Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Race Report: Ironman Wisconsin

It's a long one guys, so hunker in with a cup of coffee or a Pepsi and chill out. Tap your keyboard once in awhile so the boss things you're working. I was able to write most of this while Mike was driving us back from Wisconsin, so normally people write this in chunks so it's easier for you to absorb. I was going to create links so you could just navigate to different sections, but no: this was my Ironman, so this is the story to tell. Skip the parts that bore you if you like, I won't be offended. I'll have lots more images and maybe some video to share in the coming weeks, so stay tuned. Thanks for reliving it with me...

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We'd watched the weather reports all week long, which is an exercise in futility, I know, but one does what he can to have some information on how to prepare. Before leaving Minneapolis - still more than 5 days out - they'd predicted cool and overcast - perfect conditions. I packed up my gear and, on a whim, threw in my winter arm warmers and running gloves just in case they'd prove useful.

The days preceding Ironman were perfect. Sunshine and almost no wind, low-mid 70's. It allowed for some great days walking around Ironman village with my friend Mike and my aunt Pat on Friday after my short swim workout on the Ironman course. Walking into Monona Terrace - the epicenter of Ironman - the line for registration that day stretched up 2 sets of escalators and outside, winding around the terrace. I was happy to have been able to register on Thursday, and hoped the athletes in line wouldn't have to be on their feet for too long today. As we walked around Ironman Village we took it all in, and Ford had a kiosk set up where people could type in messages to athletes that would display at the "Ford Motivational Mile" - around miles 7 and 20. Pat and Mike were excited, and spent some 10 minutes working on a message (apparently Pat had some trouble negotiating the 25 character limit...).

Friday night I was invited to dinner at Simply Stu's house, and he and his family were gracious hosts. We ate a great dinner in their beautiful home, and I was able to finally meet so many friends from the blogosphere - TriSaraTops, Iron Wil, Stu, Siren, Chris, and especially nice was Pharmie (The Blogger Formerly Known As SLS) and her husband Steve, whom I met at the Lifetime Fitness Triathlon in July. We all talked like old friends, and got great advice from Rob and Stu on some of the finer details of Ironman, even watching last year's race and seeing what transitions were like, how the Terrace helix fit in, and other "this is a stupid question but..." stuff. Thanks Stu for such a great time.



Pharmie and I headed to the Athlete's Meeting after dinner, and heard from the directors of the swim course, bike course, and run course. Just some last minute details and information, all of it good to know. Then the head doctor got up to speak, and started talking about every kind of catastrophe that could go wrong. Useful information, I guess, but nothing I particularly wanted to be thinking about, so I wished Pharmie a great race and took off.

I spent the rest of Friday night packing up my transition bags. The weather forecast now was calling for high 50's and overcast, with winds of 5-10mph and no rain, with only a 30% chance of showers in the evening. Perfect! I set aside all my cold weather Under Armour that I had packed up, but decided to still throw in my arm warmers and gloves for the run, and I'd picked up an additional set of Ironman arm warmers at the Ironman store on Friday for the bike. The clerk at the store and I agreed that I'd probably want to shed them on the bike after around noon, but I might like to have them for the morning hours.



Saturday morning I checked the weather once more, and it still looked very favorable. I checked my gear once more, loaded up Ol' Blue, and we headed to the Terrace to unload.

The logistics of Ironman are simply mind boggling, as I'd come to appreciate throughout the race. One of 2400 athletes racing, they found a way to organize all of our transition gear so that we'd have it quickly and readily available to us. I got to everwhere and put everything where it was supposed to be, then took 'Blue out to Transition. I found my slot on the rack, double checked everything, covered the computers with a plastic bag on the off chance that the weather report was wrong and it would rain overnight, and left Transition. Nothing more to do now but race. Exhale.



Saturday night, within 10 minutes of each other, the rest of my entire Team arrived. Amy arrived wtih her parents and Susan and Kaili, with JoJo in tow. Sara and Ben arrived with Todd and Patric. Erin made it in earlier that morning, and my mother and her husband Jay made it in the night before, and my uncle Mike (different from my friend Mike) came in from his commute from Chicago a bit earlier that evening. Now, we were all here. The house suddenly went from 0 to 60. The whole place was suddenly alive and buzzing with reunion and inquiries and laughter and happiness. It felt amazing to be there, to think these people all came here for me. For Ironman.

After eating, the Team set up a Situation Room where they pored over maps of the course, negotiated prospective times to be at different places, assigned responsibilities to one another, handed out copies of the courses, prepared snack bags. It was a serious, coordinated, well oiled machine and I was in awe just watching it. But it was 7:00 now, and my mind had begun its shift. It was time for me to head home to Grandma and Grandpa's to rest and prepare. I waved the team farewell and accepted with thanks their well wishes and hugs of good luck.

Back at Grandma and Grandpa's house, just before going down to head to bed, Grandpa said, "Well, they've changed the forecast - might be rain now in the morning." I scowled, then waved it off. "Well, nothing I can do about it now," I answered.

I slept soundly from 10:15 to about 12:45. I'd race with about 2.5 hours of sleep.

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I got out of bed at 3:30, turning off my iPod and heading up to shower. When I got out of the shower at about 3:45 or so, I was surprised to see my Grandpa, dressed and ready to go, in the kitchen making coffee. My Dad's Dad is 82 years old, and my mom describes him as a bull. I describe him as an ox. He's a thick, strong man. He's old school. He shoots straight and true. He played some semi-pro baseball when he was younger, and boxed in the military. He served two tours of duty in a World War. He is a hell of man, and it's a serious thing to me to share his name.

"G'morning Grandpa," I said as I headed to the fridge to get my first of two shakes I'd drink that morning. "Daylight in the swamp." It was a phrase he'd been using since I was a kid to signal: good morning, time to get up.
"Yep," He replied. Then, "Time to pick it up and set it down." My Grandpa got up at 3:30 in the morning just to see me out the door. And that is something his son would have done.

I packed up and headed out to my car, where something clung to my windshield - a card with a fox on the front of it, from Amy. One of several nice cards I got that weekend, including an incredibly meaningful thing from Todd. Inside this card from Amy she said some really important things, including, Today you honor your family name. I was deeply touched, inspired, encouraged. It was a great way to start this day.

I was one of the first 3 cars at the Alliant Energy Center, and was on the shuttle to the Terrace by 4:30. I was doing a quick mental recap as the shuttle bumped along. That's when I remembered my fuel flasks, which were sitting happily in my Grandparents' freezer, awaiting their transport to my run transition and special needs bags. Shit! I couldn't believe I forgot something - anything - on this day. I considered my options. I could call somebody and have them pick them up and bring them to the Terrace, but that would just stress me out, wondering when they'd get there, if I had time to do this and that, if I'd see their car, where we'd meet, etc. I could go without the flasks - I'd planned to have them on my Fuel Belt during the run, so that I wouldn't have to stop at all through the first few miles of the marathon. I could stop - not a big deal from a nutritional point of view, but it took me away from my plan. I was ready to improvise, but was a little irritated at myself for having to improvise before the damn race even started. I decided I'd see if, by chance, the Ironman Store in the Terrace would have anybody tending it, and maybe I could buy some new flasks. Otherwise, I'd go sans belt and just deal.

I dropped off my special needs bags, then headed into the Terrace to tend to my bike and run bags with what I had. Then I headed over to the store - just after 5am - where a woman was just taking off her coat. "Do you work here?" I asked. "Yes," She said. She was sleepy, I could tell. "Can I buy something?" "Sure," she said, and opened the gate for me. A new set of flasks were $12.99. I had $13.00 with me. "I'm going to need your help," I said, "I only have thirteen dollars." "Fine, fine - go!" She said, taking my money with a smile and without a second thought to the tax. I thanked her profusely while she wished me a great race, and headed to my run transition bag to put in my final necessities. Then I headed out to bodymarking before tending to Ol' Blue with the first load of nutrition and liquids for the day and to turn on my on-board computers. It hadn't rained overnight, so the bike transition area was dry. There was very little wind, and the temperature was cool but comfortable as the sky started shifting from black to milky navy. Over the Ironman announcement system we were being told that there had been some rain on parts of the bike course overnight, so plan accordingly.

Finally, with all the details taken care of and all the pieces in place, I put on my wetsuit and headed down to the water at around 6:20am.

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I was in the water early, by 6:30. I headed out to the first turn buoy, as I'd planned, so that I'd be far left of the washing machine. The water felt warm and comfortable, and I chatted amiably with some of the other athletes. I floated around and warmed up a bit as I took in the scene around me and the sky brightened. After awhile I clung to one of the lifeguard's kayak as I thanked him for being out there, and we joked about how he might pull me along for the race. Once in awhile we athletes would bump into each other, then joke about how it wouldn't be the first time today, or how if that's the worst of it, we'll take it. It was fun and relaxing. I didn't have my typical nervous stomach. I wasn't sick that morning like I am always sick on race mornings, even for the tiniest little local events. I just felt...great. I was so happy to be there. I felt honored to be in the water with these people, at Ironman. I imagined the Team as the clock ticked nearer to 7:00am, wondering if they were organized on the Terrace, how their morning was going, if they were out there watching for me, waiting for me. Soon the pros took off. The morning was bright now, and the Terrace was packed with people. I could see countless athletes nearer to shore or getting into water, a sea of bobbing white swim caps. Kayaks everwhere. Support boats surrounded us, their communications systems chattering away. Helicopters buzzed overhead. It felt important and tremendous. Then they sang the national anthem. And then, a bit suddenly, the cannon went off.

And I was, after all, racing the Ironman.

I started my stroke, strong and easy, just as I'd planned. I didn't feel crazy with adrenaline. I didn't fear the limbs that flailed all around me, bashing into the back of my head, my ankles, my waist. I felt relaxed and smooth. We were swimming with the wind and waves on the way out, so we were pushed along with the water. It felt fast and fluid. I could see the Terrace gliding by in the distance, inch by inch, as I breathed on my right side, and I had some gauge of the distance I was swimming by how much Terrace had gone by. The battle in the water wasn't too bad, thanks to my position on the far left of the mass. A few minutes in, I glimpsed the side of another swimmer's cap and the emblazoned IRONMAN. That's the moment when it smacked me square - THIS IS IT! THIS IS IT! THIS IS IT! God it felt good. I was going easy breezy, and loving every second. I was surprised at how pushed along I felt in the water, and held out some absurd hope that that was the draft of this mass of 2400 bodies at work, and not an increasingly strong wind pushing waves across the water. As we approached the first turn buoy, I took an elbow hard to my right eye. My googles took the impact and slid just a bit from their position. At the first buoy, I recognized the traffic jam and tried to go inside it, gripping the buoy and going right around it, rather than trying to swim it, before quickly finding my place in the mass again before I was run over by swimmers behind me. Now, swimming across the current, I could get a sense for its strength - anytime I tried to breath on my left side I'd get a face full of water, leaving me to breath on my right side. A few hundred yards later came the second turn buoy, sending us straight back the opposite way, parallel to our original course. Now we were swimming head on into the waves, and the treachery of it became quickly apparent. Breathing was nearly impossible. I was swallowing water with nearly every breath and the waves were affecting my stroke significantly - I couldn't recover with a long glide. Instead, my arms had to be like propellors, constantly moving to catch the water. Sometimes I'd stroke just into a trough on a wave and grab an armful of air. Sometimes I'd stroke into a crest and be pulling water. It was insane. And now, like a cracked hull, my displaced goggles were leaking. I tried closing my eyes and swimming blind, not wanting to pull off and deal with these goggles, but that's just stupid - I had at least an hour left in the water. I stopped to adjust my goggles and it was nearly impossible, being smacked around by the waves. When the hell did the water get so rough? I did what I could - knowing it wasn't enough - and got back into the mix. This time I sighted the Terrace on my left side, and eventually could hear the blurry music and announcer through the mash of noisy swimming. Another loop around the original turn buoy, where I'd started, and I was on my second loop of the swim.

I used the water's push this time to really conserve energy, deciding to make a hard push coming back, against the waves. I checked my watch and was running a slow pace - about 40 minutes for my first loop, which would take me into about 1:35 considering the swim from the loop back to shore for the finish. With the water conditions, though, pace was out the window and it was just about doing my best - whatever that was. We were more spread out from one another now, and it wasn't quite the battle ground it was during the first loop. Again I watched the Terrace slide by on my right. Around the far turn buoys, and I was headed back on the final long stretch, again into the waves. I stopped for what was the third time to deal with my goggles, and this time felt like I'd finally gotten the seal I needed against my face. I worked hard against the water this time, putting everything into it on my arms and giving a little more kick than typical. I had no recovery at all - just a constant turnover of my arms. I could feel my triceps and pectorals screaming at me, and my legs told them to shut the hell up, you have a whole 90 minutes of work to do today. I didn't want to slip too far from the 40 minute pace I had on my first loop, and knew I'd have to work hard to negative split the loops (less time the second half than the first half). Finally I heard the music and announcer again, this time with the buzz of the Terrace crowd as swimmers were exiting the water. The announcer, too, was shouting now, excited as he encouraged the exiting swimmers on. I finally turned left, around that last buoy, and had a straight shot, several hundred yards long, into the swim finish. I sighted the huge inflatable Gatorade bottle on shore as my marker, and swam like hell.

I was helped out of the water by Ironman volunteers and crossed the timing mat in 1:35:37 - my strategy for the second loop seemed to work pretty well, and I stayed pretty consistent. The excitement around me was absurd. Palpable. Invasive. Friggin' awesome. Thousands of people screamed as I stripped my goggles and swim cap from my head, and finally my ear plugs. Footloose was blaring on the loudspeakers as I turned a corner into the waiting arena of the wetsuit strippers, who waved me down to the end of the row before three of them attacked me like raptors, tearing my suit from my upper body as I quickly laid down and they ripped it off my legs. I was out of my suit in 5 seconds. They handed it to me and and I started my jog to the bike transition, finding myself singing along to the music. I said in my race agenda that I wanted to have a smile on my face, and I'd thought that there may be times when I'd have forced that smile. Not so. I had a shit ass grin on my face all day long - I was just so tremendously happy to be there. I jogged out of the swim exit area and straight towards the Terrace, towering in front of me. It's a sight I'll never, ever forgot - as I approached the helix, covered with people everywhere and screaming voices, I looked slowly up the levels - not for any reason than to take it all in - when at one of the upper levels I caught a sea of blue - my Team! I didn't expect to see them there! I didn't know when or where I'd see them, but I didn't expect them there, and I gave them a huge stupid grin as they screamed and jumped and cheered. I entered below them, onto the helix, and swept my way up it, carried by the adrenaline of knowing they were there. I wound my way up and finally reached them, high-fiving as I passed by them and hearing their shouts behind me as I continued up the helix on my way to transition. I was still smiling as I ran into the Terrace, heard them shout "531!" as I entered, grabbed my bag as the efficient Ironman Crew heeded the call and handed it to me, then headed into the change room. I put on my bike gear quickly, and more Crew helped me get my shirt and arm warmers on over my wet body. I packed my wetsuit in and, about 10 minutes after I'd started the transition, headed out the door, onto the Flight Deck where I'd pick up Ol' Blue.

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"531!" They'd shout, and hearing it, the person 30 yards down would shout "531!", all the way down towards my bike, until the last Crew member shouted "531!" and a final Crew member raced into my rack just as I was arriving, snagged 'Blue from its stable, and met me with it at the end of the rack. Ol' Blue was chomping and stomping, pulling against the restraint of the Crew member. I grabbed the Machine as the Crew guy said "Have a great ride!"

"Holy shit! This is awesome!" I screamed at 'Blue.
Are you kidding me with this crowd!?! This kicks ass! 'Blue was feeling saucy and ready to rock.
"You ready to fly? This is it - it all comes down to here and now!" I said as we approached the transition exit and I finally mounted the bike.
Let's ride!

Rider and Machine zipped down the opposite helix now, riding the brakes and passing through the blur of countless thousands screaming, their sounds echoing off the concrete around us and deafening. I exited the Terrace and popped onto John Nolen Drive. It was raining - a steady, cold drizzle. Well...maybe the showers came early, I thought. Or this could just be a passing thing. But it was consistent, and within mile one I knew my race day strategy would have to change - if the course was wet and my wheels were wet, then I'd be riding conservative. No 40 mph descents today, and no screaming through the curves and turns that dominate this course. I'd be riding to stay out of trouble and not do something stupid and preventable. As I wound my way past mile 2 I saw the first road drama - somebody pinched a tire crossing the myriad of blocks and bumps on the Madison roads - I'd ridden them before, and knew that slowing over the many bumps, railroad tracks, and bridge separators was how I'd ride this race.

I headed out with countless other cyclists, leaving Madison behind on Whalen Road as we rode towards Verona. I noticed something in my lunchbox, and reached down to find a note from QCMier, wishing me good luck - he'd found my bike in transition before the race. How cool is that guy? I hoped his race was going well, and tucked the note away as a keepsake.

The wind was up, I noticed now - 5 to 10 mph, as forecast, had turned to at least 10-15. I wasn't horribly uncomfortable, but I knew that I'd get cold if it continued to rain and blow like this. I took some stock of the apparel of the riders around me - some were dressed in something like what I was wearing - a cycling jersey and arm warmers - while others were wearing very light riding gear - sleeveless or even just bra-tops on some of the women. We'd all been fooled by the forecast, and while the responsibility is with the athlete to plan appropriately, I think we did what we could with the information we had. I certainly would have dressed differently had I known what the day had in store. Others around me had obviously concocted a last minute plan before leaving the house, and were wearing off-the-shelf rain jackets or windbreakers which, on the bike, acted really as big sails.

I rode on, and stuck to the plan as I'd practiced countless times before on this course and my roads back home. Nutrition. Cadence. Heart Rate. Power. Wait. Power? What the? My Power Meter crapped out in Verona - the screen going blank. Stupid piece of...motherfu...damn piece of... Well, so be it. I'd ridden enough to know my power limits, and as long as I didn't let adrenaline or outside influences get to me, I should be okay. If I'd be spending the day riding conservatively anyway, power would just take care of itself.

I left Verona with just under a 15mph average before making the turn to head the next leg towards Mt. Horeb. I passed the sign that reads "Donald Park - Pop's Knoll" and pounded my heart and held my fist to it, like I do everytime I pass this sign, an homage to my Dad. The wind was at my back, and I picked up speed these entire 13-15 miles into Mt. Horeb. Spectators dotted the roads between towns, and as we all had our names on our numbers, attached to our backs, we cyclists encouraged one another with "Looking good Gerri" and "Riding strong Joe", and they'd reciprocate with a quick "You too" and "Go get 'em". Around 30 miles in, I arrived in Mt. Horeb to a larger smattering of spectators, braving the wet and cold to cheer us on. They'd scream and cheer for us, and they loved it if we riders screamed and cheered back. A woman held a sign that said IRON DOES NOT RUST IN RAIN, and I pointed at it and said, "That's what I'm talking about!", sending her group into a frenzy. Others would make absurd jungle noises or pound on bongos, and I'd shout "Sweet!" or "Hell yes!", and they'd dance and cheer. Finally, in the center of Mt. Horeb, I spotted a sea of blue awaiting me - I didn't recognize faces from that distance, but I knew it was the Team. As I approached I raised my fist so they'd see it was me, and they went berzerk. My mom was jumping up and down. I saw Grandpa smiling and waving his fist. Amy's Dad was clapping wildly as Amy was hopping around. The others in the team, all in the same blue shirts, clapped and cheered and screamed. I blazed past them and roared "THIS IS THE IRONMAN!" and they lost their minds. They'd been sitting there for most of an hour, twenty of them, my favorite people in the universe, to spend less than 5 seconds with me, but I carried them with me all day long. Those 5 seconds got me through the next 15 miles. It was unbelievable. I've never felt so alive. So amazing. So honored.



We cruised away from Mt. Horeb now and headed into the next sections of the race, much more technical and difficult. There would be casualties here, I knew, if riders weren't careful with the conditions. The rain came down, unchanged, a constant hazy drizzle. The air temperature was cold mid-50's, but with the wind chill from on the bike it felt much colder. Already there had been countless flats being fixed, chains repaired, issues behind tended - I couldn't believe how much bike drama, and we weren't even to the second loop. As we turned into the wind, just before the Roller Coaster, we got a sense for just how strong it was - I was instantly relegated to speeds of 12, 13, 14 mph with the headwind. As it turned out, winds approached 20mph for much of the day, with gusts to 25mph. Turning north again to begin the rollers, the crosswind combined with the rain and wet road to create a perfect recipe for bike treachery. Better and braver cyclists than I might take these hills all out, but I'd be riding the brakes all day. I thought of Iron Wil on Garfoot's descent, and our joking at dinner about a long ago posting where I wrote, "Lest Garfoot make you humble." I hoped she was having a great race, staying safe and having fun.

A few miles before Cross Plains, while still on Garfoot and 15 miles or so from the 3 major hills on the course, a woman in a Los Angeles Triathlon Club jersey said to me on a slight incline, "Is this the big hill coming up?" I wasn't sure what hill she was seeing...maybe that little bump in the road? "No," I answered, "not yet." "Shit," she said under her breath, then, "How far away is that?" "A little ways yet," I told her. I felt bad for her if she was feeling it already. "Hang in there!" I shouted at her. "You're doing great!"

The section from Mt. Horeb, then, to Cross Plains was slow going, where normally it's some of the fastest and most fun. But, I made it to Cross Plains feeling pretty good - nutrition was on point, my legs felt good, and though I was cold as hell it wasn't painful. Now came the hills - the Bitch Hills as I call them, and I thought of my friend from Los Angeles. All in all, the hills went really well - the crowds were awesome, and carried me right up those hills. On one was a group of dudes dressed in Afro wigs. Another had a woman playing bongos, and a guy dressed like a cheap whore, complete with fishnet stockings. People would run alongside as we climbed and yell Allez! Allez! Allez!, just like they do on the Tour de France. All these people, coming out like this on such a cold and miserable day - it was just amazing. The communities around Ironman were incredible, and their energy did wonders.

After the final Bitch Hill, it's a short but windy stretch of downhill before a slight climb into the outskirts of Verona. I looked up the road and again saw the familiar wall of blue - the Team was waiting for me at the top of the hill! I raised my fist, and could hear their cheers long before I could see their faces. As I passed by they cheered and shouted, and as I turned left Todd followed, running behind and still yelling, "Kick ass and take names!" I was grinning from ear to ear when a rider next to me said, "Geez you've got a hell of a team there. My ears are ringing!"

Finally through the hills now and coming back into Verona, just about to the halfway marker, I turned right onto Main Street where a huge banner stretched across the road - WELCOME IRONMAN ATHLETES TO VERONA FESTIVAL" - on a warmer day the whole city would have been alive with games, barbecues, food stands, and activities. Today, I imagined, it was a little more subdued. Still, Main Street was lined with thousands of spectators, and they cheered us on from behind the barricades. "Thank you Verona!" I cheered back, astonished they were out here at all - the weather was flat out horrible. I rode my way around Verona and around to start the second loop, then approached the Special Needs bag. I was all about a PB&J right about then. "531!" I shouted as I approached, and again the efficient and well oiled Ironman machine immediately started to churn. "531!" they repeated down the line, until I arrived at my general area with a volunteer waiting with my bag in his outstretched arm. I stopped 'Blue and the guy asked what I needed. "Dry socks, dude," and he held my bike as I reached to take off my shoes. To my surprise, my index finger and thumb wouldn't connect...my hands were colder than I thought, and dexterity was for shit. I asked the guy if he could undo the ziplock around my sandwhich while I changed socks - the best decision I made all day was putting dry socks in my bike special needs bag. Wow, did that feel good. When you're out there for that many hours, putting your body through all kinds of hell, the smallest comforts in the "real world" become tremendous gifts of glory. And today, dry socks was one of them.

He handed me my PB&J and I was off - less than a minute was spent at Special Needs, and the volunteers were just amazing. It was like a NASCAR pit stop, quick and efficient, and I was back on the road in better shape than I was moments ago. The PB&J was nectar of the gods after nothing but Clif bar bites, Gatorade, and gels. I was about 3:30 into the race - a solid 15 minutes off a "typical" halfway time for me, thanks to the wind and wet. I charted for an arrival back to Madison between 7 hours and 7:15 - but that was only if I avoided drama.

"'Blue..."
Can't talk. Working.
"Right. Just so you know, I can't feel my fingers. I'm screwed if we get a flat tire out here, or drama with the chain."
Copy that. Now eat.
"Kickass."

The dry socks held for a glorious 3 miles of comfort before they were drenched. The PB&J got me 5 more miles down the road. The tailwind back to Mt. Horeb made for a faster time. But...I was starting to derail. I could feel it coming. It didn't feel like anything major - I was still eating, still digesting, no GI issues. Body felt good in that way. But mentally and emotionally, the cold and the wet were taking its toll. As I passed the team again in Mt. Horeb, again so happy to see them, again to their cheers and thrills, I was only a few miles from major darkness. On the other side of Mt. Horeb, it got tough. The rain had picked up, with the wind, so the crowds were a bit thinner. We riders had spread out as well, so there was less of a community riding around me. I felt lonely and desolate. I started heavily criticizing myself for not being better prepared for the weather, thinking of all the hi-tech rain gear I have sitting home that would be great for today, or even the thermal gear I packed along but didn't bring to the race. I started thinking - very unwisely - about how daunting a marathon seemed. At mile 70 I still had 40+ miles to go on the bike, and it seemed utterly insurmountable. I calculated how far that was on my regular training rides. Mentally, I just went to pointless places. Places that did me no good, here and now, at Ironman. I spend about the next 8 miles in a deep funk.

By now the adrenaline was worn off, and the reality of what the hell were were doing had set in on the athletes. And, Ironman is hard enough without the added assault of the weather - this was madness. We'd begun concentrating, thinking, strategizing, enduring - and so the chatter was a lot less frequent. Feeling like total shit, I decided to try a trick I'd learned from an article I'd happened to read just before I'd left for Ironman, in an old edition of Triathlete magazine, where a pro was having a horrible day, and so, deciding that her race was over but that she'd still hang in there, just started encouraging everybody around her. And as it was, she got onto the marathon and worked back into a top ten finish. So, I tried the same tactic, encouraging every rider I saw around me. "Hang in there Martin." "Stay strong buddy." "Great cadence, Bill". Whatever. Just something to interrupt the damning thought processes that had invaded my sphere, and likely were wreaking with the minds of my fellows. It started working. Having even a small objective - encouraging those around me - gave my brain something else to do and focus on. By mile 80, I was starting to feel better. Stronger. 80 didn't seem so bad - that's only 32 miles away. Mile 90 came and went. 22 miles now - hell, that's a regular day's "short" workout ride. Finally coming back through Verona, on the other side of downtown, I saw the Team once more and raised my fist. I swung it around and around as I passed them and shouted "LET'S BRING THIS MOTHER HOME!" They exploded, and my adrenaline went through the roof. I screamed towards Whalen to hit the final stretch back to Madison. Another rider said, "Quite a team there!" And I said, "Not just a team now - that's my army!"

Somehow the Team/Army made its way to 2 more stops on Whalen, and each time I was surprised and happy to see them, as the headwind was direct and nasty. Now I wasn't requiring their energy for survival, but sharing in the moment with them. At last I headed back into Madison, watching my odometer - 105...106...107. I figured, at mile 108, if the Elements finally took their toll on my Machine, I could carry it home if needed. I saw the Team again as I turned back into the Alliance Center, the Terrace almost in sight. Finally, back onto John Nolen Drive, it was all about getting home. Slow down over the rough spots, keep two hands on the wheel, and stay focused into home. I pulled into the Terrace, climbed the helix, and headed into the waiting arms of another amazing volunteer as I at last unclipped from my pedals 7 hours and 7 minutes after I started on the bike. I stopped as he held my bike. "I have to get my computer," I said as I reached to detach my wrist-computer for the marathon. "Take your time, do whatever you need to." I secured the computer and was getting ready to head into transition, the volunteer starting to take 'Blue, when I shouted "Wait!" He stopped and I bent down and kissed my bike.

"Thanks buddy."
Hell of a ride, man. Hell of a ride.

________________________________

I ran into transition, and again my bike to run bag was thrust before me before I could shout twice. I went into the changing room, and the extent of my situation presented itself.

I couldn't grab the drawstrings to loosen the bag and open it. I couldn't feel my fingers. And I was shaking uncontrollably.

"You're shaking uncontrollably." The guy next to me pointed out.

All around me riders were talking about the weather, the horrible ride, the wind. People were splayed out, half naked, trying to rest. Others had body-heat-reflective blankets wrapped around them, trying to conserve heat. I tried to get my hands to grab my shirt and pull it off, and they woudn't grab. A volunteer right away helped me strip my shirt and my arm warmers. I was able to take my shorts off. I put on my running shorts and a volunteer came by and put a reflective blanket on me. "You okay?" He asked. I didn't like the intensity with which he asked, and chattered as cheerfully as I could, "F-F-F-Fine. Just n-n-need a m-m-m-minute." If I was forced to the medical tent right now, I wasn't sure what I'd be told and didn't want to find out. I somehow managed my socks and shoes on, got help with my shirt and other arm warmers, and put on my running gloves. I wrapped myself back up in the blanket and headed back out the door - dry for the moment for the first time in nearly 10 hours. My first stop was at the port-a-john...I really, really, really had to pee. I'd gone several times on the bike - which was good - but each time I went for several minutes. It was crazy. I stood there in the port-a-john and peed for 5 minutes, no exaggeration. As I went, I shook and shuddered. I wrapped the blanket around me tighter. Then I thought - if I keep this blanket around me as I run, all I'm going to think about is how much I need this blanket because of how cold I am. And how if I lose this blanket I'll be even more cold. And pretty soon the only thing on my mind will be this forsaken cold. So I threw the blanket down, went back out, and a very long 17 minutes after I started it, I left transition and began the marathon on the streets of Madison.

________________________________

"Chris!" I turned to see Pharmie's husband Steve standing there, almost immediately after starting the run. I'd seen him once before, as I was climbing the helix from the swim to the run. I shouted at him, and he ran a few steps further down and aimed his camera to snap a picture. I thought - how cool that this guy, who without Ironman would be a total insignificant stranger to me - is here giving me a cheer because of the connection Ironman has created between so many of us. If he was out there waiting for Pharmie, then I knew she must be doing okay on the bike, which meant she got out of the water okay. I wondered about my other friends - TriSaraTops, QCMier, Wil, Chris, TriTeacher. How is everybody? Where are they right now? Are they staying warm? I sent them prayers and whatever energy I could, and kept running.



Right away I saw my cousin Erin and Amy's Dad on the side of the street - they were surprised to see me, and I was surprised to see them. They clapped and cheered, and I pumped my fist - I guess the rest of the Team was on the opposite side of the street, across the barricades. I wondered when I'd see the team again, and settled into running. If felt great to be off the bike, and I was warming up - thank God. The rain was unchanged from the rest of the day - constant and cold, but at least the wind chill on the bike was no longer an issue. I assessed: Aside from the cold, my body felt okay. My legs were warming up, and with my gloves on my hands were warming up as well. No GI issues at all, no nutrition or stomach issues. Awesome. I'd been improvising all day from the weather, and knew I'd continue on the run, but came back to my original strategy. I'd planned for a 10:30 pace for as long as I could - I promptly threw that out the window. I was expending a lot of energy now just for body warmth, and knew that any calories I was taking in would first be directed towards generating heat. So be it. I would run - at whatever pace - for as long as I could - that part of the plan, I'd stick to. For now, that's as much as I'd plan for.

At the first mile I took off my empty flasks, purchased this morning (which seemed an epoch ago), and told the volunteers "I need these four flasks filled." You'd think I'd just issued an executive order. Four volunteers shot out of nowhere, each taking a flask and filling it while I twisted on the covers. It took ten seconds. Wow. "You guys are awesome!" I shouted as I got back on the road.

My first few miles were strong, between a 9:30 and 11:00 pace, but I felt good. My legs were solid under me, and my heart and spirit were aligned. Around mile 6 I saw the Team for the first time on the run, lining the right side of the road, spread out into 3 small groups. I high-fived my mother and Jay as the team erupted in cheers, then stopped to hug the others as I approached them. I have twenty people out here, twenty people, who braved the same elements I did all day. Who've stood around in cold and rain for a glimpse of me. Who now wander all over downtown, strategizing where I'll be next, estimating times, coordinating efforts like a military operation. These were amazing people, doing something amazing for me, that meant so much and that carried me through this day in ways I can never explain. Seeing them now, on the run, I felt like stopping to tell each and every one of them how much I loved them, how amazing they were, how grateful I was. I thought of the rest of the team, far away but still there with me, still moving me forward, t-shirts and blue wristbands binding us all, becoming Ironman. Together. I felt like their representative.



But at about mile 9 of the run, I had to stop to walk. It wasn't survival, but it was getting close, so I made the decision to walk now and digest. I was feeling low on energy, the calories I'd been taking in working hard against the cold before they could be deployed for exercise. I took in some fruit and a cookie at the aid station, and when they were gone I reached to wash them down with some Gatorade from my belt. Immediately upon touching my lips I spit it back out. The body goes through complicated and not-always-explainable trauma after this many hours of exercise - nevermind the elements - and at this moment, here and now, Gatorade was no longer welcome. It was wholly rejected, and I knew that if I tried to take in any more, I'd be throwing up - and that could doom my race. Shit. I grabbed a water instead, and sipped it while I walked slowly, allowing my body to digest. Assess: I'll need a new source of sodium. And I'm going to have to find a way to take in more calories - the cold is sapping them away. Problem - my body tends to be pretty finicky about the amount of calories I can take in when running. Solution - walk more. Problem - when I walk, as I'm doing right now - I quickly get cold. I was drenched from the unrelenting rain - not a break from it all day, with periods of harder rain. The situation was creating a feedback loop that I couldn't find a way out of.

I tried running again into mile 10, mostly just to keep warm, but soon felt the entire bottoms of my feet shuffling against the ground. I'd decided to no longer check my pace or race time, and just let it come without any pressure. But I did check my pace now, and saw I was "running" at a 16 minute pace. If you go out right now and walk around the block, you'll be faster than that. Things were shutting down, and it wasn't good. My body was looking for excuses to quit now. I went back to a slow walk. I tried to actually do the math - if I walk at a 20 minute pace, can I still finish in under 17 hours? I went into a port-a-john to pee, and leaned my head against the wall and shivered. I started spinning and feeling hazy, and thought - if I faint right now, they may honestly never find me. I was cold and I felt terrible. And I was looking for reasons to feel cold and terrible. I was succumbing to the challenges of the Ironman, to my inherent mental weaknesses. The cold and rain were unexpected adversaries to a day already so difficult, and I was faltering. Seriously, seriously faltering. I left the port-a-john and kept walking. Just move forward, I thought. I waited for a plan to come. Any kind of a plan.

I stumbled into the Team at around mile 12 or so, and handed my useless fuel belt to Amy's mom or Dad. It had to be clear that I wasn't doing well - I didn't have the energy for a grin or smile or even much of a high-five. Amy's mom said, "You can do this." It wasn't a shout. It wasn't cheering. It was a point of information, and I stored it away - it might help me make a plan. A little ways down the road I saw Amy and Kaili, and tossed another useless piece of Fuel Belt to her. They asked how I was doing - I told them, "I'm doing the best I can." Amy yelled, "It's all will now babe, it's all will!" I grabbed it and hung onto it. Might be part of a plan. Later they'd tell me how I was at least 20 minutes behind what they'd been expecting, and both Amy and Mike, who are very familiar with watching my triathlons, were getting very concerned. Finally I saw the rest of the Team and threw up my hand wearily for a high-five. I was spent. My cousin Erin jogged along beside me and asked if I was okay - I repeated the truth: I was doing the best I could. I saw Ben behind the camera, Sara cold and huddled within a leopard print blanket, both shouting encouragement. Patric and Todd where clapping for me, trying to help me along. Uncle Mike and aunt Pat clapped, Pat bouncing on her heels, wanting to do the hard work for me. Grandpa swung his fist, stoic and solid, and I wished I'd felt that solid right then. I thought of Grandma, 86 years old and out here until lunchtime, in the cold and misery. Michael snapped pictures while Alicia cheered. Susan and Mike clapped, but with concern.

Finally I approached the 13.1 mile turnaround, and my already dim spirits plummeted. In front of me was the finish chute. Thousands of cheering souls. The thumping music, the bright lights, the jumbotron screen. Mike Reilly, the voice and announcer for Ironman, was cheering finishers home, where they were being met by friends and family. It was heaven. But I was instructed just to the left - back into purgatory. I was only halfway home. And the worst was yet to come.

On the other side of the turnaround, I stopped and picked up some chicken broth. Sweet Jesus was it good. It was lukewarm and salty and different, and I wanted to just stop and take a damn bath in it. As I walked along, sipping my broth, an Ironman volunteer approached out of nowhere with a garbage bag with armholes. "Would you like some rain gear?" He asked. I knew that all day long, other racers had improvised solutions to the unexpected weather. Some had had family run into a drugstore on the actual course and pick up a poncho, or gloves, or anything to help. I'd thought several times of the thermal Under Armour shirt my friend Mike was carrying around with him, that I'd given him to have for me after the race, "in case I felt cold". But the rules were: No outside help. It wasn't enforceable, and had I received that kind of help from my family in the front of the entire Ironman corporate staff, I imagine not a one would have argued. But I'd determined long before the start that those were the rules I was playing with. I felt nothing critical at all of the athletes who got help - one runner had Amy run in and buy him a coffee - and probably they were smarter than I. But, it was what it was, and that was my choice. So when somebody on the inside offered to help me, I gave him whatever slight smile I could and stammered, "That would be great."

I passed the team again on the turnaround in my new wardrobe, gave them a weak smile, and my cousin Erin jogged beside me and told me they'd see me at the turnaround on State Street. Around mile 20. I was honestly unsure I'd get that far.



I continued "running" through mile 14, but it was just an exaggerated walk to try and keep warm. I spent mile 15 - a long and lonely stretch away from spectators - actually trying to sleep. It was a mostly straight road, and I tried to close my eyes for as long as possible while I ran. My mind drifted around, drunk in its exhaustion, as my body shuffled on autopilot. The broth had warmed me for a few minutes, but now it had just left me intensely thirsty. I made it into the mile 15 aid station and grabbed two cups of water. I drank most of one at the station, grabbed an orange, and walked while I sipped the other water. I tried to assess just what the hell was going so wrong. I wasn't in nutritional crisis, so that was okay. I didn't feel dehydrated, and I was still having to urinate every few miles, so I was okay there. My body hurt, sure, but nothing I couldn't overcome. So...what? I was cold. Well, look around. Everybody's cold. The words came unbidden from my lips, out loud, for anybody to hear. I was glad to hear them - they were the first bit of logic I'd encountered in a very long time. So I was cold, and it was my mind...my heart, my spirt - that was in crisis. My body was following their lead, but I had plummeted into some dark, irrational place where my mind was trying to excuse itself from this process. I was justifying why I needed to walk, or sleep on the run, or how I was entitled to feel this miserable. I wondered - was everybody feeling like this? Would they? Am I alone right now, or do they all do this? Is this part of it? I was afraid. This was uncharted territory for me. I'd never asked so much of my body, and didn't know if I was strong enough to do this. I didn't know if my mind, so sick for so long, was well enough repaired to take charge of a weary and battered body. I didn't know if my heart, so scarred from such tremendous breaking, was resilient enough to pull me through.

You can do this.

It's all will from here, babe.

I walked into Camp Randall, where the Badger's play, and that Voice returned.
I want you to run around the football field. Don't walk it, run.
"Okay," I said. "How fast?"
Doesn't matter. Just run it.

I picked up my pace and stumbled around the field. My legs felt thick and alien. Still, I was doing something. For the first time in what seemed like hours, I was doing something. When I reached the exit, the Voice said, "Great job. Go ahead and walk it out." Had you been beside me, you'd have heard the Voice same as me, as it came from my lips. And I spoke as plainly to it as I would to you right now. I didn't know what the Voice was, and didn't care. It seemed to have its shit together where I plainly did not.

I continued walking as I left the stadium. Okay, now let's power walk. Pump the arms, pick up the legs, let's go. I did as instructed, and started to do more than just stumble. The "rain gear" was seeming to help - it was keeping my body heat trapped, and while I certainly wasn't dry, it at least provided the illusion of combatting the rain, and maybe that in itself was helpful. "It's all will now," I repeated Amy's words, not sure if I was talking to myself or the Voice, or what the difference was.

This is Ironman. The Voice said. Not all the bright lights and shiny toys. This is what you trained for, right here. This is when you find out what you're made of. Right here, right now. You asked for this. You asked for the privilege of it. This is what it is.

I thought about coach Rich Strauss, who constructed the training plan I'd followed. He says you need a "One Thing." That thing that you pull out of your back pocket when it gets horrible, to keep yourself going. I thought of my One Thing: To be, and not just to appear to be.

The fulcrum between us. The Voice said.
"Ah." I said. "It's you."

If you walk this thing out, the Voice said, "You may finish in time. You may even get a medal. But you and I both know that you'll only be appearing to be Ironman. And that's not how we're going home.

I continued a healthy power walk, starting to feel a shade better. The conversation was giving my mind something constructive to do, and there seemed to be a plan in the making. Some strategy to get out of this thing that had gone to hell in a hand grenade.

Okay, see that sign? I want you to run from that sign all the way down to that light pole down there. See it?
"Sure. Just, jog or whatever?"
No, throw it down. Whatever you've got in there.
I reached the sign and started a run. I focused on technique, which I'd abandoned several miles ago. I flew by the other walkers and shufflers, and my rain jacket rattled in the wind and rain. It felt...great. Strong. Possible. When I reached my stopping point, I slowed to a power walk.
No, just walk easy right now for a minute.
"I think I have it in me to power walk this, though."
Yeah, but we need calories. If we're stupid right now and blow up, we'll be in much worse shape. Just take it slow here while the body recovers.

Good plan. I walked slowly a short while longer, then at the aid station the Voice thought I should have one of everything. Store up, it said. I passed mile 17, and approached a long and lonely stretch of trail that follows the lakeside. It was a horrible trail this night - the trees shook additional rain on us, and the water and wind off the lake were even more cold. Besides, it was extremely dark. Ironman had set up huge portable lights every quarter mile or so, which brightened huge sections, but in between it was black as night as runners now wearing phosphorus glow necklaces bobbed down the trail.

I was starting to feel resurrected. I could feel myself clawing out of this abyss I'd fallen into, slowly but steadily. Okay, the Voice said, let's run from this light to the next one. So I did, then I'd power walk to the next light, and then run again. I'd continue this cycle and interject periods of slow walking to recover. The calories I'd taken in were paying off, and I was feeling its energy course through me now. I was coming back. Mile 18 passed by, and I left the trail now and headed towards State Street. I knew the crew would be around there, waiting for me. They had to have sensed how poorly I was doing last time. They must have been concerned.

A steep incline stretched for a third of a mile or so, and behind me a spectator was trying to rouse some runners to follow him up the hill. They did, and the three of them were running up. As they passed me he encouraged me to jump along, but I told him I needed to stick to my game plan. I want you to walk this entire hill, the Voice had said. Give your main muscle groups in your legs a rest while some other ones work, and there's no sense running up hills at this point. Good plan. On the other side of the hill, then, was a descent. Open it up, the Voice said. Free speed. So I flew downhill, another third of a mile or so. I kept running at the bottom until I reached the next aid station just onto State Street. I grabbed a water and a Gatorade, and mixed just a bit of the Gatorade into the water and sipped. This wasn't the Voice's idea, it was mine. I was retaking control of Ironman. I power walked as I sipped, and approached the Team. They were cheering as usual, but I could sense trepidation as they tried to discern my state of things.

I held out a hand and nodded my head as I walked quickly past them, still sipping. "It's okay," I said. "I'm back in the game." They went wild, and I could hear them buzzing as I continued on, "He says he's back in the game! He's back in the game!" and "He's going to finish this thing, and strong!" I smiled - wow, how long had it been since I'd smiled? - and threw down my cup of water and started running. I'm proud of you. The Voice said, and left.

I ran through the turnaround and passed by the Team again, knowing I wouldn't see them again until the finish. We were having fun again. Mother shouted "IronMAN! as Grandpa held his arm out for a high five.

Time to pick it up and set it down, Grandpa.

I blazed back to life, running through miles 19 and into the Ford Motivational Mile around mile 20. I'd stop to walk for short rests, then power walk for short bursts, then open it up for most of the mile. I wouldn't think about anything but this mile, the here and now. In the days preceding Ironman, people could make signs of support for athletes, and during this mile they were staked into the ground. Thousands and thousands of personal billboards of support for the athletes out here lined the road. Then, as I came back from a turnaround at the end of the road, I stepped on the mat which triggered the message on the jumbotron screen that my aunt and Mike had devised at the kiosk in Ironman Village a few days ago. It read: "You are our hero."

I'd never felt like a hero before.

I laughed out loud, a joyful noise, and picked up my pace. I'd stop less frequently now to walk, and mostly only through aid stations. I thanked every volunteer I could find for being out there as I passed through. Later I'd learn that the president of Ironman had considered closing down the run course halfway for fear of hypothermia, and was especially concerned that the "civilians" - the aid station volunteers and police - would start dropping from the cold, and then they'd have some major issues to contend with. They sent an alert out to all the stations, asking for their honest assessment of their durability to see this through, and, "To a man," he said, "they said, 'We're out here as long as they're out here,' and with that kind of attitude there was no way we were shutting this down."

As I power walked through an incline in mile 23, I met up with another athlete.
"Man," he said to me like he'd been waiting for me all along, "I can't wait for a hot shower."
"I hear that," I replied. "And a pizza."
"I'm going back to my hotel and getting a big bacon cheeseburger, and french fries, and a malt."
"Hell yes," I laughed. "I haven't had french fries since Christ was a child."
We laughed some more, and as we reached the crest I wished him a strong finish as I flew down the other side. Now the energy was different. Now, we all of us on the road knew something awaited us. It felt tangible now. Impending. Inevitable.

At exactly the mile 25 marker I shed my rain gear and ran. No more walking now, no more aid stations. This was my mile. This one would live on longer than I will, and I wanted to do it right. All around me spectators shouted words of congratulations now, rather than encouragement. The crowds were thin because the thousands were now all in the finish chute. I wound my way around downtown, the backside of the Capitol building now into view, now hearing the roar of the crowd, the dull thumping of the speakers getting louder.

"Well done, Ironman!" They'd shout as I floated through downtown towards the finish chute I couldn't yet see, but knew was coming.

"Looks like an Ironman to me!" A man said as I high-fived him.

"A left turn and a right and your life will change forever." Said another as I made my last turn. Before me the crowds thickened behind barricades that separated us. I high-fived anybody and everybody. It was pure euphoria. Stupid adrenaline. This is what it feels like when you die, I thought.

I finally turned right at the huge Gatorade bottle, and went underneath the Ironman gateway and into the finish chute. The bleachers alongside me were lined with thousands and thousands of roaring fans, screaming and jumping and shouting. Music thumped and blared from the huge sound system. My image was broadcast over the huge jumbotron screen as bright lights glared down onto us finishing athletes. My legs took off from under me and I was sprinting, winding my arm around and around in celebration. I caught up to the woman in front of me, on accident, and we both stopped, not wanting to interfere with each other's finishing moment. I stepped back and held my hand out, a gesture of "After you", and laughed at the civility of it in such an insane moment. After she passed they held the tape back up for me. I was smiling as I took the final steps across the finish line and broke the tape in 14 hours, 53 minutes, and 27 seconds.



I had become Ironman.

________________________________

A sweet little old woman grabbed me right away, a "catcher", who was assigned to get me through the finish area. "Are you okay?" She asked. I laughed. "I'm outstanding, how are you?" She laughed, and we approached a volunteer who placed a finisher's medal around my neck. I bowed my head to receive the honor, a gesture not just of practicality for her to place the medal, but of respect. Then I reached out and held her head. She didn't know what to do, so she reached out and held mine, and for an instant we stood there, holding each other's heads, until finally I pulled her to me and kissed her cheek.

I caught up with the Team in the family area, and embraced every single one of them. We cried and laughed and hugged, and I felt honored to be among them. They'd had their own experience this day, I knew, while I'd had my own - but together, we'd shared something extraordinary. This was so much more than simply a race, for all of us. Somehow, I think, it brought us all closer. It was one of those situations, rare in life, where it seemed scripted for purpose. If the sun had been shining, if the weather had been perfect, they and we wouldn't have had the same experience. If any one of them hadn't been there, it wouldn't have been the same. Whatever one expects in Ironman, I didn't necessarily expect to be so inspired, so motivated, so carried through by this group of people. My race was measured by when I'd see them again, and my finish line was determined by when we'd all finally be together. I'll say it again: I felt like their representative out there, and we joked how each of them should wear the medal for a day, and we should pass it around like the Stanley Cup. I will never be able to express my love, or thanks, or humble gratitude at the Team for being out there in the wind and cold and rain all day, and I think each of us will remember it for the rest of our lives.

Mother, Jay, Amy, Marlyn, Debbie, Kaili, Mike, Susan, Michael, Alicia, Pat, Mike, Erin, Sara, Ben, Patric, Todd, Grandma, Grandpa, and Dad: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I love you all.



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I woke myself up with groaning that night, my legs were in so much pain. Amy rubbed them out a little and I took some Tylenol, and slept a little better the rest of the night. The next few days my legs were devastated, and it was Tuesday before I could walk up stairs without clutching the handrails for life. My feet made it out generally drama free - not even a blister, but my ankles are shot (not sure how that happened), and every fiber of everything else just hurts. But each day they'll get a little better, I know, and by this weekend I'll probably be moving okay.

People are wondering what's next, including me. Presently my plans are only to let the hair grow back on my legs. I've eaten the last few days for the enjoyment of food, rather than for its precise nutritional context. I've slept well for the first time in ages. I have some recovery to do.

I'm looking forward to playing basketball, something I haven't done for these past two years of training because I didn't want to somehow hurt myself. I'll lift some weights this offseason, and run a few short road races, I think.

I don't know what next triathlon season has in store, and I'll starting thinking about that soon and try to get a plan before Christmas.

Regarding another Ironman: Ironman for me was a life decision, not a triathlete's decision. It took me 3 years to do, because that's how I chose to do it. It was, in all honesty, the greatest day of my life. I feel changed by it in ways I can't describe or understand yet. I feel different on the other side of it. I had so, so much fun. Even when I was in the abyss, it was just part of the story for me. I loved every second of it, even when I was a shivering mess. Every single second. It felt transcendental, holy somehow. And, if I'm to consider my Ironman journey, it makes perfect sense that the race itself would be a battle against more than my myself. Of course the Elements made their appearance. Of course I had moments of haunting. It was as it should have been, in every perfect way.

That said, then, as I sit here right now, no part of me feels unfulfilled about Ironman. There are no outstanding issues, no unfinished business. The triathlete in me right now is not considering another Ironman. Maybe one day he will, but not right now. And my life took an extraordinary 32 years for this Ironman to be forged. Another Ironman as a life decision seems right now far away, if not unlikely. There are other adventures to have in life right now. Things to do now that I'm made of Iron. Things I wasn't capable of before, perhaps. So the short answer to "will you do another" - I don't know. Not tomorrow. And that's okay. I'm learning that life is best approached like the Ironman race itself - just let it come to me.

________________________________

I imagine I'll have a lot of processing to do after Ironman, and I suppose I'll share it here as well as anywhere. I don't know what plans there are for the blog, other than an outlet for my thoughts and experiences now as an Ironman. I'll have probably much to say in the coming weeks, and maybe a little less to say after that. Maybe I'll keep you apprised of my life as a triathlete in general if you're still interested, even as one who's not in active training for Ironman. I'm not sure what's next, but I promise to keep you informed.

Thanks again for everything everybody. All of your support, your well wishes, your notes of congratulations. It has meant the world to me, and I hope we can continue our friendships here in this "virtual" world. Meanwhile, may your wheels run true, your legs turn strong, and the wind be always at your back.

25 comments:

Derek said...

I love the race recap... I too feel different since completing IMW, though I can't explain it...I seem to be enjoying life/family more...what an experience, and congratulations! You Chris, ARE an IRONMAN!

Flatman said...

Holy good god almighty! What a race report and what a race. You have proved something awesome, for sure. Many thanks to your family for such wonderful support and love.

Congratulations...

Chris said...

Chris,

It was great meeting you on Friday night. What a race, eh? And a hell of a race report too! Good God, I thought I was verbose! But I loved every word of it and how you went into every detail. It brought me right back out onto the course.

Congratulations Ironman! I don't know how you're feeling, but I'm still hobbling around. The pain is a nice reminder of the work that was done that day, though.

Maybe I'll see you around the Twin Cities sometime? Take care!

xt4 said...

Hey guys - yeah Derek I know what you mean...closer to friends and family. Thanks for your words Flatman, and Chris, it was great meeting you, and great race. Yeah, I am a verbose dude...but hey, a race like that deserved the novel, no?!? :) I'm still feeling pretty beat up too. I do hope to see you around the tri-circuit, and I'll be keeping tuned in to Chivalry!

Kylie said...

You need to mark this not work-safe... I was so close to tears a few times, and chuckled a few times as well. I was luck I had work builds running in the background giving me the time to just read. I was out there with you, feeling rain and wind and cursing and love my bike all at the same time. The joy of the chicken soup broth. The stubbornness forcing me to avoid all that could be considered support from outsiders, yet at the same time getting tons just from their presence. This feels just like my first IM -- I think we are now IronSoleMates or some such. Similar split times and feelings, and the same power of the best support crew ever.

Todd said...

Again I am speechless.

You are right, I will never ever forget that day.

Congratulations, you are an IRONMAN!

Todd said...

Again I am speechless.

You are right, I will never ever forget that day.

Congratulations, you are an IRONMAN!

Pharmie said...

Wow. Just Wow. What an amazing recap. I hope you keep writing in your blog, because I always enjoy reading what you've taken the time to put on screen. Are you going to change its name to Became Ironman? :) Reading your recap makes me that much more anxious to get mine down! Great meeting you out there. You have really made me proud.

triteacher said...

Oh man, you hit the nail on the head; your report alone makes you my hero. Please keep writing.

Anonymous said...

I'm so proud of you, babe! You are awesome! Seeing you each time on the course made all of us forget the cold and wet. It was so fun to see the Team dance around each time we saw you. It was an exceptional day. You did the family name proud. The thing that stood out on our shirts was the name "Bintliff" and you brought us all together. I'm glad that you wrote a detailed report as it filled in the lonely dark times when we waited for you and wondered how you were doing. You are amazing and I love you so much!
--Amy

TriSaraTops said...

X, I'm sitting here, in my office, crying....

What an amazing report. What an amazing family. What an amazing guy.

So privledged to have met you. I hope our paths cross again.

Enjoy the moment, Ironman.

abby said...

Proud of you Ironman.

qcmier said...

Wow what a recap. Your determination to get through that run was awesome. Looking forward to more pics and videos from the race from you.

Too bad we did not meet in person amongst the hoards of people, but hopefully someday. I've enjoyed your posts. If you keep posting, I'll keep reading. Congratulations and Take Care, Ironman!!!

RunBubbaRun said...

Great job out there, to bad we did not meet in person, since we probably saw each other somewhere out there on the run since we finished so close together. Great post and your family rocks. A nice feeling to have there after a long day. Nice pic wearing the IM flag after the race, that was the best.

xt4 said...

Wow, you guys are amazing. Thanks for all the kind words everybody. My family does rock, and I'm glad that's being appreciated - they made so much of the day. Sara...thank you.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations Chris. It took me close to 3 hours to read it all between "working". I felt like I was there doing the course with you. I was actually getting cold as I read it!

Well done Ironman.

Anonymous said...

(by the way this is Sam)

xt4 said...

(hi sam. great to hear from you - miss you guys.)

:)

Kenny said...

COngratulations. I had tears in my eyes while reading. What a great story! Thanks for the inspiration!

Chad Austin said...

Congrats on becoming Iron. Great race report, but now I know why everyone else is breaking their report into segments. :)

TxSkatemom said...

You are amazing -- an amazing athlete, and an amazing writer. In the last twenty minutes reading this report I've been in awe, in tears, and in hysterical laughter, all at the same time. This was such a touching report, and your family must be so proud of you. You are an inspiration to me. I'm not a triathlete, but you make me want to be.

Thank you for sharing your story.

TriFeist said...

I cried when you kissed your bike. What a moment. This whole report is full of you. Thank you for sharing it with us. I savored every word.

Ward said...

Hey man- Was just researching IM Wisconsin and came accross this. Unbelievable! Congrats. I hope to join the club next year but don't know where I'm going to race....

The Bearded Lady said...

I've been reading your training for the past few months (found the blog after I signed up for IMAZ 2011) and I have anticipated what would happen on this day for you....amazing, breathtaking, life changing.

Makes me energized for the 8 months I ave ahead of me.
Thank you for writing all the deals of what you did and thought and felt, they are the things I fear and see now they can be overcome.

Congratulations.

James said...

I'm 7 months out from IMFL, my first. Thanks for writing such a transcendental masterpiece of what I hope to encounter!
-James
www.jamesjessup.com