Where are you at 3:30 in the morning? If you’re Ahmed Zaher, you’re running 20 miles. Early mornings find this accomplished triathlete running, biking and swimming and, on October 19, it all paid off. Zaher completed his second Ironman triathlon in Hawaii, shaving off an hour from last year’s time.

Until recently, 38-year-old Zaher says he’d done nothing athletic since swimming in high school. He even smoked. But when he watched a friend compete in a triathlon three years ago, he got motivated. “I stopped smoking that day,” he says. The next day he bought a bike and started training.

Now Zaher consistently races in triathlons and finishes in the top of his age group; this year he even won a race outright. Traveling extensively for his sport, this season he raced in cities such as Dallas, Austin, Shreveport, Boulder and Lake Placid . He qualified for the Ironman at a triathlon in St. Croix.

A race of three legs, an Ironman starts with a 2.4-mile swim, continues with a 112-mile bike ride, and ends with a full 26.2-mile marathon run. To prepare, Zaher spends from eight to 17 hours a week training, running 40 to 60 miles, biking 150 to 500 miles, and swimming several hours. He also experiments with nutritional sources to fuel these long workouts.

“It all comes down to the race day,” he says, “and hopefully you time it right.”

This year Zaher’s sought to improve upon last year’s results. After spraining his calf in the swim, he could not compete in top form for the rest of the race. He still managed an impressive 11-hour finish however.

This year, Zaher raced to an even faster 10-hour finish. He completed the swim and bike portions easily, but began feeling queasy during the run. Aching and uncomfortable, Zaher thought this would be his last Ironman. Until he reached the finish line, that is.

“After deciding on the run that I am not doing this again,” he says, “as soon as I crossed the line I asked the doctor what does he think I can do for my stomach so I don’t have the same problem next year.”

A father to three sons ages 11, 7 and 4, Zaher attributes his renewed vigor to his boys’ presence in

Hawaii this year. As at previous races, his sons created their father’s personal cheering section. As Zaher painfully approached the finish line, seeing his children changed his entire perspective.

“On the run, I was wondering why do people do this and why am I doing this,” Zaher explains. “But then I saw my kids cheering me and holding signs that they made and the look on their face and everything started to make sense. I dreamed all year of crossing the line with my kids, and as I approached the finish line I was looking for them everywhere.

“And we held hands and crossed the line together, all four of us. That made it a perfect day.”

In addition to his extensive training and traveling schedule, Zaher works as a personal trainer at the YMCA. “I work a lot in the winter,” he explains, “to make up for the time and money I spend in the summer.”

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