Bert and Patricia Soden went to Hawaii for their honeymoon. But not for the usual reasons, such as lolling on the beach, frolicking in the waves, sipping pina coladas at a luau.
They went so Bert could swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles and run 26.2 miles in the Ironman Triathlon, the extreme test of fitness, stamina and sanity. Took him about 13 hours to finish the race.
On their 30th anniversary, the Sodens are going back to the Big Island. Their idea of a second honeymoon is a little more rigorous than most. This time, it’s Patricia’s turn to do the Ironman, all 140 miles of it.
They are living proof that couples who play together stay together. Between them, they have completed more than 1,000 triathlons, 50 marathons and too many assorted half marathons, 10ks and 5ks to count.
On Saturday in Kona, Patricia will be among the 1,800 participants trying not to get kicked in the head during the swim, battling 25-mph gusts during the bike and traversing lava fields during the run. Bert is serving on the safety crew for the swim, then in the medical tent at the finish. He will also be dashing to points on the course where he can cheer his wife.
Bert, 62, a Miami Beach lifeguard, has the bronzed body of a man half his age. Patricia, 51, nurse manager in the medical respiratory unit at Memorial Regional Hospital, has a body that still fits into the flowery red silk dress she wore on their 1982 honeymoon. They live in Hollywood with son Justin, eight bikes and 25 pairs of athletic shoes.
When they are not saving lives, they are enhancing their own by training and racing. Bert has completed four Kona Ironmans so he knows what Patricia is facing.
“The conditions with the wind and the heat are tough, but South Florida prepares you well,” he said. “If you can make it to the last few miles, you are carried to the finish line by pure elation.”
Patricia has completed 19 long distance triathlons, including one in Lake Placid, N.Y., three months ago.
“Hawaii is Mecca for triathletes,” Patricia said. “It will be a dream come true. I’ve been trying to get on the entry list since 2001.”
She estimates she will spend an hour and 45 minutes swimming, eight hours biking and five hours running. She has the credentials. She’s completed 20 consecutive Boston Marathons, with a personal best of 3:23.
Bert was doing triathlons back when most people thought the event was a variation on track and field’s decathlon or heptathlon.
“When he first told me he did triathlons I looked for the word in the dictionary but it didn’t exist,” Patricia said.
Today, triathlon is among the fastest growing sports in the world. Miami’s flat landscape and humid weather are not ideal, but the abundance of open water is a plus. The area has become an incubator of talented triathletes, including 2012 U.S. Olympian Manny Huerta.
When Bert and Patricia first met in 1981, her only athletic pursuit had been horseback riding and jumping as a teen. He was running on the beach, she was sunbathing. He waved, and a few days later, she approached him at his lifeguard stand. But Patricia, who had recently moved to Miami from Buenos Aires, didn’t speak much English.
“It started as a Tarzan and Jane conversation and flourished from there,” Bert said.
Bert had been an accomplished swimmer and runner in his native Philadelphia. In South Florida, he did lifeguard competitions and marathon swims, and once swam 7.1 miles along the Miami Beach shoreline, then ran back on the sand to where he started. So when Patricia visited him one day wearing Adidas shoes, he asked her to go for a run.
“She said, ‘No, no, I don’t sweat,’” Bert said. “For our first Christmas, I bought her a bike. She rode 10 feet, fell off and bloodied her knees. I said, ‘What’s the matter?’ She said, ‘I don’t know how to ride a bike.’ She did not know how to swim, either. I had to hold her hand and walk her into the water and teach her.”
Patricia accompanied Bert to running races and triathlons and told herself, “If all these people of different shapes can do it, I can, too.
“Bert was my inspiration. He got me hooked,” she said. Son Justin is also a triathlete and a high school football player. “I fell in love with the training and it became a lifestyle. Just about everything we do in our spare time revolves around sport. We plan vacations to coincide with events. Our weekends are devoted to long rides and runs.”
The beach has become their second home. They train together and with the Four Seasons multi-sport club in Broward. They run and swim at Hollywood beach. They got married on the beach. And Bert oversees his stretch of beach at 46th Street, behind the Eden Roc Hotel.
“Never a dull moment,” Bert said, recalling various rescues, including one of a curiously ungrateful nun. “I get all the celebrities. I just saw the Kardashians out here, jogging with a film crew, and the paparazzi following them.”
On Saturday, he will be watching his wife and feeling her pain as she logs mile after mile through choppy water, up hills, down valleys and along broiling terrain. For this ironman and ironwoman, it’s their version of paradise.