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LONG DISTANCE LOVE AFFAIR Wisniewski, Newman prepare to return to the Lake Placid Ironman Triathlon

As Scott Newman approached mile 13 of the 112-mile bike portion of the 2006 Ironman Triathlon in Lake Placid, he wondered where his girlfriend, Rachel Wisniewski, might be in the pack of bikers behind him. If he looked he never would have found her. She was in front of him. "I look ahead of me, and it's her, and I'm like, 'Son of a gun!'" Newman said. "From then on she was the enemy. I love my girlfriend being an athlete, but I don't want her to be better than me."

The 43-year-old Newman, a pressroom supervisor at The Buffalo News, was not just concerned with his masculinity being threatened, even though last year was his fourth Ironman competition and Wisniewski's first. He admitted initially to worrying about whether the 25-year-old Wisniewski would even make it through parts of the race - namely, the 2.4-mile swim - that have been known to freak out even professionals.

Last year, Newman completed the course in just over 12 hours and 12 minutes, nearly an hour and a half before Wisniewski's 13:41:26 finish. Newman caught and passed his girlfriend in the bike ride and extended his lead during the marathon run.

Both will compete again in the Lake Placid Ironman Triathlon on July 22.

The Ironman competition consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run, all to be finished in a 17-hour span. In 2006, 2,160 athletes completed the course, and the winner finished the 140.6-mile trek in 8:38:18.

Wisniewski's dad, Gary, ran part of the marathon alongside her as a supportive spectator in 2006. He remembered her grumbling, "I'll never do this again."

Less than 24 hours later, Gary received a text message from Rachel, reading she put down the $500 payment for Round Two.

"The day after, you're sore, you're beat up, you're just thankful you crossed the finish line," Wisniewski said. "But you're crazy enough to sign up and do it all over again next summer."

>A natural athlete

Most impressive to family members and Newman is the grace with which Wisniewski completed her first Ironman. Her experience in extreme competition had been limited to local triathlons. She grew up an athlete, competitive in cheerleading all through high school and college, and participated in softball and volleyball recreational leagues.

She got ahead of Newman by making a quicker transition from the water to the bicycle, something she figured could take between eight and 12 minutes.

"When I got out of the water she was an arms-length behind me, and she called out my name, and I just couldn't believe it," Newman said. "She scooted through transition crazy fast, and that's how she got in front of me."

Wisniewski, who earned a degree in kinesiology from Cortland State, works part-time as an instructor at Planet Fitness, formerly the World Gym, in Hamburg, in addition to working as an administrative assistant for Pyramid Brokerage Company.

In 2004, Wisniewski and her dad competed in the local triathlon, the Tri in the Buff, laughing and taking pictures of each other during the transition stages and getting yelled at for biking sideby- side instead of single file. The distances for each leg of the triathlon in 2004 were fractions of the Ironman: a 750-meter swim, a 20-kilometer bike ride and a 5-kilometer run.

Wisniewski hopes to drop 45 minutes to an hour off her time in this year's event, working toward achieving that by improving her run time - her weakest event. She won't gain the time in the swim, noting "you're in the middle of all of it unless you're a really good swimmer," and that "the current kind of pulls you." She said she finished in the top five in her age group in the bike part.

When Wisniewski is in intense-training mode she treats it like a second job. She found it hardest to turn down family members' invitations to spend time with them when she knew she should be in training.

"They'd say, 'Oh you can't just give up one day? Come on, come to lunch with us, come out this night,' but after work, and every opportunity I had, it was go for the bike ride, go for the run, like a religion," she said. "There's a group of riders that ride every Tuesday [which includes Newman], and I was the only girl that rode along with these guys, but I could keep up so they would wait for me. Sometimes we'd be gone for like four hours, and bike up to 50 miles."

>A healthy competition

Newman and Wisniewski run together most weeknights when she arrives home from work around 6 p.m. Wisniewski also continues to run in local races, often accompanied by Newman, and has already participated in this year's Shoes for Shelter, the Tri in the Buff and the Nissan Buffalo Half-Marathon.

"We encourage each other - more or less," Wisniewski said. "But this season I had a couple more runs than he did, and when we did go out on our own course together we were at the same pace, and he didn't like it."

Newman is glad his training buddy is back for this summer - sort of.

"At first it was cool, but now she's getting to be my competitor," Newman said.

Before Wisniewski had ever even heard of Ironman, Newman had already completed two. She accompanied him to Lake Placid in 2005 as a spectator and became enraptured with the atmosphere of the Olympic city.

"At the end of the night he was like, 'You in?' " Wisniewski said. "And I said, 'I'm in, sign me up.' "

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