Had I stumbled on these wretched souls at night trudging through Lake Anna State Park in Spotsylvania on Oct. 8, I surely would have stopped to offer help. But I knew they were here voluntarily. In fact, each had paid $650 to take part in the Virginia Triple Iron Triathlon.
That’s right, 17 people had signed up to do a 7.2-mile swim, a 336-mile bike ride and a 78.6-mile run — essentially nine consecutive marathons, without stopping, without sleeping. Another 25 slackers were doing only the double Ironman: 4.8 miles of swimming, 224 miles of cycling and 52.4 miles of running.
I was invited by one of the participants in the triple, Frank Fumich of Arlington. Fumich and I struck up an e-mail correspondence while he was training for, and completing, the 2011 Spartan Death Race, one of the few people to finish that two-day sufferpalooza. He persuaded me to witness this festival of masochism.
Fumich, 43, is not doing well as I arrive. In his 37th consecutive hour of physical exertion, he is trying to emerge from one of those deep holes that can last an eternity in an ultra-event. He is into his 32nd mile of running and a long-anticipated burst of energy has not yet come to his rescue. His thinking has become fuzzy. He is in a lot of pain.
“I’m basically shuffling,” he tells me as he eats a slice of pizza at his tent, where his two-person support crew offers him a variety of food and drink. “I’m walking the ups and shuffling the flats and downs — if I’m lucky — at this point.”
Everyone else appears to be walking, too, except for some double Ironman racers who are still on their bikes. The triple began at 7 a.m. Friday; the double a day later on the same course. Because he hates to swim, Fumich persuaded the race director to let him do 16 miles on a stand-up paddle board instead.
Originally, Fumich had hoped to finish in time to drive 90 miles to Washington, where he would run the Army Ten-Miler
on Oct. 9 in honor of his father, a World War II POW who is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. But he hammered too hard on the bike leg and is paying for it on the run. He completed his first 26.2 miles in about 7 1/2 hours, much too slow for a guy whose PR is 3:23.
Now he just hopes to break 50 hours, but as I jog-shuffle-walk beside him in the darkness, that goal also seems out of reach. If anything, he is moving more slowly on the second marathon than he did on the first.
In his unfathomable exhaustion, many things irk Fumich. He is having trouble recognizing where he is on the course. He can no longer calculate his pace and progress in his head. And the chafing and inflammation of body parts best left undescribed in a family newspaper are unbearably painful. “A few twigs and we could start a fire,” he says.