Father and son to compete in Ironman rematch

Published 10:13 am Wednesday, June 19, 2024

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Mike Mitchell, 36, of Virginia Beach, and his father Michael Mitchell, 59, of Moyock, are celebrating Father’s Day a little later this year. While most fathers and sons are out fishing or playing a round of golf, these military men will be competing against each other at an Ironman triathlon at Lake Placid in July.

The two began with road racing in 2004. They started with local 5k races, which quickly turned into 10ks, half marathons, and marathons.

However, being 23 years younger had its advantages. “As you can imagine with normal people, age is a factor, so me being younger obviously I started decimating him and winning all these races,” Mike said.

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To level the playing field and find something that would be challenging, the two looked beyond running races and found the triathlon.

“We did our first triathlon in 2008 and ever since then we’ve been hooked,” Mike said. He is a stronger swimmer, while his father is “phenomenal” on the bike. When it comes to the last part of the race, Mike says the run is “kind of any person’s day it just depends on who has the legs for it.”

After a couple of years of participating in triathlons, the men realized they were not being challenged by the sprint distances anymore.

Then they found the Ironman. And they’ve never looked back.

They did the Ironman “70.3” in 2008 in Syracuse, New York. “We really didn’t know what we were getting into, training-wise,” Mike said.

The 70.3 takes athletes on a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride, and a 13.1-mile run (totaling 70.3 hard earned miles). Mike had pneumonia and his father had several fractured ribs, but they finished the race.

In 2014 they upped the ante once more and registered for the Ironman Full at Lake Placid. This beast of a race challenges athletes to a 2.4-mile swim across Mirror Lake, a 112-mile bicycle course through the Adirondak Mountains, followed up by a full 26.2-mile marathon.

“It’s really the end all, be all,” Mike said. “It’s a long day, it’s challenging, but we love it.”

Mike won the 2014 Ironman against his father, and now, 10 years later, they’ve challenged each other to a rematch.

Mike admits that his father is more serious about training than he is. The elder Michael Mitchell, retired from 31 years in the Navy and now teaching nursing, swims every morning, cycles 4-5 times per week ranging from 20 miles up to 50, and runs 4-5 times per week anywhere from 3 miles up to 12.

Mike, however, recently retired from nine years of active duty in the Marines and now serving in the reserves, says he and cycling don’t mix, and his bike is “well rested in the garage and waiting for the next race.” Naturally a gifted swimmer, he gets his laps in when he goes to the beach. And the running? “The Marine Corps requires me to run a few miles here and there, and then when I’m running after my daughters,” he answered.

“I’ve got life going on,” he explained.

Even though they train differently, both men are all in when it comes to race day.

And, in fact, there is a prize. For the loser.

At the finish line, the winner presents the loser with a giant obnoxious 2nd place belt buckle with the words, “Someday you’ll catch up to me” etched into it.

This sense of fun carries them into every race they do. Though they race to win (obviously), they joke around with and encourage each other and the other competitors at the starting line, keeping the atmosphere lighthearted.

This attitude has attracted the attention of sponsors, who look for talented and outgoing athletes to represent their companies. They’ve been sponsored by Team Zoot, DadBod Apparel, Brooks Running, and Jameson Whiskey.

When asked why they choose these grueling races for father/son bonding time, Mike said simply: “We’re just super competitive.”

Added to that is the military mindset they both share – there are no limits. “What’s the hardest, next best thing we can do? We try to test it and see how far we can actually go.”

But Mike says the best part about doing these races with his dad is, “honestly, the memories.” They travel to races all over the United States and have a great time doing it.

Undergirding it all is a love and respect the men have for each other. Though it comes out sometimes in humorous ways, like bragging rights at family get togethers, it cannot be denied that father and son inspire and encourage one another (for example, this article, which was a Father’s Day surprise for Michael Mitchell).

“I see a lot of people in today’s society, especially as people get older, that really don’t have any drive or commitment after retirement. Seeing him retire and still doing the things that he loves, working and teaching, it’s really motivating,” Mike said of his father.

And as for this rematch, here is Mike’s prediction: He’ll finish about five minutes earlier in the swim; his dad will pass him on the bike, and they won’t meet again until about mile 23 in the marathon. “At which point I will pass him and beat him,” he said with a laugh.