Matthew Moffatt

A swim, cycle and marathon run all combined into one event; the ultimate test of endurance and mental strength. With the Ironman World Championships just around the corner, USA athlete Shannon Scovel gave us an exclusive insight into the world of Ironman and discussed her love of the sport and her preparation for the world championships.

The idyllic Hawaiian city of Kailua plays host to the 40th Ironman World Championships this year on the 13th of October. Athletes will swim, cycle and run their way around the picturesque setting facing high temperatures and strong winds. Labelled as ‘the most prestigious endurance race in the world’, Shannon is looking forward to taking part and is excited by “the thrill and honour of representing her country.”

An Ironman race is a long distance triathlon consisting of a 2.4- mile swim, a 112- mile bicycle ride and a marathon 26 mile run, all without a break. John Collins, the co-founder of the Ironman famously said that after completing the race, “brag for the rest of your life”. The gruelling event has massively grown in popularity since the first race in 1978 which only featured 15 participants. In 2017 there were over 70,000 finishers in the official Ironman races around the world. Over 70,000 people pushing their bodies to extreme limits. I had to ask Shannon what the attraction was as I was clearly missing something.

Shannon grew up a keen swimmer and began swimming competitively from an early age. She loved the experience of competing and found longer endurance events allowed her to push herself in new ways. This led to her finding a passion for triathlons. She explained,

“Triathlons were a great option for me because I could build on my love for swimming and just add two new sports, running and biking, into the mix. I finished my first triathlon at ten years old, and I caught the triathlon bug”.

A few years after this, triathlons became a family affair as Shannon’s parents started racing alongside her. In October 2017, her parents completed their first Ironman and this really inspired Shannon to follow in their footsteps.

“We had trained together for so long that I couldn’t let them be the only ones in the family to call themselves “Ironmen” she quipped. Shannon dived into training and in July 2018 completed her first Ironman in Bolton.

“Ironman Bolton was incredible; it was everything I could ever want in my first Ironman”. The shared love of triathlon in her family helps Shannon overcome the difficulties of Ironman as she describes, “The longer distances are definitely a different kind of challenge, but I love being able to share the ups and downs of the triathlon training experience with my family”.

Shannon’s love for triathlon grew as she became older and attended university. She attended American University in Washington for four years as an undergraduate and was a member of the university swim team. The opportunity then arose to extend her student life for an extra year with the triathlon team at Stirling University in Scotland. Looking back fondly on her time as a student athlete, Shannon said,

“I loved being able to race for my school in the pool and in triathlon, and I miss that so much. I’m now working full-time, and while I’m able to train and compete for myself, I do miss the team environment.”

Shannon continued, “I liked having a structured time to train every day and I felt so much pride in being able to represent my school both athletically and academically”.

Credit- Jennifer Colasurdo

With the Ironman World Championships just days away, Shannon’s preparations are coming to an end. She had been following a specific training plan that had been devised by her trainer, Mary Gaal. However working a full-time job around training proved difficult. Shannon explained, “I’ve enjoyed the miles, but it’s been hard to fit in all of my training and recovery with my full-time job”.

Shannon’s typical week consists of around 15 hours of training and three to four sessions of each discipline a week, along with a long bike mid-week and a long run on the weekend. Exhausting!

With training almost finished, Shannon is eager to get out and compete. “It’s so surreal that I even have the opportunity to compete, I just want to finish strong and appreciate the moment”.

She continued, “I may not be the fastest person out there, but I will be representing my country on the world stage, and I’m just going to concentrate on the thrill and honour of that, rather than focusing on any times.” However being an athlete, Shannon has still set herself some targets for the race. She joked, “I do want to have a great swim and try not to get passed by more than 1,000 people on the bike!”

Before finishing up, I asked Shannon for her opinion on the reporting of triathlon and Ironman events in the media and live event coverage. She replied, “I think USA triathlon and Ironman work hard to promote their messages and cover the sport. I’m also very impressed with the work that Triathlete Magazine and Live Feisty Media do to celebrate the athletes and identify ways in which the triathlon experience should be improved for athletes.”

In terms of live event coverage Shannon went on to say “I loved watching the 2016 Olympic triathlon event and I enjoy tracking my friends and family in their races on Ironman Live via Facebook”. Shannon mentioned that although she is bias towards triathlon, she would love to see more coverage of the sport in mainstream media.

For anybody looking to get into the sport, Shannon simply recommends just trying it! She said, “Find some friends, search out some cool places to run or bike and just give it a go.” Shannon continued “The triathlon community is so supportive and inspiring, it is just such a great sport”.

The Ironman race is revered as “the most prestigious endurance race in the world”. If you finish it, you are in elite company. Despite the pressure Shannon says “My biggest goal for Worlds is to be able to soak up the entire experience, stay positive and keep smiling.”