Fort Lee Man Vies For Ironman, Beyond
Fort Lee native Paul Mandala has been an avid hiker and long distance cyclist for years, but when a friend signed up for his first Ironman, Mandala could not resist the challenge.
After hiking through the Appalachian Mountains last year from June 7 through Oct. 2, Fort Lee native Paul Mandala decided he was ready to set his sights on a new challenge, the Ironman U.S. Championship on Aug 11.
His longtime friend, Fort Lee firefighter Keith Elisberg, informed him of the iconic world class endurance race coming to their hometown.
“We did it [Appalachian hike] faster than most people do,” said Mandala, adding that he was prepared mentally to push on for 10 to 14 hours, despite the 45-pound backpacks. “Most people take [the Appalachian Mountains] about six months and we did it in three months, three weeks and three days.”
"If you’re not ready, you’ll always hit that bonk point and completely run out of energy,” added the 23-year-old. “You could also be burning more calories than you’re taking in.”
Despite his hiking experience, Mandala’s endurance will be put to the test, as he and several thousand participants from around the globe swim 2.4 miles down the Hudson River, ride 112 miles on the Palisades Interstate Parkway, and run a full 26.2 marathon that eventually leads runners over the George Washington Bridge and through the finish line at approximately 83rd Street and Riverside Drive.
Participants have 15 hours to complete the course.
All three segments of the full distance Ironman triathlon including the swimming, cycling, and running portions will traverse the Borough of Fort Lee.
Mandala has participated in Olympic-distance triathlons, which are a quarter of the distance compared to the Ironman U.S. Championship.
“I was never a great swimmer but temptations have pushed me to do something new,” Mandala explained. “My cousin was doing the Nautica South Beach [sprint triathlon] and we did some rides and runs together in Staten Island.”
But Mandala is confident he can push his human boundaries.
With granola bars and other portable foods high in protein within reach, Mandala will also need to be conscious of his diet during his Ironman training and racing. During the Appalachian hike, he dropped from 213 lbs. to 165 lbs, only to shoot back up to 185 lbs after gorging on any fast food he could find along the hike to stack up on calories.
Mandala, who attended Fort Lee’s School 4, the Lewis F. Cole Middle and Fort Lee High School, developed a love for the outdoors and triathlons after playing soccer and running track. After training on trails in Palisades Interstate Park, he discovered long distance cycling.
He and his friend, Fort Lee resident Luke Angelini, have ridden cross country for charities such as Bike and Build, which raises funds to build homes for the underprivileged and engages young adults in the philanthropic efforts.
After cycling teammate and “brother”, Connecticut resident Mike Benson, signed up for his first Ironman race, Mandala was inspired.
“If my brother is going to do it, I have to step up my game,” Mandala said. “He’s [Benson] younger than us. When I came home and spoke to Keith [Elisberg], I realized I didn’t have to travel [to Ironman U.S. Championship]. It comes through my hometown and it’s a historic event. It’s super exciting to be a part of that.”
Mandala mostly trains by commuting from Fort Lee to his job at REI, a hiking, and endurance retail outlet in Hanover New Jersey, which is approximately 65 miles round trip when using side roads. Most of his running takes place on 9W or the trails on Palisades Interstate Park, where 14 miles of the marathon portion of the Ironman U.S. Championship will take place.
He has already raised his charity goal of $5,000 to participate in the Ironman with help from his mother, Anna Maria Riccio Mandala, who canvassed her family, friends and co-workers to raise the money.
But Mandala’s greatest physical, mental and fiscal challenge will come after the Ironman when he hikes the Pacific Crest Trail, which goes from Mexico to Canada, and the Continental Divide Trail, which traverses from Mexico, through the Rockies, and into Canada. He also dreams of cycling from Alaska to Chile.
“That would take about a year,” Mandala said. “The biggest thing in the way is trying to save enough money for the trip. I’d like to do it in one shot without working along the way. Even if it’s a dollar a mile, it’s going to be roughly 20,000 miles. Just in food, with that much exercise, it’s a lot.”
“It’s about 80 miles a day,” Mandala added. “The record is about 280 days. I don’t know if that’s still the record. But I think it’s do-able."