This Guy Finished 105 DIY Ironmans in Two Years
To mark the start of his sixties, Will Turner swam, biked, and ran 14,765 miles, many of which took place through iconic national parks and public lands. Here are the most stunning photos from his "races."
For most people, completing a single Ironman-distance triathlon represents a major milestone. An athlete might train for years to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and run 26.2 miles—all within the official cutoff time of 17 hours.
But for Will Turner, one wasn’t enough. In December 2019, at age 61, Turner finished his 105th Ironman-distance triathlon in two years. To achieve this insane feat, he spent 2018 and 2019 in an almost nonstop cycle of swimming, biking, and running, sometimes completing multiple “races” on consecutive days.
The quest started in 2018, when Turner decided to celebrate his 60th birthday by doing the same number of 140.6-mile triathlons in a single year. Because there aren’t enough organized Ironman events to accomplish this goal, Turner created his own courses around the U.S. and Canada. As the owner of a sales-training company and an endurance-coaching business, he was able to set his own work schedule and steadily built upon his goal of 60 events. By the end of 2018, he’d surpassed the Guinness World Record for most 140.6-mile triathlon races completed in a year. (However, because he didn’t have two independent observers witness his accomplishment, according to the Guinness rule book, he doesn’t hold the official record.)
On New Year’s Day of 2019, while sitting at the kitchen table with Chris DeStefano, his partner, DeStefano encouraged him to keep going until he reached 100. DeStefano felt like they had the potential to inspire even more people. Turner was in, but for the 2019 leg of his journey, he made it a priority to do his triathlons in as many national parks and public lands as he could. DeStefano took photos and managed logistics, and Turner created Live Your Bold, a website and social-media campaign providing inspiration and resources to others who wanted to chase big goals.
In December, Turner finished his 99th and 100th Ironmans in Death Valley National Park, which straddles the California-Nevada border. Then he added five more in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia, taking the total to 105. Turner recently recounted some of his favorite highlights from the adventure with Outside.
The Big, Audacious Goal
“I did my first Ironman when I turned 50, and I had a quote that really resonated with me: ‘If your dream doesn’t scare you, it isn’t big enough.’ I wanted a big, hairy, audacious goal when I turned 60 years old. I thought if I could do six Ironmans, it would be incredible. But I heard someone else had already done that. So I went back to the drawing board,” Turner says.
“I’d heard of the 10x factor, where you take your goal and multiply by ten,” he says. (The idea comes from a book by Grant Cordone called The 10X Rule.) “Eventually, that’s what I did. I wanted to do 60 Ironmans the year I turned 60. I found out that the Guinness World Record was 44, done by someone who was a lot younger than I was. It scared the crap out of me. I thought, OK, I’m onto something good here.”
Live Your Bold
“I wanted the project to be about something more than me,” Turner says. “I wanted to use my journey to help people step out of their comfort zones and provide resources to help people—whatever they want to do. Part of the Live Your Bold project was talking to school groups and adults. It’s a way to say that we’re all capable of doing a lot more than we realize we can.”
“Once I married these two ideas together—the 60 Ironmans and the Live Your Bold project—then I was just all in. It’s hard to be excited when you’re turning 60, but this did it,” he says.
The project was a two-man show. DeStefano designed the courses with input from Turner. “Chris has cycled all over the country and knows all these epic places to go,” says Turner. “He’s an accomplished cyclist who loves epic riding in the mountains and has been doing so for decades for pure enjoyment.”
Before setting out, Turner packed a cooler with food, sports drinks, and water for the day. DeStefano, who Turner calls his Über-Sherpa, drove ahead to meet him along the course. “Sometimes people have joined me for part of the bike or run, and that’s been fun,” says Turner. But usually it was just the two men “having a really long day together.”
Long, Silent Miles
“People will ask, ‘What do you listen to or do when you’re out there for so long?’ I don’t have any earbuds or anything when I’m racing. I’m alone in my thoughts,” he says. “I’m away from all the noise of the world. It’s refreshing, and it’s rejuvenating. It just feels like I’ve given myself a gift.”
Not a Star Athlete
“I wasn’t a high school athlete, and I wasn’t a college athlete,” Turner says. “I had no pedigree to my athletic performance. I started running and decided in my late twenties to run a half marathon. And I ended up in the hospital, because of dehydration.”
“I started doing some marathons. I really struggled with dehydration and endurance. It actually made me want to work on it more. I think that two of my first three or four marathons, I ended up in the medic tent,” he says.
“It was never, Oh, I’m really good at this, let me do an Ironman. It’s like, I’m not very good at this, let me figure out how to be better. I definitely wasn’t a natural-born athlete. But I got a lot of enjoyment out of pushing myself and getting better over the past two decades.”
Maintaining Balance (And a Job)
“I do training and consulting work for corporations in sales and sales leadership,” Turner says. “I am also a USA Triathlon–certified coach and work with many aspiring Ironman athletes.”
“I worked for many years to create a business that gave me flexibility, so I could operate virtually from anywhere in the world. I have a lot of business in Virginia, and during the challenge, I would do my best to coordinate meetings and presentations in a week or two block,” he says. “When I needed to do face-to-face work, I would fly or drive to my clients’ location. Luckily, the vast majority of my work can be done virtually.”
Celebrating National Parks
Turner traveled to 30 national parks in North America for his DIY Ironmans. “There was a lot going on with the current administration making cutbacks to funding and other things,” says Turner. He decided to use his project to raise awareness of these issues and, through DeStefano’s images, show the beauty of the parks.
“Most of our national parks are in pretty isolated areas,” he says. “Oftentimes, on the run, I’m out there in the dark, running by myself. It’s just me and the stars and the moonlight. I can see the Milky Way. I hear my footsteps. I’m the only sound out there. It’s just me, out there with nature. And I feel very humbled and small.”
Encounters with Wildlife
“I was running the marathon part of my race in Glacier National Park, and I was on the Going-to-the-Sun Road,” he remembers. “There’s a knee-high stone wall on the edge of the road, where it drops off the mountainside. A black bear ran across the road. The bear got to the wall, and put his paws up on the side. Then he looked to his left, straight at me. I was less than ten feet away. He kind of checked me out. Then he jumped over the wall and disappeared into the mountains. I think I was too skinny for him, so he wasn’t interested.”
Was That a Shark?
For his Ironman in Encinitas, California, Turner decided to do the swim portion in the ocean. The week before he arrived, he saw a newspaper story about stingrays. “The headline said something like, ‘Stingray stings up 400 percent in Southern California,’” he recalls.
Undeterred, Turner arrived in Encinitas ready for his race. Driving to the beach, he tuned in to a local radio station. “They’re talking about a recent shark attack,” he says. “I’m thinking, OK, now I have to worry about stingrays and sharks!”
A few surfers were bobbing in the lineup when Turner arrived at the beach. He hesitated but, determined to complete his race, waded into the surf and swam out beyond the whitewater. “I swim literally less than ten strokes and a stingray darts under my body, about a foot and a half below me, which is totally freaking me out,” he remembers. “What do you do now? And I just figured, Well, I’m out here, and I need to suck it up.”
“I start to swim again, and about ten minutes later, I see this shadow underneath me. It’s moving near the bottom, around eight or ten feet below me. And I swear, it looked like a shark,” he says. “At this point, my mind is going crazy. I don’t know if I’m seeing things or if it’s actually a shark.” All the same, he finished the swim and his Ironman for the day.
Earning the Views
“I’m not big on lots of climbing when doing an Ironman,” Turner says. “I usually whine and say that I don’t want to do it, but I always suck it up and get it done. Our courses have been really, really tough, because we’ve done them in a lot of high-elevation places, with lots of hills and mountains. I work for it, but I have the most spectacular views. We’ve done a bunch in the Grand Tetons and Jackson. The Tetons are one of my favorite places. And Glacier, Yosemite, and Big Sur are all up there, too. My Big Sur Ironman had my biggest elevation gain on the bike—8,622 feet.”
Just Around the Next Corner
“When we did the Big Sur Ironman, I rode the central coast all the way up to Big Sur. I’ve biked sections of this route before, but never 112 miles of it at once. The coast is obviously lots of hills and lots of climbing,” he says.
“I get to the end, where I know I’m almost there, and I go around one of the turns, and I see I have more climbing. I do another turn, and there’s more climbing. I’m going around switchbacks. This has to be the last one. No—I go around, and there’s more climbing. This happened like nine times,” he says.
“I’m giving it everything I have to get there. I didn’t think I was going to make it. I get to the top, and I don’t have enough energy to support myself, and I fall over on the side of the road. Chris tells me, ‘Get up, you have to finish.’”
“Who gets to do an Ironman and end up in Big Sur? It’s the most amazing meeting of land and sea—even though physically you’re testing your limits the whole way,” Turner says.
“Chris got a cancer diagnosis and went through kidney surgery in 2019,” Turner says. “It put everything on hold from February through May. It was definitely a test for us. It was very emotional and trying. Once he was well enough to resume traveling after his surgery, we hit the road again.”
“We decided not to alter our goal to get to 100. The rest of the year, we worked extra hard to make up for lost time. His surgery put this journey in perspective,” he says. “We certainly don’t know what tomorrow will bring, so it’s important to live our lives to the fullest now.”
Turner traveled to Death Valley to finish his 100-race streak with back-to-back triathlons on December 15 and 16. Throughout the first day, the wind built as a low-pressure system passed through the region. He had planned to do the run segment from Stovepipe Wells to Furnace Creek, both within the park. As it unrolls from Stovepipe Wells, the road meanders and winds before becoming dead straight.
“As soon as I make the turn to head toward Furnace Creek, the wind becomes a headwind—30-to-40-mile-per-hour winds, gusting to 70 miles per hour. I felt like I was going backwards,” he says. “It was the longest run of my life, both physically and mentally. I was out there all by myself until midnight.”
Still looking for a challenge, he went home to Richmond, Virginia, where he racked up five more Ironmans on December 30 and 31—for a total of 105 Ironmans before 2020, breaking the world record of most Ironman-distance triathlons completed in two consecutive years.
“I’m not entirely sure it has totally hit me yet,” he says. “There is definitely relief, happiness, satisfaction. There’s also a bit of sadness that it’s over. But, of course, lots of gratitude for the life-changing experience and all the support I received from so many people along the way.”
Will Turner and Chris DeStefano created a coffee-table book, Journey to 100, with over 450 photographs from their Ironman-distance triathlon challenge. You can order the book here.