Swim, Bike, Run: Portrait of a Triathlon Athlete
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