How is it that a chef who owns a restaurant in Los Angeles called The Fat Cow came to extreme endurance racing? Gordon Ramsay, once a promising soccer player in the U.K., says he's never lost his fiery competitive spirit. A torn ACL as a teenager dashed his professional dreams, but he channeled his passion into cooking; his athletic background has even informed his infamous kitchen temperament. "If you were to mike up a footballer in the NFL or get onto the basketball court and listen to how abusive that gets sometimes in the heat of the action, I cook exactly the same way," he says.
But the years in the kitchen, grazing and indulging in the delicious, buttery dishes that earned him three Michelin stars—his beef Wellington has 48 grams of fat—were catching up with Ramsay, and soon after the birth of his first child, in 1998, he remembers weighing in at around 270 pounds. "I was looking a mess. I didn't feel good and also I felt sluggish," he says. "So that's when I decided to run my first London marathon. The turning point was when I was coming up to mile 22, crossing over Tower Bridge and some schmuck shouted, 'Hey, Ramsay, where's your sports bra?'
"And that's when it sunk in. Those last four miles were painful, but I couldn't stop thinking about it: S---, have I got a pair of t--s?' When someone tells you that for the first time in your life, any guy out there will tell you, you take note."
Ramsay, 46, has since run more than a dozen marathons, and on Saturday he will tackle his dream of becoming an Ironman at the world championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. But apart from losing weight and getting fit, racing also gave the workaholic some peace. "Running was my way of relaxing," says Ramsay, who now carries 195 pounds. "I could get my thought process together and get clarity between a hectic service, a hectic dish, a hectic customer. The running was my escape."
Just because he's gotten into shape doesn't mean that Ramsay has sworn off the rich—i.e., tasty—foods that have made him famous. "I don't view [food] differently," says Ramsay. "What I've done is started navigating my way around treats. So I'm not tempted to dive back into the sort of [trap of] dairy, cream, butter.... I've been a lot more creative. You have to find a balance. I haven't gone crazy. I've not gone vegan or vegetarian, because I train hard. My palate's become more diverse. I'm a chef at heart. I create phenomenal dishes that are exciting, but I know that can be done without lots of cream and butter."
After a big workout he'll occasionally indulge himself. And after Kona—where he hopes to finish the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run in 12 hours—he says he'll have either filet mignon or a big fat snapper, with a spinach salad and a bottle of red wine. "And I'm going to sit there like a pig in s---, happy as ever, on my balcony, watching the sun go down at my table," he says, "hopefully draped with my Ironman medal."
"I don't view food differently," he says. "You have to find a balance. I haven't gone crazy. I've not gone vegan."
THEY SAID IT
"The key is, you want to do it about every five years or so."
Peyton Manning Broncos quarterback, explaining how he faked out the entire Cowboys defense—and the CBS television cameras—on a one-yard bootleg touchdown run on Sunday, his first rushing TD since 2008.
JOHN BIEVER FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (MANNING)
NILS NILSEN (RAMSAY)