Thursday, January 09, 2014 10:21 PM
From couch to ironman in 22 months
By Paul Durham | Sports Editor
For anyone mulling over a New Year’s resolution to get back into shape, John Boyette is proof that you can get there — and beyond, way beyond.
In January of 2012, Boyette, then 44, resolved it was time to lose some extra pounds and start working out again.
Fast forward to this past October, Boyette not only completed the PPD-sponsored Beach2Battleship Full Iron Distance triathlon in Wilmington, he finished 10th out of 83 competitors in the Male Ages 45-49 division. At age 46, Boyette swam 2.4 miles, biked 112 miles and then ran a marathon, 26.2 miles, in 11 hours, 28 minutes and 1 second in the USA Triathlon-sanctioned event Oct. 26.
"To do that in my first (full iron distance) really made me feel good that I could do that in only a year and a half and be able to compete on that level,” Boyette said during an interview Monday morning at the Wilson Family YMCA.
Boyette didn’t get there alone. He spent most of the year prior to the event training with friends David Caudle and Dan Maclachlan. Both men had a few years of experience in triathlon over Boyette but they also completed their first iron distance event in Wilmington.
The three are part of the Wilson Triathlon Club, or wil.tri as it is better known. The organization, which started in February 2013, was the brainchild of Joe Strange, a USAT-certified Level I triathlon coach whom Boyette hired to train him when he decided to immerse himself into the sport in the summer of 2012.
Strange, who has been doing triathlon for 15 years, also competed in the Beach2Batttleship, the only full iron distance triathlon in North Carolina. Three other wil.tri members — Bill Hall of Elm City and Trey Thorne and Michael Harris of Tarboro — did the full iron while Chris Bolt, Lee Eatmon, Marian Mathews and Linda Cavas of wil.tri did the half iron, giving Wilson strong representation in Wilmington.
COUCH TO IRONMAN
But Boyette, the oldest and the newest triathlete in the group, might just be the best story. After all, just 22 months before he became a true ironman, the 1985 Fike High graduate was just another middle-aged guy with a paunch, sort of.
"I hadn’t been working out in a while. It had been years since I had done anything,” said the 5-foot-10 Boyette, who estimated he weighed about 226 pounds at the time.
"It was my goal to get under 200. By the spring, I started coming here to the Y and doing spin classes.”
That activity pulled Boyette, who was a state champion water skier as a teenager in Wilson, back into cycling, which he did in his college days at Wake Forest University.
"It was really kind of a New Year’s resolution, not to be clichÃ©, but it was a resolution to get in shape,” he said. "As I progressed and started spinning, I got back into running.”
Ever the one to find a new challenge, Boyette decided he was going to try triathlon and entered the Battle at Buckhorn sprint triathlon in July 2012.
"I just wanted to do it,” he said. "Just finish, you know. That’s all I wanted to do.”
He finished 84th out of 215 male competitors and was 10th of 14 in his 40-44 age group and the sport had gained a new convert.
"I went home that day and signed up for three more!” Boyette said with a grin. "I was hooked! I had never had a feeling like that before, when I finished that race.”
Boyette then sought the professional counsel of Strange, whose day job is the student pastor at Raleigh Road Baptist Church.
"He found out about me and decided if he was going to do this, he was going to be all in,” said Strange. "There is no halfway with him. It’s either all or nothing. ... And I saw that drive in him.”
But while Strange described Boyette as "an easy athlete to coach,” the training wasn’t easy at first for his pupil.
"When he came on with me, we went for an open water swim (of about six-tenths of a mile) and he could not even freestyle the whole way,” Strange recalled.
But Boyette kept working at it and when "he got through it, it was like he whipped the world that day,” Strange said.
In November 2012, Boyette approached Caudle, the Wellness and Programs Director at the YMCA, to ask if he could train with him and Maclachlan, both of whom had numerous sprint and Olympic triathlons under their belts.
"He wanted to ride with us and we had heard that he was fast,” Caudle said. "Dan and I, we ride 21, maybe 22 (miles per hour), and he shows up on this old steel bike and keeps up with us."From there on, we were like, ‘We’ve got somebody else to train with!’”
By the end of 2012, Boyette was yearning for the ultimate challenge: the full iron distance triathlon. He and Caudle decided to go for it and registered online for the 2013 Beach2Battleship on Dec. 30, 2012, the last day before the entry fee went up.
"And I laughed at them,” said Maclachlan, who had no plans to enter the race with his wife, Jessica, set to have their third child in March 2013.
"I knew the time required to train for it was enormous,” said Maclachlan.
But the lure proved to be too strong and Maclachlan, who was planning on training with Boyette and Caudle, decided to bite the bullet and enter the Beach2Battleship.
Maclachlan, a manager at Kidde Aerospace and Defense in Wilson, did offer a piece of advice to Boyette.
"Obviously, I’ve got a tolerant wife,” Maclachlan said. "That’s one of the things as an individual, if you have a family, they have to be part of the decision process. You have to sit down and talk to them and say, ‘I’m going to do this. Will you support me?’”
Boyette said he had no idea that by June, he would be putting in nearly 20 hours a week of training, along with his job at Boyette Well and Septic, Inc., which he operates with his father, John Boyette Sr.
As the father of two teen-aged daughters, Jessie and Callie, with his wife, Candy, Boyette discussed his plans with them.
"I sat down and told (Candy), this is what I’m going to have to do,” he said. "I got some strange looks.”
"Especially when you started shaving your legs,” Maclachlan interjected.
"Yeah, that’s right!” Boyette chuckled. "Oh, I did that just to aggravate my kids.”
The training was set by Strange as well as Maclachlan’s brother, Mark, a veteran of full iron distance races. Sometimes the trio spent 9 or 10 hours on a weekend day running or biking. Maclachlan estimated they did five or six 100-mile bike rides.
"You don’t have to do 16 hours a week of training to complete this race,” he said. "There are hundreds of people who did this race that didn’t put in that kind of time, so I don’t want to say this is representative. It’s what we chose to do.”
A big part of the regimen was putting together their nutrition packs because when you’re swimming, biking and running for 11 hours, you better have something to eat on the go.
"You have to do it in your training,” Boyette said. "On those 9-hour training bricks, I ate exactly what I did in the race so I knew my body would take it.”
As summer turned into autumn and the Beach2Battleship loomed, the three men were confident that they would not only finish the race, but do well.
"I knew weeks before I was prepared to do it,” Boyette said. "There was no question in mind. The first time we ran 20 miles, I knew I could run the marathon. That was my biggest hang-up in all the training anyway, that I had to run 26 miles.”
Boyette had a mini-setback in the summer when he injured his knee on a fishing trip. That kept him from competing in a half distance iron in Williamsburg, Va., but he planned on entering the aqua-bike competition in which he would swim and bike, but not run.
Strange said the water was so rough that day that many competitors, including Boyette, had to be pulled out and were subsequently disqualified.
"John was pulled out, so he went and biked all 56 miles,” Strange said. "The drive in his mind was that his day wasn’t over.”
On race day, the three triathletes rose well before dawn at Boyette’s beach house on Topsail Island and consumed a calorie-laden meal of eggs and Belgian waffles with peanut butter before driving to Wrightsville Beach, where the race would begin.
Fall had fully arrived and the temperature hovered near freezing as they hit the water in Banks Channel for the swim. By the time they got out as the sun was rising 64 minutes later, all within 5 seconds of one another, there was the frigid run to the first transition stage, or T1, to change for the bike ride.
"We took off everything wet and put on all dry clothes so our T1 time was slower than what we expected, but we were dry when we got on the bikes!” Boyette said.
The race course wound from Wrightsville through the northern part of Wilmington and towards White Lake before returning to downtown in the Port City in sight of the famed battleship, the USS North Carolina.
Caudle struggled more than he anticipated on the bike but with running as his strength, he caught up to his partners by the ninth mile of the marathon finish. Their plan was to do a 4-to-1 run-walk, meaning they would walk for a quarter of the time they were running in their intervals.
Boyette had seen a couple of runners in his age group pass him. He would go back ahead while they were taking a break at an aid station and so he decided to run the rest of the way and finish ahead of them.
"About a mile from the finish, I looked back and there was nobody behind me so I decided I’d walk one last time so I could finish pretty strong,” he said.
But with about 100 yards to the finish line, one of his pursuers, Gary Buss of Blacksburg, Va., as it turns out, passed him.
"All of a sudden this guy comes running by me and I recognized it was one of those guys and I took off in an all-out sprint,” Boyette said with a chuckle. "We crossed the line at the same time! It’s not a typical way to end an iron race after 11 hours and 28 minutes and I had to sprint the last 30 seconds.”
Caudle, who set a personal best of 4:09:53 in his run, was the first of the three to cross the finish line, hitting it 11 hours, 15 minutes and 1 second after diving into Banks Channel. Boyette ended his voyage 13 minutes later and Maclachlan, who won the Clydesdale division (220 pounds and up), completed his race in 11 hours, 34 minutes.
"We were all in tears,” Caudle said. "I’ll bet we had 50 people cheering us on when we finished. It was cool. It really was.”
"I’ve never done anything like that — ever,” Boyette said. "It was all emotional for all of us. My parents were there; my wife and kids were there. Their families were there.”
Each man assured that they would not have done so well if they had not trained together.
To celebrate, Boyette, who estimates he burned 8,500 calories during the race, went back to Topsail and ate half a grilled cheese sandwich and some clam chowder and went to bed. Maclachlan managed to get down a slice of pizza while Caudle merely "threw up.”
"The next day I got a big ol’ fat, greasy cheeseburger and a beer,” assured Boyette.
Strange, who kept pace with some of his athletes on the bike, encountered some difficulty on the run. The 41-year-old said he experienced vision problems, perhaps due to low blood sugar, but remembered thinking: "I’m either going to finish, they’re going to carry me off on a stretcher or they’re going to carry me off in a body bag.”
He finished his fifth full iron distance triathlon in 15:42:01 in vertical fashion.
Bill Hall, an Elm City resident, wasn’t far behind him in 15:49:03 in his second full iron. Thorne pulled in at 15:22:01 while Harris, 288th overall, completed it in 13:23:00.
With their first full iron distance under their belts, Boyette, Caudle and Maclachlan are going to take it easy, so to speak, in 2014. Caudle has a marathon lined up and three half iron distance events while Boyette is planning on doing four. All three will likely pull off a few sprint or Olympic triathlons, which will serve as little more than training sessions now that they’ve climbed the mountain.
Boyette, now the poster child of New Year’s resolutions and 30 pounds lighter than he was in January 2012, said he plans on going back to the Beach2Battleship or another full iron distance triathlon in 2015.
"I can’t even explain the feeling of accomplishment,” he said.
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