Three Things I Learned Last Week at Ironman Wisconsin

I’ve been attending Ironman Wisconsin since its inaugural race in 2003. I’ve had numerous friends race and this year was no different. Two friends from church were in the race, one client from Pinnacle raced (and placed 5th in his age group!), and one friend from my Wednesday morning book study was there. This last athlete, we’ll call him Will because that’s his name, was the one I was tracking the most on Sunday.

If you’ve never been to Ironman, this needs to change. Especially if you’re here in Madison you need to realize that this amazing event is right in our back yard and offers so much to the community and will do wonders for your own personal motivation and appreciation for what the human body can accomplish.

I followed the race a little more this year than in years past because I’ve gotten to know Will better. It helped that I knew he would be doing really well – the guy can bring it! At the end of the day, I learned three things from Ironman.

Starting and Not Finishing is Better than Not Starting at All

Ironman Wisconsin 2015 start

When I was in college, one of my instructors introduced himself as an athlete that had competed in several Ironmans. When we followed up with details, we learned he actually never completed any! Each time he had injury or race-day complications that prevented a finish. At the time I dismissed his efforts, not realizing how much time he had put in. Fast forward to 2015 and I can tell you that standing at the start of Ironman Wisconsin I am very confident every athlete that gets into that water has put in countless hours of training. Most of them will finish, some won’t. But all the athletes have put in the training and now they’re treading water at the start line. Just getting to that start line is a huge accomplishment. You cannot finish without starting. Put in the work and get to that starting line.

Even Pros Get Passed

Will Ironman Wisconsin out of water 2015

Sorry – blurry because I had to raise my camera and couldn’t focus. The volunteers are ripping off his wetsuit so he can get to the run.

When Will got out of the water, he was in 52nd place. Wanna see? Check out this video. You’ll want to fast forward to 1:28:00. Look at the race clock in red, he’s the guy in the middle of the screen 58:35 ripping his cap off); here’s the video. Out of the water he was 52 overall. Will is not a pro but he’s darn good. And even the good ones get passed. Of course taking nothing away from Will, but almost 50 people passed him on the bike. (Editor’s note: he pretty much passed those same 50 people and finished 52 overall, same as when he got out of the water.) This is a good reminder that you can’t always be first; you can’t always be at the top. Please hear me out – Will is in the top percentage of this race at all times. But my point is that there are still times when we get passed. Do not get discouraged. Run (or in this case, bike) your race. But whatever you do, don’t give up.

Champions Play to the Whistle

In my football days the coaches always emphasized playing all the way through the whistle – never give up on a a play. You stop when the whistle blow and you never anticipate a stop in play. At about 4:30pm Will was on the race course and looking very strong. It was difficult to find him but once I did I got right behind him and was able to get a few pics. I was talking to him (assuring him he didn’t need to talk to me – “you need every breathe to run!”) and then I noticed something. Will kept checking his watch. He was at mile 23. There is nothing easy about the last three miles of a 140.6-mile race, but Will was looking very strong and I was taken back that he was still checking his pace. “Just finish” I kept saying in my head. Not good enough for Will. He needed to know who fast he was going and he was calculating just how fast he could go; what was in the tank to finish well.

Will has three miles to go

Will has three miles to go


Champions always play to the whistle. Each workout, each test, each project – there is a distinct start and finish to most things in life. Will reminded me that his Ironman was over when he finished the finish line. And that finish line was captured on video:

There’s not many events more inspirational that an Ironman. You don’t need to even want to do one to show up and cheer on these athletes. Go an watch, cheer hard, and learn a few things about competing with yourself and competing in life. I was honored watch Will on Sunday – from getting out of the water, to high speeds on the bike and as I biked along side him as he finished Ironman Wisconsin this year. He’s a champion. And he inspires me.

One thought on “Three Things I Learned Last Week at Ironman Wisconsin

  1. Tom Schwei

    Excellent article, Hans! I couldn’t agree more. I also got to know Will this past year as part of the Wednesday book group and it was great to see how well he did. Finishing is doing well. Finishing in the time he did is simply outstanding! Nice job, Will!


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