Competitors line up on the Ohio River bank with a 140.6-mile course before them.
Participants young and old, female and male have the same journey ahead: 2.4 miles swimming through the Ohio River; 112 miles of biking along the hilly Louisville countryside; and 26.2 miles on foot leading to the heart of the city.
A study conducted by RunTri revealed the average competitor finishes the three events in about 12 hours and 35 minutes. The time was based on an analysis of more than 41,000 finishers in 25 Ironman triathlons.
Johnny Clemons of Cleveland aims to finish at 10 hours in the Louisville Ironman on Sunday.
The 37-year-old trail runner and fitness guru began training for the elite competition in May. He said participating in an Ironman competition has been a dream since he was in junior high school. The dream is about to become a reality, thanks in part to People for Care and Learning.
Clemons met Fred Garmon, the executive director of PCL, when they both joined the Run Now Relay team. The former pledged to run 26.2 miles, the equivalent of a marathon, every day of the journey. He ended the Run Now Relay by carrying the GPS device over the Boston Marathon finish line in less than three hours.
Garmon was impressed by his teammate’s natural athletic ability and dedication to running. The two began to talk. Soon a partnership between the elite runner and PCL was struck.
Garmon said the nonprofit’s mission to “inspire hope and empower potential” fits perfectly with Clemons.
“He is a humble guy. He is from Cleveland; [so] he is a local guy. He is a family man. He is always trying to help people,” he said. “For us it was a no brainer that we try to help him … for a short period of time to empower him to see what he can do.”
“Help” from the nonprofit came in the form of encouragement and monetary aid for equipment, registration fees and travel costs. Clemons returned PCL’s good-faith contributions with 20 hours of training each week. He biked 150 to 200 miles weekly in addition to running 50 to 80 miles and swimming 10 miles.
Clemons said some people think what he is doing is crazy, until they see his marathon times.
His goal is to finish the swimming and biking portions of the triathlon in seven hours. The remaining three hours of his overall 10-hour goal will go toward the remaining 26.2-mile run.
According to further studies conducted by RunTri, males in the 35 to 39 age bracket competing at the Louisville Ironman finish on average at 12 hours and 38 minutes. Clemons’ goal would place him 2 1/2 hours ahead of the curve. Placing within the top five or three (depending on race day numbers) could qualify him to compete in the elite International Ironman, held in Hawaii on Oct. 11.
Clemons said his focus is mainly on achieving his 10-hour mark.
Accomplishing his goal will take a feat of physical and mental strength.
“You just kind of shut down and think about other stuff,” he explained. “When I get on the bike, I have to make sure I don’t race on the bike. I have to save all of my energy for the marathon.”
He joked his main focus during the swimming portion will be to swim straight and fast. He will then focus on monitoring his speed and exertion on the bicycling portion. The final leg will find him in familiar territory as he challenges his body to perform at an elite level under extreme conditions.
“I think Sunday will be the hottest day of the summer for Louisville,” Clemons said. “It will be 96 degrees for the high, and 10-mile-per-hour winds.”
Aside from the three events and the day’s heat, Clemons said he will ensure his body receives proper caloric care. He listed nutrition as the fourth event of the day.
“I’m going to try and consume about 4,000 calories on the entire trip,” he said. “I’m going to really watch the salt and keep the calories coming in.”
Although Clemons plans to be focused during the triathlon, he can already predict one welcome distraction during the race: his family yelling excitedly and encouraging him from the sidelines.
Garmon encouraged Cleveland residents to follow Clemons’ progress Sunday from Ironman.com using the bib tracker number 1404.
“Where he has come from to where he is today doesn’t just happen,” Garmon said. “He can inspire so many young people to realize they can reach their dreams inside of them.
“Potential is so often used as an adjective for those who had it and never used it. More times than not, potential is a negative word for those who had it, but we all have it. There is this great [seed] within us that can grow and blossom.”
Clemons thanked the community, PCL and his family for the support they have shown him throughout the training process.