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Wofford battles man’s toughest challenge

July 13, 2011

Can you swim 1.2 miles? Ever tried biking 56-miles and then followed that with a half marathon?

For some it sounds like a grueling challenge. After all, it’s only half of an iron-man competition.

It may sound unbearable, but for one local it’s just one more challenge he wants to conquer.

“What I try to tell people is you find a “like and suffering”, said Justin Wofford, who is a fitness specialist at the Wellness Center and rehab technician at the North Mississippi Medical Center-West Point. “I like the challenge of seeing what my body can take. To see how far I can go before it can break.”

Each distance of the swim, bike, and run segments are half the distances of those segments found in an iron-man triathlon and feature hundreds of athletes from across the country and globe, both amateur and professional.

“The atmosphere is great because you do the same race as the pros,” he said. “People that makes millions of dollars to do this, and your standing right beside them at the race doing the same course they are.”

There aren’t too many other sporting events you can do that at.

Kevin Acker, a West Point firefighter, was already an experienced runner at the distance level and convinced Wofford to try something new. Wofford (who ran a half-iron man in New Orleans last April) has experience in the off-road courses and enjoyed them because they were little more challenging, but decided to sign up and start training right away for the meet in Augusta, Ga. September 25.

The two friends along with another athlete train together on a daily basis and decided this wasn’t going to be their last.

“Our goal is to do all the half iron-mans across the country,” Wofford said. They’ve already signed up for two more competitions in Miami and Texas. “We’re trying to knock out maybe three a year.”

There over 50 competitions already scheduled for the next two years, including roughly half in the United States. Events around the world qualify athletes for the Ironman World Championship 70.3 in Clearwater, Fla. every November.

“That’s pretty much what we do,” Wofford said. “We train and we race when we’re not working.”

Training for the half iron-man is not exactly a piece of cake. Wofford works from 7 am-3:30pm with an hour lunch in between. To keep with his rigorous schedule, he either run’s five miles or bikes 20 miles everyday.

But he likes to reserve the weekends for the long training sessions; a 50 mile bike ride and maybe a 10 mile run. And to train for the 1.2 mile swim, the friends use Acker’s pond with a make shift track set up.

“It’s very rural,” Wofford said. “But it works.”

Although the training regiment itself may seem intimidating to some, Wofford says anyone with a fitness background already has a head start.

“You would be surprised about the people there (in New Orleans)," He said. "There were 70-year old men and 60-year old women running the same course we were. And they finished.”

Eight hours is the time limit needed to finish the race but it’s not common to find athletes crossing the line in a little over five hours at the amateur level; swim between 30-45 minutes, hold an average speed of 25 miles an hour for the bike ride in at least three hours, and then finish out with a two hour run. The professionals, both men and women can knock it out in under five hours.

“A lot of people think you just need to be in shape, but a lot of nutrition goes into it,” Wofford explained. “You have to know when to take in water, when to take in Gatorade and when to take a in gel for calories because even the professionals can dehydrate. But sometimes it’s bad luck like getting a flat tire.”

“It ties a dedication to want to be good at it,” he said. “Just to say you did it, you get your medal and be happy you did it. It takes being consistent.”

Some people find the iron-man challenges scary because it’s different, not that they could never do it. It’s ultimately one of man’s greatest athletic achievements that very few can overcome, or even attempt to.
But like Wofford and Acker, once they cross the finish line they want to do it again, this time even faster.

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