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Our Own Minnesota Triathlete Reflects on Her Training Before the Kona World Championship

Updated: May 28, 2019

Sarah began swimming competitively at 7 years old and she was always very good in the water. Being generally athletic she was an active child. Though, as with all of us, one day you’re playing kickball and pick up football then all of a sudden you’re 40! But Sarah Zirkle is not your average woman. From high school swimmer to Kona qualifier, this is how our own Minnesota Triathlete, Sarah Zirkle, reflects on her past events before Kona.

Until Sarah hit her 40’s she hadn’t competed in anything other than a few high school sports like swimming and track and field. It wasn’t until a bad case of tendonitis developed in her elbow from playing with her dog that she pursued athleticism again.

“It made me angry that my body, once fit, was aging, and I hadn't done anything to improve my fitness... 

That's when I joined the Y, started to swim again, and pursued a strength program. Some folks at the Y encouraged me to look at triathlon, and it seemed like a great way to set a specific goal, follow a structured plan, and get back into shape.”

So she followed her plan and quickly completed her first triathlon, the Chisago Half Ironman. Because if trying a new sport isn’t hard enough already, definitely jump into the big game like Half IM distances!

“I followed an online training program, rode a road bike equipped with aerobars, and rented a wetsuit (which I put on backwards!). I had a flat tire during the bike leg, but otherwise did well and had a blast challenging myself. It gave me the confidence to further challenge myself by signing up for structured training with Trifitness and my first 140.6 mile Ironman in 2012,” Sarah said.

And that was just the first of her now 4 completed ironman events! She was attracted to the longer distances off the bat. “I realized I preferred the mental and physical challenge of longer distance training and racing.  The consistent, disciplined focus required to compete at a high level was what attracted me to the Full Ironman distance.”

We can all sympathize with putting a wetsuit on backwards, but how do you go from generally athletic to Kona qualifier so quickly? How does training need to evolve?

“Having an experienced, knowledgeable coach has made ALL the difference! Instead of a 'one size fits all' training approach, Coach Vicki tailors an individual plan specific to her athlete's goals, abilities and lifestyle,” Sarah explained.

“There is no wasted time with endless or 'junk' yards and miles of training. Instead, every workout has a specific purpose... 

which often includes shorter, harder efforts to stimulate fitness gains. I've been able to see greater fitness gains, even as I age, while training LESS than most of my peers.”

Vicki and Judi will tell you the story of Sarah’s Kona qualifying finish with excitement in their hearts and tears in their eyes as they knew she wasn’t aware of her place as she crossed the finish line at Ironman Wisconsin last year. “It was surreal,” she remembered.“Thinking I had finished fourth, but knowing I had given it my all and that it would be my last time trying to qualify, I was shocked when they told me!  Of course I cried... just a flood of emotions and truly a dream come true!”

“I didn't know if I could ever realistically qualify for Kona, but I was willing to pursue a training program that would explore the limits of the abilities- physically, mentally and emotionally...

It's a HUGE goal, and takes many years of dedicated, consistent training with many highs and lows. You have to commit to the long haul and find your limits. I was very fortunate to have found my limits, AND Kona qualify. “

We asked how she was feeling in these last moments before the big day.

“I am nervous about the big journey to Kona, and all the logistics that go into traveling and racing so far from home. Everything will be new -the heat, the wind, the terrain and the excitement! My focus this year is to enjoy and appreciate the opportunity to participate in the World Championships, knowing that I'm racing on behalf of all the wonderful athletes that dream of being there with me! I will be 'taking it all in', and enjoying the day with gratitude for all who have helped me along the way!”

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