Friday, September 15, 2006

Ironman - Moo, the event.

The finishing video is now at

For a short weekend there were so many things to do, get done, organize, turn-in, create, buy, endure and then enjoy, that it will be hard to get all in text. But I'll give it a shot. But the end result is that Roni Jackson and I are now qualified to wear the "m-dot" in public.... and wear it proud.

TSA verified that I've lost too much weight in this endeavor. On the way out it appeared that I'd never been through an airport. The morning started at 4-something-am and I left everything metal in my pockets, watch, belt, phone, etc. so I got singled out for search. When the TSA guy patted me down he felt a lump at my left side chest and said suspiciously "What's that?". I said, that's my rib.

Friday was registration day and amazingly, we endured a couple of hours of lines. We had to line up to verify our ID, line up to get weighed (anyone losing a certain % of body weight in the event might be removed from the course), line up to get our registration material and swim caps then line-up to purchase any desired M-dot souvenirs. Luckily, there was no line to pick-up our bikes from Tri-Bike Transport. However, that's where my first problem started. I had a flat front tire.

Returning to the hotel I used my only 2 CO2 cartridges and my only 2 tubes to get the front wheel back in shape. No problem because the Ironman store is also a bike shop so I replaced what I used and was set for the race. Kyle, Roni, Patty and I went for a pasta dinner and took in some of the Madison flavor and fantastic weather. The topic of conversation was the Sunday forecast. It was supposed to change but was improving. The 61 degrees and rain soon turned to a forecast of mostly cloudy and 67. Ya gotta love it, it'll be fine.

Saturday, we woke to overcast and cool. It was worrisome, but the forecast was holding and Saturday was supposed to be bad but Sunday still ok. We spent the morning packing and re-packing the Dry Clothing Bag, T1 Bag, T2 Bag, Run Special Needs Bag and Bike Special Needs bag. Predicting exactly what we would need was difficult enough but predicting the needs for changing weather was more so. We knew we needed to test out our clothing. So, donning our sleeveless jerseys and arm warmers we took a short ride and determined that we were cold.... but tomorrow was to be better and arm warmers will do fine. It was a bad bet.

Last year Patty bought me a nice waterproof running jacket and insisted that it go in my T1 bag. I protested that I've got what I need and that was too much (I'm always a minimalist when it comes to transitions) but... she insisted, and in it went. I can just leave it in the bag, right?

We dragged our bike and T1 and T2 bags to transition before the 3pm deadline and scoped out the swim to bike transition route. We would run out of the water, go about 50 yards to the "helix", run up 3 floors of the circular parking garage ramp to the convention center side door, into the T1 bag area, grab a bag, change in the next room, head for the bike racks, run to the mount line, mount up and roll down the other helix to the bike route. I felt lucky to get a very end spot on the bike rack in plain sight, easy to find while hurrying. So, off to an early dinner and early to bed.

Sunday morning Roni and I took advantage of the excellent hotel offer for a 3:30am breakfast. My nutritionist said eat early and "stuff yourself" so I did as best I could. This was all well and good except for getting a bit nauseous all the way up to the swim start. Relaxing while digesting we returned to the room where Patty and Kyle were still sleeping. Go figure, still sleeping at 4:30am.... who does that? So, we noisily got dressed and headed for "body marking". Hitting the street was the first omen; it was cold and it was misting. Under the lights the crowd milled around the entrance to the bike area and there were dozens of body markers ready with Sharpies. We waited on one marker but as Roni got marked I noticed the poor handwriting. If I'm going to get marked on, I want to be marked in good handwriting so I changed lines. The new marker put on some nice big blocky numbers very fit for an Ironman wannabe so I was happy. Now to escape from the cold. We went inside the convention center and found some floor to burn some time and wait as long as possible to put on the wetsuits. We had the water fountain and restrooms close and used both frequently over the next 45 minutes. Then it was wetsuit time. We pulled on the neoprene, got the goggles and hats and secured the dry clothing in the proper bag and dropped it off on the way to the lake.

We'd gotten an early start but it was crowded. The MC announced that if he was going to get all 2439 athletes "chipped in" we needed to start crossing the chip pad and get into the water immediately. That was ok with Roni because she needed to calm herself by getting in early and getting her face wet. Meanwhile, I was still nauseous and, according to Roni, had a pretty horrified look cemented to my face. We clung to the bank for awhile talking to other swimmers and still looking for even one of the supposedly 1100 first-time Ironmen triathletes. So far, everyone we met were repeaters. The MC then said we needed to move out, get in the water and make room for the rest of the athletes. That forced us into the water early, we went out about 100 yards and treaded water next to a buoy. Much to our chagrin, we realized that this buoy was the start line and we had no business being in the front of what was announced as the largest swim start in Ironman history. Oh crap, drowning under real swimmers during the world's largest boxing match is no way to start a race. We tried to back up but there was current or wind or something taking us right back to the start line. At the gun, that was the last time I saw Roni until well into the run.

The swim start, judging from the aerial pictures was a quarter mile wide. Everyone was heading for the first turning mark in the 2-loop course and I figured that was not good. It wasn't. Approaching the mark a swimmer on each side of me closed in and the boxing match started. Amazing how much traction one can get while doing a freestyle stroke on humans. Not too much damage around the first mark but on the way to the second some dude was going the wrong way and continued to nail my starboard side. I had to stop stroking and use both arms to push him off of me. He never missed a stroke as I just aimed him in another direction. Amazing. Round mark 2, 3 and then 4 for the second loop. Not sure which mark I saw the bottom of but I got pushed under by a converging group and I remember how clear the water is as I saw the bottom of the mark, the anchor line and a bunch of swimmers above. I think I rounded the right side of the line. A few underwater strokes and I was around the mark and in the clear again.

Out of the water and onto the carpeted parking lot the wet suit strippers pulled my top off in a nanosecond. I almost lost my shorts when the bottoms went. They handed my the suit and up the helix I went for at least a quarter mile run to T1. In T1 the day was made with an error. I found my T1 bag and dumped it on the ground in front of my chair and a helper offer assistance. I said sure, there's my instructions written on my bag. He read #1 - stuff wetsuit in bag, he did so and continued. I was at #8 - arm warmers when we couldn't' find them. Crap! OK, gimme that rain jacket, its cold out there anyway. I zipped it up, put on my number belt, gloves, stuffed food into pockets grabbed the gatorade and T1 bag and walked away. As I left I heard, who's arm warmers are these? What, crap, hey thanks, and stuffed them into my pockets. Later that day someone offered money for the rain jacket. It had become priceless. My bike was for sale (cheap), but not my jacket! This error saved the day and maybe my race.

Out onto the bike course the rain had started in earnest and the jacket proved to be "resistant" not "proof". But it was better than the sleeveless jersey underneath. About 12 miles to Verona and the 1st 43 mile bike loop started. Constant rain kept the speed down but it was a fun route. There were a few climbs that had the feel of an AlpD'uez where the crowds covered the road and magically parted as you slowly climbed the grade sometimes standing out of the seat. On one of these climbs there was a really large dude in drag and plenty of crazy folks out in the rain. These cheese-heads would not let the rain dampen their day. One guy offered a hot bratwurst on a stick as I climbed. I grabbed it and they all yelled crazily as I ate it. There were some great descents but the standing water prevented really letting it go for fear of losing steering and ending the day. There were plenty of crashes and the scary sound of sirens were all around. At one point I got caught looking down or eating or something and found myself within about a quarter-inch of the pavement edge and a serious bar ditch. Correcting about a half-inch at a time I rode that edge for a hundred feet before recovering onto the road again. I wished I'd thought to glance at my heart rate monitor.

I restocked my Enervitene and Sports Beans from the Special needs bag, and peed again. I've never stopped so many times for the Porto-Let. Texas hydration wasn't required for this ride but who knew? Then the turn back to Madison went right into the teeth of the rain and wind. Geeeezus, 13 mph makes it an hour home... to go run a marathon. Great. Will I be able to run? At this point I don't know.

Finally at the convention center I can't find a buyer for the bike so I just give it to a friendly support worker and dashed into T2. Not nearly as much gear... all I need are shoes and to put on something dry. I ditched the soaking cycling jersey, got a tri-top, put the rain jacket back on and grabbed more Enervitene. Leaving T2 it felt fast and I was running. All I could think about was Todd having to walk 4-5 miles from T2. Todd went real hard on the bike in Lake Placid. Maybe the rain slowed me down on the bike enough to have something left. I thought if I could run the first 10K I could keep it going. Things felt good and at mile 1 I found Patty and Kyle at the Broach bar on the fence saying "LOOK AT THE POTATO!". For the potato details you've got to go to Todd's blog (see link at right). A potato had appeared on the course right in front of where they stood. This was one of several good omens of a day that NEEDED good omens.

Running in the rain was never a problem and always felt good but this was kind of cool and the rain was still constant. But I knew I had dry shoes and dry socks in my Run Special Needs bag and that was motivation. At mile 7-8 I saw Roni in her sleeveless top. We stopped to talk for a second and she said she was freezing. I was really worried about Roni because I'd already heard that people were being taken out for hypothermia. We parted and my concern for Roni was foremost on my mind. Lots of turnarounds on the course and almost no clue where I was but the mileage signs were clicking off. At 12 miles I was running towards this screaming, jumping, large man with a video camera pointing right at me. What crazy cheesehead is this? Whoa! Its Kyle, what's he doing way down State St. in the rain? And then, there was PAtty running next to me with an umbrella and insisting (see a pattern here) that I put on dry shoes at the bag stop. I guess she thought I might be getting loopy and might forget... but this thought was keeping me going to the halfway mark. I kept going and found my bag but nowhere to sit other than the curb with a puddle at it. I sat my ass right into an inch of water, no choice. Next to the fence the fans in the crowd commented on the dry shoes/socks and saw me get WAY happier. A quick change and I was off for the 2nd half-marathon. The shoes felt AWESOME! So far, I'd run while walking only 100 feet at support stops. The 2nd half forced walks at the 3-4 big hills. Then the leg muscles started tightening up.

At mile 19 I was still going when I saw Patty and Kyle again on the rain soaked State street area. They were yelling and cheering, still. Patty started running with me and was a bit surprised that I was running. It was good to see familiar faces but man, they were wet and the weather still sucked. After that, the road went into no-mans land. Wandering through neighborhoods that were dark, sloshy and then back out to the park trails that didn't seem like earlier in the daylight. It seemed a lot more circuitous and just tacking on miles for grins. At 21 I hit the wall and the leg muscles just wouldn't go anymore. I walked and walked with a few different folks chatting a bit and attempting to run every now and then. A girl zoomed by walking and someone said "wow, if I could walk THAT fast I'd never need to run". That girl was flying, but not running.

At 25, I had a wet coke from a wet table with some really wet God-sent support folks. It was a real pick-up and I was tiring of the half-cups of salty chicken broth. With the end near I ran again, or shuffled, or something. Going up the hill to the capital I knew I was going to make it and I saw a girl ahead take her rain jacket off. Ah-ha, pictures! Let's look tuff for the camera and strip the jacket to finish in the sleeveless tri-top. I was never so happy to run through the chute and spark up the wet crowds under all those umbrellas. I punched the sky a few times and I'm told that I had a cantaloupe sized smile for the finish line photo. Try going 140.6 miles in the rain and not be happy at the finish line. Ain't happinin'.

PAtty had calculated my 1st half-marathon time and went for the bleachers assuming about the same time for the 2nd half. Unfortunately, I was 44 minutes later. That must have been the little 4 mile walk. But she was there and was almost as happy as I was. She shared my IRONMAN dream and never once thought it wouldn't happen. Although I don't think she'll want to run another marathon with me like Little Rock. She thinks it should be done fast and I'm more the 'take my time and enjoy it' runner.

We didn't have to wait long for Roni. At one point I was really worried but she found a rain jacket that kept her warm. It must've infused some energy because I was 45 minutes ahead at one point and she was running me down in the marathon finishing not quite 20 minutes behind. In all our thoughts, it worked out pretty much like we figured. Roni is a stronger runner. We both got warmed up in the Maonona Center. We still had to pull the bikes out of the transition area that night and pick up the T1 and T2 bags. Kyle was nice enough to roll both bikes in a heavy downpour over to Tri-Bike transport. Then went for food at Broach's. We weren't too tired to eat and did pretty well with a post-race pig-out.

Ironman. A memory that will last forever. Roni and I have both been asked numerous times if we would do it again. While the memory was fresh, the answer was "hell-no". Now that the pain has eased and the tortured brain cells lost some memory function, the answer from both of us is "why not?". No matter what, it won't be like the first one. And there's no way it could be as wet or as cold... or as enjoyable.

If you've read this post, thanks for YOUR support. I'll be reading it again when I'm old to remember the silly things I did when I was young.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


14 hours, 18 minutes in the rain. Many more details to follow!