Ironman Wisconsin 2015

Ironman Wisconsin 2015

It’s hard to imagine how I could have had a better day at Ironman Wisconsin! It definitely wasn’t devoid of adversity, but going through and overcoming those times are a huge part of the experience and growing as an athlete and individual.

I was incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to take the entire week before the race off of work to train, rest, recover, eat and pack. The last thing I wanted was to have an undue amount of stress from trying to fit in everything around what would have likely been a crazy week at work. 20150913_MadisonIronman'15-9I was excited for these low-key days, but before I knew it Thursday had arrived and I was in the car headed north. As relaxed as those final few days were leading into the race, they are still a blur…thankfully an uneventful blur. Registration was a breeze (thank you All-World Athlete status), Saturday was infinitely more relaxed this year than two years ago and then all of a sudden my alarm was going off at 4:30am Sunday morning. All of the nerves that I had felt on Saturday had transitioned to sheer excitement for the day and the opportunity that I had to, yet again, test my limits. There was no way I was going to take these moments for granted!

Swim – 1:03:22 (21st in age group)20150913_MadisonIronman'15-64

Two years ago at this race, I was only chest-deep in water when the cannon went off. My strategy was simply to have clean, open water and not to have to deal with the mayhem of the mass start. This couldn’t have been more different than how I went into the swim this year. I wanted to get out strong and find fast feet to follow for the 2.4 miles. In order to accomplish this, I decided to start much closer to the buoy line where I knew the fast guys would be. After a good warm-up, which I now believe is key to having a good swim start, instead of finding myself towards the middle of the start line, I was right at the inside buoy. Despite knowing that this is where the mayhem would be the greatest, I heard a lot of guys talking about swimming 1:00-1:05, so I knew this was where I wanted to be. As the clocked ticked closer to 7:00am, more and more people started congregating in the area and I lost all ability to have personal space. Instead of focusing on my increasing anxiety, I turned my thoughts to executing my swim start…swim hard and focus on counting strokes to keep my mind of the people that were swimming over, under and around me. Being so far away from shore, I couldn’t hear the countdown and all of a sudden the cannon went off. I was 3ish rows back, and it took a few seconds to be able to move as those in front of me started swimming. But a few strokes of Tarzan swimming and some aggressiveness got me going. Head down, counting 1, 2, 3…20 I quickly found myself at the second buoy and turned my focus to finding feet. One of the huge victories I’ve realized this year is the ability to think while swimming; I’m not simply focused on not drowning. I guess hours and hours in the pool will do that to you. I was able to stay strong while taking in the situation around me and finding a group to swim with. Several times I found myself without feet to swim on, either because someone took a bad line or because I realized I was leading a group. Pretty frequently I felt people tapping my feet, and I used that as confidence to keep pushing. Never would I have thought that I’d be in a position, or at a fitness level, where others were trying to stay on my feet! Rounding the last turn buoy, I put the pedal down and swam hard towards shore. My goal was to swim 1:05-1:10, so when I came out of the water and saw 1:03 on the clock I was pretty elated! I felt good, had plenty of energy left in the tank and knew that I had conquered a monster in my mind.

T1 – 0:06:54

I have yet to experience anything quite like the energy that is present throughout T1 in Wisconsin. At first sight, the thought of running up a 3+ story parking ramp, called the helix, can be quite daunting. But this is quite possibly one of my favorite parts of the race. People line the entire ramp and the noise level is intoxicating. Despite running my way through the entire transition and to my bike, I was surprised to see that 6+ minutes had elapsed since I came out of the water. But I let that thought float away and turned my attention to enjoying and executing the bike ride. One thing that I very intentionally did differently this year from 2013 was take in some nutrition right away. I pounded a Honey Stinger gel and most of a pack of Honey Stinger chews as I was heading towards my bike to top off the fuel level after the swim.

Bike – 5:24:17 (12th in age group)

Coming back down the helix and onto John Nolen, there was already an ambulance loading someone on a stretcher and the first bump knocked one of my CO2 cartridges with my adapter out of my flat kit. This definitely caused a few moments of panic as I fought away negative scenarios of how the rest of the day could progress. I’ve heard time and time again that a large part of Ironman is dealing with problems and moving past them, not letting them overtake your mind. So I switched over to positive thinking and pressed on out of Madison. Pretty quickly I was caught by a couple of guys in the 30-34 age-group, but instead of them completely riding away from me, I stuck with them and we ended up staying together for most of the ride. 20150913_MadisonIronman'15-132Similar to the swim, the times when I thought I was all alone ended up as me actually being in front of the group. Both of these guys would pass me, I would drop back to the legal distance to avoid a drafting penalty, but shortly afterwards I would be making up ground on them and go for the pass. Riding legally was at the forefront of my mind, both because the draft zone has been extended to five bike lengths instead of three and because there are course officials riding around us for much of the time. Instead of viewing this as a nuisance, I focused on this being a positive, knowing that I was riding strong and up front.

The goal for the first 60-80 miles was to make sure I wasn’t going to hard and to nail my nutrition plan. These are critical in any Ironman, but with the amount of climbing that is present on the Wisconsin course, riding too hard and not leaving enough in the tank for the second loop can lead to major disaster. There were many times in the first 56 miles that I had remind myself to stay patient and not do anything too crazy. Despite my efforts, I went completed the first loop in 2:35, averaging 21.7 mph. I felt great, but seeing this brought some for how the next 56 miles were going to feel. My nutrition was on point, and I was following the plan of 300 calories of Tailwind and 1 Honey Stinger gel per hour with a lick of salt every 10 miles. The conditions couldn’t have been more ideal with temperatures only getting to 70ish degrees, so I pressed on hopeful that I would continue to feel strong.

FinisherPix Bike 1Coming into mile 70, I started to feel the wheels coming off. My body continued to feel good and I was still able to bike strong, but I quite literally was struggling to stay awake. This continued until around mile 105, and I’m still trying to understand how I made it that far. During this 30-mile stretch, I was convinced that I was not going to finish this race and was ready to pull off, fall asleep in the ditch and let someone come find me. I was ready to stop hurting, waves of sharp pain would go through my quads, I was pretty fearful for my own safety and I didn’t know how on earth was I was going to run a marathon. Even though I had pretty much made up my mind that I was done, it was only the power of the mind and telling myself over and over that the body will achieve what the mind believes that got me through the ride. I started putting small carrots in front of me…make it through the second lap, make it to mile 100, etc. And when I would reach one of those, I just kept going. It was almost like my body knew what to do and how to subconsciously push out the negative thoughts and continue moving forward. When I hit mile 105, someone flipped my switch and I said out loud, “I’m finishing this thing!” I had already lost a lot of ground, but I made sure that my nutrition was still on schedule and pushed through the final 7 miles back to Madison. Even with this incredibly rough 30-mile stretch, I was very pleased to see 5:24 when I got off my bike. I had 5:30 in mind as a conservative goal, so bettering this while not having the best ride provided some extra encouragement as I prepared to run.

T2 – 0:03:15

I’ll take this opportunity to give recognition to the masses of volunteers that make these races what they are. There is always someone to help and get you anything and everything you need at any point in time. In T2 I had a guy sort through all my stuff and have nutrition ready to pack into my jersey pockets and held my race belt open as I exited. There is no way I could thank those guys enough!

Run – 3:11:30 (3rd fastest of the day)

20150913_MadisonIronman'15-183Knowing that I was going to see my family right at the beginning of the run, I started to get emotional as soon as my feet hit the pavement. Not only was this due to just having them there and being overwhelmed by their continuous, unconditional support, but the fact that I conquered that bike after hitting such a low was hitting me pretty hard. Surprisingly, my legs felt great and I was ready to start picking people off, as Hillary would put it!

The goal for the run was to keep things as easy as possible through at least mile 18. In training runs, I had a tendency to go out way too hard at the beginning only to crash really hard later on. It’s always difficult to gauge effort right off the bike as your legs get used to something different, so I made sure my Garmin was synced up and on with my first step. Somehow, or more accurately due to the coaching efforts of Alyssa and lots of training, easy manifested itself in 7:05-7:15 miles. My first two were sub-7:00, and many times I would look down at my watch and see a sub-7:00 pace. It took a lot of focus to pull back on the reigns and be patient until that last 10K. I am so thankful for where my run is and that I have it in my bag of strengths (it’s a pretty small bag right now, but I’m working on that). I knew that 7:30 average pace would be just over a 3:15 marathon, and I knew that this was possible.

20150913_MadisonIronman'15-261Nutrition was such a key part in staying strong throughout the day. I backed off my salt intake a little due to the cool weather, but nothing got in the way of me taking a gel every 5 miles. At this point in the day I didn’t want to take in any more gels, so I’d start taking small pulls from them about 1/2 mile from the next aid station. This really helped as I wasn’t asking my body to take in too much volume at once. Between those five gels, salt every 2ish miles, plenty of water and the occasional Red Bull or Coke when I wanted an extra boost, I feel like this was my best executed marathon from a nutritional standpoint.

I knew I was making up a lot of ground and was super encouraged as I kept passing people during the first lap. Within the first five miles I had caught all the guys that passed me during the last 15 miles of the bike, and I caught several guys within my age group as the lap progressed. The second lap, however, I had no idea where I was. The course got a lot more congested, and it was hard to know which lap people were on. The race became that much more about turning inwards and executing my plan. One thing that I did that was incredibly helpful was not looking at my watch. Other than the sporadic glance at my immediate pace and checking my mile splits, I intentionally avoided looking at my overall marathon time or time of day. I had decided pre-race not to keep a running clock, and only a couple times on the bike did I look at the time of day to get a sense of overall race time. The one exception was when I started my second lap of the marathon; I glanced down and saw that I was at 1:36.

Mile 20 came and I was still feeling good, so any amount of brakes that I was using came off and my focused turned to pushing through the last 10K. I was definitely feeling fatigued and ready to be done, but there was no way I was going to pull back and ease into the finish. Alyssa told me post-race that Ironman is about who slows down the slowest. Despite not having this to turn to at the time, I knew that I could to make up ground if I kept pushing. Come to find out, one of the guys that I passed in those final miles, or more like the final 1/2 mile, was on his second lap and I edged him out by 30 seconds. He wasn’t in my age-group, but it goes to show that you keep racing until you’re past the finish line.

20150913_MadisonIronman'15-289Two years ago I crossed the finish line feeling like death. This year, as I came around the last few turns, I was nothing but smiles. Still unaware of where I was in the field or my age-group, I knew that despite facing plenty of adversity I had executed my race according to plan. Regardless of my placing, that was a huge win! 20150913_MadisonIronman'15-300And despite the fatigue of racing for almost 10 hours, I didn’t feel like I wanted to curl up in a ball and never move again! Dare I say that I actually felt pretty incredible. It’s still crazy for me to say “almost 10 hours.” Completing any race, much less Wisconsin, in 9:49:18 hasn’t quite sunk in yet. According to Coach Cox (take this with as many grains of salt as you wish),  only 5.3% of people finish an Ironman in under 10 hours. At Wisconsin, specifically, that number drops to 1%. I feel truly blessed to be a part of that crowd! My family informed me that I was 3rd in my age-group and 14th overall, which turned out to be 4th in my age-group and 15th overall but more on that in a second. With that information my thoughts quickly turned to how many Kona spots the M25-29 age-group would get. I got a text from a 3-time Kona qualifier that’s the same age saying congrats on the Kona spot, so I was optimistic that we’d have three spots. But we wouldn’t know until the following day.

The awards ceremony and Kona roll down were probably the most anxiety-ridden part of the entire weekend. I went into the ceremony expecting a 3rd place award, but mass amounts of confusion set in when I was called up in 4th place. To try and make a long story short, there was confusion and inaccurate information on the part of Ironman on how to deal with a pro that raced and one guy’s pro status. A guy in my age-group that they thought was a pro and had excluded from the results turned out to truly be an amateur, so when they added him back into the results as the winner of the age-group everyone else got bumped down a spot. IMG_1514Despite some disappointment, I was still super happy with 4th place. But then there was the Kona question. When I was getting clarification from the race director on what had happened, I was able to steal a glance at the Kona allocations and saw that my age-group had three spots. If places 1-3 accepted their slots, I would be watching Kona 2016 from my computer instead of racing it. Alyssa, however, had some insight into the 1st place guy, the pro/not pro, and was fairly confident that he was going to be racing professional next year, meaning he wouldn’t take his Kona spot. As they called out his name, my heart rate definitely spiked and I held my breath as all I heard was silence. “Going once, going twice…and the spot goes to the next place” where quite possibly the best words I’ve heard in a very long time! The only reason I made the decision on September 8, 2014 to race Ironman Wisconsin was to try and qualify for the World Championships. I can’t describe the feeling of accomplishing that goal and being able to move that dream into the reality bucket!

The amount of support that I received throughout the last 10 months of training and racing has been overwhelming! Triathlon is an individual sport but it takes an army to get through one. I am eternally indebted to the following people and groups: Hillary Lindell, Alyssa Godesky, Team Zoot, Team HPB, Scheels and all my other friends and family that have directly and indirectly supported me on this journey. We all better buckle in, because I have a feeling this next year is going to be crazy exciting!

“The body achieves what the mind believes.”


1 Comment

  1. Avatar
    Joanna September 25, 2015

    Holy crap, Ben!!! This is awesome. Congratulations!!!!