In August 2020, as Peyton Thompson traveled to North Carolina to begin his first fall semester at Duke University, he made what must have been a disappointing discovery.
He had spent his years at Ponte Vedra High School playing basketball and working out, but now he read that the university’s gym facilities and basketball courts were temporarily closed due to the pandemic.
But Thompson was not someone who gave up easily.
“I wanted to find something that would keep me busy and give me an outlet for my competitive nature,” he said. “So, I just decided to sign up for a Half Ironman on the car ride to school.”
The Half Ironman: a grueling triathlon that begins with a 1.2-mile swim, continues with a 56-mile bicycle ride and concludes with a 13.1-mile run. The kind of competition that one considers carefully before committing to it.
Add to that the fact that Thompson had no real swimming, cycling or long-distance running experience.
“When I got to school, I had to teach myself how to swim and also, kind of how to run,” he said.
He began training immediately.
“I started out completely self-taught,” he said. “I was just doing a lot of research on my own, trying to understand different types of training technique. As I got more serious in 2021, I consulted a coach to help me write a training plan.”
Then, in May 2021, Thompson began racing. He competed in different kinds of running races and went on to three Half Ironman competitions. But soon, the time came for something bigger.
On May 7, he competed in the 2021 Ironman World Championship in St. George, Utah. At 19, he competed in the Under 24 age category.
A full Ironman Triathlon consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.22-mile run. The event is so demanding that, according to Thompson, about 30% of those that started the race didn’t finish.
The dry climate posed its own challenges. Competitors found themselves riding bicycles when the air was a chilly 50 degrees and running their marathon in 90-degree heat.
“In Ironman, it’s very important to start slow and under control,” Thompson said. “I had to take it easy and be patient throughout the race to save energy for that marathon, but those last three miles were probably the most difficult three miles I’ve ever run. My arms and hands started to go numb, but I just kept pushing, because I was so close.”
In the end, he finished in fourth place.
“I was definitely really happy just to cross that finish line, finishing my first Ironman” he said. “When I found out I was fourth, I was really stoked about that.”
His success also qualified him for the 2022 Ironman World Championship, which will be held Oct. 6 and 8 in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. And even as laudable as fourth place is, Thompson won’t be satisfied with that.
“I think I’m even more motivated now to keep on training to try to chase that number one spot,” he said. “My eventual goal would be to win the Ironman World Champs for Under 24 and then also to win the Half Ironman World Champs for Under 24.”
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