As per usual, I will kick off this post where the last one left off. Shortly after my failed attempt at racing IRONMAN Lake Placid, I was debating on what to do next. Originally I had not intended to race IRONMAN Wisconsin, but a few things put it back on my radar. I really liked the idea of having a bit of redemption after Lake Placid, and I knew that I could likely be in a good place by the time of the race. Travel also looked to be fairly reasonable which wouldn’t add undue stress, other than the fact that it would have to be a quick trip. The entry list for the race at the time also looked not too deep, meaning that there would be a good shot at making some prize money and coming out net positive for the race. So I went ahead and pulled the trigger!
There were only two real downsides of doing this race. Number one being that my left hip was still giving me issues after Lake Placid that only continued to worsen with run training. The good news was that it responded well to rest and that cycling and swimming had virtually no effect on it. What this resulted in was a very heavy month of training on the bike and in the swim, with barely any running. Not including some elliptical sessions, my running mileage for the month leading into Wisconsin was approximately 20 miles TOTAL. But this allowed me to show up to the start line feeling completely healthy and symptom-free, where pushing it otherwise would have risked being able to race at all.
The other downside was the fact that I had not originally planned on doing this race. Which means I had not requested days off in my contract at work. I was fortunate to be able to get the Friday before the race off, which was required to be able to make the Pro meeting, but it meant I would have to return to work the Monday following the race. This isn’t something unusual for me with races, but was certainly a first when it comes to doing a full Ironman.
Travel to Madison, Wisconsin went super smoothly flying out of Grand Junction at 6 am on Friday and arriving just a few minutes late to the Pro meeting. I wandered around the expo, and future transition area, a bit after the meeting with friend and fellow Pro Kevin Portmann. I eventually went through registration before heading out to my homestay for the weekend just west of town. My homestay family welcomed me with open arms and took care of everything I could possibly need over the weekend. I quickly built up my TriRig Omni bike before we headed out to dinner on Lake Mendota on a beautiful Wisconsin evening. Having such a supportive and pleasant family to spend time with around the race definitely helped to keep my head clear and keep stress low prior to the race on Sunday.
Saturday morning I had the opportunity to volunteer at the IronKids race which was spectacular! I’d never had the availability to watch this event, and the enthusiasm and energy of the event was contagious! Fellow Pros Melanie McQuaid and Patrick Brady were also volunteering at the event and we got the chance to run the kids through their pre-race warm ups, running the start with them, handing out finisher medals, and even blowing bubbles. I even got an unexpected surprise when I saw Brad Fraederich and Katie Malone at the event with Keene! The only thing missing was my own IronKid who was still in Grand Junction.
Race morning went as smoothly as it could, and the people of Wisconsin certainly have their logistics nailed down after 18 years of putting on this event. I made my way down to the swim start with Tower 26 podcast legend himself Jim Lubinski. I even got to steal a few pulls on his stretch cords before heading into the water! The water conditions were much different than what I was led to believe was typical for this event.The windy morning made for pretty choppy conditions, but not huge waves like I have dealt with in some races in the past (such as Miami). The body was feeling good and soon we were lined up with many guys attempting the normal creep forward before the start. The kayakers then cleared the way and the canon was fired to begin the day!
The start was hectic as usual with the chop making getting in one position behind another athlete difficult. After the first couple hundred meters of swimming, probably about 5 guys pulled ahead and I didn’t quite have the speed to stick with them. I still felt good, but didn’t quite have the pop to stay in that faster group. For about the first half of the swim, I ended up swimming at the lead of this second group. At about the halfway mark, with the chop in our faces, the first couple female leaders caught up to our group. This caused our group to splinter, with a some athletes pulling ahead and others falling off the back. My turnover had dropped a tad since the beginning, but I still had good energy as opposed to getting completely gassed like in Lake Placid. I spent the rest of the swim staying at a steady hard pace, trying to limit the gap to the front and managing the chop.
I definitely exited the water in a slower time than I expected with how my swimming has been going lately. But the damage was done and I at least still felt good and ready to ride hard. With my run being a question mark and my cycling fitness progressing well, the plan was to either hurt others on the bike and/or get a good gap into T2. And I certainly seemed to execute that pretty well! Over about the first 30 miles I made some consistent passes on some strong athletes, and made sure to make those passes stick.
Once I caught up to Kevin Portmann and Karl–Johan Danielsson I attempted another convincing pass, but neither of them wanted to let me go. It took awhile, but I was finally able to get a gap just before the start of the second loop. I had decided to use Special Needs for this race and had a bag ready with a couple bottles. When reaching for my bag, it was pulled back a bit causing me to reach out a good bit further than intended. This combined with my speed and the weight of the bag nearly caused me to wipe out. I was able to stay upright but lost a good bit of speed before fumbling one bottle and taking forever to get the other out. In the meantime, I was passed by both Kevin and Karl and had to get back on the gas to gain back what I lost.
I soon caught back up again but once again found it difficult to create a gap. Kevin eventually wasn’t there, but Karl stayed within sight until the last couple miles of the ride. Emilio Munoz also soon joined us as it seemed he had just changed a flat. It soon became obvious that he was an extremely proficient technical rider. While I had been taking the many descents and turns aggressively before, things immediately turned up a couple notches with Emilio charging down hill in his very refined “super-tuck”.
As we were finally making our way back into town (into the now headwind of course), it was apparent that everyone’s legs were hurting, including mine. Before too long, I somehow got a bit of a second wind and decided to try to create a gap to Karl and Emilio before T2. Especially as we entered the technical bike path portions and the constant turns, I turned the gas back on and started gaining more and more time. I finally got to the parking garage helix and nearly threw the Omni at the bike catcher there. I felt better than I ever have coming off the bike in an Ironman, and felt ready to tear up the run course! Karl was entering T2 as I was leaving and we congratulated each other on strong rides. The legs and energy were somehow fantastic starting the run through the parking garage and I had to remind myself to calm down, as I knew that my endurance on the run was likely to be lacking.
I had managed to make my way into 2nd place during the bike and starting the run was almost surreal to me. I got countless updates from spectators that I was about 9 minutes back to 1st place, which I later learned was mostly from the time that Markus had put into me during the swim. The goal was to not get too carried away and limit what damage would happen later in the run. So when Emilio came around me at about mile 6-ish, I didn’t attempt to go with him at all knowing how good of a runner he is. The entire first lap (out of 2) was spectacular going through downtown Madison with amazing support! Honestly, it was actually fairly easy too. My legs felt great and breathing was relaxed and I simply focused on keeping things that way with a good turnover and making plenty of quick aid station stops. I came through the first half in a little under 1:30, and shortly after I started feeling the lack of running.
All of a sudden, my legs were fried and my pace was slowing significantly for the same effort. This is the point where I knew it was time to race! I kept the constant stream of calories in, started adding caffeine and just tried to hold on as best as I could. My energy was still great, but my quads and calves were now painful bricks that were on fire with every step. I knew Kevin was aggressively trying to close the gap, and just past mile 18 he finally succeeded. It happened right before the biggest hill on the course too. I wasn’t able to initially respond, but tried to keep him in sight for as long as possible. This now put me into 4th place, but I knew the race wasn’t over. While I tried to keep tabs on the split to Kevin ahead and Karl behind, my focus was just doing the absolute best with what I could with my now completely trashed legs.
It turned out that Emilio was able to pass Markus to take the win with Kevin securing 3rd a few minutes ahead of me. Watching the champagne and flower ceremony was a bit bittersweet, but I had no regrets on how I had performed on the day. I proceeded to then waddle around and talk to many of the other Pros that had finished before grabbing some food at the athlete tent. In Wisconsin fashion they had bratwurst and delicious mac and cheese, among other things. I spent the rest of the evening talking with more athletes and friends, packing my bike and gear to be ready to leave the following day, and finally returning to my homestay. They had spectated during the race and we spent the evening talking about the race among other topics.
I managed to actually get a decent night’s sleep before getting to my 7 am flight out of Madison to return home and to work. While my muscles are as sore as they’ve ever been, I’m very happy to have come out of the race healthy and uninjured. I’m not sure what is going to come next on my race schedule as I’m waiting to see how I fully recover and don’t want to rush things too much on my body. Thanks to everyone that helped me make this trip and result possible, including my amazing sponsors. TriRig for making the best bike out there that has immediately improved my quality of riding, Epix Gear for making awesome suits that got countless compliments on course (and zero chafing), and Team Kattouf Nutrition for keeping me fueled with zero gi issues or lulls in energy throughout the race. And of course Jesse Vondracek of Top Step Training who only allows me to do “some” crazy ideas!