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The running man

Kent Harfst completes 100 triathlons at 50 years of age

September 14, 2012
Jim Krajewski ( , The Daily Freeman Journal

After just over three hours, one and a half kilometers of swimming, 40 kilometers biking and 10 kilometers running, Kent Harfst crossed the finish line of this year's Hy-Vee triathlon. With that step over the finish line, he completed his 100th triathlon at 50 years old.

Harfst, the assistant city manager and recreation and public grounds director for Webster City, has always been in it for the long run. He's not usually at the front of the race with the people he calls "trophy chasers" going for medals in their particular age bracket.

"That's not important to me. It's just being able to finish. That's what I do it for," Harfst said. "I'm thankful I'm able to participate and complete each one. It's a good sense of accomplishment for me."

Article Photos

Kent Harfst celebrates the completion of his 100th triathlon, the Hy-Vee triathlon in Des Moines, with a hand gesture of approval and a bottle of water in hand. Harfst completed the triathlon in just over three hours. He swam 1.5 kilometers, swam 40 kilometers, and ran 10 kilometers in that triathlon.

However, his will to run for himself has won him an indoor race and several other placing finishes. In his garage, which Harfst's wife calls his "happy place," bikes, awards and other memorabilia line the walls. Neon signs with messages scrawled across them in black marker that show encouragement from his family are pinned to the wall next to the participant numbers he carried on his shirt through the triathlons.

He recounted the years of shin splints, pulled hamstrings and assorted aches and pains with a smile. Since finishing is more important for Harfst than winning, he likewise considers his greatest achievement to be his completion of the Ironman endurance triathlon in 1988. In Cape Cod, Mass., Harfst swam 2.4 miles through the Atlantic ocean, biked 112 miles and ran a full, 26.2 mile marathon in succession. He completed the triathlon in just under 15 hours.

Triathlons vary in their length. The Hy-Vee triathlon that marked his 100th finish was standard olympic length. He has also participated in several "mini-sprints" this year, which consist of a quarter-mile swim, a 12 mile bike ride and a 3 mile run. He said mini-sprints are a good starting point for people just beginning to participate in triathlons.

Just as every triathlon has a start and finish, so does Harfst's triathlon season. After finishing this year's Hy-Vee triathlon, he's now in what he calls his lazy time of year. During triathlon season, Harfst will swim about a mile a day and bike about 150 miles a week. He also runs for his training, but Harfst said that last leg of the triathlon is the hardest for him.

After almost 30 years of running, Harfst said jogging has taken a toll on his legs. Accordingly, he takes several months to prepare for triathlon season. Even as his body wears, Harfst said he finds the time he spends training and participating in triathlons to be beneficial.

"It seems like the older I get, the more mental benefits I get as well as the physical part of it," Harfst said. "It's nice to clear your head."

Twenty-nine years ago and about 40 pounds lighter, Harfst said a dorm neighbor at the University of Northern Iowa got him interested in triathlons. After letting his knees recover from his first marathon in 1983, he started swimming. He completed his first triathlon in 1984.

Ten years ago, Harfst began to catalog all the triathlons he took part in. A 16-page document listing his race history barely scratches the surface of the memories Harfst has from his triathlons. In 1986, he participated in a Bud Light triathlon in Houston with a teenage Lance Armstrong.

"I remember this 16 year-old kid from Austin, Texas beating professionals at the time. It was pretty amazing," Harfst said.

He also fondly remembers the group triathlons he participated in with his father and brother. He won a few family events with himself swimming, his brother biking and his dad running. He said the chance to compete alongside his family was very special for him.

With 100 now triathlons under his belt, Harfst said he hopes he can keep up the pace. He said triathlons not only help keep him in shape despite his love of food, but they are a continuing goal for him to shoot for.

"I never thought back in 1984 that I'd be doing this for 29 years," Harfst said. "Who knows if I can do another hundred or not, but for me, I'll just see how it goes."

Triathlon season will begin anew for Harfst next year with the Bluff Creek triathlon.



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