UNC Health Talk

Liz Jackson: Ironwoman

Post by Liz Jackson, Garner Wellness Center Member.

I have been a member of Rex Wellness since moving to Garner in 2007.  That year, at the age of 39, I completed my first triathlon.  It was a sprint distance and I had three goals that day:

  1. Don’t drown in the swim
  2. Don’t crash on the bike (especially since I was borrowing my best friend’s husband’s bike!)
  3. Don’t fall over on the run.

I accomplished all three goals and had a really fun time!

IronMan emblem
Run Swim Bike

Last summer I set my sights on doing an Ironman triathlon in July 2013, which consists of a 2.4 mile swim (not in a pool), a 112 mile bike, and then a 26.2 mile run, for a total of 140.6 miles covered in one day.

Ironman events have a 17 hour time limit, typically starting at 7:00 am and ending with a high-energy midnight finish line.  I chose the Ironman in Lake Placid, New York as my race because compared to other races the water temperature was not too chilly, the typical weather was not too hot, and it looked like a beautiful and interesting place to visit (which I hoped would be good to encourage friends/family to come and support me!).

Triathlete running
Training for Triathlon is about 12 15 hours a week.

I started training in earnest in January of this year although I already had a good base of fitness for biking and running.  My training plan included 12 weeks of training to get faster, and then 12 weeks of training to go farther.  The training schedule was intense with long workouts on the weekends and usually a total of 12 to 15 hours per week of workouts.

One thing I definitely underestimated was the amount of time required on top of the actual workout time, like the time to drive to and from the gym or pool, time to do all the extra laundry(!), time to study the training plan, time to read about things like race-day nutrition and strategy, time for planning long bike training routes, and cleaning out and then re-packing my gym bag for the next day.  It felt like I had part-time job training for the Ironman!

View of some roads in the Adriondack Mountains

On July 28th, 2013 I woke up ready for the event.  There were almost 2500 participants, with only a small number of people who are really racing to win and the rest of us just out there competing.  I am really, really lucky that I had a tremendous support crew of family and friends from all over the country who were excited to come to NY to cheer for me.  They spread out over the course and gave me something to look forward to all day long – they were amazing!

I finished the race in 12 hours, 39 minutes and 11 seconds – a time with which I am very happy.  I swam in Mirror Lake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, rode my bike around the Adirondack Mountains for 6 hours and 16 minutes, and then took 4 hours and 54 minutes to complete the run through and around Lake Placid.  All day long I could not stop smiling!  I was so happy to have completed the training injury-free and to be there competing.  To appreciate the opportunity to be out there was my number one goal and that was really easy to do on race day.

Liz Jackson with some her supporters at the Ironman finish line

Completing an Ironman takes a high degree of commitment to the training, both on the athlete’s part and on the part of the athlete’s family (I have the best and most supportive husband on the planet!). But if an Ironman is a goal you’ve been admiring then you can achieve it!  You don’t have to be an athletic all-star; you just have to be committed.

In Lake Placid I met a woman who did not learn to swim until she was 39 and she was there completing her fourth Ironman.  I also met a 72-year-old man completing his fifth Ironman.  From my first tri at 39 years old to completing an Ironman at 45, I am a big believer that if a long-distance triathlon is something you’ve always wanted to do, then decide to commit to it and make it happen!