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Ironman Wisconsin runs this weekend. For the first time, I won’t be there. I will be thinking a lot about my friends and family who are.

I am sorry to miss IMW. The event marks the passage of time and is the first weekend when fall seems fully apparent in the first leaves turning colors, the farm fields turning tan, the mornings chilly and the afternoons bright and clear. Students will walk and bike up and down State Street on Friday afternoon looking forward to a weekend early in the semester when they can relax without finals looming. The marching band will practice in the late afternoon. The band members will wear workout clothes and glisten with sweat, stepping high. The Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Unitarian Temple will stand subtle and spectacular just west of campus, shrouded in trees gently rustling with drying leaves overhead.

Connection. I will miss all of those things terribly but, most of all, I will miss getting together with my family and friends who have been there in 94 degree heat and 55 degree rain. (Why they didn’t stop showing up years ago mystifies me. They could have just asked me to call once I finished.) You don’t race on nutrition and hydration, you race on the support of family and friends who feed your spirit. Somehow, I feel more connected at IMW than anyplace else. Right now, I feel foolish for expending so much time and energy in an effort not to run IMW.

Advice. Friends haven’t asked for advice when running IMW this year (small wonder) but if I were asked, here is what I would say:

  • Race your training. You know all about swimming, biking, running, nutrition and hydration. I can’t help much with that. Ironman is pretty simple: Do what you trained to do all day long until some guy grabs you at the finish line and says to stop.
  • Smile. If you start to feel a little bad, look up and spot a race official or spectator. Give them a big smile. Almost without exception, they will return your smile in a way that will make you feel better and go faster. I don’t know why that works but it does.

Places to take a breath.

  • Swim: Pause for a few seconds on the backstretch of the second lap. Take a good look at Monona Terrace rising out of the western shore as it is bathed in the orange glow of a very early fall morning. It will be quiet there and you can have a few moments to just feel yourself in the midst of beauty, calm and the real majesty of everything going on all around you.
  • Bike: Once you have completed all but the last couple of miles of the bike, you will come onto John Nolan Drive. Look across the lake to see Monona Terrace with the Capitol building behind it. The sun is at its brightest in that moment and those two buildings will stand shimmering white against a brilliant blue sky. That view keeps your mind off your bottom, which by now, hurts like thunder.
  • Run: On the second lap, look out across Lake Mendota from Observatory Hill. If you are lucky, there will be a little breeze up there and the sky will be clear, almost unnaturally blue in the reflection off the lake. A few sailboats may dot the lake below. You are on the highest point of the run course. It just seems like the place you can get the deepest breath of fresh air. (If you ran up Observatory Hill, you will be gasping anyway, so taking a deep breath will come naturally.)
  • Before you finish: The entry to Capitol Square from State Street is pretty quiet and a great place to gather your thoughts. Take some time there to think about all of the things that got you to that moment. Think about your family and all of the friends who have offered you so much support. Think of the good luck stacked on good luck that propelled you. The finish is just up that slight grade and you can hear it. Grab a quiet moment to reflect. It will be noisy and ecstatic soon enough.

Most of all. Several years ago, Ironman banned finishing with your kid or kids. I understand. It was dangerous for the kids and for other competitors. Besides, Katie had gone off to college and could no longer come to IMW anyway. Before the ban, though, I recall rounding the corner onto Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive and spotting Katie with her hand out. She would grab my right hand and begin to run beside me. She enjoyed a jolt of adrenaline and began to drag me along. I had to ask to slow down. After crossing, I would sit in a folding chair just beyond the finish line. I couldn’t talk much but Katie would stand beside me holding my hand. That I will miss.


One Comment

  1. As much as you will be missing IMOO, there is no doubt that IMOO will be missing you.

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