“Life is Good”

Ironman O'Neill

Patrick O’Neill is back to work in New York’s Financial District. But on November 22, 2009, rating financial risks was the last thing on his mind. Instead, he completed a personal transformation: from the everyman to the ironman.

Ever wondered what it must be like to complete an ironman triathlon? Read on, as Pat O’Neill takes us stroke by stroke, pedal by pedal, and step by step along his Arizona Ironman race.


-race day begins.

-light breakfast, including a bit of oatmeal and 1/2 banana.

6:00 AM:

-Racers converge in the transition area next to Tempe Town Lake.

-“body marking” : race number “116” on each arm

“46” (my age) on the back of my left leg.

I suppose this makes for easy identification should a racer expire somewhere on the course: “hey 116 was just 46 years old…such a shame”

7:00 AM START:

After one last bike check and a port-o-potty visit, I squeezed into my wetsuit and joined 2,300 other racers heading to the swim start.

All racers were in the water gathered up behind a line of buoys and kayaks for the deep water start.

The good news was I was reasonably well positioned near the front of the pack;

the bad news was that I was positioned near the front of the pack. I was surrounded on all sides by serious looking, rather large racers – I had just enough room to make the sign of the cross while I whispered a “Hail Mary” to myself. Somehow a mere gun seemed inadequate so the officials fired off a canon to signal the race start. The scene that followed must have looked like a slow moving bench clearing brawl (sans referees). I eventually surfaced and found some open water and began to implement my race strategy – survival!

Who had time to notice the sunrise?


At the turnaround I felt reasonably strong and picked up the pace. Aside from the occasional bump with another swimmer, the second half was uneventful. At the swim exit, with a hand from a volunteer, I pulled myself out of the water, shook off a bit of vertigo and headed for the “strippers’ – a group of volunteers helping racers out of their wetsuits (they keep their clothes on). My swim time was a reasonable 1:16.

The swim-to-bike transition or, “T1”, is a chance to catch your breath, collect your thoughts or throw up before heading out on the bike segment. Reflecting my usual lack of organizational skills, I took a full 9 minutes to exit T1 – I still can’t remember why it took so long.

8:25 AM – THE BIKE

The three-loop bike leg took racers out of town in a northeastern direction through the desert. A strong headwind made for a slow pace in the early stages; I picked up speed as the day progressed. My plan was to try and complete the 112 miles in approximately 6 hours. I stopped once to retrieve my “special needs” bag – supplies left at mile 63 for all racers. After stuffing my mouth and shirt pockets with peanut butter–filled pretzels and a quick potty break, I hopped back on my bike for the last segment. Despite my relatively low-tech approach to the bike – no “aero” helmet or aero wheels and a standard bike frame, I did manage to clock a solid 5:37 bike split.

2:02 PM- THE RUN

Coming into T2, I felt strong but more importantly my stomach was still relatively settled. Not surprisingly, the simple act of walking after spending 5.5 hours pedaling was a bit of challenge. Observers might have thought I had been drinking scotch rather than Gatorade on the bike. I collected myself and quickly switched from bike shoes to running shoes. After a volunteer smeared on some sunscreen I was out of T2 onto the run.

It took 5 miles to find my running legs and shout down the demons begging me to stop. My strategy here was to maintain a 10:00/mile pace. The three loop course was relatively flat save for a challenging one mile climb at the 5-mile mark.

Around mile 10 on the second loop I began encountering the casualties – the sobbing woman off to the side embracing her husband/boyfriend clearly overcome by fatigue; the young man lying peacefully on the side of the road staring into space resigned to the fact that his race was over; and the puker fertilizing a nearby cactus. Would I be next?


Shortly after passing mile marker 16, I realized this Ironman thing was within reach – I could crawl the last 10 miles and still beat the 17 hour (midnight) cutoff. I was still moving at roughly a 10 minute pace as I passed through the final aid station at mile 23. Feeling rather battered and dehydrated, I slowed to a walk, gulped down two cups of cola and resumed at a slow jog. It might have been the sugar rush from the cola or simply the energy of the cheering crowds, but I managed to quicken my pace noticeably towards the end.

During the last mile I thought of how I got here:

-good friends and training partners with lots of encouraging words;

-36 weeks of intensive training with lots of sacrifices along the way;

-a very supportive family;

-and my mother’s reminder from the previous evening that there are more important things in life than Ironman. She was right of course but at that moment, for that last 100 yards, nothing else mattered. I crossed the line at 11:36:04 as Mike Reilly, The Voice of Ironman, shouted out those words every first-timer dreams about: “Patrick O’Neill, you are an Ironman!”

The icing on the cake was that we managed to raise a decent amount for a local Montclair charity and all my NJ race mates finished strong as well.

Life is good.

-Patrick O’Neill


10 responses to ““Life is Good”

  1. Wow. Almost 2 years since this race…and just 2 weeks till Ironman Florida! It has been quite a journey since Arizona. Older for sure and perhaps a little faster. Since Arizona I have run three marathons, 2 70.3 distance triathlons and one Ironman (Lake Placid). Over the last 11 months I have logged close to 7,400 miles on the road and about 100 miles in the pool. I can honestly say I have enjoyed ever mile.

    I continue to marvel at what the human body is capable of once the mind is trained.

    Despite all the preparation all sorts of things can go wrong (sickness, weather, sharks, etc) but that is part of the fun. I will let you know how it goes when I am back.


  2. To the other Pat O’Neill well done!!!!

  3. Unbelievable. Congratulations. Great essay — we feel like we were there with you (without all the training of course!).

  4. Dominic Babinski


    Way to go! I’m jealous now. Amazing time for an “age grouper”.
    I have to start lobbying with Christine now for her support for my efforts for an Ironman – maybe in 5 or 10 years – then they’ll say “Poor 116, he was just 52-57!”.


  5. Patty O !!!
    What a fantastic accomplishment !! You should be very proud. Congrats as well to Christina and the boys for putting up with all your crazy training.
    Have you booked your exorcism so you can go back to drinking scotch with me?

    MJ (aka LOB)

  6. Well done Pat. A tremendous accomplishment. It will go down in O’Neill lore for generations to come. Congratulations also to Christina and boys for putting up with your mid life crisis. Can’t wait to hear what’s next!!

    L,F,J & D

  7. Jeannine, Jack, Madison & Lauren

    fantastic job, Patrick! We enjoyed following your progress on race day … and this blog with details of your race experience. Impressive accomplishment!

  8. Big brother, is there no end to your talents?? You’re now an ironman, and – who knew?? – you can also write pretty darn well! I really am proud of what you have done. There must have been many lonely moments during the training period, all those early mornings, lunchtimes, and long evenings… times that might make many people (like me probably!) give it up and go home, but you persevered.

    Of course you’re also lucky that you have the love and support of Christina and the boys. They sacrificed time with you, but on the flip side, you have set a great example for Liam, Thomas, and Colin. Actions speak louder than words, and they’ll carry the lessons you’ve taught them throughout their lives.

    On a personal note, you’ve also reminded me that we’re never too old to take on a challenge. Although you took on this “hobby” (can we even still call it that?) in middle age, you’re proof that nothing is impossible if you’re willing to work for it. And for Pete’s sake, since I’m MUCH younger than you, I feel inspired to start training….. for a 10k run (I’m not crazy enough for Ironman – no offense).

    So you see? You didn’t just do this for yourself. The people who love you have also gained something special through your accomplishment. I hope that makes it taste even sweeter.

    Well done!
    Love, Sandy

  9. Wonderful race Patrick! We love you.

    Great blog. by Bobby B.
    Belated B.day to his mother.

    Brian & Jean O’

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