Tri-athletes prepare for the Wisconsin IRONMAN

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Tri-athletes prepare for the Wisconsin IRONMAN

Steve Lewandowski poses with the bicycle he'll use during the Wisconsin IRONMAN in Madison.

Steve Lewandowski poses with the bicycle he'll use during the Wisconsin IRONMAN in Madison.

Photo by Andrew Himmelberg

Steve Lewandowski poses with the bicycle he'll use during the Wisconsin IRONMAN in Madison.

Photo by Andrew Himmelberg

Photo by Andrew Himmelberg

Steve Lewandowski poses with the bicycle he'll use during the Wisconsin IRONMAN in Madison.

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Jump into the pool at Marquette’s Helfaer Tennis Stadium and Recreation Center and swim 85 full laps. Then, go outside, hop on your bike and ride it from Milwaukee to Appleton, Wisconsin, which is about two hours away by car. Finally, ditch your bike and run east to De Pere, Wisconsin, on the outskirts of Green Bay, roughly a 35-minute drive away.

All of this is to be done with no breaks and under 20 hours, regardless of weather conditions.

Steve Lewandowski, a junior in the college of engineering. is one of the only people at Marquette who will gladly take the equivalent of that challenge on in IRONMAN Wisconsin. This Sunday, Lewandowski will go to Madison to compete in a triathlon that consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a marathon, or a 26.2-mile run into one event. It’s grueling, but Lewandowski has wanted this for a long time.

“I thought it was really cool…it’s always been kind of a bucket list item,” he said.

Lewandowski’s desire to do an IRONMAN harkens back to his childhood days on the couch next to his dad, watching the IRONMAN World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. He decided to register for his first Wisconsin IRONMAN back in January.

Since then, Lewandowski has trained for roughly 18 hours every week, divided evenly between the three parts of the event. Some days, Lewandowski’s training plan called for an 80-mile bike ride to build endurance. Other times, it might call for a 14-mile run. It’s an endeavor Lewandowski refers to as “a part-time job,” which somehow fits into his life next to an actual full-time engineering co-op with Honda in Columbus, Ohio. Giving training any less attention is not an option.

“You’re constantly challenging yourself, pushing your limits, doing things you never thought possible,” Lewandowski said. “If you put in the work and you put your mind to something, you can literally do anything, (even) an Iron Man.”

Facebook post courtesy of Steve Lewandowski

Nothing short of actually doing the triathlon can ever mimic the experience. Dylan Friss, a civil engineering graduate who is also going to Madison for his first IRONMAN, can attest to that. Friss, an avid member of Marquette’s triathlon club, has only ever completed events that are half the length of the Madison event. Training for the longer version made him want to give in.

“When you’re on a solo century ride, you’re like, ‘Why am I doing this?’” Friss said, describing the frequent 100-mile bike rides that comprise IRONMAN training. “It’ll suck, especially with a headwind…what gets me through is that I know it will benefit me for the race.”

Lewandowski felt exactly the same way, especially several weeks ago as the enormity of the impending task began to dawn on him. One-hundred forty total miles is daunting even for the fittest people in the world.

“You keep praying about it and you hope that your training will get you through the race,” Lewandowski said.

During the course of training for Saturday, Lewandowski heard something that became increasingly more true as the weeks went by. “Someone told me once, ‘You’re going to have to have some kind of faith to help you get through this race … you’re going to want to quit halfway through, and that’s where your faith comes and helps you.’”

Faith comes in many different forms for Lewandowski: Faith in God, yes, but also faith in the cause for which he is racing. Lewandowski is a part of Team World Vision, a group of several dozen triathlon participants who are raising money to bring sustainable, clean water to communities across 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

According to Team World Vision, $50 is enough to provide one child with access to clean water for almost a lifetime. Lewandowski has raised just shy of $3,500, enough to bring potable water to roughly 70 children.

“The sport has given me so much more confidence and hard work that carries into my school and work life,” Lewandowski said. “So it’s time for me to give back a little bit.”

Being part of Team World Vision has brought Lewandowski more than just purpose; it has also provided him with a flock of fellow triathletes to train with. Lewandowski hates training alone. It’s always safer and more enjoyable to go with others, he said. Although his teammates are spread throughout the Midwest, someone is always close to wherever he is and game for a biking session.

Tracy Fritz, Lewandowski’s World Vision teammate who is competing in her fourth IRONMAN, also embraces the idea of training with others, especially after going at it alone during her prior attempts. “I kind of dreaded going out there to ride for safety reasons, and who the heck am I going to talk to? … (The community) is one thing I’ve enjoyed a lot more this time.”

Friss and Lewandowski occasionally train together when they’re both at Marquette; they even competed against each other at last year’s Collegiate Club National Tournament. Even though the two are friends, Friss relished beating Lewandowski in the swimming portion of the race despite him being a faster swimmer.

“(Steve) did get kicked in the face, so that’s a pretty legitimate reason to get slowed down,” Friss said. “He’s a good guy and I think he’ll do pretty well.”

With the race less than seven days away, both triathletes scheduled a “rest week” with only light training to conserve energy for race day. Lewandowski will hop in his car later this week and make the eight-hour drive from Columbus to Madison, where he’s only ever seen the rugged, hilly course once. Both athletes will eat mountains of carbohydrates the day before, like rice and potatoes that can be easily converted into energy. Then, at approximately 7 a.m. on Sunday, a year’s worth of brutal exercise reaches its culmination.

“At the end of the day, no matter how much you train, it’s 140 miles and that’s a lot,” Lewandowski said. “You can be the most trained and the most in shape, but you just kind of pray you have a good race day.”

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