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For most racers, the goal is to cross the finish line as fast as possible. Whether you're the overall winner or just setting a personal record, time is of the essence, right?
Not for Fred Massoomi, the Lazy Ironman. This Dundee resident sets his alarm and takes a nap (yes, he actually falls asleep!) during the triathlon's transitions. His goal isn't time-related. It's to push his body to the limits and experience a feeling you earn only after crossing an Ironman finish line.
He says there is nothing else like it.
Massoomi, 46, gave himself the nickname, but it's an oxymoron considering he's competed in 16 Ironman races and one a year since 2000. An Ironman consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 miles on a bike, followed by a marathon (26.2 miles).
But why would an athlete who trains specifically in endurance need to nap during a race? Massoomi stumbled on his strategy when he accidentally fell asleep during Ironman Louisville in 2007.
His stomach was acting up, and by the time he got to the second transition area, where the bike is left behind and the run begins, he was bloated and feeling terrible.
“Next thing I know, a volunteer came up to me and woke me up and said that I had been snoring in my chair.”
His transition time: 38 minutes, with approximately 25 minutes of sleeping. He gutted out the rest of the race, projectile vomiting at mile 19, and finished in 16:12 — not much time to spare before the strict 17 hour cut-off time for all Ironman races.
“I still say that is one of my best races. I learned so much about myself that day. I learned a lot about my limits and how the mind is stronger than the body,” said Massoomi, pharmacy operations coordinator at Nebraska Methodist Hospital.
The gut-wrenching day ended in the medical tent with an IV but helped Massoomi figure out how to use napping as a technique to nix the fatigue triathletes often fight during race day.
Six-time Ironman World Champion Mark Allen, who lives in Santa Cruz, Calif., can't comprehend Massoomi's strategy. In his 15 years of racing, he's never heard of such a thing.
“If I was trying to win my race, I couldn't get other guys to hang out for a 20-minute snooze. I couldn't sleep. If you are fully engaged, the last thing on your mind is to nap,” he said.
ESPN.com recently named Allen the greatest endurance athlete of all time, and he now coaches athletes in 50 countries. His best Ironman time is 8:07:46. He says he would only recommend napping as part of training recovery.
“I don't think I could shut down so quickly. That's a 180 to go from race mode to sleeping mode, back up to race mode,” he said.
Lincoln Murdoch agrees with Allen. He's an Omaha triathlon coach and USA Triathlon National Sprint Champion.
“Maybe one in 1,000 people could actually fall asleep anyway. Everyone is too amped up,” he said.
But it doesn't faze Massoomi. While training for Ironman Texas this spring, he went on early-morning bike rides directly followed by naps as practice for his race day strategy. He finished in 14 hours and 55 minutes.
And on Oct. 15, Massoomi finished the race most triathletes only dream about — The Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. Only the best of the best of Ironman athletes from around the world have qualifying times.
At every Ironman race, only so many slots are dedicated to Kona qulifiers for each age group. Usually only the top one percent of each age group will qualify. And these athletes certainly don't spend a half-hour napping in transition — they're usually back out on the course within a few minutes. So how did the Lazy Ironman get into Kona? He won a Legacy Lottery slot.
The World Triathlon Corporation started a lottery program in 1983 to give athletes who have competed in at least one Ironman but aren't fast enough to qualify for the championship a chance for a spot to race on the big island. In 2012, the organization wanted to recognize loyal Ironman athletes, like Massoomi, who have competed in at least a dozen Ironmans. So it started a separate lottery: the Legacy.
Massoomi said competing in the world championship was his goal for starting Ironman.
“I remember watching my first IM race on TV as a little obese kid. The mystique of the race, the island and the people who gave so much for one event amazes me still today.”
The WTC understands that this kind of race attracts athletes who keep coming back for the pain and punishment, year after year. It's not just an athlete's body taking a hit — so do bank accounts. It costs more than $700 to participate in an Ironman race.
Murdoch also has finished Ironman Hawaii. He once saw a man sitting in a lawn chair under an umbrella during a transition, his family handing him drinks and putting sunscreen on him.
“I did a double take, laughed and kept racing. But I've never heard of actually going to sleep. I guess in an Ironman, you have until midnight to finish, so why not?”
Massoomi didn't stop to nap in Hawaii. He didn't have to. Just being there, on the island, on that day, in that race — he didn't need to be rejuvenated with a 20-minute snooze.
“I had a big smile on my face the whole day,” Massoomi said, even though he got seasick swimming over ocean waves, battled the brutal Trade Winds and rain riding his 10-year-old bike on the Queen K Highway and ran a marathon in scorching heat, surrounded by Kona's black lava rock. He loved every second of his 13 hours and 58 minutes.
“As I turned onto Ali'i Drive towards the finish line, I was in heaven. I was yelling at the crowd to give me high-fives, and then I saw it, the finish line I had dreamed about as a kid. … It was a totally magical moment.”
Of the 16 Ironman races he's entered, Massoomi has not finished only one — Ironman China — thanks to a torn pectoral muscle during the swim. He drifted so far off course that a boat had to pick him up.
Massoomi says he's retiring from Ironman races. But not from napping. Fifteen Ironmans add up to a whopping 2,109 miles of swimming, biking and running; and that number doesn't include the thousands of miles he logged over training for 12 years.
“Even with a nap, I would not call the guy lazy by any stretch of the definition. I don't care how many naps he takes, it's a pretty big accomplishment,” said Allen of Massoomi's Ironman career.
I would say Fred Massoomi is entitled to as many naps as he wants. And Allen is right on — “Lazy” is the last word that comes to mind. You could call him The Crazy Ironman.