CLUBS: Ultimate challenge

Royce Woodroffe, left and senior in aerospace engineering, placed 42nd in the Ironman Triathlon with a time of 12:57:14. Matt Moehn, senior in agricultural systems technology, placed 30th in the Ford Ironman Wisconsin Triathlon with a time of 12:05:14. Both men are members of the ISU Triathlon Club. Photo: Logan Gaedke/Iowa State Daily

Logan Gaedke

Royce Woodroffe, left and senior in aerospace engineering, placed 42nd in the Ironman Triathlon with a time of 12:57:14. Matt Moehn, senior in agricultural systems technology, placed 30th in the Ford Ironman Wisconsin Triathlon with a time of 12:05:14. Both men are members of the ISU Triathlon Club. Photo: Logan Gaedke/Iowa State Daily

Dan Tracy

Hoisting the Lombardi trophy, cutting down the nets, kissing the Stanley Cup are all are moments in sports that are hard to describe and even harder to achieve. Some people dream about reaching the pinnacle of their sport and for two ISU triathletes, that dream became a reality. Crossing the finish line on Sept. 13 in Madison, Wis., was an achievement that now stands as the greatest moment of their lives.

Iowa State seniors Matt Moehn, agricultural systems technology, and Royce Woodroffe, aerospace engineering, completed the Ford Ironman Wisconsin Triathlon after a year of planning, training and anticipation.

While in high school, both Moehn, from Peoria, Ill., and Woodroffe, from Fort Madison, ran cross country and track, but neither had ever thought about doing a triathlon.

“In high school, you don’t really know many guys that do triathlons,” Moehn said.

As a method of cross-training, they both decided to see if triathlon training could help them with their endurance and their overall fitness.

“My body was pretty mad at me,” Woodroffe said in regards to the triathlon training.

When they decided to come to Iowa State, the two got involved with the ISU Triathlon Club and began training for their first triathlons. The club competes in a number of triathlons each year, including one that it hosts, the Cy-Man Triathlon, and a national competition in April.

Although it was competing in triathlons, the club wasn’t completing a triathlon near the difficulty of an Ironman. The club participates in Sprint Triathlons and Olympic Triathlons, which are roughly 16 miles and 32 miles in total distance, respectively.

In comparison, the Ironman Triathlon combines swimming, cycling and running into a 140.8-mile journey. Competitors begin with a 2.4-mile swim that’s followed by a 112-mile bike ride and then the final test, a full 26.2 mile marathon.

Preparing for the Ironman — Last September, after completing two sprint and two Olympic triathlons apiece, Moehn and Woodroffe decided to sign up for the Ironman Wisconsin after they had talked with the Triathlon Club advisers Alex Shylman and Justin Gatewood, who had both completed an Ironman.

“It’s the ultimate goal for the sport,” Woodroffe said of the Ironman.

With the help of their advisers and fellow triathletes, the two began a rigorous training regimen that gradually built up their bodies to be physically prepared to take on the Ironman.

“It really did take a whole year to build up those distances [of the Ironman],” Woodroffe said.

In the process, both Moehn and Woodroffe sustained a number of injuries, including near stress fractures in their ankles, IT band soreness, shin splints and even a shoulder injury that Moehn suffered only two weeks before the race.

Not only were there physical burdens but financial ones as well. The registration fee for the Ironman is $550 plus $2,000 for a triathlon-specifc bicycle and also paying their way to Madison for the actual triathlon.

“It’s tough because pretty much any extra spending money went toward the triathlon,” Moehn said.

As September approached, both men felt their bodies were ready to compete, but they knew it would take much more than just physical readiness to get them across the finish line.

“We train our bodies all year, but if you don’t have the mental capacity, you won’t make it,” Moehn said.

Hoping to get themselves more mentally acclimated with the Ironman, Moehn and Woodroffe began watching videos on YouTube of the many incredible stories that come from the Ironman competitors.

“The videos definitely helped with the anticipation,” Moehn said.

The Race — Sept. 13 began much earlier for Moehn and Woodroffe than for the typical college student on a Saturday. At 4 a.m., the two were out of their hotel room, munching on bagels and gulping juice as they began preparing their bodies for a grueling day. The pair made it to Lake Monona around 5:45, and by 6:30 they had started gathering near the lake where they would be joined by 2,400 other competitors.

A cannon was shot at 7 a.m. signaling the commencement of the Ford Ironman Wisconsin competition.

Swimming is notable for being a non-contact sport. Not in the Ironman.

Arms and legs flail about as each competitor hopes to begin their day with a good swim. Moehn and Woodroffe said it was as if everyone was swimming on top of each other. Woodroffe even admitted that he accidentally kicked a lady in the mouth at one point.

“It can get really vicious out there,” Woodroffe said.

After completing the swim in about an hour and 20 minutes, both Moehn and Woodroffe got out of the water at nearly the same time. Mentally focused, Woodroffe was so “in the zone” that he couldn’t even hear his sister yelling his name from a short distance away as he changed out of his swimsuit.

Once out of the water, competitors stormed through nearly 2,400 bikes to find their own and then it was off for a 112-mile bike ride through the hilly terrain of the city of Madison. The Madison bike course is notorious for being the toughest Ironman bike course in North America said Moehn and Woodroffe. Steep hills at miles 40 and 80 test the strength and perseverance of even the top competitors.

“It’s an ‘I hate you’ part of the race,” Moehn said.

Luckily, many volunteers, family and friends gather at those hills to motivate the competitors.

“You need the support to get you up those hills,” Woodroffe said.

Moehn and Woodroffe made it over the hills and were even keeping pace with some professionals in the race. All was well until the 104th mile when Woodroffe’s bike chain somehow slipped and fell off. Woodroffe was having difficulty pedaling the bike because every three revolutions the bike briefly stuttered. Ironman rules state that competitors must finish the cycling portion with their bike. Past competitors have been forced to carry their bikes in order to finish the second leg of the race.

“I would have [run with the bike] if I had to,” Woodroffe said.

Woodroffe fell behind Moehn as Moehn finished the cycling portion nearly 30 minutes before Woodroffe. Woodroffe crossed the line slowly but surely on his bike and prepared for the final test of the Ironman.The final leg has been known as the signature challenge of the race. Competitors must complete a full 26.2 mile marathon. The marathon portion of the triathlon was a new experience for Moehn, but not for Woodroffe.

Woodroffe completed the Des Moines Marathon back in 2006.

“To me it was like I had to know what 26.2 miles felt like before I could imagine doing it,” Woodroffe said.

Moehn reached about the 14-mile mark when he began seeing competitors on the side of the course that were either walking or sitting down to take a break.

“In the back of your mind, you wish you could just take a break for your body,” Moehn said.

The temptations continued for Moehn as he met a man at the 22-mile mark that tried to convince him they could walk the rest of the race and still finish in under 17 hours — the time limit for the race. Once Moehn hit State Street in Madison and saw the mass of people gathered, the temptations went away.

“You’re starting to run faster and starting to feel much more confident, it’s like ‘where did this come from?’” Moehn said.

Finally, just a few minutes after 7 p.m., on the course for half of a day, Moehn crossed the finish line with arms raised high. Woodroffe followed nearly an hour later in the same fashion after overcoming the mishap on his bike.

Moehn finished 30th out of 95 competitors in the collegiate division with a time of 12:05:14. Woodroffe finished 42nd out of 95 with a time of 12:57:57. Nearly 2,700 competitors began the race, and Moehn and Woodroffe were two of the 2,398 competitors to finish it.

“Times were in the back of our mind, but our main goal was to finish,” Moehn said.

The physical toll that the race took on both competitors was quite apparent. Moehn checked his heart rate monitor after the running portion of the triathlon and noticed that he burned 4,000 calories in the marathon alone. Once back at the hotel, Moehn and Woodroffe were shocked to find that they had each lost nearly 10 pounds. When asked about the scale of pain they were in following the Ironman, the two made it clear that this was not any ordinary jog down Lincoln Way.

“At least 10,” Woodroffe said.

“No, 50,” Moehn replied.

“It was the most intense muscle experience I have ever had,” Woodroffe said.

Post-Race  — After receiving their medals the two dragged themselves back to their hotel rooms and hibernated until around noon the next day. Their bodies needed rest, but their minds were already racing with thoughts of completing another Ironman in the future