ALBANY, N.Y. — Karen Lieb considers herself an “ironwoman,” and it would be hard to argue with her.
The triathlete from Saranac Lake, N.Y., is raising three kids, teaching part-time and training for Sunday’s Lake Placid Ironman triathlon — a grueling endurance race that combines swimming, cycling and running.
It’s not an easy feat. But Lieb, a 45-year-old four-time Ironman competitor, has company. About a fourth of this year’s 2,262 competitors are women. That’s more than double the number of women who entered five years ago.
Training tops 25 hours a week
And for those who are mothers and working women, the triathlon is a particular juggling act.
During peak training, which can top 25 hours a week, Lieb saves the bulk of the workout for the weekend or days off when she can go on a long bike ride and squeeze in running and swimming.
That way, she gets to put her kids, ages 10, 12 and 16, on the school bus every morning and cook a quick homemade dinner when they get home.
But there’s no time for relaxing or frivolity. No TV, no magazines. On days when she falls behind in her training, she moves on.
“It’s not like a test that you can make up,” she says. “If you miss it, it’s over because everyday, there’s something else you have to do.”
The Ironman was born in 1978 when a group of young Navy SEALs stationed in Hawaii debated who was the fittest of all athletes — swimmers, cyclists or runners. To test it, they decided to try all three simultaneously. Fifteen athletes competed and the winner was crowned the Ironman. Today, Ironman competitions are held all over the world.
Lake Placid, site of the 1980 Winter Olympics in New York’s Adirondacks Mountains, is the oldest Ironman event in the continental United States. It carries a $100,000 pro purse and 100 qualifying spots to the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii on Oct. 16.
The course consists of a 2.4-mile swim in Mirror Lake, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile marathon finish, ending at the Olympic Speedskating Oval. Athletes have 17 hours to complete the event.
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Consistency is key
Heather Fuhr, a 36-year-old Canadian who now lives in San Diego, has won four of the past five years at Lake Placid among women in her age group. Unlike amateur triathletes, Fuhr competes for a living and has the luxury of time.
One of the pitfalls that athletes fall into is training excessively when the key is to be consistent, Fuhr said. People should be realistic about time constraints and stick to a routine that works with their daily lives, she said.
“If they get in the right training, they can complete the event so that they enjoy it and not get divorced and lose their job for the sake of training,” said Fuhr, who will take part in this year’s Lake Placid race.
When Karen Merrill of Kailua, Hawaii, competed in Lake Placid the past two years, she had to balance training with motherhood and her full-time personal trainer job.
Then living in Virginia, Merrill split up her training. She arose before dawn to run. After dinner, she went biking and swimming. Sometimes she worked out with her two young children, buying a baby jogger and putting a third wheel on her bike so that her son and daughter could tag along.
“You definitely have to be a good multi-tasker,” she said.
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