Susan Haag: 122 and Counting
World Record Holder
In 2016 at Ironman Florida, I became the first woman in the world to complete triple digits of long-distance (140.6 miles) triathlons, commonly referred to as "Ironmans."
I've finished north of 425 total triathlons of varying distances, but there's something so special about the 140.6 mile distance. To date, I've done 122 full Ironman triathlons, and I plan to keep going.
I don't win any of these races, and being competitive isn't even the goal. Ironman for me is a day of adventure where you pray nothing goes wrong: it's the adventure that keeps me coming back year after year.
Life Before Triathlon
I'm not an elite athlete or Olympian, and I'm not being modest when I say I was never an athletic kid. I focused on my studies, got lost in books, and loved to watch and appreciate the talent of others. No sports for me!
When I went to college, I saw a college rowing team practice for the first time. I was a Kentucky born and raised kid who had barely any exposure to water sports, and I wanted to make the crew team.
I ultimately didn't make the cut, but training for tryouts sparked something that burns to this day. I kept up the running I started, and then I finished a 100-mile charity bike ride on my then-boyfriend's bike. That's when I fell in love with bike riding, which to this day is my favorite way to move.
When I was in law school in Florida in the early 90's, an ad for a sprint triathlon caught my eye. I showed up in a bathing suit and shorts on yet another borrowed bike.
I doggie-paddled through the swim, got a flat tire and ultimately hammered the wheel into a square since I didn't know any better, and ran/walked the run. There were so few participants that I remember winning something, and I was hooked.
Triathlon has been my sport ever since.
"I Will Never Do An Ironman"
Famous last words. In 2002 amidst a career change, a friend said "come do Ironman Brazil with us." I had about a decade of triathlon under my belt, including a handful of half-ironman distances. Despite swearing to never do that distance, I jumped through some serious hoops to make Brazil happen.
With plans to crash on my friends' hotel trundle bed and passport in hand, I was ready to take on my first Ironman. I only needed to make a 13 hour roundtrip drive to Miami from Jacksonville to convince a visa agent to expedite my visa (aka get it done in one day, versus the several weeks it typically took.)
With 5 days to takeoff -and a lot of convincing/pleading on my part- I secured my visa. I was headed for the first of what would become 122 Ironmans.
The Triathlon Transformation
Training for and competing in triathlons is transformational. The training alone forces you to rise to whatever the day brings: some days you're an animal in training, and others you barely slog through an 'easy' session.
You do it anyway. This carries into all aspects of your life: you rise each morning ready to meet the day, whatever it brings.
I think triathlon also shifts your perspective toward gratitude. I'll never forget the time I was absolutely suffering on the Lake Placid course, and I hear a guy yell "Smile!" I'm about to bite his head off when I look up and see his ankle-to-hip prosthetic leg.
How can you NOT smile? That puts a different type of wind in your sails, one I think you can only get from endurance sports.
"Relentless Forward Progress."
Triathlon requires you to practice "relentless forward progress." Even and especially when it's hard, you show up and put in the time.
The moment you cross that finish line, you are changed. No matter how many "bad attitude" days you had, how much your feet hurt, how swollen your blisters are: you've conquered the dragon. The "iron dragon" came out, and despite every obstacle, you slayed it.
"They say anything worth doing is hard. I say: anything worth doing is hard, and you get to do it.
Go slay that dragon."