Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Kevin's 2008 IM Wisconsin Report

Ken Schulz (see put one of these together a couple of years ago for Lake Placid. It is a great idea. It helps be to come to terms with the end of a training period in my life and to remind me later why I do these crazy things. Who knows, like Ken’s blog, it may help others to realize their dreams.

Prerace Banquet


The Ironman Wisconsin is held every year in Madison. It consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and a full marathon (26.2 miles). The race is anchored at the Monona Terrace center on lake Monona on 9/7/8. I arrived on Thursday before the race and had some time to relax, build my bike, run and bike some of the course and drive the entire course a couple of times.

The morning of the race Bri dropped Don and I off at the bottom of the terrace in the dark and we made our way up to the staging areas. He dropped off my bike and run “special needs” bags (with extra wet weather clothes) and I checked my bike over one last time and went to body marking. Finally, I put on the wetsuit and set out on my way down the helix towards the water.

It was still a bit cold, 55 F and the high was supposed to reach 72 F. Clouds were expected later in the day an possibly some rain, but the morning was clear and the sun was just starting to come up.


The swim is a mass floating start. Pros go off 15 minutes early, but after that it is a swimming stampede. And as such, the swim was a bit chaotic for me – I had never been in a field that large and wasn’t sure exactly where to start. With some new found confidence (thanks Gerry) I started near the front and waited for the gun.

There were two takeaway memories from the swim:

  • I was kicked and slapped and punched a lot. As I said, there were a lot of people on the course at one time. I was constantly swimming into and over people. I never found a good “pod” of swimmers that I could draft behind for more than 200-300 yards.
  • The laps seemed to go on forever. I have no trouble with open water swims, but I suppose all the indoor swimming made me focus on the clock on the wall a bit more than I have in the past. Without the watch I felt like I was swimming forever.

I got out of the swim strong and made my way up the three story helix after a quick “peeling” – there are people dedicated to stripping wetsuits from swimmers - very quick, effective and cool.

I thought I would swim between 1:00 and 1:05, with a desire to go under 1:00 if possible. Looks like I stuck my pace. In 2004 my Timberman 1.2 mile swim was 31:01. I thought I could improve on that a bit.

Total Swim Time 1:02:56

Swim Place: 276

Swim Pace: 1:40 per 100


After completing Timberman with some bad chafing and driving and biking portions of the Wisconsin course, I decided that comfort trumped speed on my first IM. Beyond that, if I was very uncomfortable on the bike with thin padding, I might ride slower anyway. Likewise, if I were constantly worried about chafing, I wouldn’t run well either. Maybe I was psyching myself out, but the ironman is very mental, and I wanted to be sure my mind was at ease. Because of this, I changed completely at the swim-to-bike and at the bike-to-run, accumulating some large transition times.

Swim – I had a Nike speedo and Xterra Wetsuit (sleeveless).

Bike - I rode with a tri top and my favorite pair of Sugoi Evolution Shorts.

Run - I ran with a rather poor-fitting running singlet and my Raceready LD shorts.

I think I was the only one that changed completely at my pace, but I was comfortable and confident while competing. Maybe next time I will get a bit more aggressive and race with the same kit the whole way through.

One last note on transitions… the transaction areas were away from the course a bit, so there was always some running involved to get out on the course. We probably ran 26.7 mi at the end of the day.

T1 – 8:38

T2 – 4:08

Bike (sorry no good images)

I love biking, I really do – however, this course scared me. Everyone was talking it up and it probably got to me a bit. I drove the course a couple of times and rode 15 of the toughest miles on Friday. On race morning I was literally shaking at breakfast in the hotel, mostly because I was scared of hurting myself on the bike.

First, let’s get this out of the way: coastal New Jersey is not hilly. It is dominated by flat and false flat. There are hills, but it is not as hilly as the Wisconsin course. The western side of the state, near the Delaware River is a much better approximation to Madison.

Also, I have been battling what can be described as “old man’s knees” for two years now. In my 20s I never had trouble with my knees biking but now my IT band seems to get aggravated more and more easily. I was very afraid that the strain of the hilly course would stop me during the race.

When I started the bike course I passed a few riders as people were adjusting to the non-water environment. When we all got out past the city the race started in earnest. I quickly noticed that I was in a minority – most of the others near me all had tricked-out TT bikes. There were only3-4 others at my pace and place that were on road bikes converted for a more aerodynamic position (aerobars).

I rode my Cervelo Soloist (carbon) with a pair wheels from (404/808 combo). I also had my seat switched up to a more forward position. The bike looked and felt very fast with those wheels!

The bike course was a “popsicle” style course. A 12 mile stick out to a ~40 mile loop that was completed twice and back down the 12 mile stick to home. During the first loop I learned a very important lesson. On the flats and straight downhills, I was passed easily by the others on the more aerodynamic TT bikes. However, on the hills and tight winding descents no one could touch the Soloist. As far as I remember, I was not passed on a single hill. Also at the really technical downhill section at mile 32/72 my bike railed around the turns.

When it all became flat again, all those spots I had won in the uphills disappeared. This happened over and over again throughout the course. It got to the point that a couple of us would say “hi” after passing for the 6th or 7th time.

Now, either I am awful at flats, or my bike is not suited for flats or some combination thereof (I assume the latter). I am relatively light (150 lbs) and wind blows me around a bit. Riding into a headwind is tough. A more aero bike would certainly help, but I wonder if my quads just aren’t up to the job of pushing my body against the wind. Hills are no problem and I love descending, so that might account for the yo-yoing out on the course.

I felt a bit tired on the second lap compared to the first. Perhaps I went out too hard. The wind also picked up to 10-15 mph during the second lap (the first lap was windless). The hills were a bit harder and the course seemed to drag out a bit more.

As I biked back down the popsicle stick I felt strong again and passed quite a few people. People talk about getting a “second wind” – this must have been my fourth. Those six solo centuries this summer certainly paid off as other riders started to get very tired and started drifting backwards relative to my position. In the last 0.5 miles I changed to a lower gear and spun in to warm up my legs for the run. The last bit was up the spiral again to the parking deck.

During the bike stage I consumed:

  • 3 water bottles
  • 2 gatorade bottles
  • 2 accellerade bottles
  • 4 clif bars
  • 3 salt tablets

Oh yeah, my profile design aerodrink bottle failed about 5 miles into the race. The poorly-designed sponge splash protector bounced out on a little bump. I gave the system to a spectator at mile 52 (hoping it would turn up at Lost and Found) but never got it back. Good riddance.

Needless to say, I had a decent bike leg. I learned a lot, had some fun and endured some big riding. I was ecstatic that I didn’t hurt myself and that I finished strong. My original goal was a 19 mph average. As you can see I beat that by 1 mph!

IM Wisconsin Bike Time: 5:33:53

Bike Place: 209

Bike Pace: 20.1 mph

Note: at Timberman my pace was 20.5 mph.


I knew that if I got through to the run I would have a good chance at finishing well. Running has always been my strongest suit and I was hoping my legs would work well on the course. The terrain wasn’t particularly challenging – there was one hill at mile ~5. Other than that it was mostly flat with lots of switchbacks.

In Timberman my calves locked up badly around mile 8 – I was hoping that wouldn’t happen again. With coaching from numerous sources I consumed salt regularly during the second third of the bike course and the entire run course. It seemed to do the trick – my legs were fine.

However, going out on the run I immediately found one challenge: I didn’t know how fast to go. My typical marathon pace is pretty quick – 6:40s - much too fast for talking. I realized that I needed to run sensibly or risk blowing up unexpectedly.

My first miles were 7:12 s- probably too fast. So I tried to find someone that might hold me back from this excessive pace. I found handful of runners that were glad for some company. I managed to slow my pace down with them to around 7:40s.

Unfortunately, I was never on the same nutritional schedule as these transitory running partners. Inevitably, there would be a water stop and we would part ways, me typically going ahead. Then I would set off to find another person to run with. In this way I skipped from runner to runner for 26 miles. The first 10 or so were easy – the runners were all just a bit slower than I. However, after mile 10 people started to disappear and I realized that I was nearing the beginning of the field. The gaps from runner to runner increased dramatically until there wasn’t anyone in front of me for 100 yards or more. Those gaps were very tough.

During the first lap I saw all the pros going the other direction back to start the second lap – I was hoping to not get lapped by any of them. Thankfully, I made it in without seeing them pass me. In fact, I passed a number of women pros before crossing the tape.

After I turned around and headed out again for the second lap more fresh faces came in from the bike course. This turned out to be a mixed blessing. Some of the runners at miles 13-18 were strong and could run my pace. Unfortunately, they started getting tired and I still felt strong. From mile 20 to the finish I was on my own – the other competitors appeared to be running backwards as I passed hundreds of first lappers. Those last three miles ticked off and I ran the final incline to reach the brief finish straight. When I rounded that last corner and realized I had only 50 yards to go, I felt on top of the world.

Finishing the Boston Marathon is similar for me – it is so amazing to be done and to have completed so much. It really is a culmination of several months of work.

Well, the IM was that and more. I realized that almost a year of training was leading to this. I slowed down, slapped a lot of hands, got the crowd to cheer for me and heard my name announced on the PA system. The music was thumping, I was tired and overjoyed and thankful all at the same time. I crossed the finish tape (they hold a tape up for everyone to cross!) and felt like I was walking on air.

During the run I consumed every two miles one of the following

  • water and a salt pill
  • Gatorade (two cups usually)
  • Power gel and water or gatorade

Thus, in 6 miles I would have all three.

My results were fairly good – I was happy. I wanted to run roughly one minute per mile slower than my marathon PR (2:52). That would be a 3:16. I was a bit shy of that pace, but good nonetheless.

Run Time: 3:23:18

Run Place: 51

Run Pace: 7:46 min/mile

Finish time total: 10:12:51

Finish Place overall: 87 (there were 33 pros (19 men, 14 women), I beat1 male pro)

Finish Place age group (35-39): 15

Post Race Analysis

During the run I started to count all the things that were wrong: sore quads, sore shoulders, upset stomach, bottoms of my feet hurt, my big toe hurt for some reason, it was hot in the sun, the race seemed to go around in circles for ever and I was just tired of racing. I knew that thinking like that would be bad, so I tried to think positively. My calves were fine, my knees didn’t hurt, the weather under the trees on the dirt path was wonderful and I was running strong. I tried to outrace the bad stuff happening to my body.

That positive thinking went a long way. Everyone said that the IM is 10% physical and 90% mental. I was trying to keep the 90% on the right path.

After finishing, all those body parts that were damaged in the race caught up. I had trouble walking - although I have had more trouble after certain marathons. My stomach felt awful but I managed to put down some water, sprite and a piece of pizza. I was content and happy as I hobbled out of the finish area with Bri and my brother.

I also received my results in the finish chute. I knew I would be close to a 10 hr IM but wasn’t sure where I would end up. I was (and still am) very happy with my times. My first goal was always to not get hurt, then to finish and then to finish strong.

There were 72 “slots” to 2009 Kona IM (the world championships). These are precious slots that allow you to compete and the only way to earn your way is to finish strong in your particular age group. Well, my age group had 341 competitors, the most of any division – yikes! At the welcome banquet the MC mentioned us specifically and said a sarcastic “good luck” to anyone hoping for a slot at my age.

I think I did very well. There were 10 slots (~341 competitors in division/2410 competitors in race*72 slots per race) available. I came in 15th in my division. With roll down, it was possible to get to Kona on my very first try.

Many athletes train and try for years to get even close to a slot. I salute their perseverance and fortitude. The athletes walking around were certainly intimidating – I didn’t think I would do as well as I did. I don’t want to sound smug or condescending. I am grateful that all the hard work and long hours this summer culminated in a wonderful race.

With that said, I didn’t wait around for the roll down. I could think of a couple of reasons to stay and hope for a spot, but I had more reasons to try again some other day. My life is too chaotic to commit to Hawaii next year. I would rather try a race like Couer de’Alene IM that would lead to IM at the end of the summer. That seems more reasonable. Maybe I will regret my choice later this week or next month or next year when I see it on TV. But it was the correct choice on Monday.

Future Plans

So yeah, I want to do another IM. Couer de’Alene sounds promising. Maybe I will try to get into that. Other things…

Swimming – I need to swim more open water races before my next IM to learn how to navigate in large packs of swimmers. I would like to go under 1 hour next time.

Biking – I did everything I wanted on the bike course. The only thing I would change was my training terrain. More hills and less NJ coast would be helpful.

Running - In my next race I will trust my running legs a bit more and try to go faster. My back injury for most of the summer really screwed up my running. Speedwork would have helped a lot.

Transition – A little speed in each of the above combined with a “same outfit” approach would probably put me under 10 hours. I wonder…

As for upcoming races... Let’s see. If I am still in shape, I may go and run the Breakers marathon in RI next month. I would also like to get back into XTerra Events. I miss mountain biking. SOS was on Sunday too. I really liked that race.


It is important for me to thank everyone that helped me complete my first Ironman. Without all of you, this would not have been possible. From giving me tips on swim technique to supplying me with salt tablets to biking with me to holding me up after I crossed the finish line, there was a huge cast behind me. This is where I will attempt to thank you all (please forgive me if I forget anyone).

  • Family (Bri, Don, Mom and Dad). You did a lot and helped me more than you know. Thank you for your patience and generosity this last year.
  • Friends – the tips and support you shared were great and immeasurably important. Thanks to Dave Thompson, Dave Cole, Ken Schulz. I suppose some of these names would fit below, too…
  • Training partners. Thanks to everyone at the Jersey Shore Tri Club, the Sandyhookers, the Brielle Cyclery, Bike Haven and the Atlantic Bicycle Club. In particular, thanks to Greg, Gerry, Joe, Doug, Luther, Maggie, Patrick, Kathy, Clarence and Cliff. (of course some of these names would fit above, too)
  • Wisconsin. We had a great time in Wisconsin. Great people, beautiful scenery, endless biking, lots of cheese and great root beer - what’s not to like? I could easily live in Madison. (got a job for a Chemical Engineer/Chemist?)


Science Fan said...

Awesome job, awesome race report, Kevin. Just fantastic. I'm really glad to know you, Kevin. Thank you for all your help with my running and swimming over the past few years. I hope to be able to keep training with you!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic result. I think you were wise to ride conservatively on the bike and let your run "do the talking" for your first IM.

apwall said...

Great accomplishment! I've very envious!