Sometimes social media can feel invasive and impersonal, but then there are moments where you really appreciate its power to connect us with new friends, keep us in touch with old ones and make the world feel just a little bit smaller.
Case in point: When I saw triathlon training photos start popping up in my Facebook feed from Meghan Manion, sister of my best friend growing up (shout out to Katie) and daughter of my grade school Spanish teacher (hola, Senora Manion!).
Next thing I knew, she was toeing the start line at the Florida Ironman (that’s a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2 mile run, FYI) and I was virtually cheering her on, along with hundreds of her other friends around the country, on race day earlier this month.
While she claims her story is about what your average person can do with with proper training and coaching, I tend to think she’s anything but average considering the dedication, courage and sheer tenacity needed for success in this sport. Manion crossed the finish line in an impressive 13:57:29, and I caught up with her after the race to get her take on the day, as well as her training leading up to it.
KineticFix: Meghan Manion, you are in Ironman. Congratulations! Can you even put that feeling into words now that you’ve completed the race?
Meghan Manion: I can finally wrap my head around it, but it took a few days. It was a really surreal thing in the days immediately after the race. I had so much fun reliving the day with my friends and family, and that has helped me form some great memories of the day. I feel so happy that my day went as planned, and when I think back to the experience of crossing that finish line, it brings tears to my eyes every time. I really think it was the most incredible day of my life so far.
KF: What’s the first thing you did when you crossed the finish line?
MM: When I crossed the finish line, a volunteer caught me immediately and congratulated me. I started crying the happiest tears of joy, and she asked if everything was ok. I told her, that it was amazing, and she hugged me and celebrated with me. The next thing I remember is looking to the left and seeing my boyfriend Nate with identical crocodile tears in his eyes. Next came my mom, pushing Nate out of her way, and she was crying, too. It was such a fantastic moment. My mom handed me the biggest can of bud light that I have ever seen. I had so many friends and family with me there at that moment, and I felt like I was on top of the world.
KF: What’s your favorite memory from race day?
MM: My favorite memory of the race happened on the bike course at mile 60. I was coming up to a cheer station that my triathlon training team, Team Z, had set up. I noticed a lot of familiar faces along the road, and they were all lined up jumping and screaming. As I rode past, every single one of them mooned me! It was hilarious, and I laughed about it for hours afterwards. They had me distracted and amused for the rest of the race with that one!
KF: What was the toughest moment, and how did you power through it?
MM: The toughest moment, for me, was waiting for the race to start. I fear the swim more than anything in triathlon. I’ve spent a few years learning how to swim, but I still have a long way to go. I’m not the most confident open water swimmer either, and IMFL is an ocean swim. In the days before the race, Nate swam with me each day, and we battled some pretty huge surf. The practice was great for me, and definitely helped me on race day. The funniest part about all of that pre-race nervousness is that I ended up having the swim of my life. I remember stopping at one point and realizing that I was having FUN! That is unheard of for me; I always struggle through swims. I finished the first loop smiling, eager to get back in and do it again. I never would have predicted that, and it set me up for a great day. The lesson here is that you will always doubt your training, but it is important to trust your coaches and trust in the work you have put in leading up to race day.
KF: What do you think was the key factor in your success?
MM: The key factor in my success at IMFL was joining a triathlon training team in the Washington DC area, called Team Z. Besides having amazing coaches, training plans and workouts, Team Z provides a social aspect that cannot be matched. It is so much easier to get up at 4am to go on a seven-hour training ride when you know that 100+ of your friends will be waiting for you, they will ride with you all day, and then your coach will welcome you to the finish with a beer and a burger. We had 40 people compete in IMFL, and hundreds more come down just to cheer us on. It was a race day experience that I feel very lucky to have had. I really recommend looking for local triathlon clubs or training programs when taking on the Ironman. It can make all of the difference.
KF: Anything that surprised you or that you weren’t expecting?
MM: Yes! The wonders of hot chicken broth! I had heard from previous Ironmen that there is nothing quite like the broth that Ironman serves on the run after the sun goes down. I did not know the power of this stuff until I decided to give it a try. The sun sets early at IMFL, and I did half of the run in the dark. I was chilly and feeling weak. That salty treat perked me right up at the perfect moment.
KF: Is there anything you’d do differently next time?
MM: I really don’t think I would change a thing! I had such an unbelievable day, and I really have no regrets at all. Well…I guess I could follow the rules better, to be completely honest! I received a drafting penalty early on in the race. It made me laugh more than anything. I had to stop at the next Penalty Tent and serve a four-minute penalty for drafting off of the person in front of me. I guess I’d try to not be a “cheater” next time around!
KF: Your background is mostly in running. So how’d you get into triathlon?
MM: I started running marathons in 2006. I never really loved running like some people do, but it was an easy way to burn the calories. Once I was bored with marathons, I bought my first road bike for some cross training. Next thing I knew, I was signed up with Team in Training for my first Olympic Distance Tri in 2010. The rest is history! I really enjoyed the challenge of learning a new skill (swimming) as an adult. I also enjoy the variety of the three events. Plus, riding your bike is just plain fun!
KF: When did you join Team Z & how has that factored into your racing?
MM: I joined Team Z in October of 2011. Just two years later, they led me to my first Ironman. That is incredible! I feel like I am an unlikely Ironman. I was never the most athletic person growing up. Team Z showed me what a normal person can do with the right training and coaching. It is truly incredible to learn what the human body is capable of with proper training. I have also formed countless friendships through my team.
KF: Walk us through your decision to take on the Ironman distance.
MM: I traveled to Panama City Beach in 2012 to watch a great friend from college compete in her first Ironman. Stacie Edington is one of my friends from the water-ski team at the University of Michigan. She was supposed to have her Ironman year in 2011, but fell off of her bike on a training ride that year. She postponed her race for a year while she recovered from a broken leg. I was really inspired by her determination and toughness. She powered through the rehab, and had a fantastic race at IMFL 2012. Watching her was amazing. She encouraged me to sign up, and along with some more pressure from one of my Team Z coaches, (Ryan Pettengill) I just suddenly found myself in the line to sign up. It was a decision that I considered for about 10 minutes before handing over my credit card. I’m thrilled that it happened like it did
KF: Any advice for people looking to get into triathlon?
MM: My coach Ed Zerkle has a famous line that I love: “You’ll never know unless you Tri.” That just says it all. Find yourself some good people to help you a long the way, and give it a go. You never know where you will end up after doing that first Sprint tri. You might just surprise yourself.
KF: Any advice for runners, in particular, who want to try it but who are afraid of open water and intimidated by the bike?
MM: Being afraid of open water and/or the bike are problems that every triathlete has faced. They are real fears! The fun comes in conquering them. With determination, you can learn to overcome those fears, and when it happens, you’ll never feel better. Be sure to celebrate along the way as you achieve even small goals. Give yourself some credit for the awesome things you can accomplish!
KF: You’re an accomplished endurance athlete with quite a few races under your belt; got any tips for training hard but keeping injury at bay?
MM: I believe in training just enough, and not over-training. I do just what my coach prescribes, never more (but…yes, sometimes a little less!!). When something flares up, you have to be willing to take a break while it heals. A few missed workouts will not ruin your race, but a chronic injury might. Seek professional help early, and do what you are told!!
KF: I’ve heard that there are two reactions upon completing an Ironman: A) “Never again!”, and B) “When’s the next one?” Which camp are you in & why?
MM: I haven’t decided yet! I loved my day so much, and I don’t know if it could ever be the same the second time around. I might be happy to take this experience, continue celebrating it, and be happy with shorter races going forward. I have a feeling that at some point the idea of trying and Ironman again with come up. I’ll have to figure that out then. I know that at a minimum, I will take the next year to let myself recover, and enjoy some shorter distance racing.
KF: What the next goal you’ve set your sights on?
MM: I’m going to Disney World! (For real!) My Ironman inspiration, Stacie, suggested trying the Goofy Challenge in January. We will run a half marathon on Saturday, followed by a full marathon on Sunday all at Disney World. We signed up for the races with a big group of friends, and I am looking forward to the craziness!
KF: Any final words of wisdom that you can pass along to other Ironman hopefuls?
MM: One more piece of advice for future Ironmen: We all focus on the physical training. It is so important! But remember that Ironman day is a mental race, too. I was lucky enough to do some pre-race mental prep sessions with accomplished Ironman, Kendra Goffredo. She helped me train my brain for race day, using a variety of strategies, such as visualization. I cannot say enough about the importance of paying attention to this part of the training in addition to your workouts.
Many thanks to Meghan for taking the time to share some wonderful triathlon tips and Ironman memories. And congratulations on your incredible race results; your story will no doubt inspire all of us to ‘tri’ something new!