It takes a lot to train for, and complete, an Ironman. It takes even more to do it alone.
24-year-old Tamás Lakatos committed to the 2020 Ironman Triathlon North American Championship back in April 2019, long before face masks and quarantine were a thing. The race, which consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.22-mile marathon run, raced in that order, was scheduled for April 25. Like everything else this year, it was canceled. Lakatos, egged on by the 12-year-old he takes care of, decided to do it anyway.
Lakatos is originally from Hungary and works as an au pair or “manny” for the Wing family, with four boys, aged 9 (Charlie), 10 (Jake), 12 (Henry) and 14 (Patrick). He helps with school and afternoon activities, plays sports and drives them to birthday parties. When he decided to sign on for a second year helping the family, the dad, Brian, a repeat Ironman participant himself, suggested Lakatos “do something epic, something awesome,” that he had never thought of before. He wanted Lakatos to do an ironman.
“We were out to dinner, and I just ate two full pizzas, and wasn’t feeling any of the running and biking,” Lakatos said.
He changed his mind when he picked up Henry, the 12-year-old, who said, “Nah, I don’t think you can finish it. It’s just too hard for you.”
In that moment, Lakatos went all in.
“I was just like, ‘Okay, I’m doing one,’” he said. “When that 12-year-old kid who’s supposed to look up to me, because that’s my job, said, ‘You can’t do it,’ I decided, ‘Well, okay, I’m doing one. You’ll see.’”
Lakatos quickly “realized it was going to be a disaster” because he didn’t like running or biking and was a terrible swimmer. He and Brian made a training plan anyway, where Lakatos would swim, bike or run in the mornings or while the kids were in school.
Lakatos signed up for the April 2020 Ironman in the Woodlands in Texas. Staying on track and not letting himself off the hook for training was difficult, Lakatos said. With his regular responsibilities to the family and four kids going to four different events every afternoon, there’s a lot going on that can derail training plans.
“It was a lot of early morning workouts, a lot of back-to-back workouts, and it’s not fun at all,” Lakatos said. “But, I realized that if I’m going to do this and keep myself on track, I have to do it this way.”
He trained more than he could’ve imagined, ate 24/7 to keep functioning and logged more than 4,000 miles of training over the year.
Then, Ironman canceled his event.
“I was bothered by the cancellation because I’d been training for so long,” Lakatos told the Keys Weekly. “How could the event I paid for and trained for be canceled?,” he thought.
Lakatos decided to do a half-Ironman anyway by himself in the Keys on April 25, the original scheduled date of his canceled event. He swam 1.2 miles off the family’s property, rode his bike 56 miles along Overseas Highway and ran through Islamorada.
“I was in extreme pain for the whole thing ‒ six hours and some minutes of heat and humidity. I was really not ready for a race like that, especially doing it myself,” Lakatos said.
Those six hours showed Lakatos how difficult an Ironman really is, especially doing it alone.
“It really is between you and your mind,” he said. “If your mind gives up, you give up. That was the biggest thing for me, to overcome the quitting mind, by myself, in the rain and humidity and all that.”
Lakatos ended up finishing the race, but came back to the family house with 2.4 miles of the run still left to complete.
“I wanted the kids to run the last little bit with me, to give them a chance to be a part of it,” he said. “I wanted to challenge them.”
The four boys and Lakatos crossed the “finish line” together, in a moment the latter won’t forget anytime soon.
“Honestly, it was one of the best days of my life,” he said. “It changed something in my brain. Once you say you’ll do something and devote so much time, effort and suffering into it, you just have to find a way to do it, no matter what.”
It’s a resilient, champion’s mentality that the parents have, which they’ve now instilled into Lakatos and which he’s now taught to the kids.
“They looked at me like a superhero, because that’s how a 12-year-old looks at someone who says they’re going to do something, and everything goes opposite, but they still do it,” Lakatos said. “I get goosebumps just talking about it. I made the most out of a really bad situation in the world, and it was such a good day to prove you can always do that ‒ to myself, to other people and to the kids looking up to me. It’s just awesome.”