Locals anticipate triathlon's challenge

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— It might appear as if Rich Hager and Bill Gamber have opted to do things backward. Instead of seeking enjoyment in entering triathlons, they find joy in preparing for them.

"You train for this goal and then the race actually comes and you think you might as well do it," Hager said. "I used to go out and want to win a race. Now we sign up to have a project. Training is the fun part."

However, Gamber, 38, and Hager, 36, have admittedly slacked a bit on their training heading into the inaugural Ironman Utah in Provo on Saturday, but the increasing popularity of triathlons forced them to register for the nearby Utah event a year ago.

"A lot can change in a year," Hager said.

Combinations of increased age and family size, plus more important business commitments, were explanations given for each man's training unfaithfulness. Still, alterations in life priorities haven't completely erased the itch to train for and compete in triathlons.

"I keep thinking I'm done, then I'm in another one," Gamber said. "There's obviously something about it because I keep going back."

It isn't to win. Neither expects to place particularly high Saturday. It isn't for the prizes.

"When you finish you get a medal and a T-shirt," Gamber said.

Then what drives a person to want to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and top things off with a 26.2-mile run?

Perhaps it's the camaraderie. Hager and Gamber try to train together and sometimes the two take leisurely 112-mile bike rides past Rabbit Ears toward Kremmling and over Gore Pass.

Maybe it's the mixed pleasure of combining sports and the outdoors.

"I really won't get out and train if I don't have a race hanging over me," Gamber said.

Most likely, the main reason why Gamber and Hager put in months of training to endure 10-11 hours of pain and exhaustion is likely the same explanation a group of Navy Seals gave for starting the Ironman in the first place the challenge.

A dispute over which athletes swimmers, cyclists or runners were more fit led Navy commander John Collins to create the extended version of the triathlon back in 1978. Fifteen people took part in the first event in Hawaii with the winner to be tagged as the "Ironman."

The event caught on. So did the name.

With the addition of three new Ironman North American events in 2002, including this weekend's event in Provo, there are now six on the continent and 15 across the world. Instead of the 15 competitors that took part in the 1978 Hawaiian version, more than 20,000 athletes competed in Ironman events in 2000. That number obviously has grown with the addition of more triathlons.

The annual Ironman World Championships are held in Kona, Hawaii, every year. Gamber has qualified seven times and traveled to four.

"In Hawaii there are helicopters and camera guys under the water filming," he said. "There is tons of hype because it's the best people in the world."

While he qualified last year with minimal training, he doesn't expect the same to hold true this year.

"I haven't trained very well," he said. "The more you put into it the faster you are. It's pretty much you get what you give."

Hager isn't looking to qualify either.

"This is the least amount of training I've done," he said. "If I run a 10:30 I'll be really happy. I'm thinking more like it'll take me 11 hours. It'll be fun."

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