From Intel Officer to Ironman: RJ Clark’s journey to 70.3

By Greencastle Consulting

Remember when we talked about our employees doing incredible things? We weren’t kidding.

RJ Clark, an Associate Consultant who previously was an active-duty Intelligence Officer in the Army for 4 years, competed in his first (and as he said, his last) half Ironman in Salem, Oregon last month.

If you’re not familiar with the Ironman races and Triathlons, these races have three disciplines in them– swimming, biking, and running. Athletes will start with the swim and end with the run (most of the time feeling like a baby giraffe taking those first few steps off the bike).

And within Triathlons, there are multiple distances–Sprint, Olympic, Half Ironman and Ironman. Most triathletes top out in the sprint or olympic distances, but for RJ, he accepted the challenge of a Half Ironman distance head on. That means he swam 1.2 miles, biked 56, and ran 13.1–yes, an entire half marathon–and yes all of that in one day.

An amazing feat for many, but RJ (along with his wife) made that finish line photo (see above) look good–like, too good. Did they even break a sweat?! Read on to learn more about RJ’s incredible achievement and the things he learned along the way.

Why did you decide to do this particular race and why now?

My wife turned me on to the idea after completing two races of her own last summer. We have some family based out of Portland so we decided to pair the race with a summer vacation there. 

As for why now, the Army used to be the mechanism for pushing me outside of comfort zone on a regular basis. Since making the switch to civilian I’ve actively sought out new ways to challenge myself, this was a great next step on that journey. 

How much training did you do to prepare?

On a weekly basis I averaged 2 hours in the water, 3-5 hours on the bike, and 2-4 hours running. I started training seriously in January, slowly increasing my weekly mileage over those 6 months. 

Do you like the swim, bike or run better? Why?

In training, I really enjoyed running. The opportunity to be alone with my thoughts for a few hours a week really helps me perform at my best in all other aspects of my life. On race day, the swim was the highlight by far though. The scene of 2000+ people swimming down the Willamette River as the sun rose was truly epic. I had spent months physically preparing for this race, but it wasn’t until I was about 100 meters into the swim that I realized just how awesome of an experience the actual race day was going to be.

Which one is your least favorite and why?

The bike is by far my least favorite event. I spent a ton of time training for it, but the discomfort of spending 3+ hours on a bike was mentally and physically draining. 

What was the biggest challenge during the race?

There’s a popular training term in the world of triathlon known as a “brick.” It refers to stacking two disciplines back-to-back in training (think a 2-hour bike ride followed by a 1-hour run). It also jokingly refers to how your legs feel after that transition. I had done several brick sessions in my training, but the transition from the bike to run on race day really drove home the point of those sessions. My legs were cramping and the thought that I might not be able to finish the race slowly crept into my mind. Having the confidence to trust my training and push through that barrier was the toughest point of the day for me. 

Were there any lessons you walked away from this experience with?

If I had to narrow it down to one key lesson, I’d have to say my biggest takeaway is that there is absolutely no substitute for good preparation. This goes way beyond endurance racing. It applies to your job, school, or even how you manage the personal relationships in your life. Consistently showing up and putting in the effort to get better puts you in the best position to navigate race day obstacles and ultimately be successful.

 

Why do you think staying active is important, not just for veterans, but for everyone?

For me, an active lifestyle is an absolute necessity for two reasons. The first is that it provides an outlet to manage my stress effectively. A session in the gym or something as simple as walking my dog provides an opportunity to process the stress I’m experiencing and adjust my headspace back to a healthier place. The second reason is I never want to find myself in a position where my physical fitness limits my ability to enjoy my life. That could mean being fit enough to hike a mountain, learn to wakeboard, or enjoy (read also as endure) 56 miles of Oregon’s wine-country from a bike seat. The point is, life is way too short to let my physical fitness be the thing that holds me back. 

How do you think challenges like this shape us? How do they make us better people/employees/etc?

Throughout my train-up for this event, my conversations with people all too often involved someone mentioning that “they could never do it.” In full transparency, I am sure I said the exact same thing when first contemplating it. More than anything, this race really emphasized that I’m capable of so much more than I allowed myself to believe. I’ve come to understand that those self-imposed limitations are often the only thing truly holding me back. If I could offer a piece of advice to the readers here, find that goal or passion that you’re telling yourself you can’t do and go for it. You might be surprised at where persistence lands you.