An interview with Ironman Utah winner Tony DeBoom

As expected, Tony DeBoom won last weekends inaugural Ironman Utah in Provo.

But that was the only aspect of the race that happened as expected. The worst winds to hit the Provo area in more than a decade came out of nowhere on race morning and turned the swim into a scene of terror and chaos. Race officials canceled the swim some 20 minutes after it began on a mass false start, but not before it had claimed the life of one competitor.

With no other option available, the race officials restarted the race later the same morning in a truncated duathlon format: a 65-mile cycling time trial (although many competitors measured it closer to 70 or 72 miles) followed by a half-marathon run.

DeBoom prevailed by one minute and then got food poisoning the next day. We caught up with him for the following interview shortly after he returned to his home in Boulder, Colo., to resume preparations for the Hawaii Ironman World Championship in October.

Q: Youve been trying to get your first Ironman win for a long time. Do you feel like an Ironman winner?

A: I dont know. I can tell you that after the race I was completely spent and exhausted and I felt like I had done an Ironman. But theres going to be an asterisk next to that title, Im sure. Im just happy to come away with a win after such an epic, brutal race. It really took a lot of mental strength as well as physical strength, so I consider it a big victory even if it isnt technically an Ironman victory.

Just how bad was the swim?

It was ridiculous. I was out there redlining for half an hour and suddenly I realized I wasnt any closer to the boat that was supposed to be the turning point, because it was drifting. The buoy was gone. I turned around and there wasnt a sign of one person, let alone 2,000. I could barely see the shore because of the waves and blowing sand. Several times I just had to stop and take my goggles off.

I kept looking at my watch, and I was getting to the point where I was panicking, because I thought I was blowing my race. I had no idea where I was. I kept shooting off in different directions, trying to go where I thought I was supposed to go. I never had a clue.

How were you able to maintain your composure despite the fiasco of the swim and the change of race format?

You never know whats going to happen on race day. You cant predict whether the wind is going to pick up or youre not going to be able to absorb your fluids, or whatever, so you have to be open to every possibility. You have to draw strength from knowing that youre fit and have done the work and you have to believe you can handle whatever youre dealt.

I think it also helps me that I have a military background. In the infantry I sometimes didnt know when my next meal was coming, I didnt know when I was going to be allowed to sleep, and so forth, so Im used to dealing with uncertainty and lack of control.

Do you feel that the race organizers did all they could to protect the participants and salvage the day?

I was truly impressed to see how everyone functioned the way they were supposed to function in an emergency. Everybody did what they could not just the officials, but the athletes, as well.

I feel that [Ironman North America President] Graham [Fraser] and [Race Director] Matt [Starley] handled it well. Could they have prevented it? I really dont think so. The storm whipped up so fast it went from OK to completely out of control in a matter of minutes. And as for changing the race format to a shortened duathlon, I think that was the best decision they could have made at the time based on the information they had and what had happened.

What did you do to try and recover between the swim and the duathlon?

Unfortunately, I had just about the longest swim of the day, which gave me a lot less chance to recover. I talked to Petr Vabrousek, who was one of the male pro contenders, and he told me that he got out of the water after 23 minutes, because somebody had informed him that the swim had been canceled.

Whereas I swam close to an hour and a half at race pace! And once I got to shore, I sprinted close to half a mile barefoot to the transition area. Only when I grabbed my cycling clothes did I learn that the race had been altered. My massage therapist happened to be in town doing a story for Colorado Triathlete magazine, so she gave me a light rubdown, which helped me relax.

Meanwhile my wife went around looking for food, and there was a shortage of that, because everyone was looking for it. Fortunately, I had a bottle of Endurox R4; in my bag, so I went straight for that, and it helped me out a lot. But thats about all I could do in terms of recovery.

Obviously, you didnt get a chance to demonstrate your fitness the way you wanted to, but do you feel that youre very fit and on track for Hawaii?

Its hard to tell. First, the race was at altitude. I know I live at altitude, but its still going to affect you. You arent going to run as fast as you are at sea level. So, I have to take that into account, and I also have to take into account the whole change in race format. It was hard to tell how I should have felt in the time-trial bike when I went out thinking I was going to be racing 60 miles and it turned out to be 72 miles. I kind of overexerted myself early and then hung on for dear life at the end.

But even so, I can say that I did feel strong. More than anything, I feel that I was mentally there. I feel that I know what it takes to win an Ironman. I dealt with everything that happened and never gave up on myself. Mentally, I was the toughest guy out there.

How has this affected your plans for the rest of the season?

Im big on sticking to my game plan, and my game plan was to focus on some shorter-distance races. Well see. Graham Fraser has asked me to come out to Lake Placid and do that race, which is something Ive wanted to do since I was leading these for most of the day and then blew up on the run. Id like to go back and redeem myself.

But its only been two days since Utah and the phones been ringing off the hook, so I really need to sit down with my bike coach and figure out whats the best way to be 100 percent ready for Hawaii, because thats the main goal of the year. I want to go there and one-up my brother [Tim, who won last year], so Ive got a lot of work to do.

Copyright 2002 by Poweringmuscles. Published with permission. For cutting-edge sports nutrition info, visit

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