ADDISON COUNTY — Considered by many to be the ultimate test of strength and endurance, the Ironman competition is not for the average athlete. It starts with a 2.4-mile swim that is followed by a 112-mile bike ride and wraps up with a marathon (26.2 miles) on foot. It is common for many to drop out during the course of the race
Yet three newly named Iron Men can now be found on the streets of Addison County. Matt Wootten and Dave Donahue, both of Cornwall, and Chas Lyons of East Middlebury all competed in an Ironman triathlon in Lake Placid, N.Y., on July 22 — and finished it.
The Ironman triathlon is considered one of the most physically and mentally challenging races. At the recent Lake Placid race there was a 12 percent dropout rate, nearly double of the average dropout rate of 6 percent. Despite the odds, Wootten, 40, Donahue, 43, and Lyons, 35, all completed the grueling race.
Competing in the 35-to-39-year-old division, Lyons was the first to finish of the three, placing 190 out of 301 finishers in his age group with a time of 13 hours, 40 minutes and 23 seconds. He swam the 2.4-mile leg in 1:22:24, biked the course in 6:12:25 and then completed the marathon in 5:49:31; with a little more than 16 minutes of transition between legs.
In the 40-to-44-year-old division, Donahue (14:17:26) and Wootten (14:17:57) were not far behind, placing 275 and 278, respectively. There were 394 finishers in their age group. Donahue’s splits were swim, 1:23:04; bike, 7:09:26; and run 5:25:05, plus transition time. Wootten’s splits were swim, 1:06:56; bike, 7:07:53; and run 5:42:04.
Overall, 2,277 competitors finished the race, with Andy Potts of Colorado Springs, Colo., first across the finish line in 8:25:07. Among the entire field, Lyons placed 1,222, Donahue was 1,501, and Wooten was 1,510.
This marked the first Ironman for Wootten. With little prior experience in endurance racing, many told Wootten to first consider racing in a marathon or half Ironman to prepare for the full competition. Wootten ignored their suggestions.
“I wanted to dive head first into the competition,” he said.
To prepare for the big day, Wootten found a training partner in Donahue. Working together since last November, they built up mileage as the weeks went by; all the while becoming fast friends.
“We didn’t know each other well before, but training together has made us great friends,” said Wootten. “Dave was integral to my motivation and to me finishing the race. We were running together in the end.”
The two started their training out slowly, running short distances of three miles, six times a week. From there, they built up. Additionally, Wootten would swim during his daughter’s practice at the town pool as well as go for longer bike rides during the weekends. The key to their training was creating variety through interchanging short- and long-distance days.
Because Wootten and Donahue had trained together, they decided they would also try to stick together during the competition. While both believed they could have posted a faster time if they had struck out on their own, Donahue said that whatever the trade off, it was worth it to remain a team.
During the course of the race, Wootten was ahead of Donahue after the swimming portion. They peddled at the same speed, but Donahue was able to catch up during the run. Both saw Lyons ahead in the distance at the last 10 miles of the course.
Despite completing the race after nine months of hard work, Wootten believed he did not race to his full potential. He encountered a series of severe leg cramps during the race that he believes was due to a problem in nutrition. He had never had a problem with cramps in other races, and the pain took him by surprise.
“The bike to-run-transition was the greatest challenge,” said Wootten. “It shouldn’t have been that hard. But even through the cramps, it never occurred to me to quit the race.”
Much like Wootten, Donahue also experienced leg cramping, while biking at around mile 85. Donahue attributes cramping to the challenge of eating and drinking while cycling. To combat problems like these, relief stations were set up every 10 miles during the bike course and every mile along the marathon route. Donahue said he had to be methodical and deliberate about staying hydrated.
While the experience was harder than he expected, Donahue was determined to keep a positive attitude.
“My goal was to finish with a smile on my face,” he said.
Disappointed with their times at the Lake Placid competition, both Wootten and Donahue initially made plans to take part in next summer’s race. Due to the popularity of the event, however, the Ironman Lake Placid is already full for 2013. Instead, Wootten will try to complete his second Ironman triathlon in a better time at a race in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec.
“During the race, I thought I would never do another Ironman because of how much pain I was in,” said Wootten. “But the memory of the pain fades quickly. I was on my computer yesterday signing up for next year’s race.”