Bruce Hegge and son, Lance, participating in a triathlon.CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Bruce Hegge and son, Lance, participating in a triathlon.

"This will be my fourth year," Bruce Hegge said. The Spring Grove triathlete has come a long way in that time.

Hegge has gone from a beginner to completing a race that covered 70.3 miles and lasted over seven hours. He's also used the sport to generate some quality time with sons Hank and Lance.

Both boys have traveled with their dad to triathlon events, and both are now competing as well.

"Probably the thing that got them to the point where they decided to start doing it was that first year," Hegge said. "We were able to make a weekend out of it, and we tried to make it fun. It was just fun for the three of us to get in the car and have a weekend outing.

"And, my kids love the tee-shirts," he grinned.

Triathlon is a test of endurance. Competitors swim, bike, and race towards the finish line, testing themselves to the limit. Just completing the course represents a victory.

The "sprint" distance involves a 750-meter swim, a 20-kilometer (12 mile) bike ride, and a 5K run. The intermediate (also called "Olympic") distances lengthen to a 1.5K swim, 40K bike race, and 10K run. Hegge said that "legs," or stages are typically staggered, so participants aren't racing head-to-head so much as attempting to improve their own individual times, which are tracked via an electronic timing chip.

"Long course" triathlons include the 70.3 mile total that Hegge competed in Montana last year. That's also called a "Half-Ironman" race. The most common ultra distance is branded as the "Ironman Triathlon," and includes a 2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile bike race, and a 26.2 mile foot race.

Hegge belongs to the Bluff Busters triathlon club, which is based in La Crosse. Local races have been held all over the area, including Onalaska, Winona, and Prairie du Chien. There are also some local derivatives, such as a canoe/bike/run event in Houston, MN.

One of the refreshing things about the sport is the camaraderie and sportsmanship that is typically seen at triathlons, Hegge said.

"These events can have kind of a festival atmosphere," he added. "They're several hours long by the time everybody finishes." Fans and competitors often enjoy eating together and just visiting.

"Everybody has kind of a level of respect. If you're showing up to do a triathlon, we're going to respect you.

"I think my sons appreciate it. For the three years that I've been doing it I've been dragging them out of bed at 5 a.m., and they're good sports about it. They may have to sit there for hours at a time and wait, but they do it without complaint.

"It's an interest that I believe they'll pursue as they grow older... It really is about testing yourself."

In one race, Hegge went over the handlebars of his bike and landed hard, but finished the following footrace with blood on his face. Triathlon is about overcoming adversity.

"It doesn't matter if you walk your bike up the hill. It's all about getting to the finish line," he said.

Hank (18) ran his first sprint triathlon in Duluth, when he was 16. Lance (14 this year) is set to try a sprint relay with some friends in 2014.

"I really am very proud of them," Hegge said.

As a place for a dad to teach kids about "sticktoitiveness," old-fashioned good sportsmanship, toughing out the rough spots in life, and the joy of achieving a goal that most people would not even attempt, triathlon is hard to beat, he noted.