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Turning Addiction & Obesity into an Ironman Athlete

Updated: Mar 30, 2021

Guest Author: Ben Hokanson, @iron_yeti

"Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, that’s why its called the present."

These were the words I would tell myself every single day when I started white knuckling it through quitting chewing tobacco over 7 years ago now since 2013.

I was tired of how I was. I was tired of being a slave to a can of chewing tobacco. I was tired of wasting my present with a big stinky lip of tobacco in my face and carrying around a bottle of my own spit. It’s honestly a wonder that my wife wasn’t disgusted with me. I was with myself.

So I decided to surround myself with likeminded people and joined an online community of quitters who were all going through the exact same thing. I immersed myself in being accountable to them.

I met other quitters in person and created a network of accountability. I got momentum with every hand I shook and with every craving I let pass me by I was building self control. I was taking back what was mine, making my family proud and making myself proud. I was overcoming the hole I had dug for myself with years of addiction to nicotine.

As time went on and I kept getting more momentum I decided that if I could apply this level of self control to overcoming chewing tobacco, I could apply it to other areas of my life as well.

I wasn’t happy with how I was physically. The man that looked at me in the mirror didn’t match the man I knew inside--a determined, hard worker.

So I started researching and I downloaded an app called MyFitnessPal to track my calories.. Calories in vs out seemed easy enough to be able to get right. At 6’6” and well over 310 pounds I was asked by MyFitnessPal to put in my goal weight.“ What would that even be?”

I put in the weight I was as a junior in high school--225 pounds. It didn’t seem realistic, but it seemed like something I could use as a stretch goal. I didn’t tell anyone I was doing this, not even my wife, because I didn’t want to be a disappointment if I failed.

So I started tracking my food. Weight started melting off of me. However, I wasn’t able to eat enough to not be hungry often. So I made two modifications:

First, I started eating lots of whole foods that aren’t calorie dense.

Second, I bought a little fitbit zip that synced back to MyFitnessPal to be able to burn off calories and eat more.

Initially my goal was 10k steps a day then it became 20k steps a day. I joined fitbit users and had the step competitions for the week, that was very motivating for me. I was active in the groups in MyFitnessPal.

Things were going great! In a matter of months I had lost over 40 pounds and everyone was noticing the change in me.

I started to become frustrated with how long I had to dedicate every single day to achieving 20k steps, so I downloaded a couch to 5k app as a way to be more efficient with getting steps in faster. I had never been a runner or anything like that. My whole life I joked that I only ran if I was chased. But I just started anyway.

First, it has you run very little with frequent breaks. When I initially started running, anyone who could run a mile without stopping, at any pace, seemed like an absolute Olympian to me. I was hitting new milestones every week, fastest mile, most time spent running. I got on Strava and got supporters there. I was building up to my first race--a 5k.

When I showed up to the 5k, I saw people “warming up” by running. This seemed totally insane to me. I had trained for months to be able to run a 5k, there was absolutely no way I was going to go run before I actually ran! I couldn’t believe how athletic these people were! I had none of this in my background.

The race happened and I beat my best case scenario. I had in my mind what my pace could be and thought that if I could beat 30 minutes, then I would be really happy.

My time was 25 minutes and 19 seconds--I was ecstatic and hooked!

I knew immediately I had to do more and see how much I could push myself. So, I spent 2015 dropping 90 pounds and becoming a runner.

In early 2016 I decided that I wanted to be a triathlete. More specifically I read about Ironman and I knew immediately that I wanted to be one. I absolutely wanted to refer to myself as an Ironman. The thought of completing a race so challenging was intoxicating.

Little did I know that you can’t just sign up for these races whenever you want. They aren’t like 5ks that you can hit on your weekends off work. They have to be planned out long in advance.

I figured that to be an Ironman by 2017 I would have to do a half Ironman in 2016. The only race that was reasonable for me to even drive to was only 6 weeks away. I wasn’t a cyclist, I wasn’t a swimmer. But I signed up. I was all in. 70.3 miles or bust!

I joined a gym and started swimming, then got a Trek 1.2 road bike and started riding to train for the race.

On my first ride, I had to walk my bike a mile home and watch a video on how to shift. I had shifted it into the hardest gear and had no clue on how to shift it down, so I could not even ride the thing.

When race day came, I couldn’t believe my bad luck. The race started with a 1.2 mile swim straight in cold Lake Michigan. Being someone who had just started swimming I could barely swim at all and the waves out there were unreal. I was absolutely terrified. There was just no way I could have made it.

Luckily, they called off the swim and shortened the bike because of the weather. I finished the race and was astounded at how nice people were in the triathlon community. I had no idea what I was doing and people helped me in the transition area. They talked to me and calmed me down. I knew I had made the right choice to become a triathlete.

However, I had been cheated out of actually doing a 70.3, since I had only done part of the race. So, as soon as I got home I bought another new bike and signed up for a 70.3 in Miami. This race would give me the time I needed to train to be able to finish the entire thing.

That was now 10 half Ironman races and two full Ironman races ago. Since then, I have kept on grinding and attacking my goals. I have managed to go from not running at all to having a sub 20 minute 5k, a 1:33 half marathon and a 4:53 half Ironman, which I achieved in South Africa at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships.

The reward in this journey is that everything is earned, nothing given. Its sharing the experience with my family and my children and its realizing that how I started is real.

"Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift. That’s why its called the present."

Don’t squander your present.



Ben Hokanson is a 42 year old IT Professional who loves all aspects of triathlon, but especially cycling. He loves the outdoors and competing in triathlon and running races. He lives at his home in Zimmerman Minnesota with his beautiful wife of 13 years Tiffany and their children Charlie (16), Lucas (10) and Izzy (8). They also have a grown son Christopher (21) and two lovely granddaughters, Aurora (2) and Odessa (1 month). The entire family loves spending time away at their remote property in Northern Wisconsin and their annual trip to a remote island in Canada.

Follow been on Instagram @iron_yeti.

Watch Ben in a YouTube interview with Big Change the Film.

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