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The Making of Iron Athletes PDF Print E-mail
Written by JOHN MORTON   
Wednesday, 06 September 2017 18:25

They have busy lives with jobs and families, but these Ozaukee residents have found the time and determination to get their bodies and minds ready for the ironman triathlon test

“I wouldn’t have seen myself trying my first ironman at age 44,” Jim Holmes said.
Beyond the challenge that comes with age, the Grafton resident leads a busy life as a father or two and a commercial airline pilot. So consistent training for the grueling swim, bike and run event, which he’ll take on this coming weekend, is tricky.
“I’m gone a week, then I’m home a week,” Holmes said. “It’s hard to bring a bike along and I don’t always know where I’ll be, so finding a pool is also difficult. What I have do is pack in most of my training when I’m home.”
Port Washington’s Christina Brickner is also, on paper, an unlikely ironman participant.
“I’m a single mom and my twins are 6 and I also have a 4-year-old,” she said, “so they obviously can’t be left alone when I train. What I do is get up at 4:30 a.m. every morning and workout in my basement.”
Clearly, the two ironman first-timers have plenty of drive and passion, but they also have a secret weapon. They have Dani Peiffer, a Port Washington native who not only is a natural leader in their nine-person training group, but a past winner of the women’s 35-39 age group at the 2014 Ironman Wisconsin. It consists first of a 2.4-mile swim in Lake Monona, then a 112-mile bike ride, and finishes with a 26.2-mile run — the same length as a marathon.
Peiffer, a three-time Ironman Wisconsin participant who last ran it in 2015, was a three sport athlete at Port Washington High School competing in swimming, gymnastics and track.
Holmes and Brickner, along with fellow first-timers Jeff Williams of Port Washington and Kelly Grady of Grafton, are benefitting not only from Peiffer’s expertise but her generosity.
“I do come from a running background and I always enjoyed biking, so I wanted to bring it all together,” Holmes said. “But swimming was always my hurdle. So I actually took swimming lessons from Dani.
“She has taught me so much more than just the physical stuff. She’s taught me about execution and how to maintain proper nutrition during the race.”
Said Brickner of Peiffer, “What she offers is huge. If you can’t physically stick to the plan, she teaches you how to adjust, not panic. She puts your mind at ease.”
And Peiffer’s support goes beyond instruction, Brickner said.
“Dani has even watched my kids for my while I’ve trained,” she said.
Based out of downtown Port Washington’s Zu Zu Pedals, the group is comprised of members of Be3, a non-profit empowerment group for women that encourages community involvement and volunteer work, and the bike shop’s workout group, known as Z-Force.
Training began a year ago, starting at about 12 hours a week, with an increase about five months ago. Now it’s peaking at about 20 hours per week. By the time race day arrives, the group’s members will have logged nearly 1,000 hours of prep work.
“And these are people mostly in their late 30s and early 40s,” said Peiffer. “We’re not talking about a bunch of 20-year-olds. They have lives to balance that include children and jobs. Few of them have significant athletic backgrounds, so it’s stuff they’ve had to learn. It doesn’t come easily.”
The group also includes four racers who participated in the Madison Ironman for the first time in 2014. They are Chad Anhalt of Saukville, Chad Jambor of Mequon, and Kate Lapacek and Nikki Setzer, both of Port Washington.
Why the three-year layoff for most of the athletes?
“We actually planned for this year back in 2014 — that’s how long it can take to get everyone ready again,” Peiffer said. “Juggling a job and family are often the main objectives. Not the ironman. About a year ago we asked, ‘OK, is everyone ready again?’ Trying to do this year in and year out simply is not feasible.
“It’s also hard on the body. That’s why even though we took a break it was important and that always kept in shape. It’s hard to start training this intensively overnight.”
Holmes has discovered how it requires an all-or-nothing singular focus.
“If you can’t put in the hours, don’t bother trying it,” he said. “It takes discipline and the ability to manage your time. So prepare to get up early to train.”
With five of the nine members being veterans of the race, a strong bond and that intense focus quickly become evident, Holmes said.
“It’s nice that there are several of them — you get different perspectives when you pick their brains,” he said. “You can tell they are a tight group and they’ve made us feel at home.”
Said Peiffer, “The biggest factor in all of this is the mental factor. The camaraderie, the support, is more important than the physical part.
“All of us have the desire to share our knowledge. We like getting the questions.”
And central Ozaukee County has provided a good training ground, Peiffer said.
“This is an excellent spot. There are good biking roads, with many of them being less traveled, and we have a friend who has offered their private lake,” Peiffer said. “We also swim at Yahr Park in Fredonia.”
The swim is the shortest part, but in many ways the most important, she said.
“The swim trips people up the most. Because it’s the start, you are fighting all that adrenaline,” Peiffer said. “But you don’t race the swim. You manage the swim, emphasizing form and keeping in control. There’s still a long day ahead after the swim is done.”
The group has also made trips this summer to Madison to practice on the actual course.
This year’s event is Sunday, Sept. 10, and starts at 7 a.m. with a dive off the Monona Terrace on Madison’s Square. The biking and running heads west of the city, mainly through the suburb of Verona, before finishing back at its starting point. It draws about 3,000 participants, who must complete the course within 17 hours to receive credit.
And while Peiffer once did it faster than anyone in her age group, she isn’t worried about where she finishes this year.
“I don’t compete to expect a certain outcome. When I won, I had no idea, because everyone competes together and you never have any idea on where you’re against the others in your bracket,” she said. “That’s one thing I like about the race — all you can do is focus on yourself.
“I only found out I won when my husband Scott received a text from someone who was back in Port Washington who saw my time online. It’s not about where you finish, it’s about just finishing. Did you know about half the people walk the course?”
And rooting for the underdogs is part of the event’s charm, Peiffer said.
“That’s why I stick around until the end to see the people come in. You see some in their 60s and 70s, someone with a prosthetic leg, someone who did it in in full military uniform waving the flag has he crosses. That’s what it’s about to me. It’s about what happens at midnight,” she said.
Peiffer will be competitive, however, and so will the others in her group. As a result, sticking together as a pack isn’t realistic.
“What’s nice is the course does have some loops, so we’ll see each other a few times as we go back and forth,” Peiffer said. “Our black and neon-green kits (uniforms) stand out so we’ll be able to yell out support as we go by.”
And there will be plenty of familiar faces at the finish line.
“We’re going to have about 70 people between family and friends coming with us to cheer us on,” said Peiffer said.
Does Peiffer see all in her group completing the race?
“I’m confident they all will, and I’ll be ecstatic,” she said. “They just need to pace themselves.”
Holmes hopes that age thing may be a blessing of sorts.
“A lot of sports are tailored for young people, but maybe not this one,” he said. “Last year I ran my first half marathon, and it seemed a lot of 40-somethings and 50-somethings were in the front of the pack, while the younger ones were in the back. I was surprised. Maybe the older ones have things figured out a bit more.”
Brickner, meanwhile, admitted to having butterflies, but she’s ready.
“Each year, I make a goal for myself, and last year it was to compete in a half marathon,” she said. “After I was done, I said I wouldn’t go for the ironman, but a friend reminded me I’d never be in this kind of shape ever again, so it was now or never. So I made the ironman this year’s goal.
“It’s coming up a bit too quickly, but there’s no turning back now. I’m as prepared as I’ll ever be. So I’m not going to stress out on this. I say bring it on.”

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