Ironman Wisconsin 2009 Race Report

Warning – very, very long. It was an interesting day, in the Chinese sense…

IMWI 2009 Race Report
Summary: 13:24:57
Swim 1:01:35 18/249 AG, 173/2396 OA
T1: 8:14
Bike: 6:32:27 147 AG 1280 OA
T2: 7:18
Run: 5:35:33 146 AG 1473 OA

Basically, a middle-of-the-pack result.

This is to be my last IM for several years while I pursue my MBA. I really wanted it to be a
special event, and set a sub-12 PR.

What I got was special in that I had a great Iron-Crew with me for the event. As for the race, it was another lesson in patience during IM.

My mom, my wife and I arrived in Madison on Thursday afternoon and checked into the Madison Concourse hotel. Very nice place, very close to the race venue, and set up for the athletes. They had a conference room setup for bike storage and repair work, an early dinner on Saturday night, and VERY early breakfast on Sunday AM.

My mom had never seen me at any race before so it was going to be fun to have her along.
My brother and his SO Brenda rounded out the NJ contingent, and my two cousins (Sue and Nancy) drove in from MN.

Friday we saw some of the town, hung out and visited with each other. Steve & Brenda arrived late in the afternoon, and we all had dinner together. One item of note was that a local boater had drowned in Lake Monona on Wednesday, but the body had not been found yet. I hoped that the body would be recovered by race day. I really didn’t want to deal with that.

Saturday everyone else went out to roam Madison, and had a wonderful dinner out at the Edgewater Hotel. I stayed at the hotel, and stayed off my feet, had a big sushi lunch and watched movies.

About 4:00pm an old High School acquaintance that found me on Facebook earlier this year
(Paul) called me and said he’d drive over to chat. I haven’t seen Paul in 30 years, so we had some fun catching up and talking IM. He’s raced 4 IMs as well, none of the same that I have done, so we swapped race strategies and race reports. Paul was going to be volunteering all day on Sunday in order to register for IMWI in 2010.

Race morning was the usual up at ungodly-oclock. The hotel had breakfast goodies setup in a banquet hall so I got my chow and headed back to the room to get set. Fran and I headed down to the race start to get me situated, tires pumped and special-needs bags checked. Fran then went back to the hotel to collect the rest of Team Bassett and march them down to the race start.

I found a quiet spot at the bottom of the helix and tried to relax and visualize my race. About 6:30 I made a point of walking through the stripping zone because I knew that Robby B and his lovely bride would be there. We chatted for a bit, Rob wished me well, and suggested that since I was at IMWI in 2008 as a volunteer, I was all set to go!

I started to hunt down my family at the start. Though they were separated, I managed to find
everyone and got a lot of hugs and kisses and good-luck wishes. Everyone was wearing their
yellow and black “Team Bassett” T-shirts. That was a really great way to head off into the water.

I got in the water and lined up in my usual spot in the front, inside line an waited for the cannon. When it went off, the guy to my immediate right accidentally gave me a karate-chop stroke right across the bridge of my nose. I saw stars.

That was no way to start my race, but no big thing. I sprinted for about 200 yards and fell into a nice rhythm. I didn’t find any fast feet, but was grateful for the clear water around me. The first lap went quickly (26-28 min) with only a small big of gagging from swallowing a mouthful of lake water. Blech.

On the second lap I backed off the gas just a bit, and then got really wide to the right, out
of the main flow of the race. I fought like heck to get back into the wake, but it seemed
really difficult. Either my stroke was really unbalanced, or the sheer volume of water pushed to the side of the race circuit was more than I thought possible. A couple of times I found myself passing folks running out of gas on the swim, and I ended up getting jostled and swallowing more nasty lake water. I did keep an eye out for the missing body, but didn’t see anyone in cut offs, holding on to a PBR can.

As I rounded the final turn a guy bumped me on my right, grabbed my shoulder and pushed me backwards. What an prick. I was hoping he’d try it again, so I could sink his ass with a nifty H20 polo move I’ve used back in the day, but he wisely backed off. Right near the finish both hamstrings briefly cramped, but that has happened in the past as well. Gritting my teeth I swam the final 150 yds and got out of the water in 1:01. Not the 56-58 I was looking for, but good enough.

Transition at IMWI is a unique affair as it is held inside the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Monona Terrace convention center. After wetsuit peeling, the athletes run 4 levels up a spiral driveway and into the center. You grab your T1 bag in one meeting room, an run into another meeting room to change, then out to the bike racks, grab the bikes and head DOWN the a helix driveway on the opposite end of the center. It’s actually a pretty cool setup, but makes for long transitions.

Non-elite/pro’s were NOT allowed to have their helmets & shoes on their bikes, so you had a choice whether to run to your bike in your riding shoes or carry them to the bike and put them on at the rack. I chose to carry my shoes since the plastic Keo cleats are very slippery, especially on concrete covered in wet triathlete slime.

The bike course allows for a pretty gradual warm up a it heads out on a bike/jogging trail, which narrows in a section for a no passing zone. It winds through a large meeting/concert hall parking lot then out to the open road. The first 20ish miles takes riders out to the main loop of the course. and are pretty flat. Once out to the main loop the bike course winds through the farmlands. It’s a bit technical and rolling but nothing too bad.

I was moving along nicely during the ride, but I was being passed like it was my full-time job.
Not unusual for me as a good swimmer and mediocre cyclist, but it’s always a bit disconcerting. I was spot on my nutrition plan, 1 bottle of Heed and 1 gel and 1 pack of PB crackers every hour, doled out on a timed schedule. Since it was expected to be warm, I also supplemented with 2 endurolytes every 20 min, then 3 every 20 min as it warmed up.

About 10:00am I could feel it getting warmer and my gut started to become uncomfortably bloated. When I sat up out of the aero position, I felt both my triceps begin to cramp up. This was odd as I’ve never had that kind of sensation unless it was after a particularly hard tricep-dip or extension weight workout. I stretched them out and got aero again, but I started to worry about more cramping

By the time I hit the sharper climbs at the end of the 1st loop in Verona both quadriceps began to cramp. I could actually see them twitch right at my knees. I sat up, backed off the power and tried to spin up the climb. Now I REALLY got worried about my race.

I tried to keep the fuel going down, but it wasn’t processing beyond my stomach. When I was aero I could feel my legs brush up against my bloated belly. Not good at all. I grabbed a bottle of water at the Verona aid station (about mile 60ish) and drank about 3/4 of it. At special needs I stopped and got off the bike and stretched my quads. They were really sore, but not at all tight. Weird.

Back on the second loop things got worse in a hurry. I was able to move along when the road was flat, but I couldn’t get aero because of my gut. On any sort of climb, I had to sit up and spin my lowest gear. At the end of the 2nd Verona loop, I managed to get over the first of the three final climbs after a short stop at the bottom, but on the second, and steepest, I got 1/3 of the way up before both quads cramped up solid. I pulled over to the side and straddled my bike, standing on my toes and squealing like a baby, trying to get the cramps to release. With the aid of a spectator, I was able to get off my bike and try and stretch, but I could not get back on the bike and ride over the hill. I was reduced to a humiliating walk up to the top. I finally got over the hump, back on the bike and headed back to finish the ride.

I was still being passed by everyone on the course. I swear that a clown riding a unicycle and
juggling flaming chainsaws passed me. I began to have serious doubts whether I could finish the course. I just pressed on and tried to stay in the moment, not thinking about the run.

When I pulled into T2, my ‘personal assistant’ Paul vaulted over people to grab me and help me off my bike. At this point I was dizzy, nauseous and cramping badly. Paul walked me to the door of the convention center, advised me to push down a handful of endurolytes and “remember to have fun!”

I got my T2 bag, walked into the changing room and plopped down in a chair. I was looking for any excuse to quit then and there.

I considered asking for an escort to the medical tent. I felt like a pile of dog crap, run over by a garbage truck. A volunteer came by and asked me if I needed anything. I mumbled “water” and he fetched a big, cold cup of H20. It was so nice a cool in the convention center, I wanted to sit there forever. I thought about what a DNF would feel like, having to disappoint my wife, my mom and my family right outside, and all the other friends and family that I drag through the year-long training and race schedule. I was heading down a very dark road. I popped 3 endurolytes and sat in my chair staring at my running shoes and my brand new yellow and black visor. Fran had found the visor for me when she went through the expo on Saturday afternoon. I picked it up, put it on and said, “what the hell”..

A couple of minutes later I’m outside, getting slathered with sunscreen and shuffle-jogging
out onto the run course.

I made it through the chutes of the run course entrance, and saw my whole entourage together cheering for me. I put a big smile on my face and started to run a bit faster so they wouldn’t worry about me. As I made it to the first turn on Capitol square my quads started to spasm so I started to walk, and continued to do so until I hit State Street. About 1/2 way down State Street, Sheila “Crackhead” Plemich ran across the street yelling my name. I think I said something like “I’m a dead man” to her, and she patted me on the back, said, “you’re fine, get going” and sent me on my way. I must have found that funny because the ASI race photog caught that moment on film, and I’m smiling.

As I hit the corner of State and Henry St I felt my hamstrings tighten up, and about 1/3 of the way down the street, they completely cramped up. I made my way to a tree on the curb, and tried to stretch. The right hammy released, but the left was locked solid. A spectator helped me to the wall of a building and helped raise my left leg to stretch out the cramp. About 3-4 minutes later I was back on the road, albeit at a slow walk. Any sort of running/jogging brought on muscle spasms in my hamstrings and quads. I kept trying to push down endurolytes, but they were just sitting in my bloated gut, mocking me.

I hit the 4 mile mark at 55 min, and the the 7 mile mark at 1:35. I started to do the mental math and began to worry that I wouldn’t hit the 17hr time limit unless something changed. But no matter how hard I tried to run, the muscle spasms or full-on cramps would start within seconds. As I struggled through mile 8, I was talking to another racer who had the same GI problems. We both figured if we could just puke, we’d be fine.

Right after I made the 1st turnaround, and headed back, just past the 9 mile mark, I saw a couple guys in full Scottish kilts playing bagpipes along the side of the course. As they finished their song, I was my lowest point in any race I’ve run. I felt awful, everything hurt, and I was looking at the potential for my first time forced DNF.

I was standing at the edge, and looking into the abyss thinking that falling into failure would be preferable to pushing on. With nothing left to lose, I walked off the course a bit, found a tree to hold onto and waited to puke.

And this is where the story changes, so please pardon a digression.

My father was the one who got me into competitive swimming when I was a kid, and even served as a AAU official for several races. He passed away before I ever started triathlon, so he never saw me race.

I’m not a particularly religious or even superstitious person, but sometimes when I’m out training, I can feel his presence. It comes up from time to time, but always randomly. Sometimes during tough workouts, sometimes during easy ones but oddly enough, it’s always on my runs.

Go figure.

My father was also a recovering alcoholic. As with many like him, he became a devout Christian and found a great deal of comfort in the hymn “Amazing Grace”.

So there I was bent over a tree, staring failure in the face, and heaving my guts out when the
two bagpipers started playing Amazing Grace. It took me a minute to really comprehend what was going on. It was like my father was standing right next to me, gently rubbing my back and saying “that’s it get it all out, you’ll feel better’.

I finally stood up as the pipers finished their song and I felt his enormous arms wrap around me (Dad was well over 6 feet tall) and I felt 100% better.

I walked back to the path and began to cry a bit thinking of my dad, and the help he just gave me. Then I smile and I knew I’d finish the race.

Now, it was a matter of time…

I began to walk a bit faster and tried to jog every few minutes. At the next aid station I got some water and more endurolytes. I set the timer on my watch to 3 minutes and would run for 3 minutes and walk for three minutes. When I came to the next aid station I got some pretzels and potato chips and more water. As the food hit my stomach and the salt entered my bloodstream, the spasms and cramping subsided substantially.

I would run the 3 minutes until my watch beeped, and continue on until I felt my legs begin to cramp, then I’d walk a bit. I dug into my bag-o-mantras: “Unrelenting forward progress.” “Never, Ever, Ever Quit”, “The faster you go, the sooner it will end”

I made it back to the turn around, and to the special needs bags. Once again, Paul was my personal “man Friday” and lept across the rows of bags with mine in hand. He was telling me I looked good, and sent me on my way. I saw my brother and his girlfriend who were amazed that I was actually running.

When I headed back out for the second loop, I began to extend my running to 6 minutes, then to 9 minutes with 2-3 minute walk breaks. I still had to walk up any steep incline and I walked the aid stations, taking in water and chicken broth. About 16 miles in I began to run between each aid station, and even up a longish hill. I did the math and new that I’d make it in before the cut-off, and began to calculate what it would take to get in under 15 hours. I kept pressing forward, trying to lengthen my stride and pick up my turnover. It helped that I was now passing a lot of people struggling to finish their race, and I began to recognize people who had passed me hours earlier when I began my run.

It was that way until the very end. I felt mentally better and better with each mile, though I could really feel aches of the cumulative miles and damage from the cramps but when I saw the lights of the Wisconsin state capitol building and passed the 23 mile mark, I began to run hard. I spotted my cousins at the last aid station, and my brother caught me gulping down my last cup of broth. I crested the last hill and made the turn to the finish chute. A younger woman passed me in full sprint mode and said “leave it all on the course”. I waited 1/2 a beat, then ran as hard as I could possibly go through the finish.

Once again, Paul was right their to help me. He almost knocked over another catcher to grab me. He got me my hat, shirt and medal and led me to my family. I gave him a big ‘thank you’ and fell into my wife’s arms.

So while this wasn’t my best performance to date, it was a unique learning experience. Again I’m grateful to my friends (virtual and physical) for encouraging me along this journey.

And thanks Dad. I’m really glad that you got to see me race on Sunday…

Oh, and the lost boater? They found the body about 3:00pm race day. Fran swears we “churned him up”.