Local "Ironmen" still at the top of their game

The Serf and Miller families and friends enjoy some quality time in Hawaii
Rusty Nixon
Sports Editor

A trip to Hawaii means warm sandy beaches and a tropical paradise – along with a 26 mile run, a 2.4 mile swim and a 112 mile bike ride in a single day.
At least that’s what it meant to a pair of Marshall County men who took the family on a dream vacation to Hawaii last October that included one of their dreams – competing in the goal of all tri-athletes, the pinnacle of the sport, the Kona Ironman competition.
It was a road that was nearly as long as the 140 mile course for Brad Serf and Greg Miller who each fell in love with the sport years ago.
“For me it all started in the mid 80’s,” said Serf. “I was still in high school and LaPorte had a triathlon. I’m not a talented runner, I never have been but I enjoyed biking and I loved swimming and I thought it was a neat idea so I gave it a try and the sport really resonated with me. I carried on through college and after college in a lot of the shorter distance triathlons. The Kona Ironman is celebrating its 40th year this year so that’s always kind of been out there. It gets great coverage I’ve always been inspired by the stories of some of the participants, plus the beauty of the island, and the thought of going to Hawaii it became very compelling to try to be part of that. The trouble is it’s very difficult to get there.”
“There are pretty much two ways to get in there,” said Miller. “One is to literally be at the very top of your age bracket and that means a one, two or three finish at any of the other Ironman competitions. The way Brad and I both qualified was they offer a legacy spot, which means if you participate in an Ironman competition in the 12 consecutive years then you are eligible for a spot. Brad and I neither were offered a spot in the first year we were eligible but we both were offered in the second year together which made it more special.”
“It really is the Super Bowl of triathlon,” said Brad. “The very best in the world want to be there and I think it’s a really unique feature that they offer 200 spots to people who’ve remained loyal to the sport. Greg and I are both working guys, we aren’t professional full time tri-athletes, but they allow you to take the start with the world’s elite.”
“To get asked to do it was unbelievable just to be selected and then to be able to do it with a close friend made it even that much more rewarding,” said Greg. “It’s really like teeing off at the Masters as an amateur. You’re out there with the top 50 athletes in the world. Really the uniqueness of two guys from Marshall County qualifying for this and being able to go in the same year was kind of amazing.”
“Greg reserved a house for us to rent and our families being able to be on the island together and taking the start of that epic event was really special,” said Serf. “I was hoping we’d be able to meet on the course – it’s a 140 mile course throughout the day – and sure enough we did. He caught up and passed me up on the bike course and then we met again during the run portion.”
“There is nothing quite like Kona,” he said of the race. “You’re riding a bike in lava fields and the wind feels like it’s in your face all day long and I can’t explain that.”
“Factor in about a 5 hour time difference your body is trying to get used to that. And the swim is what I call a ‘full contact’ swim,” added Miller. “You’re in there with the pack there’s elbows and feet. There’s no everybody get in line and have a swim.”
“The group training is why a lot of us stay with the training, the camaraderie and sharing we’re able to have but the Kona course is humbling. For most of the day you’re out there all by yourself,” said Serf. “It was getting to me mentally – I’d never sweat that profusely on a bike. It was nice to see Greg when he caught me just to see a familiar face.”
“There is a time in every Ironman I’ve ever done where there is a gut check,” said Miller. “There will be a point where you say ‘why am I out here, why am I suffering to this extent?’ and you have to find a way to push through it.”
“You just don’t want to quit. Especially at Kona,” said Serf. “You want that finishers medal. We weren’t going to get that far and not finish.”
The training takes a commitment but both feel it’s a sort of lifestyle choice.
“You just find ways to get a workout in,” said Miller. “Off season maybe 10-14 hours a week. In the three to four months before an event you bump that up to probably 14-20 hours a week. You need good time management skills.”
“A lot of it has to do with spending time with people you enjoy spending time with, that lift you up and maybe challenge you to do things,” said Serf. “I think Greg and I have both found that with the triathlon group here in Marshall County.”
Both are in their 50’s and came to the sport through different routes.
“I never really grew up with it like Brad did,” said Miler. “My son challenged me to do the Culver sprint triathlon about 12 years ago and that was my first taste. I fell in love with it at that point. It’s something that anybody can do if you set your mind to it. We are both in our fifties and going strong.”
“There was more in my tank than I ever really thought about,” he added. “Exploring the level of endurance that you have has been enlightening. Its three disciplines – physical, mental and spiritual – and I think it’s developed all three of those in me to a greater extent.”
“Over a long period of time good discipline can lead to great opportunities,” said Serf. “Maybe just to finish an Ironman distance event. Or completing 12 so that we might someday get to Kona – which for me was 14 and I think 15 for Greg – anything is possible if you stick to it.”
“For me and I think I speak for Brad I got to know a guy that I never would have crossed paths with outside of the sport and now he’s one of my dearest friends,” said Miller.
“I never had a brother but Greg is just like one,” said Serf, “Maybe better.”