Over the next three weeks, I’d like to share my Ironman Story with you. This week, I’ll fill you in on how I got into the world of triathlons and what made me sign up for an Ironman. Next week, I’ll share what it takes to be an Ironman, and finally my top Ironman moments…. I hope you enjoy!
PART 1: Why Ironman?
For those of you who are new to the sport, an Ironman Triathlon is one of a series of long-distance triathlon races organized by the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC), consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a marathon 26.2-mile run, raced in that order and without a break. It is widely considered one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world. Ironman started in 1978 and since then, has come a very long way. What started as an idea on the back of a napkin is now calling to thousands.
I had started to learn about Ironman a few years ago when I entered the world of triathlon racing. Having had no experience swimming and limited experience biking, the Ironman was so far off my radar that I had no idea what it was or even entailed.
It wasn’t until 2015, when I signed up for my first sprint triathlon as a way to not only force myself to learn how to swim, but also, it was something fun and active that my husband and I could do together. After completing my first race (NJ State sprint- 500m swim, 11.5 mile bike and a 5k run), I vowed never do one again, I hated it so much. I got swam on top of and nearly drowned, I doggie paddled throughout the entire swim (taking over 30 min. to complete 500 meters, which I can swim now in 8 min.), fell off my bike and tore open my knee, and hobbled my way across the finish line. When I crossed the finish line, I cried. Now, these were not tears of joy but rather of pain and frustration. I couldn’t believe people actually enjoyed doing this sport.
The following year, I watched my husband compete in a few races as I cheered him on, happy to be on the other side of things. Then in 2017, I decided to give triathlons another try. In my yoga classes, I always talk about stepping outside your comfort zone, facing your fears, and never giving up. So after some internal debate, I decided that triathlons weren’t going to get the best of me. I was going to face my fears and prove to myself that I could succeed and get better at this sport. I was prepared to work my butt off until I gained the confidence and skills I needed to complete a successful race.
Now at this point, I had only completed 1 sprint triathlon, but decided to up the ante and register for Ironman 70.3 Atlantic City anyway (figured I’d go big or go home). Now to prepare for a race of this distance, I knew I had a lot of training ahead of me. With no real direction as to what to do, I downloaded a bunch of 70.3 training plans and made up my own; picking and choosing what I thought was a good fit for my schedule and had enough volume that I felt like I could finish the race.
To start, I joined a masters swim program at a local pool in Princeton, swimming 5 days a week, rode on my road bike 3 days a week, and ran 4-5 days a week. However, I new this wouldn’t be enough. I was terrified of open water swimming. I went a few times to some local open water swims in my area and did ok, but this didn’t totally help prepare me to swim in a race when your adrenaline is pumping and you have hundreds of people around you… so what did I do? I registered myself for 8 sprint races and 2 olympic distance races that summer, basically racing every weekend). No better way to train yourself how to handle open water racing than to throw yourself right into it. Now the first few races I still panicked, but towards the end of the summer I was actually swimming and placing in my age group!! The races helped me get over my fears and taught me how to remain calm and in control when someone hit, kicked, or swam over me. By the end of the summer, I was feeling so confident in my skills and was proud of how far I had come, that I knew I needed to keep going and to do more. So prior to even completing in AC 70.3, I had decided to sign up for a full Ironman. Always down for a challenge and a way to get better and stronger, I knew I just had to do it. I wanted to see what my body was capable of. In such a short time if I could go from being afraid to put my face in the water to swimming over a mile, I knew I could do anything. Less than 1% of the population complete an Ironman and I wanted to be one of those people. My husband (and prob the rest of the world) thought I was nuts. I hadn’t even completed a 70.3 race yet, what if I hated it. Why sign up for a full? I said that even if I hated it (which I doubt I would) I would do it anyway because completing an Ironman quickly catapulted to the top of my bucket list
When I have an idea or want something, there is nothing getting in my way, and I wanted to be an Ironman! After AC 70.3 I was hooked on triathlon racing. I was anxiously awaiting to start training for my next goal, completing Ironman Lake Placid. I knew I needed some help and expertise to really go the distance and get the most out of my race, rather than piecing a plan together like I did for AC. This was something I didn’t want to wing and I knew it would require hours of work each week for my body to get there.
Training for an Ironman takes lots of time, sacrifice, and dedication. I had interviewed several coaches before deciding to hire, Chris Draper of dt+n. Immediately when I met him, I knew that he was the right person for the job. Chris is incredibly smart and talented. He’s honest, real, and straight forward. While he can be a hard ass at times, he is also incredibly attentive, supportive, and encouraging. Chris developed appropriate and well balanced workouts to develop my strength and my skills across all three areas. Training wasn’t always roses and butterflies. It was hard, grewling, time consuming and left you at times beaten up and bruised. Throughout my training, I had been suffering from very bad plantar fasciitis so it was a delicate balance for a while to insure I could help my foot heal, but also continue to develop the endurance I needed for such a long event. And even though it was challenging, I have to say that I loved every minute of it. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger and more badass.
Chris’ smart training helped me to not only be able to get to the start of my race, but across the finish line. There is nothing in this world that compares to 15 hours of non stop physical activity and finally running down the shoot to the finish; where you here your name- Keri Mandell, you are an Ironman!! I think Chris will be stuck with me for a while, because triathlon is something I have grown to love and not seem to want to live without. Who knows what’s next… but I will tell you that it will entail, swimming, biking, and running.
Here’s to chasing your dreams and making the impossible, possible!