Walton's Studhalter places fourth in Quebec Ironman - Aug. 31, 2017
BY DENNY SCOTT
After two years of intense training, Walton native Michele Studhalter recently placed fourth in the gruelling Ironman competition at Mont-Tremblant.
The Ironman competition consists of a 3.8-kilometre swim, a 180-kilometre cycle and a 42.2-kilometre, two-loop run.
Studhalter, who now works in Waterloo for a technology company called Igloo Software, originally got involved in the event thanks to Blyth-area teacher Julie Sawchuk.
Sawchuk, who was paralyzed from the chest down when she was struck while cycling near Goderich two years ago, encouraged Studhalter to get involved.
“Before her accident, we talked about the Ironman competition,” she said. “I took it upon myself to do the race in her honour. I’ve been training since October for 10 to 20 hours a week. It’s a big undertaking.”
Studhalter explained that, her training, up until February, took 10 to 15 hours a week and consisted of two workouts a day except for Friday, her off-day.
“I would bike in the morning and swim in the afternoon,” she said. “The sessions on the weekend were longer, three to four hours each. Every week the training was longer and longer and, at my peak, I was doing about 22 hours of workout a week, not including stretches and massage therapy.”
She said, during her most intense periods of training, she would cycle for six hours and swim five kilometres “for fun.”
It all culminated in the Mont-Tremblant race on Aug. 20. Studhalter travelled to the Quebec site with some friends the day before and got settled in as best she could, though she admits it was an exciting place to be.
“It’s hard to explain the atmosphere,” she said. “It’s like Disney World for triathletes. It’s a big show. There are over 2,000 athletes there and it’s a lot of work to compete.”
The race started at 7 a.m., though Studhalter said most people are up and ready to go just before 4 a.m.
“We were lucky, as it was supposed to rain and it didn’t,” she said.
Her time in the first of the three events, the swim, was decent, according to Studhalter, but it certainly wasn’t easy.
“It was rough being in the water with that many people,” she said. “I was kicked in the face a couple times and got dragged down. My time was one hour and 11 minutes, which was faster than what I hoped.”
She next hopped on her bike and said that Mont-Tremblant is a notoriously-hilly race.
Prior to hitting any of the hills, however, she found herself a celebrity for a moment.
“There’s a transition area between each event and, as you went through, they announced who you are and where you are from,” she said. “It was exciting.”
She said the good weather continued as the cycling course wasn’t overly windy, however, half-way through the course, she found herself not only battling the race but also herself.
“I started puking every 10 minutes,” she said. “I’ve yet to figure out why that was, but it’s pretty common for endurance races. You can’t control what you can’t control.”
She said she finished the bike portion of the race slightly slower than she had hoped and was penalized for following a fellow cyclist too closely, however in the end she was happy with the results.
“All things considered, and not being able to keep any food or water down, finishing in six hours and 22 minutes was good,” she said.
Next was the run which Studhalter said was a daunting task.
“I knew it was going to be rough,” she said. “I was severely dehydrated and it was 32°C outside. I walked a lot more than I would have liked to, but, when you’re completely dehydrated, you don’t have a choice in the matter. I just kept pushing on until I finished the marathon.”
Studhalter finished the Ironman in 12 hours, 33 minutes and 50 seconds, earning a fourth-place finish in her age category (18-24) and a visit to the podium.
Looking back, she said it was an important undertaking that she doesn’t regret. She explained there are three reasons she participated.
First, she did the race for Sawchuk, saying she was an inspiration throughout the event. Secondly, she said she has always excelled at endurance events from her time at Blyth Public School to F.E. Madill Secondary School. Lastly, she said she wanted to see how she would do.
“I never had a race where I pushed myself to the point that I couldn’t go any further,” she said. “I wanted to find that barrier.”
She said that watching televised marathons and Ironman competitions, as well as YouTube videos, she could see how much hurt the professionals were in.
“They’re wobbling and falling over,” she said. “I felt that I needed to take it on and see what the human body is capable of.”
Marion, Studhalter’s sister, attended the race with her and told The Citizen that it was an amazing thing for her sister to complete.
“It was quite a commitment for someone that age,” she said. “There aren’t a lot of 18- to 24-year olds crazy enough to do that.”