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triathlon

The long road to Ironman glory

Peterborough doctor competes in Florida event despite lingering ankle injury

Last October, Ron Michalak had a couple meetings with his family.

With a goal for the coming year, he had to make sure everyone was behind him. Because what the 43-year-old orthopedic surgeon at Monadnock Community Hospital had planned would take away from a lot of family time.

Since he was in high school, Michalak had always wanted to compete in an Ironman Triathlon. At the time, Michalak competed in some of the shorter distance events, but for the next 20 years he had nothing to do with the sport. Then a few years ago he got back into it. He competed in a half Ironman and was pleasantly surprised with how well it went. And that’s when the intrigue of a full Ironman came about.

“It’s been something in the back of my head for a long time,” said Michalak. “But to pull something like this off with a wife and kids everyone has to be on board.”

It takes a few years to get ready for the grueling task an Ironman competition presents. So he trained and competed in a few events over the next couple years until he felt ready.

That’s when he met with his family. When they gave him the go ahead, Michalak set his target for the Florida Ironman in Panama City Beach, Fla., on Nov. 3, 2012. Sign-ups were one year prior from the day of the event, so he had 365 days to complete the training for what would prove to be the hardest day in his athletic life.

“That was the official commitment and when the training really began,” said Michalak.

It was a difficult year, but one that Michalak capped off with a finish in 15 hours, 44 minutes and 21 seconds.

“It’s really the journey that counts,” said Michalak. “The accomplishment is not really the day. The accomplishment is the preparation and planning.”

The Florida Ironman consists of a 2.4-mile ocean swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run. It took Michalak 1:17:21 for the swim and 6:24:31 for the bike course and another 7:38:40 for the marathon.

“It’s all about staying back at a relatively safe pace,” said Michalak. “I was very happy with the way the day went. It’s quite impressive what the human body can do.”

Michalak’s day began at 7 a.m. and finished at 10:44 p.m., a little over an hour before the cut-off. But it counted. His 680 hours of training over the course of the previous year had not been wasted. The time away from his family was worth it.

An ankle injury in April while hiking on a family vacation almost derailed his attempt. He could not train for almost a month and even when he was able to resume, running was not an option. It wasn’t until July that he could walk more than a mile at a time. But it slowly got better. Yet Michalak knew he would not be able to run the entire marathon course.

So he instead went for the idea of power walking. His time would be affected, but it was his only alternative. If Michalak decided to put off his attempt, he didn’t know when he would have the time to commit to it again.

“I was very unhappy with the thought of it being scrapped,” said Michalak. “So I had to make a decision.”

So Michalak kept his top goal as finishing the race. And it made crossing the finish line that much sweeter. But by mile 23 of the run, he began to really notice the fatigue.

“You feel your whole body system grinding down,” said Michalak. “That’s when you have to push through.”

When he reached the 25-mile marker, he could hear the announcer off in the distance and see the big flood lights.

“You get to that point and you say ‘I can do this,’” said Michalak.

And when Michalak came to the final stretch in the dead of night, there were still thousands of people cheering on the finishers. He heard his name announced as he crossed the line and it is the moment he will likely remember the most.

“That’s something you dream about for a while,” said Michalak.

His ankle hurt for a few days, he needed some assistance once he crossed the finish line and he wasn’t hungry for about 12 hours, but for Michalak it was worth it. He wanted the challenge of the Ironman and that is exactly what he got.

“I would love to do another one in a few years,” said Michalak. “I’d love to give it another go when I can run right again.”

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