PETOSKEY — The goal is simply to get a spot on the podium.
But really there is nothing simple about what Ben McMurray is doing or trying to accomplish.
McMurray, a 2005 Petoskey graduate, has qualified for the 2013 Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii on Oct. 12, where he will be hoping to be finish near the top in his 25-29 age group to earn his way to the podium in his second trip to the most prestigious Ironman event in the world.
"When I first went to Kona (in 2010) my goal was to just be on the podium for my age group," said McMurray, who competed in skiing, track and cross country in high school, then ran for Alma College. "I was 14th, so I fell short of that goal. I'm in a different age group now. I would be ecstatic if I was on the podium there. I would love to be top five."
Last month McMurray competed at the Lake Placid Ironman and placed first in his age group, and was 14th overall out of 2,537 competitors, in a time of 9 hours, 25 minutes and 8 seconds. That showing, in his fourth Ironman, was a 30-minute personal best and earned him his spot at the World Championships.
"I built my way back up and did this one again," said McMurray. "My buddy, Dave Smith, he's from Mancelona. He and I did this one together. He kind of talked me into signing up a year ago and then we both did it a couple of weeks ago. In 2010 I was there (in Hawaii) and I'm giving it another shot this October."
Smith fell short of qualifying for the World Championships, though he placed fifth in his age group — the top three qualified — in a time of 10:06 in his first try at an Ironman. He has done other triathlons over the past seven years.
"I outswam Ben by a little bit. He caught me about 20 miles into the ride, then we rode together until about the 80-85-mile mark," said Smith, who teaches physical education in Mancelona. "Then he kind of took off a bit. He finished the bike a minute and a half to two minutes ahead of me. Ben's just a phenomenal runner and ran a 3:01 marathon off the bike. That's the real deal. He's got a lot of potential.
"For me, it was my first (Ironman). I was a little hesitant to really push the envelope too much. It was just also a fitness thing as well, being able to run as fast as some of these guys can run."
McMurray says having a running background provides a bit of an advantage as most triathletes find it's the toughest part of the event because it's the last.
"The run is definitely the most mentally taxing part. The way all the distances are, as a percentage of the total race, the swim really isn't that long. Most people think, 'oh, I could never do a triathlon. I don't know how to swim.' If you can just get so you can swim a decent amount, it really doesn't affect it that much. I've definitely improved my biking the past few years. Just learning how to pace it right is the challenge. If you figure that out you have enough left over for the run and you've just got to suck it up and get it done."
Neither McMurray nor Smith say there is a set strategy to train for an Ironman. It's just a matter of being consistent and going out and putting in the miles in either of the three sports. McMurray tries to get in a workout at least six days per week, while Smith, who also includes strength training into his regimen, averages 10-15 hours per week over the course of the year. They also help push each other by training together.
"We did some of our harder, longer bike sessions together," said Smith. "We got together for a few runs. You're training for a 112-mile bike ride so it's nice to have some company for some of those long rides."
Because of the amount of training he does, in a peak week McMurray typically eats between 5,000-6,000 calories per day. That ultimately led him to creating his own company, BNuts Trail Mix.
"I was training for my Ironman in Wisconsin. My mom would go to the store and then two days later all the food would be gone because I was eating everything, just a ridiculous amount of caloric intake," said McMurray. "So I started making trail mix because it was pretty healthy, nutritious, calorie intense, all that good stuff. There would be a big batch at our house and our family friends would come over and they'd try some and say, 'this is pretty good.'"
Since then McMurray has been selling his trail mix at farmer's markets around Boyne City, Charlevoix and Harbor Springs, as well as some craft shows and other special events.
"My sister and my mom help me out and we just kind of keep it low key," he said.
McMurray said he took a week off from training after Lake Placid, then had a week of easy workouts before he began building up the intensity of his workouts this week, hoping it will lead to the exhilaration of a finish that lands him on the podium. His friend and training partner think he's got what it takes.
"I think he'll have a real good day," said Smith. "If he can run low three hours, that's where it's at. He can swim and ride with most of the people. Then, if he can have another run like that, he'll be right there."