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Ryan Sutter is best known for being chosen by Trista Rehn (now Sutter) in the first season of ABC’s “The Bachelorette” in 2003, but he’s not relying on that fame in his quest to raise money for an organization close to his heart. Sutter is taking on the grueling challenge of competing in 10 endurance events in 2010. The goal? To inspire 10,000 people to donate $10 in honor of First Descents’ 10th-year anniversary.
Written by: Liz Hichens
Sutter has so far completed the Bolder Boulder (5/31/10), the Teva Games Ultimate Challenge (6/5/10), the Adventure TEAM Challenge (6/25/10), the Fire Cracker 50 Mile Mountain Bike Race (7/4/10), XTERRA Mountain Championships (7/17/10) and Ironman Lake Placid (7/25/10). The remaining four events on Sutter’s schedule include the Leadville 100 (8/14/10), the Scott Fire Fighter Challenge (8/27/10), 24 Hours of Moab (10/9/10) and the New York City Marathon (11/4/10).
We chatted with Sutter three days after completing Ironman Lake Placid to talk about how the challenge came about, his experience at New York’s Ironman and how he’s recovering from the constant presence of back-to-back endurance events.
Triathlete magazine: Where did the idea for the 10.10.10 Challenge For First Descents come from?
Sutter: I think it came from both Brad (Ludden) and I. We’ve been friends for a long time. I started to get involved with First Descents and I wanted to do something to give back. I was originally only going to do a few races. The First Descents Team wanted to build it into a full year’s worth of promotional opportunities. They suggested the 10.10.10 idea because it was their 10th anniversary. I was agreeable at first; I think I didn’t realize what I was committing to. The whole idea was to use the same platform to bring forward some inner strength and get to know myself a little better as a person through challenges. It grew from something simple to this 10.10.10 campaign. It seemed like a natural thing to do.
Triathlete magazine: What does the organization do?
Sutter: Simply put, they provide free advanced therapy to people with cancer. They’ll send young adults to weeklong camps that they run across the country. For example, they’ll take young adults who have been diagnosed with a difficult condition and aren’t doing well and challenge them in a different way. They’ll throw them in a kayak and challenge them. There’s no one to take it easy on them. Nature doesn’t take it easy on anyone. You challenge yourself against a very strong entity in Mother Nature; she doesn’t care if you have cancer and you have to find a way to get through it. By the end of the camp, it renews their spirit in the battle against cancer. They realize they can overcome daunting challenges.
Triathlete magazine: You just finished Ironman Lake Placid and you still have the Leadville 100 and the New York City Marathon among other events ahead of you. Which event did you think would be the toughest for you going into this?
Sutter: I knew Ironman was going to be the longest. That’s the biggest battle for me. Taking on and confronting all of the different things that come into your mind throughout the day. The longer the events are, the more you have to tackle the thoughts that creep into your mind. I knew Ironman would be the one where I would have to suppress the urge to quit. Most of my training was based around Ironman. I’m a terrible swimmer, and I wasn’t looking forward to the open-water swim, so I knew I had to confront that fear. I enjoy the biking part, but the rest of it is just uncomfortable and torturous. That said, each event has its own elements of challenge.
Triathlete magazine: What did you take from the other Ironman you had done (Ironman World Championship in 2004) into your preparations for Ironman Lake Placid?
Sutter: The first Ironman was the first year that I converted from power sports like football to endurance sports. The hardest part for me was to go for a long run and not feel exhausted. I was so used to sprints and lifting weights. This was training my body to go long distances and not necessarily at high intensity. It was very hard for me to pull back the intensity in my training. That was a big struggle for me. I knew that going into this Ironman. I understand now the difference in training for an endurance event. Specifically, having already done Ironman Hawaii I knew the things I would need to pay attention to during the race. I also knew that Ironman is such a long race that you can’t ignore things that come up. You can’t just push through things; you have to address the pains along the way. It was a shift in mentality. Paula Newby-Fraser helped me a ton. That was her best advice: Just pay attention to yourself. There are going to be times in the race where things don’t go the way you planned. Just address them and keep moving on.
Triathlete magazine: You have two small children. How have you balanced fatherhood, your job and the task of being ready for these endurance events?
Sutter: I have a really supportive wife. She has picked up where I haven’t been able. There isn’t enough time in the day to do everything you like. I have to be very diligent about my time. I have to know when my kids are sleeping and taking advantage of those opportunities. But, there are long training days where Trista has to pick up the slack. It’s hard because I’m tired after a long workout, but the kids don’t care and they want to play. This is part of the challenge. The people who are diagnosed with cancer have no choice, but they still have a family that loves them and wants to spend time with them. I feel fortunate that I don’t have cancer. I have great support from my family. Without that, this wouldn’t be possible. I want this to be a good experience for everyone, which takes diligence on my part.
Triathlete magazine: Something the triathlon audience will be most anxious to know is how you plan on recovering from each event in time for the next.
Sutter: It is trial and error. It was something I didn’t anticipate. It seemed fine at the beginning. This last month I had an event three out of the four weekends. It took a lot longer than I thought to recover form the 50-mile bike race the first weekend. I can’t seem to sleep after the races, and with two little kids I’m susceptive to getting sick. It’s been an underestimated challenge in terms of keeping myself healthy. I’ve just had to be very conscious of it. I have to rest. I take ice baths. Now that I’m in the hard part I’m really just racing and recovering. There’s not a whole of training going on. I’m learning a lot about nutrition and recovery.
I think it will be interesting to see if I’m able to recover from Ironman in three weeks in time for Leadville. It takes me a good week to just feel normal after an Ironman and I’m sure my body won’t be back to full strength. I don’t have a set program after each race in terms of recovery. I’m trying to pay attention to it and rest, ice and keep mentally strong.
Triathlete magazine: How can someone donate to your 10.10.10 Challenge For First Descents?