Al Harrison has left his comfort zone.
Two weeks ago he boarded his bike and rode 48 miles from his home near Dalton Gardens to the base of Schweitzer Mountain Resort north of Sandpoint. With the wind at his back and the morning sun overhead, he made the trip in 2 hours and 15 minutes, arriving in time to see his son Ethan, also a biker, start the Fourth Annual Schweitzer Hill Climb. “He got me a meal ticket, so that meant I had to ride another 8 1/2 miles up the hill to get my lunch,” Harrison said.
At 43, Harrison says he’s accomplished athletic feats that he never would have dreamed possible prior to his involvement in triathlon training. “I’ve found for myself that you’re capable of giving much more than you think you can,” the father of five said.
Harrison has participated in the Coeur d’Alene triathlon for five years. This year he hopes “finish standing up” and shave 12 minutes off his 1994 finish of 2 hours, 47 minutes.
“I’ve spent more time on the bike,” he said in a recent interview. “That’s the key. It’s the ability to stay focused that makes a difference. Riding allows that.”
Harrison’s introduction to triathlons came after his buddy Bill Travis, a fellow GTE employee, trained with him in preparation for fun runs. “He’s a superb athlete,” Harrison said. “Trying to keep up with him was a challenge. He eventually talked me into participating in the Sandpoint Triathlon.” Harrison has been competing in area triathlons ever since, setting small goals to complement his overall wish, always to finish standing up and to see his family near the finish line cheering him on.
Triathlon participation has had its moments. Three years ago in Caldwell he had to wear a bicycle jersey. “Have you ever tried to put one of those things on?” he asked. “My wife had to help me. “Then in the bike transition I dropped a glove and turned around to get it,” he added. “I rolled over on the bike and squashed the bananas in the jersey pocket. I got back up, wiped myself off and did finish the race.”
After the triathlon, Harrison will go on to a bigger challenge, the Timex Ironman in Penticton, British Columbia, Aug. 27. The race includes a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike race and a 26.2 mile marathon. Although he’s never done the entire distance, he says he has gotten close with the help of another friend Don Ashenbrenner. “He’s an excellent mentor in helping me pursue the long term goals,” Harrison explained. “He pushes me to run faster and to ride farther.
“A month ago we rode 54 miles and ran 5 just to see if we could get off the bikes and run,” he recalled. “That’s where the mentors come in. They keep pumping me up.”
Finishing goes hand in hand with Harrison’s philosophy about triathlons. “It has to do with being an example to my family,” Harrison said. “I have expectations of them, so I need to be able show them that I’m willing to put out an effort also. Harrison’s son Ethan (24), coming off from a sixth place finish in the Schweitzer Hill Climb, will participate as a cyclist in the team competition at this year’ s Coeur d’Alene Triathlon. His daughter Marissa (14) will swim on the same team as Ethan. They will be joined by Shaun Ashenbrenner, Don Ashenbrenner’s son.
The hours spent “leaving the house” and training have paid off for Harrison. “My recovery time is faster than when I was 40, and I feel healthier,” he said. “I’m better about getting sleep and more sensitive to what I eat.”
Although he jokes that family members “think I’m mad,” he also enjoys their support and sees a two-way benefit from his training. “It’s a unique opportunity to share,” Harrison said. “I spend time swimming with my daughter and take off with my son on his bicycle.
“The racing is great,” he added, “but the stuff you share with people you care about is the real reward,”