EDITOR’S NOTE: Mark Buchholtz, a 2006 graduate of Waupaca High School, recently competed in the Ford Ironman Wisconsin in Madison. He has participated in every Waupaca Area Triathlon since 2003 and is a fifth-year actuarial science and finance major at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
After several years of completing the Waupaca Triathlon, I decided I wanted to someday finish an Ironman triathlon: 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile full marathon run.
A couple years ago, I concluded that the best time to achieve my goal would be this last fall that I am at UW-Madison, since the race is right here in Madison. To train, I joined the University of Wisconsin Triathlon Team the past couple years to practice with them weekly.
The race was an experience of a lifetime. From the very beginning, where we all started the swim at the same time in the middle of Lake Monona, to the thousands of spectators cheering us on in neighboring towns on the bike, to the experience of running on the famous State Street and on the field of Camp Randall Stadium. And, of course, crossing the finish line, where the announcer, Mike Riley, aka the voice of Ironman, said, “Congratulations, Mark Buchholtz, you are an Ironman.”
The event was centered at Monona Terrace, just a couple blocks off the Capitol Square in downtown Madison. The swim course was a two-loop rectangle and all the participants started at once, making it very hectic. The bike course went out to Verona, where a 42-mile loop began. We rode the loop twice through the grueling rolling hills of Mount Horeb and Cross Plains before returning to Madison. The run course was also a two-loop course, starting at Monona Terrace and traveling all over downtown Madison and the UW campus before finishing with tons of fans back at Monona Terrace.
My total time for the 140.6-mile feat was 15:32:39, or roughly 15.5 hours (it was dark and late when I crossed the finish line at 10:32 p.m., because the race started at 7 a.m.). That put me at 2,131st place overall out of the 2,550 elite echelon athletes that started the day.
The race was so tough that some 150 participants did not finish within the allowed 17-hour deadline. My splits were swim (1:46), bike (7:41) and run (5:38).
The remainder of the time was spent in transition. For an idea of how difficult the run was at the end of the day, it took me 2.5 hours longer than a marathon time I had run at the beginning of this summer.
A popular question I have been receiving is, “Will you do it again?” Right now, my answer is no. I see it as a once-in-a-lifetime achievement, one that I will hold close to me forever. From here on out, I will always be a part of the Ironman family.
I am thankful to have been introduced to the sport of triathlon back in my hometown of Waupaca. I am also grateful for all the support I receive from spectators and volunteers whenever I return to Waupaca to race.
I have traveled to many different triathlon races and with the exception of the Ironman, no race ever compares to how well Waupaca’s is put on. Residents that are not active triathletes might not understand how great of a race it truly is.
I hope my story inspires others in the Waupaca area community to attempt the famed Waupaca Area Triathlon. It is an amazing sport of self-fulfillment, plus the training is an excellent way to get into shape. I’ll admit the task can be intimidating. In fact, I was more afraid of how I would perform back on the eve of my first triathlon back in 2003 than I was leading up to the Ironman, but crossing the finish line makes it all worth it.