My Journey to Ironman Wisconsin

My Journey to Ironman Wisconsin

by Bob H.

My journey to Ironman began in 1978 when I read about these crazy people in Hawaii doing a race that included 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking and 26.2 miles of running. I remember thinking, “I have to do that.”

In 1981, I was working for the newspaper in Streator, IL, when I interviewed a local man who had just done the Ironman. His was an inspiring story of losing 100 pounds and completing the distance as a way to regain control of his life. He gave me the history of the race (a combination of three separate races in Oahu) and some training tips that he discovered on his own. This only drove home the desire to do the race!

I continued to dream of doing the race, typically as I watched on Wide World of Sports. How exciting it would be to compete in Hawaii (by now, Kona). Four kids, a busy work schedule and other individual things kept me from beginning the required training for Ironman.

After running cross country and track in high school and college, I was drawn away from distance running and events by other activities. I returned to distance running in 1998 at the Chicago Marathon. My “commitment” was so great that year that I waited until the Friday before the race to enter (there were “only” 17,000 runners that year). I had a PR at that race (4:19) and was hooked once again on distance running.

Life changed again in 2004 when I was divorced and, soon after, met Pat. She was amazed that I ran marathons and other distance races and supported me in ways I’d never received support. I told her of my desire to do an Ironman and from that point forward, she never let me forget or veer from that goal. Within months, we bought a tri bike and I began “training” for the half Ironman in Benton Harbor.

That race went pretty well and I began to think that an Ironman was coming soon. I tried to enter Kona through the lottery in 2008, but was disappointed when I did not get in. I continued to compete in some Olympics and half Ironmans, but put the full Ironman dream on hold.

I finally entered Ironman Louisville in 2011, but the thought of the intense heat and my desire to complete some additional flight training had me second-guessing that entry. I heard that if I volunteered at Ironman Wisconsin I would be guaranteed entry to that race. It seemed like a more desirable race for me, so I volunteered for the 2011 event. That went well and I entered the Monday after that event.

Although I had always trained myself, I knew I would need help for Ironman, so I began to look for a coach. Fate and research brought me to Experience Triathlon and Coach Joe LoPresto. We hit it off right from the start and I began training with him and ET in November. Joining ET may have been the smartest thing I have ever done. I’ve improved in all areas and have made what I consider lifelong friends.

This past year has rushed by! Winter and spring were consumed with ET Masters swims, ET CompuTrainer sessions and ET Run Club group runs. Summer found more group runs, Centennial Beach ET open water swim clinics, swims in Lake Michigan, ET Bike Club group rides, ET Summer Camp in Madison and races. Finally, the big day was here! Through all the HOT rides and runs and all the tough swims, Joe reminded me that “You become an Ironman on the tough, long days of training, not on race day.”

After an extremely hot summer, race day dawned clear and cool, about 50 degrees. The water of Lake Monona was calm and everyone was excited about a great day ahead. The cannon went off for the pros then the rest of us got in the water. At 7 a.m., they shot the cannon again and our big day began.

My swim was very good. The water was good, but it was very crowded at the start. I tried to stay in the draft, but tried to stay out of everyone else’s way. This worked pretty well, but I still felt like I was getting beat up. I was hit in the face a couple of times and swum over at least twice. I retaliated once (an elbow to a “friend”) but mostly just tried to keep to myself. I followed the crowd, only seeing a couple of buoys. Finally, I made the final turn and thought, “If I never take another swim stroke, I’ll die a happy man!” Finally the swim was over and I was out of the water. I located Pat and the ET Cheer Crew and started into T1.

My transitions have never been fast and this one was not going to be different. By the time I got to the bike, I had caught my breath and felt ready for a nice, long ride. The race committee had warned us about drafting, but it was impossible not to ride right with or behind another rider until about 10 miles into the ride, so we just worked our way out towards Verona. By the time we reached the end of the “stick,” we were spread out and I was essentially riding by myself within the big group.

The loop, which is done twice, is accentuated by numerous hills. The first hills seemed daunting the first time I did them, but by race day, I knew these were no worse than intermediate hills and I enjoyed them while keeping my power output as low as possible. I had forgotten my bike computer in my morning race bag, so I was monitoring my power output by feel only. This seemed to work well on this day, so it was not an issue.

The ride works its way to the town of Mt. Horeb, which seems to be the high point on the course. Just after Mt. Horeb, the ride enters “Roller Coaster Hill” which is a series of ups and downs, going from high-speed downhills to low-speed, power-sapping uphills, finally ending with a downhill into a series of s-turns then a fairly long and welcome flat spell into Cross Plains.

Cross Plains marks the beginning of the true uphills. Somebody called these the “Three B*@#es” when we rode them during camp, so that’s what they will always be to me. I even abbreviated them to B1, B2 and B3. B1 is long. Not too steep, but long! Did I mention that it is LONG? It seemed to take forever, but there was much to help us up the hill. This was one area where the spectator support was outstanding. Men in hula skirts, women in all types of dress (and undress) and an overall feeling of assistance was felt by all the competitors. After a short period, B2 was encountered and it was near the top of this hill that Pat and the ET Cheer Crew was positioned. What a lift I felt when I saw first Larry then Pat, Kevin, Jim, Cheryl, Sherri, Tyler, Suzy, Chilly, Stephanie, Laura and Alyse.  Coach Joe was always last in line, making sure I was doing OK and giving me tips and words of encouragement. I saw them twice and each time the course between them and B3 was the fastest that I rode and the best I felt all day.

After a few miles and a HUGE downhill, B3 is encountered and more spectators are there making sure you make it up in good shape and always in good humor. I couldn’t help but laugh at the guys in the coconut bras and the many signs saying “Don’t Suck.” I was almost sad to return to Verona after the second loop and head back to Madison. ALMOST!!

On the ride back to Madison, Jada passed me and I told her that Russ was only a mile or so ahead. Russ and I had been jockeying back and forth all day as one or the other would stop to use a porta-potty. Jada said she would try to catch Russ (and came close) and left me in the dust. Then, with about three miles to go, one of the volunteers yelled, “GO, ET!! GO, BOB!!” It was Wendy, fresh off her Ironman finish in Louisville. I felt a huge lift after that and finished the bike feeling very good.

After another slow transition, I began the run. I felt tired at the start, but quickly felt great and kept reminding myself to take it easy. Even while walking the water stops, I was doing at or under 9:30 miles. Unfortunately, I felt very hungry after the ride, so I had some potato chips, pretzels and cookies at the first two or three water stations. By mile seven, my stomach was rebelling and by mile eight I had to start walking. I determined that I could walk/run 13-minute miles and feel bad, or I could walk 15-minute miles and feel good. I decided on the feel-good option and pretty much walked in from mile 12.

At about mile 17, Jada passed me again and we talked for a second or two. She was having stomach issues also, but was working through them. Off she went, but after awhile, I was passing her. I told her I was walking 15-minute miles and she decided to join me at least for awhile. We had a great two-hour fast walk in. It was great having someone, especially a teammate, to share the suffering and joy of finishing an Ironman.

Finally, we arrived in downtown Madison. We ran it in for the last six minutes or so and came around the last corner. Boston’s finish is exciting but it can’t hold a candle to the finish of Ironman Wisconsin. Everyone was yelling and screaming and the announcer was going crazy. As Coach Joe says, there’s no better place in the world! Finally I heard the words I’d been waiting 34 years to hear. “Bob Hammond, you ARE an IRONMAN!!”

I have so many people to thank for getting me to the finish line. Pat is my strength and without her, I would not have been able to do this and it would have meant nothing if I had done it.

Coach Joe has become more than just a coach and Coach Suzy is more than his partner. They are both fine mentors and teachers, but more than that, they have become friends! Thanks for all your help before, during and after the race and thanks for making sure Pat felt welcome and was included in all the activities.

Jim, Cheryl, Kevin, Chilly (Cathy) and Stephanie have been there for me during a long winter and summer of training. Without them, I may have skipped workouts or not worked hard enough. I felt that with their help, the workouts I did felt much easier. Steve M. must be included with this group as people who, in a short time, have become life-long friends.

Laurie and Drew have been so supportive throughout the process. Laurie, our ET Team Dietitian, and I hit it off immediately and her help with nutrition is more than appreciated, it has been vital. I only wish I could remember NOT to do the things that I sometimes do and FOLLOW THE PLAN! Drew always has an encouraging word and usually is waiting for me on group rides to make sure I don’t have to ride alone. Thanks to both of you for EVERYTHING!

Coach Sue, Coach Sarah and Coach Judie, thanks for all your great swim and bike tips and all your words of encouragement (and GREAT Valpo VIBES, Sarah)! Without you guys, I would not have made it to the run!

My training buddies, Jada, Russ, Jeff, Max, Jim, Esther and John gave ET a great presence during the race. All of the ET family athletes made it! How exciting it was to hear about everyone else’s finishes from Joe and Suzy! The world class ET Cheer Crew was in fine voice. Pat, Jim, Cheryl, Kevin, Chilly, Larry, Sherri, Tyler, Stephanie, Joe, Suzy, Alyse, Laura, Wendy, Ken and Sal all came out for support. Thanks to one and all.

What a Day!!! I am extremely happy to have accomplished this goal. Will I do another one? YES!! When? We’ll see… I need to drop five minutes from the swim and about 2 hours from both the bike and run. And then there are those darn transitions. So next time…

Enjoy all the photos from Ironman Wisconsin 2012 on the ET Photo Gallery!

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