Completing a marathon finds its way onto many people’s bucket lists, and for good reason. The 26.2-mile standard marathon is a lofty goal for the average person. And then there is the Ironman Triathlon.
Piled on top of the 26.2 miles of running is 2.4 miles of swimming and a 112-mile bike ride. This adds up to 140.6 miles. Alumnus and former Liberty Champion advertising director Ben Lesley has been training since 2012 to go the distance.
This year marks the 35th year of the Ironman race, heralded on its website as “the world’s most challenging endurance event.”
The race will be held in Louisville, Ky. this August. After the swimming and biking portions of the race, the runners will pass by the famous annual home of the Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs.
Lesley is hardly a physical specimen. He is not what one thinks of when they hear the word “athlete.” He is shorter than average, with light brown hair and a neatly trimmed goatee. His eyes are light blue, and behind them is a light that shines when he talks about something he is passionate about.
He speaks rapidly, stopping only when he needs to take the time to formulate his thoughts.
As can be expected of a 140-mile event, the training is arduous.
Over the months of practicing, one of Lesley’s biggest struggles was the swimming. Last year, Lesley could not swim a lap in the swimming pool. He laughed as he recounted his own experience of learning to swim as a child.
“I grew up at a lake, and my parents kind of taught me how to swim … They basically threw us off the dock and we either sank or we swam,” Lesley said.
Lesley overcame problems with his form and taught himself how to swim properly, starting out at barely a pool length until he could swim the full 2.4 miles.
One of his favorite moments was when the lifeguard was shocked to see him, the guy who could barely keep his head out of the water, swimming lap after lap easily.
The Iron Man challenge is much more than a race for Lesley. He is running for Team Samaritan’s Purse with the goal of raising $3,000 to help provide clean water for those who have little to no access to it.
Lesley’s brother, who recently began missions work in sub-Saharan Africa, helped Lesley narrow down his choice of a
“One of the reasons why I chose Samaritan’s Purse is because they do a lot in that region,” Lesley said.
He wants the people to receive not only physical water, but spiritual water too.
“There are a lot of good clean water programs out there, but I chose Samaritan’s Purse because they always share the Gospel,” Lesley said. “To me, they have the clearest Gospel message.”
His faith plays a big part in his training, and for Lesley, the Ironman competition represents every Christian’s spiritual journey through life.
“I know it sounds corny, but my biggest influence is probably Jesus Christ,” Lesley said.
He said that he could not do the Ironman challenge without the faithful love and support of his wife Kelly.
He describes her help on the hardest day of his training so far. Part of his training included a half-marathon, and he chose to run on a day when the forecast predicted sunny weather and temperatures in the 50’s.
It sleeted instead, and the temperature never got above 40 degrees. He wore bike shorts because he thought he would get hot in pants, and when he finished riding and his legs were blue, his wife was waiting with hot Chick-fil-a soup that he described as the best soup he ever had.
Lesley said anyone can do the exact same thing he is doing to raise funds for Samaritan’s Purse.
“They can help by also raising awareness,” he said. “Samaritan’s Purse has a group called Team Samaritan’s Purse, and you can choose any race. I chose the Ironman, but if they wanted to run a 5K, it can be any 5K they want to do. They can go online and set up a page just like I have and choose any ministry to raise money for.”
To follow Lesley’s progress or cheer him on this August, check out his 140.6 Project on Facebook.