Health

Covid Cancelled Maryland’s IronMan Triathlon—So This Man Put on His Own

How one athlete spent 14 hours running, biking, and swimming across Washington.

Tate crossing the makeshift finish line. Photograph courtesy of Courtney Tate/Dan Beahn.
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If all had gone according to plan, Courtney Tate, 35, would be competing in the IronMan Maryland triathlon this weekend.

But, of course, nothing in 2020 has gone to plan. The Cambridge, Maryland-based triathlon was cancelled in July due to Covid. And the 14-month-long training the Capitol Hill resident and engineer had put in looked like it would go down the drain.

Tate decided to take matters into his own hands. Over Labor Day weekend, he ran his own version of an IronMan across Washington. He swam 2.4 miles across the National Harbor, biked 112 miles through the DMV, and ran 26.2 miles throughout the District. The whole thing took him 14 hours and 19 minutes.

Tate, who grew up swimming and has been a runner for years, started doing shorter triathlons with his wife Johanna a few years back. But finishing an IronMan had always been the dream. “IronMan, to me, represents the pinnacle of endurance,” he says. “It’s also just a really cool concept—hundreds, if not thousands, getting out there all for the love of endurance sports.”

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Okay everybody, here’s how #IronTate2020 is going down. I am organizing a solo triathlon event on Sunday, September 6th and you are coming along. 2.4 miles of swimming followed by 112 miles of biking followed by 26.2 miles of running. In other words, the full Ironman race in my back yard. The course will start with a swim at National Harbor. From there, I’ll jump on a bike and criss cross DC, Maryland, and Virginia before returning to the Washington monument for the run. The race will finally finish at the Lincoln Memorial by the reflecting pool. Now I did say that you are coming with me. What I mean is the entire experience will be live streamed to Facebook from my perspective. That’s right, I will strap a GoPro to my chest and live stream the whole thing from start to finish. You will see what I see. The good, the bad, the ugly, and hopefully the finish. To pull this off, I will need your help. Specifically I need volunteers to set up aid stations along the course. These will be no-contact interactions and I will supply everything you need in advance. The timing will be tricky but remember, I will be live at all times so you will be able to track my progress. More details on that to follow. Last thing. Please comment below if you are interested in volunteering and share this post far and wide with the hashtag #IronTate2020 to help get this event some traction. If you are on Strava, feel free to follow me for some more detailed progress on training. Enjoy the video below. See you all soon.

A post shared by Courtney Tate (@tatertotsarehot) on

To prepare, Tate had joined the District Multisport Team and put in 15-to-20 hours a week biking, running, lifting weights, and swimming. Once Covid closed the pool Tate was using, he used weights to simulate swimming in his workouts until he could find a safe natural body of water.

When Tate initially got the news about the IronMan’s cancellation, he was disappointed on a personal level, but also on a larger scale: “It’s not just me, there’s a reason the entire community can’t put on this event,” he says. “It’s the elephant in the room—it’s Covid-19.”

Which is part of the reason why he decided to create his own race. Tate wanted to use the opportunity to give back to frontline workers, and he asked supporters to donate to the CDC Foundation. Plus, he figured people would like to come out and witness something happy in the midst of so much grief. He called the race “IronTate.”

Tate and his wife used social media to enlist the help of friends, who set up aid stations along Tate’s route for fuel and morale and donated their time as EMTs or bike mechanics. The couple handed out branded “IronTate” face masks. (Tate ran with a neck gaiter on, pulling it up when he approached an aid station or encountered pedestrians.) There was a GoPro strapped to Tate’s chest, and he livestreamed the entire race.

Tate hydrating during the triathlon. Photograph courtesy of Courtney Tate.

When Tate crossed the makeshift finish line in Navy Yard just before 10 PM, a group of his friends stood waving checkered flags. “While I don’t think there’s anything that can replace IronMan as a public event, I do think that IronTate was better than that,” he says. “It wasn’t just me against the elements. [There were] friendly faces, recognizable faces, at every aid station. The finish line could not have been more magical.” The group ultimately raised close to $2,000 for the CDC Foundation.

While Tate has contacted the IronMan group to see if his makeshift race can count as an official result, he says that wasn’t really the point: “I went into the race with a sense of this is not a race, but instead this is a chance for everybody to come together and root for something for a change.”

That said, his registration for this year’s cancelled IronMan Maryland has rolled over to next year’s. Tate gave himself one week off from training (he struggled to walk the day after IronTate), then picked back up again. He’s already prepping for 2021.

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Mimi Montgomery Washingtonian
Associate Editor

Mimi Montgomery joined Washingtonian in 2018. Her work has appeared in Outside Magazine, Washington City Paper, DCist, and PoPVille. Originally from North Carolina, she now lives in Petworth.

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