Racing 281 miles requires survival instincts. Matt Aro of Superior, Wisconsin, understands the ultra drive: "I read a quote from a cross-country skier that said, 'You need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.' "
Aro, 28, has completed the only two Double Ironman Triathlons in North America--each at 281.2 miles--placing first and second.
The most recent event was July 6 in Levis, Quebec. He finished second in 22 hours, 45 minutes, 46 seconds for a 4.8-mile swim, 224-mile bike and 52.4-mile run, double the standard Ironman distance, and earned $600. Eric Deshaies, 33, of Gatineau, Quebec, won in 20:27:53.
Aro's victory came in the 2006 Virginia Double Iron Ultra-Endurance Triathlon last October in Spotsylvania, Virgina, with a time of 25:56.
"Those two races are by far my biggest accomplishments," said Aro, a 1997 Superior High School and 2001 Wisconsin-Superior graduate. "They are the most special, the most shining, best experiences of my life."
The Double Ironman races, however, aren't his only endeavors in the obscure world of ultras. Aro also goes long distances in bike racing and Nordic skiing. He won the 24 Hours of Telemark ski race in 2004 and 2005 (in the solo freak division), and was second in the 2006 Sun Up to Sun Down 12-hour bike race in Port Byron, Illinois.
Being in motion for extended periods is an acquired taste, said Aro, who played varsity golf at Superior and got into endurance racing through a love of cycling. He's been a serious racer for five years.
"To be successful you need a unique mindset. You need the ability to deal with fatigue and discomfort. It's a skill," he said. "That comes through repetition and hard training. You learn to keep going even when things feel horrible.''
Aro, 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, said he trains 25 to 30 hours per week, almost all on his own, spending the majority of the time on his bike. He typically trains one hour before work and two to four hours afterward. He's employed in Duluth as a scientist with the Natural Resources Research Institute, an arm of the University of Minnesota, and specializes in wood products testing and development.
He'll enter graduate school this fall in a management of technology Masters program in Minneapolis, which means racing will be less of a priority the next two years.
Although his legs and feet are still swollen from the Levis Double Ironman Triathlon, he is thinking of entering the Minnesota Voyageur Trail Ultramarathon 50-Miler on July 28 in Carlton, Minnesota.
Double Ultra Duluthian
There were only two Americans entered in the Levis Double Ironman Triathlon--Aro and Duluth native Carolyn (Shull) Linn.
Linn, 33, was the only woman in the field, and all she did was set the women's course record in 24:54:06. That effort continued a memorable, globe-trotting two years for Linn.
In 2006, she raced in 14 marathons and four Ironman Triathlons, including the original World Championship Ironman in Hawaii. At the finish in Kona, Hawaii, last October, Gordon Linn proposed marriage, and the two former U.S. Navy pilots tied the knot March 15 on the shores of Lake Superior beneath Split Rock Lighthouse during a small blizzard.
"We're both competitive, which is one reason to race so often, but it's also an excuse to travel," Carolyn Linn, a 1991 Duluth East graduate, said last week. "We're not doing it to win or get any bragging rights; it's just fun to see other parts of the world."
The Linns ran marathons in Athens, Greece, and Dublin, Ireland, last year and there was an Ironman Triathlon in Busselton, Western Australia.
Carolyn Linn, who ran in the 2003 Antarctica Marathon, was labeled as Superwoman by the Quebec Journal after her victory in Levis. Last month at Grandma's Marathon, Carolyn (who goes by Caro) ran a personal best of 3:22:24, and Gordon Linn, 42, ran 3:46:51. In an accompanying 100-kilometer race in Levis, Quebec, Gordon Linn became the first American finisher in race history, placing sixth in 11:18:03.
Because Gordon Linn has taken a job flying for FedEx and Caro Linn is in pilot training with Pinnacle Airlines, the couple has temporarily relocated from Duluth to Memphis, Tennessee. They hope to get back to the Duluth area and ultimately have a home on Park Point.
"We like the outdoors and the idea of living on a lake," Caro Linn said.
Her schedule for the rest of 2007 is limited because of job considerations, but she tentatively plans to enter the Oklahoma City Redman Ironman Triathlon on Sept. 22.
Pushing the ultra realm a bit, Carolyn Linn said her interest has been piqued by something called the Arch to Arc Challenge, a 289-mile triathlon. It begins with an 87-mile run from the Marble Arch in London to the Cliffs of Dover, then a 22-mile swim across the English Channel, followed by a 180-mile bike to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
Only three men have ever finished the event, and no women.
Sign up for a Ironman or shorter-distance triathlon.
To see more of the Duluth News-Tribune go to www.DuluthSuperior.com. Copyright 2007, Duluth News-Tribune, Minn. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.