At 3:44 AM on Wednesday ultra distance athletes Rich Roll and Jason Lester launched into day one of their five-day, five-Ironman EPIC5 odyssey. Stepping into the tropical perfume of Kauai’s balmy pre-dawn air, the two athletes hit the pavement. Four and a half hours later they finished their first of the week’s five marathons on the movie-perfect sands of Hanalei Bay.Written by Mark Johnson

Lester and Roll took their run-to-swim transition at a civilized pace, taking plenty of time to refuel. Roll even took a moment to pick up a phone and Tweet “We just finished a leisurely marathon. Time for a dip in Hanalei Bay – who’s in?”

While Hanalai Bay looks idyllic, beneath the surface treadmill currents turned the swim into more of a challenge than expected. Roll and Lester made the swim the second tri leg to avoid swimming in the pre-dawn dark, and “the swim was a bit rough,” team crew member and Zoots Sports sponsor Molly Kline explained. “Really bad current. It was rough for Jason. He got caught.” Lester, who swims with one arm because he lost use of one limb in a childhood bike accident, took about 45 minutes longer than expected to finish the swim.

Once back on the bike, misfortune turned its arrow on Roll, who with a third of the ride to go, suffered a broken shifter and was forced to ride single speed. Mechanic Jason Barth eventually came out from local bike shop Kauai Cycle, made a repair and Roll was back on the road with a full range of gears.

Apart from these challenges, the weather cooperated for the athletes. Clouds kept the temperatures in the mid-80s and winds, while stiff at times, stayed at a taxing but manageable 15 mph.

To stay fueled, Lester and Roll–both vegetarians–fed on avocado sandwiches, almond butter on sprout bread, sweet potatoes, plus Vega energy bars and sports drinks.

By late afternoon, Kline noted that the long day was taking its toll on the rider’s spirits—”It’s not as good as it was at the beginning of the day!” Yet as the dropping sun cast palm-tree shadows across the South Pacific landscape and the riders rode toward the end of their bike leg and an evening flight to stage two on Oahu, she also said the highlight of the day was the number of supporters who came out to encourage Roll and Lester. “There was a bunch of people out there swimming, some people running with them and some people biking. People are coming out to the side of the road from wherever they work and cheering them on. It’s a great community–that’s a highlight.”

Day two starts Thursday morning with the swim at Waikiki Beach. Follow the event at and