Paso Robles man races Ironman triathlon

Tom Seidel’s effort culminates two years of racing and training

Tom Seidel of Paso Robles completed an Ironman competition Nov. 17 in 14 hours and 52 minutes. It was his first Ironman, a grueling race that tests an athlete’s physical and mental stamina, and it took place in Tempe, Arizona. 

“I feel a little like I was hit by a bus,” he said after finishing. “I’m very happy to have finished, and happy to have finished under 15 hours.”

The effort was a culmination of two years of racing in local triathlons such as the Wildflower Triathlon, Scott Tinley Triathlon and other shorter events. Seidel says he spent the past five months focused on hard core training for the Ironman race; not an easy task with a family of four and a construction management job with Specialty Construction in San Luis Obispo.

Just what is an Ironman Triathlon?

An Ironman Triathlon is a long-distance triathlon race consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a full marathon of 26.2 miles. It is raced in that order without a break. 

The race has a strict time limit of 17 hours to complete the race. 

The Ironman race starts at 7 a.m. The mandatory swim cut off for the 2.4-mile swim is 9:20 a.m., or 2 hours, 20 minutes. The mandatory bike cut off time is 5:30 p.m., or 8 hours, 10 minutes, and the mandatory marathon cut off is midnight, or 6 hours, 30 minutes. 

Any participant that manages to complete the triathlon within these timings becomes a finisher.

Training presents challenges

Being a father of two and working 50-plus hours a week made finding time to train for this event a real challenge, he says. “Countless 4 a.m. morning workouts, lunchtime swim sessions and 4-plus hour rides on the weekends made up the bulk of my training. While many spend upwards of 20 hours-a-week training, I was only able to commit 6-10 hours on average.”

“My goal going into Ironman was to cross the finish line and hear those words ‘Tom Seidel you are an Ironman.’ I had no misconceptions about trying to finish below a certain time frame or place anywhere in my age group. I knew this event would be a grueling challenge to my endurance which could possibly take more than 16 hours to complete.” 

“Overall I was very happy with my race. The swim was as I imagined a melee to start: some 2,800 men and women all together in a mass start when the cannon fires at 7 a.m. The first 5 minutes of the swim were pure insanity, bodies everywhere with arms and legs flying. It was a melee. I found room to swim on the right about midway in the pack and maintained a steady effort. I climbed out of the water at 1:32.”

The 112-mile bike portion of the race consists of three laps out into the Arizona desert along the Beeline highway. While the course has only a few hills, the desert winds definitely create a unique challenge, he says. 

“I stayed disciplined on my ride, keeping my heart rate below 150 b.p.m. and was able to maintain a steady pace finishing all three laps within three minutes of 2:20 each.”

Swim, bike and getting ready to run

Climbing off his bike at four in the afternoon, Seidel knew his day was far from over as he quickly changed into his running gear and began the marathon. 

“My plan was to run for 15 minutes with 5 minute walk intervals. I maintained this through the first 10 miles. At this point I was close to 11 hours into this event and my body was becoming aware of the miles and the hours. I slowed my pace to 10 minutes of running with 5 minute walk intervals.

“At the 14 mile mark, I realized if I could average a 13.5-minute mile for the balance of the marathon I would finish below the 15 hour mark. It was probably this short term objective that kept me moving in those last 12 miles. My pace slowed further, falling to 5-7 minute periods of running followed with 5 minutes of walking.

At mile 24, Seidel said that he could practically hear the crowds at the finish line. 

“I picked up my pace, logging my fastest mile of the course on mile 26. The atmosphere at the finish chute was electric. I let out a shout of victory, slapped high five’s with practically everyone lining the chute, and listened to Mike Reilly say those words I had waited 14:52 to hear: ‘Tom Seidel from Paso Robles, CA – Tommy you are an Ironman.’”

Cheering him on and waiting as he crossed the finish line were Seidel’s wife and children.

“Sharing this achievement with them is something that I can’t find the words to describe,” he said. “I had met my goal, I finished an Ironman. Not only had I reached the pinnacle of this great sport of triathlon, but I was able to participate in this event with my older sister who also finished.”