One finisher of the Wisconsin Ironman on September 11 towered over the other endurance athletes: Former NFL offensive lineman Alex Boone, who stands 6-foot-8, completed the epic endurance challenge in 15:51:36.
Boone, 35, played nine seasons in the NFL, mostly for the San Francisco 49ers. His last game, for Seattle, was during the 2020 season.
He played at 325 pounds—typical for a guard in the NFL.
When he retired, his wife, Dana, coaxed him into the pool, to help him control his weight but mainly to keep him from driving her crazy hanging around the house all day. His first few swims did not go well.
“I hate swimming,” said Boone, who drops expletives liberally in conversation. “I get in the water, and I go to the bottom every time. My wife was laughing at first. This was the one thing I think everybody thought I’d be good at. But I suck.”
Boone was determined to improve, and he started training under a masters coach near his home in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Dana joined him. They got better.
“I love my wife to death, she’s like my soulmate, so I just do whatever she says,” Boone said. “And she was like, ‘We should start riding bikes.’”
That was easier for him—his long legs giving him plenty of power on the ride. First swimming, then cycling. It wasn’t long before Dana had the idea that they should do a triathlon. Specifically, an Ironman, with its 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run.
Boone’s reaction: “Who the hell is going to do 140 miles in a day?”
It didn’t take long before he was addicted, he said. The weight shredded off him. He started to eat a pie every night just to keep some pounds on. “How the hell did I get here?” he asked himself. “I lost 85 pounds, and everyone’s like, ‘Dude, what the hell happened to you?’”
When former teammates got wind of his Ironman plans, a few tried to talk him out of it. “Some of them called me panicked, like, ‘Seriously, dude, you should think about this 2.4-mile swim. That’s a lot for a big guy. What if you drown?’”
Boone reassured them: He wouldn’t drown. The run, however, is the hardest part of triathlon for him. During his career, he had injuries to both knees and his back. Running just doesn’t feel great. Although he rode 100 miles several times in training for the Ironman (he rides a Parlee Chebacco), he never ran farther than 12 miles.
On race day, he split 1:35:07 for the swim, and 7:18:48 for the bike. Starting the marathon, even after his leisurely transitions, he knew he had plenty of time to make it in before the 17-hour cutoff.
He finished the marathon in 6:00:05, mostly walking through the aid stations, and averaging 13:44 per mile. He finished with Dana, although they weren’t together the whole way. She was ahead of him on the swim. (“She’s a phenomenal swimmer,” he said.) He caught up to her on the bike and passed her, and she caught back up to him about 5 miles into the run. Then they did the rest together.
“This was the first time I ever ran a marathon, and it was every bit of 26 miles,” he said. “I guess you don’t realize how big 26 miles is until you’re doing it.”
At the 20-mile mark, with the end approaching, he started to get excited. “I was so fired up,” he said. “I was like 6 more miles to be an Ironman? If your mind can’t push you through 6 miles, you just showed up for the wrong event. You start to realize that everything you did all day is coming to a head. You can’t wait to cross the finish line.”
Dana crossed one second ahead of him—and home in Minnesota their four kids were tracking them and cheering their parents on. Boone hadn’t eaten much all day—just Gatorade and chicken broth at the aid stations—but he hit both McDonald’s and Wendy’s that night.
What’s more difficult, an Ironman or a long NFL season? He doesn’t hesitate: triathlon.
“Not even close,” he said. “I’m telling you right now, I have a whole new respect for triathlon athletes, people who run, swim, bike. It is a whole new world. My world is all quick, fast, punch you in the face, run away. This is like, you’re going to sit here in your own mind for 12 hours and you’re going to question for a good hour of it why you’re doing it. At the same time, it’s going to be grueling and challenging. It’s so much harder than playing football, I don’t care what anyone says.”
Football did prepare him well for the day after, however. Boone wasn’t sore.
“When I woke up, I felt great,” he said. “Everybody else didn’t. I was like, ‘Guys! We didn’t even get hit yesterday. Let’s be honest. That wasn’t that bad.’”
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