The whole time Becky Hennessy was training for Ironman Canada, she told herself she’d get through the grueling triathlon and never do a full Ironman race again.
She signed up for the triathlon on an impulse, caught up in the excitement of her friends in the Columbia Multisport Club.
“They were posting on Facebook: ‘I’ve signed up. You should sign up!’ ” she says. “There was this wave of enthusiasm, and my husband was out of town, and I didn’t have anybody to talk to about it, and I just signed up!”
Similar encouragement had prompted Hennessy, who is 52 and the laboratory operations manager at Boone Hospital Center, to join the Columbia Multisport Club in 2009. Her spinning instructors suggested she give triathlon a try. At first, she thought it was a crazy idea, but then they explained she didn’t have to be in incredible shape to succeed.
“A lot of times we’ll say: ‘I’m not out there to compete. I’m out there to complete,’ ” she says. “Most triathlon athletes aren’t out there doing this to win something. They’re out there to get better at the sport, to keep in shape, to accomplish something.”
Prior to signing up for Ironman Canada, Hennessy had done 25 to 30 triathlons, including some half Ironmans. But early last year, she had a setback when an injured leg led to a blood clot that later traveled to one of her lungs. She spent six months on blood thinners and for three weeks could do no training.
“It was like I was starting all over again,” she says.
That challenge made her even more appreciative of the chance to compete in Ironman Canada, which took place July 27. The Ironman Triathlon is recognized as one of the most difficult sporting events in the world, if not the most. It consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a full marathon, or 26.2-mile run, raced in that order, with no breaks. Hennessy traveled to Whistler, Canada, for the race with 12 other Columbia Multisport Club members, plus several of the athletes’ friends and family, including Hennessy’s husband and son.
The setting, Hennessy says, was “one of the most beautiful places on earth,” and the atmosphere was pure encouragement.
“You close your eyes, and you hear so many different languages, and so much enthusiasm, that it’s just kind of surreal,” she says. “You’re like: ‘Oh my gosh. I’m here with all of these people, and we’re all going to do the same thing. All of us. Some of us are going to do it in eight hours, and some are going to take 17, but we’re all doing the same thing.’ ”
Hennessy’s race started off with her fastest swim time ever in a triathlon, 1 hour and 31 minutes. Next came the bike race, which included two enormous hills, each around seven miles long. The second hill came at mile 90, and at about mile 95, Hennessy began to question her ability to finish.
“But then you think about your training, and you think about your family, and you think about everything you’ve done to get there, and you think: ‘I’ve just got to power through it,’ ” she says.
She finished her bike ride in seven hours and 40 minutes.
That left seven and a half hours to finish her marathon before the cutoff, and she felt confident she could make it in six. Her plan was to run 90 steps and then walk 90 steps, but she ended up running more and walking less. Two miles from the finish, she began to hear the crowd at the finish line, as well as the triumphant announcement greeting every finisher: “[Athlete’s name], you are an Ironman!”
“I stopped walking, and I started running, and I ran faster than I could run before I started training,” she says. “It’s like you’re transcended. You’re no longer worried about being tired or that something’s aching or that your stomach hurts. It’s like, ‘I’m almost there,’ and you just find something and you just start running.”
Fifteen hours, 20 minutes and 17 seconds after she jumped in the water, and five hours and 48 minutes after beginning her run, Hennessy crossed the finish line.
Immediately she set a new goal.
“After I finished, the first thing I thought was, ‘This is not the last time I’m going to do this,’ ” she says.