In 2008, I changed jobs and part of that involved applying for some life insurance. Part of that process was to do some blood work and it was determined that I was definitely type-two diabetic. My blood sugars were about twice what would be considered healthy. That tipped things off.
I kind of dabbled around getting into running on my own and wasn’t having too much success with it. I didn’t have a training plan [or] the correct shoes. I happened to have the good fortune of falling into a spin class with a person who was a stranger to me at the time, Amy Livesay. She had a beginner-esque marathon training group. I signed up for it and we met three times a week for about six months and then ran on a blistering hot fourth of July. I finished the half marathon and it was a very emotional moment because I had spent most of my 20s and 30s extremely heavy, with no activity. It dawned on me at that moment that I can do it [an Ironman].
I've completely eliminated all refined sugar. I eat fruit and get fructose through apples. I cut out the junk like candy bars and ice cream. I replaced refined sugars and alcohol with things like sparkling water with lemon. When you're on a bike, there's no way getting around taking in some Gatorade or other sugar.
In the leadup to an Ironman race, you're talking about anywhere from 4-6 months of training. I started my work on this one [Ironman Chattanooga] at about the six month level. It has differed from [the training] for the first once in the sense that I've lose the element of fear. The fear just being you're not going to be able to do a regulation finish.
If I ever do have something in the three disciplines that I'm proud of, it's the bike. I'm about a B+ on the swim, a C+ on the run, and an A- on the bike.
It's an easy thing to do, but doing it isn't a hard concept to grasp as long as you’re willing to do two things. You have to be willing to make a commitment and make sacrifices. Without those two, a 140.6 isn't going to come to you. If you're going to do anything of endurance distance — a 140.6 or ultra distances — there's no way around those commitments.
I was in college and I guess before that the downward spiral was about 2006. One of my best friends passed away and between that and stress from school, I put on weight and got up to 280 pounds by the time I graduated.
It was all my decision. Nobody came up to me, or told me I needed to do something. Out of the blue, I decided I wanted to do an Ironman.
In my mind, the first thing I needed to do was run a marathon. I needed running. I was a shot putter and a lineman in high school. I never did any running; I hated it.
Around 2012, I changed my diet drastically. I cut out a lot of carbs. I cut out fast food altogether. I started eating more vegetables, salads, and fruits.
My first triathlon was in 2012 so I had running experience. It was a sprint; I bought a $50 bike from a secondhand store. I had no idea what I was doing [with] swimming so really all I had was the running. I just decided to jump in and try it. I did that for two years then, in 2013, I did my first Olympic and half-Ironman. I did my first Ironman in September 2014.
I started incorporating a lot more strength training [for Ironman Maryland]. I think squats are one of the biggest exercises. I’ve done a lot of deadlifts. I just started doing power cleans.
Over the winter I started doing a lot more power lifting and I continued my running. [Since] the spring time, I’ve been doing a lot more running and biking.
I think my favorite discipline would be running and it’s probably my best. I don’t run fast, but I can run for a long time. I’ll say I have pretty good endurance.
I tried losing weight on my own and I lost 70 pounds. I was training for a marathon back in 2006. In training for the marathon, because I was still heavy, I ended up breaking up my foot.
I went through gastric bypass surgery and I was alone. I got a heart rate monitor and I went out two weeks after my surgery for a walk. I only made it one mile and I got so tired that I had to have someone come pick me up.
[Before] I had the gastric bypass in 2008, the surgeon [said]: ‘I challenge all of my patients [to] something that you will accomplish and keep the weight off.’ A friend of mine, he had gone hiking and on a few walks with me, had talked to me about someday doing the Ironman.
At that moment, I said I wanted to do an Ironman by 2012. The moment he said that, the goal was just locked in my head. It’s funny because it was his goal and he has just decided it’s too crazy for him to ever accomplish.
Not giving up, I think that’s the biggest [thing]. When I did Louisville, the wind came up and the hills were supposed to be—the course wasn’t the way I thought that it would be. It’s a lot about taking a real plan; having a plan set up that I know from the beginning to the end—having a goal in mind of how I’m going to do it.
It’s funny because doing Ironman Coeur d’Alene, I didn’t really have a plan for that. I had a lot of work stuff to do and wasn’t able to train for it. Whereas with Arizona, by having this plan, I was able to say this day, I know I’m supposed to be swimming this far or biking this far—it’s actually making me stronger and more mentally prepared.
I’d have to say cycling is my best discipline. I grew up as a kid in a small, rural town in South Dakota. We rode bikes to get just about anywhere.
It was to the point where my blood pressure and cholesterol were getting out of hand. I had checkups with my doctor; both of those my parents were dealing with. I just decided I needed to start doing something about it.
At the time, I was married. I realized if I wanted to live a long life, I needed to do something about my overall fitness. Nobody in my life said ‘You’re fat and overweight. You need to lose weight.’ It was all internally.
I didn’t know how to make any changes. I just knew running was one of the more effective ways to lose weight so I just started going to the gym every day and forcing myself to spend an hour on the treadmill. I did that for several months in the morning.
Five years ago, I didn’t know what I was doing. From a weight loss perspective, I knew that I wasn’t eating healthy so I initially started counting calories. I looked at the treadmill and saw how many calories it was guessing I was burning.
I would substitute what I thought were healthy options. I started losing weight just because I went from being very inactive and eating junk to eating healthier options. The whole thing has evolved.
Then, I realized I needed to do better so I went to the low-fat, no-fat options. I cut out the high fructose corn syrup and the processed foods and made the move to organic and locally sourced items. I’m trying to stick to that—eating the grass-fed meats and poultry items out there.
I would say I train on average anywhere from, at this point in the schedule, 15-18 hours a week of just training for the race. That doesn’t include yoga or strength training. It’s just strictly looking at the swim/bike/run. It’s definitely ramped up.
I do a lot of two-a-days; getting up a 4:30 in the morning and working out before work. Then, squeezing something in at lunch or going and doing something after work.
My best discipline is biking. I have a football player’s body; big broad shoulders, which people would say are designed for swimming, but I have lineman’s legs.
I’m writing a book and by the age of 10, I started putting on weight and eating a lot. That was around the time my mother and father had gotten divorced.
I started picking up weight over the years. I’d lose some but then it would come back with a vengeance. By the time I reached the age of 40, in 2010, I had gone to the cardiologist. He was doing his routine checkup and going over bloodwork. He said, ‘Well, you know you’re a diabetic?’
My father had a heart attack at the age of 46. By the time he was 50, he was gone. I’m hitting 40 and I’m like, ‘okay, heart disease runs in my family.’ I had to do something.
I’m very careful with my diet. Sometimes I go off the reservation and have sweets or whatever, but I follow a more paleo-style diet. For breakfast, I might have hard-boiled eggs with peanut butter. If I’m doing some heavy training, I have oatmeal with banana and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
For lunch, I love chicken so I usually bake or I may grill it with some seasoning. I love broccoli and some brown rice, or yams. The same thing for dinner, I do drink quite a bit of water and a lot of Gatorade.
The marathon training helped because I was able to build a base. I had to get a swim coach and I went through Third Coast Training with coach John Shelby. He taught me the total immersion technique of swimming. If I hadn’t gone to that training, there’s no way I would’ve been able to do 2.4 miles.
The other thing was I learned how to ride the bike efficiently. I knew how to ride a bike, but when you’ve gone for that distance, it’s a little bit different.
I did more running because that’s what I really like to do. I put a lot of time into swimming and I think that’s how I got to that point. I finished the swimming in an hour and 51 minutes; I was ecstatic.
I do rows and that helps me out with my swimming. Kettlebell swings also help me out with that. I’m really getting more into stretching now since I’ve been having problems with [my] IT [band](Illiotibial band syndrome) because at first I didn’t do much stretching. With running, I do a lot of hill work.
I encourage people to be consistent, find people that have lost weight and find out how they did it. Get a support group; sometimes you might not even need a coach.
I just wanted to add that, because of the weight loss, I have quite a bit of excess skin. At some point, I should have surgery to remove it. I still have not gotten to the point where I want to take my shirt off, but I will get there one day.