Ironman finishes grueling race in Italy

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It was the most grueling athletic competition ever held -- 30 Ironman triathlons in 30 days. An Ironman begins with a 2.4-mile swim, then a 112-mile bicycle ride, followed by a full marathon run, 26.2 miles.

"I don't know if they'll ever hold it again," said McCandless resident Wayne Kurtz, 46. " It was a once-a-lifetimer."

Mr. Kurtz was one of 21 endurance athletes from 12 countries to attempt it, one of eight to finish. He finished sixth, with a time of 453 hours and 7 minutes -- an average time per triathlon of 15 hours and 6 minutes. His best time was 13 hours and 18 minutes.

That came near the end of his ordeal.

"We all got much faster the longer we went in, because we got fitter," Mr. Kurtz recalled. "The times really started to drop after day 11 or 12."

The winner was Jozsef Rokob of Hungary, who finished the Triple Deca Ironman in 356 hours and 33 minutes -- an average of just under 12 hours per Ironman.

This year's installment of the original Ironman in Hawaii was Oct. 13. The winning time was 8 hours, 12 minutes and 39 seconds. But Frederik Van Lierde of Belgium only had to do the one -- not one every day for a month.

The Hawaii course is brutal. But it may have been tougher for the racers in the Triple Deca Ironman, held near Lake Garda in the mountains of northern Italy.

In the Hawaiian Ironman, the 2.4-mile swim is in the open ocean. But at least the water is warm. At Lake Garda, the swim portion of the 30 triathlons was conducted in a 25-meter outdoor pool. It's boring -- but easier -- to swim laps in a pool. But during the competition -- which began Sept. 8 and concluded Oct. 8 -- the weather in Lake Garda turned rainy and unseasonably cold.

"The water temperature dropped to 60," Mr. Kurtz said. "It was almost hypothermic for a lot of people because we were so tired."

Hard as the swim portion was, "the bike course was just murderous," he said.

The course that race organizers originally laid out was pre-empted for other events, so the racers biked over seven different courses.

"One was just a half-mile loop," Mr. Kurtz said. "We basically climbed up a hill, then there was a little bit of a downhill. Then you basically had to stop the bike to go around an orange cone. You essentially went from 25 to 28 mph to zero and then go back up the hill again."

There were two courses for the marathon run. The course race organizers had laid out went through a local park. Half was on grass, half on pavement. The grass provided welcome relief for sore feet. But because of the heavy rains later in the month, the last two marathons had to be conducted entirely on cement.

"I did not get blisters, but the entire bottoms of my feet are completely numb," Mr. Kurtz said. "I think they'll be numb for several months."

The other American to finish was Jaime Azuaje, from Colorado Springs, Colo. He was seventh.

All the finishers were men. One woman started the race, but she dropped out on the fourth day.

Mr. Kurtz usually trains seven days a week. He must fit his workouts into the extensive international travel schedule he has as chief commercial officer for Liquid-Investments, a London-based firm that invests in agricultural projects in Brazil.

"I do the vast majority of [my training] while everyone else is sleeping," he said.

Typically, Mr. Kurtz will begin his big weekend workout at the end of the working day Friday and exercise through the night.

"I don't go to bed until Saturday night," he told the Post-Gazette last year when he was training to compete in a double Deca triathlon in Monterrey, Mexico. "It helps to train your body when you are sleep deprived."

Illness prevented Mr. Kurtz from finishing that ultra triathlon, so completing the Triple Deca in Lake Garda was especially satisfying for him.

"It was a lifetime experience," he said. "All of us grew so close."

Jack Kelly: or 412-263-1476.

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