By David Krueger Herald Writer
When the Ironman 70.3 Lake Stevens event begins for the seventh time bright and early Sunday morning, Keats McGonigal will be there, just as he has been for countless other triathlons around the country.
However, he won’t be swimming, biking or running — unless a crisis develops during the race.
McGonigal, a Spokane native, now finds himself on the administrative side of the Ironman 70.3 series, which puts on half-versions of the full Ironman challenge. He is the meet director for today’s triathlon that requires participants to swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles and run 13.1 miles.
“I’ve done a number of different Ironman races,” McGonigal said. “I actually did an internship working for an event in Coeur d’ Alene when I was going through school. Now I work full time putting on these events all over the country. It started with racing, and enjoying it, and now it’s an opportunity to give back to the athletes.”
McGonigal estimates about 1,200 athletes will participate in Sunday’s event, which begins and ends at North Cove Park in Lake Stevens.
The first wave of participants — the “professional” category — jump into Lake Stevens at 6:30 a.m. They will swim to the Lake Stevens boat launch where they will then transition to bicycles. Fifty-six miles later, the riders will dismount and finish off the morning by running a half marathon. Many will complete the race before the local residents are out of bed.
What drives someone to compete in such an event?
“For me it was always the challenge,” McGonigal said. “Could I accomplish something of this magnitude? I always enjoyed pushing myself and seeing where my limits were. I enjoy swimming and running and biking and you put it all together and it makes for a pretty fun event.”
Last year’s winner was an import, international Ironmen competitor Luke Bell, who hails from Australia. He’s scheduled to participate again this year, McGonigal said.
The race is divided into groups, with the professionals taking off first. They are followed by the various age groups, which are broken into five-year increments (i.e. ages 25-29). An awards ceremony honoring the top professional and the finishers in each age group takes place at 3 p.m.
While McGonigal, 33, has participated in “maybe about 100” Ironman events, he said anybody can come out and give it a whirl. He’s related to a prime example. His father, Terry, who is in his 60s, will be competing Sunday in his first triathlon.
McGonigal said many participants aren’t too concerned with their final times. After all the training and preparation, they just have one, overarching desire. “To get to the finish line,” he said.
McGonigal said those who come out to watch the event will be seeing some of the best athletes in the world.
“I think if you haven’t seen it before, seeing one of these events is pretty amazing in terms of watching these athletes,” McGonigal said. “We have former (Ironman) world champions who have won the (championship) race in Hawaii here. These are the top athletes in the world and seeing them perform at their peak is amazing.”
And while taking in this year’s race, McGonigal will be harboring just a little bit of jealousy.
“I wish I was racing on Sunday,” he said.