2016 Ironman Wisconsin Race Report: Ian Kurth


Ian Kurth 2016 IMWI race report.  This venue and distance doesn’t give a $#!% about past results…


Mad Scientist seasonal training experiments:

I don’t post much on the forums so I will do one big vomit of what I have been up to this season…  This season, I went off the EN reservation a bit and experimented with some different approaches to each of the training disciplines.   I enjoy goal setting, challenging myself to muster the discipline to execute a plan towards those goals, and then using metrics – races or otherwise – as a gauge for success.  Here is a summary…


One of my frustrations with swimming are the large administrative costs for me to get to a pool.  I generally have to get my workouts in before 7am, so maximizing this time is essential.  I don’t mind swimming laps, I just have trouble justifying all of the lost time commuting to and from, pool hours limitations etc.  Enter VASA.  I decided to try and leverage the time savings the Vasa Erg offers with a goal of improving swim times, but also spending more time running and biking.  Unfortunately, there is a paucity of swim coaches who would embrace and help guide my “swimming without getting wet” approach.  Swim coaches’ general knee jerk response to the question – “how do I swim better” is “swim more”.  I found coach Eric Neilsen at TSRF and reached out to him to provide guidance on how to best utilize my time on the Vasa.  He is not only a gifted swim coach, he is a Vasa advocate and experienced user. He was very accommodating and supportive of my situation, and I feel the workouts that he provided and the training build he designed were really productive.  Because there are metrics associated with a Vasa, I could see my power and pace improving.  I knew and could feel I was stronger.  I proved that in a few of my rare pool workouts, as well as in setting swim leg PR’s in several triathlons leading up to IMWI.  While I didn’t specifically improve in the IMWI swim time this season, I favor this being a one-off.  With the exception of this IM race, I am very pleased with my swim times in races relative to my build, and plan to continue to primarily use a Vasa until I eventually face the music and do a required serious, intensive dedicated swim block (I am not ready for that yet…)


My approach to cycling this year involved riding about 90% indoors.  I choose to do this primarily for convenience, efficiency, and safety.  With the exception of participating in the Blue Ridge Camp in Boone, NC, commuting to work, and obviously races, I was riding indoors. This included about six 5-hour, indoor, long ride sweat fests, and numerous 3-hour rides.   I planned to be consistent with rides across the weeks, supplement volume by commuting by bike to and from work,  and infusing endurance work with several BBW “big bike weeks”.  These BBW’s came in the form of the BRC, Tour of Sufferlandria, Knight of Sufferlandria event, and several of my own twisted sadistic designs.  I strongly leveraged the Zwift platform, and found a great team and organizer of group rides in Team ODZ (http://www.teamodz.com/).  They had several challenging weekly rides that fit perfectly into my limited schedule.  I regularly rode in the Wednesday morning Decaf with Espresso ride, Thursday’s Wagner’s Wagon, and Sunday morning’s 3W/kg ladder.  Zwift races provided motivated intense sessions that broke up some of the monotony of staring at a wattage line.  Other experiments included using Powercranks.  These are cranks with an independent clutch.  Essentially you do one legged drills ALL THE TIME.  They are medieval torture devices and relentless.  They do work…  To complement these engine building projects, I also experimented with a more aggressive fit with Todd Kenyon of TT bikes.  I wanted to go faster on fewer watts.  I also paid close attention to Aeroweenie blogs and articles and cleaned up my bike significantly.


My run project was the most extreme experiment, and also the most simple.  I was going to science the hell out of run FREQUENCY.  The genesis of this idea stemmed from the “Full on Ass” run challenge thread on Slowtwitch.  In a nutshell the challenge was to run 4 months of greater than 200 miles per month.  I found a group on Facebook that also took the challenge, and it was game on.  I ended up with 42 weeks straight of running, including a 5 month block of 18 straight 50 mpw, and >200 mpm.  I entered IMWI having logged almost 1700 running miles since Jan 1, the majority on the treadmill.  Almost all GRP/conversational pace.  Nothing sexy, just lots of running.  Goal was to create the fitness to not slow down late in races.




Lead up time:

About 2 weeks prior to the race, I received a call from WTC marketing.  They remarked that they liked “my story” and would like to know if I was interested in being featured in an athlete spotlight video for the athlete banquet.  Below is a YouTube link to the finished vignette.  It is amazing what they can do with editing.  After babbling my way through 20 minutes of interviewing, they managed to string together a couple of coherent thoughts into a watchable segment.  Not realizing it at the time, this added a little pressure to race day… Is this guy a schmuck, or can he race?? 


The rest of the pre-race events included a nice EN team dinner, visits with friends and family, a celebratory dinner at Naples 15 (highly recommended restaurant), and attendance at the EN 4-Keys talk.  Overall pretty low key, with a focus on “getting my mind right” for the race.

Race Day:


Got up early, with the usual pre race preparations.  Our hotel was about a 15min walk from transition.  The familiarity with the venue is helpful, and makes for an efficient set up.  After a visit to transition, went to the EN team picture, got the wetsuit on, gave a kiss to Jen, and put the game face on.


I have mixed feelings about this legacy mass swim start. On the one hand, I really like knowing that once out of the water, everyone in front of me is a true target (without figuring for different waves/staggered starts, etc.), and ahead of me in the standings.  Other racers are competitive motivators, and it is my task to overtake them.  However, to leverage this, I must first get through the swim.  Because I am a tugboat in the water, I have to bear the burden of swimming in a moving bar fight that occurs with a mass start.  No bueno.  Over the years, I’ve tried different start positions/strategies to try and mitigate the scrum without much success.  This year was no different.  I lined up second row, left of the ski jump.  I took it out hard but steady.  My experience was similar to prior years in that I faced constant heavy contact through the first ⅓ of the race, and steady intermittent contact for the remainder of the swim.  While the swim was intentionally “easy” from an effort standpoint, it certainly wasn’t relaxing…  My swim fitness was great and my swim mechanics where rusty, but adequate.  My VASA experiment was successful as it translates to swim fitness, and creating endurance to race the bike and run without residual fatigue.  It also translated into PR swim times in my leadup triathlon races this season.  However, during this race, I feared leg cramps and thus swam very conservatively.  The swim is just a commute to the bike.   Exiting the water, I didn’t check the clock and just kept moving.  Process oriented.


This is where I start the day long process of moving through the field.  KISS concept.  Goal:  “best in class”.  Quick wetsuit strip, jog the inside of the helix, and rapid movement though the terrace. I grabbed my bag, removed my shoes and helmet, found a volunteer to replace my wetsuit in the bag, and took off.  I put on my helmet while jogging to my bike (great position).  Because they reverted back to the no shoes on the bike rule, I carried my shoes to my bike. Shoes on, and go.


My goal here was to execute a steady, and relatively conservative race, in an effort to do no damage and give myself the best chance to run well.  Things started out a bit bumpy.  Literally…  At my first glance down to start my Garmin, I noticed an unusual screen.  I scrolled through the screen options, and couldn’t find my custom screens.  I realized that somehow my 520 had either updated unknowingly, or factory reset.  In the place of my custom fields I had some useless metrics including time of day, heading, grade, etc.  So I set about trying to gather a couple of more useful fields… power, HR, speed etc.  Doing this while biking 20mph alongside a bunch of squirrely triathletes is not recommended…  A casualty of this process was I hit a bump and ejected 900 liquid calories over 2 bottles.  I was moving pretty fast when it happened and I chose not to risk going back for them.  Crisis management number two began, and I started rewriting my nutrition plan in my head to live off the course the entire day… Just solve the problem and keep moving…

The early portions of the bike again followed the typical IM script.  Early on, the bike course is very crowded for me as a penalty of being an average swimmer.   It takes about 50 miles for me to get ahead of the bolus and find clear roads to really ride steady.  Early on, there are definite hammerheads who initially come out stacked and jacked hitting it hard on the uphills, coasting the downhills, and providing validation of how not to ride an Ironman. Most of the riders of this style end up regretting their choices later in the bike.  Watching the body language of many riders that I pass over the last 40 or so miles – they are ready to get off their bike –  as demonstrated by sitting up, soft pedaling, and coasting.  PSA:  there is still a marathon to go…

The Bavarian posse.  Wisconsin loves a good polka!


My Brother always bringing the class


I started the bike very easy, planning on gradually increasing watts. Once free of the majority of the riders, I began to lift the pace and got to work.  Over T1 and the bike, I passed over 800 people…  Lots of wind shadows…  Despite this ramping of effort, I fell short of my goal watts.  A .68 IF is pretty conservative.  No worries – I would much rather be under clubbed on the bike and set up well for a run, than biking for show, and paying for it over a 26 mile run/walk.  My time indicates that I was definitely more slippery as a benefit of my aero tweaks.  Not sure what to make of this in comparison with prior years as the loop was materially different because of some significant road work.  Regardless, riding faster on lower watts is muy bueno.



Fortunately, this course is broken up into many segments, including lots of small ring punchy climbs.  I had a lot of fun seeing my support crew out in full force on the Midtown climb.  The “reveal” was good for a great laugh.  The Bavarian beer wench costumes were awesome!  Somehow, Jen successfully recruited my brother Adam, sister-in-law Megan, Mom and Dad to get into full regalia as well!  Quite the crew.  Energetic and loud as always.  Everytime I passed them, I received a huge injection of energy, and I got to carry that energy and enthusiasm with me for miles moving forward.  I am very fortunate.


We start the IronFan training early here in Wisconsin

My modified and jungle patched nutrition plan went well during the bike.  I got in 6 GE, 4 waters, 4 Stinger waffles, and 2 GU’s – about 2000 total calories.  I intentionally trained with a smorgasbord of items.  My thought was to not be reliant on any one particular type of calories in the off chance that they were not available or not sitting well on the day.  This practice ended up to my benefit on this particular day.   I was certainly hydrated during the bike, as I peed 5 times.  I felt tanked up as I neared T2.  Slipped out of shoes near the base of the helix, spun up the parking structure, and happily dismounted from the bike, and headed into the terrace.


No major issues. Quick and efficient. Goal:  “Best in class”.  I ran into T2, grabbed my bag and dumped it.  Socks on, shoes on, grabbed my Ziploc go bag and headed out.


I wanted to have a crack at a 3:30 marathon.  During training leading up to the race, I thought I had the fitness to capture this goal.  However, obeying my HR over the early miles required me to readjust my expectations.  Reflecting on this discipline, I believe it set me up for a strong last 6 miles.  The race really is played out over the last few miles. “20 miles of hope, 6 miles of reality”.  I kept this in mind, and remained in my defense state of mind through the majority of the run.  I stayed conservative, and using RPE as primary, HR secondary, and pace as a tertiary metric, I managed to keep the HR pretty steady, with a slight increase during the late miles.  With the exception of a dark spot during miles 16-18, my HR and pace was rock steady.  I walked the end of every other aid station for about 20 steps.  I only stopped for 1 aid station the last 6 miles.


It was great to see all the EN racers in full force.  The racing red jerseys are easy to spot, and by and large they are always RUNNING.  It is a proud and gritty team, wearing the shield honorably.  Definitely helpful to see some familiar faces, and knowing they were also suffering, but still fighting!

My family was stationed all over town.  I was able to see them several times during the bike, and many times during the run.  While the racer’s day is tough, enduring a long day of spectating and coordinating logistics is equally difficult.  I really appreciate seeing so many family and friends taking time out of their lives to come to the race and cheer.  So thankful.  In the process, apparently my wife stumbled upon a sleeper cell of polka lovers.  She was playing polka music all day on the run course and made many new BFF’s… 

No question I had an easier day than her.  Despite having some personal medical issues as a recent distractor, she once again did an awesome job being an enthusiastic cheerleader, and she does a terrific job sending a lot of energy my way during the race.  My parents also made the trip from Michigan to spectate.  They have been at all 7 IM’s I have raced, and also provide grounding as well as great support and enthusiasm. I am very grateful. My brother and sister-in-law also provided terrific energy, support, and comic relief when needed.  My brother even Facetimed me in with my Uncle Tom in Alaska for a couple of minutes late in the run.   He has spectated my other 3 IMWI, but couldn’t make this event due to work.

Despite all of the conservative strategic efforts I employed throughout the day, as IM’s typically do, the race becomes really difficult near the end.  However, this was my first IM where I felt I “might” have had a little more to give.  The last few miles were hard, but I was running steady, skipping aid stations, and passing plenty.  I ended up catching all of my “markers” that I had been watching at each turnaround, stalking them, and analyzing their leads on me.  Once I rallied from a short dark patch around mile 17, I actually felt “pretty” good for the remainder.  I kept waiting for the storm clouds to gather again, but if they came – it was manageable, and almost unnoticeable.  When I finally crested the last hill at the Capitol, and had the downhill cobblestone stretch to the finish,  I found my parents in the finishing chute, and gave them a smile and fist pump.  I cruised over to give them high fives, and enjoyed the last few steps to the line.  Ultimately, I ran out of real estate to catch more people. I guess this reflects a minor error in pacing, but a learning opportunity none the less.  Since my first IM folly, I keep inching back closer to the thin line that separates a perfectly executed race from a dumpster fire.



This race was another PR for me at the Ironman distance. More surprisingly, while my PR was not that dramatic from a time standpoint, I made a huge leap forward in AG and OA placing.  Subjectively, I felt I was moving steadily through the field all day.  Objectively, it is pleasing to break into the top-10 AG and top 100 OA.  I feel comfortable with my race execution, and had a blast all weekend.  I had a great triathlon season from an enjoyment and results standpoint, and it is satisfying to have translated my fitness and training experiments into gains and race results.

Thank you to Eric Neilsen of TSRF for your help and commitment with Vasa dryland swim training. I think we are on to something…  Thank you for all the support from friends and family during this Ironman season, and to the Endurance Nation coaches and Timex, ODZ, Endurance Nation and Wausau teammates who consistently contribute accountability, wisdom, motivation, restraint, and applause when needed.  I am very grateful.


1 comment
  • Martha Robbins

    Wow! I don’t know half of what all Ian Kurth is talking about! However, I have known he and his gorgeous wife, Jen since 2002 and they just get better with age! He is the real deal! Fitness is a total lifestyle and they are both amazing. What all they have accomplished in races, Ironman, and in life is truly remarkable! The drive, motivation, goal setting, push, fight, and win is unlike any I have seen and I am so incredibly impressed with them both. Great job, Ian!

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