Tag Archives: lake monona

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.


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

I’ve never been much of a morning guy, but NOW . . . I seem to roll out of bed at ridiculous hours.  Today was 5 am so I could join other triathletes for open water swim.  The worst part?  I didn’t even get in the water. 

My shoulder’s been a little wank lately, so I went out to shoot video for the Crushing Iron documentary.  And, even though I didn’t swim, I got a huge charge out of watching others working to be great. 


These clinics are first and foremost about feeling more comfortable in open water.  The more you do it, the more the techniques Robbie gives us pay off.  You work on real open water situations like mass starts, beach starts, sighting, and drafting.  Open water is a serious hurdle for some people, but I’m sure they would be surprised how quickly they’d embrace lakes, rivers, and oceans if they did a few of these clinics. 

Training for three disciplines puts you in a perpetual state of questioning.  You decide your run is in a good spot, then focus on swimming for a couple weeks only to feel like your run falls off.  It’s a major balancing act that never ends.  That said, the more I think about Ironman, the more I feel like the swim is the key.  People rarely think about it that way because it’s by far the shortest time spent, but a bad swim can make those next 138.2 miles miserable. 

I’ve had two races this year.  An early season sprint and an Olympic 10 days ago.  The sprint swim was a mere 300 meters and left me a mess.  I was completely anxious, out of breath, and my heart rate was through the roof.  It killed my bike and likely dabbled in my run.  The Olympic swim started rough, but I settled down, had a nice time, and came out of the water fresh to hammer the bike and have a decent run.  I definitely think my Open Water Swim Clinic with Robbie Bruce helped, and I’d only been ONE day.  Imagine what a whole summer in the lake would do for your big race?