Alumnus Dan Mikkelson Competes at Ironman World Championship

Posted on October 26th, 2011 by

Dan Mikkelson '08 keeps focused on the road in front him during the 112 mile bike portion of the Ironman World Championship.

It’s known as the ultimate test of fitness, endurance, and mental fortitude. A 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run all completed despite crosswinds, headwinds and the overpowering heat and humidity under the Hawaiian sun. It is the Ironman World Championship.

Only 1,773 athletes finished this year’s Ironman in Kona, Hawaii on Oct. 8, and one of them was 2008 Gustavus Adolphus College alumnus Dan Mikkelson.

Originally from Plymouth, Minn., Mikkelson transferred to Gustavus after his freshman year to major in finance and join the men’s swimming and diving team.

“Being a part of the Gustavus swim team was a great experience,” Mikkelson said. “It was a great way to meet people and it was just a great group of people to be around.”

It was during his senior year when Mikkelson and teammate Connor Ziegler ’08 decided to sign up for a half Ironman in Chisago Lakes, Minn.

“We kind of just did it for fun,” Mikkelson said. “It was tough, but we both finished. After that I kind of got the triathlon bug and have gotten pretty hard core since then.”

Mikkelson finished the race in Chisago Lakes in 5 hours, 38 minutes, and 9 seconds. He placed 192nd out of 299 individuals who completed the race.

It was a great accomplishment, but nowhere near the kind of performance one would need in order to qualify for the Ironman World Championship.

In 2010 Mikkelson was in the middle of law school at the University of St. Thomas, but decided to start training for a full Ironman – Ironman Wisconsin – one of several triathlons around the country where you can qualify for a spot in the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii.

In preparation for Ironman Wisconsin, Mikkelson and fellow Gustavus alumni Billy Cuevas ’09 and Nick DeLeeuw ’07, once again took part in the Chisago Lakes Half Ironman.

This time Mikkelson’s time was much better. He finished the race in 4 hours, 33 minutes, and 42 seconds to earn 13th place overall and third place in his age group. Mikkelson was ready to tackle the challenge of a full Ironman.

Ironman Wisconsin

Thanks to the strength of his swimming, Mikkelson was the 23rd person out of the water after the 2.4-mile swim in a time of 54 minutes and 31 seconds.

He went on to complete the bike portion in 5 hours, 37 minutes, and 4 seconds and the marathon in 3 hours, 54 minutes, and 37 seconds.

His total time of 10 hours, 34 minutes, and 29 seconds put him in 124th place overall out of almost 3,000 competitors, but more importantly he placed fourth in his age division (18-24), which qualified him for the Ironman World Championship.

“Having never done one before, my first goal was just to finish,” Mikkelson said. “I ended up finishing an hour faster than my goal time. I never expected in a million years that I would qualify for Kona, but I had a good race and the rest was history.”

Ironman World Championship

The Ironman World Championship consists of a swim in the bay of Kailua-Kona, a bike ride across the Hawaiian Iava Desert to Hawi and back, and a marathon along the coast that includes a brutal stretch on the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway.

On top of the obvious challenge presented by the sheer length of the race comes other obstacles. On race day, Mikkelson woke up at 4:30 in the morning to prepare to start the first leg of the triathlon at 7 a.m.

“Usually if you’re a good swimmer you can get out in the open water and you don’t have to worry about a lot of traffic around you,” Mikkelson said. “I was never in the clear. There are swimmers all around you, elbowing you, grabbing you’re legs, and cutting you off. I had never experienced that before so that it made it more difficult.”

Despite the tough conditions, Mikkelson was in 256th place after finishing the 2.4-mile swim in 1 hour, 1 minute, and 3 seconds.

After the swim, Mikkelson started on the 112-mile trek that is the bike portion of the race.

“It’s a crazy bike ride because it’s so windy. People don’t realize what a 30 mile per hour crosswind does to you,” Mikkelson said. “Miles 55-60 you’re climbing straight uphill against the wind and then the descent down the hill was probably the scariest bike ride of my life.”

He finished the bike ride in 5 hours, 43 minutes, and 53 seconds, which put him in 938th place overall.

With just over 26 miles separating him from the finish line, Mikkelson prepared himself for the marathon.

“The first half of the marathon you are motivated and feeling good but about half way through your body starts to feel beat down. It’s sunny and hot and you’re just getting beat by the sun,” he said. “For the second half of the run you are on the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway completely exposed to the sun without any crowds. With the heat reflecting off the pavement and lava rocks, we were told after the race that it was 125 degrees that afternoon.”

Mikkelson said that his legs started to give out with about eight miles left, but that he was able to push through. He kept a pace of 8:39 per mile and finished the marathon in 3 hours and 47 minutes flat.

His total time was 10 hours, 38 minutes, and 58 seconds. His sense of accomplishment was priceless.

“It’s just the greatest feeling in the world during the last mile when you get into town,” he said. “Crossing the finish line is kind of a blur, but it’s definitely one of the most gratifying experiences of my life.”

Mikkelson said that he also enjoyed sticking around the finish line after he finished to cheer on his fellow triathletes as they finished. Athletes are required to finish the race by midnight – within 17 hours – to be considered an Ironman finisher. Mikkelson said that watching athletes cross the finish line between 11 p.m. and midnight is the best part of the experience.

“There’s no greater experience in sports than watching three guys over the age of 80 finish the Ironman with about 15 minutes to spare,” he said. “That’s one of the most motivating and incredible things I’ve ever seen.”

After having conquered the ultimate fitness challenge, Mikkelson says he has no plans to slow down. He says his next goal is to qualify for the half iron man world championship in Las Vegas.

He also encourages anybody thinking about trying a triathlon to go for it.

“The triathlon community is a lot like the Gustavus community in that people are so willing to spend time with you. You just have to immerse yourself in what it’s all about,” he said. “I think it’s great because you are learning about sports and learning about what your body can do.”

Mikkelson lives in Phoenix with his fiancé and is currently working at Robert Half International, helping legal professionals find employment.


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin


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