11/04/05 — Goldsboro triathletes compete in Iron Man

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Goldsboro triathletes compete in Iron Man

By Steve Roush
Published in Sports on November 4, 2005 2:00 PM

Charles Royal compared it to an armchair quarterback who puts down the remote, straps on a helmet and barks out the signals -- at the Super Bowl.

For Tony Worrell, it was just another extended weekend workout.

Only it wasn't.

The Goldsboro natives were two of the more than 1,800 competitors who took part in the 2005 Ford Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii -- a 140.6 mile odyssey that features athletes swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles and running a marathon.

Not just anyone can be an Ironman.

Most of the competitors qualify for the event, with just 150 American competitors -- and 205 overall -- getting into the race through an annual lottery.

Around 5,000 entered this year's lottery, which was held back in March. Royal, 45, and Worrell, 61, were one of the lucky ones.

"It's the ultimate experience," Royal said. "It's very unique for an amateur like me to race in this -- the Super Bowl of triathlons -- and to be on the same course with all of these great athletes. It's a unique situation, I mean, a guy who plays softball on the weekends can't go and play in the World Series. It's awesome, everything is spectacular -- all the people, the camera crews, the scenery ... it's unlike anything I've ever done."

In that vein, Royal's goals were simple -- to finish the race and to have fun.

Runners have to complete the race in less than 17 hours. Royal did it in 16 hours, 18 minutes and 28 seconds.

"I'd been trying for seven years (to get into the race), and I finally got in," he said. "Nine years ago, I ran in the New York City marathon and didn't enjoy it at all. I was running it for time, I didn't finish nearly as well as I had hoped and I had a miserable day. I vowed then that if I ever did a big event like that again, I'd enjoy it. I didn't have my fastest time and I didn't have slowest time. I took it easy, enjoyed the beautiful scenery and just took it all in."

Worrell, however, is an old pro at this.

You see, this was his second Ironman. He did his first one two years ago.

His goal was to also have fun -- but he wanted to better his 2003 time.

"I was disappointed with my time the first time I did it," Worrell said. "So I wanted to get back there and do a lot better. I did a 14:40-something last time, and my main goal this time was to finish, but I also wanted to break under 14 (hours)."

Leg cramps, however, kept Worrell from getting the latter goal -- he finished the race in 14:39:48.

Just in case you're wondering, the 2005 Ironman winner, Germany's Faris Al-Sultan, navigated the course in 8 hours, 14 minutes and 17 seconds. The top woman, Natascha Badmann of Switzerland, finished in 9 hours, 9 minutes and 30 seconds.

The very first Ironman champion, Gordon Halle, won the event with a time of 11 hours, 46 minutes and 58 seconds back in 1978.

Breaking it down

Worrell said the key to not being overwhelmed at the thought of a 140.6 mile race is simple.

"When I woke up that day, I just considered it a long training day," he said. "I thought, 'I'm going swimming.' After I finished the swimming part, I thought, 'Now it's time for a little bike ride.' I never thought about the run when I was on the bike.

"Then when I got off the bike, I thought, 'Let's go for a little run.' You break it down like that, and it doesn't seem so daunting."

Another key to getting through the race is proper nourishment.

"I burned over 12,000 calories that day," said Royal, who wore a watch equipped with a heart rate monitor and a stopwatch. "It is a long day. It said I burned 12,240 calories during the Ironman, and your body only stores 2,000 calories at a time. "

Along the course, competitors were provided Gatorade, water, energy bars, bananas and other fruits, and energy gels.

"You need at least 200 to 300 calories an hour or you run into real trouble," Royal said.

Getting ready

Someone can look like they're in shape, but it takes months -- or even years -- of hard work to be an Ironman.

"Finishing this race was very satisfying," Royal said. "It was the culmination of six months of hard training."

He and Worrell worked out just about every day -- and much longer on weekends -- and put in 20-plus hours a week in training.

"I like to call it a healthy obsession," Royal says with a laugh.

Worrell has also been bitten by the workout bug, but it hasn't always been that way.

"I really didn't start running until I was in my 30s," said Worrell, who has been a triathlete for more than 11 years now and has run about 40 marathons. "I first went out to see if I could run a mile.

"I couldn't."

Now, he's an Ironman.

The finish line

In a race that starts at 7 a.m., getting close to the finish line well after the sun has set takes a lot of work.

The swim segment begins and ends at Kailua Pier. The bike race travels north on the Kona Coast through scorching lava fields and then along the Kohala Coast to the small village of Hawi, and then returns along the same route to transition. The marathon course travels through Kailua-Kona and onto the same highway used for the bike course. Contestants run back into Kailua-Kona, coming down Alii Drive to the cheers of more than 20,000 spectators at the finish line.

In that final mile, a competitor usually gets his or her second -- or perhaps more precisely, 102nd -- wind.

"Just getting to that final mile, it's amazing how much energy you get," Worrell said. "It's like you could sprint to the finish."

Which is a major feat considering Worrell's legs develops severe cramps around the mile 80 mark of the bike ride, and Royal's feet had developed serious blisters that still haven't completely healed.

"I had to walk pretty much all of the last 13 miles of the run," Royal said. "It was so painful when I tried to run. It didn't hurt nearly as much to walk. I probably could have finished an hour or so better, but that's OK. But, boy, what a rush when you get to the finish."

"I guess it was 80 miles into the bike ride that my legs started cramping really bad," Worrell said.

"When I started the run, it really went downhill. I had to walk some and stop and stretch some."

The race is

not quite over

Though the race itself took place last month, the final chapter hasn't yet been written for the Goldsboro Ironmen.

After all, the TV special on the 2005 Ford Ironman World Championship hasn't aired yet.

That's coming up next Saturday, Nov. 12, on NBC from 4:30 to 6 p.m.

Royal, along with his family and friends, will be in front of the tube.

"I can't wait to see it," Royal said. "All of us are going to get together and we're going to make an event out of it."

Worrell will be playing in a tennis tournament that day, but he's going to make sure someone tapes the Ironman for him.

"I really doubt I'll see myself, but it will be interesting to see," he said. "There are so many great stories associated with this."

The soreness that lasted for days is finally gone, but the excitement of the Ironman will last for some time.

"I still can't believe I did it -- I'm still excited," Royal said. "I want to do another one, probably not next year, but soon after that."

Worrell also wants to take another trip back to Hawaii.

"I plan on doing another one," he said.