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Welty completes first Ironman triathlon

Barry McNamara
Pictured clockwise from the front center are Jon Welty, Julianna Graf '16, Welty's parents Joe '78 and Jean Ann Welty, Cooper Pauley '18 and Gavin Halpin '12.
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – Before, during and after his time as a distinguished Fighting Scot runner, Monmouth College cross country coach Jon Welty had never attempted a marathon.

Welty has now completed the 26.2 miles that comprise the grueling distance test, doing it on the same day that he also took on a 2.4-mile swim and a 112-mile bike ride.

Quite simply, that makes Welty an ironman.

Welty was one of about one thousand competitors at Ironman Boulder, held June 9 in and around Boulder, Colo. He placed 295th in his first full triathlon, covering the 140.6 total miles in a little more than 12 hours.

“I feel pretty excited about it,” said Welty, who had previously completed a pair of 70.3-mile triathlons, where the swimming, biking and running distances are exactly half of an Ironman event. “I finished, which was the goal.”

Prep work, lots of prep work

A three-time all-conference cross country runner while competing for the Fighting Scots, the 2012 graduate has coached the cross country teams for the past four seasons. He knows the ins and outs of distance training, but gearing up for an Ironman triathlon is a whole new ballgame or, as Welty phrased it, “a test unto itself.”

“Last fall, I worked on trying to see if it was feasible for me,” he said. “By around the start of November, I realized it would be.”

Even though it would be feasible, Welty knew he’d be pushing himself to his absolute limit. He was surprisingly excited about it.

“It’s hard to describe what you go through,” he said of the physical stress on the body. “You think you have an understanding about it, but you don’t know until you go through it yourself. But it was fun to see what my limit was. People might think that’s kind of sick and sadistic, but I was very curious about testing human limits.”

Leading up the event, no week of training was exactly the same as Welty gradually increased distances, or built in recovery, or focused more on speed work. But he typically kept to the schedule of swimming on Mondays, running and biking on Tuesdays, recovery or lighter workouts on Wednesdays, speed workouts on Thursdays, biking on Fridays, running on Saturdays (around his spring semester duties as an assistant track and field coach for the Scots) and long bike rides on Sundays.

Running on empty

Welty did hit the dreaded “wall” at the event, but it wasn’t for a lack of fitness. Instead, it was a glitch with fueling his body during his 12 consecutive hours of intense activity.

“I had a nutritional issue, related to the water, Gatorade and energy gels I had,” he said. “After a while, the sugars just felt like a brick in my stomach. After mile five of the run (which is the final stage of the triathlon), I couldn’t take in any more nutrition. All I could do was drink water to try to get my stomach to settle down. I’d been running between a seven-minute and 7:30 mile pace, but after mile five, it all went downhill.”

Although he’d never run a 26-mile race, Welty’s track record projects a marathon time around three-and-a-half hours or faster. Considering the day’s earlier events, that projection would be somewhat slower, but Welty was not expecting a time of five hours and 23 minutes.

“I had planned to take in about 100 calories every half hour, but once my stomach got messed up, I couldn’t do that anymore,” he said. “If I try another Ironman, I’d try to figure out how to do my nutrition better. I know I would do a lot better on the run.”

A runner’s high

Despite the struggles near the end, Welty is chalking the experience up as a win, as well as he should. Those who know him are proud of him, too.

“One thing for me that was really enjoyable was the tremendous amount of support I received,” he said. “My parents were there, my girlfriend (College staff member) Julianna Graf ’16 was there, my best friend Gavin Halpin ’12 was there,” as were former and current Fighting Scot runners Cooper Pauley ’18 and Ezzie Baltierra-Chavez ’22, who both live in Colorado.

“Other people were following me on the tracker app,” said Welty. “When I was going through some of the low points, it made it a lot better knowing how much support I had.”

Being able to take in some breathtaking Colorado scenery was also a positive.

“That helped me a lot on the bike,” he said. “We rode along some mountains, and there were some spectacular views. Then we went by a lake, and it was just so picturesque to see the mountain reflected in the water.”

Now that Welty’s an ironman, will there be an “Iron Man 2?”

“I can’t say I’ll do another one, but I can’t say I won’t,” he replied.