The Unlikely Ironman: Zach Boivin

Age: 31
Occupation: Air Traffic Controller
Home: Castleton, NY
Height: 5’7”
Starting weight: 330lbs
Current weight: 210lbs
Total pounds lost: 120lbs

Back in 1980, Lake Placid, NY, was the site of the “Miracle on Ice,” the victory by the American hockey team over a heavily favored Russian squad.

Last weekend, there was no ice in Lake Placid—but there was a small athletic miracle in the form of Zachary Boivin, a 31-year-old who claimed his own personal victory.

Two years ago, Boivin was watching the Lake Placid Ironman triathlon in support of a friend. Inspired by all the endurance athletes coursing the event, Boivin promised himself that he would be an Ironman one day. The main problem: At the time he weighed 330lbs.

Returning to Lake Placid as a competitor would be no easy road, of course. Boivin started with the Couch to 5K app, which got him moving again. A year ago, he struggled through his first triathlon, a 70.3-mile half-Ironman that nearly wrecked him. (His time of 8:25 beat the cutoff time by a mere five minutes. “That was real awful,” he said. “It was real close at the end.”)

Boivin needed help—and got his break by winning the Make Me An Ironman competition, which seemed tailor-made for him: free equipment (triathlons are notoriously gear-intensive) and coaching from a veteran tri coach. With his support system in place, Boivin was closer to his goal of doubling his distance and finishing the Ironman with plenty of time to spare—and actually having fun along the way.

As for his weight? After putting in many miles on the bike, on the road, and in the pool, Boivin managed to drop 120lbs—and made good on his promise. What would've seemed like a miracle on that summer day in 2015 became a reality on July 23, 2017, when he completed the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run in the Olympic oval in a time of 15 hours and 34 minutes.

Men’s Fitness talked with Boivin shortly after his finish to find out more about his fitness journey, and how it has impacted him and those around him.

Were you always on the heavy side growing up?

I’ve always been on the heavier side. It’s always been that way. A lot of [my] family is that way. It’s all I knew. I was about 250[lbs] in high school.

So what got you up to that 330?

A sedentary lifestyle. I have a job that is not very active. It became more fun to sit around with friends and eat food and drink beer than to get off my butt and actually do something.

Those first few months starting out must have been tough.

It was painful. I started on a treadmill because I didn’t want to be seen running around my neighborhood. The only way I got off the treadmill was when the treadmill stopped working. I had terrible shinsplints. Everything was hurting. My feet were hurting. My knees were killing me. I bought stock in frozen peas.

How many miles were you doing before the Ironman?

My top weeks on the bike were about 135 miles. Running was right about 30 miles, and the swim was around the five-mile mark.

What dietary things did you do to help lose weight?

A lot of the weight loss initially came from making smarter decisions from my diet. Once the pounds started dropping, everything started getting easier from that point. I cut back a bit on the carbs. I didn’t go crazy with it. It was mainly just controlling my portions, making the right choices, not sitting in front of the television with snacks. I’m not super religious on tracking my caloric intake. I don’t really deprive myself of anything. If I want something, I’ll have it. I’ll just have a little bit of it and not go overboard.

You got your inspiration from watching the Ironman in Lake Placid?

We decided we’d go spectate the race. I thought they [the athletes] were absolutely insane. I didn’t know much about it except the distances, but they seemed ridiculous. It all came together when we watched the finish line. It’s electric. There’s nothing like it. I knew in that moment I needed to do something, to see if I could push myself to do that. It was a real inspiration for me. I had to experience that. I had to hear Mike Reilly say, “You are an Ironman.”

A month later I signed up for the 70.3 (half-Ironman, in Syracuse). I had no idea how to swim, I could only run about a mile at that point, and I didn’t have a bike yet.

Did your wife think you were crazy?

She stared at me for a second, trying to be a supportive wife. I could see her, in that moment, thinking, How the hell are you going to do this? Then she said, “OK. Let’s do this.” She’s incredible. She’s always been super-supportive.

I think there’s more Ironman in me.

You entered the Make Me an Ironman competition after your half-Ironman.

I saw the application for it and thought, “This is made for me.” It made my dream come true. It was an amazing opportunity. Beachbody Performance provided their nutrition, Quintana Roo provided a bike, which was amazing, HOKA provided running shoes, Zoot Sports made the kit, Pearl Izumi did the cycling shoes, Rudy Project provided the helmet, Ironman gave the race fee, and Beachbody also paid for a certified Ironman coach.

Want to talk about your coach?

My coach was Kristin Hislop—Ironman-certified, super attentive to all my needs, worked really well with me. I [can’t say] enough good things about her. Working with her was a pleasure. The accountability is huge.

At any point during the Ironman did you think you weren’t going to finish?

That was the most amazing part. There was never a time I thought it wasn’t going to happen. I genuinely had a fun time.

What did it feel like to hear the words, “You are an Ironman”?

I don’t know if I actually heard it because the crowd was so loud. The crowd at Lake Placid is incredible. It’s quite amazing. It was very emotional for me. It’s a long journey to get there.

You finished in 15:34. Did you have a time goal, or just “I’m going to finish the damn thing”?

That was the ultimate goal, to finish the damn thing. Fifteen (hours) was what was in my head. I didn’t want to be in the 16s. I’m very happy.

Right after the half-Ironman, you had said, “Never again.” Obviously, this time you had a better experience. Do you have any more Ironmans in your future?

I always said, “No, it’s one tattoo and done.” [Many finishers get a tattoo of the Ironman logo.] But, after having such a good day, I’d like to see what more I can do. I’d like to trim an hour off. I think there’s more Ironman in me.”

Do you have a weight you’d like to get down to?

I’d like to lose another solid 30lbs or so; 180 would be my goal.

Do you have any worries about backsliding, about going back to being a couch potato?

Not really. My training is my therapy. That’s my alone time, my time to soak everything in. I’m not really that worried about it, because it’s the whole way of life that’s changed. And now with my wife wanting to get into this stuff, I’m happy to be her sherpa.

What has been the impact of your wife and daughter on this journey?

It’s been pretty fun. My daughter (Jacquelyn, age 5) does the little kids' runs when we go to these triathlons. Super-supportive. My wife, too—I think I saw a little glimmer in my wife’s eyes a couple days ago that she might like to do something like this that’s crazy as well. Her first triathlon is in a couple weeks. We’ve all definitely gotten a lot more active, healthier.

My mother has, in less time, dropped even more weight than me, claiming it to be based off the inspiration from me losing all the weight. She’s probably dropped at least over 150lbs. She’s amazing. She’s a whole different person. I actually walked by her yesterday without noticing that she was my mother. If it’s true that I was her inspiration, then it’s worth all this to me.