True Grit: The Road to Ironman

An Ironman Competition is widely considered to be one of the most challenging and physically demanding single-day sporting events in the world. Comprising a 3.8 km swim, followed by a staggering 180 km bike ride and topped off with a full 42 km marathon, it’s easy to understand why.

Despite the competition’s fearsome reputation, longtime faculty member, Giles Campbell, made it his mission to complete his first Ironman over the summer and accomplished this feat on August 19th in Mont Tremblant, Quebec. Read on to hear (in his own words) how he used grit and perseverance to carry out this incredible achievement.


Written By Giles Campbell

In a rash moment back in September 2017, I signed up for my first Ironman competition in Mont Tremblant. I’d been racing the sprint distance (750 metre swim, 20 km bike and a 5 km run) for several years, but always thought I’d like to try something more extensive. To get a taste of what long distance racing is all about, I entered the Welland Long Course—a 2 km swim, 56 km bike and a 15 km run.

Training for an Ironman is tough and requires endurance. Some can prepare for the race in six months, but I felt I needed a head start. I gave myself a year to train, starting in September 2017. I ran, biked and swam several times a week. At first, the training lasted between six and eight hours a week, but by Christmas it went up to eight to ten hours a week and by summer I was training for about 17 hours a week. It was exhausting and I burned many calories each day. On one five-hour bike ride in the summer I burnt 5,500 calories in one shot! I loved the training and spent many hours preparing with members of my tri team, TryForce Niagara.

The Ironman triathlon has been running since 1977 and was founded in Hawaii by U.S. Navy Commander, John Collins. It started with three separate events – the Waikiki Rough Water Swim (2.4 miles), the Oahu Bike Race (112 miles) and the Honolulu Marathon (26.2 miles) that a group of military athletes were competing in individually. As the story goes, Commander Collins dared them into competing by saying, “Whoever finishes first, we’ll call him the Iron Man.” The races were combined in 1978 to form the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon and is now known as ‘Kona,’ the Holy Grail of triathlons. Of the 15 competitors who started the race, only 12 of them crossed the finish line that first year.

My race took place on August 19th in Mont Tremblant, Quebec. I was surprised just how big the competition was with 2,272 racers competing with me. On race day, I rose at 4 a.m. to eat breakfast and ready myself. I was at the course by 5:30 a.m. full of jitters but confident that all the training had prepared me for the race—I was ready! Fireworks went off and the Canadian Air Force jet flew over the start line indicating the beginning of the race. We had a rolling start so not all 2,272 athletes started in the water all at once! The water was warm and fairly calm, and I was pleased with my time—I finished the 3.8 km swim in one hour and 14 minutes.

The bike route was laid out as a 90 km loop that we all did twice. The first loop was fine as I ate my nutrition and hydrated well. At about 120 km, however, I was hurting. My neck and back ached as I was in the hunched over aero-position on my tri-bike for four hours. When I made it to the turn-around corner I was re-energized knowing that the end of the bike section was coming soon. All I wanted to do was get off my bike! Mont Tremblant is very hilly with some extremely steep ups and downs to contend with. The biking portion took me six hours and 19 minutes to complete and as I returned to the transition area, I was amazed I had no cramps and that my muscles actually felt good.

Heading out into the run with the thought, “Okay, I’ve just ridden 180 km and now it’s time to run 42 km” was daunting, but I clicked into my metronome pace and took the road head-on. There were lots of aid stations, so I kept myself hydrated and continued to eat my energy gummies, ice chips and a few cups of salt water. The course was similar to the bike route, as you had to complete two loops. The first loop runs just beside the finish line and it’s quite hard to turn left for another 22 km and not right to finish. I had my wife, Fiona, and many friends cheering me along, which further motivated me to keep going.

The second loop of the run went well even though I was very tired. All day I’d felt that at some point, likely during the run, my body would begin to seize up, but thankfully it never did. So, as I approached Mont Tremblant Village, the reality that I was going to finish really hit me. Up the last hill and into the village, the route became about a metre wide with thousands of people cheering and ringing cowbells. You simply can’t get enough cowbell! 

“The finish line was amazing, lights cameras and the announcer saying over the speakers, ‘Giles Campbell, you are an Ironman!’”  – Giles Campbell

An absolutely amazing and an emotional finish—I could not believe it! I finished the run in four hours and 10 minutes the whole race in 12 hours, 6 minutes and 44 seconds. As I entered the ‘finisher tent,’ I realized I had prepared so much to get over that finish line that I had forgotten to prepare myself for what comes after — intense pain, uncontrollable shivering, hunger and thirst — but then you get a great medal and the congratulations from loved ones, plus for me a big mug of tea!

Here are my stats:

106th out of 332 of the men in my age group – M45-49
577th out of 1,669 men in the race
687th out of 2,272 competitors


With one Ironman under his belt, what’s next for Giles? He is considering entering the Lake Placid Ironman or the Niagara Barrelman next year. On top of that, he is in the process of recruiting his brother-in-law to join him in the competition with a two-year deadline. For Giles, the road to Ironman is ongoing and he plans to keep challenging himself in this mighty competition.

2 thoughts on “True Grit: The Road to Ironman”

  1. Hello Giles. This is you r Auntie from in little ole Stroud in Gloucestershire
    I dont normally go in for such things as face book or social media BUT James who is living in glos now from Oz sent this to my pad. , soI must just congratulate you on whT LOOKS incredibly difficult!!
    Your painting of the WestCoast of FraNCE still graces my kitchen doo r and is much admired by my many visitors.
    All the best and love to you and Fiona Nin x x x

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