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On May 5 Jason Lester and Richard Roll will swim, ride and run into an exploit no human has attempted: five Ironman-distance triathlons in five days. That’s 560 miles of cycling, 12 miles of swimming and 131 miles of running. Lester, 35, and Roll, 44, will will do each stage on a different Hawaiian island.
By Mark Johnson
The EPIC5 event was Lester’s idea, a Hawaii resident and ultra-distance triathlete who puts in more miles in a day than most of lay down in a week. In 2009 he completed the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii and for good measure threw in Ultraman races (6.2 mile swim, 260 mile ride, 52 mile run) in Canada and Hawaii. The fact that Lester completes these daunting endurance events without the use of one arm–it was permanently disabled when he was 12 when a car hit him on his bike–so distinguished him that he earned a 2009 ESPN ESPY award.
Lester hooked up with Roll when he was looking for assistance with book and movie projects. Roll is a California entertainment lawyer, writer, and movie producer who met Lester at Ultraman Hawaii in 2008. “There was an instant bond,” Lester recalls of both their business relationship and their passion for ultra-distance events. “I couldn’t think of another person I would want to enjoy this journey with.“
EPIC5 is similar to cycling’s Race Across America in that it is as much a test of mental perseverance as it is a measure of physical fitness. Roll agrees. “There is no getting around how difficult it’s going to be. Day three is going to be a deciding factor. I think both of us are going to really meet our maker on that day.” That day’s swim-bike-run will go down on Molokai, and Lester, who has pre-ridden every inch of the course on all five islands, says “Kauai and Molokai are the most brutal sections I’ve been to, not just because there’s hills, but there’s cross winds and there’s a heat factor.”
EPIC5 is different from events like RAAM and Ironman in that it’s not a competition: “Jason and I are not racing against each other,” Roll explains. “We are inviting people to come out and ride and run with us. The whole idea is to engage the journey as opposed to being focused on the finish line.” And unlike RAAM cyclists, he adds, “we get to sleep at night.”
With Roll busy running his law practice and spending time with his wife and four kids, Lester was the organizing force behind the event. Lester says “the logistics of this has probably been the most challenging part of it all.” Along with mapping each day’s courses, organizing each day’s inter-island flights and ensuring their mountain of food and spare race equipment follows them, Lester had to organize support crews. “We have [a separate] crew on each island that have come together as a community to support us. And I think that’s the most epic part of this challenge is who has come together to support our vision.”
Lester also is grateful for assistance from sponsors including Zoot Sports and Specialized bicycles. “I’m excited to get this show on the road because it’s been day and night on my mind for almost two years now. Now is the time for it to happen.”
The athletes’ definition of the event as a rite of discovery rather than a race extends to the events‘ larger goals. Lester is raising funds for his Never Stop Foundation, which helps kids use athletics to realize their full human potential. Both Lester and Roll are also vegetarians. Roll says at 40 he made a “personal transformation from couch-based potato to vegan ultraman.” His own escape from the life of an overweight attorney stress-balling down the chute to heart-attack-land makes EPIC5 a platform for him to “promote healthy living and wellness and longevity.” “When this thing is over with,” Lester notes, “my only hope is one thing, and that’s for whoever got inspired by this would pass that on and inspire someone else.”
EPIC5 starts in Kauai, then moves to Oahu, Molokai, Maui and Hawaii. Follow the race on Competitor.com and at www.EPIC5.com/live