It started with a challenge: jogging to the end of his driveway.
Now, 7 years later, Eric Sielaff is going through the 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and 26.2 mile marathon that makes up an Ironman triathlon and is raising money to provide clean water in Africa.
Sielaff, a Walbridge Field Operations Manager, has grown from a jog down the driveway to 5ks to 10ks. He then moved on to half-marathons and marathons before completing a half-Ironman. Now, he’s ready to do his first Ironman in Madison, Wisc. On Sept. 9.
“Goals have certainly changed. When I first started trying to get healthy I was a good 300 pounds and a smoker – I could barely jog to the end of my driveway,” he said. “Through persistence I was eventually able to complete my first 5k race, I was hooked.”
Now, he aims to use his Ironman experience as a way to raise money and awareness for Team World Vision. After working as a volunteer for Team World Vision during the Detroit Marathon several years ago, he knew of the group. So, when they came to his church and spoke about bringing clean water to villages in Africa, he knew the cause was something he wanted to support.
“They talked about how it is just more than clean water through a well. What they bring is infrastructure, jobs, security for women and children (from abuse, and human trafficking), access to doctors (they won’t come to a village without water), and hope of a new life,” he said. “I was committed to running with Team World Vision.”
‘Almost Another Full-Time Job’
Preparation for the Ironman isn’t a simple hour of working out after work for Sielaff. It’s a life-style.
In preparation for the Ironman, he has a set workout schedule throughout the week.
It generally means the alarm clock goes off between 3 to 4 a.m. and the day begins with a 7-mile run. After work, he can be found swimming for an hour or on his bike for an hour or two.
Weekends are no exceptions either.
Saturdays are generally for bike training, with a 3-hour ride (60 miles) or a 6-hour ride (112 miles) while Sundays mean at least 13 miles of running and sometimes a swim.
“Running has always been my passion and that is what started my fitness kick, so I run 60 miles a week regardless of other training,” he said. “I have biked well over 2,600 miles in training, ran over 2,800, and swam about 200,000 yards.”
And it’s not just the time commitment, so far training for the Ironman he’s gone through:
- 5 pairs of shoes
- Countless pairs of shorts and shirts
- 4 swimsuits
- 2 swim goggles
- 1 Garmin watch
“I have tracked and logged every mile and step taken, once done, I will be able to see every training moment I have been through,” Sielaff said. “All of the physical training is just the beginning, there is also the big mental preparation that has to take place, and the nutrition training (for race day).”
Sielaff lives for the training and he can easily recall his favorite moment during all his runs.
“It was crossing the finish line last year with my daughter, she ran out of the crowd and ran over the line with me as I finished the half Ironman,” he said.
A Journey To Get Healthy
Seven years ago, Sielaff had never ran before.
Now he weighs 173 pounds, but said his path took dedication to growing in health and ability.
“Soon after my 5k I took on the 10k, then my first half marathon, thinking a marathon was only something that athletes do, I was very hesitant to sign up for one,” he said. “Eventually my brother and sister in-law talked me into it and I ran the Grand Rapids Marathon with them. My first marathon was just under 6 hours, but I finished. From that point on I had set a goal to get faster at each race and I am now down to 3:35:00 for a marathon and 1:40:00 for a half marathon.”
After eight marathons, last year he was talked into a half Ironman but still managed to be the 28th male out of 309 and 6th in his age group with a time of 5:35:32.
“It still about keeping healthy, but there is the competition with myself every time I toe the line and that is to get better than my last race,” Sielaff said. “I don’t like to compete against others.”
There have been trials though. He had a DNF during a marathon after arriving an hour late due to a freeway accident.
“I was never able to get my grove back after starting late,” he said. “I guess the saying is true, you never truly know what it is to succeed, until you have first failed.”
Looking back at all the growth over his past seven years, he’s thankful for the opportunity to run.
“To tell you the truth, just being able to run is a blessing because there are many that can’t and finishing any race to me is an accomplishment,” he said.
He encourages everyone that can to get involved in the sport or another workout to keep healthy and said if anyone is looking for a running partner or advice on running, biking or swimming, he’s always open ears.
“Don’t be afraid to take the first step,” Sielaff said. “Once you’re motivated and have a plan down, set goals and relentlessly pursue them, until you have reached your target. Once those objectives are met, set new goals. It all start all starts with that first step.