Soldier Trains in Afghanistan for Ironman

Fort BRAGG, N.C. - After redeploying from Afghanistan, one 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade Soldier just needed to unwind -- so he travelled to a tropical island where he could enjoy swimming in the ocean, riding his bike in the soft sea breeze and running with fellow island goers.

Of course, Indianapolis native, 1st Lt. Michael Spears Jr., an aviation officer with the 3rd Battalion, 82nd CAB, sure seemed in a hurry when he was doing all of that unwinding.

Spears competed in the Ironman World Championships, including a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run, in Kailua Kona, Hawaii, Oct. 13.

The aviator completed the race in 11 hours and 55 minutes. This was his second try at the Ironman distance.

A 2010 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, Spears was a member of the West Point Triathlon Team, where he competed at the Olympic distance. The Olympic distance consists of a 0.93 mile swim, 25 mile bike and 6.2 mile run.

Spears qualified for the race at the Panama City Beach, Fla., Ironman on Nov. 3, 2011. Even though his goal for this first attempt at the Ironman distance race was just to finish, Spears completed it in 10 hours, 31 minutes, and 43 seconds, which was enough to earn him second place in his age category and a bid in the World Championship race in Hawaii.

Shortly after his qualifying finish, Spears reported to the 82nd CAB and deployed to Afghanistan in March. In the austere environment, running was the only event that Spears could actually replicate. He ran countless laps on an eight-mile loop through his base. To keep in shape for swimming, he completed pull-ups and worked out on a rowing machine.

Biking was done on a stationary spin bike, once for five-and-a-half hours continuously. Spears credits the help of veteran triathletes and co-workers Captains Christine and Dave Krueger to keep him motivated during his training. "It was nice to not sound as crazy talking about long workouts because they understood that a five-and-a-half hour training ride is really not that much when you are training for an Ironman," said Spears.

He found the right mix of fitness level, hydration, electrolytes and calories to carry him through the race. "I felt so good the whole time, and I was just happy to be doing it," Spears said.

During the swim portion of the race, Spears was captivated by the beautiful blue water. "You can see all the way down to the coral and fish at the bottom," he said.

The bike leg of the race was next and Spears had splurged on a brand new bike after his deployment. "I had only ridden it literally four miles before the race, from the hotel to the start point," he said. The crosswind on the bike leg was so bad that it felt almost dangerous to Spears to go into the aero position. He said, "All I wanted to do was get off of the bike."

The run was Spears' favorite leg. "I was just so happy to be running because you can talk to people a little bit more than when you are on the bike where everyone is just so serious," said Spears.

He made a few friends along the run and together they decided they may be able to make it to the finish line by sundown. Even though they didn't, they all finished in less than 12 hours.

As Spears approached the finish line, he heard his name followed by "United States Army," a reference to his uniform choice and the profession listed on his registration. He says he is proud to promote his chosen profession and show how well-rounded service members can be.

To celebrate, Spears' family and friends joined him for a big meal. The next day they rented kayaks and went snorkeling.

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