Not one to turn down a challenge, (she was on the wrestling team one year at Garfield High School), Queen Anne native Ellen Ruotsala took up her friend's suggestion of entering a half triathlon in Victoria last year.
Not only did she finish but it prompted something inside the cycling enthusiast to do it again, only this time the whole enchilada. That meant the Subaru Ironman Canada held in Penticton, B.C. When that was decided, the training began. Nine months of it.
On a given week, Ruotsala spent 12 to 14 hours running or swimming or biking. An employee at Gregg's Cycles in Green Lake, Ruotsala, 27, took to the cycling well, and is even involved in cyclocross, a quasi-mountain-biking sport. She swam in high school but was never a runner. Most people walk the last leg of the triathlon anyway, she said, so that wasn't a concern. Finishing was.
At 7 a.m., Saturday, Aug. 29, she ran full on into Okanagan Lake Beach in Penticton, east of Vancouver, along with the other 2,599 participants and swam 2.4 miles. Then onto her bike for a 112-mile jaunt through the Okanagan Falls countryside followed by 26.2 miles of running through town and country.
"The swimming went really well," she said. "I got out feeling better than I thought. I knew it was going to be hard though. The run was going to be hard."
She was in her element during the cycling leg, even eating along the way, as is typical for triathletes. She ate protein goo and other tidbits that volunteers thrust at her and at other riders.
But the running was hard. The weather was in the 90s. She soaked her self with sponges full of cold water. Exhausted, she walked a good half of the distance. But by 9 p.m., having been in constant motion for 14 hours, Ruotsala crossed the finish line.
"When you finish, you get two volunteers," she said with a laugh. Some participants are so road weary they collapse. There are wheelchairs waiting for those who need them. But Ruotsala was fine. She later met with her dad and some friends. Her mom was there too, cheering her on. The next day, she felt surprisingly fine.
"I felt proud of myself," she said. "My friends all thought I was crazy."