At 12:58 a.m. Saturday morning, while most of us were sleeping, Shelly Hammons was at Nelson Mandela Bay in South Africa preparing for her first wave of the Ironman 70.3 World Championship.
The women’s race, which began first thing this morning in Port Elizabeth, East Cape, South Africa, included a 1.9 km (1.2 mile) swim, 90.1 km (56 mile) bike ride, and a 21.3 km (13.1 mile) run. Each leg of the race combined to equal the 70.3 in the race’s title.
Hammons is known in the Owensboro running community for her incredible athleticism and for keeping a pace that rivals some men. She has put up respectable numbers at the Boston Marathon (3:25) and in other Ironman races (5:06) earning a time that helped her qualify for the world championships.
After her last run in Boston three years ago, Hammons sustained a hip injury that led to extensive surgery and a six-month recovery period. It was at that point that she began cross-training.
“After that surgery, I was told I would have to not just run because the hip wouldn’t hold up, so, since 2015, I have been competing in triathlons,” Hammons said.
A huge part of her recovery and training has been with Craig Phifer, physical therapist and president of Rehabilitation & Performance Institute.
When Hammons is not working full time for the school district, being wife and mom to two at home, managing Green River Tri with her husband Dylan, rebuilding her 1967 Volkswagen Super Beetle convertible, or building bunk beds for her children, she’s on the treadmill, in the pool, or working with Craig.
“Shelly’s about as close to a superhero as anyone I’ve really known,” Phifer said.
Phifer said, while you can’t help but be impressed with Hammon’s physical abilities, it’s the preparation that she puts in that is most impressive.
“Any time you train for anything like this it’s like taking on another job,” Phifer said. “Those moments that most of us waste during the day, Shelly doesn’t do those. Everything is towards this goal — that sometimes is a year away.”
While Hammon’s parents accompanied her on the trip, this is the first race that Hammon’s husband Dylan, and children Nya and Brody, were unable to attend.
“It hurts because I hate not being there. When she’s in pain I like being a little bit of a pick me up,” Dylan said. “It’s her adventure and I’m glad she could go. It’s fun to be on it with her to be supportive of her goals.”
Hammons set a goal for herself to complete this race in under five hours — knowing that the wind and water temperatures could be a huge factor.
“She’s always going to grind and always going to move forward and not let anything hold her back,” Dylan said.
And grind she did. Hammons battled through chilling water temperatures with waves so high they covered the buoys, adverse wind conditions, and bronchitis-like symptoms to complete the race with a time of 6:07:32.
Hammons said that each time her heart rate went above 140, she couldn’t help but cough. There was even a moment that she considered dropping out, but she didn’t. If she did, she would’ve missed out on what she called the prettiest bike ride “I’ve ever seen” along the Indian Ocean.
“I soaked it all up and enjoyed every step,” she said. Hammons will return home to the States on Monday.