September 2, 2009

My Journey To Ironman And Beyond

Recently Shannon, from the wonderful blog Tri To Cook, asked me how I got into triathlons and I realized that a lot of you guys don't know the story. I have given little bits and pieces of the story from time to time but I have never told the story of the entire journey. So, without further adieu and in lieu of my regular daily post, here is the story. (This is going to be long so I apologize in advance.)

My story begins all the way back in 2000, when I started running with my sister. I decided to start running to escape some of the demons that were chasing me and over time I fell in love with running. When H and I met in 2002, I was training for my first half marathon and as our relationship progressed, I slowly convinced him to give running a try. We spent the next couple of years running and dreaming about the future. During that time, we saw the Hawaii Ironman World Championships on tv and I literally cried through the entire thing. There was something about Ironman that pulled at the very deepest part of my heart and as I watched the men and women cross the finish line, I promised myself that I would be the one crossing the finish line one day. H and I had a conversation about Ironman shortly after this and we made a decision that we would complete an Ironman by the time we were 30. (For those of you who do not know, an Ironman triathlon consists of a 2.4 mile open water swim followed by a 112 mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run for a total of 140.6 miles.) We had this conversation at the tender age of 23 and at that time 30 seemed very far away and anything seemed possible. After that conversation, we sort of put the idea in the back of our minds and kept on running. We finished our first marathon in March of 2005 and followed that with more races than I can even count over the next two years. We did everything from 10K's to ultra marathons and had a great time doing it. We accomplished a lot, including qualifying for Boston five times and even won a few age group awards along the way. In April of 2007, it totally hit us that we were not getting any younger. Our goal to complete Ironman was looming and 30 was creeping closer and closer. At this point we had absolutely no experience with cycling or swimming. H and I could both swim if we were drowning but neither of us had any formal training in the water. We didn't own bikes and really had no clue what we were looking for. However, H and I are very determined and focused people and we were not going to let anything get in the way of our dream. We drained our savings account and bought awesome new bikes, along with all of the other crap that you need to be a triathlete. (I do not recommend draining your savings account to become a triathlete but we did, we survived and we learned that it is probably not the best idea.) Over the next couple of months, we spent time riding our bikes and swimming and tried to keep up with our running. It was really hard to balance all three activities and still feel like we were improving at them. We bought a copy of the Triathlete's Training Bible and did a lot of research online to come up with a training plan for our first sprint triathlon and then we trained our little hearts out. We had a lot of fun but there were also a lot times when the whole thing was just frustrating. We crashed on our bikes a lot in the beginning, we panicked in the open water while swimming, we made a ton of mistakes and made fools of ourselves more than once. However, despite all of the obstacles, we stuck with it and raced our first sprint triathlon in July of 2007.

We finished another sprint tri just a few weeks later and then we decided to get a little bit crazy and try a half ironman. (For those of you who don't know, a half ironman is a race with a 1.2 mile swim followed by a 56 mile bike ride and then a 13.1 mile run for a total of 70.3 miles)
In September of 2007, we finished our first half ironman and it was awesome. We made a lot of mistakes along the way but we finished and we were ecstatic about it. In November of that same year, we decided to try for a spot at Florida Ironman. Let me preface this by saying that it is very difficult to get one spot in an Ironman race, let alone two, unless you are on site the day of the race. Ironman races sell out in a matter of minutes because the space is very limited. We couldn't travel to the race so we decided to try for a couple of spots online and if it didn't work out then we would simply try again the next year. Neither of us expected to actually get into the race but wouldn't you know, we both got in. We were ecstatic, scared and giddy all at the same time. We had exactly one year to get ready for the race of our life but honestly, we had quite a few races left to run that year and as usual, put the whole thing on the back burner. H and I both ran a great race at the Richmond Marathon that year and then took a break from hard training to rest and recover. In January of 2008 we started to do some research on Ironman training plans and sat down with a few different coaches to figure out what we should do. We ultimately decided to coach ourselves and spent the next eleven months learning everything we could about long distance triathlons.

We did a few races through the summer of 2008 including another marathon, four triathlons, a couple of centuries and various other smaller races. It was a fun summer race wise but to be honest with you, 2008 was a very tough year for H and I. We had a few major obstacles that we had to deal with on a personal level and that drained us both emotionally. On top of that, I was working a full time job and two part time jobs, while H was working 14-16 hour days just so that we could pay for Ironman. The race cost us over $10,000 by the time it was all said and done and we just didn't have that kind of money laying around. We were also training 3-4 hours a day during the week and as many as 8-12 hours a day on the weekends. We were both exhausted, over trained and drained. I think the biggest miracle of 2008 is not that we trained for and raced Ironman but rather that we didn't get divorced. Honestly, if we could survive everything that happened throughout that year, then I think we are going to be cool for the rest of our lives. We definitely learned a lot about each other and what it means to love unconditionally. Well, November arrived and we headed down to Panama City Beach, Florida for the race. We brought along the Matheny's to help us stay calm and prepare for the race. They were the best support crew ever! We also had H's mom and my mom and step dad come to support us at the race and it made all the difference in the world. There is nothing like seeing a friendly face when you are scared, exhausted and stressed.

Race day arrived and although I could go on and on and on and on about the race and everything that happened that day, I will keep it brief and tell you that H and I both crossed the finish line and lived to talk about it. It was absolutely, without a doubt, one of the best days of my life and it changed everything about me. I discovered just how strong and capable and determined I am. Nothing seems impossible to me anymore because I have proven to myself that I can endure. H had quite the experience as well and I can see the change in him on a daily basis. After Ironman, we took some time to recover. Well, actually that is sort of a lie. I ran the Richmond Marathon less than two weeks after Ironman and then we started training for the DC National Marathon a few weeks later. Honestly, it was wonderful to be able to concentrate only on running for awhile but before long the triathlon bug was biting at us again. We both have goals for the future that involve eventually qualifying for the Ironman World Championships in Kona but right now that is a long way off. We are content for the moment to take it easy and allow our bodies to rest and recover. Don't worry though, there are some exciting things on the back burner and we are just stubborn enough to make them happen.

For those of you who made it through this entire post, thank you for reading my story. If you have any questions, please feel free to let me know because I love, love, love to talk about triathlons. I am definitely not an expert by any means but I am more than happy to share what I know. Have a great day guys!


  1. Wow! I didn't realize how expensive it could be. You guys should get sponsors! I'm so inspired all I want to do is go outside and run! Your lucky to have a partner that shares your passion and he's even more lucky to have a sweetie like you :)

  2. Thanks Melissa! I am very lucky to have H in my life!
    If I could find someone to sponsor me it would be awesome. Still looking though! : )

  3. Awesome story Stacy! I LOVE hearing about people's journeys!I feel ya on the financial part, it's no joke! Always something new to buy and the race fees certainly add up.

  4. Jennifer: I know you are feeling my pain. Welcome to the world of triathlon. : )

  5. such a great post! i only started running in grad school, and did my first tri in 2007, so i'm still a newbie;) i always tear up watching marathons and ironman... something about having goals, and watching people achieving them, knowing what it takes to get there. so inspiring! you are amazing :)

    i can't believe you two have done it together as well, a testament to how good you guys are for one another. that cost is astounding as well...

    i have the training bible as well, and i'm thinking i might try to get some swimming lessons this winter. i'd really like to place in my age group next year in the sprint distance. if i can work out my hip issues, i'd love to try an olympic. maybe someday i'll be able to swing training for a 70.3!!

  6. What a story! It sounds like the ironman brought you guys even closer together :)

  7. Shannon: Thanks for the encouragement. You just made my day!
    I definitely think you can achieve all of the goals that you have set for yourself.

    Swimming lessons definitely cannot hurt but it is my opinion that you will never win a tri with the swim. I really suck at swimming but I usually come in first or second on the bike and run so it all averages out. I don't enjoy swimming and I would rather just work harder at the bike/run portion. However, H has taken a ton of swimming lessons and it made him much more confident in the water.

  8. Matt: You are totally right about Ironman bringing us closer together. It is a great bonding experience when you suffer through a lot of pain with someone. : )

  9. Thank you so much for this post! I'm currently training for my first sprint tri, and the reason I want to do is because it scares the crap out of me! Although a sprint seems like nothing compared to the Ironman, it was awesome to read about how you started small with the sprint too. I'm so nervous for it, but can't wait to be able to say I completed it!
    Thanks for the inspiration..I love to read about all your training!
    Adventures in Tri-ing

  10. Courtney: Tri's still scare the crap out of me as well! I think that is what keeps me coming back for more.

    You are going to do awesome! Just stay focused and try to think ahead to what your next step will be. In the water, start thinking about T1, then focus on the bike and what you need to do in T2, etc... Tri's are so much fun!

  11. Great to read your story! I am in the UK and do sprint/Olympic distance tris (I've done one 1/2 ironman) but my husband has done Ironman over here in Europe. I am more of a swimmer (have swum the English Channel twice!) and to that end I would say that getting your technique right in the swim section IS important. You're so right when you say that no tri is won on the swim (bad news for me!) BUT I think if your technique is good then, importantly, you will get through the swim section so much less tired/stressed and will therefore have much more left in the tank for the bike and run.


  12. Nicky: First I have to say that I am in awe of your swimming ability. Swimming the English Channel twice is awesome! You are a total rockstar!

    In regard to swim technique, I think you are right on and I do hope to improve in the swim portion of tri's at some point. I know that it would make my overall time better and I would definitely be less stressed coming out of the water. I just really hate to swim. I don't enjoy it. I don't like how cold it makes me and swimming laps bores me to tears. I would rather bike or run any day and so far, my swim skills are good enough to get me by. However, as I set my sights on Kona, I plan to work a bit more on technique and speed drills in the pool.
    Thanks for calling me out on the swim thing because I definitely think you are right and I would hate to discourage anyone from working on their technique in the pool. : )

  13. Don't tell anyone but... I hate to swim laps, too! I get sad in the winter when I have to stay in the pool and do intervals ;) N

  14. Nicky: I am so happy to know that I am not the only one who has a hatred for the pool. : )