By MELINDA WILLIAMS
Physical activity has always been a part of Dr. Cynthia Southern’s life, but competing in a Half Iron Man Triathlon wasn’t one of her goals.
Nevertheless, the Pulaski dentist can now mark it off her bucket list because she not only attempted, but also completed, a Half Iron Man in Miami, Fla. A Half Iron Man triathlon begins with a 1.2-mile swim, then transitions into a 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run.
Southern, a Pulaski native and 1992 graduate of Pulaski County High School, was one of 3,000 people who took part in the triathlon. Although it was her first attempt at any kind of triathlon, she crossed the finish line in the 1,562nd position, with a time of six hours, 57 minutes.
That’s not too bad for a beginner. The best time was four hours and that included the times of 750 professional athletes who took part in the event. The event is time restricted, so anyone taking longer than eight hours to complete the course is disqualified.
“I can’t imagine a full Iron Man,” Southern said. “If I could exercise six hours a day, I might be able to get ready for something like that.”
She decided to take part in the Miami Half Iron Man after an uncle approached her to see if she would be interested in participating with him. She agreed and the training started.
“The tough part about training was finding time to do it,” she said. She dedicated eight hours per week to preparing for the triathlon and indicated that seemed to be sufficient for someone who is already used to exercising.
Southern has participated in running races in the past and she attended William and Mary on a basketball scholarship. She feels she might have been able to finish the triathlon faster if not for the fact participants also had to contend with Hurricane Sandy.
The hurricane was passing by Florida the day of the race, so they had to deal with high water, winds of 35 miles per hour, high humidity and a temperature of 86 degrees.
The swimming portion of the race was held in the salt waters of Biscayne Bay. Normally the waves and currents wouldn’t have been too bad, but with Sandy passing by swimmers had to fight to stay on the proper side of the buoys.
Biking and running in the wind was another matter.
Asked what advice she would give to someone thinking of competing in a Half Iron Man, Southern said, “Practice swimming and practice transitioning from biking to running.”
After biking 56 miles, she said her legs were so fatigued it took her about seven to eight minutes to get used to running. “Swimming is the scariest part, but I think the hardest part is getting off the bike and running. It’s tough,” she said.
The 1.2-mile swim is the equivalent of 40 laps in the pool at Hensel Eckman YMCA, according to Southern. When she first started training, she said she had to alternate between swim strokes because she would get tired. By the time she went to Florida, she was able to stick with freestyle for the whole swim.
It’s fortunate she could, because as she was swimming out into the bay she had to breathe on one side due to the waves and when she was swimming back to shore she had to breathe on the other side.
It was the swimming that ended up being the problem for the uncle who recruited her for the event. It turned out he never got to go to Miami because he couldn’t master the swimming sufficiently to compete, Southern said.
Another uncle (the first one’s brother) joined in and did compete. Southern said he was one of about 600 people who weren’t able to complete the triathlon.
“It’s a tough event,” she said.
So what does one win for finishing such a rigorous course?
A medal … and the satisfaction of knowing what was accomplished.