September 11, 2012

All Sorts of Fun at Ironman Wisconsin

I spent this past weekend in Madison visiting family, gaining a few delicious pounds and cheering and volunteering at Ironman Wisconsin. Having raced the past three IMWIs it was fun to be on the other side, but also made me miss long distance racing.

We kicked things off with dinner at Brasserie V immediately upon arrival. Belgian beer, frites and an amazing local burger made me so happy to be back in Wisconsin.

After dinner we met up with an old friend and since we weren't racing for once, we went to the Essen Haus to drink the famous boot, which is two liters of German beer. Actually, we drank three (there were seven of us)...

Saturday was not surprisingly low-key due to the wrath of the boot so we just wandered town.

That night we had a special dinner at L'Etoile, my favorite Madison experience.

Sunday morning I headed up to the swim start to watch the race begin. It was emotional to see after such a tough year, but taking the year off was the right thing to do.

The best part of not racing? You get to leave the race and go do fun things like have brunch, go running and drink beer with the family.

My mom and I headed up to the finish line to see the winners, something I've never gotten to do since I'm always racing. We saw Ben Hoffman crush the course record and finish 14 minutes ahead of the next pro. Pretty amazing. My mom got to high-five him as he went down both sides of the shoot high-fiving anyone he could get to. I love seeing a pro soak in the experience rather than just plow through the finish.

Later I volunteered as a finish line catcher from 8pm to midnight, the busiest time at an Ironman finish. It was such a rewarding experience to witness the raw and incredible emotion that Ironman brings out. We saw everything from people who looked like they could keep going forever to people who could barely take another step. There were tears, joy, smiles, pain, elation, disappointment, pride and a lot of "I can't believe I just did that."

Highlights of my catching experience include having Ben Hoffman come back and put medals on all of the finishers between 11pm and midnight. I could see him shuffling from side to side, or occasionally grabbing his foot to stretch his quad. I know he's a pro and crazy fit, but he still did an Ironman that day and instead of going to bed or celebrating, he came out and volunteered. That's a true champion.

There was a bride and groom, who paused on the Capitol Square to get married during the final mile of the race. They crossed the finish line together, she in a veil and carrying a little bouquet of flowers. There was the blind athlete doing his first Ironman. The firefighter who did the marathon in his full turn out gear for the second year in a row. And we had one of the original 15 men to race the Ironman in 1978.

Lastly, but maybe the most incredible thing for me, I got to catch the final finisher at 16:59:37. His name is Matt Thomas and it was his third Ironman.

I signed up for Ironman Wisconsin 2013 at Steelhead and being at the race made me so happy to be getting back to what I love. A year off was great, but nothing compares to the Ironman experience.


  1. Sounds like you had a wonderful weekend in Madison - we're happy you spent part of it with us! Thanks for sharing so many wonderful stories of the Ironman finish. Truly inspiring.

    1. Thanks for the comment! We love Brasserie V, drove straight there from the airport. We'll see you on the next visit for sure!

  2. Ironman always = cool stories whether you race it, spectate or volunteer. These crazy triathletes are so incredible! And by crazy I mean you too of course :)

  3. very cool! i'm hoping to volunteer at Lake Tahoe next year and am looking forward to experiencing things on the other side.

  4. What did you think of the new one-lap swim this year? Having never seen the old 2-lap setup, I stood at Monona Terrace & know that long back straightaway is by far the thing that will most intimidate me about doing the race. I'm volunteering next year to get priority registration for 2014, I think...any advice on volunteer shifts to avoid or go for?

    1. I've heard mixed reviews, but the overall reaction is that it's better. The turns were always so bottlenecked that you'd often have to stop and it was there that I took the hardest contact. I'd prefer to have less turns to slow me down. The straightaways are long, but you can't really see where you're going anyway :) I'm excited about the one loop swim next year!

      My favorite volunteer spots are transition change tents and finish line. T2 in particular lets you spend real quality time with the athlete when they're at a pretty exciting point in the day. I did T2 a few years ago and then when I stood out at the finish I got to see all my athletes come through and it made it special for me, like I played a tiny role in their day. Finish is beyond amazing. You are the first person right at the line when they cross and you get to share whatever emotions they are going through. As the instructions sent in advance said, it's not for the faint of heart. You have to hold people up, you get sweat, sunscreen and bodyglide all over you, some people get sick. Some people cry, some are a little out of it and don't want your help. But overall I felt like I got to absorb little bits of each athlete's experience and I loved it.

      Other really popular spots are wetsuit peelers and body marking, especially when you get to mark the pros. As an athlete, I love the aid station volunteers. They really make your day. But as a volunteer, I like the posts that let you have a little more time with each athlete. Sign up early, the good spots sell out almost as fast as the race!

  5. Sounds like you had a great visit for WI! And there really is nothing like being a finish line catcher. Even as a finisher, being a catcher was amazing! :)



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