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By Mark Johnson
EPIC5, Richard Roll and Jason Lester’s attempt to do five consecutive Ironman-distance triathlons, came to a successful close at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday night on Kona’s Ali’i Drive.Roll, 44, and Lester, 35 followed the Ironman World Championship course for their fifth and final Ironman.
A sparkling pod of dolphins auspiciously accompanied the athletes during their 7:30 a.m. 2.4-mile swim in Kailua-Kona Bay. Unlike the previous swim on Maui which was ripped up by strong currents, Kona delivered calm waters.
Just after 10:00 a.m. the athletes started their bike ride on the Queen K Highway. Thanks to a good night’s sleep the night before plus light winds and cool conditions, Roll noted that it felt like his bike had grown wings overnight. The only glitch came when he flatted a few miles after turning around at Hawi—famous as both the halfway point for the Ironman bike leg and the birthplace of Hawaii’s first king, Kamehameha I. It was the first and only flat either rider suffered during their 560 miles of cycling on five islands.
After refueling on their standard fare of avocado sandwiches and sweet potatoes, at 6:00 p.m. Roll and Lester loped away for their final marathon. Accompanied by four-time Ironman champion Luke McKenzie, they hit the half-way point two and a half hours later and finished just before midnight.
EPIC5 crew lead Rebecca Morgan accompanied Roll and Lester throughout all five triathlons. A Kona resident who works for Microsoft, Morgan says EPIC5’s biggest surprises have been “the logistics of the travel, it’s been a lot more challenging than anticipated.”
Between packing, moving bikes and luggage, doing laundry and preparing the day’s stock of almond butter and banana sandwiches, Morgan survived without much sleep. “I’m learning to function pretty good on four hours.”
Morgan has also seen Lester and Roll swing through a full range of emotional states. “I’ve heard them say a few times, ‘What are we doing?’”, Morgan recollects with a laugh. “Their personalities come out at mile 16, 17, 18 on the run. Rich just likes to be alone and have quiet time and Jason is chatty.”
“Maui was a very, very difficult day for them,” Morgan recalls of the fourth Ironman. “I was worried about them during the bike. After they got off the bike I honestly wasn’t sure if they were going to be able to do the run. It was the only time I thought they might possibly give up.” But, she continues, “somehow they mustered the energy to go on and that was an incredible thing to witness, them doing a full marathon after being at that low, low point. I think that was the most significant thing I took with me. It was just incredible how they dug so deep to do a marathon after than.”
Asked if she thinks Roll and Lester will attempt five Ironmans again, Morgan says yes. “Give them a good night’s sleep without having to get up at 4 o’clock in the morning to go catch a plane and they wake up a whole new person. It’s pretty inspiring how they can get a night’s sleep and just go do it again.”
EPIC5 raised funds for the Never Stop Foundation, which uses sports to help kids build self confidence and character. As part of the fund-raising efforts, Lester is auctioning off the Specialized S-Works Transition bike he rode throughout EPIC5. You can bid on the bike here and contribute to Never Stop at neverstopfoundation.org.