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Swimming to Kona

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  • | 8:12 a.m. December 21, 2012
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Executive: Larry Black, 54

Fitness passion: Ironman triathlons

Career: Owner of Lawrence R. Black, General Surgery, Fort Myers

How he got into Ironman triathlons: Black has been a competitive swimmer since his youth and through college into his adult years, but a shoulder injury sidelined him in 2001. So he shifted to running and biking and competed in his first full triathlon in 2002. “I really enjoyed it,” he says. He enjoyed it so much that he qualified for his first Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, in 2007. He's qualified and competed in the grueling race every year since. It's a test of endurance that calls for a 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run. He completed Kona in 10 hours, 29 minutes earlier this year.

His training regimen: As an older competitor, Black says he's shifted the emphasis of his training to the bike and the swim. He used to run 40 miles a week, but now he runs 15 to 20 miles a week and does very little speed work. “It works better,” he says. “It keeps me uninjured.” Because he boosted his bike and swim training, Black maintains enough fitness to get through the triathlon's marathon run. He doesn't take a rest day. “The more you do, the more you can do,” he reasons. Black saves his toughest workouts for the weekend, when he might ride 110 miles to Marco Island and back to Fort Myers in a morning.

Make a plan: “If you don't plan, you don't get up in the morning,” Black says. He assembles his gear the night before and lays it out so he's ready to go when he rises at 4:45 a.m. That includes mixing Gatorade or Gu Brew to stay hydrated. Black keeps logs of all his training regimens. “I like to look back at logs from previous years,” he says. “It gives you a feel for what worked and what didn't.”

How he balances family, work and training: “Being my own boss is critical,” says Black, a general surgeon. “I own my own practice.” That means he can alter his schedule for competition and has better control over when he operates on patients. Plus, his wife Debra is a family doctor who works the medical tent during the Ironman Championship. “You've got to have a supportive family,” Black says. “She actually follows it more than I do. A lot of what I know is through her.”

How he manages pain: “You have to enjoy suffering to some extent,” Black says. “The pain associated with athletics, we like.” The only time he takes some ibuprofen is before and during an Ironman competition. “You've got to go hard.” Running fewer miles means he has fewer leg-related injuries such as the stress fractures he endured earlier in his triathlon career.

Managing setbacks: Black had kidney cancer in 2010, but he still competed in Kona that year despite the surgery that left a scar halfway around his torso. He limped across the finish line and couldn't get up the next day. “I had to prove I was recovered. It renewed me,” he says. He adds with a grin: “I got the T-shirt.”

Managing weight: Black weighs 155 pounds on a 6-foot-1-inch frame, but he gains a little more weight for the Ironman Championship because of the energy he burns. “Weight is critical,” he says. “I like to be heavier for Ironman. You burn more fat.”

How he fuels: Black says he doesn't restrict his diet and prefers high-caloric foods because he needs to consume about 5,000 calories to compensate for his intense workouts. “You can't eat an apple or a banana,” he says. Black has a fondness for anything with chocolate. “My diet is horrible,” he chuckles. If he's tired, he'll have a cup of coffee after lunch. During a race, he'll consume Gu gels or chomps. “I like to drink flat Coke during the run. It settles your stomach.”

Motivation: “Ironman is not for your health,” Black says. “You do it to race and win.” He's ranked as high as the ninth best American in his age group and 21st overall at Kona. Black says the electric atmosphere at the Ironman Championship in Kona keeps him coming back. “You realize you're not the only crazy person,” he laughs. Because he's a superior swimmer, he usually finishes the swim portion at Kona in the top 7% to 8% of all competitors. Black says he remembers to smile during a race to root out negative thoughts. “It's a defense mechanism. Smile for the crowds and you're having fun.”

Technology: Black listens to music on his iPhone while riding his bike, and he listens to classic rock like ZZ Top on Pandora. He also owns a Garmin 910 GPS watch to track his workouts in and out of the water.


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