Ironman Wisconsin 2017 Race Report

The cliff notes version of my race report is that if you want a challenging race, go do Wisconsin. If you want a race with the best spectators I’ve ever seen at any event, go do Wisconsin. If you want to do a race in a city that has plenty of fun things to do before the main event, go do Wisconsin. Be ready for a really tough bike though. It will chew you up and spit you out if you’re not ready for it.

Now, onto the full recap. Settle in, get some coffee.

Race morning:

I was in a hotel right around the corner from the swim start so I didn’t need to be up extremely early. I got up at 4:20 and went over to Starbucks just outside to get breakfast. First plus of the venue was having access to a good coffee and oatmeal in the morning. Once I ate I grabbed my special needs bags and headed over to T1 to get my bike set up. Transition opened at 5 am and I’m a believer in getting an early start. I had my body markings and bike set up by 5:30 and that’s when I discovered I needed to go all the way back to Starbucks to drop my special needs. Not really a big deal since I was done otherwise. There were two ladies looking for special needs when I was almost there and took them there. By then it was 6 am and they hadn’t been to T1 yet to get set up. Don’t wait until the last minute! The stress isn’t worth the 30 minutes of extra sleep.

I got down to the swim start and was able to just relax and take in the view for about 20 minutes before people really started showing up. All week the lake had been really rough and seemed to get rougher every day. I was very happy to see that when I got there, the water looked like glass. Then the national anthem played and the pros went off. I think my adrenaline went off around there too. I was in the 2nd wave following the pros so I only had 10 minutes on deck.

Swim Start:

I was bummed about the loss of the mass start this year since I had picked the race in part for that experience. But the waves were 500 people deep which is…pretty massive. So not exactly the same but I didn’t feel I missed out. Getting into the water was actually very efficient and I had more than enough time in those 5 minutes to get acclimated to the pretty chilly water. I believe it was 64 F on race morning. Glad I had a wetsuit even if it was sleeveless. Brr. Madison is an in-water start so after a few minutes of treading water the gun sounded and off we went!

The swim was one of the easiest swims I’ve ever done in a triathlon. I never felt stressed and I never stopped moving forward. At the first turn, you’re supposed to moo. So I moo’ed. 8) I heard other people do it too. There was a little bumping and jostling the whole way through the swim. A couple times I had to assert my presence. But no different really than any other swim I’ve been in. The swim is broken up into really manageable chunks so you never feel like you’re swimming in one direction forever.

Final time was 1:29 on the swim and while I hoped for a bit faster, that was right where I wanted to be.

T1:

My wife gives me crap about my transition times. IMWI has a pretty long trek from the lake, up the helix and into the transition area. I made it my mission to not take forever here and I think I did ok. I got in, got my stuff, and got on my way. Total time was about 10 minutes which included getting sunscreen. My wife was even impressed so I guess it was a decent turnaround!

Bike:

I was really, REALLY looking forward to this bike ride. I grew up as a roadie and other than the mass swim, the thing that had attracted me to Wisconsin was the fact that it’s bike course is one of the most challenging there is. There’s over 6,000 feet of elevation and NOLA is not exactly hilly. I saw the bike as a challenge but a fun one. I’ve always enjoyed rolling courses.

So first, the bad: I had some major mechanical issues with my bike. Something got knocked out of adjustment and I discovered, around mile 40 when the real hillwork would start (and not stop for a long time) that I could not shift my front deraileur without dropping my chain. Over the course of the race I dropped my chain either 6 or 7 times. I can’t even remember. My biggest concern, especially early on, was not having an even worse issue. I had to decide every time I saw a hill if I thought it was worth shifting into my small ring since when I got to the top I might drop the chain going back to the big ring. I climbed a lot of hills getting out of the saddle and I had not planned to do that. I wanted to spin my way up all but a few.

I’d estimate that fixing my chain cost me around 10 – 15 minutes total over the course of the race. It probably cost me at least another 5 – 10 minutes since I couldn’t really ride as efficiently as I wanted to. I was averaging 18 up until the point of the first chain drop and averaged just over 16 I think for the course so that was a major impact I think.

But there was a lot of good. The course was BEAUTIFUL. Seriously. It was an amazing bike ride. The scene I’ll remember most is a farmhouse next to a rock formation in the hills. But most of all was the crowds. Want to pretend you’re riding the Tour de France? Go do this race. Every hill had people lining the way up. The town of Verona was ROCKING.

You can only control one thing on race day and that’s your attitude. I was not happy that my bike was not operating at peak efficiency but I altered my goals and strategy for the day and decided to just enjoy the ride and not stress. I originally wanted to hit T2 at an elapsed 8 hours and hit it at 8:30. I didn’t try and “make up” time on the bike and blow out my legs for the run. I just kept moving forward and took everything in. Oh, and I totally got back at my bike because I peed on it. Take that bike! (And now you all know too much about the race)

T2:

Riding up the helix was the easiest hill of the course. Even if it was the scariest one as I approached. I hustled my way into T2, got my stuff, dropped a few things that I didn’t care about anyway and ran out to get more sunscreen. This is when I found out I had some serious neck chafing from the wetsuit. Ouch!

Run:

The run course was awesome. You start off running into the capital and it’s a party and you’re the guest of honor. State street is lined with throngs of people cheering and eating and you would be hard pressed to find a better run. Maybe the Twin Cities Marathon. After you get out of downtown you hit the University of Wisconsin and run through the stadium, which is cool. The first lap of the run I just kept trucking along. Not fast but a bit ahead of my goal pace of 5.5 miles an hour. My family and some friends had come out for the race and while seeing them on the bike was fun, this is the best place for the crowds since I could talk to them multiple times as I ran by. Bring your spectators to this race. This is definitely the most spectator friendly course you can find. State street in the capital was simply rocking and having done this race both as a spectator and an athlete, I can really recommend both. I would happily go back to watch this race, get a table at a bar along the course and cheer everyone going by.

After a really positive first half, I hit my only real dark patch of the race. After my run special needs bag, I really struggled with my pace. I think I did about 4 miles in the next hour. As I got to mile 17, I hit the downhill off of Observatory Hill and while there is a little bit of rolling hills after that, its essentially all downhill from there. From that point on I only walked through the aid stations.

Once it started to get dark the soup came out (Ironman chicken broth is the best!) and I was on the home stretch. The crowds after the sun went down were even more fun than the earlier crowds. Since we were on a college campus there was plenty of college students who came out, including one group of about 12 guys holding light up light sabers and singing the Star Wars theme song. I can’t think of many races of marathon distance or greater that I can start to push it at the end but for IMWI, that’s exactly what I did. The crowd for the final stretch into the Capital was electric and the run down the shoot was everything I had left.

Final time: 13:37:07

Take aways:

1. IMWI is a really really hard race.
2. I don’t want an Ironman tattoo. I want to tattoo everywhere that I have chafing so I know exactly where to apply body glide in the future.
3. They say you can control nothing but your attitude on race day and let me tell you, when your bike is not cooperating, you can do 2 things. Give up or fix the problem and keep going.
4. You will finish an Ironman if you do three things. Don’t Stop. Don’t Quit. Don’t Give Up.

My wife wanted my race to be perfect. These races are too long and too many things can go wrong for there to be a perfect race other than dumb luck. (Next time I do an Ironman, my bike WILL work.)

If you made it this far and have a race coming up…you waste a lot of valuable training time! 8

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