‘Iron Sharpens Iron’

If you’ve missed the Ironman race

Iron Sharpens Iron

Sports books aren’t my favorite genre, but Herb Terns’ novel “Iron Sharpens Iron” (The Troy Book Makers, 2020) is more than a series of training tips. Colden McIntyre, a Lake Placid native, wants to win the gold at the Lake Placid Ironman. But he works full-time as a chef at a downtown restaurant, doesn’t own a decent bike and has only recently learned how to swim.


It doesn’t help that Colden is his own worst enemy. He overtrains, obsessed with getting in double workouts even as he puts in long hours cooking at The Derby. But Colden has a training secret—a posse of good friends and relatives who ply him with insults as they become his coaches and training partners. They torture him with masks they’ve made of the face of Eberhard Gerwulf, the German who won the Lake Placid Ironman the year before. These friends cheer him on as he does crazy workouts, like biking 20 times up the Whiteface Road, at night. On the 18th trip up the mountain, Colden hits a branch and gets a flat tire. His training partner, Rab, gives him his bike. Terns writes in Colden’s voice: “without Rab, I had nothing to pull me through. The long climb from the bridge was a horror show. Hadley came to the rescue. He beat his hand on the side of the (pacer) truck and howled at me. He sang songs. He slipped on a Gerwulf mask and then he mooned me.”

After the initial sorting out of who’s who, “Iron Sharpens Iron” takes off, with snappy dialogue and great racing scenes. This is a heartwarming friendship and love story, just on the edge of being sappy, but rescued by the intense training scenes and the antics of Colden’s buddies. 

At the end of the book, Colden launches himself into the water of Mirror Lake with hundreds of other obsessed triathletes. In a book that’s almost 400 pages long, Terns allows only eleven pages for the Ironman race that has consumed Colden’s life for a year. I read those pages quickly, as if I too needed to catch up to the leaders after my slow swim. What a pleasure it was to join Colden’s crew in Terns’ debut novel, to cheer on a character who was giving it his all. 

— Betsy Kepes

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