News: Base inspector completes ninth Ironman triathlon, prepares for tenth
Story by Kristen Wong
MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII, Kaneohe Bay - Simple joys can inspire a person to perform incredible feats.
On the 75th mile of her ninth Ironman triathlon in Penticton, British Columbia, Canada, on Aug. 26, Lt. Col. Heidi McKenna Schmitt found joy in a peanut butter and honey sandwich on gluten-free bread. The Albany, N.Y., native finished the competition in 12 hours and 8 minutes, not far from her original goal.
“That was the first time I’ve ever made a sandwich (for an Ironman triathlon),” said McKenna, MCB Hawaii’s base inspector. “It made me very happy.”
So what makes a Marine voluntarily train for hours on top of family and work commitments, for nine Ironman triathlons and numerous other races?
“It can be challenging,” McKenna Schmitt said. “I just yearn for the serotonin high. It’s just a way to sort out stress in life and release tension.”
The Subaru Ironman Canada 2012 consisted of a 2.4-mile single-loop swim, 112-mile bike and a 26-mile run, according to Shawn Skene, an event content writer for Ironman.
McKenna Schmitt spent 13 weeks training prior to Ironman Canada. She rode her bike twice a week including longer rides on the weekend, ran three times a week including longer runs on the weekend, and swam three to four times weekly. This year, she has also cut gluten from her diet. Since this change, McKenna Schmitt said she didn’t have as many stomach problems while competing.
This was McKenna Schmitt’s third Ironman Canada. She has also competed in a number of other countries that host Ironman triathlons.
“It’s in my blood,” McKenna Schmitt said. “I have the Ironman addiction.”
While attending graduate school in Monterey, Calif., McKenna Schmitt saw others training for the event, and tried her first Ironman triathlon, Ironman California Oceanside.
“I thought doing Ironman was crazy,” McKenna Schmitt said.
But after she finished her first Ironman, McKenna Schmitt continued to compete.
“She’s very attuned to her body,” said Maj. Dean Stouffer, the facilities maintenance officer for MCB Hawaii. “She knows when to go and when to hold back. She’s seasoned.”
McKenna Schmitt beat Stouffer’s time during the 2011 Honolulu Marathon, is “competitive” and has a “cool confidence.” Stouffer himself has competed in two Ironman triathlons, and has a friendly rivalry with McKenna Schmitt. In preparation, he works out consistently throughout the week, and more time exercising on the weekend, but McKenna Schmitt still puts in much more training than he does.
“She’s intense,” Stouffer said. “She’s focused on doing what she needs to do, whether it’s a speed workout or an endurance workout.”
But Ironman days are not over for the 42-year-old, as she plans to compete in the Ironman World Championship triathlon in Kona, Hawaii, for a second time, Oct. 13. This triathlon consists of a 3.8-kilometer swim, a 180-kilometer bike and a 42-kilometer run. No one can simply just sign up for the Ironman World Championship.
Currently, participants vie for a spot in the event through an eBay auction, a lottery program, or earn a slot through other specific events, according to the championship website. McKenna Schmitt was one of only 20 people chosen from the Hawaii state lottery program.
“I feel pretty lucky and blessed,” McKenna Schmitt said. “I feel lucky my body has let me train and compete.”
For those who are thinking about trying an Ironman triathlon, she advised to try an Olympic triathlon first, which consists of a 1.5-kilometer swim, 40-kilometer bike, and a 10-kilometer run. Then, she suggested trying a half-Ironman, or an Ironman 70.3, which consists of a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike, and 13.1-mile run.
“They’re all different races,” McKenna Schmitt said. “There are different strategies for each distance. (Ironman) is purely an endurance event. It’s 75 percent mental.”
Although McKenna Schmitt plans to take a break from Ironman triathlons after competing in Kona, she wants to keep competing in triathlons and half-Ironmans.
“I’m living the dream,” she said. “Many Ironman athletes dream just to get to Kona … I’ve already done that and I get to go again, which makes it even more amazing.”