By Scott Prater
After battling three-foot waves in the Gulf of Mexico during his 4.2 mile swim, and cycling through 112 miles of Florida pavement, Lt. Col. Kelly McJoynt hopped off his bike Nov. 6 in anticipation of the 26-mile run that lay ahead.
“I remember feeling elated as I started the marathon leg,” he said. “I knew that no matter what happened, I was going to finish my first Ironman Triathlon. That was the point I knew I could finish because even if I had to walk it, I’d make it to the line.”
Six miles later, his right hamstring locked up — and he hit that point where he was forced to walk. After another seven miles, the last sliver of a late-Autumn sun disappeared below the horizon.
At that point in Panama City, Fla., Colonel McJoynt had already been competing for 11 hours.
“The Ironman itself is just as much a mental test as it is a physical one,” he said.
It proved nothing new for the 527th Space Aggressor Squadron director of operations.
A 1993 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colonel McJoynt is a veteran F-15E Strike Eagle pilot who deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
He took up swimming in elementary school and was a three-sport athlete in high school, when he raced in the Kentucky state freestyle relay finals. He began mountain biking while stationed at Onizuka Air Force Station in California, so long bicycle rides were old hat as well.
He did, however, absolutely despise running for most of his early adult life.
He credits ground deployments for curing him of his disdain for the activity. During 2006 he deployed as a liaison officer for the U.S. Army ground commanders in Iraq.
“The thing I want to stress most for Airmen is: find a goal to motivate yourself physically while you’re deployed,” he said. “Signing up for a competition is kind of like having a work-out partner — it motivates you to push through those tough workouts.”
In the six months he was deployed as the liaison officer he competed in no less than 14 races, ranging from 5 kilometers to a complete 26.2 mile marathon, all while weight training to keep his performance level up.
Following his deployment, he began taking an interest in triathlons, short ones at first, commonly referred to as sprint triathlons.
Soon after arriving at Schriever during 2009, he signed up to compete in an Ironman Triathlon, considered the toughest, most physically demanding triathlons on the planet. Another Iraq deployment proved to be a blessing. He soon found that training for the event proved beneficial in other ways.
Take the Air Force Fitness Assessment for example. He took his first PT test under the new AF standards this past August and barely broke a sweat while scoring a perfect 100.
At 40 years old, he not only maxed out the push-up and sit-up segments of the test, he measured 31.5 inches around the waist and scorched the 1.5 mile run in 9 minutes, 33 seconds.
“Distance running really helps the 1.5 mile run,” he said. “I was able to maintain the 6-minute-mile pace without getting tired.”
As for the Nov. 6 Ironman, he crossed the finish line in 13 hours, 9 minutes, what he called a middle-of-the-pack result. And, he doesn’t plan to race another one any time soon, but not because it was too demanding.
“My wife, Pam, and I have five children under the age of 12,” he said. “I think I did a good job of squeezing training time around our family schedule. Swimming at 5 a.m. at the Peterson Air Force Base pool wasn’t too difficult, but those long weekend bicycle rides just took too much time.”