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Chief Petty Officer Brian Haug took some time off work at the Explosive Ordnance Disposal detachment at Yokosuka Naval Base to race in the Ironman Australia Triathlon on April 2.
Chief Petty Officer Brian Haug took some time off work at the Explosive Ordnance Disposal detachment at Yokosuka Naval Base to race in the Ironman Australia Triathlon on April 2. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Chief Petty Officer Brian Haug said his 15 days in Australia weren’t a “typical” vacation.

Sure, the 43-year-old ordnance clearance diver saw some sights and spent a few days in New Zealand, but the real purpose was to test his physical and mental mettle. Or, in this case, metal — as in the Ironman Australian Triathlon in Port Macquarie, Australia.

“It’s not an ego thing,” Haug said. “It’s more like checking a box. Now, I can check ‘Ironman.’”

The Navy reservist, with Yokosuka Naval Base’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal detachment, spent April 2 swimming 2.4 miles, biking 113 miles, then pounding the asphalt for another 26 miles on a hilly race course.

The U.S. Navy has been a part of the Ironman competition since Cmdr. John Collins founded it after a 1978 disagreement about whether swimmers, bikers or runners were more fit.

Collins and his wife suggested combining three events: the Waikiki Rough Water Swim (2.4 miles), Around-Oahu Bike Race (112 miles, originally a two-day event) and Honolulu Marathon (26.2 miles). Fifteen brave souls entered the first Ironman race on Feb. 18, 1978. Twelve finished.

Today, even though Ironman is a household name, the championship race still is held every year in Hawaii. “I’d love to go,” Haug said. “Just making it there would be an achievement.”

Australia was Haug’s first Ironman. He finished in 11 hours, 55 minutes — an hour better than his goal. He landed 107th out of the 300 or so people in his age group and placed 724th overall.

“A woman had stitches in her chin and gauze on both hands after a bad wreck on her bike but she still finished,” Haug said, shaking his head. “You just train for too long not to.”

Haug ran several marathons and half-Ironman races before considering the idea, as qualifying times are required for a full Ironman.

Plus, he said, “Once I paid the entry fee, about $500, I had to do it. Gear is really expensive too. We were estimating that (among participants) there was about $7 million in bikes there.”

Haug began training in January on a schedule that started with six hours a week, escalating to 16 hours. He rotated through the cycle a few times before tapering began. EOD’s rigorous 10-hour-a-week fitness requirements helped immensely, Haug said; so did Yokosuka’s hills.

Keeping the body from seizing up required measuring to the mouthful hydration, anti-cramping pills, energy slurry and “goo,” a liquid energy bar. He also fashioned a four-flask fuel belt for the marathon.

Haug had it down to a science — which comes naturally. On the fifth month of a six-month active-duty recall, he’s a geologist in his hometown of Portland, Ore.

The race’s finish was pretty cool, he said.

“I started hearing the loudspeaker and I knew I was about 5K from the finish,” Haug said. “Then you come through the chute where hundreds of people are cheering, and high-fiving you. They pat you on the back and wrap you up in a towel — it’s a pretty emotional experience.”

He’s already planning to enter this winter’s Ironman Canada race. “I’ve done an Ironman” Haug said, “and now I know what to work on for the next one.”

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