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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Ironman puts focus on fitness

Ironmen getting ready for today’s big race in Coeur d’Alene could find everything they needed Saturday at the athlete village in City Park – including support.

Members of Casey Selfridge’s 12-member cheering squad – who came from as far as Florida and Japan – were busy making signs to encourage the 28-year-old Seattle resident in his first attempt at winning an Ironman triathlon.

Spectators generally can’t get close to the 112-mile bicycle course or the 26.2-mile running course, much less the 2.4-mile swimming course. So friends and relatives packed a giant tent Saturday to make signs for race officials to place along the dry courses.

“I hope he’s in a condition to be able to see them when he gets there,” Selfridge’s girlfriend, Julia Ruiz, said as she worked on signs with his mother and sisters. “We tease him that he’s in the Clydesdale division.”

Selfridge may not look like an Ironman, “but he’s got the mind and the will to do it,” Ruiz added. “Physical ability isn’t all it takes to get you through this.”

It was hard to know what a typical Ironman was supposed to look like, anyway – considering that many of them were women.

Selfridge said he sold a hide-a-bed couch to pay his $450 entry fee and has been working out seven to nine times a week. He has competed in smaller triathlons, but he said today’s Ford Ironman USA Coeur d’Alene event “is definitely my biggest endeavor.”

The Ironman “village” in the park was an opportunity for the competitors to pick up last-minute information and supplies and for fans to rub shoulders with the athletes in a relaxed setting. It was like a county fair without the animals.

Even unathletic people could find inspiration and insight.

It turns out, for example, that Fig Newton bars are not only good, but they’re also good for you. Athol resident Bryce Hayes, 10, and her brother, Cole Hayes, 11, won T-shirts and visors at the Fig Newton booth for knowing that figs have more calcium than 2 percent milk.

“They have a lot of stuff that athletes need in their exercising,” including twice as much cramp-relieving potassium as bananas, said Fig Newton spokesman Marques Charbonnet.

At the PowerBar tent across from Charbonnet’s booth, Jon Robichaud was handing out samples of the new “endurance drink” his firm developed with six-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong and Armstrong’s coach, Chris Carmichael.

Compared with the 240-calorie PowerBar “energy bars” to be handed out at aid stations along the Ironman courses, Fig Newtons are “more like a cookie,” Charbonnet said.

But, he added, they make a good snack in between PowerBars, “so, please, go ahead and eat Fig Newtons. I do.”

Athletes looking for a different kind of edge might consider the Hed3 tri-spoke bicycle wheel, according to John Knox, a competitor from Nelson, B.C.

“I love the whish-whish sound they make,” Knox said. “It makes me feel good.”

And it puts rivals on edge, he said: “It’s like a helicopter coming up on them.”

The tri-spoke wheel is nearly as aerodynamically efficient as the solid-disc bicycle wheels available for rent at $150. Yes, $150.

“Some of them retail for over $2,000,” salesman Matt Callahan said. “They’re serious wheels.”

Even with the best snacks and equipment, some Ironman competitors may have difficulty completing the grueling event. The rules state explicitly that crawling is OK.

Even the strongest athletes can expect aching muscles.

For that, there’s the “active relief technique” developed by Colorado Springs, Colo., chiropractor Mike Leahy, who will compete today in his 34th Ironman. Leahy and about a dozen volunteers stretched out athletes’ muscle “adhesions” for free Saturday.

Or there’s the TP Massage Ball that Austin, Texas, resident Cassidy Phillips invented so he could treat his Ironman aches at home.

Several versions of the padded device have one thing in common, according to the inventor’s wife, Carin Phillips: They feel like a therapist’s thumb while relieving knotted muscles.

At another booth, something called “The Stick” also was said to be good for sore necks and tight hamstrings.

In addition to all the commercial help, Roch Frey, a top triathlon coach, and Paula Newby-Fraser, a former professional triathlon competitor, conducted a question-and-answer session.

Questions ranged from how much water to take with your Gatorade to how to avoid being clobbered so much by other swimmers.

Be sure to stay on the course, Frey warned. And don’t stray mentally, either, Newby-Fraser added.

“You do need to be present all the time,” Newby-Fraser said. “Just stay with yourself out there all day long.”

As in all day long. The race starts at 7 a.m. and officially ends at midnight.

Most competitors are expected to finish between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.

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