GREENFIELD — Bryan Schmidt doesn’t invest in can’t do. It doesn’t fit his character.
A self-made events director at 317 Events, an event management company in Indianapolis, where he is a managing partner, the Greenfield native has a carpe diem approach to life.
A lifelong runner, Schmidt, who also is the business development manager at Indianapolis Marriott East, makes his own path. It’s led to his being ranked globally as an Ironman competitor and earned him an invitation to the 2015 Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Austria next month.
Not an easy achievement to claim with only 1,800 athletes from around the world able to qualify for the Worlds from more than 90,000 athletes through a series of nearly 50 events and locations.
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Schmidt was able to accomplish it in a little less than three years and isn’t done yet.
One day, he hopes to swim the Pacific Ocean and battle the terrain of Hawaii by foot and on bicycle as an Ironman Kona participant.
The only question is when, not if.
Ambition comes naturally
From Schmidt’s first runs in elementary school and at Maxwell Intermediate School, distance running came naturally.
He ran track and cross-country in high school and was the first in his class with enough participation points to earn a letter jacket.
The 1995 Greenfield-Central High School graduate considered running in college, but a call to the military led to his enlisting in the Marine Corps instead.
He admits he didn’t look the part — at 5-foot-7 and 137 pounds, he was a bit of a late bloomer.
But he was ready to toughen up.
“I went to the recruiting station and asked for the baddest job they had — infantry and security forces, so that’s what I did,” he said.
Enlisting for four years, Schmidt excelled once he arrived at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. The future private first class proved his worth during his company’s physical fitness tests.
He was honored with the company Ironman award for having the highest score of about 400 soldiers on those tests, and the achievement stuck with him.
Taking the first step
After leaving the Marine Corps, Schmidt admits he fell back into civilian life to a certain extent. Still dedicating himself to fitness, it was more cosmetic at the age of 22 until his early 30s.
One day, it all changed. He got to thinking about that Ironman award from so many years before.
“I never heard of the sport, triathlon; I just knew Ironman, the one you see on TV in Hawaii,” he said. “Those are the baddest dudes ever. If you can qualify for that, there’s no question you’re at the tip of the spear.”
Schmidt knew Ironman wasn’t obtainable without progression, so he set out to build his endurance by going back to his roots.
Engaged to his wife, Melissa Elrod, in August 2011, he committed his spare time to training almost immediately.
“I basically had three major goals: qualify for the Boston Marathon, then the half-Ironman World Championships and then the full-Ironman World Championships,” he said.
He got married in July 2012 and that fall ran the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon in three hours and 32 minutes.
Four months later in Carmel, he completed his second 26.2-mile race in 3:19.00, and in 2013, he achieved one of his goals with a personal best 3:07.00 in the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., to qualify for the 2014 Boston Marathon.
At the same time, he jumped right into his second ambition by registering for the Ironman 70.3 Muncie, an event that took place a week before his wedding.
From there, he powered through the Whirlpool Ironman 70.3 Steelhead in southwest Michigan off Benton Harbor, foreshadowing the next two years.
“He’s progressed so quickly,” Elrod said. “He’s always been such a great athlete; … it’s just part of his lifestyle now. It’s who he is. When you think Ironman, you think Bryan.”
I am Ironman
Since his first half Ironman three years ago, Schmidt has completed nine of them throughout the region.
His first experience in a full Ironman was quite the chore, though he laughs now when looking back.
Selecting the Ironman Louisville event on Aug. 25, 2013, — his birthday — he had to contend with more than a 112-mile bike ride, 26.2-mile run and 2.4-mile swim through the Ohio River.
He pulled it off after having been in the emergency room with a stomach virus just three days before the event.
“They told me not to do the race, but I had to. I had too much money in the race, and it was my birthday,” Schmidt said. “It was a miserable performance, but I did it.”
But his trial by fire in Kentucky didn’t deter him from his ultimate goal. He returned to Louisville in 2014, and this year, he traveled to Houston, Texas, for his third full event.
In the meantime, he tore through the half Ironman circuit, finishing the Ironman 70.3 Muncie on July 12 in only 4:43.00.
His wife joined him, marking her first half Ironman. Schmidt left as a qualifier for the 2015 Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Zell am See-Kaprun, Austria, on Aug. 29, knocking out another goal.
It was no surprise to his wife.
“Once he decides he wants to do something, he puts it in his mind and he achieves it,” she said.
In the years prior, he and good friend Gregory Garcia co-founded the Indianapolis Tri-Loco, a growing triathlon team, something he foresees lasting well beyond his career.
“It’s really an individualized sport, so we provide an outlet to keep people motivated,” Schmidt said. “This is our third year, and we have somewhere upwards to 70 people on the team from here to Louisville to St. Louis even.”
Handling the pain
When Schmidt is powering through an Ironman event, the biggest hurdle isn’t the physical grind.
He takes care of those barriers by conducting his swim training with U.S. Masters Swimming through Indy Aquatic Masters, where he logs laps at the IU Natatorium at IUPUI and the Riveria Club.
The cycling he perfects at The Fitness Lab in Indianapolis and with hundreds of miles trekked in Brown County and throughout the tri-county area of Marion, Hancock and Hamilton.
Living in Broad Ripple off the Monon Trail, running is a near daily routine.
The mental aspect during an Ironman, however, is the true divide between those who run, walk or crawl. Schmidt has adopted ways to compartmentalize the pain en route to the finish line.
He sets his watch to vibrate every 400 yards he swims, which helps him track his progress and breaks up the monotony.
“The same with the bike — I break it up with my nutritional intake, hour by hour and the halfway point,” Schmidt explained. “With the run, I really use the aid stations. It’s better to look at it as I have to run a mile 26 times than to look at it as a whole.”
Schmidt recently completed electrolyte salt-testing to find his optimum levels and “get that magic milligram number” to understand his hourly water and supplement requirements through intense exertion.
“If you’re sweating, you’re taking in extra water. If you’re taking in extra water, you’re losing sodium. You need to supplement that to stay on your game. Otherwise, you’re cramping up, and you’re in the hurt locker after that,” Schmidt said.
“When you get to the run, it’s surviving at that point. If you stop and walk at one aid station, they’re at every mile, you’re going to do it again. The key is to be consistent.”
While getting to the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in the Alps marks off No. 2 on Schmidt’s list of goals, there’s still one more to reach.
“Getting to the worlds is a reward, but I’m doing my A-race for the year in Wisconsin in September,” Schmidt said. “I’m going to the worlds to have fun.”
Planning to vacation while in Europe with his wife, taking several two-day trips by train to nearby countries before the event, Ironman Wisconsin in Madison holds higher significance.
Already ranked 55th in the nation for his age group (35 to 39) out of 13,400 competitors, Schmidt is considered all-world. But he wants another label.
“I don’t care about the rankings. All I care about is getting to Kona. I named my dog Kona. Kona is the Mecca,” he said.
The most recognized Ironman competition in the world, Ironman Hawaii off the shores of Waikiki and along the barren lava fields of Kona on the Big Island is where it all ends.
To qualify, a competitor must either raise a considerable amount for charity, compete in 12 full Ironman events at one per year or seize one of only a few spots during a qualifying event.
The latter is Schmidt’s top priority.
“You have to pick courses that benefit your skill set,” he said. “If I keep to the plan, I should be in contention to qualify or start to shoot to qualify by fall of next year. I’m doing Ironman Chattanooga (Tennessee) then, that’s where I can try to qualify for Kona.”
The fee to register for a full Ironman is $700. The half can cost $300. Thousands can go into equipment and training, not including travel and other expenses.
The key is planning and time, which Schmidt projects will require trimming around 25 minutes to get his full Ironman at approximately 10 hours.
When that happens, there’s another potential ambition on the horizon for Schmidt.
“My only other real life goal is, I want to climb a mountain,” he said with a grin. “It would be cool to climb Mt. Everest.”