Which IM is my favorite? Each of them is special to me for the general memories, and their own peculiarities. And for the people I met. I can’t tell you what I had for dinner two days ago, but I can close my eyes and vividly recall many of the details of these eight athletic experiences. They were not just long, catered training days.
IM Germany 1995 was my first. I’d had the advantage of living only 2-3 hours from Roth, Germany while in the Air Force and was able to train on and become familiar with the course. One memorable part of the race was one hill on the bike that was steep, but only a couple of hundred yards long. The crowd support on the hill was awesome — they closed in on you so close that there was only room for bikes to go single file and the people were chanting and hollering — almost surrealistic. One another part of the race was a section you cycled by that was lined with beer tables for about half a mile; somewhat distracting. I made friends with a German family in Roth and still stay in contact with them. He rode a mountain bike in the last 10 kilometers with me and she met me at the finish with a bouquet of flowers. Good people.
IM Switzerland 1996 was in Zurich. Multiple loops on the bike and run made the course compact so competitors and spectators were always around. Being in Switzerland, it wasn’t surprising that two “hills” were name The Beast and Heartbreak Hill. There was a huge, raised platform that you had to bike over three times near the finish that went THROUGH a very large tent where people were drinking and eating. Everybody was cheering and partying. The run had four loops around the downtown area: lights, crowds, music, everything was distracting, yet exciting, and encouraged you to keep going and enjoy the ambiance.
The Great Floridian 1997 was in Clermont Florida. There was a portion of the run that was very hilly; I assume the Board of Tourism forgot to advertise that. A very well organized event, the run was around a lake and when it got dark, it looked like thousands of firefly illuminations from the glow sticks that folks wore or carried. Volunteer support was perfect. If you didn’t keep up the right pace, you probably could have gained weight from all the food and drink available. At the finish, they help you into a hot tub for a couple of minutes, get you a cold drink, and then take you over to the massage table. Nice.
IM Canada 1998 was in Penticton, just across the United States Border. The race location is on a beautiful lake and the bike takes you out through orchards and challenging hills. Before the race, everyone hangs out at the Hogs Breath Café. The bike course is beautiful and demands your attention with its steepness and its vistas; at one point, the Forest Service had to chase off a bear that was sitting on the side of the road, perhaps waiting for a slow cyclist. Like all IM races, IMC is tough to get into; it usually fills for the next year within hours of registration opening.
IM Australia 1999 was a challenge. The swim was cold — VERY COLD. It was the first time I had ever experienced an ice cream headache during a swim. They drive (and bike) on the left side of the road over there. Further contributing to the distraction was that you also get your “hand-ups” from the left (water, food, etc) which requires you to think about. They had some horrific storms just prior to the race and there were potholes everywhere with a few low-water crossings thrown in. At the pre-race meeting, they suggested you pick the smallest posthole to hit and “gear down” coming out the other side — almost true. Australia was a great venue and then I spent a week at the Great Barrier Reef and traveling around the country. Hey, I earned it!
IM California 2000 was my best race, but not my fastest. The bike and run were double loops and I had negative splits on each meaning the second loop was faster than the first. The swim was very long (note: as with most IM swims, it was a two-loop course). I thought I had a good swim when I came out of the water. My time was slower than I thought. In the transition tent, I was told the swim course was about 700 meters TOO LONG (they mismarked it). Oh well, it was long for everyone else too. Most of the race was on Camp Pendleton, just North of San Diego. The temperature ranged from needing arm warmers in the fog on the coast to mid-80s inland on the bike. At the pre-race party, the organizers told everyone to consider the race a long, catered training day. The Marines did a super job supporting every athlete.
IM Korea 2001 was on Jeju Island, just off the mainland. It was very well organized and in a beautiful location. My hotel was on a cliff and unbelievable — first time I had a hotel room with a door bell! The swim was in the ocean and I was surprised by how many folks were directionally challenged on a two loop out and back swim. I learned quickly that drafting was not a good idea. The bike course was flat, very flat, and they just resurfaced the roads for an upcoming World Cup Soccer Match. It my first IM bike course that was a single loop — meaning once around the Island. The run was tough, as there was always a slight up or down grade for half mile stretches, and just enough to wear on you legs. I met some great people and still keep in touch with a couple of them.
IM USA 2002 was in Lake Placid. Another IM and another beautiful location, Lake Placid, with its lake swim and massive forests to run and bike through. The swim was my best time yet. The buoys were connected to a cable that was stretched about 5 feet under the water for the entire swim — just like having a lane line! It was good that the swim was fast because the bike was tough. There were lots of hills and during the second 56 miles, rain and wind. As I learned before, I respected the three hills called Baby Bear, Mama Bear and, you guessed it, Papa Bear. It stayed stormy during the run over rolling hills and they even turned off the electricity at the finish line for awhile due to lightning. At the awards ceremony, they specifically recognized each individual who’d finished while the power was off. Nice touch.
Maadman IM 2003 was in Cancun, Mexico and I placed 1st in my AG Yeah, me and Peter Reid won IM races in October 2003 on the same day. It was the inaugural year for this IM and I’m sure it will become more popular as people hear about it. It will probably be a Hawaii qualifier eventually. It’s a no-wetsuit swim, as the saltwater and water temperature make it unnecessary. The Bike was a flat, 2.5 loops. Very flat, but very humid. With no downhills, it was a constant pedal with half of each loop heading into a steady breeze. The run was three loops, half of each was a slight, but steady rise — really sucked the energy (what little was left) out of you. All in all, it was a very well organized IM with great support and a beautiful venue. And the tequila shots at the awards ceremony were great!
IM Brazil 2004 venue, weather, and volunteers all cooperated with each other for a memorable race. The swim was calm and without incident; some thought the swim was a little long, but if so, it was for everyone. The run from the ocean swim to the changing tent was long, but flat, and gave you a change to get your equilibrium back. For both the bike and the run, the race organizer’s had a unique way of marking the course – bright orange IM logos either on a bike or running! Very effective. The bike was challenging due to its technical nature – sharing lanes with vehicle traffic and a lot of switching between lanes and sides of the road. Traffic was heavy at times, but well-controlled with the local police. After the few, but attention-getting hills on the bike, the run was a welcome, flat course with only a few, but again, challenging hills. The location was tropical, the weather was athlete-friendly, and the “locals” supportive and encouraging. This was #10 for me and special in that sense. But as with all the IMs, got the shirt, medal, and good memories.
IM Lanzarote 2005, the toughest IM. Period. 2005 was the 14th IM on one of Spain’s Canary Islands off the coast of Africa. The race is extremely well-organized and fully caters to the needs of the athlete. The swim course is a 2-loop rectangular counter-clockwise course and you exit the water after the first loop; fairly calm seas and you can see the bottom at times. The bike is brutal. I repeat: the bike is brutal. Unending strong headwinds, terrible road surfaces, long hills, and dangerous downhill switchbacks; there is NOTHING athlete-friendly. The run is four loops thru the downtown area that is along the ocean with, thankfully, lots of spectator support. Overall, the best organized IM I’ve done and the hardest bike course. Even if you’re a strong cyclist, you must be patient – the course is unforgiving if you go out too fast.
IM South Africa 2006 venue is held in Port Elizabeth, locally called PE, which is just about the most southern major city on the continent of Africa. It's a 15-20 hour flight from the US so plan on arriving early to adjust and acclimatize your self to PE. The bike course is 3 40k loops and can have a constant wind on the outbound leg. The run is also three loops and is very flat. All aid stations were enthusiastically manned by encouraging volunteers. And having access to special needs bags on each of the three bike and run loops is unique and welcome. The pre-race dinner and post-race party were the best I'd attending in 12 IM races; food was served at the tables and the drinks and desserts were endless. From race organizers, to volunteers, to the citizens of Port Elizabeth without except, they all made you feel important and welcome to a unique IM venue that will get bigger, better, and more popular each year.
IM Wisconsin 2007 is held in the State capitol of Madison. Interestingly, the T1 and T2 areas are INSIDE the Monona Terrace Convention Complex and the bikes are racked on the 4th floor parking lot. When transitioning, you have to run up the parking ramp from the swim and ride your bike up and down the "helix". Cool. The swim in Monona Lake is well-marked, a two-loop course, and has wetsuit "strippers" that are much appreciated. The water was calm and the temperature comfortable.
The bike course is through farmland with corn, barns, and cattle -- what you might think the countryside would be; also two loops, the bike has several hills that, while not steep or long, cumulatively work on your endurance and focus -- and the need for "smart" shifting and speed control thru turns. The two-loop run is partially through the Univ of Wisconsin campus with short inclines, along the lake, and thru portions of downtown.
The entire course is extremely well-supported at aid stations AND by enthusiastic spectators everywhere. A true test of mixing speed, endurance, and technique, IM Wisconsin is highly recommended -- it would seem to be the case since it sold out for 2008 in 23 minutes!
IM Coeur d'Alene 2008 venue, the toughness of the swim and bike course in CDA are matched by the kindness and friendliness of the town’s people. A couple of days before the race, the water temp was mid-t0-low 50s — the lake is fed by the snow of the Bitterroot Mountains and it had just begun to “thaw” a couple of weeks before race day. On race day, the water was 59 — in a word “COLD”. The bike course is very pretty and just as hilly. The run is “payback” in that it’s mostly along the edge of the lake and very flat. Coeur d’ Alene has a population of about 34,000 and on race day there were 3,ooo volunteers! Before, during, and after the race, the town was very athlete-friendly whichwas obvious to everyone visiting. I would highly recommend the race — the organization, venue, and volunteers made every minute of the race just a little more tolerable AND much appreciated. Try it, you’ll like it!
The four IM races after 2008 were DNFs --
In IM UK 2009, I dropped out of the run at mile 16 with 10 to go due to back pain (the chronic spine issues later necessitated spinal fusion). A very tough bike course and extremely muddy conditions for the first part of the run took it's toll on my back.
In IM China 2010, the course, weather, and volunteer support were a trifecta for disaster - an upstream swim after torrential rains, a 104 course temp and poor first-time support caused me to stop at about 75 miles into the bike. Small consolation with on overall 30%+ DNF for the field.
In IM UK 2011, I missed the bike cutoff by 90 seconds! Like the "grim reaper" at the swim exit in Hawaii, I found there's one in the UK.. I'd stopped twice and picked up dropped bike bottles -- if I hadn't stopped, I'd probably have made it. Same "lumpy" (hilly) course as before, but not anymore forgiving.
In IM China 2012, poor preparation/training and insufficient surgery recovery resulted in being pulled of the bike course at mile 102 of 112 by the race director, escorted by an ambulance and several police cars -- before that, I knew I wasn't going to make the cutoff, but wasn't going to stop until they made me.