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New Film Shows What It’s Like to Train for an Ironman

Completing an Ironman triathlon is one of the most difficult challenges in sports. To swim 2.4 miles, bike 112, and run a full marathon (26.2 miles) requires a level of physical and emotional stamina most people cannot fathom.

But ask Ironman finishers about the biggest challenge of the event and they won’t mention race day. Instead, it’s the months of training leading up to the event as they’re forced to become time management gurus, overcoming physical, workplace, financial, and family challenges, to reach the starting line.

Those challenges are portrayed through the eyes of three first-time Ironman hopefuls in the new film THE DISTANCE: A Triathlete’s Journey. Check out the trailer:

Filmmaker Richard Ratay portrays the struggles faced by David Jesse, a 38-year-old newlywed and expectant father who loses his job early in the year; Tammy Weubben, a 35-year-old working mother of 7-year-old triplets; and Josh Cowdy, a 20-year-old college student who balances training with classes and living in a house full of hard-partying roommates.

Ratay recently discussed the film with CorePerformance.com.

Core Performance

What inspired you to create this film?

Richard Ratay

Like many casual triathletes, I grew up watching the Ironman coverage on NBC. I noticed they either focused on how the elite athletes were doing or they focused on the extreme stories: people who had been in accidents, overcoming incredible challenges. Like everyone else, I found those stories inspiring, but I thought they never cover the everyday triathlete who is struggling with having a job and spouse and kids and the time management challenges. That’s what I wanted to focus on in my movie.

CP: How did you find these three people and get them to agree to let you into their lives for the better part of a year?

RR: We’re all members of BeginnerTriathlete.com, though I didn’t know any of them prior to filming. What I was looking for were three very different stories I could follow over the course of the year. Tammy is the mother of triplets. Dave was newly wed at the time and shortly after signing up for Ironman, he and his wife found out they were pregnant and due with the first child two weeks before race day; and Josh, who was living in a kind of fraternity house with seven other guys, living the college lifestyle, staying up to all hours of the night, late-night pizzas, in a situation where it’s very difficult to keep the focus on something like Ironman.

CP: Training for an Ironman is difficult living in warmer weather. How do you do it in Wisconsin?

RR: You have to be a pretty hearty soul to be a triathlete in Wisconsin, especially that year (2008) where it seemed like summer never came. At the beginning of the movie we meet each triathlete as they’re doing one of these incredibly long rides on a trainer in a basement or spare room. You do what you have to do.

CP: It seems like training for the Ironman was more of a challenge for the spouses who had to shoulder more of the burden of childcare and even producing income.

RR: When an athlete tries to do something like an Ironman, it’s not just an individual decision. You’re involving your spouse and your family as well and that was one of the themes I wanted to explore in this movie; it goes beyond the athlete. When you decide to do an Ironman, there is a tremendous impact on everyone around you, from your spouse and kids to even your friends and job situation. For everyone who gets into Ironman and has children, it becomes a juggling act to who takes care of the kids and that their needs are met while you’re spending every day staying true to this training commitment you’ve made.

CP: How did making this film make you a better athlete?

RR: I got to experience it all myself this year, a year after the filming. I have a five-year-old and a three-year old and this year I did my first Ironman, the Ironman Wisconsin in September, and in many ways I felt like I got to live my own movie.

About The Author

Pete Williams – Pete Williams is a contributing writer for CorePerformance.com and the co-author of the Core Performance book series.

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Tags: Triathlon, Outdoor Recreation, Cycling, Running, Swimming