By MIKE ECKERT
TRAVERSE CITY — It was worth the wait.
For years, Brian Kerr has wanted to compete in the Iceman Cometh mountain bike race, but could never get a spot before the field was capped.
This year, the orthopedic surgeon from Traverse City got a spot and competed in Saturday's event.
"It was wonderful," Kerr said. "This was a tremendous experience. The bike ride was a little bit more than I imagined, just not having done it. But I'm happy with how I did. I had a lot of fun doing it."
Kerr, 37, finished in 2 hours, 27 minutes, 29 seconds.
"I started getting more tired that I thought I'd be when we hit the Vasa (trail)," he said. "I think I pushed a little harder earlier than I knew I was doing. But I still finished pretty strong."
The actual race may not have been as difficult as securing a spot in the race.
"Since we came here, it's something that I really wanted to do, I was just never able to take part because I always missed the sign-up," Kerr said. "It fills out within hours or minutes of being online. It seems if you miss that first sign-up day, you're out of luck and waiting to find someone that drops out.
"This was the first year I was committed to finding a spot. I started asking around in August. One of my friends that has done it for a few years, decided he wasn't going to do it because he was too busy to train for it with everything going on. So I was able to get his name on an official transfer."
A little more than 5,000 riders participated in Saturday's event. While there is demand for more participants, the race is at capacity.
"As you can see, everything is bursting at the seams," Iceman Cometh race director Steve Brown said. "I can't really see it getting bigger than this."
Because of the limited space, it makes it even more special for the first-time riders — Kerr included.
"They have a riot," Brown said. "I just talked to one guy who told me it was a great course. He just got his mountain bike four days ago and he had a blast."
Kerr is no stranger to endurance sports. He cross country skis in the winter and has been an active runner for years, including running two full marathons and a number of half marathons.
"I started running in college some and then when I got into medical school it was something that was very easy and inexpensive to do," Kerr said. "It also allowed me to eat whatever I want and still have a good form of exercise. It's very efficient time-wise, it seems like no matter what I have in my day, I can always carve out a little time here or there to go for a run. I started getting into races because it seemed like a fun thing to do, and the first one I entered (a 5-miler in Indianapolis), I came in second in my age group."
Once Kerr got a spot in the Iceman field, he started training in September with weekend bike rides on the Vasa trail, as well as an indoor cycling class.
"It's not a spinning class, it's indoor cycling," Kerr said. "It's power based and we use computers to track our progress with numbers. The first section is really geared for performance in the Iceman. It's prepared me well. It's a difficult class and takes a lot out of you, but it helps getting ready for all the different conditions — the single tracks, the long straightaways and the hills."
Saturday was more of a family event for Kerr. His sons, Isaac and Joshua, each rode in the kid's races.
"It was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday," Kerr said. "We have a lot of friends who are out here as well. One of them has a cabin here, so the dads went over there and got something to eat, hung out awhile and came back for the kids race. The kids are running around, riding their bikes, having a lot of fun. It's a great way to spend a day outside, with friends, doing a tremendous event. There's something for the whole family to do."
Kerr said he's "hooked" on the Iceman and hopes to do it again next year. He also has found even more of an appreciation for the trails in Traverse City after the experience.
"Since we've gotten up here, I really enjoy doing cross country skiing in the winter," Kerr said. "I've been able to do the Vasa race and really enjoy it. It's really a great way to take advantage of being outside despite the cold weather. I really enjoy all the beauty that's up here. The Vasa trail is really a jewel that we're so fortunate to have in our backyard. I've always enjoyed it in the winter, and now getting into biking, I can see that it's truly a four-season playground up here."