They raise them tough in Mount Carmel, Pa., a small town with one of the winningest high school football teams in the country.
"All of the guys play football," says Frank Conches, who now lives in Shrewsbury, Pa., "and anyone who plays football for Mount Carmel is usually a success later in life."
So maybe it was a natural progression for Conches to tackle the toughest challenge of all -- the triathlon.
A triathlete runs 26 miles, bikes 20 miles and swims 1 1/2 miles.
"I've always done other athletic stuff," says Conches, who was a running back, kickoff returner, punt returner and safety in high school, and a sprinter in college. "I wanted to see what I was made of."
To train, Conches, 28, works out three to four hours a day, fitting his regimen around his paying jobs as a supervisor for United Parcel Service and a server at the Rusty Scupper restaurant at the Inner Harbor.
"I work at a little thing called time management," says the 28-year-old, laughing.
But his routine is no laughing matter. When he's in training for a competition, he will run 22 miles four times a week. (In between competitions, he runs a mere 12 to 14 miles almost every day.) He'll do two hours of weight-lifting five days a week, and swim three to four miles twice a week. During the week, he'll bike a total of about 20 miles, and "I run up hills in my spare time."
How does he find the time?
"Basically, it's motivation," he says. "I get my schedule for the week and I plan." He'll run in between jobs, and the Inner Harbor is a favorite spot. He often gets up at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. to run five miles. "I've even had times when the police pulled me over," he recalls. "Now they flash their high beams at me."
His grueling work ethic paid off Aug. 5, when he entered the Rocky Mountain Challenge, finishing ninth out of 550 triathletes. The rocky terrain and thin air near Boulder, Colo., were demanding enough, but the lake he swam in was a glacier lake, and the memory of that cold water still gives him the chills.
He also had his 15 minutes of fame back in college when he appeared on the television show "American Gladiators." He tried out for it on impulse, and went on the show, where he won five times, collecting a pickup truck and $7,000 toward his education.
But that's not what makes him famous among his friends. Conches never, ever eats fast food. "People make fun of me," he says. "I think if I ate it my stomach would explode or something."
Instead, Conches eats 12 small meals a day, favoring grilled fish and things like power bars, salads and -- his favorites -- Maryland crab soup and crab cakes. His one indulgence is fat-free ice cream.
He continues to train hard, dreaming of entering Hawaii's famed Ironman Triathlon. But the toughest triathlon of all, he says, was the first one he ever did. "The hardest thing was being so nervous -- Am I going to make it? Am I going to make it? -- and seeing so many people who didn't make it."
Is the triathlon tougher than Mount Carmel football?
"Oh, the triathlon's tougher, no doubt about it," he says. "When you're done with that, for two days your body is just one big cramp."