Laura Knoblach, took the Ironman and multiplied it by ten to become the Iron woman in a man’s world, writes Capt Seshadri.
The Ironman is one of the toughest endurance races in the world. While many such competitions are held across the globe, the Ironman World Championship, often acknowledged as the culmination of all of these, is held in the picturesque island of Hawaii, more associated with sand and surfing than endurance events. The course comprises a Waikiki Roughwater swim of 3.86 km, the Around Oahu bicycle race of 185.07 km and the Honolulu Marathon.
Since 1997, athletes with disabilities were allowed to compete in a separate category; however, the cut off times for them were no different from the so called, able bodied competitors. John Maclean of Australia, became the first physically challenged athlete to successfully complete the event.
The Deca Ironman
The Ironman, however, is not the final test of endurance. Introducing the ‘Deca Ironman’! This unbelievably tough and taxing event is meant for a very niche few of master athletes, with extraordinary physical fitness and mental stamina to even consider competing. Here, participants complete the length of ten back to back Ironmans. Obviously, it takes weeks, with each leg being ten times longer than the normal. That constitutes 38.4 km of swimming, 1,792 km of biking and 419.2 km of running.
Here then, is the story of a woman, who rewrote the history books of the Deca. Laura Knoblach, all of 22 years, had already gained lots of experience in marathons and even double and triple Ironmans. But these distance runs and tests of endurance still left her dissatisfied at being unable to realise her potential and her dreams. Urged on by a friend, and realising a ‘beast’ within herself, Laura signed up for that ultimate test of endurance, the Deca Ironman.
Swimming was the first event. It was not just the distance but the ennui of swimming 750 laps of a 50 metre pool. While the specified time was 25 hours, Laura completed it in 19. At the end of it, she didn’t even have the energy to dress or change, almost passing out in the shower. A few hours of rest and it was time to start the biking leg. This was another set of loops, 200 of them over an 8.8km course. It was a nightmarish ordeal of 270 km a day. Often, while cycling at night, Laura would see ghosts… of trees appearing like people out of the darkness.
Now, Laura the endurance athlete, had always been better at biking, so she attempted to finish her forte as quickly as possible before the ten marathons. That was to be another hallucinating effort, having to run 330 laps over a short 1.25 km loops. Boredom and tiredness at its worst! For the first two days, Laura just walked. From Day 3, she began to run. Finally, after 320 hours, 40 minutes and 30 seconds, a thoroughly exhausted by deliriously happy Laura, crossed the finish line of the Ironman Ten, making history as the youngest to complete this ultimate test of human endurance. And in the process, breaking the US women’s record by over 13 hours.
During the entire stretch, she hardly had six hours of sleep a day. Food and drink were almost a continuous process along the journey. But this unstoppable Iron Lady just couldn’t halt herself. Laura Knoblach spent the next six days biking along the far side of the Rhine, simply to satisfy her curiosity as a tourist!
If there is one thing she proved, it is this: there are no limits to your endurance. When the body says no, let the mind take over.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.