Electrical engineering student returns triumphantly from Ironman World Championship

Kristopher Spoth running in the Ironman Competition

When Kristopher Spoth finished his first Ironman triathlon in Louisville, Kentucky, eight weeks ago, he knew he did well. But he didn’t realize he did well enough to qualify for the Ironman World Championship held October 13 in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

The Ironman World Championship is a long, brutal triathlon that includes a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride across the Hawaiian lava desert, and a 26.2-mile run.

“The Ironman World Championship is the greatest single-day endurance sporting event in the world and the pinnacle of triathlon,” says Spoth, a senior in electrical engineering. “The competitors are the best in the world at what they do, and somehow this year I was among them.”

Spoth says that it was an incredible experience, but the race itself was rough with the ocean swells sapping much of his initial energy in the swim, and the hills, headwind, and heat beating him down on the second half of the biking.

“By mile 16 of the marathon, it was a mental and physical battle to keep running,” Spoth says. “The last mile led to the most exhilarating finish I’ve ever had.”

Spoth placed 580th among the 1,918 competitors, and 19th out of 38 in his age group. “It was a long, hard day, and all things considered, I was happy with my time and place,” he says. “It was a learning experience, and should I get the chance to race there again, the knowledge I gained will serve me well.”

Kristopher Spoth biking in the Ironman CompetitionWhile it may be a few years until he has the finances and time for a return to Hawaii, Spoth definitely wants to go back and do it again. “My overall experience of racing at the Ironman World Championship is unmatched, and I feel an addiction grabbing at me,” he says. “It may be a few years, but I have a feeling I’ll find my way back to Kona soon enough.”

Spoth’s motivation for the sport comes partially from how much he has excelled. “It’s certainly true that you’re more likely to enjoy things you do well,” he explains. “But a lot of the satisfaction comes from seeing personal improvement. When you work hard and see the results pay off, it’s very encouraging.”

Spoth has been heavily involved with Iowa State’s Triathlon Club, serving as the former vice president, and he is also a member of the Iowa State Running Club. However, running only makes up a small part of Spoth’s extracurricular activities. He also:

  • Serves as a member and officer of Golden Key International Honour Society
  • Tutors students in math
  • Has studied abroad in France
  • Was a team leader for Destination Iowa State
  • Participated in Habitat for Humanity

Adding to that list, last summer he served as a field technician in Agronomy Hall, studying wind turbines’ effect on crop production.

“There are so many opportunities if you just look around,” he says. “Your most memorable moments will happen when you’re living life outside the classroom.”

Spoth graduated from the University Honors Program in Spring 2011 with degrees in environmental science and mathematics. However, he realized in his last semester that it wasn’t the exact area he wanted to be in post-graduation, so he returned to Iowa State this fall to pursue a degree in electrical engineering—something he has always had a deep-seeded longing for. Reflecting on his childhood greatly helped Spoth make the decision, particularly his memories of building things with his grandfather.

“He was very quiet, delicate, and careful, and had extraordinary patience,” Spoth says. “I remember spending several hours one Christmas with him and my cousins assembling a 3,200 piece K’Nex set, the five foot Big Ball Factory, which was taller than I was at the time.”

While he is just beginning his study of engineering, Spoth is excited about how many options he has. “I feel there are many paths to explore, but I have decided that I want a job I enjoy so much that I never have to work,” he explains. “If I can find that, the journey is worth getting there.”