The Chef In Shape
From "Cheffy-Face" to Ironman: How and Why - Part 3
By Jon Bonnell
Editors note: This month Jon chronicals his road to Kona.
"Had enough, or do you want to do one of these again?" my wife asked, showing more support and encouragement than I deserved. These kinds of goals take their toll on the body for sure, but family and work take their share of punishment as well. It had been difficult for everyone around me to say the least. Ironman is a selfish sport. "Well, I'm pretty sure I'm done. That was the hardest thing I've ever tried. Check the box, gimme some T-shirts and a new sticker for the truck. The only way I'd even think of doing another one would be if they let me run Kona. But don't worry, nobody ever gets into Kona. I would have to win my age group to get into Kona and I was too slow for that by hours, literally. I'm going back to sprints!" I responded. "So you want to do Kona, gotcha" she intuitively replied.
The 2014 season of sprints went very well and I managed to qualify for the Age Group Nationals very early in the season. I figured out great ways to work training into my regular life. I had purchased a jogging stroller and ran my kids to preschool in it 5 days a week. I got a few strange looks when I'd run it empty back home, but pushing kids uphill was some of the best training I'd ever done. I racked up tons of hardware in 2014 and had my runs down to sub-7 minute splits. During Nationals in Milwaukee, I roomed with Doug Dunbar from CBS who was just as big a tri-geek as I was. We both talked about just how cool it would be if we could ever get into Kona and run that legendary course. "Dude, I've pulled every string I know to try and crack into that race, and it just ain't ever gonna happen. Nobody gets into Kona unless they win their way there" he told me. We both had been entering the lottery, but the odds of getting into Kona through the lottery were about the same as winning the Powerball lottery. Kona was a long shot pipe dream, but we still talked about it every chance possible.
Early in 2015 I was in the fastest tri-shape of my life. I ran my fastest 5k ever at 19:05. While meeting with a friend one morning I was asked once again, "you ever signing up for another Ironman?" She had run Lake Tahoe with me and was much more accomplished in every aspect of triathlon than I was. "Not unless I get into Kona, but of course nobody gets into Kona". "LLS has slots for Kona, want a contact person?" she replied. "No way, Kona, Hawaii? THE Ironman World Championships? The birthplace of triathlon? They actually have slots?" I replied, assuming she must have been mistaken. "Yup, they get a few slots every year" she said and gave me an email of someone to contact. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, as it turns out, buys a few slots for Kona every year. They search the country for candidates to run as part of their "Team In Training" program. When I asked how to go about applying for a slot, I was told that they had a very stringent set of requirements for candidates to even be considered and that most people wouldn't meet the minimum requirement. As I delved more deeply into what it meant to be involved with LLS, I eventually drafted a letter, a proposal in fact, to basically beg for the chance to run for LLS. To my surprise, they said that I was a perfect candidate and that I would likely be able to run in 2016 on The TEAM! Just in case I was interested, I was told to stay in decent shape and they would even consider keeping me as an alternate on the 2015 TEAM as a standby. When I called Doug Dunbar to tell him the news, he almost dropped the phone. "DUUUUUUUDE, are you serious? You're gonna get a shot at KONA next year?" I was giddy with excitement. The Boston Marathon is a huge deal with 35,000 runners strong, almost all have to qualify. Kona is only 2,300. This was such a rare opportunity that I was literally ready to start training regimens over a year out. Ironman was once again fully on the brain! I quit all speed work and started focusing on distance only. A few months lter I got the most amazing phone call of all time. "Are you sitting down, Jon? I've got a very important question to ask." I was asked from the local LLS representative. "If we bumped you up to The TEAM this year, think you could you pull that off?" My wife knew by the look in my eyes that this was the call.
One quick glance at the calendar and it was official. I was racing Kona in just over 3 months! Not exactly enough time to train the way I'd like, but hell, if they said the race was the next weekend I'd have done it. This kind of chance was just too rare to pass up. Training was actually the least of my worries at this point. Finding a place to stay, getting my bike shipped to Hawaii, and most importantly, getting on the fundraising goal all became of dire importance. I didn't have much time. I talked my wife and even my dad into making the trip with me. Hawaii is an incredible place to vacation, but when the race day closes down all major roads on the Big Island, spectators are pretty much trapped at the race site for almost 17 hours. It's a monumental ask to have someone come see an Ironman event in person.
The fundraising went extremely well, banking just shy of $85,000 for LLS and setting a new North Texas record. The only thing left to do was run the race. It was definitely the hardest thing I've ever done. The heat soared to 95 degrees, full sun, high humidity and ridiculous amounts of wind, but I had been training in the Texas summer heat, so nothing was really that foreign to me. Nothing except a swim with 2,000 people in the open swells of the Pacific Ocean. Not really anything I could do to train for that one other than just swim a lot. On race day, I just took off and tried to figure it out. There was plenty of physical contact and a few gulps of seawater, but all in all, the swim went by pretty much as planned. The mental preparation for Kona had been incredibly meticulous, from measuring sweat rate to calculating how much sodium and potassium I needed to supplement, every detail needed to be thought out with a race like Kona. Knowing that I would be at a full sweat for an entire day and well into the night was not to be taken lightly. Taking in the right nutrition on the course, staying hydrated and getting enough supplementation of electrolytes was crucial in this venue. Getting something wrong could be extremely dangerous. On the bike alone, I drank 26 water bottles and 14 bottles of Gatorade Endurance. I lost 11 pounds that day, but I crossed the line with an enormous smile on my face and heard Mike Reilley call me in. "From Ft Worth Texas, Jon Bonnell. You got it, Jon. You're an Ironman!" That was pure poetry to my ears and my completely exhausted body and mind. Tahoe was hard, Kona was harder. This took everything I had. I've never felt better, or worse than in that moment. It was hard fought, emotionally and physically draining, but more rewarding than I could have imagined. I've never seen my wife or my dad look more tired either. My dad handed me the coldest and best tasting Coors Light I've ever had as I sank into a hotel chair. "Just one more favor I need from one of you. Can either one of you take off my shoes and socks for me? I can't reach down there without cramping up" was the last thing I remember saying that night. For the record, with a little recommendation to LLS, Doug Dunbar got one of the coveted slots for Kona in 2016, then he shattered my fundraising record by raising $155,000. He had to go and beat my time by about a minute while he was at it as well.
I ran a 5k the following weekend back in Fort Worth, mainly because it was another fundraiser for LLS. To be honest, I was just as excited about wearing my Kona Finisher shirt out in public and showing some friends my medal. Even though I won my age group that day, it was probably a poor decision. I was being cocky and jumped right back into speed work, then tore a muscle in my calf and had to take considerable time off just to heal up.
2015 Fort Worth Tri
I'm back to pretty much just sprints and 5k's these days. I did have to jump at the Tri Fort Worth 70.3 when they announced that my home town would host a full and half distance race this year for the first time. I'm still not back to the speedy times I was posting in 2015, but I plan on getting some better speed work in for the 2018 season. As long as I keep signing up for races, I know I'll keep working at it and the weight will stay off. Since I started in 2008, I'm down 45 pounds and to date I've completed 84 running events and 85 triathlons. I'm not pulling in as much hardware as I'd like right now, but I just blame the rest of my age group for being so fast these days. It couldn't possibly be that I have other things to do than train, right?