Going the Distance

Man running

Biking endless miles along Highway 1 paid off for mechanical engineering student Mark Schefter, who finished first recently in the Ironman Canada competition’s 18-24 age group.

“I definitely think there are many things that could have gone better, but in an 11-hour race, you cannot expect everything to go perfect,” Schefter, 22, said. “But I have put a huge amount of work into training for the Ironman distance races since early 2017, and I was really hoping the hard work would pay off.” As a result, Schefter is now training to compete at the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii.

The Ironman competition includes three events – swimming, bicycling and running. Schefter trains as a member of Cal Poly’s triathlon team. Another member of the team, recent software engineering grad Jake Pickett, finished in third place in the 18-24 category.

Mark Schefter after swim

Schefter (smiling) said swimming is his most difficult event in the Ironman competitions. He trains at the Cal Poly rec center.

An international student from Germany, Schefter’s win could be considered a surprise since he didn’t even own a proper road bike until college and had never swum competitively.

“I got into running with my dad,” he said. “We did our first half marathon together when I was 16.”

Still, Schefter mostly ran to stay in shape for basketball, his main sport. He didn’t start running triathlons until he came to Cal Poly.

Training for the Ironmans, he said, is challenging, requiring he find time in between classes and homework. For training, he bikes along Highway 1, swims at the Cal Poly rec pool and runs through the agriculture fields and at the new track.

While bicycling is his strength, he said, the Ironman Canada terrain made it difficult.

“The bike route is very challenging and hilly, so the key was to keep it controlled to save some energy for the run,” he said. “The run went well until about mile 10, but then the heat, fatigue, and my stomach started kicking in, and I had to slow down my pace.”

Now it’s on to Hawaii, October 13. The Ironman World Championship, first held in 1978, combines a 2.4-mile swim with a 112-bike race and a 26.2-running marathon. Held on the Big Island of Hawaii, competitors often have to battle crosswinds of 45 mph and 95-degree temperatures.

Since that takes place soon after Canada, Schefter decided to ease up on his coursework so he could train more.

“The key will be injury prevention and listening to my body to not push too far,” he said. “I had some foot issues toward the end of my preparation for Canada that I have been trying to take care of best as possible in my time off after the race.”

Schefter plans on graduating in 2019 before pursuing a masters degree in environmental engineering.

“Most of the schools I have been looking at also have triathlon teams, and I would definitely be continuing with the sport,” he said.

The Cal Poly College of Engineering understands there has been an enormous amount of turmoil and transition due to Coronavirus (COVID-19). As we continue offering support to our students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends, we also continue providing critical updates as well as college highlights. Ours is a college full of creative and bright engineers and staff. For more information on COVID-19 visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. For more information on how Cal Poly is responding to COVID-19, visit the Cal Poly Coronavirus website Coronavirus website.

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