Once every month or so this year, Dolph Hoch went out to train for a special triathlon he has on his schedule this week - and didn't get home until about 16 hours later.
The health and phys-ed teacher at Cedar Creek High School says his workouts for this race included swims of "5 or 6 miles," bike rides of 225 miles plus and runs of 40 to 50 miles, or as many as nine hours
But those still aren't close to the distances Hoch hopes to finish when he takes off Thursday morning in the Virginia Triple Anvil Triathlon at Lake Anna State Park, about 60 miles northwest of Richmond. Because this race is three times the length of the legendarily brutal Ironman races - which translates into a 7.2-mile swim followed by a 336-mile bicycle leg and then a run of 78.6 miles.
Yes, that's three full mara-thons, after all those hours in the water and on wheels.
Hoch and the other dozen or so ultra-endurance athletes in this super-sized race have 60 hours to finish those roughly 422 miles.
Steve Kirby, the race director, said racers are coming to the Triple Anvil from as far away as South Africa, Belgium and Germany. Hoch, who lives in Port Republic (but was flooded out of his home in Hurricane Sandy), is the only one he remembers from South Jersey to try the event.
The race, which has moved around to various parts of the state of Virginia since 1999, can't legally call itself a triple Ironman - "We got a cease and desist letter from Ironman in July," Kirby says. But there's also a Double Anvil, a race double the standard Ironman distance, that has been part of the package since the start of this Virginia endurance event.
Hoch, 49, did his first Ironman in 1999 - when he didn't know anybody else who had done one. He has finished two more since then and knows that extreme-distance races have gotten much more popular in the last 15 years; he says he has also done a "boatload of half-Ironmans."
He had been training for the Double Anvil, but when he told Kirby about his workout schedule, the race director "said you're putting in a heck of a lot of hours, I think you're ready for the triple,'" Hoch recalled the other day. "I said, 'All right, upgrade me to the triple'" - which added another 140.6 miles to his little Virginia vacation.
Hoch is a captain in the U.S. Army Reserves when he isn't working out or teaching - or helping raise a daughter, 4, and twin sons, 19 months old.
"Thank God I have an extremely supportive wife who puts up with it," he says, adding that his wife, Francine,"is a very competitive triathlete herself. She's looking to do an Ironman in June. She gets it. She understands."
Dolph was a U.S. Marines veteran who got out but reenlisted in the Army after the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington - when he was 37. He was later deployed for two years, including "one year with the special forces in Afghanistan and other countries," he says.
So he knows rough conditions, and he knows brutal contests. In 2007, he was part of an American team in an international military competition in Estonia that involved covering more than 160 miles of swamp-soaked countryside - wearing full combat gear, including 60-pound packs and rifles. That event took five days to finish.
"If I never did that in Estonia, I'd never attempt this," Hoch said. "That really opened my mind to what I can endure."
Sixty hours is just half as long as that military competition, and Hoch figures that if he needs rest, "The sleep might be in like 20-minute power naps."
The race director says the course through the state park is short, with loops of just 5 miles that the racers repeat until they cover their distance. That might sound monotonous, but it has the benefit of sending the athletes past their assigned base over and over through the event.
"They all have their own support crews ... to help with food and fluid" and equipment and more, Kirby said. With the short circuits, when the racers need food, they can call out an order on one trip past their base, then "do another loop and it will be ready when they get back. The crews run along and hand off the food and you can keep going."
He adds that some racers do rest, "But the clock keeps ticking. You can sleep, but somebody else is catching up to you, or getting farther ahead of you."
Hoch plans to bring several copies of all his equipment, including two bikes, three pairs of running shoes, "a ton of different running and cycling gear, spare tires" and more. He also brings his own food, and the more he trains for this event, the more he believes in the power of proper nutrition - and not just because he's sponsored by Hammer Nutrition.
"It has really been a three-dimensional process - mental, physical and spiritual," he says. "I've learned a ton about physiology, about tricks, about what your body and your mind go through."
And if he finishes the Triple Anvil, Hoch couldn't help noticing a new race that's now part of this Virginia event - and maybe part of his future plans. It's a Quintuple Anvil, or five times the Ironman distance.
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