Wednesday, September 01, 2004


Harry Bergman is a god.

Not in the religious sense of course. Harry is mortal, or at least we think so. It’s just that he has impressed us to such a degree that we have elevated him to deity status. You see, Harry is an Ironman.

25 years a go, a group of nuts got together in Hawaii, and decided it would be fun to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and run 26.2 miles. In one day. Back to back to back. Without stopping. They called it the Ironman.

Since then, Ironman events have sprouted up for masochists around the world. These masochists….er, I mean, competitors, have charted new levels of fitness thanks to years of training, vast technological improvements, and an incredible amount of determination. Although people have grown to accept the insanity of the Ironman, it remains a competition for only a select few, and it receives little media coverage. That is unfortunate, as the Ironman provides vast ranges of inspiration, marvel, horror, and amazement.

Our longtime friends Harry and Diane are acomplished marathon runners, with dozens of marathons and several 50 milers under their belt. Always looking for a challenge, Harry decided to up the ante a couple of years ago and compete in an Ironman. Diane, apparently the smarter of the two, has thus far managed to refrain.

Ironman, Canada took place on August 29th, in Penticton, B.C., and we were there. Diane and Harry were there too, as Harry planned to compete in his third Ironman competition. Our new friend Eamonn Kenihan was also in Penticton to compete in his first Ironman. As evidence of his dedication, let me note that Eamonn is Irish, lives in Australia, and didn’t drink beer for nearly a year prior to this race! We met them all two days before the race, at the most unique hotel on the planet, God’s Mountain Crest Chalet. GMCC is so interesting, great, unique, and downright odd, that it commands an entire treatise of discussion. However, for now, lets just say if you ever find yourself in Penticton, you MUST stay there.

The morning of the race dawned cool and overcast – perfect for multiple hours of extreme exertion by the competitors. We made our way down to the beach at 5:30 am. Harry and Eamonn disappeared into the morass of uber-fit athletes for pre-race prep, and we scouted a spot along the beach to see the crazed mass start of the swim. At 7:00 am, the canon went off, and the 2,100 competitors (including a large group of professionals) charged into the 65-degree water. Arms and legs flailing, the water quickly churned into uncontrollable chaos. Soon however, the pack spread out along the course, and the swimmers found their rhythm. 45 minutes later, the first swimmer exited the water, ran up the beach, stripped out of his wetsuit, hopped onto his bike, and peddled furiously onto Main Street. Like lemmings, the rest of the athletes followed him one-by-one for the next hour and a half. Harry and Eamonn, both looking strong and relaxed, swam quite well, and hit the beach a little more than an hour after the start.

The bike is arguably the easiest of the three disciplines, but based upon our observations, it is the event most likely to break an athlete. 112 miles is simply a long way to ride, and when you add a couple of large, steep hills to the mix, it becomes a killer. Diane, Lynn, and I spent much of the day camped at mile 92, near the top of the second major hill on the route. The first cyclist (and eventual race winner) flew up the hill, eventually followed by the rest of the leaders. A couple of hours later, Eamonn charged strongly up the hill, spinning smoothly, with a big smile on his face. A few minutes later, Harry easily powered up the hill through the throngs of cow bell-ringing race followers, while we sprinted alongside Tour-de-France-style.

After a full day of cycling and swimming, it is impossible to imagine getting off the bike, lacing up the running shoes, and setting out to run a marathon. But that is exactly what these folks do.

We reached the bike-run transition just before Harry set out on his marathon. Although Harry told us as he ran by that he wasn’t having his best race, he looked much better than all of the other runners around him. A few minutes after Harry started his marathon, the race leader incredibly sprinted into the finish, looking like he was out for a Sunday jog.

As inspirational as the professional athletes are, the best stories belong to the late night finishers, who ply the course as long as they can, their sheer determination urging them to finish. The real heroes are the folks like Prue McDonald, the 80+-year-old woman who completed the course in an amazing 16:55:55, and finished first in her age group.

After Lynn, Diane, and I had a dinner to refuel (all this spectating is hard work!), we set back out for the finish line to see the boys complete their run. Eamonn was the first to arrive, after clocking an incredible 4:10 marathon. He looked strong and happy, as he sprinted to the line. His final time was 11:22:10, making him the 399th finisher overall -- an absolutely amazing performance.

Harry arrived a short time later. His marathon was not as strong as he had hoped, but he still finished in a speedy 12:59:55. Unlike the competitors that finished just before and just after him, Harry was fine. While many of his peers were crying, puking, and literally collapsing onto stretchers after crossing the finish line, Harry walked nonchalantly to the fluids table, as though he had just been out for a short run. Even on their bad days, the Gods are impressive.

Day 10, 11, 12 Road Trip Factoids:
Miles Driven The Past Three Days: 240
Miles Driven Total: 1,677
Miles Covered By Ironman Competitors: 140.6
Top Male Ironman Finisher: Tom Evans - 8:28:06
Top Female Ironman Finisher: Lisa Bentley - 9:16:02
Last Finisher Before Midnight Cutoff: Cindy Pedersen - 16:57:33

Enjoy the Ironman highlights.

For the truly Ironman-obsessed, check out our entire library of Ironman Photos.

In case you missed it above, here is the swim-start movie

For more information on Ironman Canada, click here.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jay so wants to do that.

12:10 PM  

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