It’s not just a triathlon. Not’s not another race. It’s an ironman competition and that means the biggest competition is inside and not the other racers. It’s more than running, more than biking and more than swimming…it’s all three.
“The Ironman is more an individual pursuit. You are racing against a couple other thousand people, but you’re racing against yourself,” said coach and athlete Bob Turner.
Athletes Jason Leggett, Jason Stokes and Turner are like most athletes when they get together. They share stories, are supportive and they share their successes. Bob Turner coaches Stokes and also runs the Ironman competitions himself. Leggett prefers to workout and compete more on his own.
They all have competed in Ironman competitions, but do more half-Ironman competitions, which is still a grueling 70.3 miles.
An Ironman competition consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run. For those counting, that’s 140.6 miles total distance. The race is over at midnight whether the athlete finishes or not. There are 25 full Ironman competitions around the world and 12 are in the United States.
“There are four main distances. The sprint, Olympic triathlon, half Ironman and full Ironman,” said Turner. “Very few will sign up (the first time) and try the full Ironman,” he added.
“People that do well are the ones who are good at all things,” said Leggett.
“It ebbs and flows through the race. People who are not a superstar in any one of the events do best,” said Turner.
Ironman competitors think nothing about riding their bikes to South Berwick in the morning and arriving back at home by 11 a.m. All agree that having a flexible job helps with scheduling workouts.
Turner owns his own company Turner Contracting. Stokes owns his own appraisal company and Leggett is in pharmaceutical sales.
“The fun component of this is people’s reaction,” Turner said. “You get creative with training.” Turner signed up for the Beach 2 Beacon race in Cape Elizabeth this year. He rode his bike there, ran the 10 kilometer race, ran back to his bike at the start of the race, then rode home. That was his workout for the day. “You paint a smile on and pretend it doesn’t hurt,” he said.
“Pain is all relative,” said Leggett.
The average yearly salary for an Ironman competitor is $168,000. To sign up for a race is $700 and that doesn’t include airfare, food and accommodations. “You need to have disposable income,” said Turner.
For Leggett sometimes he wraps a family vacation around a race, other times it’s a family vacation with a race in it, he said. All three men have families and children. Stokes has a 15-year-old and a 1-year-old. Leggett has a 5-year-old and Turner has a 15-year-old.
Stokes likes when his son is proud of him and brags that “my dad’s an Ironman.”
It takes an average of 17 hours to complete an Ironman. The longest workout is around six hours, said Turner. They might do a one hour swim and a four hour bike ride.
“I don’t say ‘impossible’ anymore,” said Stokes. When he started he ran 350 feet to his in-law’s house. The first time he ran two miles away from the house he thought he was having a heart attack with a tight chest, numb fingers and arm pain.
Stokes is also a cancer survivor. In 2009 he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. He was just over six feet tall and weighed 267 pounds. Now he weighs 189.
“I heard people talk about this crazy race. I generally run if someone’s chasing me,” he said. “I float on my back well.” He couldn’t swim. People would ask him when he was doing his first triathlon and he’d say, “never.”
In May 2010, he did his first du-athlon, which was a run and bike. “I liked the competitive nature of it. I have to see the big picture and have something to strive for,” he said.
Stokes completed his first Ironman in Lake Placid, New York in 13 hours and 49 minutes this year.
He began his training in November of 2012 and didn’t stop until July 29.
“He finished with a smile on his face,” said Turner. “He couldn’t swim the length of the pool,” Turner added. His swim took one hour and 32 minutes, but he made up time on other parts of the race.
“It’s a pretty empowering feeling to do 140 miles self-powered,” said Turner.
Turner, 44, began competitions in 2003, at 210 pounds, when he bought a bike. He ran into a friend who had done triathlons. Turner started doing them and did a sprint and Olympic race that summer. In 2006, he did his first Ironman competition at Lake Placid. “It’s a lifestyle. It’s a healthy pursuit,” he said. “Now I’m Bob Turner the triathlete, not Bob Turner the fat man.”
Turner coaches with E3 Training Solutions.
It’s an expensive sport, when the bike ranges from $600 to $12,000. “You beg, borrow and steal the equipment the first year,” said Leggett. “Then you’ll get sucked down the rabbit hole. You do have to have a support system,” he said. It can cost over $10,000 to train, gear up and race, said Stokes.
Leggett, 43, said that most of the Ironman competitors are between the ages of 35 and 44. Most were athletes before. For Leggett, his brother and sister-in-law were into racing. In 2004, he weighed 240 pounds and was a pack-a-day smoker. “They have a division called the Clydesdale for heavier set men and Athena’s for women,” he said. “I’m told myself, I’m going to be the fastest big man in Maine.” He did it for a while, then stopped and gained back the weight he had lost. He set a goal to compete in the Mont-Tremblant full Ironman. “I needed a goal to scare the bejesus out of me,” he said.
Two week ago, Leggett qualified for the world championship Ironman 70.3 to be held in September 2014.
“This leads to a cleaner eating lifestyle,” said Turner. “The fourth event is nutrition,” he added. “A lot of your work on swim, bike and run can be for not.”
This past weekend the three men all participated in the Revolution3 competition in Old Orchard Beach, an Olympic triathlon meaning they swim 1500 meters, ride 40 kilometers and run 10 kilometers.
“You don’t need to do an Ironman,” said Leggett. “But you can have a hell of a lot of fun training, traveling and racing.”
“Once you do an Ironman, an hour and a half work meeting isn’t such a big deal,” Turner said.