I sit here not quite knowing what to type in a race report for an Ironman. The experience and the day last so long it's quite difficult to put it into words. I left for Madison on Friday morning and made the pro meeting at 12:30. There were 19 pro guys at the meeting. I was really excited to race feeling like I was in a field I could be very competitive with. I had bib #4 and I later realized why this would be an added benefit for this race. I was thankful that my good friend Jon McGee who lives in Madison allowed me to freeze my nutrition bottles at his house since my hotel did not have a fridge in the room. Jon's wife was being induced with their 3rd child on Friday night and he was kind enough to open his house up for me to use. On race morning my alarm went off at 3:30 and I jumped out of bed like a 7 year old on Christmas morning. I was super excited to get this race going. I got all my things together and headed to Jon's house to get my bottles and then get to the race site. I was able to get my special needs bags dropped off in no time and get to my bike. Universal Sports was filming the race and immediately when I arrived at my bike they put the cameras on me and filmed as I got the bike ready. This was a little weird because I wasn't sure if I was supposed to say anything or just ignore them. I was not overly nervous. I was confident and excited for the race. I opted not to go with a run warm up due to the long day of the race. I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to get a swim warm up in so I went down to the lake and got the wetsuit on and was able to swim about 20 minutes before taking my place on the starting line. The pro race would begin at 6:50 a.m. I had not seen Jen all weekend because she was in a good friend's wedding on Saturday night and drove up early with my brother, his wife, and our friend Maddie. I was so thankful to have them in Madison to help cheer me on as well as numerous other friends who were kind enough to give up their Sunday to come up for the day.
SWIM: When the cannon fired I took off with the pack. There was a little more contact than what I typically have for the swim start but I can't complain because I'm sure it pales nothing in comparison to the contact the 2,800 amateurs go through when they all begin together 10 minutes later. I was able to stay in the big group until about 700 yards in when things began to spread out. I knew it would be very important for me to find some feet to draft on. There was a pretty big guy swimming in front of me so I got on his feet and tried to go with. Pretty soon we were joined by a female pro and I could feel someone on my feet so I knew our group was at least 4 people. There were times where I began to fall off but I kept reminding myself of the importance of hanging on to the group so I wouldn't be left alone and I always found a way to claw myself back up to the feet ahead of me. The first loop felt like it lasted quite awhile but I gained a lot of confidence when we began the 2nd loop and I was still with these 3 other swimmers. I knew I could stay with them for one more loop and the 2nd loop passed pretty quickly. I was able to hang with them for the most part. I think when we began passing amateurs on our 2nd loop our group split up a bit but not much. With about 600 yards to go I began getting some cramps in the arches of my feet. I've gotten these before in swim workouts when I'm dehydrated. I was a little nervous to be cramping this early in the race. I began drinking lake water. It actually tasted as good as that stuff they put in the bottles and sell for a dollar at grocery stores. My training buddy Adam Bohach is a science teacher and he told me in St. George that you could drink lake water and even if there was bacteria in it you wouldn't get sick for about a week so I took his advice and began drinking quite a bit of Lake Monona. I got out of the water feeling really good about my swim. I was thinking it was going to be about 58 minutes but I was a little disappointed when I saw 1:02 on my watch. Right when I went to stand up to get out of the water I got a huge cramp in my hamstring...crap! I made the run out of the lake but it was not at my typical transition speed. My legs were very crampy. I have had this before and sometimes they go away once I get on the bike and get some salt pills in so I was hoping it would not be a big issue. I ran up the helix which was packed with fans and got into the change room and grabbed my helmet. I did have one mishap in transition. The room with our gear bags was carpeted and we had to take a 90 degree turn. My foot slipped out from under me when I went to turn on the carpet and I fell flat on my right hip. I was up in no time not worried about it. I got to my bike and was off for 112 miles of fun.
BIKE: Heading out on the bike I was only in front of about 3 or 4 of the other pros. I could see one just ahead of me as we began our ride. I stayed relatively close to him until we came to a spot where you have to slow down and get on a bike path for a short stretch. It was a pretty technical spot where you had to go slow but I must have gone much slower than him because when I got off the bike path his lead had grown by about 15 seconds. I pushed hard early on the course but my legs were continually cramping...especially on the hills...and I knew there were going to be lots of them. Not only were my legs cramping...my biceps were cramping in the aero position and I even had some cramps in my chest muscles. This was not a good sign. I was riding pretty hard through mile 40 and I was taking way more salt pills than is typical for me. The salt pills were helping to reduce the cramping but only for a very short period of time. After about 45 miles we went down the technical descent and I had two pro guys close in front of me. When we got to the next hills my quads were cramping badly when I stood up to put power into the pedals. What scared me the most however was at about this time I was having a little discomfort in my chest when I was breathing. I began to wonder if I had taken too much salt in a short period of time and I was pretty nervous about why my chest hurt. Fresh in my mind was that an athlete I coached 5 years ago had just suffered an apparent heart attack while working out on Friday night. My thoughts and prayers are with Brett Greenwood as he recovers at the University of Iowa Hospitals. Brett was an all-Big 10 safety at Iowa and recently was in the Pittsburgh Steelers training camp. I realized that this was just not going to be the great day I hoped it would. I made the decision at mile 45 to pull the plug and really ease up the effort I was putting out. I went from "race" mode to "finish" mode. After crashing in St. George last May finishing this thing was my number 1 goal. You never know what life will bring tomorrow and I wanted to make sure I was able to finish this Ironman while I have the chance. After easing up on the pace I began to just enjoy the race. The rest of the ride was a blast. While I was on my 2nd lap I was passing amateurs who were on their first loop. The first ones I was passing were some of the final amateurs out on the course and I knew they would need all the encouragement they could get to get through the bike course before the cutoff. With each one I passed I looked for their name on their bib and shouted out encouragement. It was a lot of fun seeing their reactions as I passed by calling out their names. I think many of them forgot their names were on their backs and they looked startled...but always smiled and returned the compliments. The crowd support in Madison is better than advertised. There are people all over the 112 mile bike course going crazy. The hills were completely awesome. I exchanged high 5's with the guys dressed in costumes as they ran up the hills alongside me. I had so many people getting excited to see bib #4 come by...I hadn't even thought of this but #4 must be the favorite number of half the people in Wisconsin. I was wearing the same bib # as legendary QB Brett Favre and they let me know that!! I was in the heart of Packer country and I couldn't disappoint them by telling them I was a Bears fan. I saw so many people out on the bike course who made the trip to Madison to share the day with me and it kept me going. I knew it was going to be difficult with a marathon still to run and no hopes of a high finish. I was reminded by my training buddy Adam Bohach why I was still racing when I passed him around mile 98. Adam yelled out, "You are going to be an Ironman." It reminded me of some hilarious youtube Ironman video we watched at his apartment after a long bike ride and run last February when there was still snow on the ground. It was just what I needed to hear as I began to prepare my mind for running the marathon.
RUN: I went into the transition area and got my running shoes. I knew this was going to be a tough run on legs that had cramped so bad early in the race. I had felt much better and the cramping had not been nearly as bad since I pulled the plug on the race at mile 45 but I still had to run 26.2 miles. I was set on finishing no matter how bad it got. I headed out on the run with my GPS and the watch was reading about 6:45 pace. It was not difficult but just before the 3rd mile when we ran down into Camp Randall Stadium for a tour of the Wisconsin football field I had a huge cramp in my left hamstring. It almost brought me to the ground. I knew I was going to need to stop for a lot of nutrition at the next aid station. My lower back and hamstrings were very tight and my hamstrings were on the verge of cramping nearly every step. It helped so much to see my friends Jake, Kevin, and Beau out on the course. I figured those guys would have gone home after I got off the bike so far back in the race. Beau yelled out to me that he was going to run all "over this town following me until I was done." That was great hearing. It kept me going. I knew that so many people had given up their day to come watch and I didn't want to keep them waiting until late in the night when they needed to drive back. I knew that meant I would need to keep running even if it was painful. I did not want to be relegated to walking the marathon knowing people were waiting for me to finish. I stopped at about 3 miles in and stretched my back and hamstrings. I also drank a lot of fluid, took more salt pills, and ate about 6 orange quarters. I was trying anything to get rid of the cramps. I felt better each time I stopped at an aid station and loaded up on nutrition. I had not gone to the bathroom once the entire day even though I had probably consumed over 2 gallons of fluid. I made my mind up that I would try to run 3-4 miles at a time and then stop to reload at the aid stations. I got a great lift from friends and family again around mile 6 of the run. They were on a crowded street and when I saw them my brother yelled to me that I was winning my fantasy football game. It was a good update to get. I asked how the bears were doing and my brother yelled they were up big over Atlanta which was more great news. It helped so much to see all these people out enjoying the day and encouraging me even though I was not having the day I expected and dreamed of. It really was what kept me going. Just after mile 7 my training buddy Adam Bohach snuck in about a 1/2 mile with me and it was the best I felt through the entire race. Running with Adam made it feel like we were back out training together again. It made me think about how much he has helped me to get in great shape and how excited I am to continue this next year knowing I have a friend to continue this great journey with. You develop a pretty amazing bond with someone who you learn to suffer through 100+ mile rides and 20 mile runs with. I can't wait to watch his day in Kona unfold next month. He is amazingly tough and has been a great source of wisdom for me as well. At the mile 9.5 aid station I was helped by two QC residents who were volunteering so they could sign up for next year's race. Jessica Imm and Matt Davison took great care of me at that aid station and gave me the much needed encouragement to keep going. I hope I didn't scare them away from signing up. At the half way point I was greeted with my special needs bag. I devoured my two Boston Creme Pies that I'd been waiting for along with a 20 oz. redbull. I also got in a pack of Peach Tea Gu Chomps. The Boston Creme pies had been a favorite snack of mine on a 100 mile ride Adam and I do. We stop at a small-town convenience shop in Dixon, IA for fuel and those had worked in the past. They got me about a mile before the cramping got really bad again. After stopping at mile 16 and loading up I was able to run the next 7 miles although the pace was slower than I've ever run in a race...or mileage run for that matter. I was slogging along at about 8:30 mile pace. I know what the Ironman shuffle feels like. I made my last stop at mile 23 to grab my last big round of nutrition before running the rest of the way to the finish line. Adam yelled to me that I better be smiling when I finished. Part of me was crushed by how the day unfolded but most of me was thrilled to be able to make it through to cross the line to become and Ironman finisher. I had waited for that moment from the time I crashed on May 7th in St. George, Utah. I was all smiles and very thrilled just to be healthy enough to finish this difficult challenge. I crossed the line 29th overall and 11th of the 19 pros who started the race. As bad as the day went for me it could have gotten much worse. 2 of the top 3 guys in the pro race off the bike were forced to walk the last 10 miles. It's easy for me to understand why that happens to guys who are so great. Those guys are pushing the line incredibly hard all day with a goal of winning. They have to push to that edge if they want to win. If they cross over the line too soon it can be a long day but without taking the risk they would have no chance to win. The course volunteers in Madison and the spectators were nothing short of amazing. A HUGE congratulations to all who finished this race. There is a lot of work that goes into preparing for one of these. I was thrilled to see Moon Villalobos go by on his first loop of the run en route to his finish. This was Moon's 1st ever triathlon. He has spent so many selfless hours helping me with my bike. He is a top-notch mechanic at Healthy Habits and now a 5th grade teacher in Rock Island. I also saw local Josh Lederman finish and he lookedd awesome. The other people who deserve the huge congrats are the family members and friends who put up with the long training hours required to prepare for this day. Complete results from the race with splits can be found at http://www.ironman.com/ My wife Jen has been incredible through this entire journey. I love her so much and can't thank her enough for being so overwhelmingly supportive through all the long days and hours of preparation. I can't thank my friends and family enough who made the trip. Knowing you were there...and not even sensing that I disappointed you in any way with my race...is what got me through the run when I was in difficulty. Seeing about 15 of you guys at the finish line waiting for me made it worth it. A HUGE thanks goes out to Phil Pancrazio who captured a lot of awesome images from the races, not only of me, but of others. His images really captured the "Ironman Experience". I also got a couple great photos from Ironman photographer Ali Engin. While I certainly wish the race had gone better I'm so proud to have stuck it out and finished. When I put it in context it makes me even more proud. 3.5 years ago I weighed 45 lbs. more than I do now. My time of 10 hrs. 6 minutes was still the 29th fastest out of nearly 2,800 athletes. If I were still racing as an age group athlete my day would have been good enough to punch my ticket to Kona for the world championship. A few years back local Kona finisher Jen Foley once asked me when I was going to move up to 1/2 and full Ironman events. I told her those events were for people who regularly needed to visit a psychiatrist. I told her I didn't think I would ever move up distances. I was wrong and I'm glad I was wrong. I have a quote from Craig Alexander that I keep on the outside cover of my workout book..."But as far as the race goes, I'll just try and do what I always do, which is control what I can control...my training...and I think a lot of the fun is just getting in great shape."