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Behind the Badge Triathlete Sgt. Steve Nelson finishes Ironman in 16 hours

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Lt. Chris Piombo

Posted: Monday, June 6, 2011 12:00 am

Sgt. Steve Nelson has been with the Lodi Police Department for 11 years. He's been a field training officer, SWAT sniper, mobile operations center operator and bicycle officer. He is currently a patrol field supervisor on swing shift.

Steve completed the Ironman St. George, Utah Triathlon on May 7.

We're not talking about 3-mile fun run at Lodi Lake. This was the full triathlon, one of the most difficult races in the world. Each competitor had to complete a 2.4-mile swim, then a 112-mile bike ride, and finally a full 26.2-mile marathon. It was an amazing accomplishment.

I sat down with Steve the other day and asked him some questions about his experience.

Q: How did you prepare for the race?

A: I started training in December. I would swim for 1 1/2 hours at a pool in Elk Grove or Hutchins Street Square. Then I would ride my bike for several hours in the hills near El Dorado Hills or Folsom. I would run when I got off of the graveyard shift in the morning.

I worked out at least three to four times a week. Sometimes I would take my 3-year-old daughter in a stroller when I ran. She really liked it.

Q: Why did you decide to attempt this race?

A: I'm impulsive. My wife, sister-in-law and her husband ran marathons so I wanted to try it. I ran my first marathon last year. I wanted to do a triathlon and saw that according to the reviews, the St. George race was the hardest one next to Kona, Hawaii. It was hot, full of hills up to 4,700-foot elevation and somewhat out of the way. So it did not sell out as quickly as the Ironman events in Arizona and Florida.

Q: How many people participated in Ironman St. George?

A: 1,569 people started the race. 259 people did not finish.

Q: Describe the course.

A: I began by swimming 2.4 miles at the Sand Hallow Reservoir. Then I took off my wetsuit and hopped on my bike. I rode my bike along 40 mile loops along country highways into the mountains near St. George. After I'd finished 112 miles on my bike, I began running the marathon. It was 92 degrees, dry, with 20 mph winds. The elevation went from 2,300 feet up to 4,700 feet.

Q: What was the hardest part of the race?

A: It was the time leading up to the race. I knew there were professional triathletes there and I wondered to myself, "Do I really belong here?" I remember looking out at the water course and realizing I had to basically swim the whole lake. Then the cannon went off to start the race.

If you don't think past each moment, it's easy. You can't get out of the water and think, "I've got 100 miles to ride." As I got off of my bike I never thought, "Now I've got to run a marathon."

I broke the race down into time segments. I had time goals I wanted to make so I focused on my watch. I paid attention to my nutrition and hydration. I also I talked with a fellow runner during the marathon and that helped pass the time.

Q: How long did it take you to finish the race?

A: 16 hours, 1 minute. My goal was to finish in 16 hours.

Q: What did you think about for 16 hours?

A: They do not allow you to use iPods or earphones. It was you against your thoughts. I was constantly inventorying my body, what hurt and what didn't. I looked forward to the aid stations. They had anything you could want. I drank chicken broth because my stomach was upset. They also had nutrition bars, gels, sunscreen, water, fruit, pretzels, chips, popsicles and candy. They even had buckets of ice cold sponges to help you cool off.

Q: How did it feel when the finish line came into view?

A: It was emotional. I started the race at 7 a.m. and it was now 11 p.m. It was dark but the finish area was lit with floodlights. Even though it was late at night, the stands were full of supporters.

I came around a turn and could see the finishers' chute was about 500 yards away. I could hear someone announcing the competitors' names over the public address system as they crossed the finish line. One of the things that motivated me during my training over the past few months was I wanted to hear them announce my name at the finish line.

It had been 16 hours and I had giant blisters on my feet. People high-fived me as I hobbled to the finish line. They were cheering and clapping for me just like they did for the professionals who finished eight hours earlier. I forgot about the pain and focused on the announcer's voice.

I made it to the finish line and heard "Steve Nelson from Elk Grove, Calif." I'd made it.

Q: After all of that, are you going to attempt the Ironman again?

A: If my wife lets me.

Any comments, questions or advice for Behind the Badge can be e-mailed to Jeanie Biskup at; mailed to Lodi Police Department, 215 W. Elm St., Lodi, CA 95240; or asked by phone at 333-6864.

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