by Kyle Jones
Ironman – No, not the brash, super-genius Marvel character played by Robert Downey Jr, but the endurance triathlon event encompassing 140.6 miles of swimming, biking, and running. Regarded by many as one of the most challenging endurance races, the Ironman event tests not only the physical capacity of one’s body but also the mental toughness to complete the +10-hour race. Each individual distance daunting on its own – 2.4 mile swim, 120 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run – and together represent a seemingly insurmountable challenge. Yet, ever since I completed my first sprint triathlon, I knew that some day I would tackle this race. And in August 2014, with a little (A LOT) of help from my friends, I successfully completed my first Ironman in 10 hours, 55 minutes, 25 seconds. The race and the 6 months leading up to it were some of the greatest experiences of my life.
Growing up, I was a member of several sports teams. This began with soccer when I was just learning how to run, hockey and baseball during the majority of my childhood, and then rowing throughout high school and college. I loved being on teams. They provided a way to develop friendships, gave me motivation to train, and taught essential life lessons. Most of all, teams lent you an identity – the uniform a symbol of pride. I excelled in team sports and was always happy to be the support that holds a team together. This particularly came out in rowing. A boat of eight rowers and a coxswain could not rely on one individual to make the boat go fast. It took the coordination and strength of all 9 to push the bow across the finish line. Thus, when I graduated in the May of 2013 and my collegiate rowing career had ended, I found myself without a team and unsure of how I would accomplish the athletic goals I had planned for the future: marathons, triathlons, Ironman…
After graduation, I moved to Jamaica Plain without knowing anyone or anything about the area. My roommates and I were looking for something new in Boston and trying to escape the purgatory that is Allston, MA. Within the first few weeks, as I was returning from a run exploring my new neighborhood, I came across a small group of runners. I jokingly asked, “So, do guys like run a lot together?” One runner, who I assumed to be the leader of the group, responded in a deep, resounding voice, most resembling of Mufasa: “Well, yes we do. Every Tuesday and Thursday. We are the Forest Hills Runners.” So, feeling courageous, the next week I showed up to a run and met some of the nicest people I had ever worked out with. I had found my new team. Within a few months, I was well integrated into the Forest Hills Running club. At each run, I meet new people who were equally as nice and awesome as those who I meet the week before. I joked with my roommates that I now had a bunch of new JP friends while they knew no one else in the neighborhood. Through the group, I discovered the community that surrounded me and explored the new neighborhood I now called home.
In February of 2014, I signed up for my first half-Ironman triathlon. Having only done 2 sprint triathlons before, this was the logical next step. I believed the full Ironman was several years out – I was not ready for such a race, I needed more time. Yet, in the following weeks as I started to train, I felt I needed something more. At the time, my fellow FHR runners were training for the Boston Marathon. One year after the bombings, the race was more than just 26.2-miles of running. It was about resiliency and coming back stronger. In addition, many runners were also raising money for charity. At that moment, I knew I wanted to do something that meant more than just another race. I did some online research, picked a charity that was significant to my family, and choose the race. I decided I would race for the Alzheimer’s Association in the Ironman North American Championship Race in Mont-Tremblant. I thought, “Why not me? Why not now?”
Over the next six months, I trained for the longest and most challenging race I have ever taken part in. I had never completed the individual swim/bike/run distances, let alone all of them together. Training meant swims in the morning before work and runs after. Saturday workouts of biking followed by a run took up half the day. Trips to Walden Pond for open water swimming were scattered among the summer training. Some days I felt amazing – my first 100-mile bike ride, a half-marathon personal best during a training run, open water laps around Walden. Other days I struggled, barely finishing a track workout or coasting back home after a long bike ride.
During the spring and summer, I logged over 50 miles of swimming, over 800 miles biking, and almost 400 miles of running. Looking back, these numbers seem daunting and unachievable in that short period of time. Yet throughout the hours of training, two things kept me going: the thought of my grandfather and the Alzheimer’s Association and my fellow FHR teammates. A majority of those training miles were not logged alone. I was so fortunate to have my friends and coworkers supporting me the whole way, from short weekday runs to 6-hour bike rides on the weekends. I joined a masters swimming group at Brookline pool and my swimming was never the same. This community I had surrounded myself with was not only supportive in my training, but also in my charitable fundraising. They were truly my teammates, motivating and pushing me to the finish line.
On August 17, at 6:30am, I stood at the edge of the water of the Ironman North American Championships, waiting for the gun. I was ready. For the next 10 hours, 55 minutes, and 25 seconds, I would cover the 140.6-mile course in the beautiful Mont-Tremblant. With the Alzheimer’s symbol on my tri suit and all the people who supported me in my mind, I pushed through the physical pain and mental fatigue. I did not walk once during the whole race. As I approached the finish line, a flurry of emotions began to swell up inside of me. Crossing under the timer, I let out a yell at the top of my lungs. I had done it. Over the speaker system rang “Kyle Jones, you.. are.. an.. Ironman!”
The race was an incredible experience, one I will never forget. Equally as incredible was the hours and miles of training it took to get me there. As I look back over the race and the 6 months leading up it, I think of a three key take-ways from my experiences:
1. Never underestimate what you are capable of. I knew I would race an Ironman distance sometime in my life, but I did not think I had the experience or capabilities at the time. It wasn’t until I made the mental resolution to just go out and do whatever it takes to complete this race that I understood my true potential.
2. Surround yourself with amazing people. Undeniably, I could not have completed the Ironman and raised money for charity without the incredible support of my friends and family. They pushed my physical limits, made training enjoyable, and supported my charitable cause. They are the reason I can stand before you today as an Ironman.
3. And finally, it’s never too late challenge yourself. In the Ironman race, the oldest competitor was 72 years old!! Which begs the question: What’s holding you back?