The Dark Place- Ironman Wisconsin Race report

The Dark Place

Ironman Wisconsin Race Report


It literally pains me to write this race report.  Not because I totally sucked it up at Ironman Wisconsin, but because of the type of pain I felt throughout the entire race.  It wasn’t the type of pain that you say, “Ok, it hurts, but I’ll suck it up.”  It was a deep ache in my legs that started on the bike, and as I write this on Monday night, still has not subsided.  Maybe it was because I had an intense case of the flu the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday leading up to the race, maybe it was because I hammered Santa Barbara two weeks ago and had nothing left in the tank for IM Wisconsin, maybe it was because the arm pad on my aero bar completely broke off at mile 30 of the bike, or maybe it was just a bad day for Jim, but you know what?  Those are all excuses.  I don’t make excuses.  I realize that I was not at my best, learn from my experience, and move on.  So, although it hurts to write about this awful race, I use it to help me learn from it and to let you, the reader, in on my thoughts throughout the day and maybe you to can learn from my failures.

I asked my good friend and recently crowned Ironman Lake Placid Champion Ben Hoffman for advice leading into the race.  Ben has been extremely successful this season, so I thought, “Who better to ask?”  He said, “It’s an ironman, and throughout the course of the day, you are going to go to the dark place, where everything is bleak and you mind is sent into a downward spiral of negative thoughts.  When this happens just think about all of the long, intense workouts you have completed, all you have put into in the dedication and training, and how bad you want it.”  I needed this advice more than ever on Sunday in Wisconsin.  I got through the swim feeling great.  About half way through, I said to myself, “Wow, this is going to be a great day.  I am feeling fresh and I am conserving energy.  I can’t wait to get on the bike.”  Little did I know, my thoughts would soon change.  I came out of the water, as usual, as one of the last pros, but I stayed positive because I knew it was a long day and if I just raced my race I would be golden. 

I hopped on my bike and took off, but within the first few miles, something didn’t feel right.  My legs began to ache.  It wasn’t just fatigue from the swim, it was a deep ache.  I thought after a few miles it would subside and I would find my rhythm, but it seemed to get worse.  The IM Wisconsin bike course is no joke either.  It is 112 miles of rolling hills and head winds.  Not the type of course one can “muscle through.”  Around mile 30 I was struggling trying to keep my power around 260 watts when I felt my left arm rest give way.  It completely broke off my aero bar.  This made a miserable ride, worse!  I had to sit up for a majority of the remaining 80 miles.  Let me tell you, I was in, “The dark place.”  I kept thinking, “You want this, suck it up, and make it happen.”  But my mind was not having any of it.  I am a strong minded, positive individual, but the feelings and emotions an ironman brings out are unlike any other.  I can honestly tell you, I wanted to quit for the entire 112 miles of the bike.  I had nothing in my legs, and looking back, I should have just turned my power meter off because every time I looked at it, my power output was getting lower and lower.  After what seemed like an eternity I got to T2.  I hobbled into transition and prepared for the run.  I though my legs would loosen up and I would be able to mimic my training and have a strong run, but I would soon find out the truth. 

I ran out of transition at a good click.  I looked at my watch and saw I had run the first mile around 6:30 pace.  My legs were aching, but I though if I focus I may be able to pull out a decent run.  Knowing I was in tough shape I backed off and slowed my pace.  Little did I know, slowing my pace at mile three, that it would only get slower, and slower, and slower.  It was hurting, bad.  I had every negative though going through my head.  I have given up so much for this sport, and this is what I get?  It didn’t make sense.  I felt robbed.  I have missed countless nights with friends and family.  I have woken up early and stayed up late for this sport, and this is what I get?  What a sham!  It was when I was at the bottom of the barrel when I finally got some much needed inspiration.  Around mile 6 we had to run through the center of downtown Madison, Wisconsin.  It was lined with mobs of people, but being so close to Chicago my family came up for the race.  It was here, at mile 6, I first saw my family.  My Mom and Dad, my brother, Ken, and his wife Phyllis.  They were standing out there, and the sheer excitement and pride I saw in their faces as I passed almost broke me down to tears.  I wasn’t out there doing this Ironman for me anymore; I was out there making them proud.  They didn’t care that I wasn’t winning or up with the rest of the elite athletes, they just were proud to see me out there accomplishing an obstacle they knew I had worked hard for.  I knew, no matter what, I would keep moving forward.  Around mile 10 the ache in my legs was too intense.  I began to walk the aid stations, get good hydration, and hobble the miles in between.  On days like this one I needed to look for inspiration everywhere.  I first saw Cortney around mile 14 and she was cruising.  I thought, I hope she catches me, because if she does she will definitely be going to Kona, but just seeing her determination and knowing the hard work she has put in, once again gave me the lift I needed to get me through the next few miles.  Finally, the home stretch.  I hit mile 21.  I was walking an aid station when an athlete jogged up next to me.  He slowed to my pace, walking, and stuck out his hand to shake mine.  He said, “You are Jim Lubinski, the professional, right?”  I said, “Yeah, that’s me.”  He said, “Oh man, this is awesome.  You are fast man!  I can’t believe I am running next to you.”  I was shocked.  I was humbled by this course and the lack of support my body had given me and here was an athlete not dissuaded by that at all.  He had a long ways to go, about 17 more miles, and he still took the time to tell me how much he appreciated running along side me for a brief moment.  I encouraged him to keep a steady pace and he went along on his way.  I wish I had remembered his name because I would love to touch base with him.  It was after he had left that I began to think, “I have 5 miles left, I am going to dig as deep as humanly possible, and finish this race the way I know I can.”  I started running.  About 500 meters up, I passed that athlete where he shouted, “Meeting you was the highlight of my day.”  This really stuck with me.  This gentleman was going to finish his first ironman, and meeting me was the best part of his day?  I was honored, and if anything put me over the edge to harness that last bit of energy in my system, it was that. 

I finished the last 4 miles at around a 7 minute pace, and every step was worse than the last, but you know what?  I finished.  I have never quit on anything in my life and I will never quit a race.  I knew I just didn’t have it from the start of the bike, but now I know what that feels like.  Now I know what it feels like to be in, “The Dark Place” for 11 hours.  Now I know why I do this sport.  Not only to be successful, but to help find and better appreciate our inspirations in life.  The way you must rely on those inspirations throughout the course of an ironman will better help you appreciate those inspiration throughout the course of your everyday life.  The way my family looked at me, the determination in Cortney’s eyes’, the countless amateurs who are out there doing it for no awards or recognition all are thoughts I will have everyday and thoughts that will inspire me to be a better athlete/person.  RACE HARD!



  1. Jim,

    I just read your blog. Keep up the great work and stay out of the dark place!

    Great to hear you are doing well.

  2. Hi Lube,

    this is a terrific RR. One of the best I ever read. You can be proud of what you did, the way you did it and the respect you had for your sport, the others and yourself !
    It’s already a part of your coming success !

  3. Jim,
    You are not only a friend but someone I look up to as an athlete. I am glad to know you and I know “quit” is not part of who you are. Congrats another accompishment in your triathlon career.

    Kevin K

  4. Jim,

    Great repoert, great spirit and will…and you did it because you can!

    Best Wishes,


  5. Jim, we are so so proud of you. We love you. You are an inspiration to all of us. Hope your legs feel better. Congratulations on Santa Barbara. We are sure that you will continue to inspire others through both your actions and your words. “Race Hard”

  6. Very very tough, emotional, heart-filled, and shows what you are made of. Terrific accomplishment considering. You experienced an entire lifetime in those 9+ hours.


  7. Wow, I’m extremely uplifted by this report! Yeah, you didn’t race as well as you would have liked to, but you defeated that inner voice that kept telling you to quit. That’s exactly what makes endurance athletes so special…at any moment you can quit and all the pain will go away, but we decide to go on, to hammer away and attack every obstacle in our way. You’re a warrior man! Keep it up.

  8. Hi Jim, Lesley and I were tracking you and Cortney, by your splits we knew you were not having a good day, at some point I thought that you wanted to be like me and finish the Ironman with your girl, haha!! joking aside we felt awful because we wanted you to have a great race, specially after your gutsy performance at Santa Barbara, you will learn from the Dark Place and you will succeed again soon, you have showed great character and we will be cheering for you my friend…Thank you for sharing your emotional journey!!

  9. Lub,

    Dude. Great job gutting it out. Shows what you’re made of. Love the passion. keep it up!

  10. Jim!!!! Way to not give up. I knew you were having an awful day when I passed you on the bike. But you are so strong and the next race will be all you. I’m sure that flu took a ton out of you. Keep inspiring people!

  11. At about mile 3 of my run at Santa Barbara I remember seeing you hammering back to the finish for an impressive win. I also saw you a few times on the double loop run in Madison and was just impressed. I had a very rough race myself in Wisconsin and completely understand how hard it is to continue to hurt yourself when you’re so far behind your expectations. I think the actions and attitude of an athlete when their in the “dark place” speaks volumes about them. You have my respect.

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