One shot, one opportunity

Athletes flock to The Woodlands for state's first-ever Ironman Texas

Athletes flock to The Woodlands for state's first-ever Ironman Texas

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Ironman Texas hopefuls, may you all feel the finish line euphoria displayed here on two-time Ironman finisher Wilmer Gaviria's face at Ironman Cozumel in 2010. Courtesy of Wilmer Gaviria/Flickr
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Who needs a strict training schedule when you can train with friends? Helena Finley's fun philosophy has taken her quite far in training for the Ironman Texas. Finley is second from right on the back row. Courtesy of Helena Finley
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The race begins with a 2.4 mile swim.
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The second leg of the Ironman is a 112 mile bike ride. Courtesy of Wilmer Gaviria/Flickr
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The triathlon ends with a grueling 26.2 mile run. Yes, folks, that's a full marathon.
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You may call swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and running 26.2 miles in one day the epitome of insanity. But to some 2,000 athletes from all over the world convening upon The Woodlands this weekend, it's merely called Ironman Texas.

On Saturday, the first full Ironman ever held in Texas will take place beginning at 7 a.m. with a swim through Lake Woodlands. After a brutal claw through the water, the bike loop will shoot Ironman hopefuls through The Woodlands and out to the farmland, careening them through Sam Houston National Forest before returning to town. The entire event culminates with a marathon-length pavement pounding completely contained within The Woodlands city limits.

Successful Ironman finishers must cross the finish line 17 hours later on Market Street before midnight — the official cut-off time.

Ironman Texas will be the third Ironman triathlon for Shama Cycles' Wilmer Gaviria. "It's a tough day," he said. "It's physically demanding. You have to fight with yourself."

But in the end, all the agony is worth it. "The last mile of the Ironman, you're running above the clouds," Gaviria said. "All the pain goes away. It's the culmination of months of training for one or two miles of complete nirvana. You really are the rockstar."

The Ironman in The Woodlands will be quite a bit different for Gaviria, who completed his other two Ironman races in Florida and Mexico. For Ironman Texas, Gaviria will have a dedicated cheering section.

"I signed up for [Ironman Texas] to give my family and friends a chance to see what these things are like," he said. "I'm always training, but they don't get a chance to see what I'm training for."

For Houston Fit Adventure Racing's Helena Finley, completing Ironman Texas will cross off an item on her bucket list. "The huge advantage is that this one's local," she said.

A South African national swimming champion who came to the University of Houston on a swimming scholarship, Finley said she cut out formal swim training altogether in preparation for the Ironman.

In fact, most of her training was quite unorthodox. "I did a lot of 'social training' — I didn't have any kind of plan. I just looked at what friends were doing, and did whatever was fun."

This approach seems to have worked for Finley thus far, as she placed eighth in her age group (45-49) at the Memorial Hermann Ironman 70.2 (or half-Ironman) last month.

"It's not going to matter to me whether I'm 34th or 38th," said Finley, 45. "All that matters to me is that cut-off time."