By Staff Sgt. Matthew Fournier
70th ISR Wing Public Affairs
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. — More than 1,900 triathletes competed in a 70.3-mile Ironman Triathlon Aug. 7 in Boulder, Colo.
Among the participants in the 90-plus degree heat was novice triathlete Kevin Clark, of the 544th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group, based at Peterson Air Force Base.
“It was the most physically, mentally and spiritually challenging event I’ve ever endured,” said Clark. “This was the first non-team sport I’ve competed in, so the feeling of you against yourself out there was new to me.”
The Ironman consists of a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike race and a 13.1-mile run. Each leg is held consecutively and the clock doesn’t stop between events.
“He set a great example,” said Thomas Hensley, also from the 544th ISR Group and fellow Ironman competitor. “You have to have the will to prepare to succeed. He overcame his fear of swimming 1.2 miles in open water, the obstacles of being deployed leading up to the race, and the challenges of completing an extreme endurance triathlon competition.”
Challenges aside, many athletes prepare for the better part of a year to attain a level of fitness they need just to finish. This means long hours at the gym, the pool, and on the track — conditioning the mind and the body to perform.
Not having been in a pool since childhood, Clark re-learned to swim while deployed to Southwest Asia, where he did most of his training and only had limited access to a stationary bike, a treadmill, and a pool which he said, “was not optimal” in fully preparing for the event.
Following his deployment, he further prepared himself by borrowing a bicycle from a friend and riding approximately 180 miles during a five week period.
“It was nothing like the spin bikes at sea level during my deployment,” Clark said. “The tires are really thin, your feet are literally clipped into the pedals, and hills are a beast. Plus, I wasn’t comfortable in spandex. I ran on the Peterson Air Force Base 5K trail four times per week.”
The training paid off. Clark finished the triathlon with a respectable time of 7 hours, 24 minutes.
He also earned the respect and admiration of his family and friends, who were in attendance to cheer him on.
“The mental challenges were, at times, greater than the physical ones,” Clark said. “Your mind dwelled on getting passed, fighting to make it up a hill only to realize that a greater incline lies just around the corner, and continuously calculating how much further to reach the finish line.”
His wife, Sara, and their two daughters motivated him.
“I couldn’t have done it without their support and homemade ‘Dad’s the Man’ t-shirts,” Clark said. “My wife had my medal, bib number and picture framed to commemorate the event. It gives me a sense of accomplishment whenever I see it.”
The experience taught Clark you can do anything if you put your mind to it.
“I hope other Airmen who read this seek out a personal challenge, set a goal and complete it,” Clark said. “It’s a lot of work but absolutely worth it.”
Would he do the Ironman again?
“Yes, I think I’m hooked,” he said.
His goal next year is to complete it in less than seven hours.