COLUMN: Perry Bergson — Sept. 17, 2012

Perry Bergson
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Well, I have the suffering out of my system again for a while.

I’m freshly back in Prince Albert after a 2,000-km trip to Madison, Wis., to participate in my second Ironman race.

The stairs up to my second floor office are making trips to the main floor something to be planned. I don’t want to be doing them more than I have to so I figure out everything I need before I head down.

I have more than 100 emails to wade through and had 13 phone messages from the nearly 100 phone calls that I missed.

The Daily Herald is blessed with a strong team in the newsroom, so with help from publisher John Morash, I had little to worry about in my 10-day absence.

It’s really the first chance I’ve had to take my eye off the ball since I moved to Prince Albert in late February.

An Ironman has a way of demanding your attention, especially when the race you’re doing is considered one of the tougher ones in North America.

Ironman Wisconsin is a gorgeous course. The 3.8-km swim takes place in Lake Monona, perhaps best known for being the place where Otis Redding died when his plane crashed there on Dec. 10, 1967. An interesting sidenote is that it was just three days after he recorded Dock Of The Bay and that he had whistled during the one verse to hold its place for words that were to come later.

Highways through the rolling hills of Wisconsin play host to the 180-km bike ride, which sounds nice but gets a little tiring. It becomes death by a thousand paper cuts.

And the marathon (42.2 km) is held in Madison, with a good part of it on the University of Wisconsin. In fact at one point on each of the two laps you run through the 80,000-seat football stadium, which is a great experience, even without anyone in the stands.

I wish that I could describe the feelings to you as you come down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard through the two-block-long chute.

Hundreds of people are cheering as Ironman announcer Mike Reilly says your name and adds “You are an Ironman!”

After a long day of struggling to get there, it’s an amazing moment.

While I finished the race, I didn’t have much of a day. Something in my system objected to the stress being placed upon it and I began getting sick midway through the bike.

By the time I began the marathon, I couldn’t take in solids or fluids, so I sucked on ice cubes in the hope that I could at least finish what had become a long walk.

I tried a slice of orange and some water out of desperation near mile 11, and my body threw it up so violently that I actually hurt my ribs. A volunteer tried to pull me off the course at that point but I begged him for a chance to keep walking. Since he knew he could get another look at me four miles later when the course swung by him again, he let me talk him into it.

I made sure to walk tall and smile at him as I passed him again.

I won’t even try to convey how dark an experience it was at times. A body deprived of calories but asked to keep moving takes the brain to some unhappy places.

But every time I even for a moment considered stopping, I had the same thought.

If you quit now, you go to your hotel room and begin a lifetime of second guessing a decision made from weakness. The prospect of that scared me more than a 20-km walk with sore ribs, a bad stomach, a huge blister on my left foot and the occasional struggle with balance.

I met up with another guy who was in trouble at about mile 15 and we walked together for almost the rest of the race, both of us eager to have another voice in our heads.

I was able to run the last three blocks but it left me almost unable to stand up when I crossed the finish line.

It’s virtually impossible to explain to someone why you do it. And there are times in one of these gruelling events that it’s virtually impossible to explain to yourself.

But let me try.

There’s an honesty in that situation that doesn’t occur anywhere else in my life. I’m free to stop anytime I want and all but a tiny handful of people would even know or care.

The pressure to keep moving has to come from within.

Prince Albert has its share of Ironman finishers — among them my friends Clifford McBeath, Mark Nagy, Theresa Nimegeers, Marty Houle and Don Laing — all of whom did one of these races a lot quicker than I ever could.

They all have stories of adversity and how they overcame the obstacles in their pat.

They find a way to get past the pain and blinding physical and mental fatigue to keep moving towards a distant finish line.

There’s no money waiting for them; there’s just a medal, a T-shirt, a hat and the understanding that they didn’t crack when the race took them to and sometimes beyond the breaking point.

I can find something noble in the quest to finish an Ironman and you might consider it completely pointless.

We both may be right.

Organizations: Ironman, Prince Albert, Daily Herald University of Wisconsin

Geographic location: Madison, Wis., North America, Lake Monona Wisconsin Madison

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