Ray's Blog

Sunday, February 26, 2006

2003 September 7: Ironman Wisconsin

This was it! My first ever Ironman competition! 2.4 miles
of swimming, 112 miles of biking, and a full marathon-- all taking
place in or around Madison, WI. Race HQ was at Monona Terrace,
just a mile from where Dan and Naomi live.

The ultra-skinny summary is the following:

  • Swim split: 1:24:04

  • T1 (swim-to-bike transition): 9:04

  • Bike split: 6:23:26

  • T2 (bike-to-run transition): 5:43

  • Run split: 5:49:32

  • Total official time: 13:51:48

All the official details on me are here.

Now for the real trip
report. Where to begin?

Overall trip parameters

This was a three-legged trip. First I flew from the Bay Area to
Ottawa to visit Jeff, Adele, and Rachel (David was already back at
school) for a few days; then I flew to Madison; then (after the
triathlon!) I flew back home.

The Ottawa trip was great. I got to see the family, ascertained
that the bike case I borrowed from Chad did a great job protecting my
bike, and got to do a little running and biking in Ottawa.

Madison was awesome, too. I spent a week-plus with Dan and Naomi,
did some swimming/biking/running, etc.
My only two gripes are that the temperature was a bit out of control,
and the triathlon itself took a long time. Lots more on both of
these shortly!

I didn't have to pay anything to have my bike on the plane, which was
great, since I could conceivably have had to pay $80 on each of the
three legs. My USA Triathlon membership came with two free passes
on United, and those worked perfectly for the first and last legs of
the trip. (There were some minor complexities on each of these
legs that made me worry a bit that the airline wouldn't take the
passes, but I ended up with no problem.) Going from Ottawa to
Madison was actually an Air Canada flight, and they didn't even ask me
about the bike. Whoo-hoo!

The pre-triathlon in Madison

I arrived in Madison on September 1, so I had plenty of time to rest up
before the race. Local forecasts were indicating that race day
would be a touch hot, but not too bad. Unfortunately, pretty much
every day, the race day temperature forecast was bumped up a few
degrees. The actual day of the triathlon got up to 90 degrees and
over 80% humidity-- yowch! But I'm getting ahead of myself...

I spent my first few days in Madison chillin'. When Iron Week
started on Thursday, I made the most of that-- spending lots of time
looking at the Ironman Expo, swimming out on the swim course, etc.

Two particularly interesting things on display at the Expo were PowerCranks and Endless Pools. The
PowerCranks dude had a stationary bicycle equipped with PowerCranks (of
course), and Dan and I (and plenty of others) gave it a whirl.
Even a short test spin was pretty good at convincing you that these
babies really will help smooth out your bicycle stroke. However,
the claims that PowerCranks makes (in 6 months, we can increase your
40K time trial speed by 2-3 mph, and we can also take a minute of your
mile running time!) are pretty strong stuff, and I'd be pretty amazed
to see them borne out. I'd like to get a pair of these, but
they're a bit pricy (the base model is $690).

The Endless Pools folks had an endless pool set up, and they let people
in there for a 10-minute (or so) session. While you were in
there, they coached you on your stroke. Because the pool had a
mirror on the bottom, you could see yourself in real-time, too.
Finally, they videotaped the session, and after you climbed out, they
viewed the tape with you and gave you more pointers (we got to keep the
tapes!). Very cool! I'm pretty sold that an Endless Pool
would be a great thing to install in (or outside of) one's house.

Friday night was the pasta banquet before the race. It was basic,
but good. All the pasta you needed, plus rolls and
potatoes. Nothing fancy (and no dessert, either). They
showed some videos to kind of pump everyone up, and I have to admit
that I felt pretty inspired. They were nicely done and had
exciting soundtracks, and given that I was already feeling some
adrenaline flowing, that was enough to get me wired about coming events.

Saturday I picked up Lauren from the airport and then went to the
mandatory pre-race meeting where they review the rules and stuff like
that. They also showed a helpful video that instructed us on how
the transition areas were set up.

Since this was the day before the big race, I knew that it would be
important for me to "tune up" my racing instincts. I therefore
spent a chunk of the day playing Mario
Kart: Super Circuit
on my Game Boy Advance SP. Indeed, I
managed to score a previously unattainable rank of "B" on a difficult
Grand Prix race circuit; I felt that this augured most auspiciously for
the events of the morrow.

That night I had a lot of pasta. A whole package of
whole-wheat pasta, in fact. Admittedly, it was only 13.5 ounces
dry (not a full pound), but it seemed like a lot, anyway. Shortly
thereafter, off to bed!

I didn't sleep too well. The transition areas opened at 5am, and
I got out of bed and started preparing at 4am. The first thing I
did was start eating my official pre-race food-- figure that the sooner
something goes in, the sooner it goes out. I had two bananas and
two Clif Bars, and nothing else. Then I pulled myself together
and biked (I borrowed Dan's bike, since the bike check-in occurred the
previous day) over to Monona Terrace, where all the action was.
There, I spent a surprisingly long time milling about from this part of
the transition area to that part, and moving something from this bag to
that bag, and putting sunblock on, hitting the Porta-Potties, and that
kind of nonsense. Despite never sitting around with nothing to
do, I only managed to hook up with Lauren and Dan around 6:30am (they
were both there to see the 7am start; Dan was also one of the race
volunteers). We hung out for a bit before I threw on my wetsuit
and entered the water. Plenty of bodies out there already (about
1800 people total raced)!

At the entrance to the lake, there was a guy with some kind of anti-fog
stuff for goggles. This sounded like a good idea, so I had him
squirt some into my goggles. He told me to make sure to rinse it
off the lenses well before putting the goggles on, and I really wish
that I had obeyed his instructions better (at the time, I thought I
had)! More on this shortly.

I seeded myself more or less in the middle of things (a little towards
the back), figuring I'd swim a 1:10 or 1:15. There was actually a
surprising amount of space between folks at the start; I guess that
other people don't like to get kicked in the face, either. After sitting
around in the water for a while, the cannon fired, and we were off!

The swim

Pretty much from the get-go, it seemed like there was something
irritating my eyes. I didn't know what to make of it, other than
that it hurt! Because of this, I swam the majority of the course
with my eyes closed. This worked out OK on the first lap of the
two-lap course, because there were enough other folks right near me
that it was more or less impossible to go astray. But on the
second lap, I started to have trouble. On the first leg of lap
two, I tried to determine my trajectory by keeping the sun at the
corner of my eyes (I was viewing the sun through my eyelids and
goggles). But I kept on getting distracted by thinking about my
stroke, and I guess my stroke pulls pretty hard to the right. In
any case, I lifted my head and saw that I was heading straight for
shore, which was 90 degrees of course. I corrected myself, but
this kept on happening during that lap (although never that far off-course again!).

I also received one decent kick to the head near the end of the first
lap. It was nothing much, but it was enough to make me let out a
yowl that probably only the Lake Monona fishes got to hear
properly. Apparently one person took a sufficiently hard kick
during the swim that he called it a day after that (I have no idea
whether or not he exited the lake on his own steam).

Later on, during the bike ride, I
realized that I probably hadn't rinsed out my goggles very well, and
that that was the problem during the swim. The anti-fog stuff was
pretty viscous. Too bad I was in no shape no think about it
during the swim, or I could have stopped for half a minute to
rinse. Ah, well.

My swim time (1:24:04) was a lot slower than I'd expected. I
certainly sacrificed some time to the randomness in my course, but that
probably doesn't account for all of it. I should have swum
somewhat harder, figuring that it wouldn't matter too much if my upper
body was kind of tired out. Next time!

(On the bright side, I exited the water feeling happy and energetic.)


The swim-to-bike transition at Ironman Wisconsin involves covering a
fair bit of distance, including running up a helix that normally serves
as an entrance and/or exit for the parking area. That's why
everyone's transition times are pretty slow.

The general procedure is as follows: First, you exit the water
onto a fake lawn carpet. Then, volunteers peel your wetsuit off
and you head up that helix. You're directed to the room where
your transition bag is stashed, and after grabbing it, you go to the
changing room for whatever gender you're racing as. You exit the
changing room, go off to your bike, and head out of T1, starting the
ride by descending the helix at the other end of the parking area.

That's pretty much what I did. Lauren and Naomi cheered me on
over near the wetsuit-stripping area, and then I ran up the
helix. In the transition bag room (where he was doing volunteer
work), Dan told me to go faster (actually, I can't remember the words
we exchanged). Now, my transition bag had my sunglasses (which I
wanted to wear for the bike leg and maybe the run leg) in it, contained
within their protective case. But when I opened the bag up, in my
haste I thought that the sunglasses case was the case for my swim
goggles, so I didn't bother opening it up. As a result, I didn't
ever put on my sunglasses. Very silly, and I realized my error
just after exiting the changing room. But at that point I figured
it was too late, and I didn't want to make a scene and/or obstruct the
traffic flow out of the room. At least I remembered to slap on
some more sunscreen (figuring that a lot of the stuff I applied before
the swim had disappeared); if I hadn't, though, I could have gotten
some from the volunteers outside..

I took a leak in a Porta-Potty, went to my bike, and started the ride
at about 8:30am. This was the last time I went to the bathroom
until 10pm (!).

The ride

I rode my new Softride triathlon bike with fancy wheels (Zipp 404 rims
(OK, they're clinchers, not tubulars) and really noisy Chris King hubs).

I started the ride feeling great, even though I missed my sunglasses a little (later on, when things were even hotter and sunnier, I missed 'em more). During the Half Vineman, I had maintained an average pace of just under 21mph over the bike course's 56 miles, and with my fancy new aerodynamic wheels, I thought that maybe I could do something comparable here. What a fool I was! The weather in Wisconsin was ridiculous, the course was much hillier, and (probably most important) the course was twice as long.

I did indeed start out happily biking around 21mph with no troubles. But as the day wore
on and on, things...got slower. The course is all rolling hills,
none of which is particularly huge or steep by itself, but which work
together to inflict some pain. I saw my average speed go down to
19mph, and I thought to myself, "Hmmm. I think I can maintain
that, and I'll get in just under 6 hours." But as I got hotter
and hotter and more and more tired, I saw that 19mph was definitely not
the lower limit for me (my overall average speed on the bike ended up being 17.5mph).

I saw one fine display of projectile vomiting on the course.
Judging by the sheer quantity of stuff that this guy threw up, he was
doing a better job of drinking during the ride than I was.

I also had a Close Encounter of sorts with urine. I myself am
pretty highly toilet-trained; indeed, I have a sneaking suspicion that
when I got my SCUBA certification, I become the first person ever to do
it without peeing in his/her wetsuit.

Anyway, on the bike ride, this guy I've been seeing a fair amount of
(you're not allowed to draft in triathlon, but there's likely to be a
few people who you'll see repeatedly over the span of many miles-- you
pass them, they pass you, you
pass them, etc.) confides in
me, "I'd like to piss myself, but there's a crowd of like 30 people
behind us." A few minutes later, there's not really anyone else
around, so he says, "OK, heads up-- I'm gonna let fly." Now, I
had imagined that peeing in one's bike shorts would be a private
thing-- figure they're already kind of wet (from sweat and perhaps
Gatorade that slopped on them somehow). But fortunately I had
given the guy some extra distance, because he stands up on his bike and
a ton of liquid comes out, drenching the back of his bike, the bag
under his seat, and perhaps even the drink bottle behind his
seat. Yecch!

Needless to say, in response to this, I have strengthened my opposition
to peeing on the fly (maybe
it'd be OK to do it if you're a guy and you manage to "whip it out", as
the idiom goes. Maybe).
I suppose that if it's a close race and a minute might actually make
the difference between first place and second place, I might change my
tune. Thankfully (well, sort of) that wasn't the case for me on
this race.

My feet hurt me for a fair chunk (maybe more than half) of the course--
I got these "hot spots" on the bottom of my feet where the cleats on my
shoes are. I assume that if I get shoes with a stiffer sole
and/or I switch from SPD cleats to something with a bigger platform
(say, Look or SPD-SL), then things will improve significantly.
Maybe I'll do that. Maybe not.

I've certainly done rides of this length with the very same shoes and
pedals without this kind of foot pain, but I guess it makes a
significant difference that:

  • I didn't take any breaks (the other long rides were "just" rides, not races).
  • I was kind of in a hurry (again, the other long rides weren't

My butt hurt a bit, too, by the end of the ride, but it wasn't too
bad. Perhaps installing a tri-specific saddle like Selle San
Marco's Aspide Triathgel would be in order. We'll see.

I finished the ride feeling not too bad (except for my feet) but, well,
kind of tired. And not looking forward that much to running a
marathon. And it was still really hot and humid.


Nothing too remarkable happened in the bike-to-run transition. I
put on more sunscreen, tossed down a banana, and got out of there.

The run

Then I started running. Unfortunately, the "running" didn't last
too long. I ran maybe a mile or two, but my feet were hurting
enough that I said to myself, "Maybe I should just walk for five
minutes or so to give my feet a chance to be happy, and then run from
there." As is somewhat evident from my run split (5:49:32), I did
not end up running the bulk of
the marathon, though!

Instead, I hooked up with someone else who was walking. I met a
Canadian woman, Susan, who was also feeling rather disinclined to
run. We walked together from around the three-mile mark until
perhaps the 11-mile mark, at which point we decided to inject a small amount of running into the
proceedings (Susan wanted to make sure (or at least reasonably sure) that she'd break
14 hours). From then on, we ran for one minute (hey, baby steps,
baby steps, right?) and then walked for four minutes, repeating ad nauseum. Most of those
one-minute runs felt OK (pretty impressive, huh? Don't be
thinking that we were running very quickly, by the way), but a few of
them definitely aged me.

I felt rather lame for walking the whole way, but what the hell, my
feet really hurt me, and I didn't exactly feel what I'd call a "fire in
my belly" to do it at a run. My chest was a bit sore from
spending the bulk of 112 miles in an aero tuck, so taking deep breaths
was uncomfortable, too. Excuses, excuses...

Plenty of other folks were walking (or running/walking), too. I
expect that's a pretty standard thing at any Ironman, although the
weather conditions of this particular day presumably made even more
people do it than usual.

I saw Dan and Naomi on the run, and they cheered me on. Then I
started seeing a whole bunch of chalk graffiti on the road directed at
me, and I figured that they had written it there just before. It
turned out that they hadn't, though! One of Naomi's grad
students, Sarah, and her boyfriend, Ted, had done it, even though
they'd never met me! I met them very soon-- they saw the
name and number I was wearing, and they introduced themselves and
cheered me on. Then I saw them again. And again!
Naomi talked to them later, and apparently they were a little worried
I'd think they were stalking me (since I had never even met them
before). Apparently they had started out writing Dan's name on
the street a few times, but then they realized, "Wait a minute.
It's not Dan who's doing the
triathlon, it's his brother, Ray."
To "make up for" this appalling error, they went wild with the chalk in
name. It was pretty cool! During something like this, you
definitely appreciate seeing people who know who you are and who
address their exhortations at you.

Lauren had been waiting forever on the run course to see me (I was
going a fair amount slower than I had cavalierly claimed I would before
the race!), and I finally saw her. We talked briefly, but I was
worried that if she walked alongside, the referees would have a cow
(officially, spectators can't accompany participants for more than 15
seconds). She ran around to meet with me a few more times-- even
though I was the one all decked out in running gear, and she was most
definitely not, she was certainly going faster than I was.

Throughout the run, I was drinking water and Gatorade and chicken broth
pretty liberally. I was also pouring water over myself and wiping
myself down with wet sponges and ice. At some point, I got my
right sneaker pretty wet from all this, and it was pretty uncomfortable
from then on. In fact, my most lasting bodily souvenir from the
day is a big ol' blister on the bottom of that foot that was caused by
the wet shoe.

Finally the finish loomed, perhaps a quarter of a mile away.
Susan and I decided we'd maybe run the last little bit at our own
individual pace. She did that, but after a short run, I decided
to walk a bit more and then only sprint the very last bit. So I
did. Now, for much of the "run" I had been figuring that as I
crossed the finish line, I'd put on an anguished, lopsided smile of
pain and say, "Adrian! Adrian!" But I finally decided that
that would take too much energy, and besides, the whole "Rocky" thing
had no doubt been done to death. So I didn't do anything too
special at the end.

Immediately afterwards

Lauren and Dan were at the side of the finish chute, and we made
contact soon. Naomi was in the area, too, although I didn't catch
sight of her at the finish chute, and the four of us hung out on a
bench while I ate pizza and a sandwich and drank. Then Naomi
drove me home while Dan and Lauren biked there on Dan's and my bikes.

The awards banquet

The next day was the awards banquet. While I didn't score any
awards (I know-- I was shocked, too!), I'm always up for free grub, and
I wanted to see what else would go on. The food was reasonable (I
would have eaten it anyway, of course!), and they had made a video of
the race and a video of the volunteers; they showed them both. It
was rather impressive how quickly they managed to produce these
videos! Unfortunately, because of how many different age groups
there are, the awards part of the banquet took a long time. Given how
exhausted I was, I should perhaps have called it a day. Instead,
I half-slept at the table until the conclusion. Then I left the
room, picked up my copy of the videos, and bought some cheap
memorabilia of the previous day.


  • Sign-up for Ironman Wisconsin 2004 (taking place September 12,
    opened at 10pm (I think that
    was the time) on race day. In only four days, the 2004
    race filled to capacity
    . Timing is everything in triathlon!

  • It's fairly impressive that the first-place finisher managed a
    time under 9 hours on that course under those conditions.

  • I'm not yet sure whether or not I'll do another of these (perhaps
    my destiny lies with shorter distances). If I do, I plan to train
    differently (better!). (I plan to swim/bike/run better, too!)

  • Other than that blister from my wet sneaker, I was pretty much OK
    (still a touch dehydrated) two days after the race. I haven't
    exercised yet since (it's Thursday right now), but I probably will
    start doing so tomorrow.

  • I think I must have used up most of my racing mojo playing Mario
    Kart: Super Circuit the day before the race.

A few pictures taken by Sarah and Ted during the run

I don't know anything about making nice HTML pages or scaling pictures
up or down, and I'm in a hurry to be down with this write-up, so I'm
sticking them in here raw. Please note that I'm posing in some of
these-- I don't necessarily look that
funny when I'm walking! My companion in all of these is Susan.

Susan and me

Me going so fast that ordinary rules for seeing things don't apply

My ass, moving in a blur

Susan and me

Me and Susan struttin' at night

Me and Susan continuing through the darkness


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