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Athlete Spotlight: Mary Cullen

Name | Mary Cullen

What is your favorite sport/activity?


Outside of training with Tri Fitness, what are some of your favorite hobbies?

Riding and caring for my 24-year-old Irish Sport horse and taking care of my 17 goats. Yes goats.

What is your favorite motivational quote?

SWTFP. All Vicki's athletes know what that means.

Favorite gear for summer/winter racing?

All gear. I’ve turned into a total gear head. I especially love my Cervello P3.

What keeps you going when you really don't want to?

Goals. I sign up for races so I have goals so I make myself go when it is too cold or too hot or when I’m not feeling it. The goal turns the training into a habit and a lifestyle, and for me it is about the training, not the racing — but I need the racing to make myself train.

What got you started with training/racing?

When I was about to turn 50, I said to a friend, “I want to get stronger every year.” She recommended a book, Younger Next Year. That book taught that to maintain fitness and strength as we age, we can and should do more. The book provided great motivation, yet my goals were modest.

I signed up for a Tri Fitness sprint triathlon thinking it can’t be that hard — swim 200 yards, bike 12 miles and run a 5K. It was hard. Really hard. During the ten-minute swim I felt like I was drowning in a washing machine for a half hour. I peddled my daughter’s ten-year-old $50 Target bike as if my life depended on it. By the time I got to the run, I hyperventilated through to the finish. I was spent, but thrilled. It was fun. Really fun. I felt like a kid again. I did a second triathlon to see if I could manage the nerves and the adrenaline. I moved through that race as if I were Buddha. I came in last. My third race, I just wanted to find some middle ground — I did and I was hooked.

I started learning about training. I bought my first adult bike. I took swimming lessons and some strength training, and met other triathletes at the lake in the early mornings. The swimming, biking, running, and strength training became a fun, social, and challenging routine.

When you told your friends/family about beginning your journey, what was their reaction?

Skepticism initially, but many of my friends and family have now joined the Tri Fitness team. Vicki has a way of meeting each person where they are and guiding them, through training, to places they didn’t think possible. She teaches athletes of all ages and abilities how to be stronger, more fit and to have fun.

How long have you been training/racing?

My first triathlon was a sprint in 2012. In 2016, I completed Ironman WI.

Were you involved in other competitive sports prior to your adult years?

I enjoyed playing basketball and softball, but there weren’t really competitive sports for women in those days.

Best tip for a newbie?

Work with a trainer. We think we know how to run, bike, and swim, but learning how to train and learning technique — it will get you further faster...injury free.

What is your favorite pre/post workout snack/drink?

In the heat of the summer, it is ice cold watermelon covered in salt.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

The other athletes I’ve met along this journey. Rachel completing her first LFD. Heidi training to walk the Ironman marathon and finishing faster than many runners. Catherine, mother of four, finishing My First Tri one year and IMWI 70.3 the next. Cathleen, never missing a workout, always learning and improving. Sara, so respected for her athletic ability by the 35-year-old male athletes that couldn’t keep up with her. Rhiannon, at 63, going to Kona. Sandra, also at 63, running a 6:30 mile. But the biggest inspiration is the community of triathletes embracing and supporting athletes of all ages and abilities.

What is your biggest struggle?

The run, always the run. Sigh.

What is your pre-race routine?

Still working on it.

Goals for the upcoming year (2021)?

I had planned to compete in IMWI 2020 coinciding with my 60th birthday, but that changed when the world changed. On to Ironman WI 2021 for my 61st. Five years after completing my first Ironman, I’m hoping to finish IMWI 2021 at least an hour faster.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I’m grateful for this journey. I have gotten stronger every year and, with Vicki’s help and the support of the triathlon community, I’ve done things I never thought possible. Getting to the start line at IMWI 2016? Finishing that race? Biking with the Tri Fitness team in the mountains in Colorado? Finishing IM Boulder 70.3 in 102-degree heat? Never in my wildest dreams. But, all that happened.

Most amazing, though, is the fun and the friendships that have come from all of this. As kids in the neighborhood, we’d meet up and bike all day. We’d go to the basement gym at the grade school on freezing cold nights and play. During the summer we’d bike to the YMCA and spend the day at the pool or the gym. Exercise was play. Play was our social lives. Working out with the triathlete community is like being that kid again. It is fun and you feel free racing down the road on your bike, meeting at Tri Fitness for a class, at the local high school track, at Square Lake, or at the pool. It is fun. It is healthy. And, the community brings you along.

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