At first glance, Peter Chiu ’08 and Chris Connelly ’06 may not look very different from typical college athletes. Yet beyond their token baseball caps, sweatshirts, mesh shorts and sneakers, these two students have broken from the stereotype.
It’s not just their shaved legs (of which they have no shame), their granola diets (which Connelly said have been likened to those of 30-year-old women), or their “monster quads” (a term Chiu uses to describe his teammates’ legs). It’s not even that they both happen to be pre-med and that Connelly is also a freshman counselor. These young men are athletes who have committed themselves to participating in one of the most physically and mentally gruelling competitions — not to mention one of the most time and money intensive: the Ironman Triathalon.
Chiu and Connelly participated in the Ironman Wisconsin on Sunday, a Madison, Wisc. qualifier for the world championships that will be held in Hawaii next month. An Ironman competition is more than just a marathon and more than just a triathlon, a swimming, biking and running event that usually takes no more than two hours. It is a 140.6 mile race, consisting of three consecutive events: 2.4 miles of swimming; 112 miles of biking; and 26.2 miles of running. The race attracts athletes of all ages, meaning there are divisions for people as young as 18 and as old as 70 plus.
“It’s about more than just training for an event,” said Freddie Lee ’06, president of Yale’s club triathlon team and a good friend of Chiu and Connelly. “It’s a lifestyle.”
Lee emphasized, though, that there is a huge distinction between training with the club team and training for the Ironman competition.
“Chris and Peter are our extremes,” he said.
Chiu began training for the Ironman in December 2004, and Connelly started the next month. Because their coach, Matt Clancy, currently resides in North Carolina, the pair did most of the training on their own. Yet, this was not problematic as both competitors had previous experience, Connelly having completed a half Ironman and Chiu having finished a full one. They practiced swimming, bicycling, and running in a variety of combinations for varying lengths of time to build and strengthen their muscle groups. They trained up to 40 hours a week for a race which allows its participants a maximum of 17 hours to finish — meaning a significant number of competitors do not cross the finish line.
While 15 hours was light for a workout week and a five mile bike ride was light for an individual workout, Chiu and Connelly admit they sometimes overtrained.
Lee, who often exercises with Chiu and Connelly, said the two are generally mild-tempered — a characteristic he attributes to their tendency to use their workouts as stress-relievers.
“Peter biked 600 miles in one week once because he was mad at some girl,” Lee said.
But, on a more serious note, Lee pointed out that the training often serves a deeper, more philosophical purpose.
“It’s a part of your self-actualization,” he said. “It’s that you can do this. When you test your limits you really know who you are.”
This past Sunday, Chiu and Connelly certainly were forced to test their limits and tap into their well-developed mental strengths as they faced what they said were the worst conditions an Ironman competition had ever seen. Not only was it 91 degrees, but the heat index was greater than 100, and extraordinary winds made it even more difficult to stay steady on the bike, they said. Of the 2,076 participants who started, only 1,678 finished within the allotted time.
Chiu and Connelly went into the race on Sunday with hopes of winning the collegiate division, which is based on the combined times of two participants from the same university. They ended up placing fifth, with a combined time of 24 hours and 53 minutes. Chiu, who was initially aiming to complete the race within 11 hours, ended up finishing in 341st place with a time of 12 hours and 23 minutes. Connelly finished approximately seven minutes later, in 379th.
“It was kind of tragic,” said Chiu, who thought it was a “disaster” that a multitude of athletes who had trained so hard ended up vomiting on the sidelines and receiving emergency medical treatment.
Yet, Yale’s two competitors did finish the race, and that in itself was an accomplishment. Connelly recalled that “one of the coolest things of [his] life to date” was when the referee said to him at the finish line: “Christopher Connelly, you are an ironman.”
“It’s kind of overwhelming right now,” Connelly, who returned to campus on Monday, said. “I can barely walk. I’m tired and sore, but really happy to have finished.”