For Cody resident Sara Bailey, 43, competing in Ironman triathlons isn’t about so much about the race itself, but the feeling of accomplishment afterwards, knowing that months of training paid off.
“It’s a pretty amazing feeling,” Bailey said.
Ironman races make up the cream-of-the-crop of endurance athletics. The triathlons require a full helping of endurance stamina with a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride and standard 26.2-mile marathon, all in one race.
Bailey recently finished the Ironman Chattanooga in Tennessee on Sept. 29. Although it wasn’t her best performance, she said it brought her great pleasure just to cross the finish line as the clock approached midnight.
“I was just super jazzed and feel super blessed that I’m able to train for these and compete in them,” Bailey said. “I believe fitness connects to overall wellness in life.”
Although the physical strain of finishing a race like this is hard for most people to even grasp, Bailey said the mental challenge they present is the most difficult part.
Conditions did not play to the favor of competitors on race day with a 96-degree temperature and the air thick with southern humidity. Furthermore, the bike ride was actually 116 miles – an extra four miles – due to the loop-style setup of this portion of the race.
“This 2.4-mile swim in the Tennessee River, 116-mile bike ride and a full 26-mile marathon is an incredible accomplishment,” Ashley Trudo, marketing and public relations director for Cody Regional Health, said in a Facebook post honoring Bailey.
While a high percentage of athletes did not finish, Bailey wasn’t one of them. She credits her success to the research she did in the days leading up to the race on how to prepare for the muggy conditions, which included increasing sodium and fluid intake.
“I feel so much more dialed in to what I need to do to prepare for (Ironmans) and how I need to be smart about my training and listening to my body,” Bailey said.
Because of the heat, she said she kept a “slow and steady” pace, finishing about 90 minutes behind her first Ironman time. Even so, she could only keep a measured pace so far, as each race comes with cutoff times that participants must make in order to continue racing.
She finished in 15:47, beating the cutoff by just under 45 minutes.
“I was watching the clock a lot,” Bailey said.
The comeback kid
After taking some time off in 2017 due to an injury, she made a comeback last year with a half-Ironman and decided to make the plunge this fall with a return to a full race.
Four months of training got her where she needed to be but really, ever since competing in her first half-Ironman in Calgary in 2014, she’s been hooked.
“To be able to compete in these you’re always kind of prepping,” she said. “It’s just part of my life, to run, to bike, to swim.”
Ironically, Bailey has never run a standalone marathon although she’s a lifetime athlete and runner. She also has been a cyclist her whole life but did not take up swimming until training for her first Ironman.
She said what drew her into the sport was the famous 1982 Hawaii Ironman in which Julie Moss crawled across the finish line.
“That’s when I was like, ‘I want to do one of those,’” Bailey exclaimed. “That’s kind of who I am. I seek out challenges.
“It looked amazing to be able to push your body to that limit.”
After competing in another two halves in 2015, she decided it was time to step it up.
In 2016, she did her first full Ironman at the Ironman Vineman in Windsor, Calif.
“I revolved my life around my training because completing my Ironman race was so important to me,” Bailey said. “It was a life goal so I wasn’t sure if I would have a second chance at it.”
No matter the shape one may be in, training for an Ironman race may take up to a year to prepare for, prepping the body for an incredible feat of physical exertion.
“I am more aware of how I can adjust my workouts around my life and not adjust my life around my workouts,” Bailey said.
During “peak” weeks she said she reaches 17 hours of workouts. For a full-time member of the surgical services department at Cody Regional Health, carving out this kind of time in her already busy schedule, which includes being a mother of three boys, takes some serious strategy.
She often is awake long before the sun rises, making the most of her day while most people are still sleeping.
“A lot of my training is done before my sons get up,” Bailey said.
Being that warm weather is lacking in Cody for significant portions of the year, her garage becomes a common training venue. But when the weather improves, she frequents the Greybull and North Fork highways for six-hour bike rides. If she’s on-call at the hospital things get a little trickier.
“I would go out 20 minutes and then come back 20 minutes,” Bailey said. “Just like spreading it out to get my six hours in.”
Into the late summer and early fall she would ride around her subdivision with a headlamp to ensure she got all her time in.
However, she still contends that her bike training was a little more relaxed on her second Ironman, affecting her time negatively. Due to the length of the bike portion and a risk of a flat tire, she said it is the hardest of the three race elements.
“I always feel like I have to be really smart about my nutrition on the bike and how hard I ride on the bike portion,” Bailey said. “In the back of my head, I am planning for the marathon run that lays ahead, and I don’t want to hit the wall during the run because of how I handled the bike portion.”
When grinding her gears into the waning portions of the cycling portion, she said she harkens back to the many days she spent training as a way to keep pushing away.
“You know you’ve done all the work to get there and prepare, it’s just mind over matter if anything,” Bailey said.
For swimming, she calls the Rec Center home with 3,000-yard workouts.
She said her family supports her efforts and makes it to all her races. The boys are already interested in following in her footsteps, as they all run and swim. It will undoubtedly become part of their identities just as it has for her.
“It’s who I am, it’s who I’ve always been,” she said.