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Ironman wrap-up, or The Gear Junkie gets the flu

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To borrow an old line, the best-laid plans of mice and (Iron)men often go awry. Thus was my case with Ironman Wisconsin, an event for which I’d committed hundreds of hours of training over the past six months, only to be struck down with the stomach flu three days before the race.

I did finish the race, to be sure, which is an accomplishment in itself, especially considering my ill condition. But my clock time of 16 hours, 22 minutes put me near the bottom of the pack. (I was hoping to finish in about 12 hours.)

Ironman Finish Line

On the up side, the gear I used on race day performed superbly, giving me an edge that contributed to my very survival during the race’s swimming, biking and running sections. The standout products of the day were the T1 First Wave triathlon wetsuit from De Soto Clothing Inc. ($424, www.desotosport.com) and the Specialized Transition Comp bike ($2,600, www.specialized.com).

During the 2.4-mile swim, which is the first leg of the race, I took it easy and stayed near the edge of the massive, 2,000+ person swim pack. With its extra buoyancy in the legs, the De Soto wetsuit let me swim only with my arms, essentially dragging the dead weight of my legs along while crawling. This technique allows racers to save their leg muscles for the upcoming run and bike segments. The two gigantic loops in the lake took me 1 hour, 31 minutes, which is an average time.

Jumping onto the bike, I was optimistic. The swim had actually been refreshing and rejuvenating, and I felt a surge of energy as I pedaled off onto the 112-mile course. The Specialized Transition Comp bike is the speediest cycle I’ve ever been on, and during the first half of the bike loop I spent most of my time in a tuck position passing other riders.

But as the miles continued to come, hour after hour, my body was wearing down and my back was cramping up. I finished the bike leg in 7 hours, 16 minutes, which is a mediocre time. (Times were long in general on the bike section for this year’s Ironman Wisconsin, as racers were hit with a quadruple whammy of 95-degree heat, intense sun, high winds and an air-quality pollution warning for the region.)

Next up, it was on to the marathon. Yep, 26.2 miles of running, walking, limping and crawling to go. I ran the first couple miles before nausea and utter, discombobulating exhaustion had me surrendering to a steady walking pace. I trudged along in my fancy Brooks Racer ST 2 shoes ($80, www.brooksrunning.com), which are svelte running flats made to keep your feet light and nimble during a long run, but the high-tech gear unfortunately wasn’t much help by this late stage. I finished the marathon in an embarrassingly slow 6 hours, 55 minutes.

But in the end I know I can take solace in the fact that fate and a few conspicuous flu germs are what really kicked my butt, not faulty gear and not my lack of preparation and training. It wasn’t the prettiest race, but I finished, darn it. And for that I can now call myself a true, if quite slow, Ironman.

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