Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Ironman Wisconsin Report

I know I owe you a Devil's Challenge report. But while I was working on it, Joe L.'s Ironman Wisconsin report landed in my email in-box. Joe is also one of Karyn's training clients and, trust me, his report is way more compelling than what I was working on. So with Joe's permission I'm posting his entire race report. After reading his story I'm sure you'll agree that congratulations are in order for a great, persevering performance on a tough, tough day...

"Give me one moment in time when I'm more than I thought I could be, when all of my dreams are a heartbeat away and the answers are all up to me, give me one moment in time when I'm racing with destiny, then in that one moment of time I will feel, I will feel eternity" - Whitney Houston, 1998 Summer Olympics

What an amazing day. My One Moment in Time. Coach, the finish line was everything you promised and more. An out-of-body experience that one searches a lifetime to for. A feeling that will last an eternity. Thank you Karyn for getting me there. I'll never forget it.

I'm still in a daze a week after finishing the 'toughest' Ironman in the 27 year history of this world wide ultra endurance race. A day of epic proportions according to the president of Ironman. A day when 19.3% DNF (11% was the previous record and 8% the average DNF rate). A day when 250 did not get through the bike portion (the previous record day was 50 DNF on the bike). A day when 3 out of 4 athletes (1500 in all) went to the med tent or the hospital (compared to 1 out of 4 last year at a tough, 90F race at IM Wisconsin). A day when even the Professional triathletes were over an hour slower than normal.

"Everyone will tell you that Ironman Hawaii (Kona) is the toughest race in the world with it's heat and wind, but Ironman Wisconsin 2005 had Kona heat, Kona wind and HILLS that Kona will never have. This was the toughest race in our history and I predict we will never see another one this bad" - Ben Fertic, Ironman President.

The combination of 94F+ heat, high humidity, gusty swirling 25mph+ winds from all directions, full-on sun all day long and a tough hilly bike course provided the stage for a day of carnage. There were bodies laying all over the place along the roads. Ambulances and sag vehicles were everywhere. It was scary out there. On one of the bigger climbs, it seemed that 75% of the athletes were walking up. Their faces showing the agony of defeat. It was chilling. And yet still a Marathon to finish. How could we ever get to that finish line? This was a question we all wondered.

"What this power is, I cannot say. All I know is that it exists...and it becomes available only when you are in that state of mind in which you know EXACTLY what you want...and are fully determined not to quit until you get it." - Alexander Graham Bell

Well, I can't explain it, but I knew exactly what I wanted and the power to get there kicked in, in a BIG way. I knew today was my day. I arrived at the swim start ready to go. Fully tapered, injury free and full power in every body part. The mind soaking every second of the moment in. The sunrise, the thousands of screaming fans, the cannon, the helicopter overhead and the smiles and fears of my fellow Ironmen as we walked into the water, about to cross over the Edge. It was about to happen.

"Here at the edge of it I must remind myself that there are things that I have learned, things that have not come easily – things for which I went hunting, for which I have sacrificed, and which will not abandon me. I have nothing to fear on this side of it, and knowing this, I will be ready... I will succeed because I have come too far. I have worked too hard, and because I have no choice, as I have burned the bridge leading back to all that I used to be." The Edge by Wil.

The cannon fired, and off we went, 2100 swimmers. One of the most profound sights in the world of sports. Working together, helping each other start our journey toward the finish line. Almost saying 'pardon me' with each accidental 'bump' along the way. No one seeming to purposely cause anyone any harm. We were one, almost dancing step by step, stroke by stroke. I started easy and flowed for 2.4 miles, never stopping for one single stroke. The best swim of my life. Steady, low heart rate, easy breaths, long strokes, a continuos rhythm that set me up for a solid race. Capturing 'kodak' moments with every breath to the side. The sunrise photos, the gleaming Terrace with the screaming fans, the occasional helicopter view that I purposely rotated my breathing just a little higher to have a full view of the hovering bird, and the 'video' of constant cadence of my new swim buddies, my dance partners. It was magical. Burned into my memory for life. (pausing for more tears, sorry).

One hour and twenty eight minutes later I was out of the water. It seemed like only thirty minutes ago that the cannon fired. The noise and energy at the swim exit was deafening. So much so that I could not even hear two of my very close friends, Kim and Debbie yelling right next to my wet suit stripping location. Up the ramp I went, running as you said I would coach, there was no way that I could walk up that thing with a thousand people yelling and screaming. On the ramp I found Noelle, Suzy, MichaelK, Jim and KT. Taking video and photo's and screaming so loud that I could ALMOST hear them. We got some high fives in and up the ramp I went. It was an amazing segment of the race. Wow. What a way to start the day.

Transition 1 went well. Just took my time changing and getting everything set for the long ride. Feeling strong, out the door I went running to the bike. Wife Jean and son Michael were on the platform above my bike rack. Yelling, waving and taking photo's. It was great to see them!! My son made it to the race safe, I was so happy to know that heading out. Of course I worried about him making the 5 hour drive up from Purdue alone. And so glad he could come share this special day with me. It meant the world to me to have him there. He and I have shared sooo many special days together. Climbing mountains, canoeing in the Canadian wilderness, Kayaking in the Atlantic ocean. Years of swimming and water polo meets in High School and College. I so wanted this one to be included in that long list memories we share. Also on the bike exit I did see Kim and Debbie this time (thank god for that, they made it up safely also) and got to chat quickly with Greg, Karen and the kids. It was wonderful to know that many of my friends took time out of their super busy lives to make it up for the race. I'm so thankful for that. They became my lifeline for the day, especially when the going got tough.

The bike. People fear and dread this course. And it did take it's toll on this day. But, I love this bike course!! I know every turn and hill. I know how to ride this thing, almost with my eyes closed. I had no doubt that even with the heat and wind that I could finish this leg of the race with a smile and be fresh enough to finish that marathon. It was my favorite part of IM training. The solo long 100+mile rides in rural Wisconsin. I so looked forward to those weekends and will miss them the most going forward.

I flowed from the swim right into the bike. All was good and strong. I kept the speed under control for the first half to ensure I'd have something in the tank for the marathon. The hills came and went and I went up them with ease. Full power, Perfect timing, perfect gearing, just flow. Smiling, waving, talking with anyone that would interact with me. Most folks on the bike would just not talk, they were too focused I guess. Worked the nutrition plan and stayed on track. Knew it was going to be a super hot day and nutrition would be the difference maker later on the run. After climbing sauk pass I approached Timber Lane. Hoping to see family and friends. I got distracted by several female members of the UW tri club wearing bikini's (didn't you tell me that this is one of the benefits of our sport Coach??). They were cheering on the bikes about 200meters before the climb. I took a second look (well maybe it was my third look) and saw Jim and Michael K standing right next to the bikini girls, what a big surprise! As I started the timber climb, Rich and Chris from the Bike Shop were on the left yelling so darn loud right in my face I thought they'd burst and I'd blow over. Those guys are just great. Then on the right Greg popped out and started running up the hill next to me. Asking if I was ok and how the race was going. It was fun to see the excitement in his eyes. I'm sure he was thinking about his ride up that hill next year. Next Noelle jumped in from the left with the video camera. I'm starting to feel like Lance at this point, the attention is getting addictive. I'm really liking this hill climbing stuff with the crowds, one heck of lot more fun than those lonely training climbs. Finally at the top are Jean, Michael, Vicky (jean's sister), and Midge from the run store. I unclick for hugs and photo op's. Tell them how great the race is going. They say I look excellent and that I'm right on my time splits so far. That was good to hear. I was almost half way through the bike leg.

Next up was the town of Verona and the IM bike festival. Oh my gosh. Talk about feeling like a Tour rider. The crowds were huge and loud and hungry for biker feedback. I pumped my fist a few times and the place went wild. It was another kodak moment. Wow. As a side note, it was a good move to send friends out to the hills instead of Verona. I could never have found them in the crowds, noise and higher speeds of downtown verona.

The winds kicked up and heat turned to 'high' for the second bike loop. Things got interesting. It seemed that around every corner a biker was in the ditch, or an ambulance was going by. The speeds were dropping with the winds and so were the spirits of all the riders. I keep pushing through and stayed tucked in aero as much as possible to cheat those high winds. The winds on the long, steep climbs were brutal. By the time we got to Sauk, Timber and Midtown climbs again, almost all the bikers were walking. I was not feeling that bad, so up I went on all three. I was still strong and ok at that point, 100 miles into the bike. My crew was still hangin' tough in the heat out on the hills and it was super to see and talk with them again. As I pulled out of Verona to head back to Madison I finally saw Kim and Debbie on the bike course. They had taken the shuttle to Verona. I had a wonderful chat and hugs with them, it pumped me up big time. I wanted to stay longer to socialize but they insisted I get going. I'm so happy I saw them on the bike route too. They looked so darn cute in those high stylin' sandals and painted toes. A big improvement in 'scenery' after 100 miles of cornfields and cows. ;) I think they paid the price later in the day for those non-walking sandals, but they sure looked good!

I was sooo looking forward to a little tail wind heading back to Madison and to getting it on with that marathon. I had physically and mentally 'got the job done' on the swim and bike. I was fresh and ready to run. But, increasing dehydration from the intense heat started to take it's toll. I started having back and gut pain during that last hour of the ride, the onset of heat exhaustion. I had to scrub some bike speed due to the pain. Hoping that it was just some minor cramping from a long, hot ride in that tough wind. That getting off the bike and resting a bit in Transition 2 would end the pain.

Well, no such luck. I stood up after changing and almost buckled over in pain. Was a little dizzy. But I could walk and out the door I went into the heat with one heck of a gut ache. Just hoping that I could walk it off on the run course and then get back at it. I saw the LTF crew at the top of the run exit. I was happy to see them. But I had to tell them that things were not looking good at all. It was the first 'bummer' moment of the race with my dear friends. I could now tell that beside the gut ache, the stress of the race was starting to effect my mental condition. I hurt so bad I just could not smile, have fun and soak it all in anymore. It was time to dig deep. I had a loooong way to go and it was not going to be pretty. I had to focus all my energies into making that finish line. Period.

So on I walked for most of that first mile. The pain did not go away. I started to worry. I started to run, I had to run to ensure that I'd have time to finish before midnight. I knew there was not enough time to walk 26.2 miles. I pushed through the pain and ran most of the first 7 miles or so, walking only for a few minutes at each aid station. Taking in nutrition and working the plan, waiting to see if the pain would reduce. It did not. Family and friends were very happy to see me on State Street. And I was delighted to see my lifelines. I was getting way behind schedule and we both knew things were bad. They encouraged me to hang in there. My son, the 'split machine' from high school swimming was feeding me the numbers as we walked. Telling me that I could do it, no problem, just keep going dad, "I'm proud of you". I wanted to cry.

By mile 7 the pain was getting worse and I had my first thoughts of not being able to finish due to the pain. I just could not run anymore. I actually stopped at the aid station and asked if they had medical staff that I could talk too. Probably a thing they didn't. I might have quit. I never stopped even for 10 seconds the rest of the race. After a mile of walking, the pain reduced somewhat. Probably to 5 out of 10 on the pain scale. I did the mental math, calculated my walking pace and concluded that I now could walk to the finish and make the cutoff. So I lowered my expectations, swallowed my pride and accepted the outcome. I would walk most of the marathon. I wanted that finish line no matter how it came. I'd come to far to be a quitter. It helped to relieve the stress a little. It was ok not to run anymore.

It was a long walk. I talked with many people along the way. One guy, a six time IM finisher assured me that I would be ok and had time to meet the cutoff. That I was not having an appendicitis attack or kidney stones. That he had suffered the same way on 4 of his 6 IM finishes. It was just part of doing IM for some people he said. That helped me a lot. I stopped thinking the worse and started to focus more on getting done. On experimenting with the nutrition levers I had learned from Heather. Slight changes in hydration ounces, sodium levels, carbohydrate levels, caffeine levels, etc. I methodically worked each variable mile after mile and listened to the body to see if anything shifted in the right direction. Nothing seemed to be making a difference. I just kept pushing through.

During miles 10-13 my walk pace was good, energy levels were good and I ran into friends and family several times. Jean, Michael and Vicky (the family) and MichaelK, Kim and Debbie were searching and linking with me every place they could think of. Things were moving along ok. The pain was tolerable and I was enjoying the visits with my support crew and the crowds downtown. The turnaound at mile 13 was mentally pretty tough. To be that close to the finish, to feel the crowds AND to know that I was headed back out for almost 4 hours of walking in the dark was brutal. One of the lowest points of the race for sure.

Around mile 17 or so, I noticed my walk pace was getting slower and energy levels were dropping. Earlier I was at 15min/mile walking pace and I was now getting closer to 20min miles. I ran the math and realized that I might not make it if things got slower, and realized that with the growing pain in my left leg system, I just might slow down further. So I had to run more to make up some time. Probably ran for 3 miles or so. It was ok at first, but slowly the pain in my gut increased again. Had a few moments of thought that I might just be able to run the rest of the way, but it just didn't work out. The pain was too much. But now I knew that if I could just keep moving that I could get there with at least 15minutes to spare. I was going to finish this race. I just had to keep moving.

Miles 19-22 were just darn right brutal. It was dark and lonely. I was in the woods along the lakefront. It seemed at times that everyone else had finished. I wondered if I passed out on the trail if they'd even find me out here. It was bad. I don't want to go there again. I was still 'awake' enough to process the whole thing and feel 100% of the pain. My left leg, and specifically my front lower tibia (shin) were on fire. I knew major damage was taking place down there and getting worse by the minute. Now wondering if the leg would keep me from the finish line. What a nightmare. Each mile seemed like an eternity. I could not believe how long they seemed. I could not get my mind to a better place, it just wouldn't go. It (my mind) was determined to stop this nonsense, this pain and I just said NO. I told it, "I know you're trying to trick me into stopping, I know that the pain is really not there, I know that it's your tricky way of getting my last few carbohydrates, I know all this and I'm saying NO". I pushed on.

The last mile marker I remember clearly was mile 23. I said "awesome, only 3 miles, I can do that fast", then the demons said "you dummy, it will take over an hour to do 3 miles and you don't even have 5 minutes till you pass out". I pushed on.

In a funny twist of IM fate, somewhere around mile 24 they walk you right past the entrance driveway of the Madison General Hospital ER. It took everything I had to not turn right into the ER. My mind told me I'd be there later that night. That was just ugly.

Miles 23, 24 and 25 were a daze. I was not 100% there. My body was moving slower. My energy levels were vitally low. My hands were tingling. My leg was getting numb. My gut was on fire. Every 5th or 6th step was partly sideways. I was starting to lose control of things and I knew it would not be long before I'd have to stop. I prayed that I had the energy and consciousness to finish this out. I wanted that medal. I tried to leave the pain. I started chanting 1,2,3,4...1,2,3,4... Just counting steps, trying to get into a hypnotic, out of body, auto pilot space that would allow me to flow. It started to work.

"You can quit and they won't care, but you will always know". NBC's Ironman Hawaii 2003

I passed mile 25 and I could feel the body coming back to me. The pain was subsiding, the mind was awakening. I could see and hear the finish (not really, but the mind is soooo powerful, I remembered the feeling from the 13.1 mile turnaround point). It was the miracle of adrenaline that I knew would be there for me at the finish if I could just hold on. I'd felt this miracle at the end of the Horribly Hilly 125 mile bike race. During that last 3 mile, 1000 ft climb to the highest point in Wisconsin. A climb that my mind assured me all day I could not do, but with finish line adrenaline almost seemed effortless in nature. A euphoric feeling. Something they could make millions on if they could bottle it. That top of the mountain, out of body feeling. That feeling that we all dream about and so few get to ever experience. That feeling was coming and I was preparing myself for the rush of emotions that it held. I had arrived... This is the Moment.

This is the moment, my final test;
Destiny beckoned, I never reckoned second best.
I won't look down, I must not fall;
This is the moment, the sweetest moment of them all.

This is the moment, forget all the odds
This day or never I'll sit forever with the gods.
When I look back I will recall, moment for moment
This was the moment,
The greatest moment of them all.

- This is the Moment by Donny Osmond

I started to power walk up that last incline to the Capitol. Now I could really hear and see what lied ahead. My heart started to race and I knew that I would run those last few blocks. That I would smile and hold my arms high in victory. That I would slap high fives with the thousands of cheering fans. That I would have my One Moment in Time and that I would feel eternity. I had done it. The journey was complete. I had reached the top of mount Ironman.

"Joe L, Aurora Il, Age 49, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN"

It was amazing. The body was suddenly perfect. I could not believe it. The gut was fine, the leg was fine, the mind was clear. And I was present to the most unbelievable LOVE from family, my dear friends MichaelK, Kim and Debbie that somehow survived the whole day too and the total strangers in the crowd that stayed till the end to cheer down that finish line. I was wide-eyed, smilin' and soaking in every second of it. Pictures, video, hugs, kisses, tears. It was a beautiful thing. I'll never, ever forget it.

My recovery has gone well. My energy levels have been pretty darn good since the finish line. Body was a little tight the next day, but the Tuesday massage seemed to flush out all the bad stuff. My tibia is still sore but improving daily and will soon be just fine.

I've been on an emotional roller coaster all week. It started at the awards lunch and then continued as I received dozens and dozens of calls, emails and messages from friends and family. There were many 'congrats' discussions that were heart warming. But the real rides cames when my friends started sharing what being at the Ironman did for them. The impact that it had on them. How it has changed the way they view the world. I was not prepared for this part. It is a gift that keeps on giving. I also have a new connection with my favorite songs, a few of which I highlighted above. The emotion and feelings when I listen to them now are indescribable. Those song will bond me with that magical moment forever. Another gift. The love that was generated on that day is incredible. I'm sooo happy that some of my closet friends made time to share this with me. It has bonded us in a way that nothing else ever could. My only wish is that even more could have been there to experience all this. I could not believe how many friends were online tracking me all day and watching the finish too. The emails and voicemail and tears started flying in at 11:35pm and just kept coming for days. A really good feeling too.

A few more notes before the race stats and nutrition log (I know you can't wait for that data). You were right on with 'soak it all in from start to finish Joe'. I really got a ton out of being up there for the full ride. Early registration allowed me to swim in the mornings, enjoy the expo, meet people, relax, attend the welcome dinner and have fun. A perfect way to get to the start line fresh. That Welcome dinner is a must. It was a major 'pep rally' and something you just can't miss. Don't let your athletes miss this stuff. It is powerful. Along those lines, the awards lunch is even more powerful. You just can't miss this when it's your first Ironman. The feelings of accomplishment are huge and it started the week long emotional ride. I had heard on the Forum that these things are boring. I can't even imagine anyone feeling that way. You would have to be dead inside to not get jacked up by these two special events. There were guys and gals there that had done 30 Ironman's and they still had tears in there eyes. Work and life will wait a few extra days. Speaking of work, I'd also suggest taking at least 3 days off from everything after the race. This really allowed me to stay on the emotional ride and enjoy every minute of the journey. To spend quality time talking and writing to those that cared. To 'make the rounds' and thank those at the run store and bike store and other places that helped me get the job done. To listen to music and watch the event DVD multiple times and reflect on the day and the year. And to just let the emotions flow when they needed to. I'd sure hate to have cut that off by heading back to work, yuk. This is a once in life time event and I'm sure glad I made time to enjoy the heck out of it.

OK, enough story telling. It's time for those race data logs you been waiting a week for....

Official Splits:

Swim 1:28:39 2:20/100m
Trans 1 14:27
Bike 7:23:28 15.2mph
Trans 2 11:20
Run 7:17:17 16:42min/mile
Total 16:35:09 (a loooong day)

Heart rate data:

Swim Ave=111, Max=133 (right at end)
Bike Ave= 123, Max=155
Run Ave=105, Max=142 (at finish)

Heart rate distribution (full race, swim/bike/run)

90-100 = 23%
100-110 = 15%
110-120 = 24%
120-130 = 26%
130-140 = 10%
140-150 = 1.5%
150-160 = 0.5%

Note: Looking at the HR graph data, it appears that I did about 2 hours of running (HR's steady between 135-140) and about 5hr+ hours of walking (HR's steady between 95-105). So using an 11min/mile run pace, that would give me about 11miles of run and 15miles of walking for the marathon. More running than I orginally thought had been done.

Nutrition Log:

Summary info -
Bike - 36.6oz per hour, 64.8g carbs/hr, 997mg sodium/hr. (good precision, +/- 5%)
Run - 26.1oz per hour, 47g carbs/hr, 795 mg sodium/hr. (rough estimate on fluid intake, +/-20%)

Nutrition details...

Bike -
- 3x22oz GatorEndur, 6x24oz Gator Endur, 3x20oz water.
- 2 cliff bars, 1 gu pack
- 11 thermolyte salt pills (150mg/pill)

Run -
- 20x5oz Gator Endur
-4x 5oz coke
-2x5oz chicken broth
-12x5oz water
- 4 gu packs
- 12 thermolyte salt pills.


The Clyde said...

Wow!!! What strong commentary and a great report, congrats to him, that was a pretty emotional ride.

mipper said...

wow! just amazing.

Wil said...

AGHHHHH!! How COOL is this!!!? I'm SO psyched now!

Jennifer P said...

Your post is one of the most exciting, scary, inspiring and downright amazing IM reports I've read. Congratulations -- you truly are an Ironman!

Flatman said...

Sheesh...I most definitely had tears running down my cheeks, sitting at my desk, at 8:00 a.m. in the morning. Thanks, so much Joe for this wonderful account of one of the most important days of your life. And thanks VM for allowing us a portal into Joe's awesome day!

Oldman said...

thanks for sharing that amazing report. joe, what a great job you did! awesome!

Comm's said...

that was an awesome report.

Intrepid Training Partner said...

I've always been in awe of that distance, and now I have an even greater appreciation for it. Thanks for the great insight and inspiration. And congratulations, Joe, on a triumphant finish!

tri-mama said...

pretty much leaves you speechless. Congrats to Joe.