Ironman Wisconsin 2014 | Race Report

By Sam

The Deets.

Race: Ironman Wisconsin, IMWI, IMOO, or whatever you would like to call it
Where: Madison, Wisconsin
When: September 7, 2014

  • Swim – 1:12
  • Bike – 6:02
  • Run – 3:37
  • Total – 11:07


  • Elevation gain (according to my Garmin)
    • Bike – 4,480 ft
    • Run – 650 ft

Play by Play.

Check-In – What not to do:
We arrived in Madison on Friday afternoon (mistake one – I booked my tickets before I realized there is no Saturday registration for Ironman events). NEVER DO THIS. Our flight was delayed in Chicago (mistake two – didn’t book a direct flight) so that by the time we landed in Madison, I had less than an hour to grab our bags, get our rental car, and make it to Monona Terrace for athlete check-in.

Cue taper tantrum.

Somehow, I managed to make it to check-in before it closed (2nd to last person!), but I did not have a happy wife.

Race Morning!
Woke up at 4 am. Had breakfast at the hotel – oatmeal, coffee, and a banana.

I dinked around the hotel room for a good 30 minutes, sipping my coffee and reading news. Then I realized I needed to get downstairs to catch the bus to get to the terrace so I woke up Danielle with 9 minutes remaining (note to self: wake up wife sooner next time) and got my gear together. A little rushed at the end but we were still able to catch the hotel shuttle. A coach shuttle no less! We met up with and sat next to Pete & Kristi on the bus.

We arrived at the Terrace around 5:30. This gave us plenty of time to put air in our bike tires, get body marked and chat with our wives/family. I started to get antsy to get down to the swim start around 6:20. I remembered reading how long it took some folks to get into the water in my extensive (seriously, I had to have read over 30) race report readings. I think we started down the helix to the water around 6:40. The line definitely took a while, but I think we were able to get into the water with about 4 minutes remaining until the cannon went off.

Those 4 minutes waiting in the water prior to the start of the race was something else. It was like no other experience I have had. So many emotions racing through your mind – not wanting to waste too much energy treading water, wanting to find a good spot with enough space so you aren’t too packed when the cannon goes off (good luck with that one), soaking up the crowd, the energy, the excitement. It was a wonderful, wonderful feeling.

Pete and me pre-swim

Pete and me pre-swim


And then…we started. I was actually a little surprised by how smoothly the swim went. I mean, it was definitely choppy, but I was expecting much worse. My goggles were never knocked off, I was never kicked in the face, and the water was perfect…warm enough and calm. I think I went out a little too fast just from all of the excitement. I was feeling pretty tired halfway through the backstretch and never really got into a good rhythm for more than 5 minutes at a time. BUT, if those are my complaints, that means I had a great swim. I was expecting to come out of the water anywhere between 1:15 and 1:20 with my goal being 1:13. I ended up exiting at 1:12, so I was very pleased.

T1 was great. Having the swim behind me (one of the things I was most worried about leading into the day) was wonderful. Running up the helix was as good as advertised. Plus, I was able to see my family as I made my way into the terrace to change. I downed a salt tab and a bonk breaker in transition and then hopped on the bike.


Heading into the bike portion my plan was, as I had read in previous race reports, to treat it as a 40 mile warm up and a 70 mile race.

Coming from Colorado, the course was not that bad. Over the course of the 112 miles, my Garmin put me at 4,480 feet in elevation which would have been the eighth most elevation I gained during my training. I mean, riding High Grade from our house would give you 4-5K over the course of 50 miles. However, because I’m used to longer climbs (even around our house) I was a little pedal fatigued by the end of the ride. There were not many places on the course where you stopped pedaling for more than a few seconds.

All this being said, the layout of the course made it much more difficult than the elevation would indicate.  My strategy going in was to shift down as I approached the hills and then keep on the effort through the crest. It was wonderful. A lot of folks passed me going up the hill, but then I would catch them on the first portion of the downhill. One drawback, however, was that they would then catch me again at the latter portion of the downhill. Aluminum frame road bikes just aren’t a match for the tri bikes I was riding against, but that’s a story for another day.

Either way, I felt great on the first loop. My heart rate stayed in the 130s almost the whole time. I think it got into the 140s on a few occasions, but otherwise, I took it easy. After the three sisters, I knew it was a pretty easy ride coming back into Verona. I also knew my family would be in Verona, so I was pretty excited as I made my way into town. One great part of the bike course – the Verona Loop Festival is at the bottom of a gradual downhill. So when you see your family/crew you are going pretty fast…makes you feel like a rockstar. One bad part – the Verona Loop Festival is immediately after an aid station so you see your family/crew as you are chewing/drinking.

At the beginning of the second loop my plan was to pick it up a little bit and try to finish with a negative split. It didn’t happen. I’m not entirely sure what the issue was. Overall, I think my second loop was a minute or two slower than my first loop. My heart rate was still in the 130’s on the second loop, but for whatever reason I didn’t have much pop in my legs. My hamstring was a little tight and I was fighting to keep on top of my nutrition. I think my legs were just a little tired. I might have gone out too hard in the swim, or maybe the course was just catching up to me. Either way, I noticed a few people passing me on the second loop. I made a mental note of every person that passed me and made sure to comfort myself by the fact that their bikes were much nicer than mine…and that I would catch them on the run.

2nd lap. Verona. Tired

2nd lap. Verona. Tired.

As I got into the second loop I became more concerned about my nutrition. I couldn’t stomach any of the nutrition I brought with me – the trail butter wasn’t cutting it anymore – so I moved on to aid station bananas. These got me through the second half of the second loop. Another funny thing about the second loop – I started to notice all of the false flats. Some sections that I didn’t think twice about on the first loop were now terrible. It is funny how tired legs can change your perspective on the course. Knowing my family was going to be in Verona was a huge mental boost as I got through the last of the 3 sisters. After Verona, I made the turn back onto the stick which was wonderful. I played leap frog with several folks on the stick, passing, then getting passed, passing again. In fact, there were two or three of these folks that I had been riding with for most of the day.

The last few miles of the bike were pretty great. I was definitely tired, but it felt amazing to see the terrace getting closer and closer knowing that I was almost done with the Ironman bike. 112 miles! Crazy! As I rode up the helix I started to take inventory of my body. Overall, I felt pretty good. My stomach was a little iffy, but my legs were decent. I didn’t want to bike anymore, but I was ready for the run. 6:02 on a challenging bike course – I was pretty happy with my total time.


Transition 2 was pretty straightforward. I rode in, handed my bike off to the volunteers, ran inside, changed my shirt and socks, took an S-cap and water and then headed out for the run. I had to change shirts because I forgot my running belt in Colorado. But overall, this didn’t take too much extra time. The one bad thing is that I wasn’t able to put band aids on my nips…they wouldn’t stick to due to sweat. However, I grabbed some Vaseline from an aid station halfway through that helped a lot.

After the bike I knew I needed around a 3:30 marathon to get a sub 11 hour finish. Heading into the day, this was my goal. After the bike I felt alright. Not great, not bad. I expected my legs to have a little more pop, but overall I was happy with how I felt. Throughout my training I tended to go pretty hard on the first few miles of my ‘run off bikes’. Today, however, I was planning on taking it very easy. So the first few miles I kept on easing off the gas. My goal was to make sure my first 3 miles were all 8 minutes or slower. Tough to do. I kept on looking down at my watch and seeing a 7:50 pace so I would slow down and then 10 seconds later I would be back below 8. Around mile 2 a guy passed me as I slowed down, yet again, to an 8 minute pace. This was the first person that had passed me on the run. Up to this point I had been passing people left and right, so seeing someone that was going a little faster I pulled up next to him and asked him what his goal was for the marathon. He said, ‘I’m just hoping to go sub-4’. We talked for another minute or so, I never told him what I was aiming for, and I decided to stop backing off the gas. Two 8 minute miles were enough. So I told him good luck, pulled ahead, and settled into a 7:40-ish pace.

Soon thereafter I ran through Camp Randall…pretty cool…and started towards the hills at the University of Wisconsin. Observatory hill was much steeper than I was expecting, but it wasn’t very long. Everyone around me was either walking up the hill or should have been walking up the hill (breathing way too hard). I shortened my stride, kept my effort in check and went up. Then back down the other side. Unfortunately, you aren’t able to gain much speed going down as the grade is just too steep and there are several switchbacks.

Slow Down!

Slow Down!

Speed Up!

Speed Up!

I saw Danielle and my family several times throughout the run. This was great! The first time I saw them Danielle said something to the effect of ‘You think you can pick it up?’ I thought this was kind of strange since we had talked in detail prior to the race about how I wanted to make sure I didn’t go out too fast. I would learn later that my splits on the Ironman website showed me as running 9+ minute miles for the first 3 miles. As such, she was worried I was already hurting. So after I saw her the first time, I picked it up a little more and started running in the low 7:40s/high 7:30s. Then, the second time I saw her she commented on how fast I was going and even sounded concerned that I was going too fast. Again, I would learn later that the Ironman website had my splits for the second portion of the run as 6:40s. Moral of the story – don’t believe the ironman website splits. 13.1 is accurate (two loop course, it had better be) but the other splits were way off.

At this point in the run I was a little worried about my nutrition. My stomach was a little off and nothing sounded appetizing. I ate the gu chomps I brought with me by mile 4. I tried the gu chomps they had on the course after that, but the flavor they had (watermelon) was not working for me. I ended up throwing most of the package away. What ended up working the best for me on the first half of the run was a mixture of grapes and pretzels. I walked through all water stops where I would grab a water and/or perform as well as a handful of pretzels and grapes. Then I would put a pretzel in the side of my mouth and then put in a new grape every minute or so to put some moisture in my mouth. My stomach never really improved but this mixture seemed to keep me out of trouble.

As in most races, I eventually found myself at the hallway point. I finished the first loop in almost exactly 1:45. This was PERFECT. If I could do it again, I would be looking at a 3:30 marathon and a sub-11 hour Ironman. I also knew, however, that I was eventually going to start hitting a wall. As such, I attempted to pick it up a little bit on the first few miles of the second lap to build a cushion, if I could. It turned out I couldn’t. The first couple of miles after my mental note to ‘pick it up’ I came in with high 7:50 minute miles. Not good. Mile 3 or 4 ended up being over 8 minutes and then I knew a 3:30 marathon wasn’t in the cards. I just couldn’t get my body to go that fast. My heart rate was steady in the 130s, but my body was starting to protest. Knowing that a sub-11 hour time wasn’t going to happen was a little disappointing, but I didn’t get too upset about it. I think for my next race I am going to allow myself to build up more of a cushion early in the race. Nothing crazy, but I think I could have cut off 2-3 minutes using this strategy. However, I was still very happy with how I was feeling. I was still passing people every 10 seconds. It felt wonderful!

2nd Lap. Struggle Street

2nd Lap. Struggle Street.

On the second lap of the run I also really started to lose my appetite. It was a struggle to find something that my stomach wouldn’t reject. I started drinking a lot of cola. Some potato chips. Bananas. I tried everything at least once. But by mile 20 my stomach was done. I’m pretty sure I only drank cola or water for the last 6 miles. I might have tried to force down chips or pretzels but it just wasn’t happening.

The last half of the run was pretty tough. Every mile was just a little slower than the one before and eventually I was running in the 9 minute mile range. I was still passing folks, I just wasn’t blowing by them like I was in the beginning. When I was visualizing the marathon in the weeks leading up to the race I thought I would attempt to pick it up the last 3 miles. Maybe even the last 2 miles. That DID NOT happen. Even in the Denver marathon, my BQ marathon, I remember picking it up slightly the last 2 miles. The last 2 miles for this marathon, however, took forever. I didn’t feel comfortable ‘picking it up’ until I was at the capitol, less than .4 miles from the finish. I just didn’t have it in me. That last little bit was amazing though. Running around the capital, knowing you are minutes away from finishing is such a wonderful feeling. And then, before you know it, you’re passing the half-way turnaround and you can finally see the finish line. I remember seeing my family immediately before entering the finish chute and hearing Mike O’Reilly call me an Ironman. The rest was a blur. So many emotions. So much joy. Such a great feeling. More than anything, it felt great to stop.

My biggest supporter

My biggest supporter

Overall, my marathon time was 3:37 and my finishing time was 11:07. I was very happy with both of those times. I think I have significant room for improvement in all areas – especially the bike. Over the course of the marathon I passed around 400 people and wasn’t passed once. I was the first person with a 6 hour bike time to finish the race. And most of the folks that finished in front of me had bike times in the 5:40 range. In other words, my bike needs some work.


Run Data –
Bike Data –

Additional Reading


  1. oh, i have comments … 😀
    – re: check-in: that is why we got to tempe on wednesday and were in the first group of people checking in on thursday. i cannot imagine the stress of doing it the way you did!
    – i’m hearing that danielle needs to let you buy a new bike …? 😉
    – re: bike nutrition: it happens. by mile 90, i was done. i kept eating because i had to, but ugh. i ended up stealing a slice of pizza from the volunteers in t2.
    – that is a good way to deal with the pretzels; i usually find them way too dry to eat. potato chips tend to work better. i loved the grapes though …

    and YAY again you’re awesome. 🙂


    1. the bike conversation has started 🙂

      and as for bike nutrition, that’s one area i really want to work on this cycle. need to find something that will get me through in better shape


  2. […] IMWI was in September. Ironman Boulder training starts in January. This leaves 3 solid months for my “off-season”. […]


  3. Awesome report. Just awesome. You were going so fast that we failed at spectating – we kept thinking you would still pass by, and then would find out you’d already come and gone!


    1. Psshh, you all were great. Your shirts! Also, tell Mr Pete to write up a report. He can post it here!


  4. […] year, for Ironman Wisconsin, I did a 30-week training plan based on the intermediate plan in the Be Iron Fit book, written by […]


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  7. […] time. Coming from a running background this is SO frustrating. SO FRUSTRATING. As I mentioned in my Ironman Wisconsin race report, and when I say mention I actually mean ‘ranted about’, there were several folks that […]


  8. […] my goal was to complete my first triathlon (St. George 70.3) and then complete my first Ironman (Ironman Wisconsin).  I wanted to do well, but I wasn’t particularly concerned with my times. Let’s be serious, […]


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