Ironman Wisconsin Revisited

Ironman Wisconsin is taking place today. It was 8 years ago that I participated in Ironman Wisconsin – my second and last Ironman. It was the race that broke me in terms of triathlons, though I attempted to do another 2 years ago that didn’t end so well. It was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done, besides giving birth to my children. Feeling nostalgic, here is my race report that I wrote not long after. Grab a cup of coffee, it is on the long side!

Ironman Wisconsin – September 12, 2004

Short report:

Ironman is not a recommended remedy for a chest cold. Friends and family really come through in a time of need. Ironman is more of a mental race than a physical one. A smile and a cheer can do wonders for your attitude. Chicken broth even tastes good when it is 85 degrees outside. Meteorologists in Wisconsin can’t predict the weather. 140.6 miles is a really long way when you aren’t in the mood. I can’t pee on myself unless it is raining (Read Ironman Lake Placid race report). Racing in the wind, rain and hail is better for me.


I arrived in Wisconsin on Thursday evening before the race. After doing my rendition of Clark Griswald circling Big Ben and Parliament in London, I finally found my hotel across from the state capitol building in Madison. By the way, if you are ever in Madison, don’t bother asking for directions – they don’t help.

I woke up Friday morning and joined much of the Atlanta contingent down by the lake for a morning swim. The water was cold, but not too bad after a few minutes. One hour later I had completed one lap – I was taking my time and hoped I would fair much better on Sunday. All I kept thinking was “wow, that was far” and I had 2 to do on race day! Guess I didn’t swim as much as I should have this year, once again. After swimming, I attended a talk by my friend’s coach, Rich Strauss, whose words of advice would later help me through the bike. That evening I drove back to Milwaukee to pick up Simon from the airport. Of course I got a speeding ticket along the way – should have been paying more attention rather than talking on the phone.

Saturday morning Simon surprised me with a beautiful Tiffany’s necklace to wish me luck in the race. This would turn out to help me through the race on the following day. We drove the bike course with my parents and I realized why people said that the Wisconsin course was one of the most technical. There were a few tricky downhills and loose gravel spots that had the potential to be very interesting come race day. I took my mind off the race later that day watching Georgia pull out a victory over South Carolina. Going to bed that evening, I could not fall asleep for a while because I was coughing very heavily and had a lot of congestion in my throat. I had felt since the swim the day before that I had picked up something in the water and was feeling a cold coming on. I only hoped it would wait until after the race to really affect me.

Race Day and Swim:

I awoke early and choked down some Ensure, Gatorade and a clif bar. I wanted to arrive in transition early enough so that I would not be rushing around. Not long after arriving in transition, I met up with Kimberly, Cindy, Holly and Casey. I made several bathroom stops in the convention center then Simon and I headed down to the water. My friend Nathan had organized a short prayer before the start. My parents found me there and after a reading from Isaiah, I found Casey, said my good-byes and headed into the water. It was an in-water start, which meant we would be treading water for a while, but in a wetsuit it isn’t that bad. We found an open patch of water towards the back and waited.

Finally, the gun went off and Casey and I were quickly swept in different directions. Unfortunately, they had replaced the traditional start song of U2’s “Beautiful Day” with Fat Boy Slim. I was trying to freestyle, but there was so much thrashing going on I would quickly convert to a modified breaststroke or freestyle with my head out of water. Progress was slow to say the least. My initial thoughts were one of panic and wanting to make a beeline for the shore as fast as possible. I just didn’t want to be there and I couldn’t believe how far I had to go. Finally, I was able to get into a little bit of a rhythm, but as soon as I would, I would start coughing heavily and have to stop for a minute. By the turn of the first loop, I realized my underarms were in serious trouble from chafing. This continued most of the first lap as I coughed up a good bit of lovely stuff.

The second loop was better than the first and I was more in a rhythm and coughing less. Finally I was back to shore and a man was practically lifting me out of the water. I was very disappointed to look down at my watch and see that it read 1:47 – that was 6 minutes slower than last year. This was to set the tone for the rest of the day. I ran up the long spiral to the convention center and transition area. I lifted my arms to see how bad the chafing was, and it was really bad – my arms were bloody and completely raw. I will never use body glide again! I was so happy to see my parents and Simon waiting for me at the top – though probably not as happy as they were. I decided against showing off my chafing as I knew that would only worry them.

Official time: 1:46:08         T1: 10:16


As it was warm, I decided to forego my tube sock arm warmers. I quickly realized, however, that I wished I had something to cover the chafing as the first few miles I had tears in my eyes from the stinging of the wind against it. I felt good overall and it was a gorgeous day. After about 10 miles I heard a motorcycle pull up alongside me, and when I turned it was the race videographer. We chatted for a few minutes, and I just knew that I would be on the race video (I didn’t make the cut, however). That lifted my spirits for a bit. By mile 25 however, I was in a lot of neck pain. I’ve had a great deal of trouble this year with my neck and upper back on long rides, but usually it doesn’t act up that early. I tried to ignore it and stretch whenever I could.

The roads were nice and I was feeling good and climbing well. Unfortunately, right before the tricky downhill, I dropped my chain as I was climbing a hill. As I stopped, one of the pro men whizzed past and shouted some directions to me on how to get it back on, which I did know how to do but appreciated the gesture nonetheless. However, when I looked at my chain, it had apparently popped up and was stuck between the bike frame and the big ring. I tugged and pulled and couldn’t get it to budge. After a few minutes of this, a guy on a bike who apparently wasn’t racing stopped to help. He was finally able to yank it free, much relieved and grateful, I continued on.

There are 2 nasty hills in a row before heading into the town of Verona, which marked the beginning of the second loop. The first hill is long, but not too steep and I had a good rhythm climbing it. The man in the leopard thong didn’t hurt either. The crowds were great! The second hill, known as radio tower hill is shorter, but much steeper. I did fairly well on it and saw my jchat friends half way up. But something in me snapped after that. I couldn’t recover after the hill and I was left completely demoralized. Coming into Verona, I started to cry and get upset, although I didn’t know why. I knew my parents and Simon would be in Verona and they could not see me upset – my parents would have insisted that I stop. So I pulled myself together. I was so relieved to see them as I came through town, and again the crowd support was incredible. After I passed Simon and my parents, I completely lost it and started balling crying. I didn’t know why, but I felt so low and all I wanted to do was stop. I kept trying to get my act together and I heard Rich Strauss’ words echoing in my ear “emotions are wasted energy,” and “you can’t control what is outside your box.” This helped a little bit.

At the special needs station, I caught up to Kimberly. I was so relieved to see her. We rode the next 15 or so miles together (though being careful not to violate the no drafting rules – like it would have helped us anyway). This was my saving grace as it took my mind off my emotions and whatever was upsetting me. Of course my gerbil bladder eventually kicked in and I stopped at the next aid station to use the bathroom. Sorry to report there was no urinating on myself in this race – it is one thing to do it in the rain, but on a beautiful and exceptionally hot day, it is quite another.

I never did catch back up to Kimberly and the rest of the ride was a real struggle for me mentally, emotionally and physically. I felt like my energy was zapped and my neck was extremely painful. At times my hip flexors were cramping as well. And then the coughing ensued. I was hocking up all kinds of really gross, large, hard things. The fact that my aero bottle straw was right in front of my mouth in the aero position was not helpful except to analyze what was coming out of me. In my more determined moments, I decided I wouldn’t quit unless I was coughing up blood. When I came through Verona again, all I wanted to do was stop and get a hug from my family and Simon, though I knew if I did I would break down again and they would want me to stop. I had to dig very deep to continue on. But it was still an immense relief to see them cheering me on and I put on my best happy face I could muster. The heat was rising (later found out it was 93 degrees on the bike) and I was feeling more miserable. I now realized what my coach Bob had been warning me about both last year and this: I needed to find my inner motivation to get me through these low points. I just didn’t realize I would have so many or that they would be so bad. I had to think of all the things I’ve overcome in my life, my family and their love and support and of course Simon. I especially wondered if I’d have to give back my necklace if I didn’t finish. It is amazing the wacky thoughts that come up when struggling and feeling low. At times I was wishing for the wind and rain of Lake Placid. I was seriously considering dropping out and wondering if I would be able to finish. As soon as I would make a list of the reasons why I should quit, I would come up with more reasons why I shouldn’t. I finally made a deal with myself – just get back to transition and start the run. I could always drop out on the run at an aid station if I had to. I kept hoping to catch back up to Kimberly, but it didn’t happen. Minona Terrace was such a beautiful sight and as I handed off my bike I tried to give it away to the highest bidder.

Official time: 7:38:28              T2 10:00


In transition, I saw Kimberly finishing up and she gave me an update on some of our friends. It was great to see her ever-smiling face and positive attitude. I changed and got greased up with sunblock (though my legs at this point were extensively burned – guess those got skipped in T1) and headed straight for the portajohns. My parents and Simon were there as I was exiting and I got to speak to them for a second. As I started to run, I realized that I actually felt okay. As long as I kept my pace slow (and it was incredibly slow) and ran like a chicken with my elbows out (the chafing would not allow me to have my arms by my side) I knew that I could finish. I was just so happy to be off my bike.

I caught up to Kimberly right before the degree of difficulty hill. I decided to walk with her for a little while. She had been battling nausea and a stomach full of liquids. Before the first turn around, I started to run again. Simon was at the turnaround and I was so happy to see him. After that, I was doing a good bit of alternating running and walking. At the aid stations, I was alternating chicken broth and Gatorade. Even though it was hot out, the chicken broth still tasted good as I needed the salt. I had not been prepared for it to be so hot on the bike and probably did not take in enough sodium. As I neared the finish line and the half way mark, I was very envious of those already finishing whereas I had another 13.1 miles to go. My parents were waiting for me, as was Simon. Simon started to run with me and even offered to go to the turnaround 6 miles away – while at my pace he wouldn’t have had a problem, he stayed with me for a mile. It was great to have him there with me and it really helped spur me on.

Kimberly and I kept playing cat and mouse on the second loop – each walking and running at various times. I started to walk more and more and just didn’t have the energy to run. All of me was hurting at that point, though at least the coughing had subsided. There were times I was starting to get emotional again, but nothing like on the bike. I was happy for the times Kimberly and I were together and I made a few other friends on the course. My trips to the portajohns were becoming more frequent and my bowels were threatening me that I had better hurry up and finish the race or things were going to get ugly. At least I knew I had plenty of time to finish before midnight, even if I had to walk the rest of the way. But I just wanted to finish and while I kept doing the math to see if I could finish in under 16 hours, that was becoming less of a reality.

Kimberly and I ended up back together with less than 3 miles to go. About 1 mile to go, Simon came and found us with a cold bottle of blue Powerade. It tasted so good and was a welcome break from the orange and lemon lime I had been drinking all day. At this point, Kimberly was too nauseous to run and I wanted to finish running. So Simon and I left her knowing she didn’t have too far to go to complete her second Ironman. As I turned the corner by the capitol, some of my Atlanta friends who had finished quite some time ago were waiting. It’s always great to see friendly faces. Simon then sprinted ahead to the finish chute to find my parents. I started to pick up the pace, though I didn’t know where the energy was coming from. Coming down the finish chute, I was so concentrated on Simon running just ahead of me on the sidelines and the finish line that I blocked out most everything else. I have no idea what song was playing, though I vaguely remember hearing my name being called. At the finish line I lifted my arms in the air and was so happy to be done. I’ve never worked so hard for something in my life.

Official run time 6:23:30

Lessons learned:

The saying that the Ironman is 90% mental isn’t a joke. You can’t go into this type of race in the mindset that I had been in: unexcited, unmotivated and just wanting it to be over. I should have taken this year off from Ironman as I was borderline burned out and had too many other distractions in my life. But friends and family will always help you through. As did my coach, Bob. I could not have done it without the love and support of my family and friends – those present and those not. While I certainly had hoped to better my time from last year and not be almost an hour and a half slower, I am still happy I finished and just as proud if not more so. It was sweet victory to finish – victory over my inner demons and negative self. I will never forget the pain and the suffering and the mental games I played with myself to get through.

Overall time 16:11:50

Overall place: 1857 out of 1973 (over 200 people didn’t finish)   

Age Group: 113 out of 134