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Arnone the Ironman
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Anthony Arnone is accustomed to hearing applause. It goes with the territory of the performing arts, and Arnone, professor of cello in the University of Iowa School of Music, has performed across the United States and around the world.
But his performance Sunday, Sept. 9, in Madison, Wis., drew a cheering audience of a different sort, one that stretched along hillsides, with people dressed in wild (maybe even a little sexy?) outfits.
Arnone, 47, completed his first Ironman Triathlon in Wisconsin’s capital city, swimming 2.4 miles, bicycling 112 miles, and then running 26.2 miles. (It’s exhausting just to type that.)
“My primary goal was to finish smiling and not crawling,” Arnone says. “I didn't really have a target time but I did want to finish before my kids got too sleepy.”
Anthony Arnone during the Ironman in Madison. Photo by FinisherPix.com.
Arnone grew up in Hawaii, where the Ironman originated. He ran cross-country and participated in four Honolulu Marathons; when he moved to Iowa he got into bicycling, and has participated in several RAGBRAIs. Swimming soon was added to his repertoire, and he did two half-Ironman Triathlons.
“I like challenges,” Arnone says. “I like to give myself big goals.”
And so after a year prepping specifically for the Ironman, Arnone and his family trekked to Madison (he covered this distance by automobile) for the big day. A gorgeous late summer day greeted Arnone and his fellow participants, helping to block out any of Arnone’s last-minute “why in the world are you doing this?” thoughts.
“Once I hit the water, I was amazed at how warm it was; after about 10 minutes, I started thinking about the things I needed to do for the coming week at work,” Arnone says. “I was taking each event by itself, each hour by itself—that turned out to be an excellent approach.”
After an hour and 40 minutes, Arnone emerged from the water and moved to the cycling course, which included a 40-mile loop that had to be circled twice. The course also included a trio of hills known by a derogatory nickname—just know that the hills were challenging.
But this was the section of the race where the crowds were raucous, providing Arnone with a Tour de France-like atmosphere. “I really wish I had some pictures of the people on the hills,” he mused.
During the second pass of the 40-mile loop, Arnone devised a mental exercise to push himself through. “At mile 78, I tried to remember everything I could from 1978,” he says. “When I got to mile 79, I had to think about 1979, etc. This worked out nicely as the game would end in 2012 when I got to mile 112.
“The miles seemed to go by very quickly and I got to reflect on so many fun things from childhood—although I remember almost nothing from 1978 except disco—through college and then adulthood until now. I ended the ride feeling strong and very happy to be off the bike after more than seven hours. My brain was in a good place but my butt needed a break.”
Anthony Arnone during the marathon. Photo by FinisherPix.com.
The running leg of the race was held on a 13.1-mile loop through downtown Madison—at one point, the participants ran through Camp Randall Stadium, making a loop on the football field. His family and support team was there at the halfway point, providing that kick to keep him going down the homestretch.
The last part of the race was enjoyable, even though Arnone was (understandably) quite tired by this point. “The last two minutes were the best,” he says. “On that last turn down the last 30 yards or so, everyone is cheering to bring you home.”
And once he crossed that finish line, some 15 hours after the opening cannon shot was fired (15:03:17, if you want specifics), he was thinking…
“Wow, I did it! And I can't wait to shower and have a beer!”
While his countless hours of physical training served him well, his background in music contributed to his mental approach to the Ironman.
“With music and with something like the Ironman, so much of it is mental, so much involves preparation,” Arnone says. “The moment of the triathlon or the moment you hit the stage shouldn’t suddenly be different; if so, you haven’t prepared for it well.”
(And if you were wondering what sort of music Arnone listens to while working out, it’s usually a mix of rock from the ’80s or earlier—almost never classical. Sorry, Yo-Yo Ma.)
When asked if another Ironman lies on the horizon, Arnone was unsure, but says he has other goals. “I would love to bike up Pikes Peak in Colorado, or maybe run the Chicago Marathon…if my wife will let me,” he says with a smile.