PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - The spirit of sports is forged perseverance. Finding the limit--mentally and physically--and pushing yourself to and beyond that point.
Perhaps nothing embodies that better than a triathlon.
Bright and early, approximately two thousand athletes from 48 states and 31 countries lining the beach behind Edgewater Resort to push themselves through the IRONMAN 70.3 Gulf Coast.
The race began at 5:45 with 1.2 miles swimming in choppy, red flag conditions, transitioning onto bicycles for a 56 mile route down Front Beach Road and Highway 79. They capped it all off with a half marathon, 13.1 miles on foot.
For most of the competitors, the goal is simply to finish, but the front runners in the race are actually pros. They are in it to win it, and every mile, every second counts.
TJ Tollakson only led one mile of the race: the final mile.
The Des Moines native earned his fourth IRONMAN crown with a time of 3:54:19, an accomplishment that was a long time coming for him personally.
"It has been a long time since I crossed the finish line first at a race," Tollakson said. "I've had kind of a battle the last couple of years with a couple of knee surgeries. It's been a long road back.
"Last lap, he had over a two minute lead on me. So at that point, I'm actually just thinking 'don't get third!' But it's never over until it's over and you cross that finish line. That's always the motto of racing. You push as hard as you can to get to that finish line."
The female champion is Carrie Lester, training in Cardiff, California by way of Australia. Lester smoked the field by over ten minutes, posting a time of 4:15:57.
This may be the most flat IRONMAN circuit, but even for a veteran like Lester, the heat and humidity can be brutal.
"You go to run and all of a sudden you feel like your legs and your quads are about to explode because you're not used to racing over that kind of course," the champion said. "It is difficult. It can get very windy out there on the highway and today was no different."
The hometown front runner is David Shearon...again.
If you're familiar with the Panhandle endurance circuit, the back of Shearon's head may be familiar to you.
Even as he gets older, he's keeping the pace.
"This is my 35 years and sometimes you wonder, is it worth it? I talked to a friend today and he said, 'yes, it is worth it,' Shearon recalled. "Even though I'm 49, he was like 63. Each couple weeks, we have goals to try to achieve and a lot of time people don't ever have any goals in their life and today really was a very satisfying and enjoyable time. It was back to good old days."
Shearon placed sixth in the 45-49 year old age class, within 10 minutes of his local-leading time from 2018.
1,358 entrants crossed the finish line in the allotted nine hours.