The Collegian
Saturday, December 09, 2023

Three Richmond professors prepare for Ironman Florida Triathlon

Three University of Richmond professors will breach their mental and physical limits when they compete in the Ford Ironman Florida Triathlon in Panama City Beach on Saturday.

Susan Leahy, 40, the director of reading; Carmen Hamlin, 30, a 1997 Richmond alumna and adjunct English instructor; and Melissa Pine, 30, a visiting history lecturer, have been training for the past year to swim 2.4 miles in the Gulf of Mexico, bike 112 miles and run a marathon within 17 hours during one day.

"I'm not nervous yet," Leahy said. "It is just overwhelming to think about at the moment."

Pine added, "I feel serenity every now and then, but there are several moments of abject terror."

The three professors signed up for the event on Nov. 1, 2006, with different motives for competing in the triathlon.

"It was one of those things that I didn't think I could ever do," Leahy said. "I knew I was going to be 40 this year and I wanted to do something unusual."

Leahy, who is predominantly a runner, said she used to compete in marathons and road races until she joined the triathlon training group TRIgirl in July 2006. Having never trained for a triathlon before she joined TRIgirl, Leahy said being a part of a group has been wonderful, and the women she trains with are fantastic.

Hamlin is also a member of TRIgirl. She said she decided to sign up for the Ford Ironman Florida Triathlon because she was peer-pressured by other TRIgirls and wanted to prove to herself that anything is possible.

"The Ironman motto is 'anything is possible,'" Hamlin said. "If you start training now, in one year you could complete an Ironman triathlon."

Hamlin said she was different than most of the women who she trains with because she never exercised until 2004.

"I began exercising because I felt out-of-shape, overweight and unhealthy," Hamlin said.

That year, Hamlin started running and competed in her first race, the Monument 10K. Since then, Hamlin has approached training with the motto: "When I say I can't — well, with that attitude I can't."

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Leahy, Hamlin and the rest of the TRIgirls spent a large portion of their time training for the triathlon.

During the week, they biked, ran and swam, but their most important workouts were the five to seven hour-long workouts on Saturdays.

Leahy said the group typically rides for 50 miles, runs 10 miles and swims 2 1/2 miles.

Saturday's event will be both Leahy and Hamlin's first Ironman triathlon. They said they would both be happy to finish the race in less than 17 hours, the allowed time for completion.

But Pine wants to do more than just complete the race - she is looking to finish the triathlon in less than 12 hours. In the United Kingdom, where she is from, Pine is a member of the triathlon-training group The Pirate Ship of Fools.

In Richmond, Pine trains by herself.

"I train by myself all the time, especially while biking," Pine said. "In the actual race you are alone, so training alone is good preparation."

Pine, who was on the crew team until she graduated from college, spent more than 50 hours per week training until she began to taper two weeks ago.

"The hardest part of training for me was riding my bike to Charlottesville," Pine said. "It is a tough route, but the cars are friendly."

Charlottesville is 70.6 miles away from Richmond, according to Google maps.

The Ford Ironman Florida will be the second Ironman triathlon in which Pine has competed. She said she finished the Ironman Germany last year in 12 hours and 43 minutes, but she would like to drop her time in the swim, bike, and run to reach her goal of breaking 12 hours. Pine said her ultimate goal was to qualify for the Hawaii Ironman, which would require her to finish within 11 hours to qualify.

"I think I will do as many Ironmans as it takes to qualify for Hawaii," Pine said.

Both Leahy and Hamlin said after completing this Ironman, they will go back to competing in the races that they enjoy. Leahy said that she wanted to run in the Suntrust Richmond Marathon next year, and Hamlin said that she wanted to run in the Monument 10k as well as the James River Scramble.

Hamlin is also looking forward to being active without training.

"I like to go on long, slow walks," Hamlin said. "I like to just play in the ocean, and I love to cycle leisurely on Sunday afternoons."

Still, all three professors said they have learned a lot about themselves while training for this event.

A lot of people think that this is about pride and accomplishments," Hamlin said. "It is actually very humbling. Emotional ups and downs are intensified while you are training, but you learn to keep things in perspective."

Pine added: "This is about pushing limits. Why shouldn't someone just do an Ironman"

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