The dust has settled, but the glow is still strong. I am writing with good news for those that didn’t know… I’m now a 3-time Ironman champion with a new course record after taking the title in Wisconsin!
To really start from the beginning would be a tough task for this one, since I began thinking about Madison after winning Ironman St. George in May. It has been my goal all year to take a step back from Kona, get more experience, confidence, and enjoyment from racing where and when I want, and this race had always piqued my interest. I can honestly say that in all my conversations with people who had participated in the event or spectated, there was not one who didn’t resoundingly approve of my choice. And with an eye on contesting Kona in 2013, it was important to get underway with accumulating points.
So, after months of consistent training in Boulder this summer, a few half-ironman podiums, and a double-header wedding weekend, it was time to pack the VW for Madison. Yes, pack the car. My awesome girlfriend let me fly out while she drove everything I could possibly need for race day: bike, three wetsuits and a speedskin, two sets of race wheels, tools, nutrition, my espresso machine, and anything else that seemed even remotely useful. When you invest this much time and energy in one big day, it’s not time to take risks in the final week! Also, applicable: Luck favors the prepared.
So just an easy flight out to Madison and it was time to build my bunker in room 512 of the Monona Terrace Hilton. Couldn’t have been in a better spot for the race, with transition areas just below, check-in, expo, finish line, and swim start all condensed in one convenient location. I got out on the bike course on Thursday, and it was an eye-opener! Relentlessly hilly and tons of turns, but scenic and entertaining. I knew that much would be decided on its challenging circuit, whether it was a breakaway, cause for total implosion on the marathon, or both.
More relaxing, spending time with my parents, and showing off my kick-ass driving suit at the pro panel, and it was game time! There is always some nervousness before a big race and season goal like this one, but I felt in control of my day, focused, and prepared to battle myself when the going got tough. I handed my bag to Kelsey, slipped into the water with the other athletes, and ducked my head underwater for silence, envisioning my plan one last time.
As the cannon fired, I got out clean and stayed in control, getting on the feet of an athlete after about 100 meters. Shortly after I saw Andres coming from the left, and I angled across to his feet, but quickly lost contact, and in my attempt to change trains, lost my original feet too. So, alone in third is where I would stay, doing my best to not overheat or lose too much time to the two leaders. It was a smart move by organizers to make the swim one loop, but my 52 and change swim was average at best. Still, I was less than 3 minutes down, and I charged through T2 with a singular focus: get to the front and dictate the day.
After about 12 miles of riding, I caught 2nd place, but the leader, Castillo LaTorre was holding strong. I recalled an athlete in the back of the pro meeting asking about the value of the Timex bike prime, and other questions about lead vehicles, etc., and the picture suddenly became clear: this guy was all in for the swim and first half of the bike. So I backed off slightly to stay a little closer to my power goals, and made sure to stay on top of calories. Things weren’t feeling amazing, but they weren’t feeling terrible either, and that’s right where I wanted to be. Somewhere after mile 30 I began to pull back significant time, and by mile 42 on one of the hills packed with crazy fans, I made the decisive move to take the lead. I rode over tempo for about 10 minutes to eliminate any ideas he might have about holding on, then settled in to my rhythm again. One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is that the winds were steady all day, so the thought of a fast bike or bike course record never even crossed my mind, but I felt solid all the way in, and knew I had come close to even-splitting the loops. This ride was dedicated to my good family friend and cyclist, Tom Melzer, who recently passed, and whose family asked I ride with him in mind.
I have worked really hard on my running and strength this year, and it was my goal to run close to 2:52. I figured that I could hold off anyone if I ran close to that with a strong bike. In hindsight, I probably sabotaged my chances with that bike, but I am still learning the perfect balance, and I did ride 5 minutes into the previous course record. Looking back, I wouldn’t change how I raced, as I think the decision made for the fastest overall time for the day, and you know what they say…. If you want to win, just get to the finish faster than everyone else!
The run was challenging, but manageable, with very few moments of isolation (see: Camp Randall). With the exception of a little scare at mile 10 with the legs feeling a bit like lead, and the standard unraveling that takes place around mile 22, I was steady most of the way through, and fed off the crowd’s energy to stay upbeat as the muscle fibers in my body were being run through a cheese grater. There really isn’t another finish like the one in Madison, with crowds lining State Street, all around the Capitol building, and into the chute. I finally let it sink in a little as I rounded the final corner, slapping hands and giving a giant uppercut fist pump at the line. Not only had I won my third Ironman title, but I did it by smashing bike and overall course records, and by executing my most balanced race to date. It’s now roughly 5 days post-race and the body is healing quickly on my diet of cheese and beer, so I should be good for a couple more races to cap off the season.
I want to take a moment to thank everyone who invested time in my success at this event, especially my family, Kelsey, Coach Elliot, numerous friends and training partners in Boulder, Marcos, Peotr, all of the race crew and organizers, the city of Madison, race volunteers, and crowds. As a professional who dedicates most of my days to this sport, this lifestyle would not be sustainable without support from amazing sponsors, including Zoot, Specialized, Volkswagen, Clif, Zipp/SRAM, Fuelbelt, The Inifinite Monkey Theorem Winery, and SportPump. Thank you all for being part of the journey! Hoff, over and out.