Tough race was no match for Tricats athlete Eryn Schmisseur
On Oct. 12, Arizona’s triathlete, Eryn Schmisseur, competed in the Kona IRONMAN World Championships as one of the youngest athletes and having only done one ironman before in her life.
Schmisseur qualified for Kona after getting first place in her age group at IRONMAN Arizona in 2018 and little did she know the ride she was in for, but before the magic could begin, it came down to the training.
Schmisseur trained in the Tucson area with her fellow Tricats. She would do 20-mile runs around campus with people jumping in and out to run with her. To train in bikng, Schmisseur started at Le Buzz Coffee, a few miles out from the base of Mount Lemmon. She biked from there up to Ski Valley, down to Windy Point, back up to Summer Haven, and then all the way down. That’s a five-and-a-half hour bike ride with 9,000 feet of climbing. Physically, Schmisseur was prepared, but it’s hard to mentally prepare yourself for the intimidating race of Kona.
“It’s like the Super Bowl for triathlon,” Schmisseur said.
Flying into Kona, Schmisseur was accompanied by her family, friends and Tricats Head Coach Jimmy Riccitello. They flew into a town that was basically turned into an expo. Stores were covered in IRONMAN banners and restaurants were giving athletes discounts.
“It’s like a holiday over there,” Schmisseur said. “The town is so excited for this race.”
As if the town seeming more prepared than every athlete wasn’t enough to take in, imagine looking around at your fellow racers that are all practically double your age. It’s scary, but nothing Schmisseur wasn’t ready to face. She earned her spot and was ready to race.
First was the swim. After getting her swim skin and vaseline on and saying one last goodbye to her support team, Schmisseur was ready. She stood there waiting for the conch shell blow to signal the 18-39 age wave to start and when it did, nobody started. Off went a second blow — and still nothing, so she said “screw it” and started swimming to lead her wave.
“I got so distracted by all the stuff in the ocean,” Schmisseur said. “I had to remind myself that I am doing a race because I saw eels, stingrays, scuba divers and just tons and tons of fish. I got so distracted by everything.”
After battling the distraction of beautiful and exotic fish, and 2.4 miles of swimming through the choppy waters of Kailua Bay, next was the 112 mile bicycle ride — a ride that would test Schmisseur’s strength on all levels.
After she mounted the bike, there was already immediate commotion she had to navigate around: a man crashed right in the middle of her starting chute and took two men down with him. That was not going to get in her way though, because Schmisseur was on a 112-mile solo mission: The bike course was an out-and-back ride, making it hard for her family to watch her until she came back for the run.
Schmisseur began to feel stomach cramps early in the course that were hard to stretch out because she was on a bike. Because of this, she took a minute to lie down and stretch them out, but quickly realized it wasn’t a cramp and was some type of never-before-experienced stomach cramps. This wasn’t going to stop her though. Instead, she kept thinking mind over matter, ignored the cramps, cheered on her favorite pros, enjoyed the views and kept pedaling. Schmisseur had to face some of the worst winds Kona has ever had during a race, making her hands sore from having to hold on so tight.
“Respect this island and keep pedaling,” were the words repeating in Schmisseur’s mind by coach Riccitello.
Schmisseur most certainly did and, in doing so, gave herself a heat stroke and stomach issues. In fact, one of the volunteers grabbed her to tell her she didn’t look good, which is probably not something that someone wants to hear during a marathon. But she made her way out of transition two, ready to take on 26.2 miles.
Her family and boyfriend did their best to be right by her side for that marathon. They knew she could finish and inspired her to just settle into her pace, stay calm and run her race.
Through the marathon, Schmisseur was stuffing ice down her trisuit and running through the hoses. She was unaware of the pace she was at and simply focused on checking off those miles one by one. Upon reaching mile 26, Schmisseur ran to the finish line with relief and was greeted at the finisher chute by her family and boyfriend.
Schmisseur tested her mental and physical strength by never giving up and believing in what her body could do. She finished the marathon with a 4:20:39 time after the swim and bike and ended up finishing ninth in her age group with a total time of 11:38:09.
Overall, Schmisseur took on Kona without any clue what to expect and came away with the knowledge of her abilities.
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