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Cedar Rapids engineer, UI alumnus, regularly braves the Ironman

BY ADAM WESLEY | JULY 17, 2012 6:30 AM

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Pheidippides ran 26.2 miles to announce an Athenian victory over Persia in the Battle of Marathon in 490 BCE. After reaching Athens and delivering his message of victory, he collapsed and died.

A marathon is not to be taken lightly.

The last time Barry Breffle started running a marathon, he was nearing the end of his day. He had already swum 2.4 miles and biked 112. He was two-thirds of the way to becoming an Ironman.

Again.

Energy exudes from his lean, 6-1 athletic frame — Breffle certainly looks the part. The Ironman lifestyle has become routine to him, broken up by "laid-back" years when he focuses on triathlons and half-Ironman events.

"[Running an Ironman] takes a little bit of extra focus," the Cedar Rapids resident said. "When I'm going to run an Ironman, I have less flexibility and compromise with training."

Breffle has raced in six Ironmen in the past 12 years. That's not a lot of compromising.

An Ironman race consists of 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling, and 26.2 miles of running, in that order. The race has a time limit of 17 hours, with the world record time currently set at just under eight hours.

When he's not in the midst of intense physical training, Breffle spends 50 hours a week working in an office as a software engineer in Cedar Rapids. But that contradiction — the difference between running a marathon and sitting under fluorescent lights — is part of Breffle's motivation.

"It's a good balance to sitting at a desk all day — getting outside, enjoying the fresh air, exerting myself," he said.

Breffle holds a master's in engineering from the University of Iowa, and the 41-year-old is married with three children.

"It's interesting for the kids," wife Michelle Breffle said. "They hear people idolizing him, and they're like, 'He's just my dad.' "

Barry Breffle's oldest child, 17-year-old Jordan, said that racing was just a part of family life growing up, largely because of his dad's training schedule.

"He gets up early to swim while everyone's asleep," Jordan said. "[Training] really didn't affect him being [at home] much except right before a race."

Jordan's birth essentially kick-started Barry Breffle's endurance, inspiring the new dad to quit smoking.

He said it was the "hardest thing" he's done in his life.

Breffle was athletically inactive for 11 years between high school and starting his family, due to university and work. But he "had the spark" to start competing in triathlons after a friend persuaded him to join the Milky Way Masters swimming group.

The transition from shorter races to Ironman took him several years. He ran his first full Ironman in 2000 in Florida and hasn't looked back.

He said he got hooked from the start because Ironman is such a welcoming sport.

But Breffle's training hours sound far from welcoming. He wakes up at 4:30 a.m. three times a week to swim before work.

"You get to be good at time management, being prepared and well organized," he said.

He uses training as social time with his friends as well, giving back to the sport that welcomed him wholeheartedly.

"He's fun to be around," said Jenny Lorenz, who has trained with Breffle for roughly seven years. "[Breffle is] extremely humble and genuinely a nice guy." She noted that Breffle doesn't feel the need to make every ride a race.

But when he does go all out in training, he's hard to catch.

Lorenz credits Breffle's success to his mental strength, something she said inspires in her own Ironman endeavors.

"To do Ironman, you have to be smart, and Barry is one of the smartest athletes I know," she said.
Breffle's Ironman IQ has paid off.

He is 3-for-3 in qualifying attempts for the annual Ironman World Championship in Hawaii, an achievement in itself. Fewer than 2,000 people qualify worldwide.

But Breffle shrugs off his 100 percent qualification record in an event most people, even other athletes, would never consider.

"I've been lucky, well-prepared," he said.

Breffle posted a 9:48 finish in his most recent race at Hawaii 2011 — just four minutes off his personal best (9:44) set the year before. He said the high level of competition fuels his motivation.

"I like the races; they motivate me to do the training," Breffle said. "When I don't have an event, it's easy to lose focus."

That focus has to be rock solid while he's racing, he said.

"Hydration, nutrition, pacing — it's constant self-monitoring, testing my limits," Breffle said. "Am I going hard enough? Too hard?"

Competing in Hawaii is one of Breffle's favorite parts of Ironman.

"The mass dart, everyone treading water … you can feel all the energy," he said. "The [ocean] water is so clear … swimming over fish … biking through the lava fields. Hawaii is an amazing island."

Breffle runs in the Ironman, raises a family, and works full time. Some may wonder how he does it all.

He thought for a moment, chuckled, then came up with an answer:

"I don't watch TV."


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