Tag Archives: Ironman Wisconsin

My Biggest Fan

On a warm summer day many years ago, I was playing the second baseball game of my life. I was 10-years-old, standing in right field and batting ninth for my Little League team.  It was the 5th of a six inning game and a fly ball came my way.  I spun in circles, shielded the sun, then threw my arm at the ball which miraculously landed in my glove.

But that wasn’t the good part.

We were losing 5-0 and the 12-year-old pitcher from the other team was throwing a perfect game.  It was now the top of the 6th, our last at bat, and I was the third person up in the inning.  The first two guys struck out, and now, the youngest boy on the team, me, was standing in the batter’s box ready to face the best pitcher in the league.

He reached back and threw a big fastball that flew over the catcher’s head and struck the chain link backstop with a loud clang.  He stared at me as if to say, “Don’t even think about breaking up this no hitter.”

I shook nervously in the batter’s box as he flung the next pitch a foot outside for ball two.  The screams were getting louder, “Come on, Mike!  You can do it!”  There were probably 30 fans there that day, but it felt like the World Series.

What happened next was one of those little moments in life that sticks with me whenever I face an “impossible” feat.

The league ace wound up, threw his leg high into the sky, then delivered a ferocious fastball on the inside half of the plate.  Somehow I reacted with my signature inside-out-swing (think Derek Jeter) and drove the ball into right field for our team’s first hit.  I’ll never forget standing on first base and looking into the bleachers.  My mother was jumping with joy.  Bouncing up and down, hugging anyone within her reach.

I casually tipped the bill of my helmet and smiled at mom, then scowled at the pitcher who walked back to the mound shaking his head in defeat.  We lost that day, but it was the first time I realized how important it is to have someone on your side.

I’m 50 now, and there have been many athletic conquests since then, but I think it was one of my mother’s proudest moments.  Until last September.

When I told her I was doing an Ironman, she kinda shrugged it off in the beginning.  Over time I would casually mention some of the workouts I was doing and suggested she sign up for my blog.  Slowly, but surely, she began to understand the magnitude of Ironman, and her curiosity got the best of her.

We started talking more often as the race drew near.  We’d have long phone conversations where she peppered me with questions about the race, how on earth I was going to do it, and more specifically, where she was going to watch.

About a month before Ironman, mom drove an hour up the road to Madison on a scouting mission.  She carried maps and took pictures of key landmarks then sent them along to me.  My covert race-planning-team of one. momscout

There’s nothing a child wants more than attention and love from their parents, and that doesn’t change just because you turn fifty.  Her enthusiasm was a genuine inspiration as the Ironman walls closed in around me.  I wanted her to be proud and that fueled me with confidence.

She made signs, t-shirts, and endless strategy maps.  Suddenly Ironman spectating was her new hobby and everyone who knew her would get a lesson whether they liked it or not.

By the time race day arrived, there were no more questions.  She knew almost everything there was to know about Ironman and all that was left was for her to remain calm and watch as her son walked the plank into Lake Monona.

She was alive and energized as she watched her son chase his dream.  She hurried and waited like everyone else.  Patience, followed by a burst of energy, followed by bonding with a crowd that was all pulling for the same team.1278835_10201079953013576_439309443_o

Mom was never a big sports fan and I honestly believe Ironman was her Super Bowl.  It brought the entire family together and channeled love and support like any mother would want.  There weren’t winners or losers, only survivors, and the more we know about life, the more we understand this as truth.

When I came down the Finisher’s Chute at Ironman, mom was standing behind the fence, bouncing with pride and joy just like she was for my Little League game that day.  And I felt just like that kid again.  All alone in the batter’s box, but secure and confident knowing he was loved.

Even though we live 500 miles away, I really believe Ironman helped bring us closer than ever. We talked often and those discussions were about the simple things in life.  There was no mom and son, it was two friends discussing what made them happy and that has continued to this day.

I love you, mom.  Happy Birthday.


How I Went Sub-12 In My 1st Ironman (at 50) #IMWI

Train with People – This was crucial to me, especially in the beginning.  I wasn’t fast, nor did I have the endurance, but swimming, biking, and running with people was a major motivator.  It helped me get out of bed and it helped me keep going once I was there.  After a few months of this I knew I could keep up, that’s when I started fading into my own world.

Train Harder by Yourself – I think training alone is critical.  The internal dialogue you create on long swims, bikes, and runs can either make or break you.  When it comes to racing, the more often you talk yourself out of stopping, the better.  The more you get used to pushing mileage without the distraction of others, the better.  The more you can face aches and pains by yourself, the better.

Practice in Open Water – I’m convinced that 90% of swimming is feeling comfortable in the water, and open water is WAY different than the pool.  A lot of people I talk with are kinda weirded out by lakes in general, so there’s that factor . . . but for me the ultimate key was swimming with other people in open water.  You get used to the bumping and it really lowers your freak-out quotient, especially in a mass start.  In retrospect, the one thing I wish I would have worked on more was sighting.  We trained a lot with the same buoy and I simply got comfortable with my direction.  But it would have been very wise to work harder on sighting different trees or whatever around the lake.  Nothing will screw your swim time like going off line.

Work on Your Weakness – Cycling was by far my strength.  Swimming and running, were a different story.  I knew from the start that swimming was going to be my key event and I worked on it harder than the rest.  For me it was a confidence thing.  I HAD to come out of that water strong or the rest of my race would be a nightmare.  I swam a lot early, but the last 8 weeks of training I was in the water (most times the lake) 3-4 times a week, swimming HARD.  I also stayed true to building my running base and getting faster.  It was very hard some nights, but I kept pounding the roads with regularity.  I didn’t blow off the bike, but I did fewer (yet intense) rides to make sure I was keeping my muscles familiar with the motion.

Work on Your Speed – Let’s face it, after you build your endurance to a certain point, you can “coast” forever.  But running a “lazy” 22 miles is not going to help your marathon time.  You have to build in speed work.  I was doing “shorter” hour-long runs most of the time, then would add an hour and a half “long” run on the weekends.  The short runs were always laced with sprinting intervals or tempo sections.  I knew I would never build to traditional marathon training distances, so I set my sights on one thing:  Making a 9 minute pace feel like a walk.  That was my ultimate IM pace goal, which I didn’t hit, but I did average 10 minute miles and never ran more than 14 miles before that marathon.

Take the Hilliest Way Home – I can’t tell you how many times I was at a crossroads on a run and willed myself toward “one more” hill.  I ran a ton of hills during training for two reasons, one, they force you to have better form, and two, they are harder!  I honestly love to run hills now.  Hills make you focus and their the easiest way to push your limits.

Embrace Bad Weather – Nobody wants to swim, bike, or run on a cold and rainy day, but if you can handle bad weather, you are miles ahead of the game.  Hell, a lot of people don’t even show up for a race if in bad weather.  I was “lucky” to have three races on three awful 50 degree and rainy days.  I really thought I was cursed.  In the end, Wisconsin was perfect racing weather, but I was ready if it wouldn’t have been.

Hydrate – This seems so damn obvious I almost didn’t put it in here, but I’m convinced it is far more critical than nutrition.  I’ve been in races where I could literally feel my chest drying out from breathing so hard.  You have to teach your body how to burn fat stores and using only water for a lot of your training is a good way to do it.  If your body isn’t working right, you’re screwed — and I just really believe, that while nutrition plays a big role, if you’re not hydrating well leading up to and during the race, you’re sunk.  I drank ridiculous amounts during the race (and yes, pee’d a lot on the bike) including slowing to a walk through every aid station to drink with purpose.

Meditate – I suppose this could be titled “visualize” too but either way it’s about getting your mind straight.  I crossed the finish line at Ironman a hundred times in my mind before I got onto the course.  Many times on hard training runs I started imagining I was on the marathon at Wisconsin.  I would be in incredible pain and tell myself, “This is how it’s going to feel, practice getting through it.”  And I would.  I just wouldn’t stop no matter how bad I thought it hurt.  See the finish line.

Write About It – Out of all of this stuff, I almost believe my journaling the entire process could have been the biggest factor.  I often put myself on public display as an idiot, but it helped me work through so many things I didn’t understand.  Not only that, the feedback and encouragement you get cannot be understated.  Don’t fool yourself, Ironman is a daunting physical challenge, but the more I learn about it, the more I believe it’s more in the mind.


This is how the race broke down for me:

Swim: 1:20:02
T1: 7:28
Bike: 6:03:35
T2: 4:43
Run: 4:23:10
Total: 11:58:58

A Swimming Breakthrough and Jodie Swallow #IMLOU

Yeah, so I was looking around at some YouTube videos on how to get faster and stumbled onto this one featuring the badassness of pro triathlete Jodie Swallow.  Now, my disclaimer here is that Jodie could probably talk me into swimming with sponges on my feet, but this video was pretty simple and made perfect sense.  Just move your arms faster.

I went to the pool, armed with my Swallow security blanket and took off like a bat out of hell for the promise land.  And it worked . . . for about two laps.

I was totally gassed.

I realize you actually have to be in shape to swim like this, but is three laps asking too much?  Apparently.

Five minutes into my session I was swallowing pride at the end of my lane and halfheartedly listening to the same damn stories from the same damn guy who keeps forgetting who I am.

“I shouldn’t say this,” he says, “But I’m secretly racing you in the next lane.”

“How’s that goin’ for ya?,” I say again.

“Well, I’m coming off surgery, so I need motivation.”

“I hear that, bro.”

Then, as the conversation hits that awkward lull and there’s nothing left, he always, every time, looks at me like a little kid and says, “Wanna race?”

And always, every time, I say, “Yes.”

I exploded from the wall in Jodie Swallow mode and promptly roasted my soar-shouldered-friend for 50 meters before collapsing onto the ledge.  I’m simply out of shape.

But, the more I swam fast, the more I started to notice I was getting a nice extension and roll without hesitating in front.  A fluid churn with a solid cadence.  Much like you want from your bike and run.

I wasn’t thinking “fast” as much as I was thinking consistent.  Trust the roll and don’t pause or extend your glide.  Just circle the arms and keep your body from turning over too far.  It was one of those moments when something clicked.

It felt much more like I was swimming instead of trying to stay afloat.  A consistent, powerful, and controlled rotation that didn’t wear me out.  Of course I was pretty beat up when I discovered this, so I’m not sure it’s really true.  We’ll find out tomorrow.

Until then, if you’re reading, Jodie, feel free to tell me I’m wrong before I do something stupid in Louisville.

Ironman Wisconsin Run Course Thoughts #IMWI

I was looking at the “search terms” people used to find my blog and one was “Ironman Wisconsin Run Course Tips,” so I thought I’d weigh in with a few “non scientific” thoughts.  I’m gonna do it by “feel” and a sketchy memory, so don’t take it too seriously.

It’s a 13.1 mile loop that starts with a short and slow climb from the top floor of the awesome Helix transition.  You go straight at, then around the majestic capitol, before tearing down State Street where “I Run for the Party” has real meaning.

My advice here is watch your speed. There are TONS of people cheering, and it’s mostly downhill, so it’s easy to get caught up in the moment.  Thankfully my legs didn’t bend the first two miles so I didn’t have a choice.

When you leave State Street it flattens out for a while and you head toward one of the coolest college football stadiums in the country.  I feel like it’s a little over 2 miles before you meet Camp Randall, home of the Badgers, and a short little staircase climb that caught the attention of my calves.  Then you descend onto the football field, and while I am arguably the  number one fan Badger fan living in SEC country, I didn’t really feel much like looking around.  What I liked most was the soft turf surface that gives your knees temporary reprieve.

After you emerge from the stadium, you hit a small downhill then flat section that eventually  takes you under a bridge for a short “out and back” which I hated.  I loathe out and backs for some reason, and even though this was only a few hundred yards it got in my head a little.

Then it’s back into “somewhere” before you are dumped onto a trail that rolls between a bunch of University buildings along the lake.  It’s kinda cool because there are students milling about and most of them look at you like you’ve been working out for over 8 hours.

Then it’s time for first of two substantial (by Ironman standards) hills.  There’s and aid station at the bottom and I highly suggest you regroup before the climb.  A ton of people walk these hills and I did for a short spell on the second loop, but they are not awful unless you are from Florida, and in that case, I recommend quitting.

After that, you wind to the right and close in on your second taste of State Street where people are five deep and scream some of the happiest sounds you’ll ever hear.  In retrospect, this is probably where I felt the best on the entire run.  It’s right around mile 6 and I suggest soaking it in.  You’re about halfway into the loop and it’s loaded with electricity, which is good because the worst part of the run awaits.

When you hit the trail again you have a 10k left in your loop.  It’s nice and shaded for a while, but when you leave the dirt path it turns into blacktop and the bikeway takes you out a mile before you turn around to come back.  It’s desolate and I really started hallucinating on this section.  It’s a two mile trek that seems like it will never end and the one section I wanted to walk most.

After that, you have about 3.5 miles before paydirt (or the painful turn around).  Slowly but surely spectators come back into your life and you will need their support.  The support, by the way, is excellent.  Aid stations are loaded like a buffet and on my second loop I hit the chicken broth hard on that turnaround.

You wind back past the stadium (and go down the little flight of stairs, which is painful in a different way) then back through the neighborhoods before hitting your last little climb up State Street.  The party is rockin’ now and the hill is not an issue.  At the top you stare at the massive capitol, turn left for a block, right for another, then right for a half block before turning left to finish.

The finishing part is great, but if this is the end of your first loop be prepared for a major mind f&ck.  They lead you well into the Finisher’s Chute before sending you back out to battle.  All you can really do is laugh.

Ironman Wisconsin was my only marathon to date, and I am pretty sure it will always be one of my favorite courses.  It’s challenging but not unfair.  It’s urban with a great taste of wilderness.  And you get to see some of the finer sections of one of the greatest cities there is, Madison, Wisconsin.

Never Give Up

It’s obvious to say my proudest moment of the year was running through the finisher’s arch at Ironman Wisconsin.  But, in reality, it was a moment within the race that trumps the medal by a long shot.

I wrote about it in my IMWI Race Report, but that heart wrenching moment deserves another visit because I think it was the most important lesson of the entire year.  THAT moment was everything to me around Mile 25 of the Ironman marathon, it was staring me in the eyes.

I trained for that moment a hundred times.  Night after night I fought through the pain along the dark paths of the Shelby Bottoms Greenway or torturous neighbor hood hills in the rain.  Every time I’d reach one or ten sticking points that begged me to stop, but I wouldn’t give in.

Eleven hours into Ironman Wisconsin, I had exactly 10k left on my run.  All I had to do was keep the pace just under 10 minute miles and I would finish sub-12 — which would be a major feat for a first time Ironman.  The catch was, my watch didn’t tell me pace.

I chose to go by feel, and up until Mile 20 it worked perfectly.  At that point I was 6 miles further than I had ever run in my life and fighting thoughts of “the wall.”  So many people told me, “You always hit the wall.”  “Beware of the wall.”

Everything hurt.  My legs, ankles, knees, and head.  I could taste the finish line, but a 10k was a major accomplishment only a year earlier, and I was getting delirious.

The amount of focus you need in an Ironman is almost laughable.  The parties, the park benches, the curbs, the shore along the lake . . . they all invite you to relax.  I can honestly say I was tempted to stop after every single step in that marathon.

But after my buddy, Wasky looked at me and said, “All you got is a 10k brotha, bring it home,” I knew stopping wasn’t an option.  I was on my pace.  A sub-12 Ironman was in my grasp and there was no way I was going to let go.

I was timing my pace by hitting restart on my watch at each mile marker.  When I hit mile 24 I had exactly 20 minutes left to finish under 12 hours.  I hit restart and ate everything I could grab at the aid station.  I was lumbering and in more pain than I had ever felt during exercise.  I had long forgotten I was racing an Ironman, now I was simply running, or jogging, or limping depending how you viewed it.

The course was a blur.  I knew I was in Madison, but had only vague recollection of the course even though it was my second loop.  I stared at my feet, into the trees, and tried not to veer off the road.  Nothing was in focus and I even forgot to check my watch for a while.  When I looked down, the counter read 10:48!  What?!?  Had I slowed that much?  Anything was possible and I still hadn’t seen mile marker 25.  I picked up the pace and scoured the landscape for the sign.  It had to be close.  It HAD to be.

All day I was calm and cool, now I was in a panic.  Time kept ticking and there was no mile marker in sight.  My panic turned into extreme disappointment.  I had come this far and was this close.  Now, my sub-12 dream was gone.

Even if I did see the marker now, I would have to run a sub-8 mile-point-2 to hit my goal, and I just knew my body didn’t have it.  That’s when . . . I stopped.

I put my head down and started walking all while justifying “just over 12” was good enough.  I was talking to myself.  “You gave it everything you had, Mike, keep your head up.”  “What an accomplishment either way.”  “Your friends and family will be proud of you either way.”  That was likely true, but it was that last line that snapped me out of it.

Everyone was waiting at the finish line and I’m pretty damn sure they were off the charts excited to see me finish under 12 minutes.  That “walking sequence” might have lasted 8 or 10 steps, and that’s when it dawned on me that I may have missed the 25 mile marker.

I looked at my watch and it told me I had 8 minutes.  That’s when I started saying it out loud, “I missed the marker . . . did I miss it?  I think I missed it.”

Out of nowhere, I was a man possessed.  I was running for the people waiting and all of a sudden it hurt less to run faster.  I wish I had worn a Garmin because I’m sure that final stretch was my fastest of the day.  The State Street crowds screamed as we ran by and I was passing everyone.  I MUST have missed that marker.

I got to the Capitol and turned it up a notch.  Let me tell you, there is nothing quite as stressful as watching your watch tick away when you don’t know how far you have left.  It was now under 3 and barring a complete collapse I knew I had it.  When I finally got to the finisher’s chute, I had 1:30 in the bank.  I hit that carpet and the pain left my body as I scanned the crowd for family and friends.  They were about halfway down on the left and I heard them screaming my name.  I was floating now.  I was a scared child moments earlier and now I was home.

I crossed the line in 11:58:58 and nearly started crying because I knew I’d almost given up.  One tiny moment in life that nearly changed everything and I based my decision on nothing other than faith.

The Emotions Leading Up to an Ironman


Following is a burst of writing 10 days before Ironman Wisconsin, that I never published.  I wonder if any of you can identify with these emotions?  The kids in Kona?

How Do I Really Feel 10 Days Before IMWI?   (Originally written August 29, 2013)

I’m pissed.  That’s how I feel.  I’m anxious, paranoid, impatient, angry, unsettled.

I just want to be out of this office right now.

I want to be swimming, biking, or running.  I want to be cleaning my bike, packing my clothes, driving north.

I want people to stop being stupid.  I want to punch something, or someone.

It’s 10 Days out and the world feels like it will explode.

As I type, I feel a good angst.  Like I am ready to crush it.  Not scared.  I want to roll it out and let it ride.  I feel strong and ready to burst.

Seduced By Goosepond

By @miketarrolly

Ahh, Goosepond.  She had me at hello. IMG_0213-XL

The peaceful waters of Lake Guntersville, the serene terrain of Sequatchie Valley, and the friendly folk of Scottsboro, Alabama.  A recipe for love.

This wasn’t my plan.  In fact, two weeks ago I broke it off with the Rev3 Olympic in Anderson, SC because I’ve been a little fatigued since Ironman Wisconsin.  Then, last week, I reluctantly agreed to do the bike portion of the Goosepond relay.  Then yesterday’s events turned that plan upside down.

Robbie was gonna do the swim leg of the relay, but as “luck” would have it, he’s now signed up for a Ten Mile Swim the day before our Half.  I’m assuming he will be a bit tired on Sunday and since I am not one to take challenges lying down, I decided I would relieve him of the 1.2 mile swim and do Goosepond by myself.  IMG_0142-XL

All of this takes me back to the beginning of my running.  I always put something on the radar to keep me engaged and this has ignited a much needed fire.

The Wisconsin glow lasted about two weeks before I started half-assing a workout here and there.  It wasn’t the same.  I couldn’t focus without a defined target.  Now I have one, but feel severely under-trained.

It would be logical to treat this race like a fun adventure, but that’s not really in my DNA.   I ran 10 miles on Sunday and I’m still sore, so I’m thinking rest may be the best preparation for my second 1/2 triathlon.

It’s another one-day-stand, and as we all know anything is possible.  But can I beat my Muncie 70.3 time of 5:16?  My only option is to get lost in first date magic and let Goosepond’s powers of seduction work their magic.