The monstrous challenge of covering more than 226 km by swimming, biking and running in 12 hours no longer seems to faze Teresa Richer.
“It’s not such a bad beast,” said the Red Deer woman who is gearing up to compete in her third Ironman, the most recognized branded ultra distance triathlon.
But the 40-year-old mother admittedly didn’t always believe that to be true.
“I thought that’s too long, that’s crazy. Why would anybody do such a long event?” she said of the race that entails swimming 3.9 km, cycling 180.3 km and running a full marathon (42.2 km) back to back.
Richer had no interest in doing an Ironman until the opportunity presented itself.
Her finish at the Sylvan Lake Half Ironman event was fast enough to qualify for a spot to compete at Subaru Ironman Canada in Penticton, B.C., in 2009.
“With my competitive nature, if things are sort of in my face, I’ll stand up to the challenge.”
After eight months of training, Richer joined some 2,800 other athletes in August 2009 to compete her first Ironman.
The temperature climbed over 30C that day. Richer was kicked and elbowed during the swim. She started to falter 130 km into the bike ride, but was able to reenergize by refuelling.
Her knees started to hurt 30 km into the run and her muscles were so tight that running downhill was more painful than running uphill. She also had to overcome the mental chatter that kept urging her to quit.
Richer crossed the finish line 11 hours and 36 minutes after she started the grueling competition.
“You know when you crossed the finish line that you had a good day.”
The overwhelming sense of accomplishment hooked her. Richer completed the national event in 2010 — where rain and hail presented new challenges — in 11 hours and 31 minutes. She’s going to compete again in August and hopes to one day qualify for Kona, the Ironman World Championship held in Hawaii every fall.
Richer didn’t compete in the Canadian event in 2011 because she was busy establishing the Red Deer Triathlon Club, which hosted 280 workouts and had more than 45 members this past year.
The club will start its new season in January and new members aged 15 and older are welcome to join. For more information, visit www.reddeertriathlonclub.com.
Richer, a mortgage broker and certified triathlon coach, said the multi-sport is a family-friendly activity that promotes a healthier lifestyle.
Her two children — ages six and eight — and two step-children — ages seven and 11 — compete in the Kids of Steel program.
She urged people to try the sport (not necessarily at the Ironman level) as a way to increase confidence.
“Triathlon itself is a big confidence builder,” she said. “It allows you to achieve goals and you do it all on your own.”
Another local Ironman believes triathlon is growing in popularity because of the increasing desire to be physically fit at any age.
Businessman Woody Paylor, 67, said he only knew of one other local Ironman when he decided to compete in the “ultimate challenge” some 17 years ago.
“I swore I’d never do another one,” Paylor said of his first experience.
The next morning, however, he stood in line to sign up for the next year’s event.
“I don’t know what it is about it. You always think you can do better, you know.”
Since that time, more and more people have challenged themselves with the multi-sport race, from the beginner level all the way up to the ultra distance, he said
About a dozen people from Red Deer competed in the Subaru Ironman Canada event last year.
Locally, Woody’s Triathlon and Kids of Steel have been selling out for a number of years, Paylor added.
“I think it’s just a great lifestyle. You don’t have as many injuries with a triathlon because you’re not just pounding the miles out like runners who are just focused on running.”
Paylor has completed 17 Ironman races, four of which were at the World Championships in Hawaii. His won his age group at Ironman Brazil three times and his personal best is 11 hours and 11 minutes. He ran his last Ironman in Hawaii in 2006 but continues to compete in half Ironman events.
Triathlon Fast Facts
The four common triathlon distances are:
• sprint — 750 m swim, 20 km bike, five km run
• intermediate or olympic — 1.5 km swim, 40 km bike, 10 km run
• long course or Half Ironman — 1.9 km swim, 90 km bike, 21.1 km run
• full distance or Ironman — 3.9 km swim, 180.3 km bike, 42.2 km run
The first Ironman race was held in Hawaii in 1978 after local athletes proposed the idea of combining three major events that already existed on the island into a single day event. Fifteen people started the race and 12 finished. The Ironman World Championship is now held at Kona, Hawaii, every fall. There are 50 qualifying events worldwide and more than 90,000 athletes compete to secure one of the 1,700 spots available at Kona annually.
The most decorated Ironman is a woman. Paula Newby-Fraser holds the record for the most Ironman victories (24), most victories at Kona (eight) and most consecutive wins at Kona (four). She also holds the Kona World Championship course record for women (8:55:28). Triathlete Magazine named Newby-Fraser the “Greatest Triathlete in History” in 1999.