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By Mark Johnson
After completing their fourth Ironman triathlon just before 5:00 a.m. on Monday on Maui, Jason Lester and Richard Roll went to bed. Their intention was to sleep for a few hours, catch an early afternoon flight to Kona, and immediately start their fifth and final Ironman-distance triathlon on the same course used for the Ironman World Championships each October.
“But a lot of people want to come out and support us,” Lester said on Monday afternoon after landing in Kona. So he and Roll decided to wait until Tuesday morning to embark on the final leg of their ultra-distance odyssey. “The local media wanted to cover it, and it would have been kind of rude of us to just go like, ‘Yeah, we are going to start at 2 o’clock in the afternoon today, and by the way we are going through the night again.’”
Roll and Lester hope the additional attention that comes from swimming, running and riding in the light of day will draw more notice to the Never Stop Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to helping kids realize their full potential through sports and raising funds for a new performance center in Kailua, Kona.
After 448 miles of riding, 9.6 miles of swimming and 105 miles of running, Lester says neither he nor Roll have suffered any alarming physical problems. “I feel good. There were some concerns with some body parts. You know, ankles and knees are getting sore and you are wondering what’s next? But you pull yourself out of it. You go through a lot of peaks and valleys.”
“The body is absolutely amazing,” Lester continues. “Rich and I got off the bike yesterday and we were just staring at each other like zombies. If one person had of been like, ‘You know what guys, let’s just bag this and go to the hotel,’ we probably would have followed that lead. But we just sat on the back of our minivan, got our nutrition back in check and the body just started coming back around. We’ve really learned a lot about our mental game and how our body works.”
Expanding upon the head tricks required to put one foot in front of the other when it’s 3:30 a.m. and 18-hours into your fourth Ironman marathon, Lester says he’s cracked “about 500 times.” But he adds “you try to talk yourself out of it. You start reasoning with yourself. Why are we out here? Why are we doing this?”
As far as the highlights, Lester says while “seeing the beauty of what each island offers…hills galore, wind, heat, rain, storms” has been spectacular, the natural spectacle is eclipsed by the warmth of the people coming out on every island to support them as crew members, roadside fans, and even a seven year old boy who ran with them for five miles on Maui. “I am absolutely blown away by how the people have come together to support us and make sure we get to the finish line each day. It’s selfless, and that’s got to be the highlight.”
On the other end of the cheer spectrum, Roll admits that getting through the day four marathon was grim. “We finished the bike last night, and the idea of running a marathon was almost unfathomable. That was probably our darkest moment. I don’t know how we got through that. We were really at our ends after that bike.”
That said, Roll adds that the lonesome Maui night had its moments of magic. Farmers were burning cane fields at 3:00 a.m. and “the sky was glowing with fire all around us. There was so much ash we had to turn around and go the other way. That was pretty wild.”
Roll says that while his 44-year old body is holding up well, “The biggest thing we are combating on the bike is that our butts are just worn out. We are having trouble sitting down, so we have to pedal and stand up and that slowed us down quite a bit. But we got through it. I think that Maui was the hardest. I’m proud that we got through it—there were some dark moments for sure.”
“Sleep deprivation is my biggest issue. I just have a hard time going on no sleep. The fact that we are going to be able to go to bed tonight and wake up and do it—we’re going to feel like brand-new people.”
“That’s the idea really,” the whippet-thin vegan enthuses. “To be able to be fresh enough where we can engage with people who want to come out on the course with us and be able to enjoy it rather than just be a zombie through the night.”