes or hours beyond those expectations, I have to wonder and doubt.  “Did I really give 110%?”  “Could I have stretched the run interval by 30 seconds without falling on my face?”  Sorry for all of these tangents.  As I write, I really am not sure I will ever advertise this post.  It is feeling like an internal discussion and battle as I try to come to grips with the results.  If you are reading this, I apologize.  My struggle is all tied to putting in so much time for something and not having it go as planned.  Given my story, you would think I should be an expert at this by now but I guess I have more to learn.
Within the mayhem hundreds are being kicked right now
Back to the race………the pros begin their journey minutes before the age groupers and then we are asked to enter the water.  The Ironman Wisconsin swim is an open water start.  By this I mean we are not all standing on the shore charging the lake when the gun goes off……..we are all in the lake treading water when the gun goes off.  I am not so fast in the water so I tend to stay to the rear of the pack.  It is interesting how everyone has their own swim start strategy.  Some hug the buoy line which for this race is to our left.  Some start extreme right and take an angle approach to the first turn.  The advantage of being slower is that none of this matters.  I went to the middle, right near the ski ramp in photos, and stayed back 25 yards to let the faster people go first.  Part of this is of course respect because I do not like being in a marathon when slower runners crowd the front corrals making it a lot of work to get around them and the other part, of course, is that I do not want to get trampled and kicked…….which is virtually impossible to avoid.  Most people are aware of this but just in case… an Ironman, everyone starts at the same time.  Most other distance races have wave starts so that you are beginning with, at most, a few hundred people at the start.  At Ironman, the swim start is mayhem as you can see from the photo above.  One advantage to the mass start for me is that I do not have to feel bad when all the pink caps scream past me…….they started with me.  In a wave start you may have 4-5 minutes on the wave behind you.  For me, many times the wave behind me is women.  My goal in wave starts…….try to at least get to one buoy before the women catch me (barely and rarely happens).

At 7am, the outrageously loud canon goes off and the swim begins without much exciting to report.  I swim and am quickly hugging the buoy line.  I am excited I am not completely alone as with every breath I see folks. I catch a person or two but, again, starting at the back makes it tough to pass and be passed.  I remember the sun at various times was blinding.  I had brought tinted lenses but on my test swim they seemed to leak a bit so I went with the clear pair I had been using in the pool.  They didn’t leak but they made it hard to see when staring at the sun.  I made it to the first turn (Wisconsin is a 2 loop swim) of the first loop and, as advertised, it was a log jam.  Everyone was doggy paddling trying to wait for space so this definitely cut into time but I was not worried because I didn’t expect too much on the swim nor did I have any idea of the time.   The unfortunate part is that when I thought I finally had space to begin swimming around this first buoy, I got kicked very hard in the face.  I had been kicked many times before on a swim but this was by far the worst I took a foot to my face.  I was very angry.  I let it go and kept swimming and wouldn’t think about it much until the next day when it took me a minute to remember why the left side of my face was so sore.  The remaining 1.9 miles was uneventful.  I remember not feeling amazing…..nauseous a bit.  This bummed me out a little but I tried to let it go.  On the second loop I could definitely feel the effects of not swimming enough throughout my training and of not swimming at all down the stretch tied to my foot injury.  I was getting tired.  My pull was suffering but I just kept swimming, just kept swimming.  I finally made the last turn and was heading to shore.  I remembered the last time I turned to shore was at Ironman Florida where I had a good view of a shark 10 feet below me.  I gave a silent thank you to Wisconsin for not being next to the ocean and continued on.  I got out of the water, was relieved and tired and emotional.  It was very strange but a wave of emotion came over me.  I am not sure why but guess it is tied to the emotion of the last 3 weeks leading up to race day.  This day had been at risk and at least I was here.

I headed into transition.  I did not feel rushed because I wasn’t overly concerned with my time but I tried to be efficient and get moving.  Once dressed I stopped by the sun block station where they lathered me up.  They certainly did not skimp on the block as you can see in photos.  I was a sea of white lotion.  From there I was off to get my bike then out on the course for a 113 miles……yes I did say 113 miles.

It felt good to be on the bike.  Even though I had not rode in weeks, I had a good training season on the bike and felt ready to go.  I had trained on plenty of hills riding at least 2,500 feet of climb each week that would be needed on what was to be a tough bike course.  The Wisconsin bike course is referred to as a lollipop course.  You head 16 miles out of town then do two 40-mile loops then head back into town on that same 16 mile stretch.

One thing I failed to mention here is that I was using race wheels.  While this shouldn’t be a big deal I certainly made it one leading up to race day.  At the 11th hour I decided to rent race wheels and every hour on the hour for 2 weeks I questioned whether I should use them or not.  You are not supposed to try anything new and although wheels are not a big deal, I was using a Zipp 808 on the back which requires a valve extender which I had never used before.  My huge fear on the bike is not the distance……….it is flat tires.  To use a new wheel set and a valve extender and tires I had no history with (meaning they could have 3,000 miles on them already) had me stressed out.  To make a long story short, I ended up talking to many people, probably upsetting folks at the wheel rental company (Race Day Wheels were amazing and I highly recommend them) with my ridiculous questions but ultimately made the decision to use them. 

The 16 miles out were uneventful.  Truthfully, much of this write up will be uneventful because I really get in my own head and zone out to surroundings.  To this day I will get race day photos where I am beside some amazing landscape that I cannot even remember.  What I did remember was a lot of corn and surroundings that were far different than I was used to seeing in Southern California.  I remember thinking as a large tractor reminiscent of Frank in the Disney movie Cars crossed the road that I may never see something like this again.  There were enormous barns and silos that I had only seen in books or photos but never in person.  It was all very surreal.  There were people all over the place cheering on the bike course.  There were very large crowds when you made it to the start of the 40-mile loop.  I believe they were there to cheer us on knowing the big hills were to come.
IM Wisconsin has a lot of this

I was about an hour in and had finished my first bottle of fluid which quickly lead to the realization of my first problem.  I did what you should never do……….changed my nutrition plan for race day.  In my defense, I had tested the new plan….or so I had thought.  In training, I use Nuun and CarboPro.  It always works for me I just hate dealing with the fizz of the Nuun which can get messy as I open up bottle caps.  I had stumbled across GuBrew in a local shop a few weeks before the race and decided to give it a shot.  There were two flavors but what really caught my eye was that the Blueberry-Pomegranite flavor had 490mg of sodium which is far more than I was getting in my Nuun mixture.  I am a heavy sweater and battle salt loss and as such cramping.  I thought GuBrew might finally be the answer to a long fought battle.  I also wear a race belt which allows me to carry electrolyte pills but getting more sodium into my drink would be a good thing because it would allow me to zone out more and not focus on remembering to take the pills.  I drank GuBrew every day for weeks before the race.  It tasted good and did not upset my stomach in any way so I figured I was good to go.  I was actually very excited about using it.  There was only one problem here.  I have room on my bike for one bottle on the cage and one Aerobottle on my aero bars.  Many people use a rear hydration system off their seat but I cannot because of a freakish reverse Michael Phelps body.  He has a long upper body and shorter legs which is a great thing for a swimmer.  I am the opposite……..very long legs and a shorter upper body.  This makes bike fitting a challenge.  I am tall enough to be in a 60” or larger frame but because of my build this would have me reaching too far for the handle bars.  As such, I actually take a step down on frame size which pushes my seat to a place that is very challenging to fit a rear hydration system.  Long story short, this forces me to carry 3 hours of hydration/nutrition in 2 bottles (3 hours will get me to special needs where I can pick up new bottles).  Because of this, I create one bottle of nutrition at double strength.  I double the amount of Nuun and double the scoops of CarboPro. 

Side note here.  I keep referring to hydration/nutrition on the bike.  This is because I get all of my calories through my drink.  The CarboPro is a flavorless powder that gives me carbs and calories.  I do not eat bars or any real food. Each bottle of fluid for me will have 500+ calories.
Back to this double strength bottle.  It has never been an issue with Nuun so I did not think a double strength bottle of GuBrew would be a problem.  Here is where my claim to be perfect fails miserably.  I was very wrong.  I went to take the first sip from the double strength bottle and it was like the thickest milkshake I had ever drank.   It was very difficult to get the fluid out which made the rest of the ride challenging.  After I drink my single strength bottle, I always toss it and then grab a bottle of water.  I did this in Wisconsin but I tried to use the water to ‘water down’ my milk shake concoction.  I also needed to use the water to cool down so the end result is that I drank too little and took in far too few calories.  That double strength bottle was supposed to get me to special needs but it lasted the entire ride which meant I would be a few bottles and many calories behind where I needed to be.  I wish I could say that this was my only biking issue but it was not.  What are the other issues you ask?  Here they are:

•In order to take some strain off of my foot injury, I slightly adjusted the cleat on the bottom of my left foot.  I knew there was risk to this but I really didn’t have a choice.  I could not have too much pressure on the open wound so this adjustment was my solution.

Making one of many turns at one of many barns
The end result of this slight adjustment was horrible foot pain everywhere else on my left foot.  Again, I knew this was all a risk but I had to try it.  The slight adjustment multiplied by a lot of miles led to truly excruciating pain.  No need to go into detail except for this one story, which leads to the next issue.  I do not know exactly where I was but it was towards the first part of the second bike loop.  I was beginning a hill climb and when I applied pressure with my left foot, the pain was so horrible my eyes watered and I must have let out a loud yell because a fellow athlete asked if I was okay.  I didn’t even respond because I was so frustrated and literally fighting back tears of pain.  From this point forward, I rode every hill pulling and pushing with only my right leg.  I could not apply hill climbing pressure to the left foot anymore.  The pain was bad but bearable on downhill and flats so for those I used both legs/feet.

•Last issue was simply bike mechanics.  I am not sure why but I kept dropping the chain when switching to the big ring.  I was shifting down before the change but it didn’t matter.  I almost crashed a few times because of the difficulty trying to get it back on leading into the hill.  Anyway, I became so frustrated with this that for the last half of the 2nd 40 mile loop, I stayed in the big ring.  If you combine this with the fact I was climbing with one leg and the fact that I was falling behind on nutrition, you can see where the rest of the day was headed.

This all being said, it was a fun ride.  The town was amazing.  The landscape was surreal and an amazing change of scenery for me.  The crowds were incredible…..seriously incredible! I wish I had felt better to thank all of them because the hills were full of spectators cheering everyone to the top.  There was one particular small country road hill climb I will never forget.  It was a narrow road and there were people everywhere.  It felt like a scene out of Tour De France.  You actually had to pay attention because people were running up and down the hill and crossing the street.  The mayhem wasn’t annoying.  It was spectacular and made me feel on top of the world despite all the battles I felt I was facing.

After the second 40 mile loop was done, needless to say I was relieved.   One good thing I did on the bike was to NOT look at my pace.  Here is one place I accepted I could only do what I could do.  As long as I was giving 110% of whatever I had, the pace would be what the pace would be.  I vowed not to look at my speed until I at least hit 90 miles.    Wherever it was that I first looked at the watch, I remember thinking it was slow but I do remember thinking I left what I had on the bike course.  I was worked and in a lot of pain.  Cramps had started to reveal themselves now and then so I knew the rest of the day would be fun. I did the math in my head and realized if I pushed hard, I could exit the bike under 6.5 hours.  That is not great on any other day but today I would consider it a victory and it was something to shoot for.  I was using my right leg/foot to try and power myself.  I used my left foot but really mainly on the pull….not the push.  My speed picked up and I just tried to hammer it home. If you look at my time, you will see that I did not finish the bike sub 6.5 hours.  Truthfully though, I did reach my goal.  At 112 miles, my watch showed me just under 6 hours 30 minutes but off to my right about a mile away was the transition area.  I think the course had been modified a bit and on this day I would ride just over 113 miles.  I would blame the Garmin except every single person I talked to said the same thing…….”who stretched the bike course”.  Anyway, I came into transition which someone very evil created.  When you arrive at the bike finish, transition is on the top level of a parking garage so you have to climb the helix at the Monona Terrace.  EVIL!!!!  It was over though so I knew at the top of this climb I would get off the bike.  I reached the dismount line and had to pause for a second.  Cramps were getting worse so I had one of the volunteers help me to avoid a sprawl to the ground writhing in cramping pain.

Off to transition.  Again, I didn’t feel rushed. My time was nothing to write home about and I could tell my cramps and foot pain would make the next 26.2 miles a challenge.  I changed tops, tried to make up for some of that lost nutrition, put on my running shoes and hobbled out of transition. 

Here is where I really tried to grit my teeth and tell my body to FUC* OFF.  I took off.  My foot was killing me but I ignored it.  Tiny jolts of cramp kept hinting at things to come but I went out as if I was fresh and could pull a 3:30 on the marathon…….a time my training indicated was a real possibility.  In training, I figured worse case my marathon time was to be 3:45.  That is how I ran leaving transition.  I don’t know my pace but I am sure it was sub 8:00 for a brief period of time.  Very early in the race as I was near the capital I heard someone yell Chris and I knew it had to be my family.  Someone then yelled Crea which I figured was someone trying to tell me my wife was there.  I could not stop so I just kept going.  As I hit the Capital Building, the soon to be winner came down towards the shoot.  DEPRESSING!!!  Anyway, I tried to hold it together but it didn’t last too long.  All the work I had put on my right leg came back in a crippling cramp that stopped me cold.  I was upset.  I punched and squeezed my leg hoping it would subside.  I tried to run again but the cramps came back in full force.  I quickly made the decision to try a 3-1 interval.  I would run 3 minutes, walk 1 minute.  My hope was that I could hold off the cramps for 3 minutes then use the 1 minute to recover pushing the cramps farther away….then repeat.  It actually worked for a bit.  I kept a respectable pace for 2 of the 3 minutes, fought cramps for one minute then walked. I honestly have no idea where I ever was on the run but soon after I had missed my chance to see my family, I came across them again.  Even writing about seeing them months later makes me emotional.  I needed to see them.  It was on the main drag through town.  I stopped to talk to them which would never happen if my time was looking good.  I think that Thalia was asleep.  Jaden told me to do my best and that I would finish.  It was amazing to see Crea.  She is a big reason I race and raise money to fight cancer.  She is a big reason I am who I am.  I don’t know if it was this 1st visit with her, or the next visit, or every visit but I apologized for my performance.  I know spectating is hard……although after the fact it sounds like they all had a great day at the Childrens Museum……and my issues were going to make for a longer day than I wished for my wife.  I also just want to do things that make my wife proud and I was struggling to be proud of this day even though I really was giving all I had.  Crea told me not to be sorry at all and that she was proud of me and off I went. 
T2 For My Kids
A little while later I ran into a SoCal teammate Andrew Grant who was walking.  He knew he would have to walk the marathon because he was battling horrible IT band issues but I stopped to walk with him a second. We shared a laugh or two……cannot remember at what…….and then I told him about my 3-1 plan. I talked him into giving it a shot and off we went.  About a minute later, Andrew unfortunately had to bow out of the interval but I kept going because I knew I was deteriorating fast.  The rest of the run was much of the same:

Crea Patiently Waiting: "What I found a baby before"
•I drank Coke every chance I could hoping to make up for the missing calories and get in some simple sugars.
•I took my salt pills.
•I punched my quads and hamstrings begging they stop cramping.
•My 3-1 interval kept deteriorating.  It eventually whittled down to a 1-1 interval and I must say the running 1 minute might not have been much faster than the walking minute.  I took very short strides trying not to anger the cramping Gods and because it was hard to put any pressure on my left foot which had unbeknownst to me turned a lovely shade of purple and red.  It was not the wound on my left foot that hurt…… was the underside of the foot which resulted from the shifting of the bike cleat.  Either way, I was a mess.

The High Five Rule
I was disappointed but tried to savor what I could from the day.  I remember running through the stadium where the Wisconsin Badgers play.  That was very cool.  I remember being on trails at times.  I remember there were always people.  I remember bumping into a SoCal teammate now and then.  I remember trying to cheer on everyone that I passed or was passing me (far more were passing me of course).  I remember if I saw I child with their hand out for a High Five, I did what I could to get there and slap that hand and thank them.  It is kind of a rule…..”no child’s high five hand untouched”.  I feel every little moment in a child’s life has the chance to be influential.  It is only a high five…..I know.  But it is also a moment when a guy in pain thought it important enough to show gratitude for that little child standing on the sidelines.  I saw the family a few more times and some friends too along the way.  Just as with the bike, the crowds were indescribable.  People were everywhere screaming for you.  Despite the feeling of embarrassment at not being able to run fast, I was very grateful for the support.

I made it back to the Capital Building which meant home was near.  I made the last left turn towards the finish.  A guy beside me told me to go ahead so we didn’t share the same photo.  I offered to let him go first but didn’t have the strength to argue so off I went.  My legs were so wobbly.  There was a slight downhill and I just closed my eyes and asked them to hold on for another minute.  They did.  I crossed the finish line hours after I wanted to.  I wish I could say I felt elation at the moment but I didn’t.  I felt pain and disappointment.  I guess I didn’t look too good because 2 volunteers came up to me and asked a bunch of questions.  I must not have been answering correctly because they took me to the medical tent.  I do not remember too much about it.  A bunch of people asking me questions and apparently me giving all the wrong answers.  After some time……..not sure how much……clarity started returning.  I remember a guy beside me asking if it was normal he was peeing blood.  The assistant went to get someone else to provide an answer.  I took a moment to tell this guy it was not normal and he better take a seat.  I think I was supposed to stay there a while but I seized the opportunity when someone new came to ask how I was doing.  Learning from my past, I responded “Fantastic, let’s get me out of here” which is what they did.  I left the medical tent and found my family.  I am sure I apologized again but I really do not remember too much.  I even have pictures on Facebook that a friend took on the walk back to the hotel that for the life of me I don’t remember taking.

Two months have now passed since I turned 3x Ironman.  I still accept my time for what it is.  I am still disappointed and full of questions.  Ironman Wisconsin 2011 was going to be my last Ironman but I am not sure I can go to my grave with this performance as my last.  If this had just been a bad performance, I probably could live with it.  I struggle, however, with some of the circumstances that lead to the bad day so I have begged my wife for one more shot at the title.  I want to go out my way….on my terms.  While I am confident I left all of me on the streets of Wisconsin on September 11, 2011, I would like one more chance to cover 140.6 miles with no asterisks.  I am not sure what race I will choose but hope that 2013 is the year that sees me cross my final Ironman finish line.  I will close by saying while I am not proud of my performance, I am very proud to have crossed the Ironman finish line.  I am grateful to my wife for her support of my endeavor. She gives up so much to let me train for races like these.  I am proud to have shared the day with so many amazing athletes.  I am grateful to the 1,000’s of spectators that cheered for me on race day.  I am grateful to all the kind words on race day from folks on Twitter and Facebook and I apologize to those who had to wait so long for me to finish.  I love this sport.  I love all it represents. It is something I try to carry with me on a daily basis as I do my entire story.  I always say I run to remember so in that sense my ‘extended’ race day gave me a little more time to do so and that cannot be such a bad thing.

One last very good piece of news is that Laura Maloney, my cancer fighting friend mentioned in this recap, is now cancer free. I saw her at a Team in Training Kick Off and she looked much stronger and was doing great.

Final note is that I raised a lot of money to beat cancer on the road to Ironman Wisconsin.  With your help, we raised over $27,000 and I personally reached my lifetime goal of raising over $100,000.  It is now my wife's turn.  She watched me train for hours.  She has seen me complete Lavaman Triathlon the last 3 years with Team in Training.  It is now her turn to carry the torch, fight the fight and show cancer that it lost the battle with her and will ultimately lose the battle with all.  If you would like to help my 2 x cancer fighting wife fight back, the fundraising link at the top of this page is to her site.  I would be honored if you show her the same love that you have shown me over the years.


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  2. GREAT recap Chris! Sounds like a rough day but in the end you crossed the finish line and stuck it out. I had many similar frustrations with my Louisville IM which was THREE HOURS slower than my first. I learned that at the end of the day nobody really cares what my time was as long as they know I gave it my best and finished that sucker. I now joke that it is even more impressive to folks the longer I say it took...haha! Thanks for the recap and continued inspiration.

  3. Great Recap Chris! You should be so proud of what you accomplished only a few people on the planet can do this.


  4. This was lovely thanks for writing this