• Rachel Lout

This is my fourth feature in my portrait series 100 Years Strong. Commemorating the 100 year anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, this series of portraits is a celebration of strength, victory and beauty featuring fierce, fearless women in Deep East Texas.

Swim 2.4 miles. Bike 112 miles. Run 26.2 miles. All. In. One. Race.

An Ironman race is to most of us would seem nearly impossible! In case you’re not familiar with it, an Ironman Triathlon is a single-day endurance event that consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.22-mile marathon run, raced in that order. It is widely considered to be one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world. There is a usually a time limit of 16 to 17 hours to complete the race.

Despite how formidable this even would be to many of us, thousands of men and women around the world are taking on this challenge in growing numbers every year. This brutal race is a test of both physical and mental strength. More women than ever before are diving into this historically male-dominated sport. Over the year’s female registrations have increased dramatically and now almost 40% of participants are female.

Elizabeth is one of those women tackling this event. You might be surprised to learn that she didn’t begin training and competing until she was 40 years old. She says that she figures the big 4-0 was a great time because her kids were older and her job wasn't as demanding. She is now 45 years old with 2 kids, a son age 19 and a daughter age 17. Through competing in triathlon's she discovered that limitations are just something that you set for yourself and describes this sport as a truly life-changing experience.

Do you have a favorite quote or motto? Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me.”

“You can keep going and your legs might hurt for a week or you can quit and your mind will hurt for a lifetime”. Mark Allen, 6x Ironman World Champion

Tell me how you got started in cycling and triathlons.

It was probably 2011 when I had a group of girlfriends who got together on Mountain bikes and started riding. I’ll never forget riding 8 whole miles and feeling like I had conquered the world! I also had a persistent neighbor who never gave up on getting me to start running. I tried and quit so many times, but finally she convinced me to do a 5k and I was hooked. Swimming took a little longer to grasp. I thought I “KNEW” how to swim, but I really didn’t. AT ALL. I finally drank the Kool-Aid in 2015 and signed up and completed my first triathlon and was hooked from then on. I have now completed 10-12 sprint distance triathlons, 11 Half Ironman races, and one full Ironman, multiple 5k, 10k, half marathons and one stand alone full. I am competing in the MidSouth Double (a 50 k –31 mi run), and 105-mile gravel bike race out in Stillwater, Ok on March 13-14.

What’s it like to compete in a full Ironman? If you’ve put in the time to train for one to the best of your ability, its just a really long training day with benefits of free pizza and a medal at the end of that day. The training for me took about 10 months, slowly building up my mileage and distance in the swim/bike/run portions. I completed 2 half Ironman races for part of the training. Race morning for my full, Nov 2017, was a mixture of nerves and just being ready to do the deed. My morning started about 4 am with my first breakfast, 6:30 am my second breakfast as I lined up for the swim start. The swim took about an hour and 31 minutes. I was kicked in the face twice, the second time knocked my goggles off and bloodied my nose. Once I made it out of the washing machine of a swim, it was time to complete the 112 miles on a 3 loop course. I rode my prescribed zone 2 ride, being careful not to wreck. Mile 40, a lady stopped directly in front of me in the aid station to grab a drink and I ran into her back wheel and fell. Got some road rash on my fingers, but got up and kept going. The ride took a little over 6 hours to complete and I averaged 18.2 mph. The run was interesting because I was injured on my ankle going into the run. The first 7 miles went wonderful and then my gut started acting up. From then on it was a run/walk/shuffle to the next port-o- can for the rest of the 26.2 mi marathon. I finished that marathon in 6:05. Not fast, but after a 1.2 mi swim and 112 mi on the bike, I was HAPPY to finish. The finish line of an Ironman is like no other. So much energy and crowd cheering. I gave lots of high 5’s, and crossed that finish line in 14:13:08. About 2 hours later than what I had predicted for myself.

Many people only think about the physical aspect of competing in an extreme event, but don’t take into account the mental part. Which is the more difficult aspect of preparing for the competition, the physical or the mental? Or are they equal in difficulty? For me the mental aspect is much more difficult. My inner demons inside of my brain told me no for so long, and that I wasn’t good enough, thin enough, or trained enough to compete. Once I finally said NO to those inner voices, my life was a lot easier. In training, there were lots of “I cant’s”, lots of tears shed, and a lot of self-doubt took place. Through the MANY months of training, I was able to block out those voices, and zero in on one thing, “FINISH, NO MATTER WHAT”. I had 3 of my worst races to date this last year, when I “thought” I was at my peak. The self-doubt tried creeping in a few times, but I focused on the end of the race. Just finish and DON’T QUIT.

Which part of a triathlon is your strongest? Your weakest? Why? Strongest, cycling for sure. For example, May 2019 in Florida, came in at the bottom of my age group barely making the swim cutoff (panic attack and lots of praying in super rough conditions), to coming in 8th on the bike in my age group.

Weakest, the run. I seem to always have a running injury of some sort. I’ve basically walked the run portion of the last 3 half Ironman's I’ve participated in. Florida, Boulder, and Waco.

Preparation is obviously the key to success. What is your training regimen? Swim 2 days a week (drills, intervals, or long swim); bike 3 days a week (1.5 hours 2x with interval/tempo stuff, then a long ride on weekend); run 3x a week (shorter runs during week with intervals/tempo run, long run on weekend.) Also strength train 2x a week, and bricks are important. Ride and then run 15 min or so immediately off the bike. (Legs feel like bricks!) Nutrition is key too Practicing water/salt intake, nutrition intake is essential, so is eating clean and healthy 2 days out from longer training sessions.

How do you find a balance between your races and “real” life, that is raising a family, a career, etc?

Meal prep ahead of time for training & for family. Train while family is at work/school. Prep bike/gear/bottles/nutrition for long rides/runs night before where all you do the morning of is grab and go.

Are there times when you think “Why am I doing this?” YEP, every single race when I’m completely exhausted and ready to quit! Also on long training days that didn’t go as planned. Also, when a family member is sick and I still have to train.

Give us a bit of insight as to what goes on inside your head during a competition and how you keep yourself going. I go into race mode. Get real quiet and don’t to any mindless chatting with folks. I like to be alone and focus on my goals for each race. To keep going when I’m depleted and exhausted, I think of my WHY, and how others are watching me finish even in not so ideal conditions. I think of how I might touch a life or encourage someone struggling to find their purpose. I keep going for those who can’t.

What has been your favorite race? And why? Texas 70.3—Galveston. Raced it 4x. Every year it’s a mystery what the weather will be like—one year blazing hot, another year windy, another year got hypothermia on the bike, and last year got pulled RIGHT AT THE FINISH line with torrential down pour/high winds and hurricane like conditions. I was able to cross the finish and get an official finish time…my fastest 70.3 to date. 5:55! Also, the course is great, lots of places for the crowd to see you on the bike and run.

How has your involvement in this sport affected the way you live the rest of your life? Coming from being pretty sedentary before triathlon, to becoming an athlete was life changing. It taught me discipline, perseverance, and that I can do almost anything I put my mind to.

How long do you see yourself competing? Do they have competition in nursing homes????

Do you have any advice someone just starting out? Make a goal for yourself with something tangible such as “I want to run a 5k” or “ I want to do a sprint triathlon”.  Find a local one and sign up!! There are training apps and local swimming/biking/running communities in most towns that would love to welcome a new person to the group. If group training isn’t your thing, find a run buddy or a bike buddy and start logging some miles!

I am looking for more fierce, fearless women to participate in this portrait study. If you or someone you know would be interested in sharing your story, please contact me. You can learn more about my project here - https://www.rachelloutportraits.com/19thamendment

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This is my third feature in my portrait series 100 Years Strong. Commemorating the 100 year anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, this series of portraits is a celebration of strength, victory and beauty featuring fierce, fearless women in Deep East Texas.

Legend has it that the first marathon happened when the solider Pheidppides ran from near Marathon, Greece to Athens in 490 B.C. He ran approximately 25 miles to announce the defeat of the Persians to the citizens of Athens. He was able to deliver the message, but he died right after.

In 1896 the first Olympic Marathon was held in Athens, Greece. Throughout the first few Olympic Games, the official marathon distance was close to original 24.85 miles. But then in 1908, during the London Olympics, the course ran from Windsor Castle to White City Stadium - a distance of 26 miles. The decision was made to allow runners to pass the royal family's box inside the stadium which was an additional 385 yards. This became the first race with the uneven 26.2 mile distance. 13 years later this mileage became the official marathon distance. In 1926, Violet Percy became the first woman to be officially timed in a British race with a finish time of 3:40:22 in London. This time stood as the official world record for 37 years, largely due to the lack of women's marathon competition.

By the 1960's, the Olympic Marathon had come a long way from the dusty roads of Athens. Yet women were still not allowed to compete and they were still taught that running was a sport for men. It did not stop women from running however. In 1966, Roberta Gibb entered the race, only to receive the return of her race entry along with a note saying that women were not physically capable of running. Roberta did not let this stop her. She hid behind a bush and slipped into the race finishing with an unofficial time of 3:21:25. She is the first woman known to have completed the grueling Boston course.

"I wanted to show that women could run, but I also wanted to kind of inspire the idea that ordinary people can run. I was like, boy, I feel so good when I run, if everybody could feel like this, this sense of joy and physical well-being and strength and autonomy you have when you run, how much better the world would be, you know? - Roberta "Bobbi" Gibb

In 1967 Katherine Switzer became the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon. She defied the rules of the Boston Athletic Association and registered under the name K.V. Switzer because women were not allowed to compete. When the race office attempted to pull her off the course mid-race, he was body blocked by Switzer's boyfriend. Switzer finished the race in 4:20 and was subsequently banned from the Amateur Athletic Union.

In 1984, at the Los Angeles Olympic, the inaugural women's marathon took place. Joan Benoit Samuelson claimed the gold medal in an extraordinary fashion, breaking away from the chase pack just over 4 miles into the 26.2 mile race. When Joanie swept across the finish line alone, and in first place, distance running for American women was never the same.

Today, women, like my friend, Krystal, reap the benefits of women like Bobbi, Joanie and Katherine Switzer. Every run she completes is a celebration of these women and their progress for the sport of distance running.

Krystal is 36 years old and she has been running since 2012. She's a wife, mother of three, a successful lawyer, and podcaster. She is an adoptive mother and strong advocate for foster and adoption. She is active in her community and most recently she is the host of "In a Skirt" . "In a Skirt" is a podcast that celebrates the unconventional athlete. Every week she interviews a different athlete, coach, race director, entrepreneur, or other individual who is making running and sports open and accessible to everyone, regardless of religion, dress, income, or anything that sets someone apart from the traditional athlete. Krystal is Pentecostal and states that sometimes she dresses in a way that makes her stick out in a crowd....particularly in a crowd of runners. She says that for years she refused to sign up for races because in her longish skirt, she didn't look like the conventional runner. However, Krystal found when she faced her fears and showed up to a race, that runners did not care what she looked like or what she was wearing. They simply loved other runners.

Krystal says that she does not consider herself an athletic person, but she found that the more she ran the stronger her legs and lungs got. And then somewhere along the way she fell in love with running.

Do you have a favorite motivational quote? You didn't come this far to only come this far. (I don't know who first said it.)

How long have you been running?  Seven years

What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about running? Specifically running long distances?

There's this feeling you get when you've completed a goal and when you've pushed yourself harder and farther than you once thought possible. I can't explain it, but completing a physically difficult journey makes you feel like you can do anything.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about the sport or runners in general? The biggest misconception is that you have to be fast or that you have to run the entire distance without stopping or taking walk breaks! I hear so many people say, "I can't be a runner because I'm not fast" or "because I have to stop and walk sometimes." No one cares how fast you are and no one cares if you walk sometimes!

What in the world motivates a person to run long distance? The motivation is in pushing limits and finding out what you have hidden deep down inside. How far can I go? What am I capable of? How strong am I? Once I ran a half marathon, I was hooked and couldn't help but wonder what I could do next.

Describe the training process for a marathon. How did you prepare–both mentally and physically? The physical training is a lot easier than the mental training. There are a lot of good coaches out there and training plans. I hired a coach for my first marathon and we found out what worked for me, such as how may days a week of running my body could handle, what kind of strength training I needed, whether I should cross train, etc. Mentally, you have to find what games, tricks, and mantras work for your mind. At the end of the day, it's like that saying, "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time." You run a marathon one mile at a time and you prepare your body and mind to conquer just one mile at a time.

What kinds of things do you think about as you run? If I'm running alone, I pray, plan my day, think about what I'm going to cook for dinner, and things like that. If it's a hard run, I play tricks with my mind. I find a tree or a stop sign and tell myself just to make it to that point. Once I'm there, I find another point and try to make it there...and so on. If I'm with a friend, we talk about our families, our jobs, anything that's troubling us and we usually end up encouraging each other...it's like therapy. Day of the big race…how are you feeling? Are you performing any superstitious rituals (like wearing the same unwashed socks you trained in for months)? I always feel a little anxious. I remind myself that I've done the work and I'm ready for this. I get dressed in the socks, shoes, and clothes that I felt comfortable wearing during my long runs leading up to the race. Then I eat a "safe" breakfast--something that my stomach can handle and won't make me sick. Long-distance running is known for playing tricks on your stomach while you're running and most runners are trying to make sure their stomachs are OK before they get to the start line.

What has been your favorite race?  And why? My first race, the Bruckelaufe in Frankenmuth, Michigan. This was my first race ever. It was a half marathon and I loved it. The course was beautiful, but it was the feeling of accomplishment when I crossed the finish line that I will never forget. Please share your best running moment.  Finding my "people." Running has brought me amazing friendships and has helped me find an accepting and encouraging community. What has running taught you about pushing your limits, either physically or mentally?  It has taught me that I am--and you are--so much stronger than you think you are. We are capable of so much more than we imagined. Our bodies and minds are amazing and strong and can exceed our own expectations. How do you find a balance between your running marathons and “real” life? The two things that give me what I need to carry on my "real" life are running and prayer. They strengthen me, give me clarity, and make me ready to face the day. How has your involvement in running affected the way you live the rest of your life? I no longer automatically assume that I can't do something. I've changed the way I think from, "I could never do that," to, "with time and hard work I could do that." What advice do you have for people who want to start running but think they are not athletic enough? Find a friend who will run or walk with you and hold you accountable and start out with a program like the Couch to 5K or None to Run. These are run/walk programs that slowly build your endurance. And don't be afraid to join a group or sign up for a 5K. I don't think you'll find a community that is more welcoming than the running community.

I am looking for more fierce, fearless women to participate in this portrait study. If you or someone you know would be interested in sharing your story, please contact me. You can learn more about my project here - https://www.rachelloutportraits.com/19thamendment

View others in this series here. https://www.rachelloutportraits.com/100-years-strong

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  • Rachel Lout

This is my second feature in my portrait series 100 Years Strong. Commemorating the 100 year anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, this series of portraits is a celebration of strength, victory and beauty featuring fierce, fearless women in Deep East Texas. #100YEARSSTRONG

Across East Texas, Friday night lights and the boys of fall still reign supreme. In a world where girls are told they can do anything and be anything, football remains a male-dominated sport, from the pee-wee leagues all the way to the NFL. If a girl wants to play football, she has to go out for the boys' team. While there's not guarantee that she'll make the team, Title IX guarantees that every sport offered to only boys has to allow girls a fair shot at at tryouts.

Title IX was established in 1972 to provide everyone with equal access to any program or activity that receives Federal financial assistance, including sports. This means that federally funded institutions, such as public schools, are legally required to provide girls and boys with equitable sports opportunities. Title IX states that, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

The National Federation of State High School Associates (NFHS) publishes an annual survey about participation in high school sports. According to their data, more girls are playing on boys football teams than ever before. For the 2018-2019 school year 2,404 girls played 11-man tackle football on boys teams at the high school level. That’s more than has ever been recorded in the NFHSA’s history. A little over one million high school students played 11-man football in the 2018-2019 level, so girls only made up 0.2% of participants. Girls played at 1,918 different schools, which means that they also usually played as the only girl on the field.

Given how few girls play football, I was excited to meet Heaven Cain to photograph her for my series.

Heaven is a 13-year-old seventh grader currently attending Hubbard Middle School in Tyler, TX where she plays for the Huskies football team. Heaven told me that about 3 years ago she became obsessed with football and when the opportunity arose to try out for the team in 7th grade she took it. She told me she is first girl to play on her school's football team; others have started out but they only made it through a couple of practices. This fall she has been playing defense as a starting inside linebacker and offense as a 2nd string running back.

Here's a little more about Heaven and what playing football has been like for her.

Do you have a favorite motivational quote? I don't know about a quote, but a verse that motivates me is Philippians 4:13- I can do all things through him who gives me strength.

Why football? I don’t know the exact reason I just really like it, but one of the reasons is because I just want to prove the strength of women and show that we can do anything if we set our minds to it

Do you play any other sports? No, I do not play any other sports

When did you start playing football? This is the first time ever playing on a real team.

What did your friends and family think? They were VERY supportive!

Was there any push-back or obstacles to getting on the team? No it was as easy as can be!

Are you worried about getting injured? A little but I know how to keep myself safe and protected.

Please share your best moment from playing this season. My first touchdown, I would say it felt like a movie scene, unreal, it felt like I had just had the best dream of my life and I was about to wake up. My first touchdown made me feel like I was actually a part of the team, it made me feel like I fit in and that for one moment I wasn’t a girl on the football team that I was just like the guys. It was a very special moment for me!

What has football taught you about pushing your limits, either physically or mentally? It has taught me so much mentally and physically, I have grown so much and have learned to push my limits even when I feel like I can’t.

Who are your role models and why? I would have to say my step dad Ben because he does so much for me and pushes himself past his limits 24/7 for me and without him I wouldn’t know anything about football!

What advice do you have for other girls who want to play football? Work hard and be brave and like I said push yourself past your limits because you never know how far y’all go!

I am looking for more fierce, fearless women to participate in this portrait study. If you or someone you know would be interested in sharing your story, please contact me. You can learn more about my project here - https://www.rachelloutportraits.com/19thamendment

View others in this series here. https://www.rachelloutportraits.com/100-years-strong

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Rachel Lout Portraits, Nacogdoches, Texas

© 2018 by  Rachel Lout Portraits.