It’s dubbed, and some would argue aptly so, the Goofy.
It consists of a half marathon on Saturday, followed by the full-length, 26.2-mile Walt Disney Marathon on Sunday.
“And then there’s the Stupid Goofy,” Brenda Amos said, “but that’s not its official name. We just call it that.”
The latter comes with a 5K appetizer on Friday, with the other two distances thrown in over the next two days, ensuring endurance enthusiasts like Keith Amos get their money’s worth when visiting the Florida theme park.
“Somebody said if you can run five miles, you can run seven,” Keith said. “If you can run seven, you can run 10, and if you can run 10, you can run 13.”
Amos, a firefighter and emergency medical technician in Oak Ridge, has always been attracted to endurance sports. Along with weekend warrior friends Ken Bell and Eric Morgan, he’s tackled everything from marathons, to sprint triathlons, to day-long bike rides, to forced mountain hikes in the dead of winter.
Little more than a year ago, the trio decided it was time for one of them to really step up. One of them, they agreed, would have to attempt an Ironman.
“Keith drew the short stick,” Brenda said.
Amos will be one of 2,000 competitors in the Ford Ironman Louisville on Aug. 31 in Louisville, Ky. The course includes a 2.4-mile swim in the Ohio River, a 112-mile bike through the surrounding suburbs, followed by a 26.2-mile marathon finishing downtown. Amos said he hopes to complete the famed endurance test in 14 or 15 hours.
“My first one I just want to finish because I’ve never been this far,” he said.
To get to this point has been an endurance test of its own, involving Keith, Brenda, the couple’s daughter, Hunter, Morgan, Bell and a host of corporate sponsors. Preparation for an Ironman can be grueling, even for the fittest athletes. Amos, 48, will spend upwards of 25 hours per week running, swimming or riding his bike.
That’s a lot of time away from home, with Amos spending much of the time off to himself.
“Yeah, he rode for six hours yesterday,” Brenda said. “It’s like that now.”
That’s why they formed “Team Amos,” Bell said. Without Brenda and Hunter aboard, it never would have worked.
“He got his family to buy into it,” Bell said. “He asked them, ‘Can you give me a year to really train?’ The hours he puts into this are huge. You’ve got to have a team effort to do something like this.”
Amos, Bell and Morgan, friends for years, have always pushed each other. Each has a strong sports background, with Morgan perhaps the most accomplished, having played college football at Marshall.
Their jobs brought them together. Bell and Morgan are both doctors. The three of them are fixtures on the sideline at Maryville College football games. Their love of thrashing each other on a long, weekend bike ride or run is the glue that holds their friendship together, Morgan said.
“When I first started running with Keith, we were running three miles every other day,” he said. “Then it started stretching to a little bit longer, a little bit longer . . .”
Then came that fateful day on Mt. LeConte.
Bell and Amos knew the route to the 6,593-foot summit well. They knew when to go hard and when to ease up.
It snowed that day, with temperatures in the 20s. Just before the top, Morgan fell back.
“Just two more miles,” said Amos, pointing to an elevation sign just ahead.
Morgan, exhausted by point, erupted.
“Two more miles!” he shouted.
The echo seemed to carry forever, Amos said.
Convincing Morgan to finish the run, they closed on the sign. When they got there, it read “.2 miles, not 2,” said Amos, smiling all the while.
Morgan’s comments at that point, he said, are best left with them.
“Part of it is we’re just a competitive bunch of guys,” Bell said. “It’s a lot of fun, but there’s always a race inside us.”
The road to the Ironman was a gradual one, Amos said, one for which Bell bears a great deal of the responsibility.
“It’s all Ken Bell’s fault,” he said. “Ken and I rode and ran together for years, and he just brought that up.”
Once he did, Morgan, Bell, Brenda and Hunter all threw in. Bell and Morgan helped map out a training regimen, one that includes a punishing set of workouts on the 9-mile, closed section of the Foothills Parkway.
On big block days, Amos will ride to the top and back on his bike, leaving water bottles hidden along the roadside as he goes. Once back at the bottom, he’ll leave the bike at the truck, run back up and collect them.
“Just on a bike it’s one of the hardest climbs because it just keeps going,” Morgan said, “and then he gets off and runs it!”
It’s something even Bell won’t attempt.
“Keith is remarkable in that he can go and go,” Bell said. “He’s got that determination, but he’s been smart about it.”
It’s a necessity, Amos said.
“I’ve worked so much at staying hydrated and eating along the way,” he said.
Amos said he favors the parkway for a couple of reasons. First, the climb makes for strenuous training. There won’t be anything like it on the Louisville course. Second, the final three miles of the scenic roadway are uncovered and exposed to the sun. Amos then increases the difficulty by timing his workouts to coincide with the hottest part of the day.
“Without that, when he got to Louisville, his body would be shocked because his system wouldn’t be ready for it,” Bell said. “That (training on the parkway) is like adding another lap on level ground.”
There was soon little question Amos would be able to handle the run and bike portions of the Ironman. It was the swimming, the toughest component for many triathletes, where there were concerns.
“The unknown was the swimming,” Morgan said. “Keith went from thrashing around in the water to swimming.”
Bell, a youth AAU swimmer, had much to do with that aspect of Amos’ preparation. They worked tireless in the pool at Maryville College to improve Amos’s stroke production. Simply doing distance work wasn’t going to cut it, Bell said.
They were looking for “statistical gains in speed and efficiency,” he said. “That comes from technique. You don’t make him do more laps. You teach him to do it right, getting more glide out of every stroke, instead of fighting the resistance of the water. Proper technique makes you much faster than swimming more laps.”
Hunter Amos, who designed the “Team Amos” hats sponsorship made possible, accompanies her father in a kayak when he works on his swim in nearby Louisville lake. Her father has become a much stronger swimmer, but she still worries about 2,000 competitors all plunging into the Ohio River at the same time.
“People get knocked out all the time,” Hunter said. “I’ve read it on their Web site.”
Not to worry, Keith said.
“I’ll sort of stay to the side (at the start),” he said. “I won’t try to get in front of that.”
As Bell alluded to earlier, perhaps Amos’ biggest asset in approaching the Ironman is his mindset.
“Your mind will take you so much father than your body,” Keith said.
Brenda Amos has seen that approach first hand. She attempted the 5K run at Disney with her husband a year ago, with Hunter and her mother, Carole Prevett, joining in. The results were not encouraging.
“I said, ‘I think I’m going to be sick,’” Brenda said. “Keith said, ‘Oh, that’s normal. It’ll pass.’ I started out with my mother, and she beat me.”
The Louisville event, one of six Ironman sanctioned events in the U.S., qualifies the winner for the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii in October. Amos isn’t aiming that high his first time out, but Hunter is keeping her fingers crossed.
“Ooh, Hawaii,” she said. “Daddy, you better do good on this.”
Amos said he would like to thank the following sponsors who helped make his first attempt at the Ironman possible:
• Green Bank
• Joe Ingram
• Ken Bell, MD
• Eric Morgan, MD
• Joe Birdwell, DC
• Kwik Way Marts
• Cherokee Health and Fitness
• Joe Black, PT Appalachian Therapy
• Carole Prevett: Favorite Mother-in-Law