Mark and Elizabeth Reed of Duncansville were two of nearly two hundred participants who ran into Shawnee Lake early Sunday morning. With mist still skimming the surface of the water, they embarked on the challenge of the Cannonman Triathlon.
Spotters watching in kayaks were easier to see through the fog than the bobbing orange swim caps and strokes of arms rising above the lake. The triathletes ventured far beyond the buoyed boundaries of the regular beach area for the one-point-two mile swim that kicked off the Half-Iron division.
That was followed by a 54-mile bike ride through the rolling hills of Bedford County, and across one of the area's historic covered bridges, followed by a taxing half-marathon spanning just more than 13 miles, including several difficult hills.
The triathlon is not just a grueling test of physical endurance and mental toughness; it is a challenge the Reeds are tackling as a couple.
They have competed in local triathlons in Martinsburg and Canoe Creek, "sprint" versions of the full-length Iron Man races, which last a little more than one hour. The Cannonman was a huge next step in their training.
"It's the first Half-Iron we've done," said Mark. "It was kind of a matter of survival and just getting through it."
Mark, age 39, was the highest-placing local athlete, 13th overall, with a time of 5:06. Elizabeth, 43, began learning to swim with her husband just three years ago; she crossed the finish line an hour later.
The Reeds have made it a marital mission to complete the full Iron Man next summer in Lake Placid, New York. They train together for about 10 hours a week, but once the event begins, each athlete tackles the triathlon as their own pace.
"I've learned that I'm a lot more capable at a lot of things than I ever thought," said Elizabeth. "It would never have crossed my mind that I could learn to swim more than a mile."
Watching all of the participants encourage one another throughout the day, it is difficult to describe this event as a race. The camaraderie among the participants overshadows the competition. The real "race" does not pit one athlete against another, but rather each athlete against him-or-herself.
"You can only do what you can do," said Mark.
The Reeds spent Monday resting and recovering, talking with each other about their experiences and looking ahead to their ultimate goal.
Like marriage, the triathlon is not easy, but the challenge is well worth the effort. For better or worse, through cold waters and over rough roads, the couple is happy to share the journey with one another.
"It's brought us closer together," said Elizabeth. "I can't imagine doing it without him, and I'm sure he feels the same way."
Kellie Goodman can be reached at email@example.com. Her column appears on Tuesdays.