Category Archives: triathlon Store

Ageless Athlete: 52 year old enjoys her 17th Ironman

An amazing story but aren’t all Ironman stories amazing in some regard? It’s about the personal stories, the obstacles, the triumph over themselves if nothing else.

This excerpt is reprinted with permission by Human Kinetics.


Laura Sophiea (born in 1955) plunged into Kailua Bay for the first
leg of the 2007 Ironman World Championship in Hawaii and followed a
friend through the chaos of arms and legs splashing through the water.
Almost immediately two men-“big, rude, and mean,” as Sophiea put
it-swam over her. She panicked and began to tread water. Then she found
a pair of quick feet and followed them until the three-quarter mark
where she was kicked so hard in the nose and lips that she saw stars.
She checked for blood and kept going. Sophiea always expects tumult in
the swim of the Ironman and trains in the pool by swimming fast at the
start of her workout and then backs off a bit in the middle before
piling on strong intervals at the end to mimic the mad rush at the
conclusion of the 2.4-mile (3.9 km) swim. 

Next up, the bike. The 112-mile (180 km) ride is famous for its heat
and winds, and in 2007 it was worse than usual. Aside from a 7-mile
(11.2 km) stretch when the coastal breezes were at her back, Sophiea
was buffeted by headwinds and crosswinds over the entire course. She
saw one rider get hit by a car. Sometimes the wind was so strong over
the lava fields that it pushed her bike at will. Usually cyclists share
their annoyance as they pass each other. But on this day, they were

The marathon is what worried her the most. She had torn her
hamstring some three months earlier. Sophiea was 52 years old and this
was her 17th Ironman. She has fared remarkably well over the years
while training for one of the toughest endurance events in the world.
True, there was the time in 2000 when she competed in Ironman with a
broken back. And in 1991, she wondered whether she would be suitably
hydrated if she had to pull off the course and breast-feed her youngest
daughter. But the run would be a test. She had spent hours getting
massages to speed the healing of her leg. And she had practiced
visualization to help her run pain free. She had backed off on her
running from 35 miles (56 km) a week to 20 (32 km) in the final run-up
to the race. She wondered whether the lower mileage would hurt her
endurance or if all of the pounding would harm the hamstring. 

It turned out it was the front of her legs, the quadriceps, that
seemed tired as she transitioned into the run. She had already logged
nearly an eight-hour day on the course. She was in first place in her
age group. But the woman in second was only eight minutes behind.
Mentally, miles 7 to 14 were the toughest in years-there was still so
much ahead. As the miles droned on, so did the self-doubt. Why had she
taken this on again? 

She tried sipping a Coke, which helped her pick up the pace. In the
final miles, she began feeling better and started to enjoy the race. As
she neared the end, she could hear the music playing. I watched footage
of Sophiea finishing the race on Ironman’s Web site. Thousands of
people lined Alii Drive in Kona and cheered as the athletes passed. The
pace quickened as Ironman announcer Mike Reilly told the runners the
clock was closing in on 11 hours.

The men and women around her were all younger. Most of the finishers
seemed to ignore their fatigue and were bounding for joy as the end
drew near. One man brought in his children for the final yards as
athlete, son, and daughter held hands and crossed the finish line

“Laura Sophiea from Birmingham, Michigan,” Reilly shouted over the
loudspeaker as she rounded the corner and came into view. Sophiea was
running strong, wearing a white sleeveless top and black running

“Way to go, Laura! Course record holder right here, 50 to 54! Laura Sophiea! Breaking 11 hours!” 

Sophiea had won her age group in the Ironman again, coming in at
10:59:32, maintaining an 8-minute gap on her closest challenger. She
pumped her arms triumphantly and smiled and waved to the crowd. 

Then suddenly she veered sideways and started to fall. Two
red-shirted attendants grabbed her and threw a towel over her
shoulders. Then came a third, a fourth, and a fifth-all of them
struggling to hold her up. In a moment, her joy turned to pain; the
sparkle in her eyes grew as distant as a fallen prizefighter’s. 

Medical personnel rushed her into a tent, where two liters of saline
dripped into the vein of an arm. An hour afterward, she vomited what
little remained in her stomach. 

For Sophiea, it was a typical Ironman finish. For all of her
training and experience, each year she always bonks at the end, sapping
every ounce of energy until it doesn’t matter anymore. She told me her
collapses at the Ironman do not bother her. She even viewed the extra
liter of saline she received as a bonus-a gift-that helped her get back
in the groove for her next race a month later in Clearwater, Florida. 

Ordinarily, she would have flown back to Michigan a day after
Ironman and sleepwalked her way through work for the rest of the week.
But it had been a momentous year. She had taken a leave from her job as
a librarian and media specialist at a middle school. Afterward, she
stayed an extra two weeks in Kona to recuperate and resume training.

Developing the catch and power phase in swimming freestyle

Anyone who has spent any time developing their freestyle knows that technique is everything.  Yes, eventually you will have endurance but technique, reducing drag, and drills make for an excellent swim.  One popular swim author claims to teach effortless swimming.  Although it is a good book, I have yet to find that effortless swim.  But with proper technique and its practice, you can have a faster time and expend less energy.

The following except comes from Mastering Swimming, reprinted here by permission of Human Kenetics.

Developing the catch and power phase

The power in swimming comes from the core group of muscles, which this book defines as the area from the neck to the knees, including all of the upper-back and shoulder muscles, the abdominal muscles, and the trunk and upper-leg muscles. The best way to access this power is with a great setup at the beginning of the freestyle underwater pull, or what is commonly called the catch. This term, which first became popular with the development of the crawl or freestyle stroke in the 19th century, refers to the point in the stroke when a swimmer’s hand connects with the water and starts to pull.

The catch itself is not the main propulsive part of the stroke, but when properly executed, it sets your stroke up to be more effective through the propulsive power phase that follows. The freestyle catch occurs in the first 9 to 12 inches (23-30 cm) of the stroke, where you begin your pull by pressing the fingertips down while keeping your elbow up. Imagine yourself reaching over a waterfall and anchoring your palm and forearm on the rocks so that you can pull your body over. The late Doc Counsilman, former head coach of Indiana University and coach to 48 Olympians, including Jim Montgomery, was well known for his analogy of pulling over a barrel. Great freestyle swimmers anchor their hands in the water and use their core muscles to rotate their bodies past their hands. To properly achieve this catch position, internally, or medially, rotate your shoulder and open your armpit. Imagine driving your elbow toward the pool wall in front of you.

Consider the effect of body rotation on the depth of your hand catch. The forward reach and downward press of your arm at the entry and catch causes your body to rotate to the side. Keep your hand planed directly back (toward the wall behind you), with your fingertips toward the bottom of the pool, until your arm has reached midstroke. This is a key point for maintaining a powerful application of propulsive force. Finding the right amount of body rotation will automatically help you find the ideal depth in the pull. Once you set the high-elbow position in the underwater pull, maintain it throughout the stroke cycle. By keeping your hand and elbow anchored in the water at the catch spot, you will be able to recruit core muscles to rotate your body past that spot on the longitudinal axis. At midstroke, the bend of the elbow is approximately 90 degrees and then opens up again as your hand finishes the stroke. Your hand moves slowest at the catch phase of the stroke, but gradually picks up momentum until it is moving fast under your hips at the end of the stroke. Keep your wrist flexed to hold your hand perpendicular to the water’s surface at the finish of the pull. The acceleration of the hand through the underwater pull synchronized with the rotation of the body’s core creates the power phase of the freestyle stroke.

With a well-executed hand entry and extension followed by an effective catch and follow-through, your hand will actually come out of the water in front of the point where it entered! The hands of world-class swimmers exit the water several feet (about 1 m) in front of their entry points. These swimmers have an incredible amount of shoulder and back flexibility, allowing them to position their hands, forearms, and elbows in the catch position much earlier in the stroke. This creates a longer and more propulsive power phase. The following series of photos depicts the freestyle stroke from catch to power phase (figure 4.3, a-d).

Many adult novice and intermediate swimmers lack the body rotation, strength, and flexibility to hold their shoulders and elbows above their pulling hands throughout the freestyle pull. A well-designed dry-land program that includes stretching and strengthening helps swimmers learn and perfect the underwater stroke. Use the following teaching progression of both on-deck and in-water skills to learn the mechanics of the catch position and the correct muscle recruitment for transitioning into an efficient underwater pull.

  1. Begin by standing on the pool deck in a streamlined position. Have a partner hold a hand against yours, applying slight pressure against your palm as you proceed to simulate the freestyle pull pattern. Start by pressing your fingers and elevating your elbow. Feel the different use of muscles during a high-elbow, a straight-arm, and a dropped-elbow pull. When you do a high-elbow pull, you should feel your core muscles come into play, including the upper-back, chest, and shoulder muscles.
  2. Use stretch cords to manipulate your hand and forearm into the desired movement of the stroke cycle. Start with your arms fully extended at shoulder-width and your wrists slightly flexed. Pop up your elbows and move your arms back in a curved path, first diagonally outward and then inward. Once your hands have moved across and under your body, extend your elbows and straighten your arms. Notice that your hands travel farther than the elbow.
  3.  Another great teaching tool is the in-water press-up. Position yourself at the deep end of the pool, facing the wall. Place your palms flat on the deck or gutter of the pool. Start with your head and body submerged, and then press up, using the buoyancy of the water to lift your body out. Maintain a high-elbow position and lift your body as high as you can.
  4. Sensitizing your hands and forearms can dramatically enhance your feel for the water. This allows you to make subtle adjustments in the pitch of your hand so you can hold the water more effectively, whether anchoring in the catch position or finishing the propulsive power phase. You will learn to recognize water pressure against your hand and forearm during every phase of the stroke. Here are three simple ways to sensitize your hands: press the fingertips of one hand hard against the fingertips of the other, press your fingertips against the pool deck while resting, or rub your hands together or on the pool deck.
  5. Swimming with hand paddles generates more water pressure against the palms of your hands, which activates the muscle groups that propel your elbows up. Novice masters swimmers should use smaller paddles, preferably with holes in them. Try eliminating the wrist strap of the paddle and use a single strap or tubing around your middle finger. Focus on keeping water pressure on the paddle. If you drop your elbow, the paddle tends to slide off your hand.
  6. Whether you are from the American South or not, the A-OK and the Hook ’em Horns drills can effectively teach you to recognize flow and to angle your hands efficiently for good stroke patterns. To begin, swim freestyle with your fingers in the A-OK position, pressing together the tips of your thumb and forefinger to form a tunnel to channel the water flow as your hand changes direction in the stroke. If you drop your elbow during the pull, the water will not flow through the tunnel. To form the Hook ’em Horns hand position, hold your middle and ring fingers against your palm at the base of your thumb and point your forefinger and pinky finger up to signify horns. Begin the freestyle with this hand position, pointing the horn fingers toward the bottom of the pool during the pull.”

Back strengthening can prevent cycling injuries

Strengthening can be a part of your routine and many might say say it should be.  Triathlon, multi-sport, uses many of the muscles in your body during a race or brick work-out.

I like researching question like, “How can a muscle be strong and flexible?”  “Is strength just the capacity for movement in relation to distance and time?”  If so, strength training will always play a part of my training.

Here’s an excerpt titled, “Developed back muscles prevent cycling injuries”, from Cycling Anatomy, reprinted here by permission of Human Kenetics. One of the best things about this book is each exercise is explained in detail including which muscles are used, and how exercising that muscle groups is useful in cycling.

“The importance of a strong and fit back cannot be overemphasized. The back and spine provide the foundation for almost every activity performed, and cycling is no exception. Unfortunately, back problems are a frequent complaint of cyclists. Because of the bent-over position on a bike, back muscles are constantly engaged. This stress can wreak havoc on the body if it isn’t conditioned and trained to withstand the ongoing effort. In addition to withstanding the strain of the cyclists’ position, the back must also provide a solid base that enables a cyclist to generate power during their pedal stroke. Back muscles stabilize the spine and pelvis, allowing the legs to generate maximal power.

The best strategy for a healthy back is to proactively condition the body to avoid any problems before they arise.  Take time to build strength in the back—this will pay dividends in the long run.

Stability Ball Extension


  1. Lie with the lower abdomen draped over a stability ball.
  2. Keeping one foot on the floor, arch the back while raising and
    extending the arm and opposite leg. The elbow and knee should be
    straight (extended).
  3. Slowly lower the arm and leg. Curl the body around the stability ball.
  4. Repeat the exercise using your other arm and leg.

Muscles Involved
Primary: Erector spinae
Secondary: Splenius capitis, gluteus maximus, deltoid

Cycling Focus

The erector spinae muscles must withstand enduring workloads when riding a bike. For the majority of rides, these muscles will maintain a forward leaning posture. If the back becomes sore or fatigued, the erector spinae muscles are usually the culprit. The stability ball extension is particularly effective because it provides full range of motion at maximal extension. This will counter the hours spent with the back arched forward on the bike. Added weights are not needed to make
this workout effective. Remember that stretching and moving muscles through their complete range of motion will help get the most out of muscle fibers.”