Cody Ross and Chad Wood knew up front that the Ford Ironman Arizona would be a grueling race.
The first person to greet them at the finish line was a doctor who would either send them to the emergency room or let them visit with their wives, children and other supporters. They got to go visit their families, so they figure they did OK.
Ross finished the April 14 event in Tempe, Ariz., in 12 hours, 37 minutes, 27 seconds, and Wood finished in 16:08.26. It was the culmination of training that the two took on together four years ago when they entered a mountain bike and foot race in San Jose.
Both have come a long way since then, and have encouraged each other through sprint triathlons, Olympic triathlons and half-Ironman events. Well before last month’s race, they knew they were hooked on triathlon.
“Now I’m the triathlon pusher,” Ross said, adding that he has convinced other friends to enter and complete events. They formed a local team for the Arizona event, including Tim Crain and Andy Garrobo, with a motto of “It’s an Ironman. It’s going to hurt. Suck it up,” printed on their T-shirts.
Ross, 35, and Wood, 34, have known each other since they were in the Class of 1991 at Tracy High, but they didn’t become close friends until Ross convinced Wood to join him in the 2004 “Muddy Buddy” adventure race in San Jose.
“I didn’t know what to expect, and I wasn’t a runner,” Wood said. “We stopped at a Jack-in-the-Box on the way up. That’s how bad we were.”
It was Wood’s reintroduction to athletics after the local attorney, a former Bulldog wrestler, football player and baseball player, started to notice that he was getting out of shape.
Ross, a supervisor with the Manteca Parks and Recreation Department, got his introduction to endurance challenges in U.S. Marine Corps boot camp and sought a similar test.
He liked the idea of a triathlon, but he was reluctant to jump right into a full Ironman event, which is a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run. Then he found out about sprint triathlons, where the swim is a half-mile, the bike ride is 18 miles and the run is three miles.
Once Ross and Wood became triathlon buddies, they started to increase their distances with every race.
Last year it was The Big Kahuna half-Ironman triathlon in Santa Cruz. Before that, they knew they would do the Arizona event. Race registration fills up early, and signups for the next year begin as soon as the race ends.
They had only a general idea of what they were in for. This year’s event was characterized by blazing Southwest heat and wind, which took a toll during the bicycle stage. The race started with 2,027 entrants and finished with 1,689 still standing.
The winner, Jozsef Major of Hungary, finished with a time of 8:34.19. The last person to cross the finish line came in after nearly 17 hours.
Ross said that the quest to explore the limits of physical endurance is just the first part of a triathlon.
“Your training can’t prepare you for it. It’s a mental thing,” he said, adding that he expected the commitment he made to finish would carry him through.
“I wanted it for so long. My family was there. My friends were there. Nothing was going to stop me, and that’s the attitude I kept during the whole race.
“Everybody’s in the same conditions. Every single person on that course had the same wind. Everybody is running in 97-degree temperature.”
Wood said he also started with the commitment to meet his goal, and he knew he had found a pace that he could maintain once he completed the swim and got onto the bicycle for the second stage.
“I knew once I got to the run that I was going to get it done,” he said, adding that he didn’t know how he would answer to his friends, family and training partner if he didn’t finish.
“To fail to accomplish a goal would be unacceptable,” he said.
At the end, Ross felt like he had a perfect event, finishing 2½ hours faster than he expected. Wood said he had to work through leg cramps and blisters.
“I’d never seen such a thing before, but I had blisters on blisters,” he said.
But Wood also relied on small goals throughout the race to pull him through.
“You make up goals as you go along,” he said. “If I can make it up this hill, I can walk down it.”
• To reach Sports Editor Bob Brownne, call 830-4227 or e-mail email@example.com.