Find out how this runner changed her mindset and powered past self-doubt to take on a 140.6-mile race.

By By Kara Beussink
Photo: Don Beussink

My love for running began in high school after I determined that sports with balls were not my forte. I dabbled with short distances at first but quickly decided that the pain of sprinting 400 meters was just too much. So I switched gears and started training for 800- and 1500-meter races. Turns out, the slightly longer workouts felt much more rewarding. (Related: Which Is Better? Running Faster or Longer?)

I continued running on my own after high school and eventually finished my first half marathon. My official endurance event obsession kicked in and two marathons later, I found myself looking for my next challenge. Maybe a PR? A longer distance? I wasn't sure what to do. Then, a seemingly meaningless conversation sparked my transition from runner to triathlete.

A coworker was preparing for her first Ironman and casually started talking to me about the insane amount of laundry she accumulated with all the different workouts each week. TBH, I was under the impression that triathlons were for tall, muscular, fast professional athletes. Not for ordinary people like me. So while I was impressed with my coworker's dedication, I was even more in awe of her ability to see herself as a finisher. Needless to say, after some serious Googling about the event, I found myself thinking: I kind of want to try this! (P.S. Anyone can become an Ironwoman. This new mom did it.)

Over the next year, I started training without actually ever signing up for a race. I was subconsciously telling myself that I wasn't strong enough or fast enough, that I didn't have the money or the resolve, and that I simply didn't have the time to give this my all. It wasn't until I saw my coworker finish her first Ironman that I got the extra push I needed. As I watched her cross the finish line live on Ironman's website, I saw someone just like me accomplish an incredible (and what seemed nearly impossible) feat. Her success made me reflect on all my self-imposed limits and my tendency to underestimate myself.

The very next day, I found myself at my computer, nervously clicking a button and committing myself to the Ironman Lake Placid the following year. In that moment, I expected fireworks, cheers, and a festive celebration. But there I was, alone, frantically wondering what I'd gotten myself into. (Interested in signing up for a race, too? Conquer an Ironman with these tips from top athletes.)

At that point, I hadn't finished a single triathlon. I didn't own a road bike. The only swimming I had done in more than five years was doggy-paddling back to a raft after getting tossed off by a rogue ocean wave. Huge red flags, right? But I found myself ignoring them because I strongly believed I could persevere through the training safely-and I was even more certain that I'd love the journey. (Related: 12 Essential Training Tips Every Beginner Triathlete Needs to Know)

Without wasting any time, I started telling people about my endeavor as a sort of insurance. If there was one thing I was sure of, it was that I didn't want to be "the girl who quit." So I figured the more people I told, the harder it would be to bail.

After that, the countdown to race day began. With the help of a coach, I began adding swimming, biking, and more running to my weekly routine-and within four months I was putting in nine hours of training a week. I knew my inexperience put me at a disadvantage, so I remained incredibly focused and on track...until seven months before race day when I found out that I had a stress fracture in my foot. I was sidelined from running for almost two months. Unfortunately, that required a huge adjustment to my entire training plan, but with my doctor's guidance, I was able to press on. (Use this infographic to perfect your form to run faster, longer, and injury-free.)

Despite my injury, I was able to work my way up to 18+ hours of training per week. So when Ironman day finally came, I swam, biked, and ran my way through the fresh Adirondack air without a shred of nervousness or self-doubt. During the hardest moments, I reminded myself of everything I'd gone through to get to this point and what an amazing lesson in confidence it had been. While I certainly had days when I questioned everything, I never for a second hated it. Even in my weakest moments, I felt a sense of strength and gratefulness, and that's what motivated me to keep going until the end.

After a thrilling 16 hours, 13 minutes, and 26 seconds of simultaneous joy and agony, I heard my name announced as I proudly ran through the finish line. By the time I finished, I had raised more than $10,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) to help fund blood cancer research and patient services.

While making it to the finish line was a huge accomplishment, it was the journey to get there that really impacted my life. I used to be so quick to assign weaknesses to myself. But throughout this experience, I powered past countless limiting beliefs and excuses that threatened to derail me. The discipline, positivity, and belief in myself that this challenge fostered are what allowed me to embrace fear and fight to accomplish it. Now, I can say with certainty that all my goals (even the scariest ones) are within my reach.

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