Chad Esker will race in five Ironman triathlons in five days—the first person from the Midwest to attempt the feat.
Walking into Chad Esker’s home in the outskirts east of Mosinee feels a little surreal. It’s a house built for function: a person won’t find much that doesn’t serve some kind of purpose. There’s a kitchen for eating, a computer station for working, a room for sleeping, and out off the backyard a pond for swimming (Esker hosts group swims there in the warmer months).
Esker is not a man to sit on the couch and watch TV. In fact, there’s only one way to watch TV in the spacious living room area: while pedaling on a road bike, several of which are lined up in trainer stands that hold the bike up for indoor pedaling, facing the TV and large windows overlooking a frozen pond in the background.
A group has gathered at his house on a Thursday night to do just that. About half a dozen men and women came for a night of sweating on bikes together, with a woman running next to them on a treadmill.
They’re helping Esker train for a contest that would stagger even the most elite endurance athletes in the area: the EPIC5 Challenge, a course consisting of five Ironman-length triathlons, completed in five consecutive days on five different islands of Hawaii.
To even be considered for such a race, a contestant has to have some kind of ultra-triathlon experience—far more than the 2.4-mile swim, the 112-mile bike ride and the 26.2-mile run that characterizes the Ironman Triathlon. Esker made the cut after last year completing the Ultraman Florida, a 320-mile event spread out over three days.
That distance might sound bad enough, but the EPIC5 is much, much worse: 700 miles of swimming, biking and running Esker must complete over five days. And in between he also needs to travel to each island, starting in Kauai and finishing in Kona. By the last day there’s less than three hours built in for sleep between the triathlons.
“The type of athlete doing this race is someone who wants to push themselves beyond the Ironman experience,” says EPIC5 Race Organizer Rebecca Morgan. “There are a lot of tough challenges out there, but this one is near the top.”
How can Esker do it? With a little help from his friends. Esker’s gathered a mini-community together, who join him at different times during the nearly 40 hours of training he will complete per week in the peak weeks before the race in May.
A small team will also travel with him to Hawaii as a support group. That includes Nick Bradfish, an Ironman competitor himself who developed Esker’s nutrition and training plan and is acting as crew chief for the competition.
Developing such a plan was no easy task, Bradfish says. If someone were running a single marathon or an Ironman triathlon, a quick Google search will turn up a wealth of results on how to train before the event and what to eat to maintain nutrition throughout the race. That kind of information isn’t readily available for the epic feat Esker is trying to accomplish, though. Only 11 people have completed the course, Bradfish says, so there’s hardly anything written on maintaining nutrition during such an event.
Much of the crew’s job will be to think for Esker while he’s focusing on running, biking or swimming. They’ll keep track of how much nutrition he’s taken in, how much salt he needs to prevent dehydration, and his water intake. With such long distances, everything has to be exact. Even a small mistake to could lead to stomach problems, dehydration or fatigue.
In addition to his training partners and crew, many other groups and individuals are helping Esker succeed. Some have donated to a GoFundMe page to help cover expenses, while others gathered at Rising Son MMA Feb. 18 for a donation-based yoga class to help raise money for the trip.
“People have asked me what my biggest challenge is,” Esker says. “It’s asking these guys to help out.”
Smiles abound as people in his training group get on fancy road bikes and pedal away indoors. People laugh and joke while they pedal away. Their faces shows they love being part of the journey.