In September 2003 and again in September 2004 I went to Madison, Wiscosin to compete one of fourIronman races held every year in North America (the other locations are Florida, Lake Placid, New York, and Canada).
An Ironman race is 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and 26.2 mile run -- 140.6 miles in all-- you might call it triathlong!
Below are some pictures of me. At many marathons and triathlons there are photo agencies that take photos of everyone they possibly can on the course, and then afterwards they'll sell you the prints at exhorbitant prices. But it's worth it as it's about the one way to get photos short of dragging a loved one to the race course and making them spend all day there. (Note, I plan to do this in 2005 when I race at the Ironman Germany in Frankfurt, I'm dragging Andrea there and my secret hope is she'll photograph me. :-) ).
The race starts at 7:00 am, just at sunrise. You wouldn't want to start any later as it takes most people somewhere between 12 and 16 hours to complete the race. The cut off is 17 hours -- that is, they close the course at midnight. The pros can do the race in a little under 9 hours.
Below is a photo from this year's race - that is 2300 racers in the water, about 1-2 minutes after the starting gun went off. If you look closely you can ('t) see me right there in the middle.
Yes, it's as beautiful as it looks.
This year I did the swim in 1 hour 14 minutes... which is actually a pretty good time - it was 63rd percentile for my age group (which is 45-49 men). I was really pleased with this because the time was a little faster than last year (1 hour 16 minutes) but it felt a lot easier this year, I think because my swim technique has improved.
To give you a feeling for how I've improved, in my half Ironman races in Sonoma the last three years, my swim time has always been in the bottom 10th percentile -- that is, when I get out of the water 90% of the guys in my age group have already finished and typically are already on their bikes!
Here is an aerial view of the 2003 Ironman swim leg. You can see the swimmers stretched out on the rectangular 1.2 mile course (if any of you are math challenged, we swim around the course twice :-). You can see lots of volunteer lifeguards / referees in kayaks and the like on the course.
In the above photo you can see downtown Madison in the background, and spectators lining the shore. The cool building front left is "Monona Terrace", designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1930's but not built until the 1990's (and you thought you were late on some of your to do list). Monona Terrace is a convention center on the water and the Ironman race is hosted there including all our transition areas. I think some of my blood is in that building now.
After the swim you go to a "transition area" where you change into your bike clothes and run out to the bike parking lot and grab your bike and then start the long bike ride, the longest part of the day.
Here I am in 2003 Wisconsin:
I'm bent forward in my "aero bars", so called because in that position you are more aerodynamic, which is key in triathlon racing, where you are not allowed to draft behind other bike riders (that is stay immediately behind them and cutting your wind resistance down significantly).
And at times in 2003 I looked positively zippy in 2003! Imagine how fast I could have gone if I didn't have that belly!
In 2003 my Ironman bike time was pretty good at 6 hours 12 minutes to go the 112 miles. That's an average of 18.1 m.p.h. over the notoriously hilly Wisconsin course. Want to know my secret? Look in the above photo and you'll see that my socks matched my jersey!
So how did I do on my 2004 bike? Well, I began the bike segment in great spirits because I had a great swim time and felt pretty rested - energy conservation is the key to good Ironman racing. Below I'm just leaving the bike starting area in 2004.
Note that in 2004 my tires are yellow but the yellow jersey and socks were gone. Was this an omen?
Well, as you can see the above photo, once I was out on the course I tried to be zippy, but it was harder this year. Look at that grimace. First of all, I made several really silly rookie mistakes, the first of which was my seat post was not fully tightened and so it slowly drifted lower and lower and it wasn't till the middle of the 112 miles that I realized this, so I had been riding a long time in a less efficient position. Now I'm no longer a rank rookie so I should never have started the race with a loose seat post, but at least I had the correct allen wrench in my saddle bag to make a quick stop and remedy this problem. My other mistakes were water/sports drink bottle problems that led to me getting dehydrated in the middle of the bike ride. Not a good idea! (but if misery loves company I take some consolation in Lance Armstrongs famous dehydration in the 2003 Tour de France).
Bottom line, in my 2004 Ironman (and also in my August 1st 2004 half ironman) I had very tough stretch in the middle of the bike ride where I lost all oooomph and just slowed down a fair amount. A miserable experience.
But that is one of the lessons of Ironman races - sooner or later during the day everyone will have tough patches, and you just have to slow down and adjust and after a while it will probably get better.
So for me I rode a bit slower and concentrated on drinking lots more and sure enough, after only 2 hours of being really miserable I started feeling and riding better and I finished the last hour of the bike ride feeling better... and hoping to have a good run leg to salvage something of the day!
In the end my bike time in 2004 was 6 hours and 36 minutes, a big slow down compared to 2003's 6:12. In 2004 my bike was in the 44th percentile of my age group. I went into the "T2" transition area and change from my biking clothes into.... superman!
Just wanted to make sure you are paying attention -- you are right, there is no colisseum in Madison! The above photo is from my March 2003 Rome Marathon.
(these computers can be hard to use sometimes so I apologize about the out of place photo and all that...)
Okay, here's a photo of me running in the 2003 Madison Ironman:
The capitol building in the background is the... capitol building, Wisconsin state capitol.
And, since marathon's are inherently long and seem to last forever, here's another similar shot, also from 2003:
I don't have any photos of me running in 2004, but my run in 2004 went really well. After that tough bike ride it was actually a relief to go out and run, because I know how to run marathons (having done about 25 so far). I ran my marathon in 4 hours 25 minutes, which isn't a fast time for me, but for an Ironman really isn't bad at all, especially on a brutally hot day (both 2003 and 2004 were abnormally hot and humid for Wisconsin, getting up to low 90's and high 80's respectively).
To put my marathon time in perspective, it was 83rd percentile of my age group. Another way to gauge it, when I began the run this year, out of the 2300 contestants, there were 1173 ahead of me, and when I finished the run that night, there were 702 ahead of me. In other words, as I ran the marathon, I passed 471. That's passing almost 1 runner every 30 seconds.
That's the good news. But, in hindsight, I was pushing myself a bit hard in this run, because, even though I stopped virtually every mile at the aid stations and walked and drank and ate before starting to run again, by the end of the marathon I skipped the last few aid stations and just blazed on home. I was humming!
But see if you can see the difference in my finish line photos from 2003 and 2004.
Don't I look a bit more wiped out in 2004?
In 2004 my total time was 12 hours 35 minutes, a tad bit longer than my 12 hour 24 minute time in 2003. While the 11 minutes seems like a big diference when you're on the ground racing, it's just a 1.5% difference - not really statistically significant (unless it's a Presidential election).
To put my 12:35 in context, I placed 701 out of 2188 finishers, or 68th percentile, and I was in the 74th percentile of my age group. In other words, in my age group, I finished in the top quarter. So of course I'm happy.
But back to that exhausted look in 2004 at the finish line. Yes, I think I was wiped out in 2004. Based on some friends observations, and also the really dizzy rotten way I felt 10 minutes after finishing, and the way it took me 5 hours that night to rehydrate to the point I could pee for the first time in over 12 hours, I now know that by the end of the marathon I was pretty badly dehydrated. Nothing really dangerous, but definitely dehydrated and a lesson to me that I need to drink even more, and maybe skipping the last aid stations that night was not the right thing to do, even if it gained me a couple of minutes.
But back to why we do this racing, and why did I do it again in 2004 after having done it once in 2003?
Well look at me in 2003, just seconds after crossing the finish line. What a sense of accomplishment!
So yes, I'm signed up to race next July 10th, 2005 in Frankfurt, Germany. If 2004 was the year of my swimming finally coming together, and me starting to really learn what it takes to go 140.6 miles and being able to finish with a strong marathon, in 2005 I hope to get in really great biking shape and have a day where I do well in all three legs. That's what triathlon racing is all about.