For Lew Hollander, June 6 was a day like most days.
He swam a half-mile in the Crooked River, biked 12½ miles, and ran 3.1 miles on trails close to his home near Smith Rock State Park in Terrebonne.
He finished the virtual triathlon in 2 hours, 2 minutes — on his 90th birthday.
“I sort of do it every day, so it wasn’t really anything more than what I do normally,” Hollander says. “It was just a sprint triathlon, so it was easy.”
Hollander has recently switched to the shorter sprint distance of triathlons, but he estimates he has competed in some 70 Ironman-distance triathlons over the past 35 years. (Ironmans include a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run.)
Six years ago at the age of 84, Hollander became the oldest person in the world to finish an Ironman distance race. Two years before that, at 82, he became the oldest person to finish the prestigious Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.
In 2010, at the age of 80, Hollander finished the Ironman World Championship in 15:48, a time that nobody else in their 80s has come close to.
These days, Hollander can be found near Smith Rock, running, biking and/or swimming.
“We’ve got trails through the park and up around behind the house,” Hollander says. “We go out and run every day. I told my wife, if you don’t get me out and run every day, I’ll die.”
But not yet. Hollander says he wants to live to be 120. And judging by the shape he is in now, that seems like a strong possibility.
So what is his secret?
“Everybody asks me for that,” he responds. “The secret is, and nobody likes the answer, is to go anaerobic every day. What does that mean? It means you can’t breathe. Most people are uncomfortable when they’re there. Nobody wants to run until they can’t breathe. I like that.
“I run uphill as hard as I can, and when I can’t go any farther, that’s the magic moment, then I go farther. I run normally and then do the high intensity for a short period of time. I believe in high-intensity, short-period.”
Hollander is on the USA Triathlon team and competed for his country in the sprint duathlon (bike and run) world championship in Denmark in 2018. He was planning on competing in the same event in Amsterdam this September, but it was canceled due the coronavirus pandemic.
Hollander and his wife — Karen Hollander, 68, whom he married last year — were planning a trip to Italy and Greece after the world championships, but that was canceled as well.
As most of the events he had been planning to race this year have been canceled, Hollander has been taking part in virtual triathlons to fill the void. The latest, on his birthday, was the PDX Triathlon, originally scheduled for Blue Lake near Portland. For virtual races, participants can choose their own course, complete it within a designated time frame, then upload their finishing times onto the event’s website.
Hollander says he is enjoying the perks of virtual racing.
“It was a perfect birthday,” Hollander says. “We had a little party and a cake. A few friends came and they ran and biked with me. It was good. I could go to my own bathroom before the race starts. I could start whenever I wanted. I didn’t have to drive and stay in a motel. I’m liking this thing.”
Hollander, who has lived in Central Oregon since 1974, started racing triathlons when he was 55. Before that, he competed in endurance horseback riding with his first wife, with whom he has six children, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Eventually he started competing in ride and tie, a sport that combines endurance horseback racing and trail running. He then raced ultramarathons before transitioning to triathlons.
“I develop my whole body, and triathlon is a whole-body sport,” Hollander says. “It’s a nice combination, that I felt added to my health.”
Hollander is a physicist who has not fully retired, as he says he still has some patents pending, one that uses liquid nitrogen to help put out wildfires and one in the semiconductor field.
His life has been full of accomplishments, but what is his greatest?
“I can jump out of bed, nothing hurts, and I can run up the hill behind my house just like that,” he says. “That’s my greatest accomplishment.”