The Block Island Times

Tips from an Iron Man

By Bill Koch | Mar 11, 2014
SOUTH KINGSTOWN — There are only 15 men in the world like Fredric Silverblatt, and he wasn’t looking to add to his ranks during his Feb. 21 lecture at The Center, the South Kingstown senior center.
The founder of South County Hospital’s Lyme Disease Clinic and Professor of Medicine Emeritus at Brown University addressed an audience of about two dozen in a small conference room, the first of two such speaking engagements recapping his trip to the Ironman World Championship in 2012.
Silverblatt, looking more trim and stronger than most men decades younger in a dark green buttondown shirt and dark slacks, finished fifth in the 75-79 age division in Kona, Hawaii, surviving an ultimate test of physical endurance that includes a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle race and a marathon thrown in at the end for good measure. His hour-long talk wasn’t designed to find new training partners. His message to the seniors in attendance was a simple one — stay active.
“I’m really not telling you to go out and do an Ironman,” Silverblatt said. “That’s not the point of this.”
Silverblatt cited four primary benefits of regular exercise for seniors, even if it’s something as relatively easy as taking a 30-minute walk every day. He said such regular sessions prolong life expectancy, prevent falls, reduce instances of heart disease and help reduce the effects of dementia.
Silverblatt gave his audience a four-point plan to increasing their activity, and it starts with the most elementary of goals — to have a dream. The next three points – age matters less than you think; making a realistic plan; and remaining flexible as it relates to injury, recovery and fatigue — were all derivatives of the first.
Silverblatt’s dream started at Manhattan’s Stuyvesant High School, where he was captain of the swim team. He went on to Columbia University and the New York University School of Medicine and has more than 30 marathons under his belt. Silverblatt competed in his first triathlon in 2011 and qualified for the world championships in a return to New York in 2012.
“You have to really have your family on your side,” Silverblatt said. “A lot of hours and family functions are missed.”
Silverblatt rested for a week before beginning his training for Kona. He worked out up to 16 hours per week, sometimes three times each day, to prepare himself for a race that traces its origins back to the mid-1970s in San Diego, Calif. The current competition model took shape through three Hawaiian events that were combined into one — the Waikiki Roughwater Swim, the Around-Oahu Bike Race and the Honolulu Marathon. It’s grown from less than 20 entries in 1978 to a worldwide event featuring male and female athletes from dozens of nations.
“I got there early and started to practice,” Silverblatt said. “There were some very intimidating other competitors there.”
Race day began at 4 a.m., with competitors arriving and preparing for the three portions of the Ironman at the transition area. Bags stuffed with energy bars, gels and sports drinks were prepared and sent to the halfway point of the biking and running legs. Bicycles were checked one last time and stocked with fluids. Silverblatt wore his riding gear under his swimsuit, a light fabric that allowed him to remain cool in the blistering afternoon heat. A quick shower at the transition area was all the running clock allowed.
“This is all timed,” Silverblatt said. “They don’t let you stop to change your bathing suit.”
Silverblatt was a bit slow on the swim, forcing him to bike around Kona with the trade winds in his face in both directions. He walked the final eight miles of the marathon after an aching knee prevented him from running another step. His final time of 15 hours, 50 minutes, 56 seconds was more than an hour under the cutoff time of 17 hours and earned Silverblatt a welcome reception as he crossed the finish line.
“Fredric Silverblatt, you are an Ironman,” the race announcer boomed over the speakers, bringing applause from the large crowd that remained at the finish until well after midnight.
“By the time you get to the run your stomach isn’t really interested in taking any more (food and drinks),” Silverblatt said. “Everything had to be done on the bike.”
Silverblatt’s training cycle for Kona lasted for 10 months. His upcoming events include a trip to his wife Annamaura’s native Italy for a sprint triathlon in June and to Mexico’s Ironman event in Cozumel in December.
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