Cadet triathlon team finishes 100th, 101st Ironman races

Cadets 3rd Class Erin Crow (right) and James Carney grind out miles on Stadium Boulevard at the Air Force Academy Sept. 4, 2012. Cadet Triathlon Team members will travel 80-100 miles on bicycles each weekend as part of their triathlon training. (U.S. Air Force photo/John Van Winkle)

Cadets 3rd Class Erin Crow (right) and James Carney grind out miles on Stadium Boulevard at the Air Force Academy Sept. 4, 2012. Cadet Triathlon Team members will travel 80-100 miles on bicycles each weekend as part of their triathlon training. (U.S. Air Force photo/John Van Winkle)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The Cadet Triathlon Team completed its 100th and 101st Ironman Sept. 9 when Cadet 1st Class Loring Ross of Cadet Squadron 16 and Cadet 2nd Class Megan Cox of CS 30 crossed the finish line at the Ironman Wisconsin in Madison, Wis.

For Cox, the Ironman Wisconsin was her first Ironman triathlon. To complete a full Ironman triathlon, competitors must first swim 2.4 miles, followed by a 112 mile bicycle ride and then finish a marathon run of 26.2 miles, making the Ironman the pinnacle of triathlon competitions, where simply finishing an Ironman triathlon is an accomplishment.

"My thoughts when I crossed the finish line were simply, 'I made it; I did it,'" said Cox. "For about the last two miles of the marathon run I was thinking of nothing else than just, 'Get to the finish. Just get there.' It was an overwhelming sense of accomplishment running down the chute with hundreds of people lining the streets cheering as the announcer said, 'Megan Cox, you are an Ironman.' It was a feeling like none ever before."

To train, she's been on a strict exercise and diet for the past year, training three to four hours per weekday before and after classes and doing 18-20 mile runs or 80-100 mile bike rides on the weekends with the rest of the Cadet Triathlon Team.

But it takes mental toughness as well as physical endurance to complete an Ironman, Cox said.

"The thing I think I will most take away from this experience is how mentally tough I figured out I could be," she said. "I honestly believe (more than) half that race was mental. Yes, I needed the preparation and training to allow me to do as well as I did, and to finish to some degree. But there were so many times throughout the 12 hours where my muscles were screaming at me, my body was tired and achy, but I told myself, 'You will not quit. Just keep going.'"

First across the finish line from the Academy at the Ironman Wisconsin was Ross, followed by Cox. Ross' swim time was 1:04.59, bike time was 5:58.42 and run time was 3:35.33, for a combined time of 10:54.13. His finish was 8th in his division, and 194th overall.

Cox swam a time of 1:10.25, clocked in at 6:30.54 on the bike, and ran the final stretch of the Ironman Wisconsin triathlon in 4:16.01. She finished 74th in her division and 685th overall with a combined time of 12:11.43.

"It really goes to show you can do anything you put your mind to," Cox said. "I know as I continue along in my Air Force career and am faced with many situations, I will carry this Ironman experience with me and tell myself, 'You completed that Ironman. You can do anything if you just believe in yourself and want it bad enough.' I think there is definitely no mountain too high."

The Academy had an even larger presence at the Ironman competitions this year, starting with the Cadet Triathlon Team officer in charge, Lt. Col. Freddie Rodriguez, completing the Ironman Wisconsin with his cadets. This was the ninth Ironman Rodriquez has completed and the fourth time he's finished Ironman Wisconsin. In his day job, Rodriguez is a professor of in the Mathematical Sciences Department.

The Ironman Wisconsin trio are only the latest Cadet Triathlon team members to complete an Ironman this semester. Cadets 2nd Class Max Bierman of CS 11 and Margaret Haley of CS 16 became the Cadet Triathlon Team's 98th and 99th Ironmen after completing the Ironman Louisville in Kentucky Aug. 26.

"I was just relieved to cross the finish line," Bierman said. "I put a lot of effort into it training for (more than) a year, and I was glad to see it pay off.

"It is definitely one of the hardest physical and mental challenges ever," he added. "You never know what to expect until you actually get there. You have to be confident in your training and you have to be confident in your mental abilities. That's how you're going to get through it."

Bierman said he is already thinking about competing in his next Ironman.

"I really want to qualify for the championships, and right now Ironman Florida is probably my go-to-goal for 2014," he said.

The team's next Ironman competitor is Cadet 1st Class Samantha Morrison of CS 06, who is scheduled to compete Oct. 13 in the Ironman world championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.