When he took on his first half marathon four years ago, all Benjamin Wood was looking for was a chance to win a truck.
The 2006 Indian Creek graduate didn’t come away with a vehicle. Instead, he opened the gateway to a new calling.
Today, Wood is in Frankfurt, Germany, for the Ironman European Championships, his first full Ironman triathlon after a series of successful shorter (but still long for most mortals) races.
The most well-known triathlon on the planet, an Ironman covers 140.6 miles — 2.4 miles of open-water swim, 112 miles on a bike and a 26.2-mile run.
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Wood has completed several 70.3-mile Ironman events over the past two years, earning Ironman All-World Athlete Gold status last year by virtue of his three best times placing him among the top 1 percent of amateur competitors worldwide in his age group (25-29).
His best time for a 70.3-mile event in 2016 was 4 hours, 43 minutes and 18 seconds at the Timberman triathlon in Laconia, New Hampshire last August. He also finished in under five hours at an event in Taupo, New Zealand.
Wood, a Purdue graduate who now resides in Lombard, Illinois, has no idea what to expect today as he tries to cover twice that distance for the first time. He hopes to finish with a time somewhere between 10 and 10½ hours, but says he’s not locking in on a specific goal.
“I’m really doing this first one for completion,” he said. “Until you do your very first one at any distance, you really don’t know what your body’s capable of.”
Eventually, though, Wood said he’d like to be able to qualify for the famed Ironman World Championship in Hawaii — something no one could have foreseen back when he was playing tennis and baseball at Indian Creek.
“I absolutely hated running in high school,” he admitted.
Married life changed Wood’s perspective, though. His father-in-law, Randy Stafford, is the director of the Mill Race Marathon in Columbus, and before the inaugural race in 2013 he mentioned that all marathon and half marathon finishers were going to be entered in a drawing to win a pickup truck.
Wood, who was into competitive bass fishing at the time, was trying to get deeper into that sport and was looking for a truck and a boat.
“I thought, ‘You know what? I can run 13.1 miles. I don’t have to do it fast, but I can finish it,’ “ he recalled.
After going through the Mill Race training program with his wife Emily, Wood ran his first half marathon in less than two hours. He quickly got addicted to running — but got bored with it nearly as quickly and decided to give triathlons a shot.
In 2015, Wood completed an Olympic length (32.2 miles/51.5 kilometers) triathlon, also in Columbus, and he’s just continued upward from there.
He’s picked up a few tips along the way — in his first two triathlons, Wood completed the cycling portion of the race wearing tennis shoes on a bike with no pedal straps. It didn’t take long for him to realize that equipment upgrades were needed.
“In the end, it’s just not the way to go if you want to be competitive,” Wood said with a laugh of his original approach.
Less than two years later, he’s on his way to becoming one of the top triathletes in the world. And he’s still dabbling in distance running and faring just as well there — running his first full marathon last year at the Mill Race Marathon in Columbus, Wood put up a time of 2:59:42, good enough to qualify him for the 2018 Boston Marathon.
Not bad for a guy who just wanted to win a pickup.