But is it worth the drive? IM Wisconsin Race report by Steven Parfeniuk

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Several years ago, you could not turn on a radio or a television with out hearing those endearing words; “Its worth the drive to Acton”.  As Ironman races are concerned there are few within a drive of Hamilton.  Lake Placid, New York, New York, New York, (OK who in their right mind drives to New York?) Mount Tremblant, Quebec, and Madison Wisconsin.  Well the latter two are 9 to 11 hour drives so as long as you lie to your partner, they are within driving distance.

My Ironman journey this summer was in a word, curious.  Originally, I planned to complete a Mount Tremblant double.  Well a last minute business trip and a nephew’s wedding cancelled both of those as well as made just about $1,000 disappear.  I have several DNS’s in my career, thankfully no DNFs (this is foreshadowing for you English lit majors and you know who you are).  I also tried to trade for Lake Placid – but my summer studies at Royal Roads competed with my travel arrangements.  This was in fact a great benefit for I have developed great friendships with my RR/MAELM class.  Again, another story – back to the Wisconsin race.

We set out for Madison on Wednesday at 6:00 pm..  We intended to drive to Kalamazoo.  Who would not want to stay in a city that ended its name with zoo?  After all, are triathletes not one of the crazier animal species that inhabit the earth?  Needless to say leaving was an adventure.  We turned around three times.  First for my sunglasses; next for my race food (gu – yes that’s what it is called); and finally, for my phone charger.  I never said I was a great packer.

We then drove to Kalamazoo, found the hotel and to then sleep – if not to dream.  Rising early, we found breakfast and continues travelling around lake Michigan to Wisconsin.  Believe it or not, you cross, into Indiana, Illinois, and then Wisconsin.  If you ever wonder why “everyone knows your name in Chicago”, it is because the traffic on the freeway makes Toronto rush hour look perfectly sane.  Travelling via the expressway includes several (I think 5 or more) tolls at an average speed that would make a tri-bike time look less than ideal.  Nonetheless after an hour and 20 km we succeeded in making it to Wisconsin our hotel and then as Jackie crashed, I went to register.

The volunteers in Madison are second to none!  They love the athletes and in fact the City closes their downtown core for the entire Sunday race day.  You finish at the Capitol Centre, a location that I would certainly challenge any race to compete with for beauty.  Thursday night we found a great pasta restaurant that provided discounts to athletes.  On Friday we finally found the rest of the Burlington Triathlon Club members and I had dinner at the pasta supper with Margaret Dorio, Kerry Eaton and Kathy Eaton, and Chris Steeves and her husband Charlie.   Like most Friday dinners, the pasta was plentiful and there was even some flavour to the marinara sauce.

Saturday before the race Madison’s farmer’s market was centre stage at the Capitol Centre.  Fresh cheese, breads, fruit and, vegetables were plentiful.  The market also had several artisans.  The day was particularly enjoyable as it included an iron kids event.

As Saturday closed however, my throat was getting red, my voice “Barry Whiteish” and I knew a cold was not far behind.  As I went to sleep at around 9.  I said a little prayer asking for a day’s grace before the full cold would hit me.

Sunday arrived and I awoke a 5 am.  Got dressed in my TCOB (triathlon club of Burlington) tri suit and headed for transition.  It was cold outside but I was anxious to begin what I hoped would be my 4th Ironman race.  What was surprising however was the wind gusting to 15 km..  I wondered how this might impact the swim and bike.  Well nothing to change the wind.  On my way to the water, I finally ran into Margaret.  She, like me, was excited to get going.  We travelled down to the crush of athletes together. Somehow we got separated and we would not see each other for the rest of the day.

Getting into the swim was a challenge.  A narrow shoot through which the 2,452 athletes that started would use to get into the water.  Racing with number 2879, I was surprised with the number of DNSs but we all know that life sometimes gets in the way of training or racing.  After the US national anthem and the gun and my 2-minute pause to allow the stronger swimmers to proceed, I embarked on my 3.8 km swim.  Remember the wind, well I swam the 1st km in about 14 minutes, WOW!  Next a 90-degree turn, a 300 km swim, another a 90-degree turn and a then a 1.4 km swim.  This was a bit tricky – but I made it – or did I?  Although I was going through the swimming motions, I was making little forward progress.  I was at the red turn buoy for about a minute and then realized that the current that had just aided my swim was now looking back and LOL.  I mean really LOL.  Bearing down, I pushed and kicked and managed to move, albeit, on a diagonal.  I should mention that, at this point, I updated my prayer of the evening before and added – could you also give me a little push now and then. There was indeed a miracle as my swim did become easier.  The next 1.4 km took the better part of an hour and I found myself at just over an hour with another 1.1 km to swim.  This was an interesting final kilometre swim. The last 600 metres were angular and I fought a current that wanted to take me into shore.  Completing the first phase of the race in 1hour and forty-one minutes would be a personal worse – but I was out and could now focus on the bike and run.

The transition area was great.  My bag was ready; I changed, ate, and left for my bike.  Unfortunately, my bike was just out of the change area and I would have to run with it for about 200 metres.  Mounting the bike I descended the parking lot helix (I now know what a helix is) and began the lollypop bike course.   We call it a lollypop as it has an out and back stem and a circular route on the top.  If you cant see this sorry, I am a poor visual teacher.  The bike route was just like North Burlington.  If you were not travelling up hill, you were travelling down a hill.  There were an incredible number of turns and several crazy descents but I enjoyed the first 90K.  Looking at my Garmin,  I saw a sub 3 hour ride and knew that I needed to conserve energy for the run. I paused at the special needs transition area for a few minutes.  Ate, drank and then took off for round two.  While the wind was as strong on the bike as it was in the water, I am sure it was more of a crosswind.  I do not believe it had a considerable impact on any of the athletes although those not use to rolling hills were certainly complaining.  On one particular occasion, I spoke to Travis from Texas.  He had trained for two years for the race.  During that time he could only find a dam that tried to be a hill.  He was hurting!  Not so, however, for the race leader.  After just 40 km into my bike I was passes by an athlete travelling at seemingly warp speed followed by a motorcycle with a sign that read – race leader.  He was 40 miles ahead of me!  Oh well thank god I am an accountant.  I would be poor and hungry – not to mention last – if I was a pro athlete. Remember that crazy Brit ski jumper???  I wonder???  Well back to reality.  My bike was still great and just after 6 hours and 24 minutes I left my bike and headed for transition.

Once again, the transition was great.  I had help throughout and in addition to my TCOB tri suit, I put on compression SKINS.  I did this for two reasons, I knew it would get colder as the sun went down and I wanted to aid the blood flow for the next 42.2 km.  The run was as fun as one could be.  It went through the downtown of Madison, through the University of Wisconsin Campus – including the football stadium – through a wonderful park and lakeshore area and back in a double loop.  The spectators were incredible.  While I thought Placid and Canada’s spectators were wonderful the full streets of Madison were equally invigorating.  With four miles to go I again looked at my Garmin. It read 13 hours.  It was at this time that I knew I could beat 14 hours (my target).  God had assisted me in the swim and certainly kept me safe on the bike and had a bit left over for me in the run.  Some 52 minutes later, the 4 miles were over and I was a 4-time Ironman finisher.  13:52:52.  A personal best by 41 minutes.

So in the end, it was worth the drive to Madison.  I only know that if I enter this race again, I am going alone!  I have been told.

See you on the training circuit!