Ironman Wisconsin is a fabulous race to watch. With the swim, transition, finish and much of the run all within walking distance it is easy logistically for both athletes and spectators. This year the athletes lucked out with a cool and overcast race day.
I worked with Ken Glah’s Endurance Sports Travel for the weekend helping athletes get around town. This was a great experience. The NBC team came up from Mexico with a contingent 24 athletes. Their team spirit before and during the race was impressive. Everyone gave a smile when we yelled ‘NBC!’ during the race.
Watching Wisconsin is special because there are so many Minnesotans to spot and support. You see some athletes putting together a great race and many overcoming challenges along the way. People who are crushing it probably don’t need nearly as much encouragement. People who are struggling can definitely use a good shout out. I am always most impressed with athletes who hit a spot of bother but work through it and rally.
My part-time friend, part-time athlete and part-time evil twin Sam and I were thrilled to see our friend Jared rebound from a low, low place. Coming through half way Jared was barely running and looking dejected and haggard. He managed to come through the GI distress he was experiencing and snap back to full-on running. While his day was far from best case scenario the fact that he bounced back shows the spirit of Ironman and with his second half rally he was still able to set a personal best time. Jared, everything I said and yelled at you on the course is 100% true.
Sam and I managed to see both the first and last finishers of the day and both ends of the day are inspiring. It was magnificent to see a stallion like Maik Twelsiek return to this race and dominate with a monster ride. On the women’s side Jackie Arendt, a local pro and QR rider, was just a few minutes down at half way and ran her way to the win. There was a competition between the Madison pros to be ‘King of Madison’. The challenge was simple, first male would be King and Jackie was given a 57 minute equalizer so if she finished within 57 minutes of the top man she would take the title. I am proud to say she used her QR CD0.1 to finish only 50 minutes back of Blake ‘Dreamboat’ Becker, the top man, so she is officially King of Madison! Congrats to her for both this title and the Ironman title, she probably values each equally. Seriously, what a champ.
On a side note, here is a little commentary on my peers and enemies the Badger pros Blake ‘Dreamboat’ Becker and Tom ‘Ironmore’ Gerlach. Each impressed me in their own way. Blake was feeling rough on the bike and just rode the best he could manage and got off and ran his way back into the race. He ran a 2:56, the fastest split of the day and made a late pass to claw his way back to 6th and a paycheck. That kind of day reflects maturity and determination. Tom ended up dropping out at half way through the run. He is coming off a 3rd at Louisville and a half Iron win last Saturday. He has invested in racing Kona and appeared to be planning to race Louisville, Wisconsin and then Tahoe in the weeks before Kona. Given the cost of racing Kona I personally didn’t think this was a great plan as he would almost certainly struggle at Kona as a result of the other races. At Wisconsin he was not in position to have a really great day so he made the smart choice to save himself by dropping out. Finishing just for the sake of finishing, in his case, would have been high risk, low reward. Making these choices is part of being a pro. I hope these two are ready to bow down before Jackie, the new King of Madison.
And if you think I am getting soft on these fellows, forget it. I fully intend to smash them both like a pair of cheap Ikea chairs at Ironman Arizona in the next edition of the Gopher-Badger Ironwar, Desert Storm. If Jackie comes to Desert Storm I will eat the equalizer-graded time like a starving vegetarian at a salad bar.
Everyone talks about the atmosphere at midnight and they are right to do so. As the clock ticks down the whole crowd is willing the final athletes to get themselves across the line in time. Mike Reilly really puts on a show. The last two guys were running together and had only seconds left. It was a little unclear if they were just over or just under and all of us in the crowd were affected by the drama. Sam, despite being evil, was on the brink of showing human emotion!
Through the day you see frantic energy, excitement, despair, frustration, determination and pure joy at the finish. Completing an Ironman may not be for everybody but the magic of Ironman is definitely something that makes our sport special. Helping guide athletes through the trials and tribulations of the training and race day is one of the more rewarding aspects of triathlon coaching. I had one athlete this year who I had only spoken with over the phone and emailed. The first time I ever laid eyes on him was as Mike Reilly announced his name as he crossed the line! We had worked through some challenges during his training but he managed to put together the best day possible and it was so gratifying to watch him finish his Ironman journey. Hats off to you Mark!
Congrats to all the Minnesotans who made it through the day! Please remember if I gave you a high five or fist bump it was sponsored by the Gold Guys as part of their Ironman Encouragement Program. Don’t be afraid to take it easy and have a donut or two over the next couple weeks.
Here are a few shots from the weekend, mostly of me eating donuts as part of my ongoing glycogen restoration program following IM Louisville: