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NEWS | Dec. 2, 2016

Reluctant to turn down a good challenge, first sergeant competes in Ironman triathlon

By Spc. Sean Harding 301st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade

1st Sgt.  Christopher Mitter from the 387th Engineer Company, based in Scottsdale, Arizona, didn’t fully know what he was getting himself into when he signed up to compete in an Ironman after a few of his soldiers challenged him to compete in the event.

Mitter, a horizontal construction engineer, began his Ironnman journey three years ago while conducting physical training (PT) with his Soldiers at Tempe Beach Park in Tempe, Arizona. During the PT session, they noticed people setting up for the Ironman competition that was to take place the next day.

A couple of his soldiers asked Mitter if he had ever competed in a triathlon, and teased that although he had run several marathons before, an Ironman would be too big for him, and therefore out of his league.

“I’ll do it,” replied Mitter.

Shortly after the PT session, he was signed up for his first triathlon.

The Ironman is a triathlon consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and 26.2 mile run, and competitors must finish in less than 17 hours to be considered an “Ironman.”

140.6 miles is a lot of ground to cover in one day. The average thru-hiker on the Appalachian trail travels an average of 12 miles per day. Most long-distance foot races, and even the Tour de France, rarely exceed 100 miles in a single day.

To prepare for Ironman, Mitter stuck to a rigorous training regimen and competed in two half-length Ironman competitions. He would train for three to four hours each day, and up to nine hours on Saturdays. The support of his family was vital to his training and completion of the race.

“Training can be painful sometimes,” he admitted.

His family met him on the road during his training days to offer support or even snacks, and soldiers in his company would constantly ask him how his training was going.

“It was a huge boost to morale,” said Mitter. “When you’re out there training for so long you get tired, sore, hungry and so on, but when you get a hug or a wave on the trail, it helps.”

Time management was also crucial to his mission. 

Between Army life, his training schedule and his civilian job, he said his family sacrificed more than he had, because of the time he had spent away from them training.

Minor Setback

Training did not come without a cost, however. Nearly two months before the race, he broke his shoulder blade. The doctor told him it wouldn’t be possible to finish the swim.

“It would have been the easiest thing in the world to drop out of the race,” said Mitter.

He finished anyway.

Race Day

Despite some of the setbacks he encountered during training, race day went without a hitch.

“The water wasn’t that cold,” he said.

There were no flat tires during the bike portion, and no problems or issues with the transitions.

Then came the run, and after about 14 hours he earned the title “Ironman.”

“There’s nothing like the feeling of coming across the finish line,” he said. “They treat you like a rock star; there’s the cameras and lights and everything.”

“You do something that a lot of people don’t get to do,” he added.

Excellence is Contagious

Mitter’s competitive spirit isn’t new to the 387th. Earlier this year Sgt. Michael Orozco won the Army Reserve’s Best Warrior competition. This January, Mitter and seven soldiers from his company will be competing in the Arizona Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon. Another soldier from the company will be competing in his first sprint triathlon this upcoming summer.

“When I look around here, it is a contagious thing,” Mitter said. “When you’re doing something awesome, people want to jump in on that.”

“When I first came to the unit, PT was a ‘dirty word,’ now a 5k, half marathon, or even a full marathon isn’t even that much of a stretch,” he added.  

“The unit is very motivated,” said Cpt. Heathra King, commander of the 387th. “We had our own week-long Best Warrior competition that multiple soldiers wanted to compete in, and we’ve had other soldiers form teams to compete in other events around the state. The culture of the company is strong for physical fitness and teamwork.”

Since no one forced him to train, he had to be the one to motivate himself. Having the support of his family, as well as his employer, and the Army Reserve was key to his success.

“Challenging yourself, that’s the ticket! The most intense battle will be between the person you are, and the person you are capable of becoming,” concluded Mitter, referring to a quote from Ironman announcer Mike Reilly right before the race.

The Ironman is a triathlon event that was first held on the shores of the island of Oahu, Hawaii, in 1978 after a dispute among local endurance athletes about which long distance endurance race was most difficult. To settle the dispute, Commander John Collins of the U.S. Navy, who was stationed there at the time, suggested an “ultimate” race combining the three main long-distance endurance races on Oahu, the Waikiki Rough Water Swim (2.4 miles), the Around-Oahu Bike Race (originally 115 miles, reduced to 112 for the Ironman so that the bicycle portion could end at Aloha tower), and the Honolulu Marathon (26.2 miles).