17-year-old Sarah Melanson, a 2013 graduate of South River High School and resident of Davidsonville, recently became the youngest woman ever to complete an IronMan-distance triathlon in less than 17 hours when she finished the ChesapeakeMan triathlon in Cambridge, Maryland, on September 21.
The ChesapeakeMan triathlon, though not an officially branded IronMan event, uses the same distances as the famed endurance competition. Melanson, a freshman exercise physiology major at West Virginia University, completed the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run—a total of 140.6 miles—in 15 hours, 30 minutes, 39 seconds, well within the IronMan qualifying requirement of 17 hours.
She began training for the race about a year ago after she ran the ChesapeakeMan half triathlon. Based on her time in the half, she believed cracking 17 hours was possible, and her goal came to fruition at the September race.
“It’s incredible. I’m still really excited about it,” said Melanson. “When I did the half, that’s when I knew I could probably do it. When I signed up for it and started preparing and training, I got more and more aware that I could do it. But it really took until the race, like halfway through the bike, that I knew I was set.”
Melanson had to brave less-than-ideal conditions to complete the course, swimming through waters replete with jellyfish and running much of the marathon leg through lashing rain.
Like many competitors in extreme-distance events like the IronMan, Melanson overcame the steep physical challenges, particularly during run, by staying mentally tough.
“Probably around mile 16 [of the run] it started getting difficult,” said Melanson. “You’re tired. Your body is hurting. I was out there about 13 hours at that point. You know you’re tired. Your body is screaming to stop, but my mind didn’t want to stop.”
Melanson occupied her thoughts through the home stretch with the knowledge that she was on pace to finish well within her goal of 17 hours.
“Your time—you always have your time on your mind—can I do 17 hours?” described Melanson. “How much time do I have left? How many miles? Just calculating what’s going to happen for the next however-many-hours you’re out there. That, and I was thinking about how much ice cream I was going to eat afterwards.”
The soon-to-be 18-year-old, who is a member of the Annapolis Triathlon Club and the student biking club at West Virginia, says her next goal is to compete in an official IronMan race, which she hopes to do in 2014.