You know how you hear a song and it gets stuck in your head over and over again?
For Newtown’s George Hollerbach, it could very well be the Eagles’ classic “Take it to the Limit.’’
Only in this case, the tune has a different meaning – it’s not about amorous adventures but rather crazy mega-mile challenges. . .first in foot races and now on bicycles.
The Hollerbach resume of athletic accomplishments could fill a small book but here’s all you need to know: In this calendar year alone, he’s completed the 350-mile Alaska Iditarod (wait, you’re saying to yourself, isn’t that for Husky sled dogs?) and a 200-mile gravel road bike competition in Kansas.
Phew! I feel fatigue setting in just writing about these exploits.
Hollerbach, 65, might be advancing in years but he can’t help keep taking it to the limit.
The thrill comes from going after the near-impossible and that’s what makes him a living legend in local ultra-competition circles.
Every time he pulls off one of these mini-miracles, Facebook lights up like a Christmas tree.
The funny thing is, Hollerbach grew up in Horsham not particularly fond of running or distance training. A football/rugby player by nature, he dabbled in a couple half-marathons through college but never took a liking to that form of competition.
Fast forward to the early 2000s and George’s wife, Dale (a lifelong runner), was going to compete in the Philadelphia Marathon. George decided to go along for the ride, so to speak.
He broke four hours for the 26.2-mile distance and learned he might be good at this.
“I wanted something longer,’’ he said in a recent interview. “That’s when I discovered trail running.’’
During a 40-miler in West Virginia, a fellow runner struck up a conversation with him and told him about the challenge of 100-mile races. Hollerbach decided to take on that over-the-top distance and the rest is history.
Also joining the Hollerbachs in the Philly Marathon was Harry Betz, owner and manager of Newtown Bicycle Shop. A deeper friendship was struck that lasts to this day.
A bit of an iconoclast, Hollerbach indicates this particular type of athletics suits his personality, sort of a “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’’ philosophy.
“I spend a lot of time alone,’’ he said. “Just being out there. I’ve always loved the training. There must be a long-distance gene in there somewhere.
“I had no plans to do the Iditarod because you have to qualify. But then I started reading about it and I said, ‘I’ve got to do this.’+’’
Some changes were made in the Iditarod this year due to the pandemic, including a new out-and-back course.
“You had to go over Rainy Pass twice, which is one of the harder parts,’’ Hollerbach said. “It was 10 degrees going over it, 40 miles-per-hour winds. It was quite an experience.’’
Hollerbach’s “commune’’ with nature began back in his youth when he served three years in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains with the U.S. Forest Service. He thinks nothing of pedaling triple-digit miles, then plunking down on the ground for a night’s sleep.
For decades, his training and racing were centered on running. But by 2019, the clock had run out of his knees (60 straight months of one ultramarathon per month will do that to you).
Now his aerobic outlet involves bike pedaling and lots of it.
A few weeks ago, Hollerbach headed to Kansas for the excruciating gravel road event in 90-plus heat. By a hundred miles, he was in extreme dehydration and the problem was he couldn’t keep any fluids down.
Somehow, he made it to the finish line. Wild stuff.
“I tried to force myself to eat, I was feeling nauseous, I was nauseous for a week,’’ he said with a chuckle. “I lost 10 pounds. The last 50 miles, I had just four sips (of fluid).’’
You see, it’s all about getting to the finish line. There’s no dishonor in a DNF but it leaves a bad taste regardless of the circumstances.
Betz marvels at whatever keeps Hollerbach going.
“That (Philly Marathon) was the beginning of an obsession, ultras were the lure, the harder and longer the better,’’ Betz said. “Well, after years of that, the pounding on the knees and hips take their toll. No problem, ultra-bike riding, thank you very much. Same theme, the harder the better, culminating with the Alaskan Iditarod this past winter. Wow! What’s next?’’
Prior to his recent retirement, Hollerbach was a registered nurse. He worked in oncology for about 15 years. Later, he worked four years at St. Mary Medical Center in Langhorne.
George and Dale have two children – son, Jed (a landscaper), and daughter Emily (a chef).
What’s the next big adventure?
“I’m doing a Trans-South Dakota race this summer,’’ he said. “It goes from the Wyoming border to Iowa. I’m not racing, just riding.’’
How many more of these ultras does he have left in him? He was debating that in the closing stages of the Kansas race as the agony set in.
“I was going to sell all my bikes and take up paddle-boarding and golf,’’ he said with a laugh.
Don’t believe that for a minute. Like the Eagles sang, “Take it to the limit, one more time.’’
Donut 5000, 5:30 p.m., Newtown. Contact www.runsignup.com
Wounded Hero 5K, 10 a.m., William Tennent High School, Warminster. Contact www.woundedhero5k.com
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