MOUNT WASHINGTON - The Ironman triathlon is one of the most grueling tests of physical strength and stamina known to man, requiring competitors to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run 26.2 miles, back to back to back.
When Phil Stevens witnessed the first Ford Ironman Louisville race in 2007 he was inspired.
“It was so exciting,” he said. “In the back of my mind I thought, ‘I want to do that someday.”
His opportunity came last autumn when his friend Mike Scobee offered to pay half of the $500 entry fee if he would compete in the 2010 Ironman race in Louisville.
Stevens took him up on his offer, but only competing in a few marathons and small triathlons he knew he had some work to do to prepare for the race.
The 42-year-old chemist spent months in training, swimming and running five miles a day nearly every weekday during his lunch breaks, biking countless miles along Bardstown Road two to three days a week.
Keeping track of his progress, Stevens recorded biking at least 100 miles five times and completing two half-Ironman races from April to August.
After all his training, Stevens was ready.
On Sunday, Aug. 29 he joined thousands of competitors in downtown Louisville for the nationally televised event.
As he stood on the banks of the Ohio River that morning the only thing he knew for sure was that all his hard work was about to be put to the test.
After diving in, he swam 2.4 miles from the Ohio shoreline, around Towhead Island and back, then, almost immediately, he hopped on his bike and rode 112 miles.
Then came the run.
“It was the most difficult part by far,” he said. “It was about 4 in the afternoon when I started. The pavement was really warm and your feet get so hot…It was hard.”
Stevens watched as many of his fellow competitors dropped out of the race, but with his family and friends cheering him on from the sidelines, Stevens persevered.
“That was a big boost for me seeing everyone,” he said.
Stevens said it also didn’t hurt that he kept himself nourished and well hydrated throughout the race, eating plenty of power bars and drinking lots water every chance he got.
After 13 hours, 51 minutes, Stevens reached his goal of finishing the race in under 14 hours as he crossed the finish line to hear the announcer say, “Phil Stevens, you are an iron man.”
“Even if you never thought of doing it and you went down to the finish line you’d want to, because there’s so much energy there. It’s incredible,” Stevens said.
Looking back, Stevens said he would like to compete next year, possibly even with his 20-year old son and his 26-year-old niece, who have asked him to help them train for the 2011 event.
“You could say it’s a once in a lifetime thing. I definitely want to do it again,” Stevens said.