You Take What Race Day Will Give You
I had been looking forward to Ironman Wisconsin 2018 for a year. Some would say I was obsessed with it. Maybe I was. It was certainly one of the most difficult physical and mental challenges I would ever undertake. I wanted to prove to myself that there isn’t a goal that I cannot accomplish if I set my mind to it.
Some quick background: Many years ago, I was a big time football player. All State Linebacker in high school, Division I football for four years, and all that jazz. But that was a long time ago. I had developed a case of “five pound itis” – each year or so I seemed to put on 5 lbs and was turning into a middle aged couch potato. Five years ago, I decided to get serious and change my life as my personal life was going through some pretty serious changes.
I got myself back into shape and decided to try this triathlon thing. I met Coach Joe of Experience Triathlon Personal Coaching Services at the ET Batavia Tri for an interest meeting. I became a coached athlete. While I thought I was ready, my body said otherwise. I thought I was going to die after the first 100 of my first swim. My bike was good but I had an old cyclocross bike. My first run was 2 miles and it ended up as a jog for ¼ mile, walk for a ¼ mile until I did 2 miles in 24:37.
The journey began with sprint triathlons, then Olympic distances and then half Ironman triathlons. Each year, I pushed myself a little further. I did ET CompuTrainer cycling classes. I got over my fear of the water and swam three times a week. I got into running and Coach Joe and Coach Jim turned me into a runner, albeit it a 220 lb Clydesdale runner. I am not pretty at any of the sports but somehow I find a way to be respectable, fully knowing the podium is never going to be something I will see. I do not have a triathlon body. I will always have a linebacker body.
Race Day for Ironman Wisconsin 2018 arrived. I was ready. I had prepared. I did all of my workouts. I had stayed pretty injury free. I had a “finish time” in my head. I knew what I was capable of doing.
Race Day is like no other experience. The only thing I can compare it to is playing college football in a stadium with 60,000+ screaming people. Everyone on race day is rooting for you. Even your competitors root for you. The emotional support from my family and the ET Cheer Crew was priceless.
My swim was right on time at 1:31:00 and better than I thought considering I was run over at around 3000 yards and got kicked in the face and lost my cap and goggles. I turned around in the water to watch my goggles sinking and grabbed them. Disaster averted. Anything can happen on race day and swimming at the ET Open Water Swim Clinics at Centennial Beach had prepared me.
I was expecting my bike to be my best segment. It is my strongest event. I had ridden the Madison Ironman bike course four times in 2018 to prepare. Coach Joe gave me a power watts target to stick to so I didn’t burn out on the bike. While the weather was great, I wasn’t having a good day. I stayed on my watts target but I was slow and getting slower. How could that be? I was ready. The last 15 miles on “The Stick” was an uphill grade with a stiff headwind. It was kicking my butt. I was disappointed that my bike was 20 minutes slower than I wanted. As I entered T2, I thought it was time to shake it off and get to the run.
The run was good until it wasn’t. I was running well. Legs felt ok. At approximately Mile 4, my race totally changed. My right quad suddenly cramped up with a golf ball size knot. I couldn’t move it. I feared my race was over. I stood there outside Camp Randall Stadium almost crying. A year of training, thinking about race day. How could this be? ET teammate Patty S. is my life saver. She came up and grabbed me and said that I was walking with her. She wouldn’t let me feel sorry for myself. She got me to walk, then to shuffle, then to a slow jog, then to jog faster. Without her, my day was done. My ET teammate rescued me. Thank you, Patty!
Coach Joe saw me on State St. He saw my fear. He coached me and advised me on what to do. He looked in my eyes and said, “Mikey, you are going to have to dig deep for this one.”
I made it on the run with my leg badly cramping up again at Mile 17 and Mile 25. But I was always walking/jogging/running with my ET teammates and they encouraged me.
Finishing the Ironman is beyond words. The lights are so bright you cannot see. The music so loud I couldn’t hear my partner Jennifer shouting my name. I was so happy that I was finishing. Jen had followed me around the race course. She is my biggest fan. She was my rock when I wasn’t having a good race day. I finished. I had a rough race day. It hadn’t gone as I wanted. I was disappointed that I had problems on the bike and the run.
But you know what? I am an Ironman. The days, weeks and months since IM WI race day have allowed me to process that I am an Ironman. I am a bad ass. This year, I was #581 in the USA in my age group which is in the top half. On race day, I beat, straight up on time, over 1000 athletes. I did something only a very small percentage of people will ever do. I now see that I did pretty damn well.
But the most important part I have realized is it is NOT about race day. It is about getting to race day. The mental stamina to get up at 4AM almost every day to train. To have the support of your partner, your family, your teammates is what it is all about. It is about the friendships you make and the bonds you create with your training teammates. For without ET training partners like Jock C., Karolina M., Katie S., Mark B., my swim partner Mandi M. and many others whom I have swam, biked and run with, I would have never been able to accomplish my goal. This is where the strength, the love, the commitment and the encouragement come from to make someone a success.
By the way, I will be back in Madison competing in Ironman Wisconsin in September 2020.