begged asked Dan to do a “spectator” report for Ironman Wisconsin. He is a great writer and very funny. Enjoy his report:
Why am I writing this? Good question, we’ll get there. Sometimes I like to write for fun when I don’t have to write on a specific topic for work or academic reasons. I like to tell a good story and maybe get a few laughs along the way. So when Leslie asked me to contribute to her blog post I thought, what the hey, let’s see if her readers might like to hear what the Iron Fans go through on race day.
Super quick background on me. I’m a marketer by day, student by night, athlete in the morning, and a pretty rad husband to Leslie every second in-between. I still consider myself a runner even though I’m also an Ironman, a Spartan, and a triathlon coach (Go Team!).
Now stop me if you’ve heard this before but Leslie is a pretty damn impressive athlete. The one and only time I did an Ironman, I got to watch Leslie crush me in the same race by over 3 hours. Her athleticism and commitment to this crazy sport just amazes me. I don’t often get to watch her race so when she told me a year ago that she wanted to sign up for Ironman Wisconsin, I said “hell yeah, do it and I’ll be there to cheer you on.”
Fast forward a year to Ironman Wisconsin.
Leading up to the race in Madison, me and the rest of the support crew did everything we could to keep Leslie sitting down, drinking water, and fueling up. She’s a restless one though, like the rest of you crazies, always trying to go wander around, explore and burn off nervous energy. We cooked and did store runs for her to at least try to keep her down and chilling.
Ironically, she had no problem sleeping the night before the race but I was wide awake all night. Nervous energy must have just passed over from her to me so I hit up the couch and tried to sneak in a couple or three hours of rest. So, this a spoiler alert: it’s NOT a great idea to spend a full day spectating on no sleep.
Getting up at 4:30 and rousing the rest of the support crew, we managed to get a surprisingly relaxed Leslie dropped off at transition by 5:30. Off to a great start already, we found free street parking relatively close to the finish line and we were on a roll! We walked the 3 blocks towards the start line and found a relatively empty large-coffee-chain-from-Seattle ready to fill us with our first much-needed caffeine fix.
Now, who’s in the support crew? There were 4 of us (including me) there for Leslie. Leslie’s mom (who we lovingly call Mama Block) and her sister (who for lack of a better nickname we call Aunt Lavon). These two ladies were rockstars all day, carrying their share of foldable chairs and always being ready with a cowbell and a smile. Also joining us was our good friend and my fellow Retironman (one-and-done retired Ironman), Sheryl (aka Shanderson).
As a crew, we rendezvoused at the swim start a little bit later than we’d have liked. There were way more spectators there than we expected. The best viewing spot turned out to be on top of “the helix” (which is a sexy term for a parking lot, apparently) so we tried up there first but it was a cluster and we wouldn’t have been able to spot Leslie in a sea of green and pink caps. So we moved to the swim exit and fought the crowds for a good spot to catch her coming out of the water.
We tried to find Leslie in the crowd of athletes going into the water but it was impossible to distinguish her between the black wetsuit clad mass. When are the wetsuit companies going to start dyeing neoprene already?!
So, we passed on watching the mass start and lined up behind the wetsuit strippers. Pretty good spot to see the swimmers getting out and a great spot to get sprayed by sea water and who knows what else. Next time I’ll treat it like a Gallagher show and bring a plastic sheet.
We saw Leslie fly out of the water WAY faster than projected with a big ole smile on her face. We screamed as loud as we could to get her to see us because I knew the triathletes usually get all confused and deaf when they get out of the water. To our surprise, she saw us and waved! Woot, all morning’s efforts paid off for 10 seconds of viewing time!
Then, it’s time to mobilize the crew and get out on the bike course. Had we been a little more mobile, we might’ve been able to skip over to the other side and see her coming out of T1 but it would’ve required some running and maybe a bulldozer to get through the crowd. The athletes get a pretty cool experience running up the sexy-parking-lot to T1 with crowds cheering them on, we just weren’t in the mix for that.
We made our fatal mistake as a support crew at this point. We understood there was a shuttle that would take us to “mile 15” on the bike course where there’d be a great viewing area and food vendors. A party! Well, we hustled to the shuttle while our bellies rumbled with hunger pangs. We crowded onto a school bus while the mostly Wisconsin-based Iron Fans listened to sports radio and cheered on their Packers who were also playing on race day (the nerve!).
When we arrived at “mile 15” we found the following:
- 2 porta potties
- 1 community fundraiser selling “walking tacos” (which are a bag of fritos with hot beans and meat dumped onto it)
- 3 community fundraisers selling “brats” (which are like a fancy hotdog)
- A lot of volunteers sitting around
- A lot of fellow-confused Iron Fans
After some investigation, we figured out that we’re actually waiting at mile 56 so the Ironman staff didn’t need to set anything up for another hour. There was no “mile 15” waiting area at all. We (or more accurately, I) goofed. So, we made ourselves comfortable and debated about which Wisconsin delicacy we’d try first. Finding nothing appealing for sale, I opted for more hot coffee and a Kind bar I had on me.
Eventually, the staff set up the barriers and geared up for the cyclists to come through. It turned out to be an awesome spot to watch the race! We could see the cyclists coming from a long way down the road and we were close enough so they could hear us cheering. Lots of great crowd support so the smiling triathletes got their first taste of how the spectators do Ironman Wisconsin.
We found 2 spectators rocking a custom “Team Leslie” t-shirt so we took a picture together with them and thanked them for supporting our girl.
I guess there are two Leslies doing Ironman?
We saw Leslie ride by and she definitely saw and heard us for a split second. Woot, mission accomplished for another 3 hours of hard spectating! At that point, Shanderson and I needed an actual meal so we timed out that we could shuttle back to Madison, eat, and be back to see Leslie at mile 90. So we did just that and got a good meal and a beer (because why not) for a minute and made it back just in time.
Leslie cruised by a little slower than she’d estimated for mile 90. We were a little worried about her but we knew the bike course was supposed to be tough. We also knew she’s tough as nails and would eat up the run course. So, back on the shuttle for the 4th time in a 4th different route (who knew Madison traffic patterns were so flexible).
We didn’t think we’d be back in time to see her at T2 but the crew made it just in time and we divided up the spotting duties to see her. Boom, spotted her again! Another hard effort paid off!
Still smiling after 114.4 miles.
I knew the crew was getting worn out but I wanted to push hard and get to mile 1 on the run. Shanderson went out to take a break so I gave Mama Block and Aunt Lavon directions on where to meet me and I went off running to mile 1. I made it just in time to spot my badass wife running strong down the street. Even though I was pretty much alone on the corner, I had to scream and wave to get her attention. She jogged over for a tired kiss and said the sweetest words I’d ever heard: “Babe, don’t ever, ever, ever, ever let me do this again. Ever.”
The rest of the crew rendezvoused there a few minutes later and I recounted my exchange with Leslie. I then broke the bad news to the crew that we had to keep walking another 2-3 miles to see Leslie again. They begrudgingly gathered up their chairs and we moved on.
After a long walk down State Street, we set up cheering on the corner where we’d see Leslie twice more.
The super tired runner needed some encouragement so we told her to get moving because there was an awesome crowd ahead (there really was). She got serenaded with cheers for a couple miles then met up with us again in the same spot. I decided to run with her for a couple seconds just to keep her spirits up. First thing she did, she asked me for some chapstick which I fortunately had on me. Ironically, we just learned about this guy who DQ’d at Ironman recently because his spouse gave him some chapstick on the course. Good thing we didn’t get caught! (And if any race officials are reading this right now, consider this a satire piece, mkay?)
Leslie asked what her bike split was. I knew it was 20 minutes slower than she wanted. I didn’t want to tell her but she asked so I told her. So, that was a mistake. For any other Iron Spouses out there, if they ask how they’re doing during the race, just tell them they’re crushing it! I told her to keep rocking it and I’d see her in a few miles.
The crew mobilized back to mile 13 and we were gassed so I had them park their butts while I got some ice cream for everyone. A quick dessert break was just what we needed to power us through another hour of cheering! After seeing Leslie cruise by just behind her friend Stephanie (who was behind Leslie for most of the race), we made plans to split the crew in half – Shanderson and I would keep cheering on the course while Mama Block and Aunt Lavon would go settle in at the finish line. Leslie came by at mile 14 a few minutes later in front of Stephanie. Leslie was still running strong and steady so her splits were looking very predictable.
Shanderson and I had time to eat again so we popped in for dinner and a beer at a pub. I managed to get a few sips of beer and a few fries before I had to go hustle to mile 19 and see Leslie again. I caught her on State Street and kept stride with her for maybe a block and told her how awesome she was doing. Unfortunately, I pulled off the course right in front of a police officer. He was thrilled to explain to me all of the reasons I shouldn’t be “illegally” running on the course. All I could do was plead ignorance (which was true), apologize and say “yes sir” and “I understand sir” until he got bored with me. So, Leslie didn’t get in any trouble for my ignorance but now I’m a bandit. And I’ll tell ya, the life of a criminal is exciting and all but I won’t be doing that again.
Shanderson and I headed down to the finish line to try and find the rest of the crew, to no avail. We set up shop on the stands to await Leslie’s arrival. Her pace was looking so good that we thought she’d sub-13 the crap out of this course if she hurried up. Turns out, she was fighting a little bit of late bonking down the stretch so we anxiously waited about 10 minutes longer than expected.
While waiting, I snapped this amazing photo of our friend Jon as he finished victoriously:
I was so proud of that picture and I could only hope that I’d catch another awesome picture of Leslie coming down the chute. I worked my way down as close as I could get to the front of the crowd but there was a bunch of tweens in the way. So, the best I could get of my rockstar wife was this garbage photo:
Undeterred, I pushed through more people to catch her in the athlete’s area. Couldn’t have been more proud of her than that moment. She fought a hard race, pushed past her own disappointment on the bike to have a great run, beat her
competition friends, and never lost her smile along the way. Afterward, she hardly even looked like she just finished her fifth freaking Ironman.
From the Iron Fan side of things, this shit was hard for us too! My Garmin said we did 13.75 miles of walking and running. We were exhausted! There’s no Iron Fan training plan that can prepare you for this stuff. Still it was an incredible day and so fun to witness my wife’s badassery in full display.
Hope you enjoyed reading Dan’s post about spectating Ironman Wisconsin. I guess it is as hard as the actual race!!😉
Have you ever spectated an Ironman?