Chicago Sun-Times

Chicago Sun-Times (IL)

October 11, 2007

More than a physical race 
Ironman finisher wonders why marathon took such a toll

Author: Todd B. Natenberg; Special to The Chicago Sun-Times

Edition: Final
Section: Features
Page: 39

Index Terms:

Estimated printed pages: 3

Article Text:

When I first heard that the Chicago Marathon was canceled 3œ hours into the race, I thought it was a joke.

The idea that they would call off the event due to hot weather amused me. I don't mean to belittle such a monumental task, especially in the wake of a tragic death. But the notion that a 26.2- mile race would be stopped because it was too challenging made me chuckle considering my own accomplishment.

Last month, I completed my first and last Ironman triathlon in Wisconsin.

For the uninitiated, this means I swam 2.4 miles in 1 hour, 20 minutes, biked 112 miles and then -- after all of this -- ran a 26.2 mile marathon in six hours, 15 minutes.

My time was 16 hours, 30 minutes. My place was 2,073 out of 2,209 total finishers.

When I first decided to participate in an Ironman, I did so for reasons I'm still unsure.

I had completed the 2000 Chicago Marathon, ran up the stairs of the John Hancock and the Sears Tower in charity events, and swam, biked and ran in the Accenture Triathlon in a respectable three hours, 30 minutes.

Racing -- or make that surviving -- an Ironman seemed just like another item to check off on my list of goals. It was another certificate to earn, another photo to post in my trophy case and another story to tell.

But looking back -- especially in the wake of the Chicago Marathon situation -- I realize the keys to my success were two things: preparation and planning.

Unlike many endurance athletes, I never underestimated the task at hand. I knew the only way to finish the race in the required 17 hours would be to ready myself for anything.

From the moment I signed up for the Ironman, I planned to be physically, mentally and even spiritually prepared. For an entire year, I worked out three to five days per week for as much as eight hours at a time. In this time, I had everything go wrong that could go wrong.

I had flat tires with no equipment to repair my bike, which meant walking home five miles. I ran in inclement weather. I swam in the lake during a thunderstorm with lightning hitting Lake Michigan. More than once, I ran out of water and food during longer workouts. Even a trip to the emergency room due to improper nutrition didn't faze me.

But the one area I was not prepared for were the devastating circumstances I would endure outside of my training.

In the "Year of My Ironman," as I dubbed it from September 2006 to last month, I overcame obstacles I would not wish on anybody.

I endured the death of my estranged father due to suicide. My then fiancee and I broke up just one day before my father's death. I was laid off from my sales job in April and was forced to move due to financial constraints just two months before the race.

Were it not for my journey into the Ironman, I question whether I would have survived.

My Ironman training became my escape. The worse things got, the harder I worked out. It was my ultimate metaphor for life. In my training, if I could just run past that one more tree along the lake, bike up that final hill, or swim to the finish without taking one more breath, everything would be OK. I did and it was.

Today, I have rededicated myself to my true passion, journalism. I am involved in the greatest relationship ever with my girlfriend, Jennifer, with whom I am planning a future together. I have never been in better shape physically or emotionally. Spiritually, I have found my peace.

The Ironman will be with me forever.

Todd B. Natenberg is a locally based free-lance writer.

Color Photo: Todd B. Natenberg wraps up his Ironman triathlon. He swam, biked and ran nearly 141 miles -- more than five marathons.;

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Record Number: 200710110056