For years, James Hall has watched Ironman participants bike past his home on Cross Country Road.
This year, his view will be different, as he swims, bikes and runs with almost 2,500 other competitors during the Ironman Wisconsin on Sunday, Sept. 8. This is the 48 year old’s first time competing in the Ironman, a feat he didn’t think he could do a little more than three and a half years ago.
“In the whole time living here (in Verona), we watched the Ironman and we watched people, (thinking), ‘Holy cow, how are they doing that?’” he said. “Never in our minds would we ever have thought that would be something that we would be thinking about.”
That thinking started to change when a friend posed a simple question: “2018 or 2019?”
James’s friend was asking about what year he wanted to participate in the Ironman – he agreed to 2019, because he knew he needed to train more before being ready.
And once you say yes to something like the Ironman, his wife Teresa added, there’s no backing out.
“It’s like once he and his friends said it out loud, then it was just like, you had to do it,” she said. “You had to do it for each other.”
A few years earlier, he and Teresa “started hanging out with the wrong crowd,” who encouraged them to pursue fitness and eventually the Ironman, he said with a laugh.
The pair started a Couch to 5K program with Unwin Chiropractic in spring 2016, when the two of them were “very couch” and could barely make it through the first couple of classes, James said.
The first class had them repeatedly running for 30 seconds straight before taking a two minute walking break, which they thought was easy, Teresa said. But the second class increased their running time to 45 seconds, which proved to be more difficult.
“We were like, ‘We’re going to die,’” James said.
James and Teresa persevered through the increasingly difficult trainings, and continued to join other groups focused on fitness. James works with Bill Martin at SBR Endurance Performance as his main coach and often runs with friends from work.
To prepare for the Ironman, James trains at least five days a week, and sometimes twice a day – minus Friday nights, which is date night for him and Teresa at Verona Area High School football games.
“That’s our life now,” he said.
In addition, James has Teresa as his motivator. She bikes or runs along with him on his runs, she said, but puts in fewer laps or miles than him.
Since those first classes, James and Teresa have collectively lost 120 pounds, and have participated in shorter running and cycling races in the Madison area and across the country, including the Madison Half-Marathon, the Twilight 10K, the Crazylegs Classic, Tour De Tahoe in Nevada and the Walt Disney World Marathon.
Prior to receiving professional training, James, Teresa and their two children, who are now grown, had done Berbee Derby on Thanksgiving Day in Fitchburg and the Hometown Days run for years as a family, but for those races, their training had always been the walk to the starting line.
“Anything after that, we pretty much had to crawl,” he said.
While Teresa will be cheering for James on Sunday, she’s also made strides with her training, and will be running her first marathon in Honolulu in December.
“It’s been a transformation for both of us,” James said.
‘A buffet every mile’
If you see James on the day of the race looking ripped, he said you shouldn’t be fooled – those aren’t leg muscles, it’s Uncrustables in his pockets.
Not all of the preparing for Ironman comes in the form of a swim, a run or biking – James and Teresa have had to take the time to plan his nutrition throughout the day-long event with his coaches.
James needs around 300 calories an hour during the competition, he said, which he’ll meet by stashing away energy gels that have the consistency of hot fudge, electrolyte jelly beans, pickle slices and the Uncrustables PB&J sandwiches in his pockets that other runner friends of his swear by.
In addition to the food of his own he’ll receive in a bag at the half-way mark of the 112-mile bike ride, Ironman volunteers hand out large amounts of Gatorade and crackers. There’s also chicken noodle soup broth given out during the run that hits the spot because of how salty it is, James said.
“A marathon is just a long run … with a buffet every mile,” he said with a smile.
Putting in the miles
To prepare for this year’s Ironman, James has put in a combined 3,500 miles swimming, biking and running.
Typically, every time James goes for a swim, he’s putting in 1.2 miles. With biking, the distance has tapered off in the weeks leading up to the Ironman, but he’s ridden the full Ironman cycling distance of 112 miles and averages 30-40 a ride.
James’s runs average around nine miles.
The worry that he didn’t train enough has plagued James’s mind in the weeks leading up to the race, he said, but knows his mind is playing games when in reality his body is ready for the challenge.
“The way I look at it, it’s just a catered event with lots of fans,” he said. “Just take it as a training day with free food.”