5. Course Preview: Back in June I was looking at the Wisonsin Ironman facebook page when I saw a comment wondering who else was doing the "Wisconsin Ironman Brick Adventure." That sounds interesting - I thought to myself. I found out that it was organized by a local triathlon club in Madison. The weekend included a dinner on Friday with full course preview and a talk about "power" on the bike. On Saturday there was a morning swim in Lake Monona and then a bike ride out in Verona - where the 40 mile loop begins. On Sunday was a chance to do one-loop (13.1 mile) of the run course.
I had been thinking that I needed to get out to Madison to look over the course. I had heard that the bike course was especially difficult and that it helped to know what was coming up. When I saw they were offering this all for free (a word you never hear in triathlons) I knew I had to jump on it. Luckily I didn't have anything planned for the next weekend - so after a brief talk to my wife - I signed up and found a cheap hotel room.
The guys from Team Evotri, SBR Coaching, and Rocket Bicycle Studio who organized WIBA did an awesome job. They gave us just enough information on Friday night to be helpful without overwhelming us. Getting a chance to get in the same body of water with close to 100 people definitely helped me feel more comfortable on race day. The bike course preview though was key. I ended up doing two of the 40 mile loops plus ~10 miles out and back on the stick portion. So, I ended up with around 100 miles and saw everything except for the first/last 6 miles of the bike course.
I started out riding with a seemingly strong group of guys. By around 30 miles it was evident that these guys were good riders who weren't in their best shape. It's one interesting thing difference I've found between runners and cyclists. Strong cyclists are much more worried about proving how great they are on training rides. Even if they are out of shape they will kill themselves the first part of a ride - eventually they usually blow up.
One guy who was with the group initially, but fell off came back to the group as we stopped at an intersection. The two of us ended up riding the last 70 miles of the ride together. He was a marketing guy from Chicago and had never done a group ride - he wasn't comfortable sticking on our wheels (you need to stay ~1 foot off the guy in front of you to get a decent draft) which is why he fell off early. This guy obviously had some decent cardio - but he hadn't competed in any sport in college. He was just one of those talented type A guys who get the most out of what they have.
Luckily he also wanted to get a little run off the bike. I felt pretty good for just having biked 100 miles, but I'll be honest, he pushed me on the run - we were probably going close to six minute pace in the first couple of miles.
He had to go back to Chicago that day - but, I found somebody else to run with on Sunday. The guy who had talked about "power" on Friday night ended up running the course on Sunday. For those of you who don't know - "power" is related to the bike. Basically it's a measure of how hard it is to get your pedals to move. If you never changed your gear you would be putting out a much higher power going up hills than you would going down hills. The secret to riding a smart race is keeping your power (i.e. effort) as even as possible throughout the race - especially on an up and down course like Wisconsin. You want to minimize any power spikes - which means going into a much lower gear when you are climbing. Too many guys feel like they have to "win" every hill and it ends up costing them over the long run. So, I got to pick his brain for over 90 minutes. He was a Kona qualifier at a previous IM Wisconsin - so, I certainly came away with some great information.
I didn't mean to write this much about WIBA - but, it is a testament to just how important that weekend was in my success a couple months later.
4. Weather: If you go on weather.com right now - click on the monthly weather forecast for Madison - go back to September and you'll see that September 9th had a low of 51 and a high of 72 degrees. I'm not sure I need to say anything more than that. In previous years they've had highs close to 100 degrees and they've had highs in the 50's with rain all day. Both of these conditions take a lot of energy out of you. What I got was pretty much perfect and I would be a fool to not admit that those conditions played a big part in getting under 10 hours.
3. Moving to Omaha: People from the coasts are probably chuckling to themselves right now, but Omaha was a perfect place to train for IM Wisconsin. I signed up for Wisconsin while Kendra was being recruited for her job in Omaha. I saw that it was within driving distance (flying with a bike is a pain). I also saw that the terrain was remarkably similar. People think of Nebraska as the flat state before you get to Colorado. Yes, much of the western part of the state is flat - but Omaha is in the Missouri River Valley. East coast folks - think about the land near the Patapsco River or the Susquehanna and you'll know what much of the land around Omaha is like.
The night we got to Omaha I needed to stretch my legs - so, I went on a little 15-20 minute run on the trail behind our house. Something felt so right. I've never lived so close to a trail before. It's not that long of a trail - but it's indicative of what there is in the rest of Omaha. The city has 40-50 miles of paved trails - mostly on top of levees along side streams. Many of these trails are out in the open, so you get the full effect of summer Nebraska winds (15-20 mph is not uncommon) and they are relatively unused - so, you can push yourself for long periods of time without running into any traffic and there are hardly any crossing of intersections - so, you don't have to worry about cars.
The day after we drove into Omaha I met our first neighbors - Niki and her kids Ryan and Hannah. Somehow the conversation turned to running - it turned out that both Niki and her husband Gerald ran in college. Not only that, but Gerald had been doing triathlons for close to 10 years and he organized track workouts and open water swims in the summer. Gerald isn't just another triathlete - he has gone very close to breaking 2 hours for the Olympic distance. Not only did he tell me about all the local stuff going on - he ended up being a great training partner for swimming. We swam together 2-3 times a week at 6am for close to eight months. Jim certainly helped me a lot with my stroke, but swimming with Gerald meant that I was strong enough to take advantage of Jim's coaching.
2. Man of Leisure: Back in college my coach used to say that the best distance runners are lazy. This sounds like a contradiction - but what he meant was that the best distance runners focus on pushing themselves in training and racing. The rest of their life is rather boring. Most people competing in an Ironman have a full-time job and other responsibilities - like being a parent. For those of you who don't know I'm in the middle of career change. I'm hoping to get into school as a Physician Assistant. I quit my job in August of last year to focus on my classes. Right now I'm finishing up my last two pre-reqs and waiting to hear about interviews this December.
During the summer the classes I needed weren't available. I actually did try to find a job - but, I didn't even get interviews for the jobs I wanted. Although the money would have been nice - it did leave me with a lot of free time. My only activities this summer were applying to PA school, searching for a part-time job, and training. This meant that I could do all of my training during the day - I could eat at normal times - and I was able to get a lot of rest.
You cannot reap the benefits of training if you don't have time to recover properly from workouts. It's really that simple. I knew I would have some extra time this summer, which is part of the reason why I signed up for an Ironman after only a year of doing triathlons.
1. My Lovely Wife: The first Ironman book in our house was not purchased by me. Way before Kendra and I ever met she had caught the Ironman bug. Now, Kendra had never taken swim lessons - she didn't even own a bike - but, she was enthralled with the idea of the Ironman and read a few books about it. Having a supportive spouse when you are training 20 hours a week is incredibly important. There are many days when you don't want to go out for a 3 hour ride followed by a 45 minute run - if your spouse keeps complaining about how they never see you anymore it makes it just that much more easy to not push yourself on your training.
Kendra likes to joke that she's my "stage mom" when it comes to running and triathlons. It's almost a little scary how accurate that is. She wanted me to do an Ironman before I even wanted to do one. The only way that I could convince her that I should do the JFK 50 miler back in 2009 was that it would be good preparation for an Ironman.
Watching an Ironman can be really boring. So, Kendra decided that she was going to volunteer at Wisconsin. She helped out in the female changing room during the swim to bike transition and then she gave out transition bags to participants from the bike to the run. She made sure that she was stationed in the right place to hand me my bag. I had no idea where she would be - so, it was awesome to see her in the bag room, jumping up and down while she was holding out my bag to me. The transition room has about 20 volunteers in it (mostly female) and there were only about three participants in the room when I came through. So, pretty much all attention was on us. I gave her a hug and kiss as she handed me the bag - and the whole room went crazy. Then I heard her yell "crush the run!" as I headed over to the changing room.
Just after I crossed the finish line I saw Kendra again - she ran up to me and gave me a big hug. Tears were running down her face as she told me how proud she was of me. It was an incredible moment. Nobody can do an Ironman on their own - you have to get support from a lot of people - there is no way I would have done this well (or maybe have even attempted an Ironman) without the love and support from Kendra. Thank you Love.