Nine locals ready for Lake Placid Ironman


Recorder Sports Staff

Go, go, go.

That's been the mantra for Andy Heck and his fellow Pachyderm Groundpounders for seven months. The club, a group of local athletes, has been intensely training since the start of 2013 for what comes Sunday: Ironman Lake Placid.

"The race is like a celebration," says Heck. "But the training is the journey; it's the fun we have -- and we just have a blast."

Some guys go golfing. For Heck -- an Amsterdam native and the president of Alpin Haus -- and his buddies, daily get-togethers revolve around 6 a.m. runs of several miles, hour-long lunchtime swims and post-work bike rides of dozens of miles.

All of that has been to prepare for the Groundpounders -- that's their informal team's moniker -- for Sunday's craziness, which calls for the nine competitors going from the club to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run 26.2 miles. Besides Heck, fellow club members Greg Bown, Felix Catena, Buck Harder, Jef Hetrick, Art Iannuzzi, Larry Raike, Frank Scalzo and Joe Sise will also brave the 140.6-mile-long trek Sunday. The course, which finishes at the Olympic Oval from the 1980 Winter Olympics, will take the local competitors anywhere from 12 to 16 hours to complete; the competition begins at 6:20 a.m. and the final cutoff for athletes to finish is midnight.

Heck and most of his teammates have done the Ironman before, as some did the event in 2010 and others took to the competition in 2011. Still, while experience is a positive in preparing mentally and physically for an Ironman, there's nothing ever easy about getting ready for Sunday's event.

That undeniable truth is why Heck's view of the past seven months in which he has punished his body is so surprising.

"It's just been a bunch of guys having a great time together," says Heck. "How many people get to hang out with their friends every day?"

"Isn't Andy Heck awesome?" says Joe Sise, the founding member of the Groundpounders. "He's one of the most positive guys I've ever met, and I've seen him through thick and thin."

Having a guy like Heck is imperative for the Groundpounders. When one is training for an Ironman, there is no such thing as taking a sick day or getting rained out. The Groundpounders follow a regimented schedule that needs to be followed perfectly in order to prepare one's body for the toll coming Sunday.

Sise remembers one miserable early-spring morning when a group of the club members went out for a swim in subpar conditions.

"The water was cold and the weather was cold," says Sise. "It was miserable."

As the group began to gingerly let itself into the water, there was Heck, already in and ready to go.

"Well, it's not awful," Sise remembers Heck bellowing.

The camaraderie between the Groundpounders is what makes the workouts bearable. A group of busy guys who are mostly in their 40s and 50s -- Heck is 46 -- the team uses their workouts to catch up, making the Groundpounders into something of a fast-moving social club.

"Unless we're doing a sprint workout, you can converse, no problem," says Catena. "You actually want to get into a pace where you can converse and keep your heart rate down so you can go the long distances. Once your heart rate starts spiking, you're going to be bonkers and not be able to finish."

The conversation hits a lot of different topics, with family, sports and current events taking up most of the time. Smiling, Catena -- the Montgomery County Court Judge -- says he leaves talk of work out of workouts.

"I try not to (talk about it)," says Catena, who was one of the first to join Sise -- a State Supreme Court Judge -- in the club.

Heck did his only other Ironman in 2010, finishing that year in 14 hours, 36 minutes and five seconds. He admits that one Ironman competition is enough for most amateurs like himself, but he describes his attraction to the sport as something of an addiction.

"I caught the fever," he says.

The grind of the training is satisfying to him, and it is something he's grown to almost need in his life; rather than describe the peak training month of June, when the Groundpounders were working out for 20-plus hours a week, as the toughest part of training, he says the worst part of the past seven months has been the past 10 days when the team had to relax and rest up for Sunday.

"Uncomfortable," is how Heck describes the past 10 days. "Knowing you have free time, it's just a different feeling."

"I could just see it [was bothering] him," says his wife, Lorraine. "I was like: 'You need to get out of the house and go work out or something.'"

Even before Heck joined the Groundpounders in 2007 and began regularly training for marathons and triathlons, free time was not something Heck did. While he was not much of an athlete -- he worked out sporadically, but he had been relatively inactive, sports-wise, since his high school cross country days had ended -- Heck always worked something in the vicinity of 50-to-60 hours a week at Alpin Haus, while sitting on several boards and chasing his three kids around to various events.

"That's why I've become a time-management master," says Heck with a chuckle. "It's kind of crazy, but, at the beginning of each week, I'd say I know what time I'm going to wake up and go to sleep each day -- and everything in between."

He pauses.

"It's kind of scary, you know?" he says. "But that's how I have to operate."

That personality-type is perfect for success in the Ironman. There's no magic tricks to turning one's body into one capable of churning out nearly 141 miles of rigorous activity without a meticulous work ethic.

"But," says Catena, "brick by brick, you can build up and accomplish something like this -- and that's the beauty of it."

With many of the Groundpounders already veterans of the Ironman, the goal this Sunday is to lower previous times. Heck's goal for this year is to drop his 2010 time by an hour. He says the keys to achieving such a drastic drop will come from a strategy change -- he plans to not push it early and to maintain a steady pace, while in 2010 he went hard early -- and increased general health, which he credits to extra sleep he's set aside for himself during his training.

"He actually sleeps a lot," says Lorraine, laughing.

That's the place where Heck's training has most changed since his first time playing the Ironman game. He now gets at least eight hours of sleep a night; laughing, Lorraine says her husband goes to bed most nights by 9 p.m.

"I'm trying not to burn the candle at both ends," Heck says.

That leaves the energy to complete and -- more importantly -- enjoy Sunday. "Beautiful" and "magical" are common words to describe the scene Sunday, as the 2,500-plus competitors make their way through the Lake Placid course as their families and friends cheer them on. For Heck, his wife and two daughters will be in Lake Placid for the weekend to support him, braving the duration of the day right with him.

He says all of his struggles from the past several months will be worth it Sunday.

"The best part is the last hour, when you know you're almost there," he says. "You're as tired as anything, but then you can see the finish line and you're like: 'I'm going to be an Ironman.'"

After Sunday's event, the group's members plan to head their separate ways for a bit to recharge. There are athletic dreams for the future -- competing in the Athens Marathon, the original, has been bandied about for 2015 -- but Heck, referencing Sunday's race, says decisions about endeavors to come will be made in time.

"Ironman is not about going fast," says Heck. "It's about not slowing down."