A Different View – Ironman Wisconsin 2012
A couple of years ago, I wrote a long piece titled An Incredible Ironman Journey detailing the wonderful and emotional journey that led up to the 2010 Ford Ironman Wisconsin. Writing about the yearlong adventure was as important to me as experiencing the Ironman for the first time. I reflected on how the intense, grueling, sadistic, challenging, satisfying, rewarding, fulfilling and blissful training and racing helped me to find out a lot about myself as an individual. My outlook on life, how I look at everyday problems, what I gave priority to and how I keep company with others forever changed for the better. Much of what changed me came from the massive support I found in my family, friends, Experience Triathlon teammates and of course, my tri mentor, friend and coach, Joe LoPresto. I gleaned ideas, advice, warnings, strategies and testimonials from one and all. Every bit helped. I was a kid in a candy store with deep pockets and big eyes as I picked ideas from all these resources and plugged them into a race strategy that ultimately got me to an emotional finish line hearing Mike Reilly declaring I was an Ironman!
Moving forward to this year and the 2012 Ironman Wisconsin, I have to say the experience was no less exhilarating. Oh, sure, it was not the same kind of euphoria as my maiden journey. The question was no longer, “Can I finish this race?” Rather, it was, “How well can I do in this race?” It’s a subtle mindset shift. No doubt it altered my approach to training, making it more relaxed and confident. I found inspiration and excitement in sharing the journey with fellow ET teammates and my number one teammate Maxine, my loving, awesome trichick of a wife. The emotions I might have normally felt in crossing the finish line were held in check until I caught Maxine in an embrace at the finish line and Mike Reilly proclaimed that she was indeed an Ironman. I proudly placed her medal around her neck and shared in her excitement. Whatever I accomplished in my race paled by comparison to the fix I got in seeing her wearing that medal. Her journey was my journey. In reflection, I wasn’t destined to achieve some time goal or qualify for Kona. It was meant for me to be there at the finish peering down the finisher chute anxiously waiting to see her. While we started the journey at different places, in the end, we came together as one, again. With our union sealed by a kiss, we held each other by the hand (mylar train in tow) and slowly walked beneath the exit sign of the finisher area and onto to the next stage of our journey… together.
For the rest of this blog, rather than writing another eighteen page dissertation on my recent accomplishment, I wanted to think forward to those who have signed on to their first Ironman journey over this coming year. As I have been rewarded greatly by the presence of many who shared their “Iron” wisdom with me, I hope that I might give some usable nuggets of advice to steel the resolve of my teammates who I know are destined to hear those immortal words, “You are an Ironman!”
- You have a coach. Use them. Listen to them. Do as they say. They will keep you from injuring yourself in training. Whatever advice I may dispense below is always superseded by the words of your coach. Much of what I’ve learned on my multi-year journey came from Coach Joe.
- The year is short… it’ll seem long. Before you know it, you’ve done a couple of long rides and runs and you are suddenly treading water with twenty-six hundred of your friends in Lake Monona.
- Most of the year you are doing much of the same things you have been doing for any half ironman distance triathlon racing. Don’t panic into thinking you need to do seven hour rides in October. Most of the big stuff happens in the months prior to the race.
- Embrace the loneliness. It will prepare you for the race. Not everyone on the team is training like you. Even your fellow Ironman racers can have different objectives for the race. Consequently, you may be starting your training day earlier than everyone else or staying on the training course long after team has left. Yet, you need to know what lonely feels like on those long runs or long rides and get your mind prepared for it.
- Prepare for any kind of weather: hot, cold, rainy or windy. You never know what you’re going to get at Ironman Wisconsin. If you train and acclimate for different weather conditions, the race will be a little more bearable. As Coach Joe often says, “You don’t get to pick your race day weather.”
- Get up to Madison to ride the course. We don’t have hills like Madison down here in Illinois. Riding the course will get you familiar with the route as well. You’ll know where the scary turns are or rough patches of road.
- Consider the Horribly Hilly Hundreds bike ride. It’s in early June and provides more hill work around Madison. Check with the coach to see if it fits your training progression.
- Get up to swim Lake Monona so you can to get a feel for the open water swim on the Ironman lake. Remember to stay inside the ski jump ramp toward shore and go early in the morning to avoid the skiers and fast fishing boats. ET Summer Camp in Madison is a great way to do this with a group and the coaching staff.
- In late August, consider a swim event called Madison Open Water Swim. You can swim 2.4 miles in the wetsuit division with about five hundred people. It’ll give you a little taste of the Ironman Wisconsin swim. Again, check in with your coach on this one.
- Come up with a nutrition plan. Whether it’s working in the off season to get your body to its fighting weight or getting the right amount of calories down during the long rides, you need a plan. Definitely work with ET Team Dietitian, Laurie Schubert, she’ll get you there with great nutritional advice and planning. She’ll also help you with race hydration management.
- Stay strong. Don’t forget to do strength training when planned by your coach. It’s one the easiest things to blow off and one of the things we regret blowing off when slogging up those hills in Madison.
- Put an M-dot sticker on your alarm clock and the corner of your rearview mirror to remind you why you are getting up at 4:30 in the morning and heading to the gym in the dead of winter.
- Subscribe to a system of SAU (Spousal Approval Units) – you are going to be doing a few long rides/runs that will find you out of the house for long stretches of time. Your spouse/partner/family is supporting you through this journey. Don’t forget to make time to reciprocate that support. Date nights are good. For some spouses, a date involving a workout together may not count towards SAU. Kids need time as well. Don’t forget the dog, either – take it for a walk once in a while.
- Get your forms and strokes down now. The early off season is the time to visit with the coach to assess your technique in each of the disciplines. You’ll need time to ingrain any changes to your form and the middle of the summer before the race is the wrong time for that.
- Get your yearly physical and age defined medical tests done in the early off season. Once training ramps up, you’ll put things like this on hold.
- Work with your coach on getting performance tested to establish your training and racing parameters. It will make using tools like power meters on your bike or pace watches on the run more productive and give your coach more usable information in dialing in your workouts.
- The training can seem long, especially when the race season has started and all your teammates are doing races seemingly every weekend. Race envy occurs. To combat this, why not add in a few races if your coach agrees to this? Doing a half iron in July (Racine, Muncie or Steelhead) can be a nice break from training and can give you a sense of where you are with training before the big, final training push before Wisconsin. I have done a progressive season of racing where I work my way through all the distances over the summer, ending with Ironman Wisconsin: Sprint in May, Olympic in June, Half-Iron in July, Ironman in September. This was enjoyable. Again, talk to coach about this.
- During the Ironman race, don’t forget to high-five every kid who sticks his/her hand out from the curbside during the run. Don’t forget to enjoy the experience. Look around you. All those people you will see on the course are there to cheer you on. It’s an incredible feeling. It’s a high that will push you on to the finish. You don’t want to miss it by focusing on your feet or the road. Take it all in. Thank every volunteer – the race would absolutely suck without them. Look for the world class ET Cheer Crew – super bonus energy that will get you up those hills on the bike and urge you onto the second loop on the run.
- Now having completed two Ironmans, I have developed a personal belief that everything early on in the race sets you up for the run. I can’t tell you how many people I saw burn past me on the bike crushing those hills and then I find them walking on the run course absolutely spent as I loped on by. You have a finite amount of energy to get through the entire race – you’ll determine how to distribute that energy over all three disciplines to get you to the finish line in reasonable shape. How will you determine this? This is where you need to work with your coach to develop a race strategy/plan and train for it.
- This is common knowledge, but worth repeating. Don’t do anything new on race day. You might regret it. This year I wore socks on the bike and run because the temperatures were cooler. I had been training all summer sockless. Ended up with several large blisters by mile 14 in the run. Oops! Nothing new! Know what items (drink and gel brands) they will serve at the aid stations and train with them.
I know there is more I can write about. There is so much about Ironman racing to learn. The race takes as much mental prowess as physical endurance to complete. I know the ability to reach the finish line is in each and every one of you. It’s a matter of harnessing that power within you to propel your body from the first strokes past the ski jump to the last few strides down the finishing chute. It may seem overwhelming right now, but I can personally attest to this… with Coach Joe’s help, you will hear those wonderful words, “You are an Ironman!”
Enjoy all the photos from our weekend at Ironman Wisconsin 2012 on the ET Photo Gallery!