Photo submitted Northville resident Rob Whittaker shown making his final strides at the Ironman Lake Placid.
Photo submitted Superintendent Stephen Tomlinson shown at last Sunday's Ironman Lake Placid during the biking event.
Photo submitted Superintendent Stephen Tomlinson shown at last Sunday's Ironman Lake Placid.
Photo submitted ABOVE LEFT: Broadalbin resident and engineer Travis Mitchell bikes in the rain at last Sunday's Ironman Lake Placid. ABOVE CENTER: Northville resident Rob Whittaker shown making his final strides. ABOVE RIGHT: Superintendent Stephen Tomlinson shownduring the biking event.
By CAROLINE MURRAY
BROADALBIN -- If Stephen Tomlinson had bowed out either halfway through his training or in the midst of competing in last weekend's Ironman Lake Placid, nobody could have blamed him.
Extreme triathlons like last Sunday's, with miles upon miles of bike riding, swimming and running are meant for younger men with more time to train than 46-year-old Tomlinson, the superintendent of the Broadalbin-Perth Central School District.
Before he ever dreamed about entering an Ironman, Tomlinson was spending his nights at home stressed from countless meetings, after-school commitments and the daily tasks of running a district.
Those are enough reasons for most people to avoid working out, let alone compete in America's second-longest running event, but not Tomlinson. He was going to finish the race for his family, students and for himself.
"Our lives," Tomlinson said three days after completing Sunday's Ironman, "are defined by how we handle adversity."
Over the last six months, Tomlinson -- a leader, a father and now, a triathlete -- managed to train for, and execute a race which asks each competitor to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run 26.2 miles.
With a demanding career and family obligations filling up his schedule, Tomlinson could easily have dropped out when training days became too difficult to manage.
After all, he oversees a school system of about 1,800 students and 276 staff -- people would have understood him quitting.
However, giving up was not an option, and Tomlinson said he fought off negativity by keeping a couple goals in mind.
"Part of me wanted to use this as an opportunity to teach our kids and students in the district about over coming adversity and perseverance," Tomlinson said.
The other part of Tomlinson wanted to finish this crazy challenge for every average Joe who thinks he or she cannot accomplish such a feat.
With support from his wife Beth, daughter Haley and two friends who also trained for the race, Tomlinson said he was able to keep motivated and finish what he set out to do.
Tomlinson signed up for the race while volunteering for the 2013 Ironman Lake Placid.
Approximately 2,700 contestants from 42 states and 13 countries enter the triathlon each year.
The superintendent said he officially began training for the race Jan.1 along side his friends Mitchell, a Broadalbin resident and engineer, and Northville resident and real-estate appraiser Rob Whittaker.
The 180-plus days leading up to the big day consisted of workouts suited for professionals.
Before the sun had a chance to rise, Tomlinson, Mitchell and Whittaker were awake preparing for a string of vigorous workouts. Tomlinson said by 5 a.m., the trio were out on the Great Sacandaga Lake swimming laps for an hour or two. Then, they would run for five to seven miles, pounding the pavement on roads near their houses.
This routine stayed consistent throughout the week; the weekends were a completely different story, Tomlinson said.
Depending on their schedules, the three would ride their bikes for four to six hours and then run 10 to 15 miles on either Saturday or Sunday. When the final weeks were fast approaching, Tomlinson said he was working out for eight to ten hours a day.
In the winter months, Tomlinson and his companions would trek to the Fulton County YMCA to practice laps in the pool. At night, they would run in unbearable weather conditions such as snow, ice, sleet or rain.
"The workouts that I remember the most were the ones in the dead of the winter ... and it was probably zero degrees," Tomlinson said.
"Those are the workouts that I said to myself 'this is going to help me be an Iron Man.'"
Along with a strenuous exercise regimen, Tomlinson said he altered his diet.
Before training for the Ironman, the superintendent used to come home from board of education meetings stressed and hungry.
He said he used to grab a bag of potato chips, a bottle of soda and eat until falling asleep.
Training for the event, protein shakes, egg wraps and spoonfuls of peanut butter became staple meals in his everyday life.
And instead of relying on food to relieve stress, Tomlinson instead turned to nightly runs and morning workouts to help clear his mind.
Tomlinson said he lost more than 50 pounds between working out, dieting and the actual race day.
Although positive about his experience now, Tomlinson did not always have this attitude. He said there were days, especially when he first started training, he felt discouraged.
He approached many sessions with excuses, such as being too tired to run after a board of education meeting, or not wanting to wake up before dawn.
"All of that changed," Tomlinson said. "It made me appreciate what is most important in my life, which is my family and my health."
He said his wife Beth and daughter Haley were there for encouragement, and constantly reminded him how proud they were of his progress.
When he, Mitchell or Whittaker needed a sense of direction, they leaned on a group of veteran triathletes for support.
The Pachyderm Groundpounders, a local group men who have previously endured an Ironman, shared tips and advice before race day.
Among the group was Alpin Haus owner Andy Heck, who also competed this past Sunday.
Tomlinson said the group's advice was especially helpful on game day, when the weather went from bad to worse in a matter of seconds.
As soon as Tomlinson was half-way into the first portion of the race --the swim -- it began to thunderstorm.
Fortunately, Tomlinson said he was dressed appropriately, well-nourished and carried a few words with him, which the Pachyderm group told him before race day.
"Stay within box, focus on what you can control," Tomlinson repeated.
Heck said the weather was a battle, even for a veteran, and it was impressive that Tomlinson, Mitchell and Whittaker were able to accomplish what they did.
According to official results, Tomlinson placed 708, finishing in 11 hours, 43 minutes and 20 seconds.
Along with his rank, Tomlinson came home with a lesson he is hoping to pass along to students and faculty at Broadalbin-Perth.
When training for an Ironman, he said there is only one way to approach such a challenge, and that's with a positive attitude.
For his staff, he said they are not alone in the road ahead. He said each day of the school year, they are faced with challenges bigger than the Ironman race. He hopes, they too, can face those difficult days in a positive light.
For his students, Tomlinson said he would like to teach them nothing is impossible, and there is always a way to achieve lofty goals, even when they seem out of reach.
And for the average Joe, he said there are no excuses, only obstacles they, too, can overcome.
"I am hoping I can take my leadership role and what I have completed here at the iron man and turn it into something positive ... turn it into something that is long-standing here," Tomlinson said.