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Swim, Bike, Bonk: Confessions of a Reluctant Triathlete

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Just as George Plimpton had his proverbial cup of coffee in the NFL as the un-recruited and certainly unwanted fourth-string quarterback for the Detroit Lions, so, too, did Will McGough immerse himself in a sport he had no business trying. Like Plimpton, whose football folly turned into the bestselling Paper Lion, travel and outdoor writer McGough writes of his Just as George Plimpton had his proverbial cup of coffee in the NFL as the un-recruited and certainly unwanted fourth-string quarterback for the Detroit Lions, so, too, did Will McGough immerse himself in a sport he had no business trying. Like Plimpton, whose football folly turned into the bestselling Paper Lion, travel and outdoor writer McGough writes of his participation in, around, and over the course of the one of the world's premier triathlons, the annual Ironman 70.3 in Tempe, Arizona. McGough chronicles the Ironman's history, his unorthodox training, the pageantry of the race weekend, and his attempt to finish the epic event. The narrative follows not just his race but also explores the cult and habits of the triathlete community, beginning with the first Ironman competition in Hawaii in 1978. This is a light-hearted, self-deprecating, and at times hilarious look at one man's attempt to conquer the ultimate endurance sport, with a conclusion that will surprise and delight both dedicated triathletes as well as strangers to the sport.


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Just as George Plimpton had his proverbial cup of coffee in the NFL as the un-recruited and certainly unwanted fourth-string quarterback for the Detroit Lions, so, too, did Will McGough immerse himself in a sport he had no business trying. Like Plimpton, whose football folly turned into the bestselling Paper Lion, travel and outdoor writer McGough writes of his Just as George Plimpton had his proverbial cup of coffee in the NFL as the un-recruited and certainly unwanted fourth-string quarterback for the Detroit Lions, so, too, did Will McGough immerse himself in a sport he had no business trying. Like Plimpton, whose football folly turned into the bestselling Paper Lion, travel and outdoor writer McGough writes of his participation in, around, and over the course of the one of the world's premier triathlons, the annual Ironman 70.3 in Tempe, Arizona. McGough chronicles the Ironman's history, his unorthodox training, the pageantry of the race weekend, and his attempt to finish the epic event. The narrative follows not just his race but also explores the cult and habits of the triathlete community, beginning with the first Ironman competition in Hawaii in 1978. This is a light-hearted, self-deprecating, and at times hilarious look at one man's attempt to conquer the ultimate endurance sport, with a conclusion that will surprise and delight both dedicated triathletes as well as strangers to the sport.

37 review for Swim, Bike, Bonk: Confessions of a Reluctant Triathlete

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lance

    This was an interesting topic and the author bared his soul (and more at times) but it just got bogged down with a lot of detail. Will McGough's journey from regular exercise to Ironman competitor is filled with much humor, especially on some topics that feel like there is too much information. An example of that is the "bonk" portion of this book. Even though his portions of the book are small compared to the amount of information found online on such information as defecating and throwing up This was an interesting topic and the author bared his soul (and more at times) but it just got bogged down with a lot of detail. Will McGough's journey from regular exercise to Ironman competitor is filled with much humor, especially on some topics that feel like there is too much information. An example of that is the "bonk" portion of this book. Even though his portions of the book are small compared to the amount of information found online on such information as defecating and throwing up while competing, it still felt like too much information and too much detail. The same thing goes when he mentioned how his sex life was suffering while he was training. McGough seems to want to make sure the reader knows every last detail about his training and his racing. Don't get me wrong, some of these stories are great reads, such as when he is shopping for a bicycle. But overall, the book was only okay for me while crawling to a halt with some of the details. It might be a very good read for those who are triathletes/Ironmen (and women) but a casual reader of running books will probably want to pass on this one.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Nona Kiknadze

    Hawai’i resident Will McGough is no couch potato-- a college athlete and professional travel writer, his work frequently takes him across the world to extreme destinations, where he partakes in trekking, biking, and other adventurous pastimes. A self-described “generally fit and active” guy, this athletic background is what gives McGough the confidence-- or some may say, naiveté -- to attempt what is considered one of the world’s hardest races, the Ironman triathlon, with only three months Hawai’i resident Will McGough is no couch potato-- a college athlete and professional travel writer, his work frequently takes him across the world to extreme destinations, where he partakes in trekking, biking, and other adventurous pastimes. A self-described “generally fit and active” guy, this athletic background is what gives McGough the confidence-- or some may say, naiveté -- to attempt what is considered one of the world’s hardest races, the Ironman triathlon, with only three months training. A foreword by Gordon Haller sets the tone for the differences in the original, home-grown, 1978 Ironman in Hawai’i, and the current, multi-million dollar global industry that has sprung up around this brand. Those familiar with the Ironman in its current form will be interested in hearing about its roots and evolution over the past 40 years, and McGough captures this history with his trademark light-hearted and self-deprecating humor. Through rain and shine, injury and exhaustion, you follow McGough as heads towards his final destination, the grueling 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bicycle ride, and 26.22 mile marathon run of the Ironman Arizona. There is a distinct continuity to these stories-- the original Hawai’i race of 1978, done with little preparation or fanfare, and McGough’s modern attempt. While the book covers his training plan, diet, and equipment with enough specificity to please the dedicated Ironman athlete, McGough balances the technicality with personal and historical anecdotes that make the story relevant to any audience. In immersing himself in this community, McGough is able to offer an insider perspective of just what this process is like, and does not hesitate in pointing out the uncomfortable, humorous, and down-right weird aspects of this event. All can agree that the Ironman is a commendable athletic feat, but it can be difficult for those who do not partake in the race to understand the level of enthusiasm dedicated triathletes have for this sport, and the emotional and physical toll it exacts. McGough outlines what it takes, but more importantly, what it requires giving up, to reach these elite levels of performance. This book may motivate those who have not partaken in an Ironman themselves to attempt this race. But just as likely, it may make them more confident in their decision, as they sit and sip a beer after work, that this is something they never want to do, but nonetheless thoroughly enjoying hearing about the trials and tribulations of someone who is equal parts determined and foolish enough to attempt it. Suddenly, that half-marathon you’ve been talking about registering for seems slightly less unreasonable. “Swim, Bike, Bonk” is for that specific subset of fitness-oriented people in your life whom compete for these Ironman triathlons, but even more broadly-- for the other 99%; the friends, relatives, significant others, support crews, and plain-old observers, who watch in dismay as their loved ones dedicate their waking hours to what some may call, just a race, while wondering just what in the world they were thinking. Poking fun at a consumer society that has turned a test of physical fitness into another expensive commodity available for purchase, McGough leaves you with the impression Ironman doesn’t have to be quite so expensive, or out of reach. It will, however, leave you quite sore.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Colette C

    Swim, Bike, Bonk documents travel writer Will McGough's journey from everyman to Ironman in just 3 months. Journal entry by journal entry readers get to vicariously live the 108 days from the start of his training to race day at Ironman Arizona 2017. From the moment he announces his intentions to his friends and family it is clear McGough is in over his head, but he moves forward anyway, with childhood swimming, high school cross country, college volleyball, and an adulthood of outdoor Swim, Bike, Bonk documents travel writer Will McGough's journey from everyman to Ironman in just 3 months. Journal entry by journal entry readers get to vicariously live the 108 days from the start of his training to race day at Ironman Arizona 2017. From the moment he announces his intentions to his friends and family it is clear McGough is in over his head, but he moves forward anyway, with childhood swimming, high school cross country, college volleyball, and an adulthood of outdoor activities to build on. By participating in online triathlon forums and reaching out to friends and strangers who are experienced triathletes (including Gordon Haller, winner of the first Ironman). McGough scrapes together enough advice to find proper equipment and design a training plan. He then embarks on training for "the biggest single-day physical challenge of [his] life." Will is painfully open about his training, from saddle sores to GI upset (warning: the book contains graphic descriptions of human excretory functions). He sustains injuries to his knee and shoulder, but manages to wrangle both into submission in time for the big event (read the book if you want to know how that goes). When McGough isn't describing the details of training and racing he delves into the history and culture of Ironman and the minds of its participants. Did you know that the bike leg of an Ironman is 112 miles because it’s the distance around the island of O'ahu? Neither did I. The numbers thrown out about race participation and finances are truly shocking. After reading, I have new perspective on Ironman triathlons and a mixture of respect and skepticism of the athletes who choose to participate. The only gripe I have about this book is that the author never discusses that writing a book (or the potential to sell his story) may have motivated him to pursue the Ironman in the first place. The book begins with him telling his family and friends of his plan to do the race. Readers get no explanation of how he made this decision, just assurances that "it will be another adventure." I have no problem with McGough making money off of this experience, it's clear he suffered a lot for it. It seems odd for the author to leave making the decision out of the book, and then insist that he pursued the race for personal progress, not the payoff. At some point in the process the idea of writing a book about it probably dawned on him, right? He writes about travel adventures for his job! Brief rant aside, I still enjoyed the book. I think others would too (even the non-endurance-inclined).

  4. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Well, the title is misleading: Mr. McGough willingly signed up for a triathalon. He signed up for an Ironman: 2.4 miles swimming, 112 mile biking, and then a 26.2 run. It was his own choosing. On top of that, he chose to do it with very limited training time. The book's chapters count down the days to the race. After signing up, Mr. McGough spent a lot of time complaining about the need to train and to spend money to buy things to properly outfit himself to complete the race. I am not a fan of Well, the title is misleading: Mr. McGough willingly signed up for a triathalon. He signed up for an Ironman: 2.4 miles swimming, 112 mile biking, and then a 26.2 run. It was his own choosing. On top of that, he chose to do it with very limited training time. The book's chapters count down the days to the race. After signing up, Mr. McGough spent a lot of time complaining about the need to train and to spend money to buy things to properly outfit himself to complete the race. I am not a fan of people who are unprepared and then whine about it. This did not start the book off well for me. I quickly learned that he was not going to follow most of the advice given to him by seasoned athletes or follow a consistent training plan. Sure, some people are able to stumble through events in this manner, but it is not something I prefer to read about. I also didn't need to read a multiple page dissertation on Gatorade flavors or about his sex life. Most of the time while reading the book, I wanted to skip ahead to the race itself. Finally, there, I got to enjoy his race report. I think this book was trying to appear to both seasoned triathletes and those who aren't athletes at all. The end result feels like it doesn't quite fit anywhere. Thanks to NetGalley and Rowan & Littlefield for a copy of the book. This review is my own opinion.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Yates

    Get into the mind of an athlete. Very well written and such an interesting story. You will love this book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Harper

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tim

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ed Timek

  9. 4 out of 5

    Zebulon

  10. 4 out of 5

    Tyler

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kyle Wendy Skultety (gimmethatbook.com)

  12. 5 out of 5

    Thomas L. Slemp

  13. 4 out of 5

    Anthony Baumeister

  14. 5 out of 5

    Corin

  15. 4 out of 5

    Justin

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

  17. 5 out of 5

    Amie's Book Reviews

  18. 5 out of 5

    Heather Fineisen

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rex

  20. 4 out of 5

    Julie

  21. 5 out of 5

    Samantha Ditaranto

  22. 4 out of 5

    Matt

  23. 5 out of 5

    ☘Misericordia☘ ~ The Serendipity Aegis ~ ⚡ϟ⚡ϟ⚡⛈ ✺❂❤❣

  24. 5 out of 5

    Casey

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kevin J

  26. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  27. 4 out of 5

    Shannon

  28. 5 out of 5

    Courtney Anderson

  29. 4 out of 5

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  30. 5 out of 5

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  31. 5 out of 5

    Joanne

  32. 4 out of 5

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  33. 5 out of 5

    Cate

  34. 5 out of 5

    Conner Hildahl

  35. 4 out of 5

    Mikey Sklar

  36. 5 out of 5

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  37. 5 out of 5

    Kaci

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