My road to Ironman

Published 9:44 pm Wednesday, November 19, 2003

By By Doug Campbell
I blame my friend Tim Sacks for reintroducing me to the world of triathlon.
He bopped unexpectedly into my office in July of 2001 loudly exclaiming his intention to enter the LaPorte Sprint Triathlon. He asked if I would be interested in joining him. Having dabbled in triathlon during the early 1980s, I knew that the race encompassed a swim, bike and a run but my fitness state at the time was more couch potato than Ironman. The fact that the LaPorte race was much shorter than the true Ironman distance (which is a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a 26.2-mile marathon run) made no difference. To me that short race might as well have been the famed Hawaii Ironman.
Always one for an adventure I eagerly agreed. I remember haphazardly training for the race with no real plan. The race results were predictably bad but I was hooked. The participants of the race were lean, mean fighting machines who swam like fish, rode high-tech, 18-speed bicycles and ran like the wind. I wanted to be one of those people.
After a couple more futile attempts later that summer (including the Niles Triathlon annually held Labor Day weekend) I decided to get serious for the following year. I did some research and purchased a triathlon-specific bicycle and by pure chance stumbled across a group of people from Stevensville with a passion for triathlon. They called themselves the Michigan Outlaws and with their training and racing experience, my prospects for 2002 looked much brighter. I was becoming a serious triathlete.
I competed in a total of seven triathlons during the summer of 2002 and my results amazed even me. I started placing high enough in my age group to win awards (called "hardware" by the athletes) with a season-best second place in the now famous LaPorte race. More importantly I started planning for the day when I would attempt a real Ironman distance triathlon.
I ran in two marathons in 2002, figuring I might as well know what it feels like (it feels pretty bad, by the way). After the last event of 2002 the Outlaws did some investigating and decided that Ironman Florida in November of 2003 would be a good team race. Before I knew it I was signed up for my first Ironman!
2003 dawned with a whole new season of races. I looked at these races as practice for the big day in November. I had good finishes but the real work was being done in training. Taking no chances, I hired a coach who put together a training schedule that would rival an Olympic athlete. I averaged 12 hours per week in the pool, on my bike or running the roads through Niles. I had three rides over 100 miles and my longest run was 21 miles. At 37 years old I was in the best shape of my life but more importantly I was ready to tackle Ironman.
Saturday, Nov. 8, 2003, I find myself somewhat surprised to be lined up on a beach in Panama City, Fla., with 2,100 of my closest triathlon friends. The cannon goes off and suddenly my Ironman experience begins.
The swim goes surprisingly well, considering it is my weakest discipline. The wetsuit and salt water add much needed buoyancy and I exit the water in 1 hour, 13 minutes in 880th place overall.
I run into the changing area to put on my cycling clothes and jump on my bike. I am relieved to be on familiar territory as I enjoy cycling much more than fighting jellyfish. My ride is specifically paced based on heart rate as I need to conserve energy for the upcoming marathon. In addition, the nutrition needed to get through the day is managed like an exact science (I needed to consume 425 calories an hour and I will burn more than 9,000 calories before the day is done). My patience pays off and 5 hours, 43 minutes later the 112-mile ride is in the books. I feel fantastic as I have now moved into 817th place overall.
As luck would have it I run into a fellow Outlaw, Matt Davis, while getting off my bike. We decide to begin the marathon together. It turns out to be one of the best decisions of the day. We both feel good and work off of each other. We set a pace that we will hold the entire distance. While many other athletes are slowing down, worn out from the day, we are picking up speed. The miles tick by and before we know it the end is near. We make the final turn and run down the finishing chute with thousands of people cheering and ringing cowbells. It feels like Mardi gras! We cross the finish line together feeling awesome with a total time of 11 hours, 5 minutes and 44 seconds (the run split was 3:57:55).
Our run was so unexpectedly fast that we passed 299 athletes to finish tied for 517th place overall.
It is an indescribable feeling to have tamed something so difficult that only few try. I am now an Ironman!
As I look back on the experience, my mood has swung between disappointment that it is over to sheer joy of the accomplishment. My journey wouldn't be complete without thanking the following people: the Outlaws: John Brinker, Ken Mantei, Matt Davis, Alison Yacobozzi, Jeff and Christine Borah and Rob Hruskovich. My coach Marty Gaal and finally my family: Donna, Cameron and Sophie for putting up with my obsession.
Where do I go from here you ask? Well watch out Lake Placid, N.Y., as I am signed up for Ironman USA in July 2004! Volume 2 to follow next summer. Stay tuned!