General Discussion Race Reports! » Ironman Wisconsin Rss Feed  
Moderators: k9car363, alicefoeller Reply
Show Per page
of 2

Ironman Wisconsin - TriathlonFull Ironman

View Member's Race Log View other race reports
Madison, Wisconsin
United States
Ironman North America
88F / 31C
Total Time = 13h 44m 58s
Overall Rank = 1345/2406
Age Group = M 40 - 44
Age Group Rank = 224/412
Pre-race routine:

In lieu of my typical race report, I'm just going to post the race re-cap I wrote for The Pace of Chicago Endurance Sports blog:

Crossing Over: My Ironman Experience

By Richard Ratay

It’s been 36 hours since I crossed the finish line at Ironman Wisconsin. My back hurts. My feet hurt. I have blisters the size of quarters on my feet. Even my ego is bruised.

I took kicks to the head. I was broasted by the sun. I don’t think I ever want to taste a sports drink again. My bike and I are not on speaking terms.

But I also feel something that I have never felt before. Despite my blisters, I feel like I’m walking on air. I feel like I’m three Newcastle Nut Brown Ales into a good buzz. And you can’t wipe the smile off my face with a squeegee.

Today, I’m something I wasn’t just a few short hours ago.

I am an Ironman.

Prelude to a Sufferfest

Earning the title would not be easy. As the days passed leading up to Sunday, the temperature forecast climbed relentlessly higher into the high 80’s, with little to no cloud cover. Reports circulated about a heavy blue-green algae bloom and high bacterial count in Lake Monona. And if that wasn’t bad enough, there was a body missing somewhere on the swim course.

On Thursday afternoon, two boaters who had been drinking decided to inspect the course up close. They stripped down and dove off the boat. One came up, the other didn’t. As of race day, divers still hadn’t located him.

I hoped that wasn’t an omen.

Arriving at the venue early on race morning, it was clear the day would be hot. Even by 5am, the temperature was beginning to feel considerably warmer than it felt all through the uncharacteristically cool Wisconsin summer.

As I ran into and greeted friends from my training group known as “The Donkeys” (it’s a long story, don’t ask), and went about the usual pre-race ritual of getting marked and checking my transition bags, time seemed to fly by. Before I knew it, it was time to head down the “Helix”, the corkscrew-like parking ramp on Monona Terrace, to the Swim Start area.

While chatting with my friend Jeff in the carpeted area leading into the water, we were interrupted by a voice coming from the other side of the 4.5-foot fence we stood beside.

“Hey, guys. Can you tell me how I can get in there?”

I recognized the face instantly. It was Hillary Biscay, last year’s Ironman Wisconsin Female Champion… and odds-on favorite to win it all again.

“Uh, well you can go around. Or if you want, we can help you over right here,” my friend Jeff offered.

“Would you? That’d be great!” replied Hillary, immediately hoisting herself up on top of the fence.

Great, I thought. Here, I am, already a ball of nerves before heading into the water for my first Ironman, and the event’s reigning champion is entrusting me with somehow not splitting her head open or fracturing her ankle while lifting her over a fence before the race even begins.

By God’s grace, the task was accomplished remarkably fracture-free.

“Thanks, guys! It was a pleasure to be helped by two such big, strong, handsome men!”

Jeff and I just stood there, star-struck, like the kid in the Coke commercial after Mean Joe Greene throws him his game jersey.

“Yeah… uh, good luck, Hillary! Go get ’em today!”

And she was off into the water.

In just a few minutes, we would be, too.

The Swim

Jeff and I entered the water about 25 minutes before the 7am start. The water felt great and we used the time to do a little warmup and pick out the best place to position ourselves for the no holds-barred, every-man-and-woman- for-themselves melee known as the “mass start”.

We decided on a spot about 25 yards to the right and rear of the water ski ramp which splits the field at the start line. We reasoned it would give us the best shot at clear water early, and we’d be able to enjoy the view of the spectators lining Monona Terrace as we swam to the first turn buoy.

At 7:50, the horn for the pro start sounded, giving them a 10-minute head start on us mortals (as if many of us were any threat to catch them.) Then came our turn.

At precisely 7am, the cannon fired-- and appropriately, the carnage began. More than 2000 swimmers charged forth into the breach all at once, making your typical unruly mob seem more like a Women’s Auxiliary Tea Party by comparison.

Arms flailed. Legs kicked. I’m pretty sure I even saw someone’s gall bladder go floating by.

But after the first 300 yards or so, I was actually able to find my own space in the water and kept moving forward.

I had also heard the horror stories about the first turn buoy—how everyone seems to arrive at once, and the bottleneck formed there causes a repeat of the bloodbath played out at the start.

But when I reached the red turn buoy, I found it largely uncrowded. Maybe I was just slow enough to be lagging behind the pack of strong swimmers, and fast enough to be ahead of the weaker ones. Or maybe I was just lucky. But I made the turn and headed to the next turn on the rectangular-shaped without problem.

On the back stretch, I headed inside and swam with the orange marker buoys on my right (which is perfectly legal at this race). I did this for two reasons. First, it was much less crowded inside the buoys. Second, I’m notorious for drifting right as I swim. By keeping the buoys to my right, I could be assured I was staying on a straight line and not wasting energy swimming any more of the course than I had to.

I rounded the next turn buoy and began the swim back toward shore to complete the first loop of the two-loop swim. Suddenly, I felt a thud on my head and turned my eyes just in time to see a flesh-covered torpedo rocket by to my left.

Cool, I thought. I just had the honor of being brutally swum over by the guy that would probably be first out of the water. So I had that going for me.

I checked my watch. First lap, 37:20. Right on schedule.
The field really thinned out on the second lap, which passed largely uneventfully until the final turn into shore. At this point, I seemed to catch a large pack of swimmers, and everyone seemed a little edgy, like they were tired of being out in the water and just wanted to get in as quickly as possible.

I poked my head out to navigate then dipped it back in just in time to take a strong kick square in the forehead. WHAM! Like in a cartoon, I could actually see the little stars orbiting around my eyes. I half-expected to see Elmer Fudd beside me with his shotgun as I adjusted my Daffy Duck beak back into place.

But I quickly re-grouped and made the final charge into shore. A volunteer helped me to my feet, another stripped off my wetsuit, then it was up the Helix to Transition.

More volunteers guided me to my T-bag and into the changing room, where I proceeded on the longest transition of my 30-race triathlon career. I mean, pizzas get delivered faster than the time it took me to change outfits and get out on the course. But I didn’t care. I knew the day would be long. And I would soon be facing arguably the most difficult bike course of all the North American Ironman races.

The Bike

I live only about an hour-and-a-half from the race course. But I had never ridden it. I’d always intended to. But as the long training days got progressively longer and longer toward race day, and my wife’s patience with them grew shorter and shorter while minding our two young kids, I was faced with a simple choice. I could blow three hours commuting back and forth to Madison to ride the course, or I could actually use that time to do the training I so desperately needed to do. I chose the latter option.

On Friday before the race, I drove the course with my friend Scott serving as guide. We went up and down the hills. And up and down more hills. And up and down some bigger hills.

I got tired just driving the course. Now I was going to have to bike it? In near 90-degree heat? Presumably without stopping? To say I was intimidated would be an understatement.

But here I was, now on my bike and heading out of T1, staring down 112 miles of winding, twisting and relentlessly undulating roads. Gulp.

Thankfully, the opening stretch of the ride provides a gentle introduction to the pain to follow. Much of the initial part of the course is on a single-lane bike path where no passing is allowed. Riders then cycle through the parking lot of the Alliant Energy Center and begin “The Stick” portion of the course which leads out to the 42-mile loop that must be tackled twice.

I began riding easy. Really easy. So easy I swear I could have been passed by a monkey on a unicycle juggling bowling pins. But as hard as I tried, I could not get my heartrate down where I needed it to be.

Maybe it was a hangover from the swim. Maybe it was the climbing heat index. Maybe it was just the excitement of being in my first Ironman. But experience told me, I needed to get it down or I would be in for a long day. It never really happened.

I reasoned that my first loop would just be a sightseeing tour, allowing me to get acquainted with the course as I just spun along.
It all seemed to go by so very effortlessly. The long hill leading into Mt. Horeb? That was nothing! The so-called “rollercoaster” section? Piece of cake! The notorious crowd-lined climbs up Old Sauk Pass, Timberlane and Mid-Town? Hard, but nothing to write home about.

But as the miles passed, and the heat index rose, each little rise in the road seemed to sap a little more from the legs. Nutrition seemed harder to get down. And doubt began to rear its ugly head.

Before long, I reached Verona and the left turn which leads back to town and T2. I gave it a long look as I turned right to begin my second loop, having yet no idea of the profound suffering that lay ahead.

After a brief pit stop at the Special Needs station, I headed out to begin the second loop. I felt good. Even good enough to smile and nod at the old crusty guy who sits out on his front lawn with his “biker beater” cane to make sure no rider litters in his front yard.

But as I forged ahead, it occurred to me not one of the few clouds in the sky had managed to find its way in front of the broiling sun overhead. Despite an occasional cool spot in a shady section of road, it felt hot and dry. The pavement seemed to throw heat right back up. I reminded myself to drink early and often, but my gut was starting to rebel and
the thought of another sip of my infinit sports drink grew ever more repulsive.

This time around, the Mt. Horeb hill didn’t seem so easy. In fact, my right hamstring locked up and I had to briefly get off my bike to stretch it out. I knew I needed to adjust my nutrition plan.

At the Aid Station at the top of the climb, I took in banana and Gatorade, hoping to get more potassium and electrolytes down. It helped a little. But only a little—and not for long.

I made it through the “rollercoaster”, but by the time I was once again greeted by the “Crazies of Cross Plains” at Mile 75, my legs were toast. Blackened, buttered toast. And the thought of the nastier climbs at Old Sauk Pass, Timberlane and Mid-Town that still awaited ahead was not an inspiring one, to say the least.

I knew I needed to re-group.

Reaching the Aid Station, I got off to pay a visit to the PortaPotty. It had nothing to do with having to use the toilet.

It was there, sitting in a hot, stinking PortaPotty at Mile 75 that I really became an Ironman. It was there, with my gut gurgling, my legs quivering and my confidence waning, that I learned what I was really made of. That nothing was going to stop me from completing the journey I started six years ago when I finished my first triathlon. That I had the will to become Iron.

I got back on my bike, resolved to take it one hill, one challenge at a time. At Old Sauk Pass, I made it up halfway before both my hamstrings locked up. Didn’t matter. I got off, stretched, got back on, made it to the top.

Next up, Timberlane. Drawing on the support of the crowd that lined the road, I made it to the top without stopping. As if being given a reward, it was here that I saw my wife and kids for the first time all day. It was just what I needed.

I charged ahead. On the Mid-Town climb, in my opinion the toughest of all, both my hamstrings and my quads locked up. I barely got off my bike before I fell off. Once again, it didn’t matter. I carefully stretched, trying desperately not to let one muscle group cramp up while stretching the other (probably resembling some contorted limbo dancer in the process.) Then, I simply got back on and kept moving forward.

Soon, I was in Verona and at the turn back to town that I had passed so easily a couple hours before.

While even the return trip on “The Stick” is nothing to take lightly, riders can at least take heart they are on the final stretch of the bike leg and I felt the pull of T2 tugging at me.

Reaching John Nolen Drive at the end, I once again passed my wife and kids, providing a final rush of adrenaline to carry me to Transition.

Just moments later, a volunteer was grabbing my bike and I was back in the changing room.

After nearly seven hours on the bike under the relentless sun, the cool air-conditioned changing room felt like heaven and I savored every minute of it. Actually, every one of 15 minutes of it. Ridiculously long, sure, but I didn’t care. Ahead of me waited an entire marathon and, in my state, I felt like I couldn’t complete a 5K.

But after gathering myself once again, I heeded the most important rule of Ironman: Keep moving forward.

The Run

The training plan I followed provided scheduled workouts by time. It set my longest training run at 3 hours, which at my easy training pace, resulted in a longest run of 17.2 miles—9 full miles short of the distance I was now attempting to run.

Still, I reasoned, long run or short run, the only way to complete it is one step at a time. So that’s what I did—I simply kept putting one foot in front of the other. One step at a time, over and over.

Soon, those single steps were taking me down State Street. Then into Camp Randall Stadium. Then back down the Temin Path.

I walked when I had to, ran when I could. I lived Aid Station to Aid Station, taking in Gatorade and water at each one. I added a banana here and there. And gradually, my gut, that had felt so bloated and distended on the bike began to cooperate.

Cheered on by the enthusiastic spectators that lined the course, especially along the State Street sections, I noticed I was beginning to pass as many racers as were passing me. Things were beginning to turn my way.

At Inspiration Point near the far turnaround, I searched for the sign I knew my wife had made for me—and soon found it: “Hey, #1213—Make this one count! (There is no next year!)”.

I laughed, knowing she had nothing to worry about. Ironman had already taught me many lessons over the hard months leading up to race day. Chief among them was that Ironman is an incredibly self-indulgent challenge. The demands it places upon athletes’ spouses and families are every bit as trying as the ones it places upon the athletes themselves.

Now knowing that nothing would stop me from becoming an Ironman on this day, I knew, even if I wanted one day to attempt another, that I owed the next year to my family, who had also sacrificed so much to get me where I was.

Before long, I was rounding the Capitol and pounding down toward perhaps the most mentally challenging point on the course—the turnaround to begin the second loop of the run course. It’s here that you can see the Finish Line just ahead and, in the case of us middle-of-the pack athletes, hear Mike Reilly calling out the names of those who have completed the journey, and then realize you still have 13.1 grueling miles left to run.

By now, I could feel the blisters rising on my right foot. My hamstrings were screaming. My hip flexors had been gone so long, my pelvis wouldn’t have even recognized them if they came back. But I checked my heartrate, and it was right in my comfort zone. And I checked my watch: 2:29 for the first loop. If I could keep it up, I could still reach my secondary goals of “running” a 5-hour marathon and breaking 14 hours for the race. I pressed on.

With the sun now setting behind Bascom Hill, I once again made my down State Street as the spectators cheered and clapped and clanged their cowbells. Maintaining my pattern of “ralking” (run, walk, run, walk), I was soon again making my way through Camp Randall Stadium and well into the second loop.

As darkness fell, the temperature fell with it, bringing welcome relief from the day’s relentless heat. Gradually, my stretches of running began to well out-distance my walks. In the dark, I was also able to trick my mind into thinking I was simply on another training of the nighttime training runs I had always enjoyed before.

At last, I reached the far turnaround once again, looked at my watch and did some quick calculations. A sub-14 finish was in the bag. A sub-5 marathon? It would be close.

I gave it everything. I wasn’t content to just finish. To me, Ironman isn’t about checking another item off the Bucket List. It’s about pushing yourself to go beyond your mental limits to really see what’s possible. As famed runner Steve Prefontaine said, “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”

I wasn’t about to sacrifice anything, except myself.

I found a pace I felt I could maintain and pushed it. I went past one Aid Station, then the next. And the next. Soon, I made the final turn in on State Street to behold the majestic, glowing Capitol Building before me. It seemed to pull me in, up the long slope of State Street, then around the crowd-lined Square. I could hear the crowd chanting, “Ironman! Ironman!” as my heart pounded ever harder in my chest.

Approaching the final turn toward the finish, I saw friend after friend calling out my name and I slapped each hand I could reach.

Then, finally, I reached the chute just before the Finish Line, bathed in the white of the glowing spotlights. I gazed at the faces in the crowd and I looked toward the sky, where I could still make out the twinkling stars above.

I thought of all the times I had stood under that same sky and dreamed of this moment. I thought of sacrifices I’d made, and the doubts I had deflected. I thought of my beloved dog and training partner, Scooby, who passed away just two weeks before seeing me through to this goal. And I thought of my wife and kids, who gave so much support and love to me throughout my journey.

And I crossed over.

Not just the Finish Line. But the line that separates dreams from accomplishment, those who choose to live within their limits from those who choose to defy them, those who have from those who have not heard Mike Reilly say…

“You are an IRONMAN!”

Marathon Split: 4:59:51.
Finish: 13:44:58.

Richard Ratay is Writer, Director and Producer of “The Distance: A Triathlete’s Journey”, a documentary following the lives of three ordinary people as they attempt their first Ironman triathlon. You can learn more and order the DVD at

  • 1h 21m 2s
  • 4224 yards
  • 01m 55s / 100 yards
Transition 1
  • 00m
  • 6h 57m 18s
  • 112 miles
  • 16.10 mile/hr
Transition 2
  • 00m
  • 4h 59m 51s
  • 26.2 miles
  • 11m 26s  min/mile
Post race

Last updated: 2008-09-19 12:00 AM
01:21:02 | 4224 yards | 01m 55s / 100yards
Age Group: 0/412
Overall: 0/2406
Suit: Promotion Full
Start type: Plus:
Water temp: 78F / 26C Current: Low
200M Perf. Remainder:
Breathing: Drafting:
Waves: Navigation:
Time: 00:00
Cap removal: Helmet on/
Suit off:
Wetsuit stuck? Run with bike:
Jump on bike:
Getting up to speed:
06:57:18 | 112 miles | 16.10 mile/hr
Age Group: 0/412
Overall: 0/2406
Road:   Cadence:
Turns: Cornering:
Gear changes: Hills:
Race pace: Drinks:
Time: 00:00
Riding w/ feet on shoes
Jumping off bike
Running with bike
Racking bike
Shoe and helmet removal
04:59:51 | 26.2 miles | 11m 26s  min/mile
Age Group: 0/412
Overall: 0/2406
Keeping cool Drinking
Post race
Weight change: %
Mental exertion [1-5]
Physical exertion [1-5]
Good race?
Course challenge
Events on-time?
Lots of volunteers?
Plenty of drinks?
Post race activities:
Race evaluation [1-5]

2009-09-15 4:48 PM

User image

Menomonee Falls, WI
Subject: Ironman Wisconsin

2009-09-15 5:16 PM
in reply to: #2408138

User image

Elm Grove
Subject: RE: Ironman Wisconsin

Amazing report as usual sir, and an even better race.  I was glad to ride with you on the bike course.  YOU ARE AN IRONMAN.

2009-09-15 5:44 PM
in reply to: #2408138

User image

Extreme Veteran
Racine WI
Subject: RE: Ironman Wisconsin
Congrats on finishing the race and being an IRONMAN! I saw you several times on the course (once on the bike in Verona and once on the run) and you looked strong each time. Congrats again!
2009-09-15 7:01 PM
in reply to: #2408138

User image

Extreme Veteran
Subject: RE: Ironman Wisconsin
Well done sir.  Well done.

It is good to have people like you there to share an amazing day like that with!
2009-09-15 7:17 PM
in reply to: #2408138

User image

Westchester, IL
Subject: RE: Ironman Wisconsin
Awesome report, Congrats Ironman compadre
2009-09-15 7:43 PM
in reply to: #2408138

User image

Living in the past
Subject: RE: Ironman Wisconsin

Rich, while not typically an emotional person, I am moved by your race report. A very compelling and engaging story told with grace and eloquence. I am happy for you in your accomplishments and to have been part of your Ironman day. Congrats.

2009-09-15 7:52 PM
in reply to: #2408138

User image

West Bend, WI
Subject: RE: Ironman Wisconsin

That was good!!

Awesome job out there Rich!  Glad we could teach you something

2009-09-15 8:03 PM
in reply to: #2408138

User image

Waukesha, WI
Subject: RE: Ironman Wisconsin

As always, enjoy reading your race I mean article.  Way to go.  So glad we could be there to cheer you on and see your smiling face. Don't know that I would be able to smile in those conditions.  Congrats Ironman!!

2009-09-15 8:13 PM
in reply to: #2408138

User image

Verona WI--Ironman Bike Country!
Subject: RE: Ironman Wisconsin
I loved reading the whole thing.  What a great job finishing that IM.  It must be terrific to have such a wonderful wife and understanding family.  I am sure Scooby was smiling down on you the whole time and gave you the strength when you needed it most. Congrats.
2009-09-15 9:23 PM
in reply to: #2408138

Iron Donkey
, Wisconsin
Subject: RE: Ironman Wisconsin

Scooby is proud of you!

Very nicely done, Rich, and even BETTER performance out there on the course!  You made it yours and more.






2009-09-15 9:59 PM
in reply to: #2408138

User image

Subject: RE: Ironman Wisconsin
Congratulations Ironman!

Great race report..thanks for sharing your day with us.

2009-09-15 10:10 PM
in reply to: #2408138

User image

Chicago and therabouts
Subject: RE: Ironman Wisconsin

 Its all about finding and testing your real limits!  I enjoyed the report!

Congrats on a great race and battling through the day!


2009-09-16 1:16 AM
in reply to: #2408138

User image

Extreme Veteran
Subject: RE: Ironman Wisconsin
Amazing RR!  loved reading it. Congratulations!
2009-09-16 8:57 AM
in reply to: #2408138

User image

West Allis, Wisconsin
Subject: RE: Ironman Wisconsin

tears here.  Very very proud of you Rich............YOU are AN IRONMAN!!!!


2009-09-16 9:00 AM
in reply to: #2408138

User image

Extreme Veteran
Madison-ish, Wisconsin
Subject: RE: Ironman Wisconsin
2009-09-16 10:15 AM
in reply to: #2408138

User image

Delafield, Wisconsin
Subject: RE: Ironman Wisconsin
You had me at 'helping Hillary over the fence.' Love your wife's message.  So glad you got to make the most of the journey and got to go The Distance.

2009-09-16 10:33 AM
in reply to: #2408138

User image

Subject: RE: Ironman Wisconsin

Great article Rich.  Very nice to once agaim meet you this past weekend.

2009-09-16 12:37 PM
in reply to: #2408138

User image

Oak Creek, WI
Subject: RE: Ironman Wisconsin
Rich...!!!  awesome job out there...  I was totally getting the goosebumps reading your RR...  That was one helluva race you ran out there...  you are not just a stellar person... but a stellar Ironman as well...    CONGRATS...!!!
2009-09-16 1:18 PM
in reply to: #2408138

User image

NW Suburbs, Illinois
Subject: RE: Ironman Wisconsin
Love, Love, Love me some RRRRs (that is Rich Ratay Race Reports)!  What a great race and way to finish strong.  Very nice even split marathon and way to bring out the "Pre" quote.  Without actually doing an IM, its hard to describe the feelings one goes through in the day, however, you really captured it. 

Keep on enjoying it, b/c they can't take it away.  You are an Ironman!
2009-09-16 1:44 PM
in reply to: #2408138

User image

Almaden Valley, San Jose, California
Subject: RE: Ironman Wisconsin
Wow.  Best race report ever.  I need to amend mine!!!  Wish i'd seen you out there....maybe I did!
2009-09-16 2:24 PM
in reply to: #2408138

User image

Whispering Pines, North Carolina
Subject: RE: Ironman Wisconsin
Ironman! Very entertaining and detailed report of your accomplishment. Congrats.

2009-09-16 2:48 PM
in reply to: #2408138

User image

Subject: RE: Ironman Wisconsin

Awesome report Rich - thoroughly enjoyed it - you deserve the title IRONMAN!  You earned it, Scooby would be proud!

2009-09-16 6:50 PM
in reply to: #2408138

Subject: ...
This user's post has been ignored.
2009-09-16 8:34 PM
in reply to: #2408138

piece o heaven
Subject: RE: Ironman Wisconsin

Great RR and Great Time !!  I like 13:45 ish finishes as a first (my time in 2007)  You did great my friend, all our training paid off ( and hopefully you are not still cussing me out over our hilly ride in July!?!?!)


U R an Ironamn!!!!!

2009-09-16 9:19 PM
in reply to: #2408138

Madison, WI
Subject: RE: Ironman Wisconsin

Rich, outstanding, entertaining and inspirational as always.  Congratulations IronDonk.

General Discussion-> Race Reports!
General Discussion Race Reports! » Ironman Wisconsin Rss Feed  
Show Per page
of 2