A Chat with Barry Berg

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ST: What about friends and neighbors?

Barry: For us it has been challenging in the sense that family gatherings have pretty much stopped and we have to be super careful with visits to our respective aging mothers. But generally - everyone in my circle of family, friends and neighbors have been very respectful of the advice of our top provincial health official – Dr. Bonnie Henry. I think we really have been fortunate in that respect and have to continue to hunker down as the 2nd wave is starting through the community.

ST: Have they been impacted financially or otherwise.

Barry: I can’t say that I know people personally impacted financially. However, in my work as a realtor I have had a number of clients in the last 6 months who have moved further out of the city to find bigger places in order to work from home. Additionally, I have clients who have looked to move family in with them as well.

ST: We know that most folks have not raced since Mach of 2020 but for you the last real event was in August 2019. What did you do late in 2019 and early 2020?

Barry: After my A race for last season which was the Ultra 520K I was super keen to get into Ultraman World Champs so I needed to do a branded Ultraman race first to qualify. I entered Ultraman Arizona which was originally to take place in March 2020. With this in mind I had a fairly relaxed Fall of 2019 and started to build to UMAZ in late November 2020. January through March was the big build and I think the race was officially rescheduled the day after I started my taper for it. The race directors gave me the option to transfer to Ultraman Canada which would have been in July so I took a few weeks easy then started to build again. However, I think I got to about mid-May and then Ultraman Canada was also cancelled. I remember getting the email and heading straight for the Apple Cinnamon Cheerios! After a couple weeks of not doing much I saw some social media posts about Everesting so I thought a friend and I decided to give that a go. It kind of gave me some closure to the season.
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ST: Please talk about the Ultra 520k.

Barry: This was the first stage race I have done, and it was a 10k swim, 425k bike and 84.4k run over 3 days and I loved it. Additionally, you have to be self-supporting with a swim escort in a kayak and then a 2-person crew for the bike and run. The crew aspect of the event is absolutely a make or break ingredient for the experience. Finally, I have never run more than 55k so the unknown of this was stressful heading into it. At the start of the run on day 3 there were only 14 minutes separating myself and 2 others in the top 3, so really it came down to an 84.4k running race. This was the first ultra-triathlon that any of us had done, so we were all facing the unknown of how we would handle this run after the first 2 days and the strategy of the time gaps. This was easily the best race of my life in terms of getting the most out of myself mentally and physically. In the end the top 3 places didn’t change but it was a battle all day and the reward to me for this battle surpasses any other race I have done.

ST: Well, which place was yours and how long did it take you to run 84.4k?

Barry: I ended up in 2nd place 3 minutes behind the winner, which was the same as the start of the day. The run for me was 7:49 and I was pretty happy with that. The gentleman in 1st place and I started together for the first 20k or so but when we got word that the 3rd place athlete had run up ahead and was cutting into our respective leads he sped up and put an extra 5 minutes into me. I just kept to the pace I thought was right and at about 55k both the guys came back to me. The eventual winner and I ran together for the last 25-30k and while I did everything I could to drop him he matched everything.

ST: By how much did he beat you?

Barry: Over the entire race 3 minutes and 2 seconds. He finished in 23:41:41 and I in 23:44:43.

ST: How did you stumble upon the Ultra experience in the first place or has that been longer on the radar?

Barry: It was never on my radar until 2 different friends both said it was their favorite event and they both had done multiple IM’s including Kona, and so I thought I would give it a shot on their recommendations. It was a good call!

ST: Which sports did you do when you were young?

Barry: I swam as a kid and young teen and also did a bit of cross country running. In high school I played basketball and volleyball but was not very good.
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ST: When and how did triathlon come into your life?

Barry: The idea of triathlon came in the early ‘80s when I saw guys like Dave Scott at Kona and thought hmmm maybe this is a sport for me. Most of the kids in my neighborhood were playing hockey so my sport of choice swimming was not really looked on very favorably and did not get televised much. I had some friends in my early 20’s who were doing triathlon and so I kind of tagged on to them and did a few sprints and one half at Wildflower in the early 90’s. After getting married and having kids I really did nothing for a while and when Ironman Canada moved to Whistler in 2013, I thought it was the signal to sign up for an IM. I’ve been pretty addicted since then.

ST: What do you consider to be your strongest discipline in triathlon?

Barry: I’m a bit stronger swimmer but generally pretty balanced.

ST: Typically how much time each week do you dedicate to training? And how is it broken up?

Barry: Off season about 14-16 hours a week and peak IM would be about 22-24 hours a week as generally 6 hours swimming, 10-12 hours on the trainer and 6-8 hours running

ST: What is your trainer setup at home like and do you ride much outside?

Barry: I have an old Cervelo P1 on my Wahoo Kickr. I have a laptop for Zwift, movies, YouTube etc. I do probably 95% of my riding on the trainer and when I am in the last 5-6 weeks of a build weather permitting will do my weekly long ride outdoors.

ST: On Zwift how do you split up your workouts in terms of racing, workouts and just solo rides?

Barry: My normal weekly schedule on the bike is 1 workout 90-120 minutes with shorter threshold intervals mid week, then long ride of about 3-4 hours now as off season with some 15-20 minute low tempo intervals and 3 other easy rides that will be relaxed with spin-ups. I have gone into some races but I usually just use them as motivation to get up for the intervals. I do like to get the Zwift badges and I think I’m only missing a handful now. I was happy when they added some of the new routes and hope they add some more levels soon.
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ST: I met you for the first time in Switzerland where you raced the ÖtillÖ SwimRun Engadin. Was that your first SwimRun race and what made you decide then to give that sport a shot?

Barry: A friend of mine did the Norseman triathlon and while I was looking into that I came across some YouTube videos of the ÖtillÖ SwimRuns. I thought they looked really cool and loved how they combined the nature of trail running and open water swimming. The scenery of all these races is so epic. I just started chatting to people about it as I was looking for a different experience than the IM’s I was doing. The first Swimrun I did was a local race in Bellingham and I smiled the whole time, as I did during Engadin as well.

ST: Looking back how did that race measure up in challenge and satisfaction to other big races you have done, including but not limited to Kona.

Barry: The race at Engadin was stunning and for the overall experience it was 10/10 – I don’t know what can compare. It was a pinch me type of experience as you are running and swimming through the Swiss Alps looking at some of the most amazing mountain back drops on the planet and sharing it with a friend. It was also physically tough as you know and the lakes are very cold - I think 11-12c. There is a ton of elevation gain and some technical trails and descents. The whole day has this very raw feel to it as you are experiencing so many changes in temperature, effort, scenery – honestly it just makes you feel so alive.

I’ve done Kona 4 times and it always has a special place because the race is a real battle with nature, but as a race for me so far it has always left me disappointed. I just haven’t been able to deal with the heat on the run. The race pretty much ends for me a few kilometers up Alii Drive as the heat overwhelms me and it becomes a run and walk battle to the end.

ST: Many folks unfamiliar with SwimRun call it a triathlon without a bike. As a seasoned triathlete how does that description strike you?

Barry: To me SwimRun doesn’t feel like a triathlon at all. In my opinion it is much more akin to a trail race or maybe and adventure type event. There is navigation, more exposure to the elements. I don’t know if you remember part of the OtillO Engadin getting re-routed mid race due to lightning and constant transitioning which keeps you thinking – I feel much more mentally engaged due to this. I think some people who don’t have a swim background might be reticent to try but I strongly recommend people giving it a shot. Find a stronger swimmer to pair with and enjoy having someone to talk to for the whole race.

ST: How had you chosen your partner?

Barry: Elliot and I swam together in a Master’s group here in Vancouver and he was one of the first people I chatted with about the race. I think one of us just threw it out there and that was it.
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ST: In Engadin it looked like your partner Elliot was leading you in each swim.

Barry: Elliot was definitely the lead swimmer - he was a collegiate swimmer in the US and went to the Olympic trials in Canada for the 10k open water. It was a very nice to get dragged by him.(laughs) I'm a 53 minutes IM wetsuit swimmer or 56-57 minutes non wetsuit. Although I think I did the Hoa'la swim once around 55, but the Hawaii water is very buoyant. I think Elliot's first IM swim was like 46 or 47.

ST: Which other events are still on your bucket list?

Barry: It’s a long list! I would love to do the OtillO World Champs in Sweden – I remember seeing some footage of a year or two ago during one of the swim sections where the water is incredibly rough and would have been cancelled virtually anywhere else, and it is so windy the water is blowing off the swimmer’s paddles. Another Swimrun is the Rockman in Norway – again the scenery combined with the experience through the nature of these events has such an incredible pull.

A friend of mine did a long trail race in Italy called Tor des Géants – I think you get 6 days to run 330km through the Italian Alps. Her photos from the race were absolutely stunning and I would love to see the spots for myself.

For triathlon I am currently still on the mission of qualifying for and participating in the Ultraman World Championships on Kona and the other triathlon on the list is the Norseman.

ST: Is there anything else we should know.

Barry: Well I’m not sure if I can shout out to my team and teammates on Wattie Ink. – I have been fortunate to have had the support of Wattie for the last 3 years and in a fairly individual sport the comradery of teammates is a real boost. It’s super relatable to have a team all doing their own events individually but all sharing the same experiences.

Additionally, I transitioned to a 100% plant based diet in 2015 after reading Rich Roll’s Finding Ultra.
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