Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ironman Wisconsin as told by the Ironwife

The alarm clock went off at 4:00 a.m. and I took a quick, hot shower to wake up.  I knew it would be a long (wonderful, emotional, moving, inspiring, anxious) day spent watching for my swimmer, my cyclist, my runner - my Ironman, and I wanted to be awake and ready.  I had packed my drawstring bag the night before with the essentials - camera, iphone, chapstick, water bottle, and snacks, and I laid out my homemade Ironwife shirt, shorts, shoes and a light jacket for the chilly morning.  I was ready to go.

Jason and I hopped on the shuttle that would drive us to the transition area at 5:00 a.m.  I had a cup of coffee in my hand that I sipped as we drove in the early morning darkness through Madison, Wisconsin.  Jason was quiet as we sat shoulder to shoulder, hands intertwined. 

When we reached the transition area, Jason went to his bike to pump up his tires and check on his gear, and then he put on his wet suit and got ready for the swim.  I had a hard time letting him out of my site as I wished him luck with a huge lump in my throat as the most beautiful sunrise began to color the sky.  "Here we go," I thought once again, just as I had a year before in Ironman Kentucky.

Unlike the Louisville Ironman, (and like most of them), this Ironman was a mass start, and it was amazing to watch. After the most beautiful National Anthem (sung by an Ironman participant) followed by a moment of silence as we remembered all of those lost in 9/11, "It's a Beautiful Day" by U2 came over the loud speakers as the cannon fired signaling the swimmers to begin their 2.4 mile swim.  The race had officially begun. 

They swam two huge loops around buoys placed in the water. That meant spectators could see (and hear) the entire swim.  The men wore green caps and the women wore pink caps and I wondered which cap belonged to Jason and how it was going as I watched the circle of swimmers. Jason completed his swim in 1:15, which was almost 10 minutes faster than last year.  I was so excited as I saw him run onto the parking deck to get on his bike before cycling down the ramp, starting is 112 mile bike ride.  

I crawled up into a planter directly across from where Jason's bike was parked. 
The transition area as volunteers wait to help cyclists get their bikes. This picture does not encompass them all either.  There were 2811 out there.

Once I saw Jason ride off, it was time to catch another shuttle to Verona where spectators could watch the cyclists come through at mile 54 and 94.  There were tents set up with groups selling hot dogs, hamburgers, drinks, and all sorts of snacks.  I met a man on the bus whose wife was also doing the Ironman and we compared stories as we rode.  We were some of the first people to Verona and I excitedly picked the spot I wanted and stayed there for 3 hours as the crowds filled the field and the side lines. I got quite the sunburn on the back of my legs, but I wasn't going to budge and lose my spot (you gotta be hardcore about this spectating thing).

I calculated when I should see Jason based on his previous Ironman and figured I might even see him before then.  As the minutes and hours passed, however, I became concerned.  Eventually I knew something had gone wrong because he would have shown up by this point, even if he had slowed down.  The question was what, exactly, had gone wrong and where was he.  I checked my phone again and again for emergency calls, but nothing came through.  This was agonizing as I stared intently at each cyclists looking for the familiar signs that they were mine.

After what seemed like too many eternities, I saw him.  Relief washed over me as I tried to cheer and snap a picture. He was in one piece.  That was a good sign.  Maybe my calculations had been wrong.  I was very alarmed however, when he stopped his bike to talk to me.  If he was racing, he should not be stopping!  He told me his bike chain had broken at mile 10.  He had to retrieve it from the road (with cyclists flying by) and then he used a tool he had with him to repair it as best he could.  Shortly before he reached mile 54 where I was waiting, he found the Trek Bike assistance vehicle and they helped him adjust it.  He had lost about 40-45 minutes doing all of this.  He was disappointed and he told me the goal for the day was now to finish.  I could see his disappointment and I was crushed for him. 

He rode off and I stared after him, not sure what to do.  I called Mom and told her what had happened and asked her to pray that he would keep his chin up and stay positive.  I prayed the same, but I couldn't help asking why???  Why did his chain have to break?

I hadn't eaten all day and my coffee was long gone, so I went to a tent and bought a hamburger, chips and a drink.  This helped quite a bit as I found a shady spot to eat. I knew I had a few more hours before I'd see him again and my legs could not handle any more sun.  I recalculated when I should see him if there were no other issues, and this time he came in when he should have.  He was smiling and slapping hands with spectators and I knew he had pushed through his disappointment and meant to finish his race as best he could. 

This was the best I could do as he sped by, giving me a high five before riding out of sight.

After seeing him a second time, I texted his mom and mine, telling them he looked great, and I hopped on the bus that would take me back to the transition area and the start of the marathon.  Jason's splits on the bike were 16 mph for the two loops where he had to stop, but for the loop when he didn't, he rode at 21 mph.  If he had not had technical issues, his bike race would have been dynamite!  I knew these things happen and that every triathlete had a story like Jason's, but I sure wished it hadn't happened to my triathlete!  Still, his spirits seemed improved and I thanked God for that.  Plus he was safe.  He was unhurt.  I was more grateful than I can express for that as well.  He completed his bike ride 6:24:29, which was over 30 minutes slower than last year. 

The way the marathon course was set up, I could see Jason 5 or 6 times as he ran, simply by walking a few blocks through downtown Madison. This was great for not only spectators but for the tired runners as well.  They pretty much had fans and cheers for the entire marathon.  Jason told me later that I became the goal as he completed each section of the run.  He was exhausted from pushing so hard at the end of his bike ride, and the goal remained simply to finish.  Despite the fact that this Ironman would be slower than his first, his run was still impressive.  After the swim, he was slotted at 126 in his division.  After the bike he was 156.  After 8 miles of the marathon, he was down to 91 and as he ran, he jumped down 20 more spots to 71 in his division.  I saw him several times, walking with him for a spell and giving him encouragement as best I could.  He was tired, but he kept moving and I was so proud of him.

Jason finished his run in 4:02, completing his Ironman in 11:57:52.  Despite the technical issues - the broken bike chain that never really shifted correctly during his 112 mile run and the two stops to fix it, he was pleased with his efforts and I was more proud than I can express.  From my own experience, I know a lot can happen during a marathon to change the course of the race in a second.  Add in a 2.4 mile swim and a 112 bike ride to the mix...and for these men and women to finish unscathed and in one piece is an impressive feat.  I was so proud of my Ironman for pushing through despite the issues he faced during this race, and for not giving up.  He gave it all he had and when he was moving, he was really moving!  That, to me, is another trait belonging to a true Ironman.

Stats and such:

Louisville, Kentucky Ironman 2010 - Swim/1:24:30, Bike/5:45:24, Run/3:45:41 - 11:13:35
Madison, Wisconsin Ironman 2011 - Swim/1:15:28, Bike/6:24:29, Run/4:02:30 - 11:57:52

To read of Jason's first Ironman:
My Husband the Ironman, Part I
My Husband the Ironman, Part II
My Husband the Ironman, Part III


  1. Hi Jane, I found your blog through Katie's blog. I am one of her former neighbors. I am in awe of your Ironman! Amazing is all I have to say!! My husband and I started doing sprint triathlons this summer and love it! Congratulations to your husband!!

  2. Hi Tracey! So glad you found me! I am amazed too. I've done a few sprint and olympic distance tris and every time I do, I have so much respect for triathletes!

  3. Tracey, Glad you found Jane's blog (Jane, I love sending people your way. Your blog is so entertaining and inspirational to read!). Jason, congratulations on the IRONMAN! You look so peppy in the picture of you and Jane after your race! And I loved her video of the swimmers' start. Maybe you could put it on the blog, Jane?

  4. Yeah, I need to put it on the blog. It took so long to load onto facebook that I just didn't take the time to load it here. But I should!