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How much can a body endure? fitnessathletes test their limits page 2
Athletes test their limits during extraordinary long triathlons

 Arthur Puckrin, 69, of England pedaled for 336 miles during an ultra-long triathlon at Lake Anna State Park this month, eating ice cream along the way.
ROBERT A. MARTIN/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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Date published: 10/21/2007

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But just because you can do it, does that mean you should do it?

The human body can be conditioned to do a lot of things, but a triple iron triathlon probably comes pretty close to testing the limits of what it can endure, said George Wortley, a Bedford County physician who served as a medical consultant at the Lake Anna races.

Wortley is an ultra-runner, and has completed 50- and 100-mile races. He emphasizes that the approach to these races is a lot different than that of a marathon or lower running distance.

Ultra-distance running is not about running at full speed to the finish line, but rather keeping moving as steadily as possible over a very long distance. That means a lot of walking, strategic rest breaks and a regimented schedule of fluid and nutrition intake.

"I hurt more after running a road marathon than a trail ultra," Wortley said.

At Lake Anna, many of the racers' goals were based solely on finishing within the 35-hour time limit for the double iron, and the 60-hour limit for the triple.

The challenge was to keep putting one foot in front of the other, despite extreme fatigue, sore joints and for some, the hallucinations that come from lack of sleep.

"If you like running fast and running hard, then probably ultra-distance triathlon is not your sport," Wortley said.

'iS IT WORTH IT?'

The commitment required to train for one of these events can be as much of a time drain as a part-time job. Many of these athletes rise several hours before work, hit the road or the pool on lunch breaks and train for eight hours a day or more on weekends.

In a country where the majority of adults do no regular physical activity, that is a tough sell.

Jan Kurtz, whose husband, Wayne, competed in the Double Iron triathlon, said she has to explain to their friends why they can't make dinner dates for 6 p.m. on Saturdays--Wayne is still out training at that time.

And for all that effort, the payoff isn't prize money or cheering crowds or notoriety in the sports world. It's not even clear that they're getting more health benefits than someone who follows a more conventional workout regimen.


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