Weinberg goes the distance, then some

MIDDLEBURY — In the weeks before Andy Weinberg does a 22-mile swim next month in the chilly waters of Lake Tahoe, he’ll bike a 150-mile route through the Vermont mountains, taking him over six gaps, and compete in a 10-mile open-water swimming race in the Northeast Kingdom.
The 40-year-old Middlebury resident is also considering doing a double Ironman triathlon sometime this season (consisting of a 4.8-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26-mile run), but that would be nothing new — he has already done three double Ironmans, a triple Ironman, more than a dozen regular triathlons, plus any number of running and biking distance races.
They’re not easy, but he keeps coming back, he says, because distance racing takes you out to the edges of your ability.
“It’s a mental challenge,” he said. “(You get) to that point where you’re in tears and your body hurts and it’s very, very tough, so your mind has to take over … but as long as you can keep your body chemistry working right, you’ll keep going. As long as you keep moving forward, you’ll get there.”
“I’m not sure why I like it, but it’s fun,” he added.
Now a high school physical education teacher, Weinberg swam in college, then took up running to stay in shape after graduation. His first two races were the Chicago Marathon and a 50-mile running race.
“Fifty miles turned into 100 miles,” said Weinberg. “I have an addictive personality. Once I started running, it was never enough.”
But he went through two major back surgeries in 2002 and 2006, the second for a degenerative disc. Since then Weinberg has stopped training for distance runs, instead choosing to focus on cycling and running.
But that didn’t stop him from doing his first triple Ironman — which includes a 78-mile running leg — in 2007.
“All my friends were like, ‘Wait. You can’t run anymore, but you’re doing the triple Ironman?’” he said with a laugh. “But at that point in the race, you’re on day two and everyone’s walking. No one’s running. So it worked out really well.”
Since around the time he began distance racing, Weinberg has also been hooked on organizing and directing races.
“Right out of college I wanted to do an Ironman and I couldn’t afford it — they’re very expensive,” he said. “So I put one on myself. I was the race director and I competed in it.”
Organizing races was one of the things that brought Weinberg and his family to Middlebury from Illinois two years ago. Since 2006, he has been working with his friend, Joe DeSena, to put on six extreme races each year through their adventure racing company in Pittsfield called Peak Races. These races range from long-distance snowshoeing races to the 50-, 100- and 150-mile cycling gap ride this coming weekend.
And then there’s the Death Race, which on June 26 celebrated its fourth anniversary.
The event’s website, www.youmaydie.com, lists Weinberg as the event’s “undertaker” — which, he said, actually means that he is the director.
The race begins at 4 a.m., and lasts around 24 hours. Participants don’t know what they’ll be doing — they find out the next task once they finish the last — but can expect grueling challenges involving crawling through mud and barbed wire, removing and hauling tree stumps, splitting wood and carrying rocks up mountain peaks and even shoveling cow manure all for the purpose of pushing racers to their physical and mental limits.
Though he no longer competes in the events he directs, Weinberg said guiding people through the races has its own appeal.
“I get the same thrill out of watching people accomplish their goals as I get from accomplishing my goals,” he said.
He still has his racing goals — this season he’s focusing on swimming, so on the morning of our interview at 9:30 a.m., he’d already gone for a 2-hour-long swim in Lake Dunmore, spent an hour in the college’s training room and gone for a run.
Even so, he said, he has not been training as much as he should for the 22-mile swim next month, where he will be a support swimmer for a friend swimming 44 miles. Weinberg’s personal goal for the 22-mile swim is modest: he just wants to finish, and is not out to get his best time.
“Years ago I went hard on everything, but now I have two kids and I’ve had two back surgeries,” said Weinberg. “So my goal is to pick one or two races and really focus on those. The rest of them I just do for the camaraderie.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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