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Sanbornton's 'Iron Man'

Scott Atherton recently competed his first full Ironman in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Sanbornton’s Scott Atherton crosses the finish line at the Lake Placid Ironman on July 24. Courtesy Photo. (click for larger version)
August 08, 2011
SANBORNTON – It didn't take long for Scott Atherton to get the itch.

A friend talked the Sanbornton resident into doing his first triathlon in 2009, and he followed that up by competing in the Gilford Timberman Half-Ironman later that summer. When 2010 rolled around, the New Hampshire State Trooper made the trip to Providence, R.I. for another half-ironman. This one was different however, as the race also featured the sign-up sheet for a full ironman the following summer.

"There's only one full ironman in the northeast and when I was at Providence, you could sign up for it so I did it right there and then," said the 42-year old Atherton.

Fast-forward to July 24. After making the trip to Lake Placid, N.Y., Atherton completed the grueling competition (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run) in 12 hours, 52 minutes and nine seconds, finishing 699th overall out of the nearly 3,000 competitors in attendance.

"My goal was 13 hours so I was able to beat that," said Atherton. "To me, it's just amazing. If you can put your mind to it and train yourself, you can do just about anything you want and this proves that."

It was a day of firsts for Atherton. The race not only marked his first full Ironman, but also the first time he ran more than 20 miles. Capping off the event with a full marathon is certainly a daunting task.

"I was pretty much a 5K, 10K road racer before I got into these things," he said. "I ran a lot up until '09 but I'm a bigger guy, I'm 215 (pounds), so I'm not really built for running. But with the endurance stuff, the longer you go, the less you try to go fast because you know you have to make it all the way through."

Once Atherton committed to the race, his training regime kicked into full gear after Christmas this past winter.

"I knew that once Christmas was over, the training was really going to have to start and I knew I had to have about six to seven months of full training to be ready for it," he explained. "I didn't get a coach to help train. It's expensive so I just had a couple friends that had done some help me out and I based some of my training off them."

In the early winter months, Atherton's training would take up about 10-15 hours a week. He was able to get his swim workouts in at the Gunstock Inn and Fitness Center in Gilford, while he managed to get outside and run throughout the winter months. That was important for him, as he was already stuck indoors on a stationary bike when snow encompassed the Lakes Region.

"I didn't run on a treadmill once," he said. "You can run on a treadmill but your legs just don't get used to the pounding of the asphalt so I made sure to stay outside all winter. The pool had benefits for me though, especially with my speed. It gets boring when you're working on distance because it's a lot of laps but my speed definitely improved from it."

But as the weather turned and the final months of training approached, Atherton ramped his workouts up. It wasn't unusual for him to leave his house at 4 a.m. on Saturday mornings and return home nearly 12 hours later.

"The last three months were push months and I put in a lot of mileage," he admitted. "I must've done at least four 100-plus bike rides in that last stretch."

Atherton finally shifted over to open water swims in early May, alternating between Ellacoya in Gilford and Lake Waukewan in Meredith.

"You could swim along the shoreline and outer edge of buoys and not be over your head that much," said Atherton of Ellacoya. "A lot of triathletes use those areas to train and once you learn that proper technique, you can really swim a long ways."

While he suffered a leg injury in the last month before the race, Atherton pushed through and made it to Lake Placid. When he got to the starting line for the 7 a.m. kickoff, he was amazed at the scene before him. While most triathlons have staggered starting times based on divisions and the like, this Ironman had every participant start in the water at the same time.

"It was crazy, absolutely crazy," Atherton said. "The line probably stretched about 150-200 yards across so I started kind of near the middle. The only problem, which I learned very quickly, was that when I tried to work my way over to the buoys, it was nearly impossible to keep moving. So I worked my way back out to the middle and I was able to stay in a flow. After a good while, I was able to take nice long strokes and the people around seemed to be in their own little zones. But I was watching people getting the goggles kicked off their heads all over the place."

After finishing the 2.4-mile swim in one hour, eight minutes and 42 seconds, Atherton transitioned to the bike portion.

"The thing with the bike and me is that I wanna just go," he offered. "I had to train not to go as hard as I can because then I wouldn't have any legs left for the run. That happens to a lot of these guys. If you go as hard as you can on the bike, maybe you'll feel pretty good right away in the run. But there's going to be some places where you'll pay for it."

Atherton came off the bike in six hours, nine minutes and 43 seconds. While it was about seven minutes faster than he had aimed for, he felt good and made sure to stay hydrated during the 112-mile ride.

"I drank about six Gatorades and six bottles of water," he revealed.

With two-thirds of the legs in the books, the daunted run still laid before Atherton. Despite already competing in over seven hours of physical competition, an exhausting 26.2-mile jaunt stood between him and the finish line.

"It weighs on your mind the whole race," said Atherton of the run. "I had taped on my water bottle, 'Have fun, it's a marathon' so I saw that the whole time during the bike. Then when you get into transition and you sit down and put on your running gear, it really sets in that you still have a marathon ahead of you."

With his months of training coming into play, Atherton navigated the two-loop course. His legs began giving him a problem around mile 15. But after meeting up with a friend from Meredith, the duo managed their way through the next few miles.

"There were some tough points towards the end but once you get back into town where the people all are, that's when you need to suck it up and the adrenaline just starts to kick in," he said.

The last three miles back in Lake Placid saw seven months of hard work flash before his eyes, as he came across the finish line at 7:52 p.m. The marathon portion of the event took Atherton five hours, 14 minutes and 56 seconds.

"I crossed the finish line with my arms up and I was absolutely pumped," he said. "Then like five minutes later, I just needed to sit down. They take the finishers picture and then they weigh you to make sure you aren't dehydrated. I weighed only two pounds less than when I started so I did a very good job hydrating."

While Atherton had hoped to stay around the finish line until midnight when the parties are really in full force, his body had other ideas.

"After those first few minutes of excitement went away, I just said, 'Get me off my feet and into bed," he said with a laugh. "I think I was out by about 9:30. Some people can just feel fine afterwards. For me, I ended up getting some wicked blisters on the bottoms of my feet."

After a few sore days, Atherton said he felt relatively good by Thursday after the Sunday race.

"I had some achy quads on Tuesday but other than the blusters, my muscles weren't sore at all by Thursday," he explained.

Now that he's had time to recover, the married father of three has his sights set on his future endurance career. While he's planning on taking next year off in the full Ironman game, he has his sights set on 2013 for another go.

"It's just a lot for the family with a wife and three kids and works and everything else," he said. "They want you to do 20 hours a week of training but I don't have that kind of time. But now that I've done one, I want to improve on my time."

Atherton got back out for the first time last week, when he ran a 5K in Loudon. He's got some "smaller" races planned for the near future, with a marathon slated for November. He expects to do some half Ironmans next summer before trying his luck again in '13.

"Just time to get the family back on track," he said. "They sacrificed all summer pretty much so we're going to get back to normal as much as possible now."

With his Ironman training now scaled back dramatically, Atherton does admit it's a much different feeling from the previous months.

"I find myself feeling a little guilty but it's nice to not have that pressure," he said. "I had the time of my life though. The training was tough but I was happy with how it went and it paid off for me. I'm still sneaking my workouts in, they're just not seven or eight hours anymore. For me, it was absolutely worth all the hard work. It was a goal I had, and I was able to accomplish it."

Salmon Press
Martin Lord Osman
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