IRONcouples

Local Couples Train Together for IRONMAN Races

 

For these locals, pushing their bodies to the limit with miles of swimming, biking, and running is more than just a way to stay in shape – it’s a lifestyle and a passion they share with their beloved spouses.

 

By Lucy Morris  |  Photography by Emily Long

Warren & Eden Lusk

For Warren and Eden Lusk, the path to IRONMAN began with a goal of becoming more active for their two young sons. They quickly realized that training and competing for an IRONMAN race together could show their kids that anything you put your mind to is possible and that hard work pays off.

 

CS: What has the sport taught you?

EL: People think that if you do IRONMAN, you are this bionic being. But it’s not that. It’s just about discipline, trusting your training plan, and getting in that low endurance heart rate zone.

WL: IRONMAN’s tagline is, “Anything is possible,” which is so true. There are so many really normal people just like us that end up doing it. You, of course, have those amazing athletes that fit the mold, but there are a lot more like us that think this is just a good way to stay active and have fun. It really gives people hope to try something out of their comfort zone and accomplish it.

 

CS: Are there any stories that
really stick out?

EL: Something is always going to go wrong [laughs]. The day before one of our races, our son Pearce had a football game. We should’ve just taken the day off to get prepared, but we didn’t, so we were rushing around when it was time to take our bikes to the check-in. There’s only a four-hour window to get them in, so we’re stressed. Warren ends up backing our car into a tree in our own driveway while our bikes are strapped to the back. Fortunately, our neighbor works for American Bicycle Group and was able to help us out, but it was ridiculous. We totaled the car.

WL: Believe it or not, I wasn’t accelerating [laughs]. But it was just one of those things where you’re like, surely that didn’t just happen…

 

CS: What did your training
schedule look like?

EL: It was six days a week, pretty intense. You’d have ramp-up weeks, where your mileage and intensity pick up, then relief weeks. Sometimes you’re out there for eight or nine hours with those bike rides, so there was a lot of training and coordination.

WL: We had a great group of friends that we trained with too. It makes it better because everyone is sticking together through the pain, the sunburn – we’d go into convenience stores and stand in the cooler to get our body temperatures down after a long run or bike ride!

 

CS: How has this activity brought you closer as a couple?

EL: We’ve always enjoyed doing things together, and I think just knowing that we can do something so stressful but keep our cool and love each other throughout the process is a huge testament to our marriage, our friendship, everything.

WL: A lot of friends that also race are like, y’all are crazy. But I think it’s made our relationship stronger. We’re able to pick each other up when the going gets tough.

Kendrick & Sara Gibson

Though they competed on rival track teams in high school, these two didn’t actually meet until a triathlon after grad school brought them together again. Today, Kendrick and Sara train and compete in IRONMAN races and other various triathlons across the country.

 

CS: When and how did you get involved in triathlons?

SG: I swam all through college and ran one semester, so it was just one of those things where people told me to try a triathlon. My first one I did well on the swim, but on the bike I just kept hearing, “On your left!” as people passed [laughs]. I’ve improved a little since then.

KG: I did my first triathlon in high school. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do track in college, so I wanted to find something competitive. I’ve been doing them for 19 years now!

 

CS: How do you push each other?

SG: We’re both competitive people in general – I’m probably competitive with him more than he is with me – but I think we do a good job of pushing and checking in on each other. He’s also a triathlon coach, so he can give me guidance with paces and stuff, and as a physical therapist, I can give him advice on stretches to keep from getting injured.

 

CS: What does race day look like?

KG: IRONMAN is one of those things – it’s funny how worked up people get for it. Even the best athletes. You’re going to be out there for nine or 10 hours, and there’s a lot that can go wrong, so you have to go at it with an open mind and roll with the punches. Sara got two flat tires once but fixed them and still had a good race. You just have to be flexible. At some point you’ll be tired, at another you’ll think it’s stupid, and sometimes you’ll be having fun. It’s like a 10-hour mental roller coaster.

 

CS: How has this activity brought you closer as a couple?

SG: It allows us to spend a lot of time together, probably more than most couples. We both work full-time, but we know we have between 15 and 20 hours a week of training where we can catch up and bond.

 

CS: Any advice for people considering triathlons for the first time?

KG: Triathlon is a great sport. It’s a lifestyle, and there are a lot of like-minded people here in the city that are into it. You don’t necessarily have to do an IRONMAN – there are lots of great local races too. People can get burned out if they jump into half or full IRONMANs too quickly. If you’re interested, try some local races first – they don’t require as much training. But overall, give it a shot! Just have fun and don’t take it too seriously.

Roddy & Rachael Henderson

A chance meeting in Atlanta brought Roddy and Rachael together more than 25 years ago, and their love for the outdoors brought them to Chattanooga not long after. Today, when they’re not building, rehabbing, and selling homes, they’re training together to improve their IRONMAN times.

 

CS: When and how did you get involved in IRONMAN?

Roddy: I was really into tennis for a long time and started adding in some running to get in better shape for that. Then, a couple of folks at the tennis center were into triathlons, which got me thinking about it. After talking with some more friends, I decided to sign up for an IRONMAN race in 2016. I trained for it not really knowing what I was doing, but I finished it and caught the bug that way.

Rachael: We have a 16-year-old son who was doing sprint distance triathlons with Roddy. I was a marathon runner and thought the IRONMAN thing was kind of crazy, but I wanted to be able to do a sprint race with them. I found that adding the biking and swimming actually made running easier too. So last year I did my first 70.3.

 

CS: What keeps you motivated?

Roddy: Racing is what keeps you motivated to train. If you don’t have a race coming up, you can lose a bit of motivation. For me, I’m motivated to constantly improve. That makes me want to keep doing it.

Rachael: You don’t necessarily have to be racing others. You’re kind of just racing yourself constantly to be better than the last time.

 

CS: How do you mentally prepare for races?

Roddy: It definitely gets easier the more you do it. Once you can mentally think through the race beforehand, you don’t get as nervous.

Rachael: I get nervous the whole week leading up! Every little twinge in your body you start to worry about. But once you cross the finish line, whether you did well or things went wrong, you’re ready to sign up for your next event.

 

CS: What are you most looking forward to with this year’s
IRONMAN event?

Rachael: For me, it’ll be my first 70.3 in Chattanooga. The bike course is a course I can train on, the run course I can train on, and most of the swim too. So, I’m looking forward to that. It’s home.

Roddy: I’m not looking forward to it because it’s gonna be stinkin’ hot [laughs]. But it’s nice to be local.

 

CS: How has this activity brought you closer as a couple?

Roddy: It’s something we can do together. It’s a shared interest that gives us a lot to talk about.

Rachael: And we can encourage each other to get better and better at it – our son included. It’s fun to work toward a shared goal.

Photo by Matt Reiter

Chris & Michelle Ray

With four daughters and busy work schedules, it’s a wonder this duo can find time to train for IRONMAN races themselves, much less start and run an entire team. But their passion to help others propels them day after day.

 

CS: When and how did you get involved in IRONMAN?

CR: Back in 2015, I had a work trip that took us to Kona, Hawaii. Michelle was already running, but on the trip, she went for a run with a group of people, and they ran on the world championship IRONMAN course. She came back to me after that run so inspired and said she wanted to do the half IRONMAN in Chattanooga. I was not into anything endurance-wise at the time and asked if she was crazy [laughs], but eventually I decided I’d do it with her.

MR: He’s downplaying it! When I asked him to do it, he was a bigger guy. He ended up losing 100 pounds! We first competed after having our fourth daughter.

 

CS: What pushes you to train and compete?

CR: Both of us are really motivated to do this, Michelle especially. She’s very competitive and good at pushing herself.

MR: Our daughter Addie has a disability, and we were able to fundraise for a special stroller so that she can race alongside us. Our ultimate goal is to be able to take her to Hawaii and race with her in Kona. I know that every day I push myself to train, I’m one step closer to that goal.

 

CS: With such busy schedules, how do you make time for training?

MR: Most weekdays we try to get up at 4:30 or 5 a.m. and ride our bike trainers together for an hour before the kids wake up. On the weekends, we’ll take the kids with us for a long run, and they’ll ride their bikes. It’s a lot of scheduling!

CR: This year we’ve started using a coach, so he’s helped with our training plans and given us goals to reach for. Sometimes we train together, and sometimes we have to alternate.

 

CS: What are you most looking forward to with this year’s
IRONMAN event?

MR: In addition to racing ourselves, we also run a racing team for other athletes of various abilities. It’s named after our daughter, so to see all those people wearing racing suits with her name cross that finish line – I’m stoked.

CR: For me, finishing and not training for a week [laughs].

 

CS: How has this activity brought you closer as a couple?

MR: I think it’s made us completely different people in a good way. We’re able to tough out any relationship hurdle because we’ve toughed out all these other things. It’s amazing.

CR: It gives us reasons to spend time together. Workouts can count as dates!

MR: Last week, I got to the end of the lane, and he was there with roses waiting for me at the end of my swim! CS

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