There may be many elements that go into the making of an Ironman, but as Tom Romano can tell you for sure, you don't have to worry about the shoes.
The Vicenza Military Community runner completed his fifth full Ironman competition June 30 in Klagenfurt, Austria, crossing the finish line barefoot, by necessity if not by design.
"I had a great swim, I had a great bicycle ride and when I was transitioning, I realized, I packed two right shoes and had no left," Romano said.
What would normally take around three minutes for bicycle riders to transition to running, took Romano 10 while he was deciding what to do.
"I've never not finished a race, so I decided to keep running with my socks on," Romano said. "I didn't even know if it was legal."
Those socks lasted around 14 miles, when they became dirty and wet, so Romano pulled them off and finished the last 12 miles barefoot. "I had to keep looking down so I didn't step on anything and I had no form whatsoever," he said.
Romano couldn't understand what his fellow runners were saying, but he knew they were talking about him. People would run next to him and point shoes in his face, he said. The last 100 meters of the race were along a victory carpet, which Romano said "felt fantastic and I could finally run properly."
"Tom's determination to succeed helped push him all the way to the finish line," said his training partner, Joshua Grant. "To not have given up at that transition point in the race is one thing, but to fight through another four and a half hours of a course like that barefoot is simply inspiring."
Months of training and preparation go into competing in an Ironman triathlon, which consists of 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking and a 26.2-mile run, said Romano.
At age 56, and counting his five Ironman competitions, Romano has completed 46 total marathons, he said. But he wasn't always so fit. In 2006, when his wife was deployed, Romano weighed nearly 200 lbs. He had been a runner at college in Texas, but only started going to the gym again at age 47. Since then he's lost 57 lbs. Romano said he had never swum before before turning 51. That's when he took his one and only lesson.
"You have to have a support system and have someone who believes in you," he said. "This is a part of my life now."
Romano is a lifeguard at the Caserma Ederle Fitness Center, is a member of four running clubs and was an assistant track coach for Vicenza High School last year.
Romano has qualified five times for the Boston Marathon, and plans to enter again next year. His current training program, which he designed himself, has him running nearly 100 miles per week. He does 60 percent on a treadmill to reduce impact on his knees. Last month Romano broke several ribs and completed an Ironman in Italy, crashing his bicycle during the race, he said.
Despite it all, he remains optimistic and plans on competing in a half-Ironman in Wiesbaden in August. Will he run barefoot again?
"This was not a bad experience, but I don't want to ever do it again."