Bryan Hunt, who retired in February as a Ceres fire battalion chief, successfully participated in the grueling first-ever Lake Tahoe Ironman competition.
Hunt, a 54-year-old Turlock resident, participated in the 55-59 male division competition on Sept. 22.
An Ironman Triathlon is one of a series of long-distance triathlon races organized by the World Triathlon Corporation consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a marathon run of 26.2 miles, raced in that order and without a break.
Hunt participated in his first Ironman in 2008 in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho.
The inaugural Ironman Lake Tahoe was tougher than athletes were expecting, with brutal weather conditions adding to the challenge of an already-tough course. The day before the race featured windy and freezing conditions, with snow falling at the end of the day. While it didn’t snow on race day, it was especially chilly with temperatures at 27 degrees when athletes jumped into the waters of Tahoe at Kings Beach. Hunt recalls fighting off a panic attack while in the frigid water.
“If I panic, I’m done,” said Hunt. “So I calmed my brain.”
The cold temperatures are what contributed to the event being the second most abandoned in ironman competition histories. Of 2,751 registered participants, 565 did not start and only 1,719 finished.
The bike course was already forecasted as brutal with altitude and 7,500 feet of advertised climbing around Lake Tahoe and Truckee. Combine that with unseasonably cold temperatures below freezing at race start and the high only in the lower 60’s, and the conditions were ripe for high numbers of those who did not finish. With 20 percent of the participants not finishing at all, Hunt came in 1,394th place, earning him a 97th rank in his age division.
Most Ironman events have a strict time limit of 17 hours to complete the race. The mandatory swim cut off for the 2.4-mile swim is at 2 hours 20 minutes but Hunt completed it in 1 hour, 23:26 minutes. Hunt finished the bicycling portion at 7 hours and 50:35, beating the mandatory bike cut off time of 8 hours 10 minutes.
The final event, the running of a marathon, must be completed within 6 hours 30 minutes but Hunt finished at 5 hours and 58:29 minutes. Hunt said the altitude was causing his eyes to be too dry before the run, at which point he nearly quit.
“I just was not feeling well but you invest so much of your time and your loved ones are watching and you don’t want to let them down. Blood is okay and crawling is okay but quitting is not acceptable. So I didn’t quit.”
He finished the competition over a period of 15 hours 51 minutes and 9 seconds, starting from 7 a.m. and ending at 10 p.m.
With his body unable to shut down after the event, Hunt really could not sleep until two days later.
“It takes about two days for the body regulates back to normal.”
Hunt has difficulty telling others what the experience is like.
“For me it’s a 15-hour day of extreme endurance exercise. “There’s so much that goes into it. I figure the hours I spent training for almost a year solid trying to get my body swimming 2.4 miles and have enough energy to climb on a bike and wanting to go 120 miles … and then go for a marathon, it’s just so intense …. That the day of the race it almost becomes a mindset. It’s a mind thing. If your mind is tired your body becomes tired.”
Hunt said he spent 20 hours a week training for the Tahoe event when he believes 30 to 40 hours would have been better. His cycling included seven- to eight-hour 100- to 120-mile bike rides from Turlock up to Snelling and Hornitos, Bear Valley and back home.
“It was exciting but it was also so cold,” said wife Jill Hunt. “Of course I was constantly worried. Some of them look like they’re not going to make it and others act like nothing is going on. You just feel for them.”
Hunt started running in 2001 at a 12-minute mile pace and progressed to a nine-minute mile. Today he completes marathons at that pace without stopping. He recently became a new coach for ABC Fitness Run Club to help others.
His accomplishments now include two successful Ironmans, a dozen half Ironmans and multiple half marathons and full marathons.
Hunt began his career with the city of Ceres in April 1988 as a volunteer firefighter while working as a paramedic for Mobile Life Support ambulance company. Hunt then moved into a combined Public Service Officer (PSO)/firefighter position a year later. In 1989 he became a reserve police officer, and in 1994 worked his way into a fire captain/paramedic position. Hunt became a battalion fire chief in 2005.