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And he doesn’t care if you think he can’t do it. Check out Booth’s crazy journey to 140.6, and his advice on how to tune out the haters, tune into what matters and tackle your next big goal.
Photographs by Jason Myers
Shawn Booth could see the car coming at him head-on. It was a Dodge Ram pickup, the kind of massive truck that doubles as a battering ram in an accident. Booth wrenched the wheel of his Grand Cherokee in a last-ditch effort to avoid the car. It was too little too late. The pickup lunged at Booth’s car, hitting it square in the driver-side door. And then, Booth was airborne.
Until that moment, everything had been perfect. Booth had just graduated from Keene State College in New Hampshire, where he’d been a star soccer player. He had a college degree in safety management, a job as a ski bum, and a car—he had everything 20-somethings want when they have everything but are still too young to realize it.
But everything is nothing when you’re flying through the air, catapulting off a snowbank and rolling ass-over-windshield six full times. “When my car finally stopped, I remembered feeling myself, like, is this real? Is this a dream?” He crawled out of the Jeep’s window, and, in shock, lay down on the snow and passed out.
Booth would spend two full weeks in the ICU, plus another month in the hospital. He was released, only to return to the emergency room days later, complaining of chest pains. He was re-admitted when doctors found fluid in his lungs. He spent another month recuperating while eating Jell-O and sad cafeteria salads. He lost 30 pounds, almost all of which was muscle.
He was lucky, though. Lucky to be alive. Lucky to have working legs and arms and fingers and toes. Lucky to have avoided a major traumatic brain injury. And, while he’d lost much of his fitness, he walked out of the hospital with something beyond a few new scars: He walked out with the distinct feeling that everything from this point of his life onward would count as bonus time. “My best friend, Kyle Christianson, served as a Marine sniper in Iraq. He and I talk a lot about how we’re living on bonus time. How we shouldn’t be here, how lucky we are,” he says.
Bonus time is the last thing you want during a triathlon. No one wants a time penalty tacked on for drafting, or the clock run up while they take visit after visit to the Porta-Potty. But in life? Bonus time is a gift. Not only because it means you’re still alive, but because it flips your worldview. Ask anyone who has arm wrestled the Angel of Death and won, living beyond your stamped expiration date feels like slipping on a pair of 3D glasses. What matters comes into focus, while everything innocuous and annoying blurs away.
So Booth walked out of that hospital giving zero, well, you know whats. It’s changed his life, helped him find love and, most recently, turned him into a triathlete.
“One Crazy Life”
In case you aren’t up-to-date on your Bachelorette watching (major spoilers ahead, FYI), Booth was the winner of the show’s 11th season, getting engaged to Kaitlyn Bristowe in the final episode. He decided to apply for the show because he figured he had nothing to lose. “When I’m an old man, I want to look back and be like, ‘Wow, that was one crazy life,’” he says. Getting married to someone you meet on TV seemed like it fit that bill.
The aftermath of the show was like its own crash. His phone went into a fit of mania, buzzing with such ferocity that Booth ditched it and got a new number. Haters tweet-bombed him. Media personalities wanted him on their shows. Everyone had an opinion about his new engagement. “There’s some crazy stuff that happens when you’re on a show like that,” he says. Even more than a year later, “it’s died down a little, but it’s still chaotic.”
And the negativity? It lingers. Whenever someone dishes out a dose of hate salad—either about his relationship or his newfound fame—he tells himself to let it go. This is bonus time, and no one can bring you down when you’re on bonus time.
Iron or Nothing
When Ironman approached Booth and asked if he was interested in racing a half-Ironman in one of the company’s celebrity slots, Booth flashed forward again to his octogenarian self. “No, I don’t want to do a half-Ironman,” he said. “I do want to do a full Ironman.” “Are you sure about that?” asked the folks at Ironman. “Dead sure,” said Booth.
So far in his life, his decisiveness has always paid off. Five years ago, he moved to Nashville after a weekend visit. “I have always loved country music, so me and my buddies flew down for a trip. On the airplane, on the way home, I told them that I was moving.” He sold his house, left his job and started over.
Unlike his move, Booth isn’t starting completely from scratch for the Ironman. As a personal trainer, he is fit. You need not watch far into the 11th season of The Bachelorette to get a few gratuitous shirtless shots. But he is an unabashed gym rat. His cardio subsists of quick HIIT intervals on the stair stepper. “I’ve never even run farther than a 5K,” he adds—oh, and he’s never even strapped on a heart rate monitor. The way he sees it though, he could die tomorrow, or in a year. So why not tackle the big one?
It’s going to be a tough few months as he points his shiny new Quintana Roo toward Ironman placid Placid. Luckily, Booth’s got some things going for him. “He’s one of those naturally gifted athletes,” says his best friend, Kyle Christianson—the former Marine who also feels he’s living on “bonus time.” “If anyone can do an Ironman as his first triathlon, it’s him.”
Plus, Booth hired Joe Abunassar, whom Ironman recommended, as his coach. Abunassar made a career training top NBA stars, but his personal obsession is triathlon. Toggling between the two worlds is a part of daily life for the Nevada-based coach, and he knows exactly how to optimize Booth’s gym fitness so it works in his favor on race day. “Yeah, triathlon is totally different, but from a mental approach, that same high level of focus is the same,” says Abunassar.
Slowly, the two are building Booth’s aerobic base, with Abunassar teaching him about pacing. “The first time I saw him swim, he was like sprinting from one side of the pool to the other. I was like, ‘This is not a sprint,’” remembers Abunassar. When Booth wants to do his runs on a treadmill, Abunassar pushes him outside, reminding him that the race will happen on asphalt, not in a gym. Abunassar has even managed to wrap Booth’s brain around the idea of eating while exercising.
Right now, Booth says this will probably be his one and only attempt at a triathlon. Abunassar isn’t convinced: “Because of his competitive spirit and desire to accomplish great things, I think the last mile of this race may turn into the first mile of the next race.”
He Can’t Hear You
You can make a lot of assumptions about the types of people who choose to meet their soulmates on national TV. You can assume that Booth is just doing an Ironman as a media stunt. You can say what you want under your breath about the demise of modern marriage or modern television or modern whatevers. If you want to be nasty, fine.
But Booth isn’t going to hear it—or care about it. He’s too busy training. “I use rides to get away from my phone, to get away from everything,” he says. If he’s not training, then he’s too busy having fun with his fiancée, who he says has supported him through every long bike ride and run. “She’s really understanding about all the time I’m putting in, and she helps in any way she can, either with cooking—my diet is insane right now, I’m eating so much—or sometimes she’ll have a protein shake ready for me when I get back from a ride,” he says.
His workouts are progressing. He’s a natural on the bike, and swears he hasn’t fallen at all since getting clip-in pedals. He’s learning the rules of the road, and even getting better at swimming, though he admits that “60-year-old guys still pass me in the pool.” Booth says he’s now challenging himself not just to complete the race but to push hard through the whole thing. “He doesn’t want to just walk the marathon, he wants to run,” says Abunassar. “He wants to really do this thing right.”
And at the end of Ironman Lake Placid, whether Booth’s walking or running or crawling, it really won’t matter. In fact, whether Booth signed up as a media stunt, or whether his engagement is genuine or his love is real won’t matter. Because endurance sports are the great equalizer. We all cover the same ground, put in the same work and visit the same dark places. Everything, from the moment the gun goes off to the moment the finish line closes, is real.
As for bonus time? It’s real too. “I’m lucky to be even doing this at all,” says Booth. And you don’t need to have had a near-death experience to understand the truth—and reality—of that statement.
From Stacked To Fast
There’s no denying Booth, a personal trainer, was fit before embarking on his Ironman quest. However, squatting huge numbers isn’t especially useful when it comes to swimming, biking and running for 10+ hours. To build all-day endurance, his coach Joe Abunassar constructed a plan that focuses on base building, then shaping that fitness into an Ironman-ready athlete. Here are several of the key workouts Abunassar used to get Booth fit.
This is an aerobic workout focused on efficiency and pace. You’ll swim 3250 total yards.
5×50 doing a distance-per-stroke drill. Focus on getting the maximum distance from every stroke you take, with 15 seconds rest between each.
5×200 holding steady pace, with 20 seconds of rest
3×300 doing 100 moderate, 100 push the pace, 100 moderate (20 seconds rest)
400 swim, aerobic and steady, focusing on efficiency and breathing
3:15 endurance ride
5×30-minute steady-state riding: Maintain steady RPM and effort, and stay in heart rate Zone 2–3. Focus on working in your aerobars as much as possible. Take a five-minute easy spin between efforts. During the easy spins, focus on maintaining a smooth pedal stroke and keeping HR aerobic.
Cool down for 15 minutes
90-minute endurance run
5-minute jog warm-up (Zone 1)
8×9-minute jog (Zone 2–3), 1-minute walk. Focus on maintaining speed and cadence and great form for 9 minutes.
5-minute jog cool-down (Zone 1)
Key Pre-competition Workouts
These workouts will occur within the last 5–7 weeks leading into the race and only after proper base building, which should be done over the previous 12 weeks.
6×50 as 25 easy, 25 race pace (15 seconds rest)
6×500 at race pace +5 seconds per 100, 20 seconds rest
4×200 as 50 easy, 150 at race pace
Brick: Long bike/run off the bike
Hour 1: Zone 1–2, building
Hour 2: Zone 2-3, building
Hour 3–5 at race pace (calculated by power output and HR)
Ride to 5:30
30-minute run. Run off the bike at race pace, stopping only to fill bottles. If possible, simulate the race terrain, and practice your race-day hydration and fueling.
Brick: Shorter bike/longer run off the bike
Use this workout to simulate your race as much as possible. Choose race-like terrain and practice your hydration and fueling.
2:30 endurance ride
90 minutes at race pace
30 minutes ride
2:45 run at race pace