Monthly Archives: May 2013

Ironman Louisville – The Grueling Conclusion for Racer K

For some reason this was post was still in “draft” mode.  It’s the long overdue conclusion to my experience of what is was like watching Racer K at Ironman Louisville.  Our coach, Robbie, also raced, but I didn’t know him yet.  Since the post is so late, I’m dedicating it to Wasky, who is training with us now and who is pursuing his first Ironman in Louisville.

The conclusion of my three part series on spectating Ironman Louisville 2012.  Jim and I traveled to Kentucky to watch fellow Fab 5’er, Racer K, go after the gold.

Part 1 Ironman Louisville Racer K Swim

Part 2 Ironman Louisville Racer K Bike

IMG_3725-01Finally, within 30 minutes of the bike cut-off time, we saw him coming down the home stretch.  I was shooting video, but suddenly felt guilty about catching such a painful moment and turned off the camera as Racer K rolled by on his way to the run.  He made it and we were back in support mode.

We ran to the “run exit,” prepared to run alongside him for the first mile or so.  After about 10 minutes he emerged like Stallone in the 15th round of Rocky I.  He was a battered man and I had nothing to say.  I had never been in that position and more than anything feared saying something I would regret, so I ran silently as he and Jim shared thoughts on the run.

We rolled along at a decent pace, considering what preceded him, then Jim and I peeled off as Racer K began to ascend the massive Ohio River bridge.

About 50 yards into that bridge, Racer K started walking and he wasn’t alone.  I was actually shocked at the time by how many racers walked in Ironman.  In retrospect, I am no longer amazed by this, but at the time I thought something about it seemed wrong.

The run was an out and back on the bridge, so we waited for him to come back and about the time we saw him, he lunged into a slow jog and ran past us into downtown Louisville.

He’d be out of range for a while, so Jim and I grabbed something to eat and had a couple beers while we waited.  It was getting late and Racer K would run the majority of his marathon in the dark, which was probably a relief from a heat standpoint, but I kept trying to imagine how it would feel running down strange streets in the darkness.  Alone with your thoughts.  Alone with your pain.  Wondering why you would do such a thing as an Ironman?  Would he justify it to himself?  Would he make it?

Louisville’s run course, like Wisconsin’s is essentially two loops of the same route and the most painful part of that is the second loop starts one short block from the finish line.  By now it was about 9:00 and the music played while “You are an Ironman” rang through the PA system.  One after another people crossed the line and crumbled in pain and self-satisfaction.  Overwhelmed by the accomplishment.  I stood at the split for the second loop and watched the faces of those with another 13.1 miles to go.  Rarely did they even look at the finish line.  A half marathon stood in their way of glory.

That’s about the time Racer K came through and Jim sent a text to let me know.  It was dark and we were both tired for different reasons.  Once again, I was faced with a potential discussion about something I didn’t really understand.

The whole thing seemed so fragile to me.  I didn’t know what to say and, at no level, could understand what he was going through.  It’s like waking a sleeping giant.  Are they mad, or will they be happy to be awake.  Racer K seemed mad.

I mumbled something about “we’re here for you, man” but it seemed so lame.  I asked how he felt and he understandably told me he felt like shit.  I walked by his side in silence as he refueled with water and fruit.  When we reached the corner he finally said, “I think I’m gonna make this fucker.”  And with that, he started jogging into the darkness.

At this pace, Racer K was cutting it close.  He had until midnight before Ironman pulled the plug on spotlights and sucked the air out of the floating finish line.  If he came in one second after twelve a.m., he would simply have the pleasure of completing 140.6 miles, but no Ironman badge.  It seemed cruel, but gives genuine value to the accomplishment.

I found a stool inside an Irish Pub and ordered an American beer.  I was cooked and drinking my second when an older woman sat near me at the end of the bar.  I was too tired for conversation but shared a couple pleasantries about Ironman and the long day before noticing she put a gym bag on the bar.  I was in a daze, but eventually noticed “Racer K” written on the side of the bag.  Racer K?  That’s that’s my man!

“Excuse me, who are you hear watching?”

“My son.”

“What’s his name?”

“Racer K.”

“Thee Racer K?”

“Yes.”

“That’s who I’m watching, too!”

It was quite a moment of serendipity.  I immediately felt the tension in her heart.  What must this be like for her?!?  Having a son, still out on the course in what seemed to be absolute misery?  I couldn’t believe it.

I told her I just saw him and he looked good.  I think he’s got it!

She calmly said she knew he would make it, too.

We sat in awkward silence for a moment and my mind drifted to the excitement of sports.  The roller coaster rides we’ve all been through as athletes and fans.  Rooting for your favorite team (or triathlete in this case) can be a grueling endeavor.  The time ticks away on a clock and the best you can hope for is a way to figure out how to win.  And when the clock strikes zero, the jubilation can be through the roof, while the disappointment can drag you through hell.

What is it about sports that can take us to the highest place where primal screams and childlike behavior become the norm?  The final out, the shot at the buzzer, the last minute touchdown . . . they can all throw a fan over the edge.  And make no mistake, on this day I was a fan.  Screaming inside as Racer K summoned every ounce of energy he had left.  One mission, one goal, one focus . . . to cross that finish line before midnight.

Ironman Louisville Pictures

More Pictures from Louisville

 

100 Days, 19 Hours, 30 Minutes Until Ironman Wisconsin

It was one day after Ironman Wisconsin 2012 when I anxiously sat at my computer plugging in personal information that would ignite a cataclysmic change in my life.  Three hundred and sixty four days later I was planning to do Ironman Wisconsin.  Now, only 100 days remain before that fateful leap into Lake Monona.IronmanWisconsin0007.3185902

The day I signed up, the race was all I could think about.  What would it feel like to be in that water with 3,000 people?  How would I climb the hilly course or Bascom Hill?  What would it feel like to be an Ironman?  But, I can honestly say, that thought process has changed dramatically.

It’s not about the event as much as it is about the process of change.  The dramatic improvements that have been going on in my body, mind, and soul.  Someone told me once that, “the reality of training for an Ironman is that you will be one before the race even starts.  You’ll have done the work and that’s really the important part.”

So true.

This journey has been amazing.  I have met so many like minded and passionate people.  That is, by far, the coolest part.  I have been transforming the way I feel, react, and live.  I understand and accept that it is a process.beforeafter

There are so many invaluable lessons that go far beyond an Ironman race.  Training has reminded of the importance in having a healthy and resilient body.  You don’t always realize it because it happens slowly, but at times, like this morning when I was up at 6:30 without an alarm clock and watering flowers, you kinda slap yourself on the forehead and say, “Damn, this is cool.”  And while I held that hose, I saw a Facebook post from Daniel that said he got his morning run in before the sun came up!  I’m pretty sure Ironman training is a game changer for him.

So, as I sit here 100 days away, I’m mainly anxious about tonight’s two hour bike ride/run brick.  I’ve learned to love the workout and take my body further than I ever dreamed.  And tomorrow?  I’ll be in the lake at 6 am, working to be even better.

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On a side note, I thought this was pretty funny.  When I searched “images” for Ironman Wisconsin Swim, this picture of my pool showed up in the top fold of large image search.

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Swimming Alone In The Lake

I was five minutes away when I got the text message:

“Ya’ll know swim clinic is cancelled this morning, right?”

Nope, I didn’t know and didn’t care.  Nothing was stopping me.

I pulled into the park, greeted the gate keeper, then drove slowly across the speed bumps to take my pick of an endless sea of open parking spots.

I gazed at the water and listened to the silence.  I was a lone man with an entire lake at his disposal.467749_10200422778264618_2115504700_o
I was on time, in the bottom half of my wetsuit, ready to tackle nature, alone.

Then I heard sticks crackling under car tires as someone I didn’t know pulled in next to me.

He didn’t look like a swimmer, but who does, really?  He stood near his trunk and slid on rubber booties as I gathered my cap and goggles.  He was a portly, vaguely bohemian in his fishing hat, and sporting a scraggly beard.

I sized him up and decided to test his motivation.

“What brings you out this early on a Tuesday?”

“Oh, this is like my Christmas.”

Hmm . . . a mystery man.  Does he love swimming so much he deems each day a holiday?

“It is a beautiful day.”

“Yeah, but it’s all because of yesterday.”

“Yesterday?”

“Yeah, musta been 300 people out here.  Cars backed up 20 deep.”

Yesterday was Memorial Day and and he couldn’t hold back a toothless grin as he reached in the trunk and pulled out a massive metal detector.

“There’s a gold mine waitin’ out there.”

As we talked, another swim clinic participant, Hunter, rolled in with a look of confusion on his face.

“Where the hell is everyone?”

“Cancelled.”

The word was barely out of my mouth and he was in reverse shouting, “Okay, I’m gonna hit the bike.”

That quickly, I was once again alone with Harry the metal seeker.

He shut his trunk and I tried my best to remember the Georgia license plate number on the back of his faded gray Honda.  “Plate number GHI . . . ” Damn, my memory is fleeting and I reasoned the gate keeper my best defense of my stolen car, or if I was the next body found floating in Percy Priest.

I was zipping my wetsuit when Sandy pulled up ready for her first swim clinic.  I told her it was cancelled, but I was going in.  We swam a while together, and I just kept going.  A man and his lake enamored with endless opportunity.  The cool water on my feet.  The soft waves splashing my face.  The unending invigoration offered by an isolated lake swim.

Occasionally I would sight Harry in ankle deep water near the shore.  A man on his own mission, lost in a world of uncovering buried treasure.  The endless possibilities.  The gold at the end of the rainbow.

His questionable aura melted away with each stroke and he became a source of inspiration.  He was on a similar quest for discovery.  Passionate enough to rise before the sun and follow his dreams.  Two men together, but so far apart, each reaching into the abyss for undefinable reward.

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Post Script:  Some people have expressed concern for the fact that I was swimming alone, but it should be pointed out that I swam back and forth next to a 200 yard orange “boom” (can be seen in the photo) that separates the deep water from the shallow.  It was well within the no-boat zone and easy to touch bottom.

Lost Dogs, Wiffle Golf, Beer, and Massive Training

This weekend was action packed.  I fell off the wagon and then got back on.  I saved a stray dog, got accosted on a run, and swam across a lake by myself.  I also hosted a wiffle golf tournament, then went to a pool party, hit a going away bash, got hit on in the YMCA pool by a Shakespeare character, and went down to the Honky Tonks for the first time in years.

Coco The Straggler

Friday started with an awesome lake swim and continued with a scramble to pick up supplies for my wiffle golf/pool party.  On my way home from the store I noticed a little dog hanging out in the road.  He was near some kids so I didn’t think much of it, but when I parked at the gas station this little ankle biter timidly approached my car.  I checked his tags and realized he was a couple miles from home, which I thought an amazing feat based on his short leg gate.  I called the number, but got a machine and decided I’d just take the dog back home.

The whole way there he looked up at me like I was a dog-napper and drooled on my seat.  I parked in the driveway next to a tattered pick up truck and the dog jumped out and ran to the front door, which I figured was a good sign.  I knocked, but no one answered, then I went around back and the dog took off into the woods.  He was a quick little bugger and my good deed just turned into a nightmare.  Eventually he came around front and I hooked him up to the leash that was tied to the porch, gave him a little water, and left.

I didn’t think much of little Coco over the weekend, but was a little surprised the owner never called back.  Then, this morning around 8:00 my phone rang and it was her.  She was so relieved and said Coco means the world to her.  She was an older lady and oddly, Coco had jumped out of the car on the other side of the gas station while she was airing her tires.  We were literally 50 feet away when I put Coco in my front seat.  We got a kick out of that and laughed like two old ladies playing cribbage, then she thanked me profusely and said goodbye to each other for the last time.

People Who Hate Runners

I had a couple buddies come into town for my wiffle golf tourney and a general exploration of Nashville.  They drove from Wisconsin and didn’t get to my house until Saturday at 2 am, which puts a minor crimp in an early morning workout.

I had loosely planned to do a long ride on the Trace with the Fab 5, but decided 6 hours of biking and running before hosting a party would wear me a little thin.  Instead I did a hard 2-hour trainer ride, then ran about 4 miles.  Nice, solid, workout, followed by a nice, solid, long day of drinking.

I rarely drink much these days, but decided I would blow it out a little this weekend and use it as a “last hurrah” of sorts before turning up the intensity for Wisconsin.  I made the decision to be a little wimpy and drink light beer all day, and it really paid off.  I was a little buzzed after a couple and pretty much stayed on that plane until 11 that night when I crashed hard.

I woke up at 8 and felt like a million bucks.  I kept waiting for the hangover to hit, but it never did.  I strapped on my Pearl Streaks and set out on a 2 hour run figuring the whole time I’d be lucky to make an hour.  About 2 miles in, I knew I was essentially running a 1/2 marathon.

At mile 8 I was cruising at a 9 minute pace (my lofty goal for Ironman) and felt like I could go forever.  I was alive, free, and completely at peace with the morning.  As I ran up the left side of 17th Avenue toward Eastland a guy driving a black, sissy-sized pick-up truck turned the corner and drove right AT me.  There was plenty of room on the street, but I was about 5 seconds from jumping off onto the grass when he made a last minute swerve around me while angrily flipping the bird.  I was f8cking furious and stopped in the road, begging him to come back.  I’d gone from complete serenity to rage in 15 seconds.  Do some people really hate runners?  I guess so.

A Night in The Honky Tonks

After my 2-hour run, and a little lunch, Sunday quickly turned back to drinking.  Went to a great party down the road filled with heated pool volleyball and endless food.  About two light beers in, I had that light buzz that stayed with me the rest of the day.

Around 6:00 we dropped by a going away party for Mark and Kara on our way down to the Honky Tonks.  There was a solid group of East Nasties and I would have much preferred to stay there, but out of town visitors want to go down to Broadway for a taste of Nashville’s country scene.

We started at Pirahnas before heading to Tootsies and fighting our way through a packed house at 8:00 on a Sunday night.  Both upstairs and downstairs were absolutely busting at the seams.  We left and hit Rippy’s where we hung outside on the deck overlooking Bridgestone arena.  This is probably the best outside venue in downtown Nashville.  Then we walked over to Layla’s Bluegrass Inn, then ended up at Honky Tonk Central.  Everything was rockin and it just amazes me.  We grabbed a cab back to East Nashville around midnight and that little honky tonk stint will hold me over for another year.

Swimming With A Gay Man In the Next Lane

The tourist crew got up early to make the long drive back to Wisconsin and I went straight to the pool.  Once again, I was waiting for the day of drinking to come crashing down on my workout, but it never did.  Instead, I had the privilege of swimming 12 sets of 300 meters in the pool with some guy in the next lane trying to hit on me.

Between 300’s, I had a :15 rest and Hamlet (not his real name) and his cute nose plug apparatus happened to be waiting for me every single time.  He was very curious about my swim trunks for some reason and kept asking where I got them and if they helped me swim faster.  Now, I have zero problem with gay men and their lifestyle, but when it’s so overt in tight and vulnerable quarters like the Y, I have an issue.

Me:  Do these trunks help?

Hamlet:  Yeah, make you swim faster?

Me:  Oh, yeah, they make me a speeding bullet, but it’s nothing compared to when I swim naked.

Hamlet:  (sneaky smile) Ohhh, really??

Me:  Sure, in fact, since you like them so much, I might as well take them off right now and give them to you.  That work?

Hamlet:  (Blush) Oh, yes.

Anyway, this went on and on until he couldn’t justify hanging around anymore.  About 20 minutes later I went in the locker room and sure enough, he was just kinda “hangin out” in his black, tight, one-piece “Livestrong” sweat suit.  I minded my own business, but couldn’t help seeing him drift back and forth out of the corner of my eye.  Then I made the mistake of looking at him and he gave me a sly little wink.

I know this is all good and a compliment and I should feel flattered, but it’s just creepy and makes me feel for women who have smarmy guys lurking in the strangest of places.  I took a deep breath, resisted calling him out in front of 10 other guys, and started walking out.  “Somehow” he ended up in front of me, then stopped in the hall, turned around, and put out his hand.

“It was really nice meeting you, Mike.”

“You, too, Hamlet.”

Toes In The Sand

Nothing like good friends and a little beach vacation to start your Memorial Day Weekend.  IMG951326Photo: Robbie Bruce

I’m Gonna “Wing It” at Ironman

So, I think I’m taking this Ironman business too seriously.  It’s not like I’m concocting to be the first man to tight rope between the former World Trade Center Towers like Philippe Petit, or stand on a pole 100 feet in the air for 35 hours like David Blaine.  Some estimates say more than a quarter million people have finished Ironman, and I plan to be one of them.

So for starters, I think I’m gonna cancel my hotel, roll into town sometime on Friday afternoon and pitch a tent on the beach near the swim start.  I know that Friday is a huge day for Ironman participants and I expect to be borrowing a lot of equipment I forgot to pack for the race.  Water bottles, Gu, tire pumps, goggles.  I’ll graciously invite all donors to my tent party the next evening.

I know the Badgers play Saturday, so I’ll probably meditate for a while, then swing by Camp Randall Imageand see how the team is responding to new head coach, Gary Anderson.  And, though it will be early in the season, I predict this will be the day Melvin Gordon officially eases the pain of losing Montee Ball.

After the game, I’ll likely head to Essen Haus for some brats and a beer before doing a little shopping on State Street.  Then, after picking up some PBR (who we are trying to secure as a race sponsor, so if you know anyone . . . ) for the cooler, then it’s off to the tent to dry my socks by the fire.  My buddy, Roger, will be back home from the Florida Keys and it will be nice to hear a little beach music as a nod off for my race.

My dreams will be filled with soft waves pounding the rocks along Lake Monona and my body clock will reset to nature.  I will be in tune with the surroundings and feel sorry for athletes stuck in nice hotels with no connection to the land or sea.  But those concerns will drift away as the light mist floats through the air and the Wisconsin State Bird perches like a guardian angel on the peak of my green canvas tent.

I will naturally wake with the universe and sip coffee from a metal cup that was warmed by the fading fire.  The Ironman volunteers will politely wish me luck as I peak my head through the tent flaps to gaze at kayakers on the lake.  I will inspect the buoys from ground level, then close my eyes to visualize every stroke of my swim while Mike Reilly does mic’ checks in the distance.

For the sake of old times, I’ll wear cut-off blue jeans and flip flops to my final transition inspection.  I will marvel at all the spectacular bikes and race wheels, then sit on my towel for a final meditation before slipping into my wetsuit.  There will be a nervous energy, but I will be calm, playfully asking other racers, “How far is the swim again?”  They love that stuff!

I will be back home, surrounded by friends, family, and familiar terrain.  The bike course will bring back hazy memories of college road trips and long nights of drinking beer.  The hum of my tires on the road will serve as a music bed that flashes me back to childhood.  Those rainy forty mile “bike-hikes” that twisted through Southern Wisconsin.  I will soak it in like a Sunday drive.  Then to the run.

I spent many nights in Madison and can barely remember any of them.  We used to drive down from LaCrosse on Thursday, hit the Kollege Klub (which is conveniently less than two miles from the Ironman Swim Start) happy hour and stumble up State Street to my buddy’s place on top of Paul’s Club.  On September 8th, I will be stumbling by for a different reason.

I hear that State Street portion of the run is unforgettable.  People line the road and cheer you on, and hopefully with the same enthusiasm as I remember the Halloween night celebrations.  ImageAnd hopefully security won’t feel the need to pull any of these shenanigans like they did with innocent party-goers on occasion.

ImageRegardless of what happens, this is going to be one of the most memorable days of my life and I want to soak it all in.  Ironman in my home state?  Forget the pressure, this is going to be a party.

Open Water Swim Clinics – New Video!

We are doing a ton of work within Ironman training and the more I think about it, the more I believe the weekly open water swims could be the most valuable.  I think of the Ironman swim in two ways:

1.  It may be the shortest “time section” of the race, but it can absolutely wreck you if you’re not comfortable and ready.  I’m on a continuum between insatiable and utter fear.
2.  The faster you get out of the water, the fewer people you’ll have ahead of you on the bike course.  You’ll also be with faster people who will naturally raise your game.

So, our Coach, Robbie Bruce and his swim clinics, have been a major gift.  He’s there four days a week (Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday) ready to show us everything he knows about swimming in open water.   Sundays are at 4 pm, all other days 6 am.  He teaches mass starts, sighting, drafting, and anything else that will take your pool training to a completely different level.  I’ve been in open water 5 times this year and it has given me unbelievable confidence, along with transforming my comfort and abilities.  If you live in Nashville, I can’t recommend it enough.  Here’s a video I made as part of the Crushing Iron series that gives you more information.