Ironman contest challenges their athletic mettle

KINDERHOOK–Imagine, competing in a 26.2-mile race and asking yourself, OK, now what? That is what Valatie resident Ed Oldrich asked himself after completing a marathon in October 2008. The next July, he found his answer. After volunteering at the Ironman Triathlon in Lake Placid, he registered for 2010 event.

Mr. Oldrich, 37, is one of four local athletes who recently began a 24-week training regimen leading up to what the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) dubs “the world’s most challenging endurance event.” The other three area athletes are Jack Nabozny, 53, also of Valatie, Ed Hamilton, 41, of Kinderhook and Kari Gathen, 41, of Albany. Less a team than a support group, they tend to train individually, averaging 10-12 hours a week working out in the early spring, progressing to 20-25 hours a week as race day approaches. During a group discussion at an Albany area restaurant right after the holidays, Ms. Gathen noted, “If this was March, we wouldn’t be here.”

An Ironman Triathlon, according to the WTC website, consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112- mile bike ride, and a marathon, for a total distance of 140.6 miles. The race is conducted without stop and must be completed within 17 hours. WTC-sanctioned Ironman Triathlon races begin at 7 a.m. The cut-off time for the swim leg is 2 hours 20 minutes. The bike leg must be completed by 5:30 p.m. and the marathon must be completed by midnight. The world record holders in the annual IT World Championship completed the event in slightly more than 8 hours (men) and slightly less than 9 hours (women).

The IT World Championship has been held in Hawaii since 1978 on a race course that the WTC characterizes as “uniquely punishing for endurance racing.” The marathon leg, for instance, traverses desert-like terrain and heat. This race is the backdrop for one of the most dramatic video images in all of sport, that of Julie Moss in the 1982 race, who, having collapsed while in the lead just yards from the finish line, crawled to the finish line to complete the race. Although she lost the lead, ABC’s Wide World of Sport’s airing of her courageous finish put both Ms. Moss and the event on the map. The ITWC is now nationally televised.

The four competitors featured in this article will be among 2,000 athletes competing in the “scenic but tough” Lake Placid Ironman Triathlon July 25. The race, according to the event’s online promotional literature, consists of a swim in Mirror Lake, a bike ride through the Adirondack Mountains and run over challenging hills. Ms. Gathen completed in the event in 2007 and 2008 and Mr. Hamilton completed it in 2007. Both seek to improve upon their previous finish times this July.

Training for the race requires an enormous commitment of time and energy as well as discipline and sacrifice. The competitors typically train ten separate workouts, six days a week in a regimen organized around four-week cycles. Each cycle consists of three weeks of increasingly more frequent and intense workouts with a somewhat less rigorous schedule in the fourth week. Each successive cycle is more intense than the previous one until a training peak is reached in June. The athletes taper off in the weeks just before the race.

Other parts of their lives must fit into this demanding schedule. Mr. Oldrich, married with two young children, works from his home and is able to “sneak in” workout sessions during the workday as business demands allow. Apart from balancing work and household chores, he must accommodate his wife’s training schedule, since she is also training for a running event.

Ms. Gathen, an attorney with a state agency, balances her training with her demanding job. She recalls that as she was training for 2008 Lake Placid race, she was involved with a very important case, which required her to work on a brief the day before the race. There is little room for anything else. “You pick and choose what you let into your life,” she says. In a similar vein, Mr. Nabozny wonders how he will squeeze in a run or ride when he travels to attend a wedding later this year.

Each of the four competitors began as runners. The group agrees that the cross training involved in preparing for the three different race components actually puts less stress on the body than training for a single event. Ms. Gathen discovered this following an injury while training for a marathon. She took up biking to stay in shape and found the more balanced cross training easier on her body. Similarly, as Mr. Nabozny trained for increasingly longer running distances, his body was “breaking down.” On the recommendation of Mr. Hamilton and Ms. Gathen, he began to swim and bike and was able to accomplish more with less wear and tear.

Each of the competitors acknowledge the importance of  the support of family and friends to their ability to follow their training routine. Mr. Hamilton, who, along with Mr. Oldrich and Mr. Nabozny, is a member of the Kinderhook Runner’s Club, notes that it is easy to find persons to train with especially for the running phase. “There is a lot of interest in triathlon competition in Columbia County,” he said.

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