Preparation pays off for local triathlete in personal Ironman

Scott Swanson

Rebecca Wolthuis said her first attempt at completing an Ironman-style triathlon, Saturday, July 25, was “amazing.”

Wolthuis, 46, had planned to compete in the Santa Rosa (Calif.) Ironman before it was cancelled earlier this year due to the coronavirus. She and her coach, John Booth of Corvallis, decided she’d do one on her own.

Except it wasn’t entirely on her own. Booth accompanied her on the 2.4-mile swim leg, and others rode the 112-mile bike segment and still others ran/walked the marathon – 26.2 miles with her.

Wolthuis finished just at sundown, in 15:40:24, well under the 17-hour cutoff that is required of Ironman competitors. She finished the swim in 1:22.39 (1:50 per 100 yards), the bike in 7:02.34 (an average of 15.9 mph), and the run in 6:45.50 (15.29 minutes per mile pace).

She crossed the finish line at Shea Point on Foster Lake, where all three legs started and finished, jogging through a homemade Ironman banner held by friends and family.

“You’re an Ironman!” someone shouted in the gathering darkness.

Wolthuis said Monday that she was sore, but she could climb stairs and walk normally.

“I feel king of like you do when you go to the gym, when you haven’t been for a while, and you lift weights,” she said. She was planning to go to the Sweet Home pool later in the day to walk in the water, which would help her recovery.

“It was better than I ever thought it would be,” she said of the experience. “I had never run a marathon before.”

She said she never doubted that she would be able to finish as she trained for the challenge, which took weeks of careful preparation under Booth’s direction.

It was at the end of the swim on Saturday that she suddenly felt a flash of doubt.

“I don’t think I understood the gravity of how big it was,” she said.

Finishing the swim, “the gravity of it hit me. I thought of all the people who helped me prepare. If I didn’t finish, the whole day would be wasted.”

She said Booth made her take a moment when she got out of the water, and after she took a few deep breaths and collected herself, he reminded her that she had done the work and had prepared correctly for each leg.

“The rest of the day I never doubted I’d finish,” she said. “I just took it one piece at a time. I stuck to my training plan.”

She actually got ahead of schedule on the bike leg, which included four circuits in the Waterloo/north county area.

“The whole ride was great,” she said. “The weather was perfect.”

The run went well too, as she finished the second and final legs only five minutes slower than her first circuit of Foster Lake, which included a detour into Sunnyside Park to give her the mileage she needed. She was paced by a friend, Josh Gum, who made sure she stayed with her plan – not to go too fast.

After getting off to a good start, “we just settled into good rhythm of power walking.”

Her supporters kept her shirt full of ice and fed her watermelon to keep her fueled, she said.

“Before I knew it, I was around the lake one time.”

“I just feel like it was fantastic because I had a fantastic team of people to help me be successful,” Wolthuis said, adding that she was “blown away by people who met me at their driveways with signs and encouragement.”

“It really helped me keep my head in the game. Prior to the event, my coach told me to think of all the reasons why I’m doing this.”

She said the biggest challenge of finishing an Ironman is mental.

“My coach impressed on me that this was going to be a long day.

“He told me, ‘You’re going to have to prepare mentally for it. It’s going to hurt. Have to figure out how to embrace it and press on.'”

That’s what happened, she said.

“I had the right tools, the right team of people. It was phenomenal. People I didn’t even know showed up to cheer or honked at me. Massive thanks to the community.”