Two weeks after competing in Kona, Hawaii, for the Ironman World Championship, Robert Flanigan is taking some much-needed time off. After finishing in the top 500 competitors (out of 1,900) – a race that took him 10 hours and eight minutes to complete – he has returned to his Chester home where he can finally reflect on his exciting year.
Flanigan, 35, a resident of Chester for six years, first took up long-distance running to rehabilitate a football injury he experienced in high school; the habit eventually landed him scholarships to run cross-country in college where he competed for four years.
But then his health-conscious lifestyle flew by the wayside during the post-college years, as late nights and bad fast-food took quite the toll on his health.
“It was very, very unhealthy for a short period of time until the birth of my daughter, and I realized with her birth that it was no example to set for her,” he said. “Her birth changed my outlook on getting back into the physically-fit world I had been in for so long.”
As Madison is now eight years old, Flanigan has been running marathons and triathlons for seven years. He is now a habitual early, early riser, and he certainly needs no coffee to start his day – because, most mornings, he shoots out of bed like a cannon at 4 a.m. to get in a good workout long before the sun rises.
As his goal of living a healthy lifestyle came to fruition, Flanigan entered his first half Ironman competition – which combines a 1.2-mile swim, a 20-km (56 miles) bike ride, and a 13.1-mile run – with only one sprint triathlon (about a half-mile swim, a 12.5-mile bike ride, and 3.1-mile run) under his belt. He then ran his first true Ironman competition in 2009 after only having run two triathlons.
But things changed quite a bit when he was struck by a truck towing a boat on River Road as he was training for a triathlon later that year. The side of the boat took him down to the ground hard, the impact fracturing his femur and other crucial parts in his leg. He had only 10 miles to go to finish his workout.
“Sadly, it happened,” he said, “and, sadly, it continues to happen.” At that time he had qualified for the half Ironman World Championship, which, due to the injury, he could not attend.
The experience didn’t go well with his wife, Mindy. “It frightened me, quite honestly,” she said. “But you can’t live in fear – you have to move on. He’s done great since then.”
But the incident didn’t keep him down long. A few years down the road he persisted to ultimately qualify for the Half Ironman Competition which was this past September in Las Vegas, Nev. There, he finished 41st out of 1,600 competitors.
Over the year his success has landed several sponsorships, which continue to pay for his traveling expenses. He has partnered with Paralyzed Veterans of America, whose logo is emblazoned on his wetsuit he used in Hawaii.
For the last several months of training for the full Ironman World Championship in Hawaii, his Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays have consisted of hitting the pool good and hard at 4:30 in the morning, with an additional run around lunch time. On Tuesdays and Thursdays he would start his morning with a 90-minute to two-hour bike ride either outside or in his home work-out room where his stationary bike is set up – which is hooked up to a computer which simulates any bike course in the world he wishes to ride – with additional runs during the early afternoon. Saturdays were spent biking for four to seven hours at a time, riding from anywhere between 80-140 miles; plus a two- to three-hour run was completed on Sunday.
“I can tell you,” he said, “that the pride I get out of this is not the fact that I’m able to go out and do this stuff; it’s the fact that I’m able to do this stuff and still be a good husband and a good father. That’s why I’m up at 4 a.m.”
Mindy, who owns a consulting business, has learned to appreciate his lifestyle. “His mother told me that even when he was a young kid he was always asleep on the couch at 7 o’clock at night,” she said. “So apparently he’s found a sport that works within the time he wants to be awake and sleep.”
He has for the last five years served as the Triathlon Team Coach at the Chester YMCA, volunteering his time to help people get in shape. The program he coaches has grown from lasting only 16 weeks with six people, to a year-round program with over 50 members.
Flanigan has also used his experience to create a local business, Central Virginia Endurance, an organization which works with athletes of all abilities and backgrounds to achieve whatever goal they have in mind. One of his mentees is Justin Moyer, who won a national championship triathlon two weeks ago.
When December rolls around, when his body has regenerated from the year, he will begin training for another chance to qualify for the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii.
“People need to know that if you want to do something, you can do it,” he said. “There are no excuses. I get frustrated on occasion when I hear people say, ‘but I’m so busy, I don’t have the time.’ If you want to truly do something, you’ll find the time to do it.”
“I’m no more physically gifted or talented than anybody else,” he continued. “I’m fortunate I have some knowledge on how this stuff is supposed to be done and how to do it safely and smart, but I have a drive and a passion and I’m willing to work hard to do it. And if someone wants to do something, abandon the excuse machine, turn it off, and find a way.”