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Sports Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 4, 2011

After completing first Ironman, McKenna is now confident, not cocky

By Jordan J. Michael

VOORHEESVILLE –– Competitors in an Ironman race push themselves to the limit by swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and running a full marathon of 26.2 miles. Such a feat seems almost impossible, but it has been made into a professional sport.

On July 22, Brian McKenna, a software developer from Voorheesville, was one of 1,100 people to participate in the Ford Ironman Lake Placid for the first time. The 140.6-mile race had 2,700 overall challengers and McKenna finished in 11 hours, 20 minutes.

“I wasn’t fearful,” McKenna said this week. “The nerves weren’t really there, but it was a big piece of candy to chew. I tried to not waste any time.”

McKenna, 31, told The Enterprise that his goal was to finish in 11 hours after training since October. He got the urge to try an Ironman competition after completing a few half races and volunteering for the Lake Placid event last summer. McKenna’s younger sister, Lindsay, got him into triathlons three years ago.

“I decided to take the next step after witnessing all the emotions as a volunteer,” said McKenna of watching the athletes last year. “I always knew what an Ironman was and I believe I had told people before that I’d never do one. But, I’m a goal-driven person.”

An Ironman is more than just a target. It is a physical and mental trial, where ambition overcomes pain. Some participants don’t finish and there have been reports of deaths.

“I’ve heard horror stories,” McKenna said. “I saw at least 20 people getting sick on the side of the course. You give up a lot of yourself, but keep your head up and move anyways. It’s definitely an adventure.”

The male record is 7:41:33 hours, held by Andreas Raelert. Chrissie Wellington has the female record at 8:18:13 hours. The Ironman has a 17-hour limit.

“Some people dedicate a whole year to training and they come in at 16:40,” said McKenna. “It’s really inspiring to see them brave it all. A finish is a finish. Same smile, same medal, and same pain.”

Beginning to end

McKenna swam for Voorheesville and Penn State University, so he wasn’t too concerned with the 2.4-mile swim on Mirror Lake. He and his friend, who also swam at Penn State, lined up towards the front of 2,700 people and the cannon went off.

“It was serene,” McKenna said of the swim. He was the fourth amateur to exit the water. “I was astonished by the crowd when I left the water. It’s a long transition to the bike and everyone is cheering loudly. It hits you.”

Getting on his bike at the Olympic Oval, McKenna climbed out of town and onto the hills of the Adirondacks for a 112-mile ride. What he liked about the trip was the way it was broken up –– climbs, descents, and flats weren’t all mixed together. “There was a six-mile descent that was pretty fun because no one was around me,” he said.

Even though McKenna was in ninth place out of the water, he ended up around 380 after the bike portion ended. He called all the other bikers passing him a “meet and greet,” saying, “There’s some strong cyclists out there.”

McKenna went on, “I didn’t pass anyone, but the professionals go flying by.”

Heading back to town for another transition, McKenna said the end of the cycle felt like the Tour de France, even though he’s never been. “Streets are packed,” he said. “I’m sure it feels the same.”

Every step of the last 26.2 miles on foot was “very difficult,” he said. He compared the feeling to a long flight on an airplane. “It’s bad, but bearable,” he said. “It’s generally uncomfortable, but not demoralizing.”

It took about a mile into the run for McKenna to get his legs back after sitting on a bike for so long. “You don’t really have feeling in your legs, but your mind is making them move,” he said. “You look funny and then the legs come around with patience and persistence.”

In the end, he was sustained by his preparation.

McKenna was in Lake Placid for a week leading up to the Ironman. On July 22, he woke up at 4:30 a.m. and ate an energy gel, and a bagel, and drank a couple of cups of coffee. Upon the start of the race, McKenna would be going without any solids for at least 12 hours.

Packing gummies, energy gels, and high-calorie drinks onto his bike, McKenna said he ate at least 100 calories per hour. His calorie intake for the day was up to 3,500 when he started the marathon run.

“Nothing was tasty, but it gave me a good balance,” McKenna said. “I couldn’t actively swallow anything when I was running.”

With one mile left to run, McKenna knew he was about to finish the greatest test of a lifetime. He entered the Olympic Oval with eyes wide open, taking it all in.

“It was nice to not be running anymore,” said McKenna of the ending. “I can’t really describe the feeling. I just hope a lot of people attempt this and feel it for themselves.”

McKenna was very resourceful with his training and it led to a respectful rookie Ironman time. “I went for quality over quantity and took heart-rate data,” he said. “You have no idea if two hours a day can translate to 12 hours a day, but somehow it did.”

Completing an Ironman has made McKenna happier about life and less doubtful in any situation, he said. It took massive amounts of preparation and the task itself was overwhelmingly mental.

“I’m very confident, but not cocky,” McKenna said. “It’s a crutch to lean on. Another notch in the hat.”

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