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Triathlete Blog

A Midwestern ODD SC – Part II

By September 13, 2012July 21st, 2015No Comments


Saturday night, we drove up to Madison through a wild late summer Midwestern storm.  We found a last minute hotel nearby the race site, got some good sleep to recover from the race and get rested for what would be a long day of spectating.

This is my tenth time spectating an Ironman.  Experience has taught me that the Ironman spectathlon is one of the most arduous endurance events.  Longer than your wedding day, longer than most women are in labor, pushing you to the limits of fatigue, pain and hunger.  Your feet hurt.  Your eyes go blurry.  You have not eaten anything but meals from Starbucks.  By 2 pm, you realize that doing the event might have been easier.  At least you’d be supported by spectators and aid stations.

Instead the spectathlete is frantically searching over 2000 faces for that one face that they know, thinking of and then shouting meaningful things at just the right moment, emphatically lying you look great when really their athlete looks about 2 gels shy of death, timing their presence at not one nor two but at least three different locations often separated by miles that must be covered by car – in loads of traffic – or by foot – which has an upper limit to speed that I had to remind Lori of many times, as in, I raced yesterday and simply cannot walk any faster, SLOW DOWN! 

But I love Ironman spectating because you see it all.  From expert pros to the complete beginner.  From high end gear to the hybrid bike.  From 112 miles of calories crammed into two bottles and a Bento box to this:

This, folks, is what Ironman is all about.  THAT person.  Who is less about aerodynamics and more about just finishing the damn thing.  And yes, they finished.  In a little over 14 hours.

We make the brisk walk to the swim start before making our way up the Helix, the parking structure which swimmers run up in order to get to the changing rooms and transition.  The Helix is lined deep with spectators, dogs, children, dayglo pink t-shirts reading Team Beks Back For More! – all exploding in cheers, hoots and cowbell.  Swimmers run up a few at a time then in large packs around the 1:05 to 1:15 mark.  Every athlete is beaming with smiles and confidence.  My athletes run by – some with wet hugs, other with high fives, yet another who went to high five me, missed and took out a spectator.
I’m telling you, spectating is dangerous.

Next, we drive out to Verona for the bike.  The Ironman Wisconsin bike course is one of the most beautiful slices of middle America you’ll find with lush rolling hills, buttery yellow corn, rustic barns and – of course – cows.  It’s also relentlessly hilly, deceptively difficult and challenging to pace for even the most patient athlete.  A definite rhythm crusher as you’re either going up, down, making a turn or finally settling into aero.  I’ve cursed this course many times.  I’ve quit the sport on loop 2 around Garfoot.  I’ve made the rule that I never, ever ride it in May – history teaching me that if I do, I will emerge 80 miles later covered in hives.

Each year, I stand on Midtown Hill, one of the three “bigger” hills on the course.  The hill is long and steep enough that the athletes are going slow enough to see you and even have a conversation with you.  By the time we arrive, the pro men are riding up the hill.  We stand by mile 90.

It takes only a few minutes for me to decide that drinking coffee by the mile 90 sign is far better than riding by it.

The hill fills in with other spectators.  Entire families sitting on the side of the road wearing matching shirts, including one on their dog, training clubs with tents, three guys sitting in lawn chairs telling every girl she’s hot or she loves this hill.  On this hill we see it all.  We see a guy painfully slow, stop and then fall to the ground screaming with cramps.  We see a teenager riding a bike akin to what I rode in my third trimester of pregnancy, looking about as comfortable.  We see several athletes walking their bikes.  We see THAT GUY who will by lap two will regret not throwing on the 27.

The spectators are crazy – they are cheering, roaring, there are bullhorns, cowbells, vuvuzelas.  There are costumes, signs, motorcycles, officials, traffic coming down the hill as bikers go up the hill.  I’ll let pictures explain the rest.

There are almost no words for a photo like this.  But somehow I managed to find an explanation.  Wonder twins activate into shape of giant two-headed orange panda. 

Iron wisdom.

What impresses me most is that this guy was walking around in a speedo when it was 50 degrees.  It was cold on that hill! 

Soon after, Erik arrives.  Erik was in my Well-Fit training group in 2009, becoming the athlete who smiled the entire day and – at mile 19 – shouted to me I FEEL INCREDIBLE (read more about it here).  Erik joined our group again this year but some leftover pain from back surgery halted his training.  When life gives you pain, some people quit, others take the opportunity to dress up like a clown.  When he told me he was going to dress up like a clown, I told him that some people (myself included) are really, really scared of clowns.  Seeing a clown at mile 90 would have frightened the crap out of me.  I realize that after 5 hours of bars/gels/salt tabs, scaring the crap out is pretty easy but still…

My warning didn’t stop him.

Erik staged himself at the the bottom of Midtown Hill and stood in a bush, popping up and blowing his horn.  If I saw this clown while biking, I would have turned around and ridden clear to Minneapolis forgetting all about Ironman.

Since the race, I’ve seen talk of the clown on Beginner Triathlete and the Daily Mile.  I’ll apologize on his behalf for any psychological damage he may have caused to athletes.  I’d also like to give a fair warning for anyone who signed up for Ironman Wisconsin 2013.  Come Midtown Hill, you might just see a clown.
After a few hours on the hill, we headed back to State Street.  State Street is filled with restaurants, cute stores, coffee shops, oodles of college co-eds who have no idea what this Iron-craziness is that has invaded their town.  It’s easy to see your runner at least 8 to 10 times with the two loop course.  I found my second wind in a grande Americano and cheered like crazy.  With the weather being perfect – and I mean perfect with temperatures starting in the low 50s and only climbing into the low 70s by late afternoon with some wind but nothing worse than we ever have here in the Midwest – I’ve never seen so many people running the marathon!

We make a few visits to the finish line to congratulate those who finished in daylight.  Walking back towards State Street, we catch a glimpse of this.


The clown is robbing an aid station.  When confronted, he tells us that he paid for this water, then blows his horn in discontent.  Soon after, Veronica arrives and I snap a picture of 3 training group alumnis, Lori, Erik and Veronica.  At this point, Erik (the clown), asks if I have anything to help him remove the make up.  Negative.  But I tell him it takes a brave man and heck of an endurance athlete to wear clown make up for over 15 hours.

Here’s a picture of Lori who can finally answer the question, which is more difficult – Ironman or spending 72 hours straight with Liz?  Erik who, after Veronica said, we left your beer at the table, is a sad clown.  And Veronica, who is my go to doctor for all things Ironman gastroenterology.
Shortly after this picture, an official Ironman event staff asked us to step away from the aid station.  I don’t blame her.  That fucking clown is scary!

Next, I put myself at mile 12 (or 25) and did my best to find faces in the darkness.  My eyes are tired.  My feet are tired.  My legs are heavy.  At this point, athletes have that look of empty in their eyes, like they are alone on their iron island.  Late night Ironman can be lonely.  But leave it to the crowd to cheer athletes up.  A nearby spectator who I assume has been overserved is dancing in front of the athletes and chasing them down, insisting they give her high fives.  I admire her ability to not only hold her liquor but also still run after 14 hours of spectating.

Lori and I are fading.  There’s still a long drive home and work the next day.  We depart Madison around 9:30 pm.  Finally, I’m home at midnight, exhausted.  Ironed out.  I reach into my drawer to find a t-shirt to sleep in and pull out an Ironman finisher shirt.  I throw it on the floor, refusing anything else ironman today.  I reach in for another shirt, to my dismay it also says Ironman finisher.  I accept defeat, put on the damn shirt and crawl into bed.  Laying there, I hear the ringing of cowbells, the shouts of a man echoing down State Street.

But it’s all worth it when at the end of the day, you see this:

Or, the next day, an athlete sends you this:

The next morning I wake up.  I feel like I did Ironman.  My legs are swollen.  My feet hurt.  I am completely purged of my need to do/talk/see anything triathlon for at least a few days.  But 11:58 am rolls around and I remember the task I have been put up to.  I open up and wait for 12 pm.

At 12:02 pm, I have signed up for an Ironman.

Registering my husband.

(fooled ya, didn’t I?)

He told me he wanted to do Ironman, briefly, a few weeks ago.  Whether he was serious or kidding just got lost in translation along with a $650 entry fee.  And a promise that next summer he will get very, very close to his bike saddle.  Myself?  I’ll be cheering for him on the Helix, Midtown and State Street.

But I draw the line at wearing clown make-up!
Congratulations to all of the Ironman Wisconsin finishers!