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'The Great Floridian:’ My Last Ironman

By Dr. Steve Jonas | Feb. 25, 2021, 10:44 p.m. (ET)

ironman

Talking Tri-/Duathlon for Ordinary Mortals®: A Series, (No. 65, 2021/02)  

After I did my first ironman-distance race, the Bud Light (Cape Cod) Endurance, in September 1985, I then did it (and finished it) again, in September, 1988.  In August 1990 I went out to California to do the Vineman Triathlon (with the bike through the glorious Napa and Sonoma Valleys, now partially destroyed by the global-warming-related forest fires of recent years).  After a really cold river swim and getting up a really steep hill at the beginning of the bike, I had fun in that race (even though I didn’t finish it).  For example, at about mile 60 one had to stop for a traffic light(!).  I did arrive when it was red, but unfortunately it changed to green very quickly.  I remember remarking to the cop who was stationed there that it would have been nice if it had stayed red for just a bit longer. 

At any rate, red light or not, I was eventually going slower and slower on the bike.  And so, I got out on the run well last and well behind a group in front of me.  Nevertheless, I actually picked up the pace approaching the turn-around, doing 9’s for the last 2-3 miles of the outbound 13 miles.  “Gee,” I thought, “I might be able to make the 17-hr. time-limit.”  Except that when I got to the turnaround, I was reminded that this race had a 16-hr. time-limit and was told that they soon were going to close the course.  Which meant no volunteer stations, and no state police patrolling the course for problems.  I could do the ½ marathon straight back OK, but I would be on my own.  “Lots of mountain lions around here, (to say nothing of no fluids)” I thought.  “Where’s the van back?” I said.

It was not until 1994 that “ironman thoughts” crept into my head again.  And wouldn’t you know it, there was a September race on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, off Massachusetts’ Cape Cod.  Perfect timing, and flat, too.  Wouldn’t it be nice to get one more finish in an ironman, on a course different from the one I had previously finished on twice?  “Yes!”  But again, it was not to be.  Despite the flatness of the course on the bike, when I got out on the run it looked like I might not make the 17hr. time-limit, plus it began to rain, plus I had crew out in my car.  And so, I stopped at about mile 14 on the marathon.  Now I had two of each, finishes and non-finishes.

But I knew that in that season there was still another doable-for-me ironman, the Great Floridian, at Clermont, outside of Orlando.  And I would still be trained-up.  And so off I went. The first feature of that race for me was when I got out of the swim there was one Don Ardell greeting me.  I had met Don at the only National Wellness Conference I had ever gone to, at Stevens Point, WI, in 1986, and had not seen him since.  And there was the “Dean of Wellness,” who in the early 1970s had had so much to do with developing and then popularizing the modern meaning of the term “wellness,” who had seen my name on the entry list for the ironman (he was doing what would come to be known as the “Olympic”), wanting to greet me at that moment. 

That was a really nice gesture, coming out of the swim.  But unfortunately, it didn’t help me much on the bike, on a very hot day.  I actually came in from the ride after the 11-hour total race-cut-off.  But I really did want to get a finish in that race so that I would be 3-2 in my ironman career to that date, rather than 2-3.  I pleaded with the race director to let me go out on the run, noting that I could have crew with me in our rented minivan, all the way.  This sort of thing would never happen these days (I’m sure) but back then my persuasion worked, and off we went, leaving the transition area at about 11:20PM.  I eventually did the last nine-or-so miles of the marathon at a 20-minute mile pace.

And yes, I did finish, at a total time of 19:20.  We stayed on the course in the dark.  We found the finish line.  During the run, a race monitor caught up with us at about 1AM, around mile 18, and asked if I were going to finish. “yes, indeed,” I said.  She came by us again at about 2AM and asked the same question.  I said “yes,” again.  She said, “OK.  Here’s your finisher’s T-shirt.  I’m going home.” My crew took the shirt in the minivan and we did make it.  I’ve got a picture to prove it too, standing at the words “finish line” which had been painted on the road. 

Oh, what a feeling.  I was above .500 for ironman races.  And when I showed up for the awards ceremony the next day, several folks who had done the race in 10-12 hours said to me words to the effect of, “you were out on the course for 19:20? Now that’s truly remarkable.”  But for me what was truly remarkable was to meet a group of about 15 triathletes who just about 6 weeks before had done the Double Iron in Alabama.  Yes indeed.  In our sport, you can always go longer.

Postscript:

Five years later, in the winter of 1999, I found myself thinking about training up for the ironman distance again.  I was single again, and for a variety of reasons was not thinking about getting hooked up with anybody new for a while.  So why not train-up again, and perhaps do more of it this time.  But then as spring rolled around, I met the woman, Chezna Newman, who would become my dear fourth wife in a time-together that included marriage, that lasted almost as long as my previous three put together.  You will meet her in the triathlon context when we get to my 100th race, at Montauk. NY, to which she accompanied me, later that year.

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This series of thoughts and recommendations about multi-sport racing by Dr. Steve Jonas is, over time, drawn in part from his book, 101 Ideas and Insights for Triathletes and Duathletes (Monterey, CA: Healthy Learning/Coaches Choice, 2011), from which text is used with permission. The book can be purchased here and is available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.

Steve’s most recent multisport book is Duathlon Training and Racing for Ordinary Mortals®: Getting Started and Staying with It (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press/FalconGuides, 2012), available at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

His first book on multi-sport racing, Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals®, 2nd Ed. (New York: WW Norton, 2006) also can be found at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Steve has been racing tri’s and du’s since 1983.  At the end of his 36th season in the sport, 2018, he had done a total of 256 races.  He did not race in 2019 due to his own illness (from which he fully recovered), nor in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  For obvious reasons, 2021 is a maybe.