We blew up a lot. We knew nothing about riding a bike and even less about swimming. This naïveté made training for the 2004 Ironman Wisconsin with my brother pretty interesting, but I'm sure our approach to training wasn't unique.
Ironman is hard and we were afraid of it, so we did things that scared us in training. We were inexperienced though, so everything scared us. Riding 60 miles was scary, so was swimming 3,000 yards, but doing both in one day was epic and thrilling in a slow, Hitchcock kind of way. After completing our first 60-mile ride, we did 100 miles the next week. Two weeks later a ride to Lake Geneva and back to Evanston clocked in at 140 miles and almost 8 hours of riding. By the end of that day, we couldn't talk--or sit. We ran, too, of course, almost every day but never very long.
Because we had no expectation of how training should be or how we would perform, it was always fun. We trained. We tapered. And before we knew it, the day before the race was upon us. Ironman gives each athlete something like a hundred bags for a scavenger hunt to find places to drop them off.
Not really–but by the time I left the Ironman Expo I was completely overwhelmed by the logistics of the whole thing. It turned out not to be as simple as flailing around for 2.4 miles in the water, climbing every hill they could find around Madison and then running around town. We had to be able to figure out stickers and bags, too! It took us all day.
BOOM! Just like that, the race started…and then the swim was over before I knew it. On up the helix and out onto the bike. The first 80 miles flew by. The last 30 miles dragged on. I swam around 1:09 and finished the ride right around 5:30, but the mercury soared past 90 degrees and by mile 6 of the run I began to realize I was in way over my head. The miles creep by in a painfully slow kind of way. Much like I had felt watching The English Patient, I knew the end would come if I could just wait long enough.
Unlike that movie, though, finishing my first Ironman was one of the most exciting things I've ever done. Relief, exaltation, satisfaction and joy…it was truly a victory. My time was just over 11 hours and my brother finished not long after.
Over a beer, we told our war stories, gloated a little, ate a lot and then swore we would never do one again. After all, Ironman isn’t just hard, it's crazy!