2013 has not been easy for Michelle Lyman. In fact, she’s labeled it the “year of setbacks,” as it includes a list of injuries and struggles that keep holding the ultra-active athlete back. None of it, however, is keeping Lyman from her goal. Today, she is in Louisville, Ky., competing in the Ironman. An Ironman race is a full-distance or ultra triathlon, consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bike ride and finishing up with a full 26.2-mile marathon. Lyman’s goal is not only to complete the race, but to place high enough to qualify for the Ironman World Championship, held every year in Hawaii.
Lyman admits she wasn’t much of an athlete in high school, picking up only one sport, volleyball. It wasn’t until 2000 that she became interested in competitive racing of any kind.
“I watched someone else do a marathon, so I did a marathon,” Lyman said in her matter-of-fact way. “And it just took off from there. Marathon led to triathlon which led to adventure races, which led to snowshoe races, which led to here.”
It may not seem like the most logical progression on paper, but listening to Lyman tell it, it couldn’t be helped.
Snowshoe racing was what drew her from Illinois to Summit County 11 years ago, and she’s decided to stick around.
“On some levels I love the sense of community. I think there’s a great group of people who have been here a while,” she said. “It’s a good community and it is a healthier place to live. … People are so much healthier here than when I lived in Chicago.”
Since 2008, Lyman has set aside the snowshoes and the adventure races to focus almost completely on running trail races and triathlons. More is always an option for Lyman, as she takes on as many races as possible. Last year she competed in 38 races. The year before that it was 62.
“I wouldn’t know how to define myself if I wasn’t racing,” she said.
A series of setbacks
Unfortunately, Lyman has been plagued with setbacks recently. It started with what she describes as a “horrific” bike crash in 2012. The next injury came during the 2012-13 ski season. It was a routine ski day at Breckenridge on the last open weekend.
“I wasn’t doing anything crazy,” she said. “… I just took a fall. My skis crossed in front of me for a second and I just kind of lay down, and my knee went pop! It was so loud, it was such an audible pop, I was thinking, ‘That cannot be good,’” she said.
It wasn’t. Two days later, when she went to the doctor, the knee was so swollen that he had difficulty diagnosing it, eventually telling her it was a torn meniscus and LCL. Then she went to her physical therapist, who told her to stay off of it for six weeks.
“And I said, ‘That’s not going to happen,’” Lyman recalled. “Then she said four weeks, and I said, ‘Try again.’ She said, ‘This is not a negotiation.’”
Nevertheless, Lyman negotiated a seven-day resting period. After that she was up and out, mountain biking and racing.
The setback of the knee injury bothered Lyman to no end.
“This year I went from having 33 races on my docket to having about seven, which is very unusual and makes me crazy,” she said. “I’m being forced to take a break that I didn’t want to take, because of my knee.”
Lyman also lost three of her best training partners to various other locations and jobs, which didn’t help. She tried to remain positive, however, and did the best she could with her downtime, including reading “Born to Run” by runner and journalist Christopher McDougall.
“It motivated me to mentally try to make myself enjoy running, so I’ve had a better attitude toward it,” she said, “but the (injury) is holding me back.”
Eye on the prize
Lyman is determined that no injury will prevent her from her attempt to compete in the Hawaii Ironman. Having just turned 40, she is the youngest of her age bracket, which she hopes will translate to a competitive advantage.
“They take the best of the best and it’s so hard,” she said. “You (might) be off your game, one little thing can be off and you’re not going, you’re not even close.”
Leading up to the race, Lyman has been working closely with her physical therapist and a “rolfing” therapist to overcome her injuries.
“I have two people who are trying to put me back together, like Humpty Dumpty,” Lyman said. “… I wouldn’t be half the athlete I am without that.”
The challenge is what drives Lyman to compete in the first place.
“I think it’s the competition. I think it’s seeing what you can do,” she said, of her love affair with triathlons and racing.
The Ironman world championship represents the extreme of testing what she can do, and it’s been on her mind for a while.
“When I want something, nothing’s going to stop me, I don’t care how long it takes,” she said.
Today, Lyman is swimming, biking and running in Louisville, pushing herself to the limits to get the chance to do it all over again in Hawaii this October. And whether she makes it or not this year, we can be sure to see her out on the Summit County trails again the second she gets back.