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Locals compete in Ironman Lake Tahoe

“It is more about what I am mentally capable of than physical. There is a voice saying you should give up. While the other part of you says, come on, this is totally doable.”  - Valli Murnane

Becoming a Tahoe Ironman is not an easy task. Your adventure begins with a 2.4-mile swim in Lake Tahoe. When you emerge from the lake’s chilly waters, your voyage is just starting, as the next step is to get on a bike and ride 112 miles. Which, in this case, includes two laps around the Triangle (Kings Beach, Tahoe City, Truckee) with some extra mileage thrown in for good measure.

If you can somehow make it through that, while beating the necessary time cutoffs, you still have one more challenging task before you can call yourself an Ironman. You have to run a marathon. You heard right, a freaking marathon. It’s flat and beautiful along the Truckee River, but it’s still a marathon.

It all seems like a seemingly unattainable challenge reserved for the upper echelon of world class endurance athletes, and then I found out that some of my friends were planning on doing it. I’m talking Moms with young children who run businesses, in other words, folks, whose lives are busy enough as it is … and, yet, they are somehow fitting training for an event such as this into their imposing schedules.

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Madona Casini shows off some scraps during training.

For Madona Casini, mother of two and owner of the Tahoe Yoga Institute in Tahoe City, her venture into Ironman began with a Facebook posting the day she registered last June: “This should be the hardest thing I’ve ever done considering I don’t swim and have never been on a road bike. Let the training begin.”

She hired trainer Chris Cloyd from the Julia Mancuso Performance Center in Truckee. She says Chris has “been an amazing coach, friend and athlete, who has provided a stable foundation and confidence to complete this task.”

She also started training with Jeff Pearson from Boost Swimming who “turned my swim from what looks like a panic drowning attack into what feels like a calm rhythmic meditation.”

Madona originally signed up because her best friend Annica Bryan needed a training partner. While there have been times when Casini believes she was crazy to sign up for this, Bryan has taught her that “there is no limit to one’s strength and the value of true friendship.” While the training has been hard, she’s also been obtaining results, including a first place in her age category in the Auburn Triathlon in May.

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Rachel Crus, far right, competing in the half marathon at June Lake.

Ironman racer, Rachel Crus, a Tahoe City attorney and mother of three children between the ages of 5 and 8, says there is no time to be tired. The day we spoke she got out of bed at 4:30 and was in the pool swimming laps by 5:30 am. Later that day, her plan was to spend a bit of quality summer time with the kids, before focusing on her legal business until about midnight.

While Crus has been racing triathlons for several years, she has never tried anything as grueling as an Ironman. Her recent 40th birthday was her impetus to make it happen.

“Stars aligned when they brought Ironman to Tahoe,” she says.

For Crus, training is fun because it is an opportunity to spend time with a great group of girlfriends, she says.

“I really didn’t want to be swallowed up by training. I’m a working mom with three kids, I mean how much time do I have to train?”

Aside from the chance to train, the reward for her is to have her kids come out on race day to cheer her on.

“They think it is cool to see a parent set a tangible goal and watch them achieve it. They are my cheerleaders,” she says.

But, no matter what, being a Mom trumps everything else. In July, Rachel was in June Lake for her first half Ironman-length race. The night before the event, she was in the process of prepping a nutritious meal planned to set her up for the race, when her son fell off his bike. Instead of eating dinner, she was off to the emergency room in Mammoth. She arrived back in camp late at night, with only enough time for a few hours of sleep before it was time to get into the water and begin the race. It’s the life of a mother athlete.

Madona agrees.

“My kids come first and training second. It’s been a juggling act and I squeeze in workouts whenever I can, but the boys are my priority and my passion grows when I see how proud they are to witness their mama commit to such an endeavor.”

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Valli Murnane, right, with triathlete and nutritionist Jill Whisler during a race.

Valli Murnane, who is the director of the Tahoe Cross Country Ski Education Association, faces the same challenges of raising two kids, working and trying to train for her first Ironman.

“I thought I was good at time management,” she said. Now, she said that she is discovering it doesn’t matter how good you are, there are only so many minutes in the day. And, many of those minutes involve taking the kids to swim meets or dance class.

“You do what you can, and trust on the day of the event that it will be enough. I’m just looking to finish before the midnight cutoff.”

Why is she doing it? She’s been doing triathlons for several years, but it was seeing a video of a woman stumbling across the finish line in a previous Ironman that made her decide to register.

“(I thought) wow, this looks really challenging. I should do that. I’m a sucker for punishment,” she said.

For Valli, like most of the other participants, it’s all a matter of pushing yourself to your limits. Seeing what you are capable of.

“It is more about what I am mentally capable of then physical,” she says. “There is a voice saying you should give up. While the other part of you says, come on, this is totally doable.”

When they have been hitting the road or water this summer, the women have not been alone. A number of out-of-the-area athletes have come to Tahoe to spend their summer training for the event at altitude. It turns out having the Ironman Lake Tahoe is the perfect excuse many athletes are looking for to spend time in Tahoe.

While it’s too late to sign up for this year’s Ironman Lake Tahoe, (the $675 spots were snapped up in the blink of an eye as soon as they became available), you can cheer on the participants and appreciate what they are going through. And, you can be one of the several thousand volunteers along the route, helping to keep the athletes fueled and on the course. For more information, visit ironmanlaketahoe.com.

By Tim Hauserman

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