Ironman® Wisconsin 2013 Race Report – Jeremy Behler
I want to start out by saying that Ironman® Wisconsin (IMMOO) is an awesome race. If you are even remotely on the fence about entering, get off that fence and go sign up. The course is challenging and scenic and the spectators are second to none. Finally, apologies in advance for the length of this report, but I find this cathartic so grab a drink, sit back, and enjoy.
IMOO was my second IM distance triathlon. I raced IM Arizona in 2011 (10:06:12, 16th M35-39AG). I took 2012 off from triathlon to help maintain balance on the work/family front and build up the bank of SAUs. I participated in the 2012 Boston Marathon (3:43:26 on an unbelievably hot day) and I did a fall half marathon in 2012 as part of a ‘run focused block’ and had a PR of 1:26:23. I focused last winter on getting stronger on the bike which culminated in the Blue Ridge Training Camp in early May where I knocked out over 300 miles with 32K feel of climbing in four days. I felt like I was getting stronger, but my FTP had only climbed from 258 at Arizona to 275 where it plateaued well short of my 300 goal. I had hoped to be competitive for a Kona spot when I signed up for IMMOO but with only moderate gains on the bike I didn’t expect it to be very likely. Based on my training, I thought I could save 1-2 minutes on the swim vs. IMAZ. The bike would likely be 20-30 minutes longer given the more difficult course. My run fitness has improved as well, so I was hoping to save roughly 15 minutes here (a bit faster than my Z1 speed would indicate). That would give me a time 3-13 minutes longer than Arizona and based on previous results I would need a performance in the 10:05-10:10 range to be in the hunt so definitely a stretch.
The events leading up to the race seemed to indicate the universe was transpiring against me. I had a low tire pressure warning in my car on Wednesday and filled up the low tire after inspecting it and finding no visible punctures. By Thursday morning it was lower but not too low so I topped it off and we left around 10AM on Thursday for the 7 hour drive to Madison. We arrived around 4:30 (after the 1 hour time change) and I went straight to the expo to get it out of the way. It took me about 30 minutes to get through the signup. After that we checked into the hotel where the low tire warning came on again. I called a local repair shop to make an early appointment and have the tire patched then headed to the team dinner where it was great to see old and new friends/teammates alike. That evening I unpacked my gear and put my bike on the repair stand to mount my rental race wheels…that is where the second issue popped up. The Zipp sub 9 disc is a bit wider than my standard wheels, so as I adjusted the rear brakes on my bike, the adjuster screw stripped out. While the brakes worked, they wouldn’t center properly so one side of the brake would rub the wheel slightly sapping power from transferring to the wheel. Since it was now well into the evening I would have to deal with this in the morning. Dropped the car off Friday morning for tire repair and walked to breakfast. Decided to skip the swim as part of my “Advanced Taper” which included only 1 run of 4 miles, 1 swim of 2k yds, and 1 bike of 17 miles in the final week. After breakfast I walked to the mechanic booth at the Expo to see if they could help. No such luck as they only had standard parts and my TRP TTV RC aero brakes that mount under the chain stays don’t fit that description. I called and visited a couple bike shops and had no luck…the brakes were special order and they didn’t have any in stock bikes that I could pull from. At this point I decided to forego the redundancy of a rear brake and just go with a front brake for the race….after all, triathlon is all about going fast and brakes don’t help with that do they? From there I went back to the hotel and took my bike out for a short spin to ensure everything was shifting smoothly and the front brake was all dialed in. After that, I went out with my friend Mark (also racing IMMOO- his first IM) and my wife to drive the course. Was happy to see the poor road areas from the August camp were largely addressed with new smooth pavement. We went to a local pizza place at the recommendation of a friend in Madison with the hopes of escaping the tri geekery and distraction near the Capitol. After a late breakfast on Saturday I dropped my bike and gear bags off at transition and joined my wife for a stroll along State Street so she could check out a few shops. Crab ravioli dinner that night (again…off the beaten tri path) and legs up by 9PM.
I woke up at 2AM and took in a large bottle of Naked Smoothie, about 700 calories. Went back to bed and awoke for my alarm at 4:45. Left the hotel a little after five with my morning clothes bag and gear for the one block walk to the Capitol to meet Mark. Walked to transition Weather was as forecasted and incredible. Low 60s in the morning with a high of 75 (Sandwiched between two days that saw highs of 85-88) and overcast all day. Had my tires pumped up, turned on my GPS, then realized I left my nutrition bottles at the hotel. No worries…only a short 3 blocks away and it was only 5:20 (transition closes at 6:30). Walked back to the hotel, where my wife was already awake and getting ready. I grabbed by bottles from the refrigerator and we both walked down to transition. Got there by 6:10 and it had pretty well cleared out by then. Put my nutrition on the bike and headed down to the swim start.
I entered the water around 6:45. Water was warm (74 degrees). I positioned myself between the Red starting buoy and the first yellow buoy, or about 50 yards off the inner line. Pros went off at 6:50 then waited a long 10 minutes treading water for the cannon to go off. I was in the 2nd ‘row’ and seeded myself for a 59 minute swim. I swam 1:01 in Arizona and 1:03 non-wetsuit race rehearsals last month. As the cannon went off it was the normal chaos as everyone got set off for 2.4 miles of swimming. I was kicked and hit more than I had been in past swims, partially due to some fairly choppy water thanks to a 15mph wind. I went out strong for a few hundred yards and then settled in to a nice pace. Sighting was tougher than usual given the swells but found some feet that were moving at my pace and followed them. I was definitely feeling the warmth from a full sleeve wetsuit in 74 degree water, but it wasn’t too uncomfortable. At the first turn buoy I realized we had been pushed off course a bit and took the turn very wide…at least 50-100 yards outside the line. I made an effort to do more sighting after this, but after we turned into the wind it made it more difficult. Others were having similar issues as I was getting intercepted at very steep angles from others over-correcting that had gone way off course. At the halfway point, there were still a decent amount of people near me so I started to wonder if that meant my time was slower or it was just a fast swimming field. I didn’t see many people at all in Arizona after the first .5 miles. I resisted the urge to look at my watch, recognizing that it didn’t matter. I continued to have navigation issues, particularly after the last turn where you intercept the shoreline at a 45 degree angle. I probably added a couple hundred yards here as well. My stroke felt good, however and I was moving through the water well. As I got out of the water, the clock read 1:07. I probably swam at my goal pace of 1:30/100 yards but added on 4-500 yards due to poor navigation. Unfortunately my watch was bumped during the swim so I wasn’t able to capture the file to see exactly how far off course I swam. I was immediately disappointed, but had to keep telling myself that I couldn’t do anything about it and to focus on executing from here. By this point…I had essentially written off any hope of a Kona spot and was just focused on executing and enjoying the day.
SWIM – 1:07:30 – 1:41/100yds – 29AG – 212 OA
Out of the swim, I stopped at the wetsuit strippers then ran up 3 stories via a helix. The helix is lined with spectators yelling and chanting. It was very motivating, but I was in a zone and didn’t recognize anyone even my wife and our friends who were yelling my name as I passed just a few feet from them. I kept my transitions simple…put on sunglasses and bike helmet, nutrition in jersey, and run with bike shoes in hand until bike mount. Ran out of the terrace, into the transition area, grabbed my bike, and ran to the opposite end of the terrace (a few hundred yards). Stopped at mount line, put on my shoes, and was off to the bike.
T1 – 5:14
The bike starts out meandering through bike paths and parking lots for the first few miles. After that, it’s about 15 miles west of town, and then you do two loops before heading back. My goal was for pNorm of 200 watts (.73IF), with the first 30 minutes or so a bit lower to get the legs loosened up. The first 15 miles were pretty straightforward…a few rolling hills. My watts were around 190 and I was seeing average speeds of 21-21.5 which was well beyond my expected average of low 20s. I kept telling myself to stay in my box and remember that I had a healthy tailwind. There were a few other riders around me, with some passing back and forth. I tried to focus on maintaining my watts but not passing too slowly as there were a number of officials on the course watching for drafting. I saw one guy get penalized 4 minutes around mile 18 for what looked to me like inadvertent drafting during a pass (but drafting nonetheless). It wasn’t 15 miles later he got another 4 minute penalty (third would result in a DQ). We exchanged a few words as he fell back and I asked him who he pissed off. On the whole…it’s great that they are enforcing these rules. I was passed a couple times at Arizona by groups of riders who were visibly and in my opinion, intentionally drafting which is incredibly frustrating. The guy that was penalized for 8 minutes I came to find was a first time IM participant and took it positively as a learning experience. Through Verona and onto Mt. Horab there wasn’t too much excitement…I was just focusing on staying aero and steady with the power. The rolling hills on Witte Rd were fun as always and it was reassuring to pass guys as I pedaled down the hills at 150 watts after they had hammered up the hill at 300+ watts and viewed the downhill as a chance to rest. Soon follow Garfoot Rd…another set of rollers before the one big sweeping turn. This was a section that can be intimidating, but from my previous riding of the course I knew could be taken at full speed. I was probably doing 43-45MPH at the peak, and given my reliance on only my front brake decided to tap it just a bit to control my speed. I didn’t need to, but a fraction of a second is better than minutes our worse in the event of a crash. That is one of my favorite sections of the course as you carry 35-40MPH through sweeping left and right turns under a canopy of hardwood treed. Stagecoach Rd was rough as expected (side note…loved the sign that said “Welcome to IMMOO’s version of Paris-Roubaix&rdquo. Once I got to Old Sauk, the first big climb, I realized why IMOO was so special. The streets were lined on both sides by spectators2-3 deep, many of whom were in crazy costumes and outfits. They would yell encouragement and ‘chase’ you up the hill. If you’ve ever watched the big climbs in the Tour de France…it feels just like that. There was 1-2 feet on each side of you as you go through the ‘tunnel’ of spectators. Shout out to JT Thompson who was an incredibly vocal and enthusiastic supporter out there. Not only on the bike course but later on the run. Not long after Old Sauk comes Timber Lane, a shorter but steeper climb. It was here that the Old Sauk crowd began to look average. There were people…everywhere. I really wish I had my GoPro mounted on the bike for this as it’s hard to explain. It felt like I was climbing into a crowd of people and the path literally unfolded in front of me as people peeled away to clear the space. Shout out to Jen Kurth, wife of teammate Ian Kurth who wore a killer Prom Queen outfit to cheer folks…it was awesome to know someone in the crazy garb. From here it’s pretty fast to the last big climb at Midtown Rd where again; the street was lined on both sides with crazy revelers. After that it’s fairly flat and fast and I saw my average speed start increasing back to 21ish on stable wattage. From there it was back into Verona for the start of the second loop. It started to clear out a bit by this point and I began passing some folks that were on their first loop. Nothing notably different on the second lap but the crowds lining Old Sauk, Timer Lane, and Midtown Ln were certainly something I looked forward to. After turning left onto Whalen Rd for the last 15 miles home, I quickly felt the headwind that had helped push me on the way out. It was in the mid-teens and dead in my face. I had an average speed at this point of about 20.8 but I knew that would drop as I fought the headwind. By now there were very few people out so I felt like I had done well and made up some ground on the bike. As I got back to Madison, I climbed the Helix and slipped my feet out of the shoes then dismounted my bike and handed it off to a volunteer.
Bike – 5:28:53 – 20.43MPH – pNorm 199 – Average watts 189 – VI1.053 – IF .723 – 15AG – 87 OA
I kept T2 equally simple. Take off helmet, put on hat, socks, running shoes, and head out. Didn’t rush, but transition was not busy yet so able to make it in and out quickly.
T2 – 2:00
It was at this point I decided to take a calculated risk. I knew by my bike time I was at the fast end of what was a potentially Kona competitive range. With my slow swim, however I would have to make up some ground. My ‘base’ plan was to run 8:15-8:30 pace for a couple miles then dial it in around 7:50-8:00, netting me a time in the low 3:30s (my Z1 pace is 8:06). I decided I’d need a bit more than that, so I went out at 7:30-7:45 with a ‘go faster and try to hold on’ approach, but sticking with my strategy of walking aid stations and part of Observatory Hill. I would use HR as a check to ensure I didn’t burn myself out. There weren’t many Agers on the course that I could see but one guy with me right off the bike was also in my AG. He and I ran the first couple miles at a similar pace. He would pull ahead as I walked aid stations, then I would gradually pull him in. He was about 2-300 yards ahead of me for most of the first loop. Around Mile 6-7 I heard someone yell “No way!!! You are hauling!” and looked over to see Joe Galli going the other way about 0.5-1 mile back. I met Joe at the camp in August and the dude is a legit runner…as in sub 3 hour marathoner legit. I knew he and I had similar goals and that his best discipline was the run, so I expected to see him catch me before the day was over. Between Joe behind me (also in my AG), and the other guy in front of me I had both a carrot and a stick to push me along. I lost the guy in front of me as we neared the Capitol and the various turns. Sections of the run course go through the entertainment district and are lined on both sides with outdoor patios/restaurants so it was similar to the climbs on the bike where people were everywhere yelling and supporting racers. As I made the turnaround for the second lap I passed Coach P on the corner. He ran with me for a bit and told me I was 15th off the bike and killing it on the run…45 seconds pace faster than others. He told me to keep eating for 5 miles then drop the hammer with whatever I had left. Around mile 15 the guy that was in front of me surprisingly passed me again. I don’t know how/where I passed him but he had a nice pace and with 11 miles remaining I didn’t want to chase him and blow up. I was able to keep him within view…maybe a few hundred yards. He would occasionally look back and with the numerous turnarounds he could tell I was staying close. My goal was to stay in his head and save enough for the last1-2 miles to give him a run. By the second lap, the course was starting to fill up a bit so it was harder to get into a groove as I passed/weaved through other participants. I saw Joe a couple times after turnarounds and he was looking very strong. I didn’t know if I’d be able to stay out in front of him or not. I hit a dark spot around mile 16 and my pace drifted to around 8-8:30 for a bit. Part of this was due to walking Observatory hill. I told myself to get to mile 18 where it’s only 8 miles to go. From there…get to mile 20 where there is only a 10K left. When I got to mile 23 I was really starting to feel it. I told myself…only 25 minutes left. You can do anything for 25 minutes. I turned it up a bit…and started closing the gap on the guy in front of me. By mile 24 he was only a few paces in front of me, and I am pretty sure he saw me gaining on him. Shortly thereafter…I see him pull up…his left leg started cramping. I passed him and didn’t look back, digging as deep as I could. Looking back at my Garmin file I ran mile 23.5 to 25 at a 6:03 pace. When I got to the square I saw Coach R setting up the team tent and didn’t see anyone else. I looked back and didn’t see anyone close but with only 0.5 left I wasn’t going to let up. I kept up the pace, averaging a 7:25 pace for the final 1.2 miles. When I turned the final corner I looked up and saw 10:20:4X on the clock..so I pushed it to keep it under 10:21.
Run – 3:27:21 – 7:54/mile pace – 7th AG – 51 OA
Total – 10:10:58 – 7th AG – 51 OA
They were still setting up as I crossed the line, so I waited a few minutes for my post-race pictures, etc. After about 10 minute I left the chute to see my wife and our friend who were waiting for me. I was very happy with my time and knew I gave it my all but that wasn’t enough for Kona. I asked them to look up and see how Joe did (I didn’t see him cross but he was 4 minutes behind me. It was then that she said “Your official time was 10:10:58”. Huh? I asked her to double check…I don’t think I misread the clock. Sure enough 10:10:58, 7th in the M35-39AG. I was confused as they adjusted the swim clock for the AG times, but finish line clock was based on the Pros who started 10 minutes earlier. I then thought, wow, that may be enough for Kona. At Arizona my AG when 8 slots deep, and Joe mentioned that the 30-34 AG had 8 spots in Wisconsin 2 years ago. Got a text from the coaches congratulating my performance and they thought there would be 5-7 slots in my AG.
Walked to the hotel and grabbed a quick shower and changed before heading back out to support the rest of the team and grab some dinner. It was awesome to see so many people have great races. After dinner and a few drinks, we headed back to the finish line around 11PM to bring in the last finishers. I did this at Arizona as well, and it will always be one of the best parts of the race weekend. Watching the elation of so many people who have been out there for 16+ hours pounding away that drag themselves across the finish line with the help of the crowd is incredible to behold. I am very blessed/fortunate to have the health and fitness potential to be a moderately fast triathlete. It can also be a curse though as I become so focused on my performance and shaving off a minute here or there. It’s easy to lose that perspective sometimes, but when you see people who are truly thrilled to simply finish the race in 16:5X it gives you a completely different appreciation for this sport and what it does for so many people. I saw Joe Galli again at the finish area and we talked for a bit…met his large entourage of supporters and chatted about the race. Joe was 9th in the AG so we were hopeful that it would be enough for both of us.
I woke up Monday morning feeling a bit better than I expected and went to the Kona Qualifier room right when it opened at 9AM. Joe was already there and that’s when we learned there were only 5 slots for our AG. This burst my bubble a bit, but I knew I couldn’t do anything about it so went for breakfast and came back at 10:30 to see where things stood. By this point, there were only 4 unclaimed spots in total across all AGs. Fortunately one was in my AG, but that would mean the unclaimed spot would go unclaimed in the last 30 minutes and also for the first roll down spot. Not particularly promising, nor surprising given this is the first qualifier for next year’s race so nobody has claimed any spots. We made our way to the awards celebration where after the short video (which is awesome..btw – link here IMMOO YouTube Video …check out the bike climbs starting at the 4:10) they began the roll down process. As they went through I kept hearing ‘X spots…X claimed’. I believe the F30-34 AG had one roll down…claimed by the first person. Then they got to M35-39. “5 Spots, 4 claimed” So you’re saying there’s a chance! Sure enough…Jmatt Keil was there, ready to claim his spot with a 6th place, 10:09:30 finish….less than 90 seconds faster than me. Damn. That was hard…I tried not to get my hopes up, but to miss it by that tight of a margin really sucks. Much harder than missing by 20+ minutes like IMAZ. I mean…90 damn seconds…surely I left 90 measly seconds out there. Hell, I probably left 4x that on the swim. I know hindsight is always 20/20 and Jmatt could just as easily find 90 seconds on his day that netted him that coveted roll down spot but it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.
Overall, and despite missing out on Kona by 90 seconds, this was a great race and a hell of a lot of fun. I learned more in this race than I did my first race at Arizona ’11. I’ll be taking 2014 off from IM distance to better balance family and work priorities, and hopefully give it another go in 2015 (or 2016 when I age up to 40-44). Thanks to everyone on the amazing support and words of encouragement as I celebrated a great race but also dealt with missing Kona by such a close margin. EN is as much a triathlon family as it is a triathlon team, and experiences like this weekend really bring that to life.
A few parting thoughts that I took away from this race…some specific to IMOO or me, but most generally applicable (in no particular order)
Take advantage of ‘Free Speed’ – There is so much out there. A few watts on those descents and you’ll fly by so many people. Keep transitions simple. I never felt like I was rushing or sprinting yet I had 7:11 of total transition time by keeping touch points to a minimum. Average transition time for my AG was 16 minutes!
Stay in your box – not a new one here, but I almost convinced myself the day was over after my swim. I kept telling myself it wasn’t and to just execute and see where I ended up. If I hadn’t don’t that I wouldn’t have been in the position I was.
Steady Eddy – looking at my splits the first thing I noticed is how consistent they were. My bike segments never deviated more than 0.5MPH from my overall pace. There were 6-8 guys that were around me on the first lap of the bike…they’d pass me on the climbs and I would bomb past them on the downhill. After the third big climb and subsequent downhill I never saw them again…the second lap was much quieter. My running pace (other than the first and last miles) was mostly within 10 seconds/minute of my overall pace. I have no doubt that this helped me maintain my effort later in the race as others were slowing down or walking.
Experience – Despite this being only my second IM, I felt like I was racing as a seasoned veteran. The collective wisdom I’ve gained from the likes of Al Truscott, Matt Aaronson, and many others were immensely valuable not only as I planned my day, but more importantly as I adjusted that plan throughout the day. Don’t just rely only on your experience…there are many amazingly talented, experienced, and helpful members on this team you should tap into.
Weather – This validated for me that I perform best in moderate to cool weather. I’ve run a total of 5 marathons (2 IM, 3 open). This was my 2nd fastest ever, faster than 2 open marathons by a wide margin (15 and 18 minutes). My only faster race was my Boston Qualifier where it was 28 degrees. The Temperature Impacted Race Spreadsheet is a great tool for adjusting race plans, but I will likely consider climate for my next IM. I’m pretty confident that if the weather had been 88 and sunny like it was on the day preceding/following my relative performance wouldn’t have been nearly as strong.
X Factor – Execution is as important as fitness. The best fitness without proper execution is wasted, but even with moderate fitness you can excel with superior execution. Looking at the others near the top of my AG…I am not the fastest runner nor anything close to the strongest cyclist or swimmer, but I’m pretty good in all three. That, coupled with disciplined execution maximizes the effect of your fitness
The ostrich effect – Keep your head in the sand. Stay away from the expo and the heart of the IM scene before the race once you are registered. Eat at venues where you don’t expect a lot of other triathletes to be. It’s tempting and frankly fun to be a part of it, but all I do when I am there is think about the race, the other people I see, the amazing bikes they have and think about how they all must be sub 10 guys if they are dumping $7-10k on these incredible bikes. I saw many of these guys dragging themselves up hills and getting passed like crazy. Common sense and experience would tell you not to worry, but when you are all caught up in it it’s hard to ignore.
Aim High – I have received an incredible amount of support and encouragement from friends, family, and teammates. I often hear comments such as “You are so fast…I will never be that fast”. To that I say “Not so fast”. After my first IM in 2011 I was 30 minutes from Kona. I remember talking to Coach P on a ride in KY last year and mentioning I wanted to get to Kona eventually but it would probably be 5-10 years before I could make that happen. One year later I was on the doorstep. It doesn’t matter if your goal is Kona or breaking a stretching time of 14 hours. If you put in the time and dedicate yourself to it you would be amazed at what can happen. I sure was.