09102012
Abigail Waldo

A University of Wisconsin-Madison chemistry professor crossed the finish line in just over nine hours Sunday at Madison’s annual Ironman triathlon, where thousands of family members, supporters and volunteers packed the streets to wildly cheer on approximately 2,900 competitors.

Thomas Brunold, 43, is a chemistry professor at UW-Madison. He has crossed an Ironman triathlon finish line 12 times, and this year he finished tenth overall and first in the amateur division.

“You can’t really describe the feeling,” Brunold said. “You work so hard and after nine hours...it’s done.”

This is the city’s eleventh Ironman Wisconsin event, which consists of a 2.4 mile swim in Lake Monona, a 112-mile, two-loop bike path through Dane County and a 26.2 mile run through downtown Madison, the UW-Madison campus and Camp Randall stadium.

Male winner Ben Hoffman, 29, finished first overall in eight hours and 32 minutes. Female champion Elizabeth Lyle, 34, finished in 9 hours and 34 minutes.

The indescribability of finally crossing the long-awaited finish line was difficult to explain for present and past competitors.

Mark Porter, who competed in an Ironman triathlon last year, said stepping over the finish line is “spiritual” and “unbelievable.”

While the athletes swim, bike and run through Madison and the areas surrounding the city, spectators cheer on their loved ones, waiting hours for only a glimpse of their competitor.

However brief that moment is, the fans and volunteers play a key role in keeping up the athletes’ morales, according to former Ironman competitor Carrie Mills.

“When things get rough, you need the fans to get you up a hill or keep you going on the run,” Mills said. “The fans keep you going.”

Steve and Beckie Saul volunteered to support their son in his first triathlon and said the swimming portion was the most “incredible” part.

“As you sat on [Monona] Terrace, it looked like about a million minnows swimming,” Steve Saul said.

Louie Caffero and Tammy Schlau had more to look forward to at the end of the race than the average competitor. Just minutes before crossing the finish line, “Ironmates” Caffero and Schlau were married.

Caffero and Schlau attended the same high school but met later in life, racing and training together.

Schlau said it felt “crazy” finishing the race as a married couple.

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