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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Time for athletes to take the stage

First-time Ironman hopeful Neil Tregilgas won’t be taking any Gu today.

“I didn’t train with that,” the 34-year-old Dallas resident said as he made final race preparations Saturday afternoon.

Tregilgas will be fueling his body with Clif Bars, not Gu Energy Gel packs. Like the other estimated 1,800 Ironman racers today, Tregilgas has a precise nutritional formula worked out for the race. He knows when to swallow an extra salt tablet, take another slug of energy replacement drink or reach for the all-important potassium.

The competitors gathered Saturday at Ironman Village along the shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene to swap last-minute tips, study course maps and loosen their sinewy limbs with a massage. Many walked through the village sucking on free samples of glutamine-fortified flavored ice called Energice.

The clicking of race bikes being walked through the surrounding park sounded like a horde of cicadas. Advice from experts was broadcast over amplified speakers in the village. They spoke in a language that sounded more like cyborg than human – at least to the ears of non-racers.

“Once you lose the dorsaflexion in the foot, that’s when your biomechanics go,” boomed one amplified voice.

Tregilgas listened to some of the seminars after finishing a short run and a half hour each of cycling and swimming. “Just to keep loose,” he explained. “Some of it, I think, is to work out the jitters.”

Nutrition is key to a successful race, said Peggy Newcomer, a physician from Oakland, Calif., who will attempt her ninth Ironman finish today. During the course of the race, a typical Ironman competitor will burn about 9,000 calories, which is what the rest of us burn in four or five days. During each hour of the race, Newcomer will try to consume at least one 32-ounce bottle of Gatorade and two packets of Gu Energy Gel. The gel crams 100 calories into 1 ounce of vanilla, chocolate, banana, berry or orange-flavored gelatin. Each packet also contains about the same amount of caffeine as a swallow of coffee.

Newcomer began tapering off her heavy training schedule about three weeks ago. On Saturday, she did 10-minute sprints of swimming, cycling and running. This keeps her muscles firing, she said, and reminds them of the work ahead. The evening before the race, Newcomer planned to eat a pasta dinner by 6 p.m. This will allow most digestion to occur by bedtime, though she admitted, “I never sleep the night before.” Today, Newcomer will awaken by about 4:30 a.m. and eat between 300 and 600 calories. If she times her breakfast just right, she won’t get “shot-put stomach,” and the energy will be reaching her muscles just as she begins the 2.4-mile swim.

“You never know if your nutrition is going to be just right,” she said.

The final leg of the triathlon, the marathon, is the toughest portion for most racers. Newcomer has learned to pause during mile 80 of the bicycle race to think hard about how her body is performing. This internal assessment gives her a chance to make any final nutritional adjustments before her feet hit the asphalt. Using your brain, Newcomer said, is more important than muscle power in Ironman.

“The race is primarily a mental thing,” she said.

One portion of Ironman Village contained tables, markers and white sign boards. This “inspiration station” is where families and friends of racers craft signs with messages simple enough to be read in a flash. Most contained exclamation points: “You can!” “Go Fast Bill!” “My Daddy is A Iron Man!”

Jeff Fortes, a chiropractor from Folsom, Calif., walked through the village with a group of friends. This will be his first Ironman, and his nerves are a bit jittery.

“I’m just trying to chill out and have a good time,” he said.

Fortes has his own special nutritional formula for the race, but not all of it is space age. During one portion of the race he plans to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, cut into four easy-to-manage squares.

“I’m far from science,” he said. “I’ll probably write a book someday on how to just get by in this race.”

One of the Ironman Village tents housed a sporting goods store, which sold everything from $5,000 bicycles to $9 packages of NipGuards, a product offering “Protection Against Painful Nipple Abrasion.” The store also sold $1.99 bumper stickers, which were emblazoned simply with four digits. The figure is known intimately by Ironman competitors: 140.6. That’s the number of miles between the start and the finish line.

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