LAKE PLACID - Joel Harwood just wants to have fun; Ironman style.
Harwood, 41, of Elizabethtown, was one of more than 2,200 athletes from across the globe competing in the ninth annual Ford Ironman Lake Placid triathlon July 26, the grueling race where each participant must complete a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.2-mile marathon.
"I have always had an interest in the Ironman. I saw the Ironman a couple of years ago, and just loved it. I wanted to compete."
But Harwood had other reasons for going after his goals. In 2007, he won a months-long battle with a brain tumor.
"When I had the tumor, it and some friends pushed me to do it," he said prior to the race. "I'm very happy I'm able to be in the race. On Sunday I'm going to go out there and have fun."
After training for nine months, Harwood felt ready.
As dawn broke that morning, the streets of Lake Placid were nearly empty. Traffic to much of Lake Placid was closed from 5 a.m. until the last racer able to qualify crossed the finish line at midnight.
A steady steam of cars stopped in front of the Olympic Speed Skating Oval on Main Street to drop off athletes. The air was thick with the smell of magic markers as dozens of volunteers in blue T-shirts wrote the identifying race number on the arms and legs of the roughly 2,500 participants.
Harwood was flanked by two friends and trainers, Michael Manosh and Tim Rielly, who offered last minute advice. He credited Manosh, a co-worker and two-time Ironman finisher, with helping him outline a training schedule to compete in the challenge.
By 7 a.m. over 2,000 swimmers, all outfitted in black wet-suits and color coded swim-caps, were in Mirror Lake, listening as The National Anthem played on loudspeakers. Then, with a blast of sound, the water came alive with arms, legs and splashing water.
During the 2.4 mile swim, and throughout the day, motivating high-energy music filled the air. Portions of the race were lined with fences to protect the athletes and offer intimate viewing for spectators.
The fences were lined with fans, many of them in special T-Shirts created for the day. You could spot a cluster of fans by the color of their shirts.
Closer inspection told you who they were cheering for or offered other triathlon thoughts like "Real men wear lycra" or "You run... I'll nap."
Harwood had his own posse, all of them clad in bright orange T-Shirts that read "Ironman Joel Harwood 2009" on the front and "Team Harwood" on the back.
In Lake Placid, Harwood's supporters included his wife, Barbara; children, Claire and Hugh; parents, brothers, sisters, several nieces and nephews, and many friends. In Keene, his in-laws, Al and AnnaBell Kurtz, and other friends were waiting along the race route to offer further encouragement.
At least three times during the race, he found Barbara in the crowd and kissed her. Later, when asked if she thought about her husband's, brain tumor during the race, Barbara shook her head.
"We don't think about it much anymore," she said. "He was diagnosed, we did what we could to address it, and we were lucky."
Although Barbara claims she doesn't spend much time thinking about Joel's illness, she could easily rattle off dates and numbers of significance surrounding it.
Diagnosed with the tumor in February 2007, he quickly underwent surgery to remove it, followed by several weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. By June 2007, he had a clear brain scan.
"We keep watching," she said. "Last week another scan showed Joel was tumor-free."
But now Joel had another battle on his hands: completing one of the most demanding athletic events in the world. Late into the evening, he did just that, finishing the race with a time of 14 hours, 39 minutes and 42 seconds.
On July 27, the day after the Ironman, Harwood replayed the race.
"It went exactly how I had planned it in terms of training and my finish time," he said. "I had a good swim and a strong bike ride."
"The run was hard," he added. "I ran the whole race between aid stations and walked up the hills. At that point my legs would only allow me to run so fast, so I ran as fast as I could."
Joel said he was most amazed by the thousands of volunteers who facilitated the event, assisting athletes, providing security, and even picking up trash.
"The whole race was fun for me," said Joel. "People were encouraging and complementing us (the athletes) throughout the race. It really felt good."
Joel's children offered their own insight on the race. Hugh, 13, summed up his thoughts in four words: "Exciting, proud, happy, exhilarating."
"I'm really proud of my Dad's accomplishment," said Claire, age 15, "140.6 miles of exercising is really something."
Now that Joel has finally become an Ironman, he has some other goals in mind.
"Maybe I should go for a bike ride," he said jokingly to Barbara the day following the race, "but I won't. I think I'll just watch some TV, drink some beer and sleep."