St. Anthony's Triathlon organizer Philip LaHaye, of Palm Harbor, to compete in Ironman World Championship to 'relax'

Philip LaHaye, who plans the St. Anthony’s Triathlon, competes in 2008’s Ironman Arizona, where he broke 10 hours. Saturday he’s at the Ironman World Championship.

Special to the Times (2008)

Philip LaHaye, who plans the St. Anthony’s Triathlon, competes in 2008’s Ironman Arizona, where he broke 10 hours. Saturday he’s at the Ironman World Championship.

Philip LaHaye spends a good part of his year planning St. Petersburg's St. Anthony's Triathlon. The Olympic-distance event is considered one of the most competitive of its kind and each spring draws top triathletes from all over the world. But fall is a slow time for LaHaye. So when he wants a vacation, he heads to Hawaii for the Ironman World Championship. The grueling 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run has set the standard for endurance events. "It is said that I have got to go run an Ironman to relax," the 36-year-old Palm Harbor resident said a few days before he left for Saturday's race. "When you are producing an event, you always have to be 'on.' But in Kona, I am just another triathlete."

The challenge

The Ironman started in 1977, when John Collins convinced a group of fellow Navy SEALs to combine the Waikiki Rough Water swim, Around Oahu bike race and Honolulu Marathon into one event.

Collins declared that the winner of the event would be christened the "Ironman." Fifteen men participated in the inaugural event. Twelve finished.

Eventually the race's popularity increased. Sports Illustrated and ABC's Wide World of Sports covered the competition. In 1981 the race was moved to the Big Island and the town of Kailua-Kona.

Lifelong passion

LaHaye joined his first swim team when he was 4. He added running at 10 and at 13 entered his first triathlon.

"I have been running triathlons for 23 years," LaHaye said. "My background was in swimming, but by the time I got to LSU, I really started focusing on triathlons."

In all, LaHaye has competed in more than 200 triathlons, including 22 half-Ironmans and 16 Ironmans. This is his fourth trip to the World Championship.

"For this distance, you have to keep your base up," LaHaye said. "So I train all year-round and about 16 weeks out really start to pick up the pace."

Last year at the Ironman Arizona, LaHaye broke the magic 10-hour mark, finishing in 9 hours, 57 minutes.

"At this distance, athletes hit their peak in their mid to late 30s," he said. "I feel pretty good going into it."

The big day

LaHaye will be one of about 1,800 triathletes who hit the water Saturday morning.

"My background is in swimming, so I am not worried about that leg," said LaHaye, who has a bachelor's degree in exercise physiology and a master's in physical therapy.

The bike leg, which goes across lava fields, can be hot and windy. "No matter what happens, you can always keep moving forward," LaHaye said.

The 26.2-mile run, however, is another story. "That is the hardest part," he said. "You never know how you are going to feel at that point of the race. One year, my legs cramped up, and I had to walk the last 24 miles of the race."

But he believes his investment of time and money is worth it. "I think it adds to St. Anthony's credibility," he said. "When the pros see me out there, they know that I have the athletes' best interest at heart."

Terry Tomalin can be reached at tomalin@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8808.

Ironman World Championship

When: Saturday

Where: Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

Distances: 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run

Records: Men — Luc Van Lierde, Belgium, 8 hours,

4 minutes, 8 seconds in 1996. Women — Paula Newby-Fraser, Zimbabwe, 8:55:28 in 1992

TV: 3 p.m. Sunday, Versus (tape-delayed)

Web: ironman.com

2008 By the numbers

1,731 Athletes, from 46 states and 50 countries, who took part

140.6 Miles the finishers covered in 90-degree heat.

$560,000 Purse distributed among the top 10 pro male and female finishers. Each winner received $110,000.

Who to watch

Australia's Craig Alexander, top left, and Great Britain's Chrissie Wellington won last year. Alexander finished in 8 hours, 17 minutes, 45 seconds, Wellington in 9:06:23, more than 10 minutes ahead of her nearest competitor.

St. Anthony's Triathlon

When: April 25. Distances: 1.5-kilometer swim, 40-kilometer bike, 10-kilometer run

Registration: Opens at 9 a.m. Dec. 1. Details: satriathlon.com

Other local athletes

Leann Kuebelbeck, 43, Lithia: Finished the 2007 event in 13 hours, 44 minutes, 47 seconds.

Ann Atkinson, 40, Land O'Lakes: Began training in 2000 and continued until 2006, when she took a break to start a company.

Dean Cosgrove, 49, Tarpon Springs: Will compete in the event for the 20th consecutive year.

Jennifer Hutchison, 42, St. Petersburg: Participated in 2003 and 2007; has been writing nutrition columns for Ironman.com since 2004.

St. Anthony's Triathlon organizer Philip LaHaye, of Palm Harbor, to compete in Ironman World Championship to 'relax' 10/08/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 8, 2009 9:41pm]

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