Six years might not seem like a very long time, but for Beth Gabhart it seems like an eternity. Only six years ago, Gabhart could barely do any physical activity without becoming extremely fatigued, but then something amazing happened that changed her life forever.
Gabhart, 39, will be running in her first ever full Iron Man triathlon race Sunday in Louisville, Ky. The 140. 6 mile race will stand as a symbol for how far she has come since that day six years ago that she chose to get on a bicycle.
"About six years ago, me and a couple friends from work decided to do a triathlon," Gabhart said. "At that time I couldn't run and I couldn't swim, so I did the bike portion and I bought a $65 bike at Walmart with the mountain tires and everything and I took a couple of rides, and at that time it was 18 miles. I did that triathlon as a team with them, and actually there was a woman next to me when we were racking our bikes and they put your age on your calf and the woment next to me was 74 and she was doing all of it. I looked at her and said, 'If she can do it all, then I can do it all.' The following year I made a goal that I would do a triathlon on my own."
Beth wanted to start running and swimming, but she had one problem — she as diagnosed with "Exercise Induced Asthma" since high school. This diagnosis prevented her from competing in any sports that would force to run too much, she decided to play softball and volleyball in high school. She was told this was just something she was going to have to live with for the rest of her life. After beginning some of her training for a future triathlon, Beth began to get better news.
"As I started running I got my inhalers, and my doctor at the time told me just take two puffs to open everything up and use it as you need it," Gabhart said. "I used the inhaler for a couple of years, and then I went to another specialist and he said that if I continue to to do endurance training my lungs will heal, they will adapt and adjust. I have been off the inhaler for three-plus years and I haven't had to use it but maybe one time. The lungs have a capacity to heal themselves, if your lungs see that you need oxygen over and over again, and you're running and getting blood supply to them they will naturally rebuild themselves. My lungs adapted to the stresses I was putting on my body."
Following the 18-mile bike ride, Gabhart steadily began to increase the activity of her training. One year she did two triathlons and the next year three, all the while she was training throughout the year. She competed in some indoor triathlons, which take place from January-March. The indoor triathlons served as a precursor to the outdoor ones. In the indoor events you just get 15 minutes for each of the three events.
"The indoor triathlons helped me prepare for sprint triathlons, which are shorter swims, the biking is 10 miles and the running is three miles," Gabhart said. "I moved on to the olympic style triathlons, which have a swim of 700-1200 meters, the biking is 20-plus miles and the run is usually around six miles. Last year I trained for a half Iron Man Triathlon, which is 70.3 miles. I trained for six-plus months, but I tore soleus muscle in my calf two weeks before the race, and I wasn't able to do the race."
Gabhart had a long and intensive rehabilitation of 12 weeks to get back to 100 percent, but it took some time to get back in shape running the distances that she was used to. But, sure enough, come July, Beth was ready to complete the 70 mile event a year after she first trained for it and she accomplished her goal. Next up now is the 140 mile full Iron Man Triathlon, just two months later.
"I'm nervous and excited," Gabhart said. "It's almost as if I'm waiting to exhale. I've been waiting for this one, we were just calculating and I've put in 475 hours into training for this and eight months. At this point I've been resting and most of this month has been mentally preparing for the physical challenge and giving my body a break. I am nervous and exciting, but I'm to the point where I am ready."
After running such an involved event, experts suggest that a 30-day break is best for the body to recharge. Gabhart said after finishing an event like this you can feel like you have the flu. The stresses that are put onto the body are so extreme that to an outsider, you may ask yourself, what is the gratification?
"The gratification is that you have been on this journey," Gabhart said. "I would not be able to do physically what I do if it weren't for the grace of God.
"When I'm out there on the bike, on the run, when I'm in the water it's just he and I — that's all there is to it. I look to him to guide me and give me encouragement and I also do a lot of praying during those times, because I think there are so many people who have it worse off than me. If you look at some of these races there will be people in wheelchairs that want to do Ironman. I always think about there are a lot of people who have it a lot worse than I. I focus on the positive, catch my breath when it's done."
All these years later, Gabhart admits the central goal of training and competing in triathlons has changed her daily life for the better.
"During the initial 18 mile bike ride, all I could think about was, 'What have I gotten my self into?'" Gabhart said. "Those thoughts go through you and they even go through my head during my workouts even now. For me, it's the challenge that I enjoy, and when I get out of it, luckily I have a very supportive family, obviously. Looking at my kids I want them to know, no matter what your age you are or where you're at in your life, if you have a goal, dream, or passion the only thing that will keep you from your goal is yourself."