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The Incredible Story of One Woman's Journey to Her First Ironman at Age 61

PopSugar logo PopSugar 2/12/2018 Gina Florio
Anne Parkhurst Ironman Competition © Anne Parkhurst Anne Parkhurst Ironman Competition

Not many people think about entering an Ironman competition when they're in their 60s. But Anne Parkhurst was up for the challenge. If you're not familiar with an Ironman, it's this: swim for 2.4 miles, bike for 112 miles, and run for 26.2 miles. Yes, you read that right. And Anne did it all for the first time ever when she was 61! POPSUGAR caught up with Anne to hear about her incredible accomplishment. Read on for her inspiring story. 

POPSUGAR: Why did you start your journey to train for an Ironman competition? What made you decide to do it?

Anne Parkhurst: At first, I didn't know I was training for an Ironman. I was 56 and almost 200 pounds with some health issues. My parents both became very ill at the same time. I was under a lot of stress and exhausted all the time. Everyone told me I should take care of myself first, and antidepressants were mentioned. Instead of pills, I went on a diet and exercise program.

My doctor cautioned me that I was doing the same exercise every day and that I should cross-train. It was his idea to train for a "sprint" triathlon, which, at the time, I didn't even know existed. By the end of 2013, I did my first mini sprint, had lost most of my weight, and was down to 140 pounds. After that, the thought occurred to me that I might be able to do an Ironman someday. I was going to do a half-Ironman in 2015, but I injured my knee and couldn't do it, so I did it in 2016. I saw Beachbody's "Make Me an Ironman" contest. I entered the contest, and I was selected along with five other people!

PS: How did you see your body transform while training?

AP: I was warned when I started this training that I would not lose weight. You have to take in too many calories to maintain the level of activity training for Ironman requires. Having said that, I was about 140 pounds when I started and 140 pounds when I completed my Ironman. So I maintained my weight, felt great, and have legs of steel! Even though I am 61, I wear short dresses and shorts whenever I can!

PS: What motivated you to keep training during times when you didn't feel like it?

AP: I'm a goal-oriented person, so once the goal was set, I was going to do everything I could to get there. Of course, having sponsors was also motivating because I didn't want to let them down. I was getting the best of everything, from Beachbody supplements to coaching to a great bike. I felt I was being set up for success. Also, due to an age-related degenerative knee issue, if I didn't do it while I had this chance, I probably would not be able to do it again. Failure was not an option!

Not many people think about entering an Ironman competition when they're in their 60s. But Anne Parkhurst was up for the challenge. Not many people think about entering an Ironman competition when they're in their 60s. But Anne Parkhurst was up for the challenge. PS: How many hours were you training per week on average?

AP: I was training about 15 hours a week.

PS: Did you follow a specific diet while training?

AP: I didn't have a special diet. Because I had to take in so many calories training, I did try to keep it lean and high fiber. For breads and pasta, I kept it multigrain or whole wheat. I tried to eat all my carbs during my training window. So if I worked out in the morning, I would get my carbs in the morning and stick to veggies and lean meat in the evening. During workouts, over time, my coach and I developed a nutrition strategy to help me get through the long day of Ironman. That involved a hydration strategy and 100 calories of mainly carbs every 30 minutes.

PS: How did you properly recover while training?

AP: My coach gave me one day off a month! Also stretching and foam rolling. I used Beachbody Recover after every workout except swimming. I used Beachbody Recharge every night. I would mix Hydrate and Energize for bike rides and long walks/runs. I also used two packets of Energize on the bike and two on the run. No matter how long I had to train - and I did a couple of 100-mile bike rides during my training - I was almost never sore the next day. I think that is due to the Recover and Recharge. Because my muscles were getting nourishment, they were happy and I kept improving.

PS: How did you feel when you crossed the finish line?

AP: My feeling was joy! Joy that I did it! Part of me never really believed I could do it. As I was coming down the chute, everyone was high-fiving me, and that was when I almost started crying. It was just the most amazing experience.

PS: Who was your biggest support system while you were training?

AP: My husband, of course. I just got married last May while I was training, so he knew what he was getting into. My coach was great! He was very hands on and communicated with me almost daily. Since I started my triathlon journey, I have made friends with many awesome people to keep me company on 100-mile bike rides, too.

PS: What are some other ways completing an Ironman competition positively impacted your life?

AP: I never felt better! I have tons of energy. I almost never get tired as long as I am doing something. I do tend to pass out by 10 p.m. With regard to friends, family, and acquaintances, I have people tell me all the time that seeing what I can do has inspired them to do things they didn't think they could do.

PS: How has your fitness routine changed since the competition ended?

AP: I gained a few pounds. But I'm back to training and watching my diet, and I registered for the Oceanside 70.3 race. I just feel good when I am training. I have never felt so healthy. I'm still working, so training for this next race won't be as time consuming. 

PS: Any advice or tips for people on their own journey who are training for a specific event?

AP: The key to my success on race day was being prepared by my training, pacing, and nutrition strategy, including hydration and salt intake. I was all in. It was nice to be able to do that with a supportive husband and my grown kids.

PS: Anything else you want to share?

AP: I am so grateful to have had this opportunity that Beachbody's "Make Me an Ironman" contest provided. I am also grateful for the amazing journey I have been on for the past four years to get healthy and feel good. I live in an "active adult" community and just started a swim team. I still work, but after I retire, I want to teach seniors to swim. I have had so many people tell me they are sorry they never learned to swim, and they think because they are older, they can't learn. But I will fix that!

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