By Sarah Gooding • Photos by Savanah Mandeville
“Amy Sampson, you’re an Ironman.”
The words rang out as Sampson, a resident of Monett, Missouri, crossed the finish line of Ironman Lake Placid, a grueling distance race featuring 2.4 miles of swimming in the open waters of Mirror Lake, followed by 112 miles of biking and 26.2 miles of running in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York.
“I got into running after college just to stay in shape, and I just did 5k races here and there for years,” Sampson said. “Ten years ago was my first half marathon, and two years ago was my first full marathon.”
However, an ongoing battle with depression prompted her to push toward tougher personal goals and to create a bucket list, and Sampson was inspired to add a half-Ironman to that list after hearing about an event in nearby Branson.
While that race was discontinued, Sampson did complete Olympic and half-Ironman distances in 2017, and then ramped up for a 2018 run at Ironman Lake Placid.
“Being a teacher, I looked at all the different 140.6-mile Ironman races, and this is really the only one that fit so I could train my hardest two months when I wasn’t teaching,” Sampson said, adding, “Lake Placid was home to the 1980 Olympics, which was the year I was born.”
Once she signed up, Sampson went all in, joining Facebook groups locally and around the nation, reaching out to friends for gear and fueling tips, training with local tri groups, working with a coach and hiring a nutritionist.
“The whole thing is kind of crazy and complicated, but at the same time, it’s very cool,” she said.
On race day, Sampson logged her 2.4 miles of swimming in 1 hour, 32 minutes; spent approximately 7 hours, 15 minutes biking 112 hilly miles in a storm that hailed on the athletes; and logged her marathon in approximately 5 hours, 50 minutes with her ankles causing so much pain early on, she alternated walking and jogging most of the race.
Including transitions, she finished in 14 hours, 58 minutes, running the final stretch through an enthusiastic crowd screaming her name as she finished the journey with the declaration in front of a packed house at Olympic Stadium.
“Ironman is not just about you and your race,” she said, adding she is extremely grateful to those who supported her journey. “It’s also about all those other people coming together to make it happen for everyone.”
She said one of her former students coached her in the swim and another joined her for shorter bike rides. Her best friend’s dad did longer bike rides with her, and she had a full crew of friends and family cheering her on at Lake Placid.
“All the people who were willing to be a part of my training meant a lot to me,” she said.
The achievement, and the team that surrounded her throughout her 11 months of training, also helped her realize she needed to be as much out of depression as she could to even start training for the race a year in advance.
“I knew I was finally in a good place a year ago to realize this dream of a full Ironman. Races like these are just as much mental as they are physical,” Sampson noted.
“Depression: it motivates me… but like anything, you have to want to get better and have to drop your guard enough to put one foot in front of the other,” she wrote in her blog. “The best part? Years later you look back and see how far you’ve come, how many strides you’ve made and that now you’re running triathlons.”