Swim, bike, run: 4 to Hawaii for the Ironman

Albuquerque’s Terry Casey plans to compete in the World Ironman Championships for the third time. COURTESY OF TERRY CASEY

Most folks head to Hawaii to enjoy the tropics, maybe hike to a waterfall, attend a luau or try their hand at surfing, but for four hardy Albuquerqueans, their excursion to the islands is anything but a trip to paradise. Swim, bike, run: 4 to HawaiiBy Glen Rosales For the Journal

Most folks head to Hawaii to enjoy the tropics, maybe hike to a waterfall, attend a luau or try their hand at surfing, but for four hardy Albuquerqueans, their excursion to the islands is anything but a trip to paradise.

Consider it paradise lost, perhaps, as they will be competing in the annual Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona. It is a 140.6-mile survival of the fittest for about 2,400 competitors that includes a 2.4-mile open-ocean swim followed by a 112-mile bike ride over rolling hills and ending with a full 26.2-mile marathon that starts Thursday with some of the competitors, and the rest going on Saturday.

“In an Ironman, I’m kind of in survival mode by the end,” said Terry Casey, 43, who is competing in Hawaii for the third time. “Mostly, I know it sounds lame, but I just want it to be a celebration of all the work I put in. If I finish in under 11 hours, I’ll take it. I definitely want to finish and I want it to be fun. It’s such a cool environment. They haven’t had it for three years so I’m sure that’s going to bring a different energy to it.”

A swimmer in high school and at New Mexico, Casey said it takes all kinds to compete in the event.

“I’m a Ninja on the run,” she said. “It’s cool how everyone has their different strengths. It makes it fun. You try to push those and be a little bit better than the last time.”

The youngest of the group, 30-year-old Anna Purcell, is doing her first Hawaii Ironman.

Albuquerque’s Anna Purcell, a veteran long-distance runner, has taken on the World Ironman Championships in Hawaii for the first time.
Courtesy of Anna Purcell

“I started running marathons pretty early, my senior year in high school and that kind of spiraled into ultra running and longer trail races,” she said. “I did a 100-mile race last summer. I’m in a distance running club and I have a big group of friends in Albuquerque who were pretty enthusiastic about running and triathlons so they put the bug in my ear and I decided to give it a try.”

Not only did she try, she succeeded in qualifying for Hawaii on her first attempt.

Still, Purcell is not heading into Ironman expecting to set a scorching pace.

“I don’t have huge expectations,” she said, “given I’m relatively new here and the level of competition at this race is unlike any other race. So the pressure is kind of off. For me, a good day is executing a solid race in this level of heat and humidity.”

Jane Pilger is also making her Hawaii debut, after building up from her first sprint triathlon 20 years ago.

Just being in the field is rather amazing for Pilger. A few years ago, she got into a bad bike wreck, fracturing her pelvis when she rode into a cow crossing the road.

But she was able to qualify last summer at an Ironman in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

“I remember at that race, the slogan for Ironman is ‘Anything is possible,'” she recalled. “It’s 105 degrees, just an incredible amount of heat. I didn’t think I was doing all that well. But I just kept telling myself, ‘Anything is possible. Anything is possible.’ And when I crossed the finish line, I found out that I was seventh (in my age group) and had gotten a spot and qualified. I was just overwhelmed.”

So at this point, all Pilger is looking to do is try and enjoy the experience.

“I really just expect it will be amazing,” she said. “Hard, humbling and I just am going in with an attitude of gratitude and appreciation just to be here and competing among the best in the world. I’m interested in seeing what obstacles there are for me and what I’m capable of. But I’m going to take it all in and enjoy the day and just to see what’s possible.”

Geoffrey Steffens, 54, is also doing his third Ironman in Hawaii, all in the past five years.

A triathlete in college, Steffens got away from the sport as life, work and children filled his days.

But he fondly remembers watching the Ironman as a youngster.

“Kona is such a special place and as a kid I watched the Ironman on TV,” he said. “In 2018, I was like a little kid in a candy store. That first time, you get to race day and you’re kind of gassed. So you come back out for a second round a little more prepared and ready to race it, and I went out and put in the best performance for me out there. If I get in the top percentage, that’s great, but my wife and I have a rule, never quit. If I have to walk it, I’m going to do it.”