Local competes in Ironman World Championships | VailDaily.com

Local competes in Ironman World Championships

Ian Cropp

KAILUA-KONA, HAWAII – Most people go to Hawaii for vacation, and to relax.Jill Walker, however, didn’t quite take that route. For almost half a day, Walker swam, biked, and ran in the Ironman World Championships recently held in Hawaii.Walker, 28, finished with a time of 11 hours, 7 minutes, placing her 26th in her age group. “It was a whole new ballgame, with an international crowd,” Walker said “I’m used to being in the top three or top five, but that I got to be in the mix of things was such an honor.”After the grueling race, Walker was able to do something she hadn’t done during her five months of training – take a vacation.”I did get to stay a week afterwards,” Walker said. “I can never just hang out on the beach and relax, but after the race there was justification.”What’s a few hours on the beach when Walker had been logging almost 20 hours a week in the pool, on the bike or in her running shoes? Maybe too much for someone who loves to train as much as Walker.

“She’s probably one of the most positive people I’ve ever worked with,” said Josiah Middaugh, who helped coach Walker after she qualified for the event. “She’s always so excited to be out there training. I got a text message from her one time saying, ‘I was out riding my bike and it was snowing. It was awesome.'”Road to HawaiiWhile the race may have been held on Oct. 15, preparations began before. Walker had to qualify for the race by finishing in the top three in a qualifier in Couer D’Anele, Idaho.”My time improved by 40 minutes from last year, but I got fourth,” Walker said.The first-place finisher of that race opted not to go to the World Championships, so Walker was offered the spot in June and immediately said yes.”I was pretty psyched,” Walker said.Walker then sought the coaching services of Middaugh.

Before racing in Idao, Walker had built up her base, training between 20 and 25 hours per week; so in August, September and October she focused more on intensity and specifics like improving her run. Middaugh detailed a plan for each month that Walker had little trouble following.”It was an ideal situation for me,” Middaugh said of training an athlete with Walker’s dedication. “They’ll do everything I want them to do, and then they’ll be wondering why I didn’t ask them to do more.”For Walker, the training was not just a means of improving her fitness for the race.”The training was my favorite part,” Walker said. “For the four or five months, I loved how tired I would be at the end of the day. The race is an excuse to train for it all. You feel like you are maximizing the fitness of your body.”As much as Walker craved the endorphins, she missed some of the normal aspects of life.”When friends called and said, ‘Hey, we’re having a barbecue, come over and have a beer,’ I could never say yes to that stuff,” Walker said.The race

After a good swim and bike, Walker encountered a bit of trouble.”I went into the run feeling good, and the first four miles were good, but it got progressively worse and worse,” Walker said. “It was a combination of the heat and missing my window nutritionally.”Training at altitude is often an advantage, but Hawaii’s heat and humidity canceled that out, and then some.”It’s a whole different animal,” Middaugh said. “The heat and humidity are the x-factor. Some people respond well, and some don’t.”The ebullient Walker somehow found a positive in the situation.”It’s kind of cool,” Walker said. “You take whatever your body gives you that day, and what you do with it makes the difference.”While her heart was pumping furiously, Walker enjoyed a scenic tour of Hawaii.

“During the bike ride I would look around and see the ocean on one side, lava on the other and palm trees swaying the wind,” Walker said. “There were bright fish swimming in coral, and the crowd was great. I thought to myself, ‘I can’t believe I’m here. I used to see this on the TV when I was a kid.'”All this coming from someone who battled a hip injury through training, and likely during the entire race.”One thing that she might be reluctant to mention was that she was in a lot of pain going into Hawaii,” Middaugh said. “She couldn’t run without pain.”Take a breakWalker has competed in triathlons since college when she was on the team at University of Colorado at Boulder, but she plans on taking a break before competing again.”I like to keep balance in my life,” Walker said “I feel I don’t need to chronically do it every summer.”If she’s not either kayaking, or mountain biking, she’ll be preparing for her next race.

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The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.

“I want to focus on becoming faster on shorter distances,” Walker said.Chances are, she’ll get faster. Anyone who recovers from a broken neck, a broken collar bone and shoulder blade, as well as being impaled by a stick in the stomach is likely to do so.”After every accident, I bounce back and get better and better,” Walker said.Even age won’t slow her down.”I’m really excited to be 30,” Walker said. “The women that do the best are in their early to mid-30s.” With that kind of attitude, she’ll be back on track the next time she decides to compete.Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14631, or icropp@vaildaily.com.

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