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.