Ironman? That's a sprint. Just ask Francois Le Sellier

Francois Le Sellier  Credit: Courtesy: MetroSports
Francois Le Sellier never goes for a run of less than 15 miles. Hes a man who only trains on a mountain bike rather than a lighter, faster road bike and considers a 38-mile ride a sprint.

This is a fellow who decided to make his first-ever triathlon an Ironman, and he says things like, "The challenge at the Ironman is not to finish, the challenge is to do well."

In September Le Sellier became just the third person in the United States to finish a triple-ironman triathlon. Thats a 7.2-mile swim, followed by a 336-mile bike ride, culminating in a 78.6-mile run (three marathons in succession).

Le Sellier has not only his boundless physical endurance to recommend him, but he also holds a masters degree in aeronautics from MIT. Yet he is known more for his attitude more than anything else. While many people in the world of endurance sports, and especially triathlon, are known to be a little too serious, Le Sellier always seems to have a smile on his face.

"Hes probably one of our favorite athletes, and its not because of the success that hes had," says Don Mann, president of Odyssey Adventure Racing, which hosts the triple ironman in Colonial Beach, Va. "Hes just laughing all of the time. The harder it gets, the more he laughs. That makes him a great teammate."

At the triple Ironman, Le Sellier placed second, beating his own expectations with a time of 41 hours. In the days before the race, Mann said that 45 hours would be considered a fast time. Making Le Selliers feat even more amazing is the fact that it was only his second triathlon ever.

"To me, it was kind of a dream," Le Sellier says. "It was an awesome race."

Le Sellier was born in France but his family moved all over Europe and the world, following his father, who worked for the French equivalent of NASA. As a child, Le Sellier played many sports, but he excelled in swimming and other endurance activities. He was a high-level collegiate cross-country runner in France, and he moved to Boston in 1996 to pursue his degree at MIT.

But engineering and endurance athletics dont mix, Le Sellier discovered. When he focused on his studies, he didnt have time to train. He moved to Washington, D.C., in 1998 for a job with a telecommunications company that specialized in aeronautics. He left that job, however, because he didnt like the work.

"My problem is that I have a very big passion for sports," Le Sellier says.

Le Sellier wants to follow that passion. After the triple Ironman, he traveled to West Virginia for a week as an instructor with the Odyssey Adventure Racing Academy. He plans to return to France in the near future and hopes to create an adventure-racing school there.

"Hes very modest, but hes always very enthusiastic," says Sophie Germain, Le Selliers girlfriend. "Hes always conveying that enthusiasm to people. Hes inspired some of our friends to do races."

Le Sellier is constantly searching for new challenges. His current project is a six-month bike trip with Germain across Southeast Asia and China, which they started in October. The couple is riding a tandem mountain bike and carrying all their gear through Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and China. After the trip they will return to France.

The trip was Germains idea. She had always wanted to go on a backpacking tour through that part of the world. When she mentioned it to Le Sellier, he suggested that they do it by bicycle, just to add to the challenge.

The duo will cycle about 70 miles per day, which should give them plenty of time for sightseeing, Le Sellier says. Their budget for the trip is only $10,000, so Le Sellier has spent the past few months rounding up sponsors. While his family is concerned about his safety on the trip, Le Sellier displays confidence.

"Im not the worrying type," he says. "That may be a problem sometimes."

Le Sellier first became interested in adventure racing when he started getting bored with long-distance running. Suddenly, one day, he found it unsatisfying to just run and not use his mind, he says. Thats when a friend introduced him to orienteering. In orienteering, a long course might be seven miles, but the challenge comes from the terrain and land navigation.

"Orienteering is awesome," Le Sellier says. "Something happens every minute. You have to concentrate all the time. The more you get tired, the more you have to concentrate."

From orienteering, Le Sellier got into adventure racing. He practiced hard on the bike to become a superior mountain biker. Hes also an accomplished paddler and climber. Even though he is modest, Le Sellier acknowledges that none of the events in a typical adventure race pose a challenge to him.

His record backs him up. At the Endorphin Fix, one of the toughest two-day adventure races in the country, Le Selliers team finished first overall and second overall the two times hes competed. At the four-day Odyssey Mega Dose in May, Le Selliers Team Bionic was the only four-person team to finish the race intact.

Le Selliers accomplishments have not come without some adversity. At the most recent Endorphin Fix, Le Selliers team completed the mountain bike section very quickly and then had to wait for hours before they were permitted to navigate the canoe section because of darkness.

The team built a fire and was lying around it when Le Sellier realized that his shoe was caught in the flames. Before he could extinguish the smoke, the sole of his right shoe had burned off. For the rest of the race, the sole hung and flapped with every step he took. Its the kind of mishap that ends an adventure race for many competitors. Le Selliers team won.

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