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– Continue Reading BelowPhoto: Courtesy of IronmanSwim 2.4 miles. Bike 112 miles. Run 26.2 miles. All. In. One. Race.Simply by the numbers, an Ironman race is nothing short of extraordinary. To some, it may sound awe-inspiring. To most, tackling a 140.6-mile triathlon race seems nearly impossible. And yet, thousands of men and women around the world are taking on this challenge, the ultimate test of human limits (both physically and mentally), in growing numbers every year. Specifically, more women than ever are diving into the historically male-dominated sport. Over the past four years, international women’s registrations in Ironman races have grown a whopping 275 percent. This year’s field at the Ironman Championships will have the largest group of female competitors ever.About 10 months ago, I decided to become one of those women. The first question that everyone asked me when I said I was doing an Ironman: Why would you want to do that?My response to my skeptical friends and family: Why not? Well, tons of reasons, really. They could have pointed out that I don’t fit the mold of the “stereotypical” triathlete by any means. When most people picture an Ironman, they think of a 30 or 40-something year-old man who is so ripped, his veins are popping out. His body fat is in the single digits, he rides a bike like he was born doing it, and he can run a marathon and barely break a sweat. And then there’s me. I am 26, female, and while I’m athletic, I’ve never been described as “ripped” in my life. And up until this year, my biking experience was limited to brief trips on my pink beach cruiser—I didn’t even know there was such a thing as “clipping in.” (For those in the same camp, “clipping in” is where you clip your bike shoes into the pedals.) My closest friends thought I was scared of biking altogether. For the most part, they were right. – Continue Reading Below – Continue Reading Below – Continue Reading BelowSwimmers in the water at the start of the 2013 Ironman World Championships in Kona; Photo: Courtesy of Ironman Over the course of the 10-plus months I trained for the big race (I competed in the inaugural Ironman Princeton 70.3 last month, which is technically a half Ironman), I learned that there isn’t really such a thing as a stereotypical triathlete, because behind every competitor (pro or amateur), there’s a story. Many of those stories begin just like mine, not knowing how to clip into a bike or how to swim in open waters.Gwen Jorgensen, the 2014 World Triathlon Series World Champion, was pursuing her career as a tax accountant with Ernst & Young when she got a call from U.S.A. Triathlon asking if she might be interested in pursuing the sport. Up to that point, she had experienced success in her days on the track team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and was a strong swimmer growing up, but she had never done a single triathlon in her life. “I thought they were crazy for thinking I could be successful in it,” she says. “I had never ridden a road bike before, and when I tried one, I was falling over at stop signs all the time.” Watching her race on her Specialized S-Works Amira these days, you would certainly never know that was the case. Just a year later after being recruited to triathlon, she qualified for the 2012 Olympic team and has since gone on to become the top-ranked female triathlete in the world. – Continue Reading BelowIronman World Champion Mirinda Carfrae (center) with second place finisher Rachel Joyce (left) and third place finisher Liz Blatchford (right); Photo: Courtesy of Ironman – Continue Reading Below – Continue Reading BelowMirinda Carfrae, a.k.a Rinny, the reigning Ironman queen, who is set to defend her title this coming weekend in Kailua-Kona at the 36th annual Ironman World Championships, didn’t own a bike either when she first got into the sport. She grew up playing basketball in Australia until the local triathlon coach took notice of her. “He saw me running and said I had a beautiful run style. When he asked me if I knew how to swim and bike, I said, ‘Yeah of course.’ That wasn’t really true at all.” The next day, she showed up to the pool to show him she could swim. “I went to the pool in a bikini with no cap or goggles. I swam maybe 25 yards and then grabbed the lane rope and asked him what he thought. He just turned around and walked away.”He might not have been particularly impressed by her swim skills, but he still saw a triathlon star-in-the-making in her. Carfrae went on to represent her country in the junior Olympics for the sport, and slowly progressed to longer distance races. “I don’t suggest that anyone just dive right into the deep end and go for a full Ironman right away,” she said. “You have to know what your body and mind are capable of first.” She did her first longer distance tri back in 2002 (the Lake Tinaroo Half Ironman), where she came in second, and competed in her first-ever full Ironman at the 2009 World Championships in Kona.This weekend as she battles it out in Kailua-Kona, the ne plus ultra of Ironman races , she’ll be chasing her own records and hopefully, yet another victory. “It’s really about trying to get the best out of myself and that’s why I keep coming back here. I am not at my peak yet and I feel I can still perform better on this course,” she explains. “It’s about pushing for that perfect performance. That’s what motivates me.” – Continue Reading BelowShe will be joined on Hawaii’s big island on October 11 by nearly 2,000 other athletes. For people like 84-year-old Sister Madonna Buder (the oldest woman ever to finish an Ironman), or federal prosecutor Kristina Ament (who will be the first-ever blind American woman to compete in Kona), or breast cancer survivor Shayne Findlay, the race is symbolic of overcoming another challenge in their lives, be it a loss of a loved one, fighting disease, or losing limbs. It’s about reaching the end, even if they have to crawl to get there, in 17 hours or less (the official race cut-off time). It is the ultimate test of human willpower. So, let’s return to that initial question: Why me? Why did I want to give up months of dinners and brunches with friends in exchange for a weekend routine that included back-to-back 60-mile bike ride sessions followed by a 6-mile run, or early morning swims and late-night strength sessions at the gym? (After a busy day at fashion week, no less.) Why would I want to wake up to aching muscles or feel constantly hungry? Why even jump into a sport that I had always found intimidating? Sure, getting in good shape was a nice perk, but it’s more than that. – Continue Reading Below – Continue Reading BelowSwimmers in the water at the start of the 2013 Ironman World Championships in Kona; Photo: Courtesy of IronmanIt’s about stepping up to a challenge and sticking to it. I had just finished my first marathon, the New York City Marathon back in November, and was looking for my next high. I wanted to feel that extreme adrenaline rush and that unparalleled burst of emotion that you get when you finish a race as epic as that—it’s an addicting feeling, I’ll admit. I already knew another marathon wouldn’t be enough to satisfy the craving. (I did another in June and it just didn’t compare to that feeling you get from your first.)It was about finding out what I could really achieve when I put my mind to it. Too often, we let our own expectations limit us, not just in fitness, but in our careers, our love lives, etc. There’s the fear of setting a goal and then not achieving it. There was always that voice in head throughout my months of training saying, ‘What if I can’t finish?’ Even when I got to the race around 4:50 a.m., I still wasn’t sure what the day would hold. The path leading up to the finish line of my Ironman was one of the most challenging rides of my life—especially those last grueling six miles of the race , where my legs felt like lead blocks and pretty much every part of my body hurt as I ran. I would be lying if I said I didn’t I have a strong urge to stop at one of the aid stations, sit down for the first time in nearly seven hours, and just call it a day. Just at that moment, a fellow racer, a woman who appeared to be in her early 30s, passed by me and screamed, “You’ve got this! We’re in the home stretch.” At the point where I realized she was right, I was about to become an Ironwoman after so many months of hard work and dedication, I burst into tears. No one was more surprised than myself to discover that limitations are just something you set for yourself. Finding out what’s beyond them is truly a life-changing experience. – Continue Reading BelowI feel limitless, more motivated than ever, and I’m already searching for a new, big challenge. Until then, I ask you this: What is your next finish line?Related: Can a Body Scanning Device Tell You How Healthy You Are? Related: How Does Your (Gut) Garden Grow? Related: Have You Met My Life Partner, Low-Grade Anxiety?

The Women of Ironman

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