Adam Alper's body hurt. His muscles burned, his joints ached, and the thought of quitting kept drifting through his mind, he recalled. He'd been at it for more than nine hours, starting with a 2.4-mile swim that seemed like it took place ages ago. Then there was a 112-mile bike ride that tested the limits of his thigh muscles. And now, after he saw a slew of competitors pass him (while just as many lagged behind), Alper found himself on the tail end of a 26.2-mile run — equal to the distance of a full marathon.
Every part of his body told him to stop, but Alper soldiered on. After completing grueling seven-hour training sessions and sacrificing leisure time with friends over the past few months, he said that he just couldn't quit the Ironman competition when being so close to the finish line.
"It starts to wear on you," the 24-year-old remarked about the extended triathlon. "You have to realize that you're not going to be happy all the time."
At a recent Ironman competition, Alper got distracted during the swim portion of the race, after being kicked in the head when about 1,700 people were packed together at the outset.
"It's definitely possible to psych yourself out," said Alper, who lives in Media and grew up in Elkins Park attending Or Hadash: A Reconstructionist Congregation. "When racing, you need to be calm and confident. You can't let little things get to you."
Even though he discovered the competition just a couple of years ago, he has already tasted considerable success. During the Ford Ironman USA in Lake Placid, N.Y., last year, he finished in 10 hours and four minutes, earning a spot at the Ford Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, this past October.
Alper finished that race after 10 hours and 30 minutes in the Hawaiian heat.
An Old Hand at Exercise
Alper learned how to expand his cardiovascular strength while on the track and swim teams at Cheltenham High School. At Drexel University, he chose to join crew, but didn't give up his affinity for distance running.
For example, just this year, he competed in both the Boston Marathon and Virginia Beach Marathon.
After he managed to combine swimming, running and biking, he began training at a specific heart rate to make sure he remained in an elevated state, but does not push himself too hard.
"It's okay to have a three- or 31/2-hour workout," he said, noting that he wears a heart-rate monitor during training. "I stay within a certain range so my body doesn't get too tired."
He would like to say that after a long workout, he fuels up with a nutritious smoothie and some vegetables, but sometimes, so much work deserves a treat.
"I love to get a big burger, fries and a milkshake," he admitted. "I'm allowed."
But 20 hours of training per week — combined with a full-time job as an engineer — has not done great things for Alper's social life.
"There were times last August and September when I was sick of being on my bike, but I knew I had to get my workout in," he explained. "I missed out on doing stuff with my friends, like going to happy hours or watching football games."
But after crossing the finish line in Hawaii, he said that he knew it was all worth it.
"I was thrilled with myself. I was screaming," declared Alper. "In Hawaii, they put a lei around your neck. You're a little sore, you're legs are a little tired, but it doesn't hurt as much as you might think."