For most triathletes, the Coeur d’Alene Ironman is the culmination of months, even years, of work. But for Todd LaValley, it doesn’t even qualify as a full weekend. The 51-year-old Spokane man has moved to a higher plane of athletic fitness, one that in in six weeks will take him to Penticton, British Columbia, for a three-day epic called the Ultra520K Canada.
That’s means 520 kilometers, or 323 miles – a challenge so tough that two competitors already have dropped out.
Not LaValley, a former Marine who trains 32 hours a week, because he wants a challenge that goes beyond the demands of Ironman.
“It’s a training run for me,” said LaValley of the 70.3-mile event on the shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene.
LaValley’s journey to ultra fitness began a decade ago, when the 6-foot-tall former Marine had seen his weight increase to 280 pounds – the result of “too many trips the donut shop” with his young sons back in San Diego.
The family moved to Spokane in 2003, but inspiration didn’t come until the summer of 2009 during a camping trip near Coeur d’Alene. On a whim, LaValley left the family behind to catch the action at Ironman; then he got caught up in the excitement and registered for the 2010 event.
“Then I said, now I better start thinking about exercising,” said LaValley, who was still overweight when he stepped in the swimming pool at the Spokane YMCA. In fact, he couldn’t even manage a 50-meter lap
“I realized I was in trouble,” said LaValley, who paused to admire a swimmer moving effortlessly in the next lane. The swimmer was Scott Roy, the founder of Team Blaze, local triathlon club.
Roy told LaValley that “You can do anything you want if you put your mind to it.” Roy followed up by coaching LaValley through short several shorter triathlons leading to Ironman.
More than that, Roy coached the still-overweight LaValley through the embarrassment of not being able to keep up with other bikers and swimmers.
“His inspiration and his kindness were just incredible,” said LaValley, who dealt with constant pain through his training. “I probably should have stopped, but I was a former Marine, so I was tough, and nothing was going to stop me, LaValley said.
Three Ironmans later, LaValley lost the weight, but he also lost Roy, who died of heart failure in 2012. Since then, LaValley has tried to return the favor by helping other triathletes.
Meanwhile, LaValley decided he wanted to take his hobby to a “different level,” including 50-mile runs. He heard about Ultraman competitions, which include swimming, biking and running at distances beyond the 70.3-mile Ironmans.
Trouble was, he didn’t have the qualifications, which included finishing an Ironman in less than 12 hours. Finally, he accomplished the feat last year, and will compete on Aug. 1-3 in Penticton, British Columbia.
Here’s the drill: the first day opens with a 6.2-mile swim, then a 90-mile bike ride. Day two is a 164-mile bike ride, and the final day is a double marathon. Only 28 athletes are in the field, with the top finishers advancing to a world championship event in Hawaii. As one of the oldest of 28 competitors, LaValley has no illusions about finishing at the top – he just hopes to finish.
To that end, LaValley trains every day. He works four 10-hour shifts in the accounting department wtith the Spokane Parks and Recreation Department, which allows him three days a week to focus on training. That includes an 11-hour bike ride on Friday, a 3 1/2-hour swim and six-hour run on Saturdays and a two-hour run on Sunday. On weekdays, he trains before and after work, totaling another 10 hours among the three disciplines. Weight training adds another two hours to his regimen.
In all, the 32-hour regimen doesn’t leave a lot of free time. “I’m just glad my kids are old enough to mow the lawn,” LaValley said.
Their support, along with that of his wife Dianne, “is invaluable” said LaValley, who gets more help from them in the kitchen. Meals are heavy in the basics: fruits, vegetables, and chicken every other meal.
LaValley admits to eating the occasional cookie, but otherwise avoids refined sugar.
“I try to keep everything lean,” said LaValley, who now weighs a muscled 200 pounds.
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