Todd Poer woke up at 3 a.m. and drove from his home in Payson to Willow Springs Lake.
He put on his wetsuit and swam more than two miles before returning home and making it to his job as director of maintenance and transportation for the Payson Unified School District.
He did this several times a week. Todd Poer, 51, his wife, Kim, 46, and friends Kenny Boyes, 51, his wife, Cindy Boyes, 49, and Carolyn Fruth, 49, have been training together for endurance events for the past couple of years. And none is more grueling than the 140.6-mile Arizona Ironman, which took place Nov. 17 in Tempe.
“It took about a year of our lives to train for this,” Todd Poer said. “You wouldn’t believe what we had to do.”
Kenny Boyes figures they spent 15 to 20 hours per week training for the event — which consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a full 26.2-mile marathon run — putting in more time as the date of the Ironman neared.
“Kenny and I would get up and run in the dark like 15 miles before we even went to work,” Todd Poer said. “We got up to like 22 hours per week of training to be able to do something like this.”
Each part of the race is demanding, but Kenny said the swim is an experience like no other.
“For me, the running is the toughest part, but they’re all long distances,” he said. “With 3,000 people, the swim is kind of like being in a boxing match in a washing machine at the same time. It’s pretty wild. During the whole swim you can have people swimming up your back, kicking you and hitting you in the head.”
“That swim was brutal,” he said. “It was like I was in survival mode. Almost 3,000 people start off at the same time together and you get kicked, you get punched. It’s brutal. For 2.4 miles you’re getting beat up the whole way.”
And that’s just the start. There’s still 112 miles on a bike and a marathon after that.
But it’s so rewarding to finish such a challenging race. Competitors have 17 hours to finish.
“To come across that finish line and hear, ‘Todd Poer, you are an Ironman,’ I can’t even put it into words,” Todd said. “It was the greatest feeling. I learned through this whole experience that this was like a year of having a vision, setting goals, being disciplined and having determination.”
Fruth and Kenny Boyes have been friends since they were classmates at Payson High School. They also competed in the 2010 Arizona Ironman. Fruth, a front office assistant at Payson Dental Care, was looking to improve her time from the event three years ago. And she cut an hour and seven minutes off her 2010 time, finishing 20th in her age group (45-49 women) in 12 hours and 18 minutes.
“I wanted to see if I could improve my time,” she said. “I’m very happy about it. I was actually trying to beat 13 hours and when I saw my time I was very pleased.”
Fruth has been running since her high school days. “I’ve run in five marathons,” she said. “I’ve run Boston and several others. That was my sport until I was introduced to triathlons.”
She said training for the event takes a lot of commitment, so just finishing the race is rewarding.
“I do get pretty competitive when I get into it and I just want to better myself,” she said. “It’s a pretty huge commitment. And it’s just a huge feeling of accomplishment.”
She and her husband, Tim, have been married for 29 years. They have two daughters.
Fruth said having a group of five training together for this event helped all of them.
“The first time I did the Ironman in 2010 there was only two of us,” she said. “It is more helpful to have a bigger support group.”
Severe asthma prevented Todd Poer from much activity as a child. He says he couldn’t even play with friends. But when he was 15 his mother took him to a prayer meeting, where a “miracle” occurred.
“Why this is so important to me is I lost my whole childhood to sickness,” he said. “I was never able to run because I was a severe asthmatic. I tried to go out for sports my entire childhood. I couldn’t even play with the other kids, I couldn’t do the things other kids did because I couldn’t breathe.
“But I had a miracle that took place. My mom took me to prayer meeting when I was 15 years old. I got prayed for and the moment I was prayed for it was like someone took over breathing for me. So that’s what I do what I do now, running, because I couldn’t do it as a child. I’m a miracle.”
He said it was the joy their daughter, Amanda, had at finishing a sprint race consisting of an 800-yard swim, 12-mile bike and 3.1-mile run in Sierra Vista a couple of years ago that really motivated him and his wife to start training for the Ironman race.
“When I saw the look of euphoria on her face when she came across the finish line, right then I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” he said.
“The night before the Ironman, my daughter said, ‘Dad, go race for that little boy.’ I said, ‘What little boy?’ And she said, ‘Dad, that little boy who lost his entire childhood to sickness.’”
Cindy and Kenny Boyes have four children and four grandchildren.
Cindy, who is a scan clerk at Bashas’, said it was her husband who got her interested in competing in these endurance events.
“I’ve never been an athlete before,” she said. “I started running and doing triathlons in 2008.”
She accomplished her goal in her first Ironman. Like the others, she had competed in several shorter races, such as sprint triathlons (0.47-mile swim, 20.4-mile bike, 3.1-mile run), Olympic triathlons (0.93-mile swim, 24.8-mile bike, 6.2-mile run) and half-ironmans (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run).
“My goal was to finish, that’s all, to finish,” she said. “My time was 14 hours and 36 minutes. I was anticipating 15 hours. So I did better than I anticipated.”
She said training together has strengthened the friendship between the five.
“The best thing I can tell you is how great our friendship has become,” Cindy Boyes said. “All five of us train together. We load up the bikes on weekends and go to Flagstaff or down the Beeline and ride.”
Kenny Boyes, who said he’s lost about 40 pounds since he saw an ad for a sprint triathlon in Malibu, Calif. eight years ago and signed up and started training, finished the 2010 Ironman in 12 hours, 10 minutes and 45 seconds. He crossed in 14 hours, 12 minutes and 45 seconds this time.
“My goal was to do better than the last time, which I did not do,” he said. “The way I guess I should look at it is I finished, so I should be happy with that because several do not finish. I’m glad I finished.”
He said he’s thrilled that his wife was also able to finish.
“It was a great experience,” Kenny said. “I’m just super proud of my wife because the first year she was never going to do a triathlon then did the one. And she was never going to do an Ironman and then she finished an Ironman. So she did a great job.”
Todd Poer finished in 12 hours, five minutes and 35 seconds, to place 70th in his age group. “My goal was to finish between 12 and 13 hours,” he said. “So I actually did better than I hoped.”
Kim Poer finished in 13 hours, 59 minutes and 5 seconds, 71st in her age group.