Ironman Wisconsin 2009 Race Report
Not every race can be your best race. If you race enough, there will be days where things don’t quite click. Sunday’s race at Ironman Wisconsin resulted in me dropping out early into the run. The feeling of quitting is always hard to swallow, but in the end, it was a calculated decision. It was my first DNF (Did Not Finish) in several years, but it didn’t make it any easier to take. I allowed myself to be disappointed for a day or two, so now I’m past it. I’ve dissected my race and trying to learn from any mistakes and make adjustments necessary to avoid similar results in the future. If anything, I’ve got a fire in my belly now to train hard for my next Ironman.
My training camp in Michigan was excellent preparation for Ironman Wisconsin. My good friend and training buddy, Richie Cunningham, came up to Northern Michigan and we had a great training block. My taper went really well so I felt very well prepared for the race. But things just didn’t come together right for me on race day.
I was really confident in my swim going into the race. I had been swimming fast and strong in training. I thought this was going to be my breakthrough race on my swimming to put me in a great position for the bike and run. When the start cannon fired, I was ready to swim hard through the first several hundred meters to put me in a good position with a pack swimming at my goal pace. After the initial surge, I felt like I had gone a bit too hard, but after I gave myself a little time to settle-in, I really couldn’t get my stroke right. I just didn’t have it and didn’t feel like I had any power or punch. Consequently, I swam the entire race (minus the first 200 meters) solo. I knew I wasn’t swimming well, but I didn’t know how badly until I exited the water. I saw the time on my watch and it was almost 1:04!!! I haven’t swam that slow in a wetsuit swim since 2005.…almost 4 years!!! I couldn’t believe how badly I had swam. I was hoping to swim about 10 minutes faster on a good day and on a bad day about 6 minutes faster. I was about 15 minutes behind the leaders! I really can’t explain what happened. I just couldn’t get my swimming stroke into a groove the entire swim.
That demoralized me right away. With the paces I was swimming in training, I thought I’d be about 5 minutes behind the main group, not three times that amount. My bike was one of two or three male pro bikes on the rack as I came out of transition. It never looks good to see your bike alone. As I went through the first few miles of the race I fought hard to work through the mental discouragement. Ironman is a long race, so you have plenty of time to make up time and still have an overall strong race.
With my position of about 30th of the male pros, I knew that a conservative bike would not get me anywhere near my placement goals, so my only choice was to try to bike hard and get myself back in the race. So, I decided to bike hard. I biked very strong and my legs felt good. It took me about 20 miles to catch 3 male pros. The game I decided to play was that I had to pass 3 male pros every 20 miles. That would put me in the top 15 getting off the bike which would put me in a good position to run into the top 10. It was a way to break the race up into smaller chunks and keep my focus. Wisconsin definitely has a challenging bike course, but I enjoyed it. The road surface could have been better and the course would be a little better without the 102 different turns, but the crowd support was amazing and the continuous hills made for a good challenge.
I linked up with Max Longree from Germany for the last 20 miles or so of the bike. It was nice to have someone to bike with....otherwise, I biked the rest of the race alone. With about 8 miles to go, some sort of wasp, hornet, or bee flew right down the front of my jersey and stung me in the chest. It hurt, but just made me angry more than anything. Right as we came into transition, Max and I caught Petr Vabrusek and the three of us were in transition together. My legs were a little tired at the end of the bike, but I felt like my hydration and fueling were spot on.
Exiting transition onto the run, I came out right on the heels of Longree who is one of the better runners in the sport. I wanted to stick on him like glue. My parents were standing at the transition exit and yelled to us that we were in 11th and 12th place. I was really excited, knowing that with some work I’d be able to run into the top 10. I had started the bike in about 30th or 31st position, but had now worked myself just out of the top-10. I was ready to run. The first few minutes of the run I felt really good. My legs were responding just how I wanted them. Then, about a half mile in, my entire diaphragm and abdominal wall cramped up. It felt like the most intense side stitches ever. It was so bad that I couldn’t breath with out audibly moaning in pain with every breath. It was painful enough that it was causing me to limp rather than run. I couldn’t get more than a shallow breath. I tried digging my fingers up under my ribcage to try to release the muscle to allow better breathing. As I came to the first aid station I stopped and drank about five or six cups of water and Gatorade. If the cramping was due to dehydration, I was going to get as many fluids as I could back in my body. I took another couple cups with me as I walked past the aid station. I had only lost a little time and a couple places at that point. I walked for another minute or two while trying to relax my breathing and breath deep to alleviate the cramping. I tried to run easy again, but after 100 meters or so, it was just as bad. I couldn’t run. I went to a walk again to try to keep moving forward. I made it to the second aid station and stopped to again drink as much as I could. I tried running again and just as before, I couldn’t get rid of the bad cramping. By the time I was just short of mile 3 I had walked about 2.5 miles, I had slipped from 12th place to 20th place. By then I was once again demoralized. I had worked hard after a horrible swim to get myself into the race and now the cramping took me right back out of the race.
I was ready to drop out right then and there, but then I didn’t know how I’d find my parents. I didn’t want them to worry about me and I didn’t know where the next spot they’d be on the course. So I decided to keep walking until I found them. As I walked through miles 4 and 5, I started pondering just walking the whole marathon to not drop out. I knew I was out of the race so running would just pound my legs and make my recovery longer. The wasp sting was still hurting but the other pain had put it on the back burner. As I walked, I rubbed my head and found some raised bumps on the back of my neck. I also had an itchy hive on my forearm. I was having a small allergic reaction to the sting. I’ve never had a bad reaction to a sting before, so either this was a species I haven’t come in contact with or I’ve been sensitized to stings. Also, during an event while your blood is circulating rapidly, your body can react more severely than in other instances. The sting reaction was the nail in the coffin. I told myself it was best and safest to throw in the towel. I walked to the run turn-around at mile 6.5 and turned in my time chip to drop out. As it turns out, the volunteer there had just talked to my parents as they were trying to find me at that spot and they were still near-by. We found each other and headed back to the hotel.
It was a really disappointing day, especially because my fitness now is better than ever before. I really was looking forward to a strong and possibly a breakthrough race. You can’t help but have a feeling of failure, but I’m past it now. If you race enough, you're bound to have a bad one in there. I've had 5 good races this season before this one, so it's been a good year so far. Since I didn’t do the marathon, my body has recovered very quickly. My plan now is to stick to my schedule for Longhorn Ironman 70.3 Austin in October and Ironman Cozumel in November. Because I don’t need to spend the next 3 weeks recovering, that means I can have a full build up for the next races. It was tough to accept, but I’m taking as much out of the day as I can.
I would like to thank Little Caesars Pizza for their belief in me and my racing as well as their support. I’d also like to thank Jack and Adam’s Bicycles for their endless assistance. I’d also like to thank Xterra Wetsuits, Advanced Rehabilitation, Hill Country Running Company, and Lewis Signs. I want to thank my parents for their unending support. Without the support of my family and friends and sponsors, it would not be possible for me to continue my pursuit of racing; I am appreciative of their unending support and encouragement.