On this day three years ago, John Weber ’57 won his age group at the Ironman World Championships, held in Kona, HI.
Weber, then 75, won the 75 to 79 age group with an overall time of 15 hours, 54 minutes and 8 seconds (15:54:08). He finished 3:39 ahead of New Zealand’s Neil Fleming after completing the 2.4-mile open water swim in Kona Bay in 1:23:46, a 112-mile bike across the Hawaiian lava desert in 7:29:23, and a marathon run along the coast of the Big Island in 6:30:01. Weber was one of only four Americans to win one of the 13 age groups.
While at Stony Brook, Weber was a standout athlete on the football, wrestling, and baseball teams. In 1957 he was honored with the Bruce Finlay Vanderveer Award, given to the member of the football team who showed the highest qualities of sportsmanship. He was inducted into the Stony Brook School Athletic Hall of Fame in 2007.
Here is an article written by Michael Burgess of the New Zealand Herald about Weber’s preparations for the 2014 Ironman World Championships.
Triathlon: Pain Is All In The Mind
This morning, 76-year-old John Weber will swim 1.9km across Auckland Harbour, then ride out to Albany and back (90km) on his bicycle. Along with 1200 other competitors in the Auckland 70.3 Ironman, Weber will finish his day by running a half marathon.
It’s a spectacular feat in isolation – but today’s event is essentially part of a training block for the American, who is possibly the fittest septuagenarian on the planet.
Weber is the ironman world champion in the 75-79 year category, winning the title at the grueling Kona event last year. After taking up the sport at 70, he has completed 16 Ironman events, including three in Hawaii, and seems on some kind of endurance odyssey.
“It does take over your life,” admits Weber, who trains six days a week and whose alarm is permanently set for 5:00am. “It has given me a lifestyle and a lot of friends – I’m continually amazed by the quality of the people who do Ironmans. And it gets me out of New York (where he trains in Central Park) for eight months of the year.”
Weber is based in Hawaii for several months, giving him a head start on most other competitors, as he regularly completes the swim, bike, and run courses in training. In a normal training week, Weber will complete two swim sessions of 60-90 minutes, a few runs of 10-20km and cycling sessions of 50-90km.
A former medical professor and associate dean at New York’s Cornell University, he looks strong and fit – and he had been aware that he wanted to “retire into something” when he stopped working.
When he was 65, two of his adult children suggested he join them in the New York Marathon. His first reaction was “I’m too old for that” but he entered nevertheless. The younger Webers both picked up injuries before the event but Weber completed the 26 miles and loved it. He did more than 30 marathons across the US and world before getting into triathlons. In 2008, he entered – and won his age group – in the Florida Half Ironman leading to an invitation to do the full version. At the age of 70, he was hooked – and says his proficiency for pain is partly due to genetics.
“I like to say I selected my ancestors wisely,” laughs Weber. “But I do think having a decent gene set is a pre-condition. You also tend to find that a lot of senior Ironmen have come to the sport later in life.”
Weber’s season seems almost non-stop – “often I don’t know whether I’m training, recovering or tapering” – and he prefers to keep in top condition by competing. His summer schedule in New Zealand makes the eyes water. After competing in the Perth Ironman last month, two weeks ago he raced the Port of Tauranga Half Ironman. Last Sunday, he did the 10km Epic Swim on Lake Taupo and today he competes in the second edition of the Auckland 70.3 event. He has also entered an Olympic distance triathlon at Kinloch (February 2), as well as the Huka River swim (3.3km down the Waikato river on February 8) and the Cross the Lake swim (4.2km across Lake Taupo) before the Taupo Ironman on March 1.
His triumph in Kona last year was special. The event is notoriously grueling and many competitors decades younger than Weber fail to complete the Hawaii event.
“You need to be alert to pain but you learn to differentiate between aches of endurance versus genuine injury. Much of what we do is in the mind. People think of Ironman as a physical endeavor, and of course it is, but it is at least half mental. You have to be a persevering S.O.B.”
Weber has a fierce but friendly rivalry with retired Rotorua farmer Neil Fleming (77) who took out the Taupo Ironman last year but came second (by three minutes) to Weber in Kona last year.
“I have a great battle with Neil,” says Weber. “We are very supportive of each other and great friends.”
The oldest person to complete an Ironman was an 83-year-old in 2012. Weber is not sure if he will still be going at that age – “something else might come along” – but you sense if he wants to surpass that record, there is almost no doubt he will.