Jim Clark raises his arms as he crosses the finish line May 17 in the North American Championship Ironman Texas in The Woodlands, Texas.
Considered one of the toughest one-day sporting events in the world, the Ironman Triathlon isn’t just a sport, it’s a way of life.
When Jim Clark of Alton decided he wanted to get into better shape at the age of 40, he had no clue how it could change his life. Clark competed in the Wood River Triathlon five years ago and in May, now at 45, he completed his first Ironman Triathlon at the North American Championship Ironman Texas in The Woodlands, Texas.
It’s definitely been an evolution.
“I’ve been playing softball and all these competitive sports for years, but they were all team sports,” Clark said. “When you have a good game in softball but your team loses, you still feel like crap. If you have a bad day and your team wins, you still feel like crap because you didn’t help the team win, so I needed something where if I do good it’s for me and if I do bad it’s on me, and I needed to get back in shape.”
His wife, Jeanna, talked him into competing in the Wood River Triathlon. He did OK, but when he saw the physical fitness level of some of the competitors, he was sold on the value of the sport.
“The thing that impressed me was when they called out the 60- 69-year-old division winner; the guy was 69 and until he took off his sunglasses and you could see some crow’s-feet around his eyes, the guy looked like he was 35 and everybody up there looked like that,” Clark said. “I thought, ‘If I want to be in shape, this looks like the sport I need to be in.’”
He told friends he planned on doing an Ironman and they laughed at him. It motivated Clark and now the joke is on them.
Just in the past year Clark has competed in two half marathons, a marathon, a 4-mile swim, a 5K open water swim, two sprint triathlons, two Olympic triathlons, a half Ironman and a full Ironman.
He finished the Ironman in Texas in 14 hours and 33 minutes. The limit is to finish in under 17 hours.
An Ironman Triathlon is an endurance juggernaut, consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run, raced in that order without a break.
“To the layperson, or my normal friends that don’t do this, it sounds like it’s insane, but to me I don’t even feel like I’m worthy because I’m in a tri-club (Team Godzilla of Metro Tri-Club) now with a lot of guys that do this stuff,” Clark said. “There’s one guy we call the ‘Godfather’ named Bill Peterson who has done 31 Ironman (competitions). We have Doug Havlin, who is going to the World Championships. He qualified for Kailua-Kona (Hawaii) this year. It’s just amazing what this can do for you, the camaraderie and the health benefits.”
Havlin competed in the World Championships on Saturday, finishing in 11 hours and 59 minutes. With that he was 1,332nd overall and 224th in the men’s 40-44 division.
Clark admitted that the actual Ironman is only a morsel of the whole feast. It’s the training, the tireless work, that is the true prize.
“You get up at 5 a.m. and run in the rain, or you ride your bike and it’s 30 degrees and you’re freezing,” he said. “It’s the dedication that it takes that people don’t see, the commitment that ‘I’m going to do this,’ is when you realize what it took to get there.”
And Clark has his eyes set on bigger prizes than the Ironman now. He’s trimming down his times and feels in better shape. Five years after that first Wood River Triathlon, he shaved 22 minutes off his time, finishing in 1 hour and 13 minutes in 2014, good for second in his age group.
In the Border War in Alton recently he turned in a time of 6 hours and 2 minutes. That was down 1 hour and 46 minutes from 2013.
“When I first started doing this I was like, ‘Oh, this will be fun for a race or two,’” Clark said. “But then you start doing it and you wonder, ‘How far can I go?’ When I first started I thought I’d do an Ironman on my bucket list and maybe a 50-mile run, but I’d see these ultra runs which are 100-mile runs and think, ‘No way I could do a 100-mile run.’ But now I’m looking at 100-mile runs and I’m looking at the Anvil Race, which is double, triple and five times the Ironman distance. I’m not looking at the triple or five times yet, but I think I could do a double Ironman.”
He’s even got his wife and two children following in his footsteps. Jeanna did her first marathon and two triathlons this year, his daughter Reiley, 11, has done three triathlons and a 5K and his son Eli, 5, has been doing a summer running series for three years. Clark calls it “a family obsession.”
He added, “The further you push yourself and you achieve it, you wonder, ‘How much more can I do? It’s amazing what I’ve got to at this point.”