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Ironman Competition: A Day At The Races For The Beggs



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Ironman Competition: A Day At The Races For The Beggs

By Nancy K. Crevier

It seems that swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and running 26.4 miles in one day might leave a person feeling depleted and worn down for quite some time, but by midweek following the Sunday, July 22, 2012 Lake Placid (N.Y.) Ironman Competition, bleeding foot blisters, sore backs, and weak knees were just a sweet memory for Dr William Begg, wife Leah, and 18-year-old daughter Erin. And far from being exhausted, all three glowed with an energy that they said came from the knowledge that they were among the 2,300 finishers in the physically and mentally punishing event.

For Dr Begg, the July 22 competition marked his fourth Ironman race at Lake Placid, a challenge that he has conquered each year since 2009, and one which he will again attempt in 2013.

Ms Begg finished the 2009 and 2010 Ironman race, took 2011 off, and stepped over the finish line this year 13 hours after the 7 am start. The 2012 Ironman will be her final Ironman competition, said Ms Begg, citing the intense training that is required for the race.

“I love the race,” said Ms Begg, “but the training is always hanging over your head.” A runner since her high school days, the 43-year-old mother of three plans to continue running half-marathons and other long distance races. She has already qualified for the New York City Marathon, this fall.

What added to the excitement of the Ironman competition this year, said the Beggs, was having their oldest child, Erin, in the thick of it with them, as well as Dr Begg’s brothers Mike and Tom, and two cousins. Ironman competitors must be 18 years of age, and Erin turned out to be one of only three 18-year-olds entered in the 2012 Lake Placid event.

Running has always been a family event, said Erin, who recently graduated from Newtown High School, where she ran on the cross country and track teams. “Even when all of us kids were younger, the whole family would go to a 5K race or a half marathon or something every weekend,” laughed Erin. It is something the family still does together, with Billy, 16, hoping to enter the Ironman in two more years, and Molly, 13, keeping up with the pack, as well.

“It’s fun training with the family, and to have a family goal,” said Dr Begg. “Sometimes, as kids grow older, a family grows apart. This keeps us doing things together,” he said.

Dr Begg admitted that while he and his brothers have always been athletic, he only took up running after meeting his wife-to-be, while in college. “I told her I was a runner, too, but I don’t think I had run a mile in my life,” he confessed. Now the family’s biggest running enthusiast, Dr Begg enters some kind of road race every weekend. He inducted Erin into the running world when she was just nine days old, pushing her in her carriage in a Danbury race.

Deciding to run in an Ironman competition is a personal decision, said Erin. “My siblings and I have volunteered and watched the past couple of years when our parents did it,” said Erin. “There was something about that race, though, to me. Watching people come over the finish line, and how everyone comes back to the finish line at 11:30 pm to cheer on the last runners at midnight [runners must complete the Ironman course by midnight of the race day, in order to qualify as Ironmen], I knew I had to do it,” she said. “It’s so inspiring.”

Each of the Beggs has his or her own training style to prepare for the Ironman. Dr Begg prefers to train continually, year around, through the weekly races he enters. Ms Begg has a different approach, with year around races selected and an intense, hard training period leading up to the Ironman competition. As a high school athlete, Erin counted that toward her training, then joined her parents in a biweekly, daylong, 100-mile bicycle trip, beginning in April, from Lake Quassapaug in Middlebury to Sheffield, Mass.

Being physically conditioned is important, said Dr Begg. Training for events crosses over into all aspects of life, though, he said. “You make better choices about food and about exercise,” he said.

“I think doing this training helped me to focus academically this year,” said Erin, “doing whatever I had to do to finish homework by getting up at 4 am, or finishing projects at midnight. There’re no excuses.”

Even with the extensive training, there is always a point in the race when it seems like the finish line is out of reach, said the Beggs. “I thought I wasn’t going to be able to finish, one mile from the finish line this year,” said Ms Begg. Then she heard the “Voice of Ironman” — veteran announcer Mike Reilly, who blasts out the name of each runner as he or she closes in on the finish line — saying, “Leah, You are an Ironman!” It was enough to revive her, she said, and while she collapsed briefly afterward from dehydration (“This was the hottest year yet,” said Dr Begg, with temperatures in the high 80s and low 90s), she still felt that flush of triumph.

It was the last 12 miles of the bike portion of the race that were hardest for Erin. All uphill on Whiteface Mountain, she thought she had finally met her match. “At mile 98, there were people just lying all over on the ground at the station. But I kept going. I thought, when I get off this bike at the end, I never have to get on it again, if I want. The run,” she said, “is the best part. You can run, walk, crawl, whatever by then. If you can get through it, you’ll finish.”

The run, surprisingly, is Dr Begg’s nemesis. “After you’ve biked and pushed your way uphill, your feet are killing, and then you have to run,” he said. Dr Begg developed huge blisters, this race. “I knew I had to quit, or just keep going. There was no way I was quitting, though, so I finished with my feet bleeding from the blisters,” he said.

Two of the very last runners over the line before midnight, Dr Begg and a brother joined the rest of the family celebrating their victory, bloody feet and all.

But Dr Begg does not believe it is just physical strength that eventually propels an Ironman over the finish line. “You have to have the inner nerve to say, ‘I’m going to finish.’ We see people overcome incredible obstacles to finish, one guy this year actually limping the whole run,” he said.

“It’s an amazing feeling when it’s over. Every single year, it’s the same feeling: you can’t believe your body has accomplished this,” said Ms Begg.

What keeps each of them going is the determination to finish, they said. “You have to really want it, to do the Ironman. You have to have that drive,” said Erin, adding that like her father, she is already registered for the 2013 Lake Placid Ironman.

Being an Ironman creates an immediate affinity with anyone else wearing the iconic Ironman symbol, a dotted “M,” and creates a special bond, said Dr Begg.

“Ironman is the pinnacle of athletic achievement. When you can do all three disciplines, in one day, that is an incredible feeling. Once you finish,” he said, “you are an Ironman.”

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