In the words of Ozzy Osbourne’s rock song “Ironman,” I am Ironman. On Sept. 7 in Madison, Wis., I completed my first Ironman Triathlon in 14 hours and 20 minutes.
My time was well north of my Oak Park training partners. Mike Stec crossed the line at 10 hours and 31 minutes. Stec finished 23rd in his very competitive 40-44 age group. Three minutes behind came Eligio Pimentel who had an amazing swim. Pimentel finished the 2.4-mile course in 58 minutes, only five minutes behind the eventual winner.
Karen Steward-Nolan finished in 11 hours and 46 minutes. When she was in her 20s, Steward-Nolan completed several Ironman triathlons. She stopped to raise her family, but like Olympic swimmer Dora Torres, Steward-Nolan turned 40 and then trained like the dickens. With her kids cheering her on, she finished 11th in her 40-44 age group.
But who I really want to make you aware of is Bob Bell. At 70 years old Bell was a first time Ironman participant. Before he started training, Bell was a long-time marathon runner, but he was not a swimmer or cyclist. During training, his wife Ellie kayaked alongside him in open water. Through lessons, he improved his swimming form.
Bell kept running with his long-time pals in the Oak Park Runners Club and met many new (and younger) friends. He cycled in the hills around Mount Horeb and was always up for more. Bell would ride 60 miles one day and run 15 the next. On the day of the Ironman, he swam at the back of the crowd, plugging along. He came out of the water at two hours and 10 minutes, just 10 minutes before the swim cut-off.
Bell then moved on to the 112-mile bike, which also has a time cut-off. He knew that if he could finish the bike, he would be an Ironman by midnight.
Bell cycled from Madison to Verona, about 15 miles, and completed one hilly 40-mile loop. As he went to start the second loop, he was greeted by orange cones and race officials blocking his way. Bell saw several dejected riders next to their bikes. An official told him he was six minutes past the cut-off.
The official then asked Bell if he wanted to ride in a van back to Madison. He declined. Bell was going to cycle back to Madison and finish the marathon portion of the race, which would be the 70th of his career. The race official said he did not care what Bell did as long as he turned in his number and time chip. And so Bell became a race bandit. He cycled back to Madison, completing 70 of the 112-bike miles. Once there, he suited up for the run, which included two 13.1-mile laps through the capital and the campus of the University of Wisconsin.
Like Brer Rabbit flung into the briar patch, Bell was now in his element. No one knows how to run/walk a marathon like him. I saw Bell out on the course running and chatting with competitors half his age. He was enjoying himself.
The crowd cheered, thinking that he was the first of the handful of 70-plus participants. His family and friends cheered as darkness fell. Bell finished the run with a time of five hours and 45 minutes.
If some think I was a fool for attempting an Ironman at 48 years of age when I had never run a marathon, then Bell must be an old fool to think that he could complete an Ironman at 70.
But to my way of thinking, Bell is every bit an Ironman as me. Even more, I think he is a champion. And everyone who ran with him at Madison or cheered him on would say the same.