But even though it was hard and tiring, it was so much fun. And I got so much out of it. An amazing day. I saw the pros who almost seemed to float through the 140.6 miles without breaking a sweat. The middle of the packers who looked strong throughout, even though you could tell they were hurting at times. And towards the end of the day as the daylight turned into dark and each and every step hurt, you could see the determination in people's faces. Because after all of the hard work they put in, they were going travel 140.6 miles and dang it, they were going to hear the announcer say, "(Name here), you are an Ironman" as they crossed the finish line.
Inspiring stuff. Just what I needed going into race week.
Of course after figuring that out, we needed food. So we all headed over to the Glass Nickel for pizza. And of course there were some last minute pointers on bike and run viewing as well as maybe some scheming about future triathlons in our futures. One which could possibly involve a tandem bike. Don't ask.
Race day dawned. Peggy and I loaded up my car and set off for Madison. Once down at the Terrace, we met up with Silvia and Jeff's dog Flecka. It was a mass of people. Everywhere you looked. People. Cameras. Athletes in wetsuits. The energy was amazing. Especially considering it wasn't even 7 a.m.
We made a quick pit stop on the Capitol Square for food and caffeine, caught a little bit of the 9/11 observance and headed back to the terrace just in time to spread out and watch for Jeff as he came out of the water and took off on his bike.
Then it was time to head out into the area west of Madison to catch the bike. We went out to Timber Lane, which is about 3/4 of the way through the 40-mile loop that athletes bike twice. It's also home to a monster of a climb.
The atmosphere out there? Tour de France-like. People lining both sides of the street. People running uphill, shouting words of encouragement, as their Ironman in the making tackled the incline. And yes. There was even a group of guys dressed up in costume - one may have been wearing a pink feather boa and a coconut bra - that cheered triathletes on.
We saw Jeff come by twice, he looked good both times, and then headed back to downtown Madison to grab out bikes and start spectating the run.
Of our group, I was the most familiar with Madison since I went to school there, so it was left up to me to figure out the best places to catch Jeff on the run. Looking at the map, I found a couple spots that would allow us to see him on a few occasions. We headed out to the Memorial Union where we could see him at miles 6 and 7ish, then headed over by Camp Randall where we'd see him around mile 10ish. Next it was to the Capitol Square where we could see him at 12.6ish and then about 13.5ish.
The second loop we added in a few extra stops at Jeff's request. He was starting to struggle a little bit, but still looked good. There was an extra stop out by the Natatorium (not sure on miles, maybe 17), back to the Union (miles 19/20), Camp Randall (probably close to 23) and then the Kohl Center (Mile 25). We biked alongside him for about half of the final mile, encouraging him. And, dude. The guy picked up the speed in that final mile. He was keeping his eye on the clock and really wanted to hit that 13 hour mark. Midway through the mile he told us to go and meet him at the finish line.
We did. Ditched our bikes and ran to the finish line area. And somehow managed to miss him. D'oh! But we met up with our Ironman friend - and other friends - afterwards.
Overall it was an amazing experience. To see the triathletes. And the crowd support. And the grit and determination that the athletes had. All of that was worth the walking. And the biking. And the standing on the side of a hill for hours in the blazing hot sun.
Because I went get to Mile 11 on Sunday and I'm starting to struggle and just wish that I was finished, I'm going to look back. Those Ironmen struggled. It hurt. They could have pulled off to the side of the road as they were biking up Timber Lane - for the second time - and just threw in the towel. But they didn't.
They kept going. Because they wanted it. And in most cases, they got it.
So congrats to all the Ironmen out there who tackled Ironman Wisconsin. I'm thankful I got to see it. And to Jeff - thanks for letting me be a small part of your 10th Ironman finish!