I’m so pumped to share with you a race report on Ironman Wisconsin. In prep for my first and second Ironman races I read a lot of race reports, especially on Wisconsin and it helped me prepare substantially, if only to place myself in the part of the person racing and hope to understand the race more. I’ll do my best to give you my take on the race, its setup, what I did before, during, and after. If this helps someone out, awesome.
I’m a 39 year old with a full time job and seven kids. I don’t have a lot of time and what time I do have needs to be managed well and with the right priorities. I’ve always considered myself in excellent shape and have already completed Ironman Wisconsin once, though without hitting the goals I have now. Further, I have previously completed 6 marathons and a trail marathon, as well as many sprint Triathlons. My training consisted of the following in lead-up to the Ironman (generally):
- Swim: 2-3 times a week, 2,000 – 3,500 meters each swim
- Run: 4-5 times a week in the winter, 1-2 times a week in the summer
- Bike: 2 times on trainer in winter, 3-4 times a week in summer
This generally added up to around 8 – 10 hours of training a week, which is pretty healthy when you work a 50 hour a week job and want to be a great dad and husband. I made a strong effort to train when my kids were doing their swim team practices and before/after work with minimizing the impact to my family time (although that doesn’t always work). I felt like this time I spent much more time preparing for the swim and felt much stronger, although I feel still a way below average swimmer. I worked hard at getting better, but have a long way to go. I felt like the bike preparation went pretty well, but I never got in a ride over 80 miles, so I was missing some of the prep I wanted to do, but again, that’s ok. The run prep was also good, though my longest run was about 16 miles. I happen to live in an area surrounded by hills, so everything I do includes hilly rides and runs, which was helpful, considering the course is pretty hilly from start to finish.
I had some major setbacks throughout training where I needed to recover from a 2 month injury and get back to my running shape. With that behind me, the training over the summer was on track and I eventually got to where I felt strong and ready to do the race, despite not making every mileage goal. The week before the race however I started to have some doubts, but fought through it and worked to give myself confidence.
Our family has a place on Lake Michigan, so that was helpful in providing the facility to get more comfortable in waves and rough situations, although in retrospect I wished I took advantage of that more. I would go out swimming every day, but could have used the opportunity swim further and longer than I did. Nevertheless, it was useful in preparation vs. only swimming in a pool, lap after lap.
Finally, my training was not just physical, but also spiritual, since completing an Ironman is partially in your head, vs. just in your muscles. The road to Ironman was always built on leaving enough room for my family and sacrificing perhaps some of my time goals for making time for them and my responsibilities as a father and husband. I also used my training as an opportunity to gain discipline in my spiritual life that surrounds this. It provided ample time for prayer, reflection on my actions, and provided a purpose to who I was doing this for. My kids made me a prayer bracelet, which every time I was doing a sacrifice, I’d pull a bead and offer it up. This preparation was discipline for what really mattered, since nobody will ever know if I get a 12, or 13, or 14 hour Ironman, but the spiritual life endures forever.
Where I Stayed
I ended up staying a walking distance from the Ironman start, which for me was really helpful, since I didn’t have any family attending the race to the completion. It provided the ability for me to walk from my hotel to/from the course area and especially to return after the race. There are a good number of affordable downtown hotels and it’s certainly helped me out.
The pre-race check-in was on Thursday / Friday, which was pretty easy for me to hit since I live in Milwaukee area. The last time I did Ironman Wisconsin I didn’t hit the sign-in until end of day Friday, which ended up being a huge line. I instead went a little earlier on Friday, around 11:00, which was a very short line and easy to maneuver. I think I was in and out in 30 minutes and ready to do my next thing. The setup at Ironman Wisconsin is pretty nice, with the sign-in, transition, and much of the booths inside vs. outside. The conference center also has a nice view of the swim course from a lot of angles, making it easy to scope out. I ended up sticking around for the 2:00 pre-race briefing on Friday, which was VERY helpful. The thing I remembered the most was when the presenter talked about the likelyhood that you’ll hit a “dark place” on the race. He mentioned that you need to prepare yourself for hitting that “dark place” so you can work your way out of it. He also mentioned the cutoffs and stated that the way to make the cut-offs is to “just keep going”, which seems intuitive but so many people spend their Ironman checking their watches and freaking out, they forget to just focus and execute. I’d highly recommend attending the briefing, even if you’ve done other Ironmans, especially since Ironman Wisconsin has its own quirks. It was a bit funny walking around in work clothes (I saw a client in the morning), vs. all the people in compression socks (really, do we need those?), but it worked:
I returned home and got my bags ready. My setup looked like this:
- Bike shoes
- Bike helmet
- Two cliff bars
- Two cliff shot blocks
Bike Special Needs:
- Extra tube (giving me three total)
- Extra air replacement (giving me three total)
- Running shoes
- Extra socks
- Waist band with number attached
I have a Trek Speed Concept 9.5 with the aero box behind the seat. It’s a great bike and fits me well at the M size (I’m 5′ 9″, 138 lbs). I got new Grand Prix 5000 tires with new tubes and a top food box on the frame.
The content of the storage was:
- Three shot blocks in a top container
- Two water bottles with water (more on that later)
- Two tubes
- Two air containers
- Tire levers
- Air tip
A little note on the storage box on the Speed Concept. It comes open on its own when stuffed full on bumps so I always put rubber bands on it to keep it closed. I’ve heard some people use plumbers tape. In this case I doubled up on rubber bands.
I affixed my number to the bike as so… not sure if it’s ever coming off, or that I want it to, at least until the next Ironman… 🙂
Saturday (day before race):
The day before the race I was very nervous. I kept asking myself, “did I train enough”, “how will I handle the swim”, “what about my nutrition strategy”… I kept giving myself back confidence and maintaining a positive attitude. I left the house after doing the normal Saturday cleanup with the kids with all my bags and bike. The check-in for bike and bags needs to be completed by 3:00, so I left myself enough time to complete that.
I got to my hotel with about 2 good hours to check in, put my stuff in my room, and bring my bags over. I brought over all my bags, which ended up being a mistake. The first day you just bring over your run and bike bag, not your special needs bag. I also checked in my bike and got it all set on the rack. I did need to remember how to do it, which is to hang out vs. in, like so:
I remembered NOT to bring my pump to the rack, since there are so many pumps available on race-day. A good number of people bring pumps and then there are a lot of “shared use” pumps available. The Trek people also pump up tires on race-day for you if you ask them. Here is a shot at the whole bike setup, on top of the parking garage, next to transition.
The check-in area for the bags was pretty well organized, with each section a set of numbers. You label your bag with the sticker, tie it up, then drop it. I saw some people also mark their bags with a marker, which is smart. I didn’t do this, but next time I will.
I finished dropping my gear off and took a walk down by the lake and on top of the convention center to check out the course. It looked pretty much like I remembered it from 5 years ago and the current conditions looked pretty good. I kept checking the weather, wondering if it was going to rain, wind, etc. but there wasn’t much I was going to do about that.
Evening of Pre-Race:
The evening of the pre-race my first action was to go to the Madison Cathedral for Mass, which is at 5:00. I saw there were confessions available before Mass, so I took advantage of that. The Mass is great, as there are a good number of athletes from various places and it was nice to be in that community being thankful for the opportunity to be in the race. The Cathedral is pretty close to the finish line, with an easy walk down the street. Even if you aren’t Catholic, the church is a great quiet place to prepare yourself in the presence of God.
After Mass I went to get a Pizza at Lucille, which was delicious. Totally recommend it as a pre-race dinner. I got into a conversation with a bunch of people wondering about the race, which is always fun. Here’s a shot from the website (I didn’t take a picture, but just to get your taste buds going):
After dinner I got back to my hotel room around 7:30 and kept drinking water. I decided to get my stuff ready and go to bed, setting my alarm for 4:30 AM. I didn’t sleep very well, but nobody does on race-day night. Just tried to do my best. I think I woke up 20 times wondering what time it was.
Race Day Morning:
So race day morning I got out of bed, took a shower, and ate a peanut butter sandwich (which I eat almost every morning) and a banana in addition to some decaf coffee. I also drank a fair amount of water trying to say super hydrated. I left the hotel wishing I had brought warmer morning clothes, but it wasn’t that bad in my shorts and double t-shirt.
I went over to the conference center and got body marked which was the moment of… “it’s getting real” and went over to my bike. I brought my bike to the Trek guys and they pumped it up to 105, ready to go for the day. I returned the bike to the rack, then went inside to change into my wetsuit after hanging around a bit. It was about 6:00 when I decided to go down to the swim start. Upon walking down to the swim start the first thing I noticed was how rough the water was. It was noticeably more rough than the last couple days and the waves were smashing against the shore pretty good. I took a deep breadth, told myself I could do it, and finished walking down.
The last time I did Ironman Wisconsin the swim start was a “mass start” and I ended up getting run over a lot so I didn’t have a particular love for it. The line-up for 2019 was a staggered start, so you lined up according to your predicted time. I picked 1:40 – 1:50, which was around what I thought I’d achieve based on my pool times. I was actually hoping to hit lower 1:40, perhaps even into high 1:30s if I performed as I knew I could.
The cannon went off for the pros, then for the non-pros and we started getting in the water. The line seemed to take forever, as the chute was fairly small and there were a lot of people. As we got closer the line started going faster and we were… in the water.
The swim is a one-loop, out and back experience, with turns always on your left. The first stretch hugs the shore along Madison out to the first red buoy, which didn’t feel too bad, considering the waves were pushing me more into shore and a bit on my back. I did drift significantly to the right away from the buoys and had to swim back, which was challenging. I didn’t have as much contact as last time and felt better about the swimming experience on the way out. Here is a shot of the course from the athlete briefing.
The first turn is where stuff started getting pretty dicey, with now the waves really nailing me in the side and pushing me away from the buoys toward the shore. I had to work pretty hard to keep targeted toward the second turn. Then… came the way back, which was arduous. I took in a lot of water, sighting was hard, waves hitting me straight on, and I kept going way off course, with the kayaks telling me where to go. I think I easily swam another 300 meters in just this area and struggled to keep going toward my target. I knew if I kept swimming I’d make it, but it was a lot harder than I was expecting that direction. I started to feel a pain in my stomach and some cramping in my foot, but minimal in the latter. The second-to-last turn seemed to take forever to get to with me going off course.
The last turn and final stretch was feeling pretty good, but still was too far off course toward the shore. I kept losing my angle of attack and ended up swimming a lot more than I needed to. I ended up getting out of the water with about a 2 hr. swim, which was way longer than I expected, but I felt totally victorious about completing it and really good.
The first transition I booked it up the helix and into the changing area. I actually took my own wetsuit off (somewhat because I was dazed) and went. I yelled out my number, the guy brought my bag, I checked it, and we tore it open. I loaded up all my food in my side pouches, put on my socks, shoes, helmet, and glasses and ran out. I ran to my bike, got there before the person, and ran to the bike mount. I felt really good about how fast I got in and out and how well organized the transition was for bike.
So, the bike is where the wheels came off my plan, although not technically. Almost immediately after getting on the bike I was having serious stomach pain and couldn’t eat. I seriously tried to eat my cliff bar and got maybe a bite down. I also barely ate a gummy but it was equally difficult. I drank a little water, then decided to wait. I biked down the helix without passing (it’s a no pass zone) and moved out on the bike path through the initial turns. The turns on the bike path are sharp and bumpy, so I took it easy and found a mid-gear to be comfortable in.
The bike is a 16 mile “stick”, out to the two loops, so I was hoping to jet pretty good out to those loops. Check the turn by turn directions… a lot of changing directions, sharp turns, and hills.
After getting past the initial bike path I tried to push to where I knew I could easily bike but I had stomach pain and was doubled over (not puking, but in pain). I was upset at myself as I knew I had a lot more in me, but was more concerned about my nutrition issue. I kept hoping that I’d feel better, but mile after mile I was unable to eat and barely was drinking. I mentally understood that if I didn’t eat & drink I was in serious trouble and would bonk. I decided at the first transition area to make an educated decision to switch to Gatorade, which was not my first option and was completely throwing out my nutrition plan. I knew if I didn’t start taking in both water, calories, and salts I was done for. This was where I hit the dark place, as I was really concerned about not making it and mentally preparing myself to not finish. I found my purpose, lifted myself up to Mary and our Lord, and regained my focus. I started taking in Gatorade and little by little I was able to keep it down, which was a start. I seriously had to gut this out as I went and that was where the perseverance came in, due mostly in keeping my focus and offering up the pain vs. feeling sorry for myself.
As the bike went on I really was checking my speed, as I started and was progressing much slower than I planned. I was struggling to keep my average where I wanted it with the hills and to avoid going too hard with my nutrition situation. I kept it patient, kept on the Gatorade and kept going. I’d say around mile 80 is when I really started to feel better, which was a relief. I started to eat my cliff bars and felt really good at that point. I also started to crank up my speed and was feeling pretty good coming back, despite what overall ended up being a pretty windy course that day.
In returning to the center and up the helix I was relieved. I had beat my old time, not by as much as I was hoping, but left myself plenty of time to PR the course as a whole. That and I felt good from a run preparedness standpoint entering transition. I came in, handed my bike to a volunteer, and booked it into transition.
The second transition was fast. I felt good, dumped all my extra food, put on my running shoes, my belt, and left. It was another great setup where you basically run in from the bike area into the terrace, yell out your number, sit down, switch, and go.
The run started off awesome. I was feeling good and then I saw my family, which as so cool. The kids were cheering and I got to give them all fives. Total pick-me-up and was great to see everyone. I then took off down the course with a strategy of running between aid stations, then walking the aid station quickly. This ended up working very well and I felt great eating just about anything. In my first Ironman I struggled on the run course, whereas this one I felt confident for most of it, with the first 16 miles feeling very good in this style. My feet didn’t hurt at all and I felt good taking in fluids and food consistently. Later on however I felt a bit upset stomach again and a bit sore. In retrospect I think I should have hammered through that more, but I ended up doing a pretty slow run the rest of the way. That said, I felt good on both loops. The aid stations are seriously fantastic BTW. The food is perfect (grapes, Gatorade, water, chips, pretzels, CHICKEN BROTH) and really keeps you going. The hardest part I think was the section with the serious hills and the area around the stadium. The latter half around the lake and nature area was pretty flat and nice.
The crowds throughout were fantastic as well, especially around State Street and the finish area, but were pretty persistent everywhere on the course. I was really enjoying giving kids fives and having people cheer. Here’s the bike map from the athlete guide, which is essentially two loops of the same course, with exception of about 100 feet.
At one point it started to rain and was like 50 degrees out, which was tough. I said to the person running next to me, “if we don’t freeze to death, we’re going to make it”, which was funny reassurance. I was a little concerned frankly, but it didn’t end up being an issue at all.
My feet ended up feeling great the whole way. I’m not exactly sure why, but the shoes I wore I’ve really been liking, so if you’re interested in a miministic shoe, I’d give the Minimus a try. They are trail shoes and have somewhat toughened up my feet, which I think helped here.
Finally I reached the finish line. This was a pretty surreal moment, as it was my second time. It brought a lot of emotion, both because I had killed my old time on a day where I felt like I had more in the tank, and because I was so thankful for the opportunity to do this. God has blessed our family so much and when nearing the finish line Mike Riley called our “Nathan Lasnoski, father of seven, you’re an Ironman!”. I didn’t even remember I had put that information into the form when signing up, but it was SO cool to hear it on finishing.
Post Finish Evening
After finishing Ironman Wisconsin does something pretty cool. You not only get your medal and t-shirt, but you also get an athlete food tent, which was very welcome at that point. They had great hot dogs, beans, mac-and-cheese, and… a blanket (not the shiny kind). This was nice and I hung out there for a while eating and talking to fellow finishers. We talked about how difficult the swim was and how thankful we were to be out of the rain. All in all a great way to end the event.
I then progressed to get my stuff and go back to the hotel. After I stopped running I realized it was pretty cold. I went and grabbed my bags from the center and my bike. I again wished I had some warmer clothes to change into, but I just made do. I walked back to the hotel and brought everything with me. I was pretty surprised how good I felt at that point.
I got back, took a shower, and relaxed, then going to bed.
The Next Day
I thought, nobody ever talks about what to do the next day, so here it goes. I got up, actually worked, and took a shower. I then noticed how much I had a cut on my neck from the wetsuit, which was pretty painful. I went to Colectivo for morning coffee and a muffin, bypassing other far less awesome coffee places on the way. Seriously… don’t go to Starbucks… if you came all the way to Wisconsin for Ironman, go to Colectivo. I had a great morning, took a bunch of work calls, and then walked over to State Street.
I walked down State Street and went in search of lunch. I found a bunch of food trucks, all needing cash only. I think it was providential that I didn’t have cash, because I stumbled upon the new St. Paul’s Catholic Center on campus and there was mas at 12:05. I decided to go and what a blessing that was. There were around 70 students and the singing would bring a tear to anyone’s eye. It brought back memories from college, but more-so a thankfulness again of the opportunity of being able to participate in the Ironman and a thankfulness for my family and friends. This was a great experience and I totally recommend it to athletes the next day.
So, after Mass I went in search of food again. I really wanted something interesting, real-food sort of thing. I found it, right up the street, at a place called Forage. This is a must visit for the post-Ironman. Local, delicious, fresh… bowls of just great stuff, lots of good drink options. Yum.
All in all this was a huge blessing. Much thanks goes to my wife and kids for letting me do it. I’m looking forward to Ironman #3 someday, but we’ll see what happens next and where it takes us. If you’re looking for a great Ironman to do, with excellent energy, great town, fantastic people, and challenging terrain, look no further than Ironman Wisconsin. It’s the real deal and for people in the midwest it’s right in your back yard.