Alumni Highlight - Stephen Lewtas

This sport and hobby of triathlon all started with a group of friends trying to find a way to keep active together. I grew up playing lots of sports and being very active, and that is very easy as a kid when school supplies a way to join many sports teams or having the time to participate in extra sport teams outside of school. There were many weeks in high school where I would be on the ice 14 times a week playing hockey, but once I graduated high school all of those activities and hobbies dropped by the wayside. 

In an effort to stay active, a group of 6 friends, including fellow Greenwood alumnus Michael Forster, decided to sign up for an Olympic Triathlon in Wasaga Beach back in 2018. We had no clue what we were doing but we had a blast training for it and had the best time competing (mainly against each other). We loved it so much that we all signed up for a half IRONMAN in Huntsville, Muskoka in 2019 and again we all had the best time even if we suffered and walked and then crawled during the race. It was at that point I decided to sign up for a full distance IRONMAN, which is composed of a 3.8 km swimming portion, a 180 km biking portion, and a 42 km running portion. With COVID-19, the races were all canceled and my original plan of competing at Mont Tremblant had to be shifted to Chattanooga, Tennessee. 

My main motivation was to compete again as an athlete. I love competition but mostly I love competing with myself, seeing how far I can push myself physically. With IRONMAN, you push yourself mentally to a place you never knew you could. Training for an IRONMAN is extremely time-consuming, which makes it difficult. As an airline pilot, I spend 15-22 days away from home a month. When I’m on the road around the world, I will try to find a local pool or lake, a local gym, and search for trails and running tracks to train on. Typically, I’ll try to train 2-3 hours a day while on a layover depending how tired I am from the flying. While at home, there are days where I’ll train 4-6 hours a day – mixing it up between swimming, biking, running, and lifting weights for the last year and a half. 

The hardest part of prepping is finding the time to train while also balancing social life and work life. When I do find the time, I have to balance training hard with being sure not to injure myself. Training for such a long race has to be done with a plan. You can’t just go ride a bike as hard as you can for 180 km or run marathons every other day. I started to push myself too hard in training, resulting in a fractured foot mid-August. 

The hardest part of the IRONMAN race was not to race the other athletes and instead focus on racing my own race. You don’t know what each of the 2000 other athletes’ strengths and weaknesses are. I let many pass me on the bike in the first 120 km as I knew how hard to push myself, which led me to passing many of them in the last 50 km as they pushed too hard, too early in the race. Then it came to the run, which is my best area of the race. Because of my pacing, my legs were good to go for the marathon.
The second half of the marathon was mentally and physically the hardest because of pain and the brain telling me to please stop. I went into the race with a fractured left foot and knew it would become an issue at some point. I got off the bike 6 hours and 45 minutes after starting the race and having never run a marathon before, I was nervous to say the least. The first 25 km of the run went great and then my legs didn’t want to work anymore. The last 17 km was all a mental game to keep the legs moving even though they were concrete blocks and locking up. I was able to maintain the same pace the entire run (4 minutes and 31 seconds per km) despite my legs not wanting to work anymore for the last hour and a half of the race.

What I was able to learn from this experience was that 1) I can mentally push myself beyond what I believe I can do physically, and 2) that all the hard work training the last 2 years was all worth it. Not a single person passed me on the run and I finished with the fourth fastest marathon of the day, not including the professionals in the race Crossing the finish line was actually anticlimactic as I was just happy for my legs to stop screaming at me. When I found out that I missed finishing in under 10 hours by 1 minute and 1 second, it just lit a fire under me to plan for another race and see if I can finish in the top 2. At the moment, I'm planning to race in 2022 with the goal of finishing in the top 2 and heading to the World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
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