TOTAL POUNDS LOST = 56,179
IMWI Race Report
The skinny version: This was IM #4 and it did not disappoint. Not a PR for me at this distance and I failed to achieve my primary goal of a sub-11 hour race but I did PR the marathon with my first sub-4 hour effort despite a torn calf muscle following a 6 hour bike ride (IF 0.74/VI 1.1/TSS 325). It was my best AG placement at the IM distance, 28th place (previous three efforts all 36th-93rd).
The long version: Ironman Wisconsin, like all Ironman races, started a year earlier in 2016 with the idea that we would make it a family reunion event. Once we made our intentions known a bunch of people said they would jump in and do the race. At one point 5 family members were considering toeing the line, but in the end it was just the same two dingbats once again - me and my brother-in-crime, Alexander “Sandy” Slocum. Sandy has done 20 Ironman races all around the world, in every type of condition, all while maintaining a crazy mix of work - professor at MIT, globe trotting MechE and expert legal witness consultant, and father to 3 awesome grown-up kids, married to a marathoning wife who maintains a self-sustaining farm - needless to say, he serves as a constant source of inspiration for me.
I flew in Thursday to meet up with Sandy who had prescribed a chili dinner “to clean you out before the big day” in Milwaukee. I had not gotten to see this branch of the family in too long. Sandy’s son Alex, and his wife Sarah, are both young doctors in the middle of residency with two children under 2. Time machine experience for me since my wife Valerie and I were stationed in the same situation 10 years ago. Their house is one big bouncy house for their beautiful kids. They had the look of two young people who have not slept in 3 years but still maintained hope that one day sleep would happen (I have a surprise for you guys, It doesn’t). Brutal but beautiful. Great way to put Ironmaning into perspective.
I slept at a local hotel and woke up early to get breakfast, or so I thought. I was beat to the buffet by 40 *middle aged* men dressed in identical Aaron Rodgers jerseys and foam cheese head hats. All were consuming Spotted Cow beer *at 0600*, *2 days* before the Packers game. Some were doing a little dance while the others crowded around. Respect. Another great way to put Ironmaning into perspective. Sandy and I loaded up and drove into Madison.
I learned the brake lever on my Ventum sustained minor trauma during transport, so instead of driving the course as planned we chilled in Madison while the mechanics fixed it. Absolutely loved Madison. This was my first trip to the great city and the people here did not disappoint. Everybody was hospitable and gracious. The weather was perfect. The team EN dinner that @Frederick Guesneau put together was fantastic. Dined with @Jon Bergmann and his wife. Great conversation over great pizza. I confirmed @Ian Kurth is not a robot, and yes, his family is just as picture perfect as they look on paper.
Valerie surprised me by flying in on a red eye Saturday morning after a full work week make it for race day. That raised the stakes of the race considerably.
Saturday we crushed a large pancake breakfast and headed out to drive the course. We started off giggling about how fun this course was going to be after encountering the first few rollers. As we crested Barlow and circled the loop back into Verona, hill after hill - we just stopped counting them - our giggling slowly died, turning into the quiet silence that happens when you realize you are about to be crushed. Made it back to town for more pancakes. We followed the Core Diet to the letter, spent the day with feet up. I went to bed slightly hungry and happily watching USC put the beat down on Stanford.
I went into the race with two primary goals: sub 11 hour race and sub 4 hour run. I wanted to execute the bike and stay mentally sharp the entire ride. I came into the race as healthy and focused and studied as I ever had. Thanks to my wife’s obesity medicine program, I nailed my body comp, having dropped 21 pounds to hit a new low race weight of 175. FTP of 281, 3.6 W/Kg and TRP pace was ~8:30. No injuries. I was finally ready to see what I am capable of at this distance.
Woke up at 0330, had the full Core diet prescription. Made me a little queasy but that went away. Suited up, re-read my race plan twice. Valerie walked me down to transition, did all the things, and headed down to the water front.
Ironman moved away from mass starting this year - the new plan needs some work/practice. They had athletes walking into a large corral by swim wave, but to get to the corral you have a long, narrow, and winding path that is criss crossed by spectators. Stressful. Make sure you get down there early!
Goal <1:12, Actual: 1:18:01.
In my prep for the race I had found some swim magic after taking a canoe paddling lesson. Both in the pool and the open water I regularly turned in my fastest times ever. I did four 4k open water swims all 1:05-1:12 or so which is how I decided on my goal pace. I lined up to the left of the ski jump, made my way to the front of the line. Guns go off, heart rate must have been 180. I tore out of there and have a photo of me leading coming out of the gate - per the plan. No real contact the entire swim. No drama. No Dougie Bob. I focused on form and sighted the buoy line like I haver never done before. Came out of the water feeling strong, totally unaware of the time.
Later I would find out I did not execute, showing no improvement from my training efforts. Aside from swallowing more water, which definitely slowed me at times, I cannot explain the lapse.
Not sure how to make T1 faster in Madison. In retrospect, finishing the swim in 1:18, I was exiting with a few hundred racers. The helix, the long run to bags, the long run to bike exit. Not sure how to improve on this, but it was just 1 minute off my goal so I’ll take it.
After a long discourse on how to ride this course, I opted against using BBS power course. Of course, the WSMs were correct - even if I had it loaded on my computer, this course requires constant attention ahead of you. Goal: IF 0.70, TSS 275, VI 1.07. Truthfully, I had no time goals. BBS predicted 5:36
Actual: IF 0.74, TSS 325, VI 1.1, finishing in 6:00
Wow. Holy wow. This course is fun. Crazy fun. Imagine how fun it would be if you did not need to run a marathon afterward! Though I rode hotter than I had wanted to, this ride was the best I could manage.
Ian Kurth about to pass me
I now believe we spend too much time talking about power and HR management and too little time talking about how to ride around other riders - they are a critical factor IMO. The hills were tough, sure, but having a hundred riders surround you to play Blue Angels - formation riding - is tougher. I had to slow/speed/grind/chill numerous times because of another rider’s decision. Your confidence to blaze down a hill changes dramatically when other riders decide to get up out of aero half way down, creating a much less predictable trajectory.
Barlow. Even if I had not been buttressed by slow, weaving, teeter tottering riders and the screaming crowds on the sideline, I would have had to stand up to get up that hill. Running a 28 in the cassette I still hit 640 watts, with a 1 minute stretch at 410. Yeah, matches burned. Whole box of em.
My nutrition and hydration were spot on. I took the MR route, adjusting it a bit higher for my extra 30lbs. Peed three times on the bike and once in T2, but the pee did not come easy. Its true there are many downhills here that allow one to assume the position, but they are pretty fast, on rough farming roads, surrounded by the Blue Angels. I could not “open up” until around mile 53. Very uncomfortable - drinking fluids with a full bladder is a tough negotiation. I lost a lot of speed standing up on 3 or 4 downhills for about 10 miles as a result. No doubt faster than stopping at a porto. Once relieved, I got back to work.
Need a porto!
My Ventum seat issues returned on the second lap. The seat post clamp is just not strong enough when I have the seat fully forward and riding on bumpy cow roads. Spent 50 miles sliding off the nose, but I did not stop to fix it like I did in IMAZ:
Not how I set this before the race
It was not until around mile 60 that the course opened up and I could focus on my targets in earnest. I found a crew of 4-5 guys who I rode with for the back stretch. I raced them with all of my EN education, which felt really good. Watched them all crush me on the uphills, the coast the down hills when I took them again. Classic.
90 miles in I saw the time of day and knew I would not get off the bike in time for a <11 hour race. The negativity crept in. I didn't know if it was the swim or bike that put me in T2 late (it was both!), but it was disappointing. I remembered Coach P stating that most people leave speed on the course near the end, so I sped up, passed about 10 riders in the last 10 miles and felt better.
T2: Frederick the Great greeted me in T2. What a fantastic gentleman he is - we were so lucky to have him as our guide to Madison. He provided me a major boost just by being there, not to mention some advice. Many thanks.
Goal <4hr, Actual: 3:52!
Coming out of T2, the very first step I felt a sharp pain in the right calf. I didn't know what it was but I was sure it was not a cramp. Not extreme pain, but enough to grab my attention every stride. I figured it was a muscle strain or something, planned to “walk it off” so to speak. After the first mile the pain was enough make me think a DNF was likely, partly a carry over from the negativity that crept in on the bike. But my time was sub-8 and the HR was low (138). Tasty. So I decided to go 3 miles and see what happened.
Camp Randall stadium - so cool for this old football player.
Camp Randall helped me forgot about the calf. At mile 4 I was hovering around 8min pace. I was following Coach P’s nutrition advice (gel every 2 miles, gatorade every station). No problem, stomach was playing along. I resolved to run at least a half mary - without a time goal or expectation. Walked up observatory hill, ran down it fast. Got to see Ian Kurth around here, he looked very solid as expected. One mile after another at TRP went by without much change. My wife Valerie appeared at mile 12. I told her about my calf. She asked, “what it is your plan?” I did not have an answer. I looked at my time. I was coming in at around 1:50 at the 13.1 mark. WTF? Is this really happening? “I am going for it!” I responded. She was not pleased, so I dropped her (sorry!)
I hit the turn in 1:53. I grabbed my caffeinated gels from SN, took some Tylenol and hit the road with my sights on a sub-4 marathon. I decided to elevate my HR to 150ish. Why? HTFU! Time to go. Switched to salt+coke at mile 15. The second lap didn't get hard until mile 21 when the stomach stopped accepting coke and my abds were cramping. The legs were still churning however. I decided to stop taking food/liquids and slow down. Miles 21-24 were tough, but I was running with passion even as I was slowing down. With 2 miles to go I had at least 25 minutes! I was hitting 10 min miles, so plenty of time if I could just keep running. Of course, this is IMWI, so the finish is up a friggin hill. I see Frederick who is taking pictures. I was out of it. Tried to flash the EN sign. Took me 3 tries to get it right.
As I made the last right turn around the capitol building I catch a glimpse of Ian Kurth just outside the chute. Ian is walking. This does not compute - Ian passed me 4 miles into the bike and I didn't see him again until the run, when he easily was 5 miles ahead of me. I have in my sights one of my EN idols. Ian, whose Strava feed I have studied for a year and is literally the stuff of legend. Ian, triathlon’s version of Captain America who has a short film produced by Ironman no less. Ian, the guy married to the heroic woman who along with the most beautiful family in Wisconsin cheered me up the entire course. Permafit himself! On his home court!
I didn't know what to do. Do I take him down or should I stop, make sure he is okay, throw his arm over my shoulder and make sure he can get across the line like Alister Brownlee? https://www.theguardian.com/sport/video/ 2016/sep/19/alistair-brownlee-gives-chance-win-helps-brother-jonny-video. Just as I am closing on him, Ian starts to walk with purpose onto the carpet in the chute. He was getting a final wind. If he starts jogging, he beats me easily. I had to make a decision.
At that moment, Dougie Bob returned I am sorry to say.
I pipped Ian Kurth at the line. Like Rudy Ruettiger getting past Deon Sanders into the end zone. In reality I later learned Neon Deon was battling nausea and lost 18lbs on the day. I know this makes me an awful SoB. I write this confession in shame. I expect Coach P to pull me from the team for this act, but I had this one chance to take down a Goliath who beats me 99.99% of all races. This was my 0.01%. I took it along with my sub-4 hour marathon. Then I pipped a woman who appeared to be giving a long Oscar speech on the carpet for good measure.
I’m sorry! Its a race! Results
Final time: 11:26:18 28th/251 AG 218/2281 OA
EN grabbed the 1st place try team title to boot. #teamen
Medal. Chip. Hat and shirt. Photo. I limped out of the finisher area and my wife already has a plan: a short cart ride to the med tent. The diagnosis is made in seconds: Torn gastrocnemius/calf muscle (partial). “Classic weekend warrior injury” he says. I get an ice wrap and I'm sent home
limping. I was beaming and shivering. I believe I tore it going up Barlow. The news made the marathon result that much more special. I wanted to go down and drinks beers with Frederick, but as usual, I could not stop shivering and my stomach was not having it. I crushed some mac and cheese, two sips of Spotted Cow, and passed out. Monday I felt much better, probably because I accidentally overdosed on aspirin (do not mix your pills folks!). We enjoyed T3 beer and burgers at Old Fashioned - great spot.
So many to thank. Valerie and my kids for allowing me the time to scratch this itch. Again to Valerie for getting me to the best body comp I have ever achieved. To my brother Sandy, who brought me to the sport originally and finished this race despite major GI distress. Dr. Alex who bandaged me up in the med tent. @Coach Patrick for the honest advice and education. @Mike Roberts, @tim cronk and @Al Truscott for... everything. @Francis Picard, @Paul Hough, @Ian Kurth, @JeremyBehler, @Shaughn Simmons, @Dave Tallo, @Scott Dinhofer, @Gary Lewis, @Jorge Duque and so many other for the insight and inspiration. This team is amazing.
As I sit here on the plane overlooking Montana flying home, I am contemplating my next move. As much as I love this sport I am considering retirement from the IM distance. It is so hard to do it well. The time commitment is so high. IMWI was IM #4 in 4 years of EN tutelage. I did not capture all of my goals for this race but I failed knowing that I had done the best I could the entire race, and in that I am happy. The run was a very special win for me. I could walk away from IM very happy. We will see.