The Chef In Shape

From "Cheffy-Face" to Ironman: How and Why - Part 2

By Jon Bonnell

Editors note: This month Jon tells us about how he came to his triathlon participation.

"The fastest 5k I ever had was in a sprint" mentioned a customer across the bar when night at Bonnell's in 2011. "What's a sprint?" I asked. "It's the short-distance triathlon with a 5k run at the end" he responded. I let that one sink in for a while, then did a little research to see if triathlon racing was even done in Fort Worth. Sure enough, there was a sprint at the Benbrook YMCA in 3 months. I found a great used tri-bike and started riding, having absolutely no clue what I was supposed to do other than just start training. James at Ft Worth Cycling sold me the bike and was the best guy to keep asking about this whole triathlon thing. He had a vast array of knowledge on the subject and was chock full of free advice on equipment and rules of the sport. The day I ran my first sprint, I knew instantly that I was hooked. My wife and daughter were right there cheering me on, despite triathlon being one of the worst spectator sports on the planet. I looked up every sprint I could find and based my race calendar on every race within an hour that I could find. Duathlons, triathlons, adventure races, stair climbs, 5ks, I signed up for something almost every other weekend. Hardware in a triathlon became my new goal. I was hooked.

Every athlete in a triathlon has their age marked on the back of their right calf, just so we can tell who is in our age group and who we are really racing against. Since we all constantly look at calves, that's typically the preferred spot for triathlon tattoos as well. I kept noticing the iconic Ironman M-Dot tattoo on fellow racers. Bags, hats, shirts, tatts, that M-dot seemed to be everywhere in triathlon. I vaguely remember seeing the Ironman race in Hawaii as a kid on ABC's Wild World of Sports back in the late 70s. If I remember correctly, the first televised version of the race finished around midnight with footage of the first-place female crawling the last few hundred yards on hands and knees after convulsing, collapsing, and "soiling herself" right there for all the world to see. I remember thinking just how impossible the entire thing looked. Hell, a marathon still sounded darned near impossible to me at that point, since my first half marathon had left me limping for weeks with an aggravated IT band. The idea of pushing my limits had always allured me. Maybe a half Ironman? I knew I couldn't compete at that distance, but just finishing one seemed like a pretty bad-ass kind of achievement worth pursuing. I started increasing my distances, slowly but surely, found a wetsuit and started training in open water, and pedaled my bike a little farther for the next few months. In March of 2013, after 5-6 months of increased distance training, I competed in my first half-iron distance (70.3).

Six and a half hours is not any kind of finish time to write home about for a 70.3 race, but I finished and couldn't wait to get one of those 70.3 magnets for the back of my truck. My wife and daughter cheered me on to the finish and made awesome posters, of course. About 30 minutes after the finish, while relaxing with my 3rd Gatorade, my wife peered into my eyes and said "something's wrong". "What? I feel great and I made it" I replied. "You look a little too chipper. You're going to do the full one next, I'm guessing" she said. "No way, I don't even want to do a full marathon, with my aching IT band injury that's just not possible" I tried to sell her, almost believing it myself.

Age Group Winner

Jon winning his age group while pushing a stroller!

Dr. Brian Mulhall fixed my IT band faster than I thought possible and the thought of a real, full-length, legit 140.6 mile Ironman just wouldn't leave my head. If I managed to finish a half, surely I could train for another 6 months and maybe have a shot a completing a full, right? I finally summoned enough courage to bring it up to my wife. Not surprisingly, she already knew what I was going to ask. "Of course you're going to try for the full, I knew that the day you finished the half" she said. How about that, she knew it before I did. I checked the IM website and found a perfect date, the inaugural Ironman Lake Tahoe in September. Sounded like a beautiful place. My sights were set, "just keep slowly building up the mileage on the run, swim a little farther every week, and increase the saddle time on the bike and I might be able to pull this off" I kept promising myself. Finding the time to train was the hard part. Wake up at 4 AM to get in a long run, swim at LA Fitness between lunch and dinner shifts, maybe do an 80 mile ride on a Friday morning before working a late lunch and dinner shift, whatever it took I was focused on the end game. I didn't have a coach or a training group of any kind, just me and my crazy obsession with becoming an Ironman. I was swimming twice a week, over 2 miles each time, biking 3 times a week (20, 40, 80 miles each) and running 5 or 6 days a week.

September, 10th 2013, Lake Tahoe, CA. A freak snowstorm the night before almost had the entire race cancelled. On the morning of the race, air temperature was 28 degrees as we all stood on the beach of Lake Tahoe singing the national anthem. The temperature only got into the lower 50s that day, then back to upper 30s by the end, but I shouldn't complain. This was supposed to be hard. It's the hard that makes it great. I dove in and started the race hoping that Mike Reilley would be calling my name sometime before midnight when I crossed the finish. It took me over 15 hours, but I managed to do it. Many of the friends I knew who came to race that year did not cross the finish line. Approximately 35% of the field fell short of the finish. Ironman now calls it the hardest course they've ever set up, but that's certainly not the way it was advertised when I signed up. I'm glad I didn't know that going in. The course literally took every bit of strength and effort I could muster. 4 major steep mountain climbs on the bike. It was the hardest thing physically that I'd ever done. I'm still in awe of those who can actually compete at this distance. I was only able to survive it. Recovery took weeks before I was ready to even go for a light jog again.

Editors note: Next month in Part 3 Jon chronicals his road to Kona.

Jon Bonnell's bio

Chef Bonnell

Born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas, Chef Jon Bonnell grew up hunting, fishing and cooking with his parents and family - his childhood pastimes would soon become his culinary inspirations.

After graduating from Vanderbilt University in 1994, Jon taught science and math for two years before pursuing his love for cooking and enrolling in the New England Culinary Institute (NECI) in Montpelier, Vermont.

During his tenure at NECI, Jon completed a six-month culinary internship at Mr. B's Bistro in the historic New Orleans French Quarter. In 1997, Jon graduated from NECI and returned to Fort Worth where he honed his cooking skills at local, upscale restaurants.

To his list of culinary accomplishments Jon has added the title of Ironman. After beginning a regimen of exercise and diet change in 2008, Jon has gone on to compete in over 165 events from the 5k to the full Ironman in Kona. He will bring us some of the stories from those adventures and his perspective as an active member of the Fort Worth running and tri community.

Jon Bonnell is the Executive Chef and Owner of the Bonnell’s Restaurant Group.