No one knows Chris Montross better than his wife, Andrea.
The two celebrated the 30-year mark in their marriage last month, right after another major milestone accomplishment – Montross winning his 55-59 age division at the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.
It was the third Ironman event this year where Montross was the best competitor in his age group.
But it wasn’t always that way. He never would’ve gotten into the run-swim-bike lifestyle if it wasn’t for his wife.
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It started three years ago when Andrea’s colleagues from River Way Ranch Camp were taking sign-ups for a sprint triathlon. Her husband maintained a healthy, active lifestyle, so she thought it would be a good idea to sign him up without even running it by him.
On top of that, she bet that her then 52-year-old hubby would not just hang with the 20-somethings on the company team, but cross the finish line before them.
“Oh, I knew right away he’d do it,” Andrea said. “I know him. I had no doubt.”
It’s not that Montross is cocky – he is not. He also doesn’t talk trash; and in this case, his wife did it for him. But one thing he has consistently done is push his body to the limit and that’s what Andrea was banking on.
10:06:35 Winning time for Chris Montross of Fresno in the 55-59 age division at the 2015 Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii
“It was a like a little switch. ‘If you’re going to lay it down on me, then I’m in,’ ” he told his wife.
Montross won the wager for his wife and that first taste of triathlons had him wanting more. So he signed up for the Palm Springs Triathlon in the spring of 2013 and finished in second in his age group and seventh overall.
It’s been two years and numerous triathlons since Palm Springs and Montross estimated he’s biked 6,000 miles, ran 800 and swam another 150 over the course of one training year. Not an easy task for an airline pilot who lives out of hotel rooms most of the week.
On the road, he’ll swim one to two hours daily using a swim tether and follow that with a run of five to 10 miles. When not working, Montross will often ride into the foothills east of Fresno from his home. He’s finished the grueling Climb to Kaiser ride three years in a row.
Full-length Ironman races consist of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and finish with a full marathon (26.2 miles).
And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I enjoy being active. There’s something deep inside that (triathlon training) satisfies,” Montross said. “I’m getting a better appreciation of it now.”
It’s an intense training regimen for an extreme world-class event. Full-length Ironman races consist of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and finish with a full marathon (26.2 miles).
“Anyone who competes in an Ironman has to have the ability to suffer,” said Jerry Reid, a triathlete who met Montross as one of Andrea’s work colleagues and has since become one of his biggest supporters.
“To compete at the level Chris is at, to get on the podium, you have to mentally overcome that suffering at some level. He has an incredible ability to focus,” Reid added.
I’m doing this to be healthy and vibrant. I feel healthier than I did in 1978 when I graduated from high school.
Reid and Mike Bowman, another work colleague, were in Hawaii this year to cheer on Montross at Kona. Bowman said he soaked his shirt in sweat three separate times just following Montross around the course.
“He makes it look easy,” Bowman said. “The pictures of him finishing the race look like he just started. It was incredible and so inspiring.”
Montross got into the world-class triathlon series at the 2013 Ironman Los Cabos race, finishing third in his division and 79th overall.
That qualified him for the 2014 Ironman World Championship (only the top three in each age division advance), where he finished fourth in his division (50-55) and also beat former Olympic speedskating star Apolo Ohno. (Fun fact: Montross’ 2014 marathon time at Kona also qualified for the 2016 Boston Marathon).
While beating an Olympic gold medalist is something worth bragging about, the fourth-place finish wasn’t. Montross already was looking forward to next year, when he’d be 55 and one of the youngest competitors in the next age division.
“I thought to myself, ‘If I were ever to get to Kona, this would be my best chance (to win),’ ” he said.
Since turning 55, Montross has won his age group in every Ironman event he’s entered.
He set a course record for his division at the Ironman North American Championship (9:37:57) in Texas and won the Ironman 70.3 in Santa Cruz in September.
It was the perfect set-up into October as he went on to win the 2015 Ironman World Championship in 10 hours, 6 minutes and 35 seconds – almost 10 minutes ahead of the next competitor in his age group.
After a few days of recovery, he celebrated his 30th anniversary with the woman behind it all.
“I couldn’t have done it without her,” Montross said. “Andrea has always been on board.”