Researcher earns slot in ultimate triathlon

Gene Allwine, scientific assistant in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at WSU, has traveled to all but one state in the U.S. He will add the final state to his list on Saturday, Oct. 18, when he competes in the Superbowl of triathlons, the Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.

The race was conceived out of a debate in 1978 about whether swimmers, runners or other athletes were the fittest. Twenty-five years later it has become the most prestigious and respected competition of its kind in the world. The race consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike race around Kona and a 26.2-mile run.

“I love the competition, drive, endurance, push and accomplishment,” Allwine said.

In high school, he was active in cross-country, baseball and gymnastics before going to Centralia Community College. After earning a two-year degree in forest technology, Allwine went back to school and earned a bachelor’s in forestry at WSU and stayed to earn his master’s in environmental science.

The economy was slow, so he found a job working in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department.

“I’m still here. I can’t believe it.”

Allwine works with faculty Brian Lamb and Hal Westberg, two of the top researchers in their field, on grant research projects. Field operations have taken him to places such as Texas and Michigan researching atmospheric chemistry and air quality.

“I’ve been here since 1976 and have basically known Brian and Hal since then, and they are one of the reasons why I push myself the way I do,” Allwine said. “I can see through their work and goals what they have achieved at WSU.”

Back step forward
Allwine took a break from all his activities during college, but once the running craze took off, people in his department started running and got him into it again.

“I realized I wasn’t a bad runner,” he said. “I kept running in local races and it blossomed from there.”

Allwine started setting goals for himself. Marathon running became an interest, and he eventually qualified for the big race – the Boston Marathon, which he ran three times, the last in 1997.

By the time Allwine turned 40, he was setting new personal records — a pattern that became habit forming.

New discoveries
In the midst of entering marathons, Allwine decided to give triathlons a shot. He didn’t know what it would take to compete, but went for it anyway.

He began biking, which he enjoyed, but the swimming did not come naturally.

“I disliked it,” he said. “But I knew I had to do it.”

In 1997, Allwine competed in Ironman Canada, qualifying him for Ironman Hawaii. The month before the race, Allwine had a mishap on his bike, leaving him with a broken collarbone and forcing him to withdraw from that triathlon.

When this region’s 2003 Ironman USA competition moved from California to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Allwine couldn’t resist signing up.

Quest for Hawaii
On that particular summer day, temperatures ranged in the 90s as Allwine and more than 1,500 men and women took to the Coeur d’Alene terrain. He found himself in the middle of the pack as he came out of the water, but during the cycling he began passing other competitors.

“The run is the unknown portion of the competition,” he said. “You’re not sure where you’re at.” But Allwine was feeling good.

“I was making good time, going at a good pace and stopping at the water stations almost every mile,” he said.

“I was really pushing myself the whole way through,” he said. “It’s great; people are lining the streets 10 rows deep, cheering you on, and a ton of endorphins are running throughout your body.”

His determination paid off, as Allwine finished third in his age group and 44th overall, completing the race in 10 hours and 20 minutes.

Motivational tools
Keeping motivated has been difficult for Allwine.

Training for Coeur d’Alene was easier because there was a big group of people in the area that trained and worked out together, he said.

Now on his own, Allwine usually bicycles 300 miles, runs 30 to 40 miles and swims more than 4 1/2 miles each week.

Although Allwine says it’s a struggle to keep going, he is getting more excited as the race gets closer.

“This is a lot different than a regular ironman,” he said. “This is the big one. It’s fast, competitive and all the big boys will be there.”

But even with so many unknowns, Allwine is ready. “I’ve been ready to go for months.”

Allwine’s daughter, who attends Purdue University, will be in the crowd to cheer him on.

Future competition
What comes after the Hawaii Ironman? Allwine isn’t sure. “I’ve signed up for the Coeur d’Alene (Ironman) again,” he said. “The main reason being I would like to go under 10 hours.”

There is one thing Allwine does know. “I’ll keep doing it, if it’s still fun.”

You can follow Allwine’s progress in the Hawaii Ironman at beginning at 10 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time on Saturday, Oct. 18. In addition, the overall event is slated to be televised on ESPN.

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