IRONMAN Wisconsin part 4: Cruelty and ecstasy

In this four-part series I recap one of the biggest days of my life, my first full IRONMAN! In this entry I cover the run and finish.

The 26.2 mile marathon course is beautiful, fun, and awful—all at the same time. You run through the city streets of Madison, around the iconic capitol building, in and out of the University of Wisconsin football stadium, along an idyllic lakefront path, and then back through Madison—all to the sound of strangers, friends, and family cheering and calling your name.

IRONMAN Wisconsin run course

The IRONMAN Wisconsin run course offers runners to tread on many of Madison’s iconic places…twice.

You do this twice. The course requires two loops, and the turnaround is right before the finish line. That means that while I still had 13.1 miles to go, I could see the road lead into the finish, full of lights and spectators, and an announcer proclaiming each finisher to be an  IRONMAN. You see all of this and have to turn away and run even more. It feels cruel in a way, but having come so far I wouldn’t cut the race short even if officials offered.

Steven Barcus running on the University of Wisconsin football field during Ironman Wisconsin

Part of the course includes a run around the UW football field.

My run went well. I ignored my knee and kept moving. I was tired, but still moving along at a good pace. For the run I adopted a strategy of running for 10 minutes, and walking for 1, moving slowly through aid stations as well since keeping to my nutrition plan was crucial. I continued along in this manner and even made progress in catching up to my friend David. We had talked before the race and had both mentioned that if the stars lined up and put us in the same place in proximity to the finish we would like to run across together. It looked like it was going to happen until I got to mile 19.

I hit the wall and started to bonk. My vision became blurry. Nausea set in. I felt light-headed. I became cold. My energy levels plummeted. I examined my hands and found they had turned purple.

Steven Barcus on the IRONMAN Wisconsin run course

The only reason I am smiling is because I see the photographer is taking pictures. I looked a lot more tired during the rest of the run.

I tried to run through it for a bit, but my stomach protested. Even this close to the end I didn’t dare risk throwing up. It would have been devastating. Being light-headed wasn’t good either. If I passed out paramedics would have removed me from the course and my day (and months of training) would have been for nothing. I stopped at an aid station, drank a cup of water, ate a gel, and gave myself five minutes to walk. Only five.

It worked. It was surprising that I was able to come back from the wall after only five minutes, but I wasn’t complaining. With only six miles to go I increased my speed and decided to end this grueling, glorious race. Total run time 4:31.

My pace held and I finally rounded the capitol building and burst into the finish area. The roar of the crowd was deafening and the sea of faces went by in a blur. I heard strangers shouting my name, though all the while I focused on the blinding lights that created a bright tunnel beneath the finish line arch. As I bounded through that final stretch I heard at announcer say the words that I had been dreaming of hearing since I began the journey to complete this race more than two years ago:


Steven Barcus crosses the finish line at IRONMAN Wisconsin

After 12 hours forty-one minutes and ten seconds my race is finally complete!

Final race time: 12:41:10 

I want to thank the friends and family who sent their best wishes to me and spectated the race remotely. You’d have to do the race to understand how much this really helps. I want to give an even bigger thank you to the family and friends who were on the course. Seeing all of you at the beginning, middle, and end of the race gave me a boost that you wouldn’t believe. It was a thrill to see all of you, and I especially appreciated the care shown once I finished the race.

Finally, this race was the product of years of work, not just by me, but by people who pushed me, shared their advice, and provided good company during long, difficult training sessions. There are too many to name.

A special thank you to my coach, Laura Wheatley. She worked with me and made it so I would not just cross the finish line, but do so in a big way and enjoy the journey. Thanks to the Tri-Shark club for being the most excellent fitness community an athlete could hope for. Also thank you to the Lake Run Club, TNTT, and TOWS leaders for providing so many opportunities to get stronger and to have fun doing it.

Without the encouragement of family and friends such an accomplishment is not possible, nor would I have even dreamed of it.

Thank you all for bringing out the best in me.

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One Response to IRONMAN Wisconsin part 4: Cruelty and ecstasy

  1. Pingback: IRONMAN Wisconsin part 3: The bitter lollipop | 3 Sport Athlete

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