A new man: An Ironman
Kevin Clayton lost 100 pounds, rediscovered his athleticism and set his sights on the famous Triathlon
By Blair Anthony Robertson - Bee Staff Writer
Last Updated 12:12 am PDT Thursday, September 14, 2006
Story appeared in SCENE section, Page E7
Let's start with the obvious:
This guy is ripped.
He's 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds of broad shoulders, a narrow waist and lean muscle.
But Kevin Clayton came by his athletic build -- and his newfound athletic prowess as a triathlete -- the hard way.
Just two years ago, he was a 31-year-old owner of a small business who had let himself go. He ate when he was happy. He ate when he was busy. He ate when his wife got pregnant. He ate and ate whenever he pleased.
He ate so much that he came close to tipping the scales at 300 pounds.
Once a proud high school athlete and walk-on fullback at California State University, Sacramento, Clayton tried to hide his bulk under sweat shirts -- size XXL. In photos from those days, he rarely smiles.
Then, one day, his father woke up, had a heart attack and died. It was that sudden. Ron Clayton, 60, had worked for Roseville Telephone Co. as a repair technician for 28 years. The death was shocking and painful to Kevin, and it made him take stock.
Yes, he was happily married, had two young kids, a nice home and a business servicing commercial hoods and exhausts at restaurants that was going gangbusters, with a dozen employees.
But everything else? He asked himself some tough questions. If he died today, would he be content? The young, strapping high school and college athlete seemed like such a distant memory.
"I was thinking about the quality of life I had," Clayton says. "I saw myself and thought, 'This is awful.' "
It took some time, but he began to get his act together. One day, he got out his mountain bike and went for a ride. There is a hill near his house in Folsom -- Clayton couldn't make it to the top.
"It was a huge moment," he says, his eyes widening.
He began not only riding but training, tackling that hill until he could pedal to the crest. Then he found more hills and went farther and higher.
And he was doing everything else right, too. He asked his wife, Kathryn, to help him.
"The first thing I did was start eating less," he says.
It was a simple equation. He dropped the calories coming in and upped the calories he was burning.
"Here is my one extreme move I believe you must make to get started toward a healthier lifestyle: Go through your refrigerator, cupboards and pantry and get rid of all the bad food -- all of it. ... Now go to the grocery store and straight to the produce section. Buy as many fruits and vegetables as you think you will need for at least the next week. Your cart will be two-thirds full before you even leave the produce aisle," he says.
That simple strategy worked right away. The weight began to fall off. Five pounds one week. Then 10 and 20 and 50 pounds in subsequent months. He would drink lots of water, eat lots of spinach, lean meat and vegetables.
He began to see food not as something fun but as something useful. It was fuel. It affected the way he felt, the way he performed.
"I kind of got a brand-new husband, and it's great," says Kathryn, who gained weight during her pregnancies but otherwise was slender and, these days, is very fit.
Kevin's appearance changed. So did his outlook. When he was heavy, he was often irritable, Kathryn says.
"He wasn't happy with himself and he wasn't always fun to be around," she says. "Who he is today is so fit and healthy and so different."
Looking for a challenge
As the cycling progressed, Kevin bought a road bike and looked around for an event that would require him to train. When a local triathlon fell through, he set his sights on Eppie's Great Race, the local triathlon that substitutes kayaking for swimming.
It was a big deal for him to send in his entry fee, to commit to it three months in advance.
"When you know you are actually going to be in the event, it brings it up a notch," he says. "I didn't want to do this thing and look like a fool. I didn't want to do this thing and look like this fat guy."
The old competitive spirit that helped him excel at football and the pole vault at Oakmont High School in Roseville came out of hibernation. When Kevin played college football, he weighed 225. When he got married in 1999, he was 240. By 2003, he was 295.
When he finished 33rd out of 162 athletes at Eppie's in 2005, he was back to 225. But his journey was far from over. Kevin picked new events and set new goals. He began competing in other triathlons. He continued to sculpt his physique and improve his endurance, getting leaner and faster and healthier.
Everyone who knew him was taking notice. His neighbors started asking questions. Some followed Kevin's example and caught the exercise bug.
"It's amazing to see the transformation," said Kevin Keady, 43, a cycling friend who commutes from Folsom to downtown Sacramento, a 62-mile round trip, three days a week. Clayton often rides the trail to meet him and then they ride back together. Keady now finds it hard to keep up when his pal puts the hammer down.
"I was pushing him, but now he's pushing me," Keady says. "He's not just pushing me -- he's killing me."
Keady adds, "There's no quick fix. There's no magic pill. It's diet plus exercise."
Now, the Ironman looms
In this summer's Eppie's race, Clayton placed 11th, knocking 15 minutes off his time from the year before. He was down to 195 pounds, had hired a coach for $225 a month and had his sights set on entering a full Ironman triathlon -- you know, the one that includes a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a full marathon.
He entered the lottery for the Ironman World Championship on Oct. 21 in Hawaii and, against steep odds, got in. The only other way to get in is to qualify by doing well in your age group at other Ironman events.
Clayton had a new goal -- and a major challenge. He didn't just want to finish. He wanted to do well.
His coach, John Hansen, mapped out a program that would ramp up the length and intensity of the workouts through the summer and into fall -- from 10 to 13 hours a week to 20-plus on some weeks. Clayton sometimes tries to do even more, so eager is he to get better. But more is not always better -- it can lead to overtraining, a performance plateau or, worse, an injury.
"I have to pull the reins in on him occasionally," Hansen says. "His progression in the four months I have had him has been a lot -- more than I thought. At this point, there are no limitations."
Ironman officials took notice of Clayton, too. On the application, competitors are asked to note anything unusual or interesting about their backgrounds.
"There are so many elements to Kevin's story that are amazing," says Blair LaHaye, director of communications for Ironman. "Pushing yourself to your mental and physical limits. It's never too late to try. Setting a goal for yourself and achieving it gives you a tremendous feeling of accomplishment."
Extreme, but an example
While Clayton's case might be an extreme example of transformation, the average overweight and out-of-shape person can benefit from his example. Even the fitness buff can learn a thing or two.
For one, Clayton didn't just go on a diet. He changed his lifestyle. He changed the way he ate, the way he behaved, the goals he had. He made new friends who also are interested in fitness.
He was making his active way of life permanent. There was no going back. He bought a $5,000 triathlon bike. He got his wife one, too.
"It has to be a family lifestyle," she says. "Part of that is keeping the people around you on the same program."
Now Parker, 5, and Kennedy, 3, understand healthy eating and shun sweets, Kathryn Clayton says.
"He's so motivating," says Kathryn, who did her first half-Ironman triathlon this summer after watching her husband immerse himself in the sport.
Advises Kevin Clayton: "Take a picture of yourself or find one of you overweight. Put that picture up where you will see it every day. Mine is next to my bathroom sink. Great motivator."
Two years of spinach and vegetables, and smart, vigorous training later, the results add up to a far different picture. The guy is ripped.
Kevin Clayton is a new man. Kathryn Clayton has a new and improved husband, and the kids appear to be building a foundation of good eating and good health.
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