CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Rachel Ross won a major triathlon in Japan recently, and placed first in her age group in last year's Hawaii Ironman World Championships.
Ross considers going the distance
The relative newcomer could take her next step toward an elite career at today's Honolulu Triathlon
The last 3 miles of the 26.2-mile marathon in the final leg of the Strongman Japan Triathlon last month were "the most painful" of Rachel Ross's life. But the effort paid off.
The 30-year-old stunned the sports world when she outperformed Japan's top professional women in the country's oldest and most prestigious triathlon. After enduring a kick to the face and a bleeding lip during the 3,000-meter swim, she didn't eat enough on the hot, humid 96-mile bike ride. With all of her energy drained from her -- known as "bonking" -- it left Ross with tunnel vision so severe that she wondered if she could finish the race at all.
Instead of quitting, however, she talked herself into walking and eating. After ingesting approximately 1,000 calories, she began to jog. Her first 5K was 23:30, and "by 10K, I no longer felt like I was sick and dying and bonking," she laughed. She went from fifth place out of the water to first when she passed the last two women in the final miles of the run. Her marathon time? A blazing 3 hours and 23 minutes.
This came on the heels of a stellar performance at the Ironman World Championships in Kona last October, where she outpaced her age group by 12 minutes, finished the event in 10 hours and 5 minutes, and qualified automatically for the 2007 race.
The Punahou graduate is Hawaii's female triathlete to watch in this morning's Honolulu Triathlon. She's also racing the Ford Ironman 70.3 Hawaii Triathlon on June 2 and the National Championships in Portland in late June.
For Ross, however, it's all preparation for the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run in Kona on Oct. 13, when she will attempt to narrow the gap on the world's top athletes.
Honolulu triathlete Rachel Ross is striding into the big-time. Fellow competitors and her coach, Raul Boca, are encouraging her to turn professional, especially now that Timex has invited her to join its elite team.
Ross, 30, is racing this morning in the Honolulu Triathlon (1,500-meter swim, 40-kilometer bike, 10-kilometer run), which she admitted is a "speed workout" on the way to the Ford Ironman 70.3 Hawaii Triathlon in two weeks. In the Ford race last year -- her first-ever long-distance event -- she completed the 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run in 4 hours and 50 minutes, finishing second behind world champion Michellie Jones.
She qualified for the Ironman World Championships and gave it a try, not knowing what to expect.
"I thought I would fall apart, but I just never did," she said. Instead, she ran a 3:27 marathon in the blazing heat, finishing 28th among the professional women. Her obvious affinity for the endurance events became apparent.
Wil Yamamoto, a triathlete and attorney in Honolulu, who completed the 2005 Ironman in 9 hours and 30 minutes, thinks that if Ross focuses on the long-distance races, she could find herself on the podium.
"I think she's better than a lot of the pro women out there right now," said Yamamoto, who often trains with Ross. "A lot of it comes down to your personal perseverance and dedication. Her doing so well says a lot about her work ethic and her mind-set."
What's even more impressive is how Ross juggles parenting, marriage and work to accomplish this. She's mom to Henry, 7; Wyatt, 5; and Sky, 3, and works part-time for a water-related environmental company based in San Diego.
A relative newcomer to the sport of triathlon, Ross was always athletic. She paddled outrigger canoes while attending Punahou, and started running to stay in shape during high school.
"I liked it," she said, "but I didn't like it enough to do track."
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Punahou graduate and mother of three Rachel Ross has a shot at winning the Honolulu Triathlon today.
While at the UC Berkeley, the unassuming, gregarious Ross became a self-described "party girl" who drank her share of alcohol, smoked a pack of cigarettes daily, and subsisted on Starbucks coffee and bagels.
"Just normal college stuff," she laughed. "I was having a good time!"
When she and her husband -- former Berkeley water polo player Ramsey Ross -- discovered they would become parents, Ross altered her lifestyle dramatically. She immediately quit smoking and drinking, and devoted more time to exercise.
But entering a triathlon didn't occur to her until she watched a friend finish Ironman Wisconsin in 2003, when she was seven months pregnant with Sky.
"I thought, 'Wow, how fun!' " she said. "But I never thought I could do it. I could never imagine doing those distances."
Friend and fellow triathlete Candes Meijide Gentry recruited Ross to the Mountain Man, an off-road sprint triathlon.
"I didn't exactly fall in love," admitted Ross, who was less than enamored with the course's single track mountain biking.
Placing in her age group at the all-female Na Wahine Sprint Triathlon hooked her. What she enjoyed most was the encouragement she received from other women who saw her nursing Sky moments before the race.
Her performances improved so rapidly that in smaller races she found herself competing against the men. Last year at the Haleiwa Triathlon, for instance, she finished first among the women, second in the men's division.
So what inspires the dedication it takes to ride her indoor bike trainer after the kids are in bed, or wake up at 4 a.m. to run before Ramsey leaves for work at Nordic Construction? "Quiet time" certainly motivates her, as does the feeling of accomplishment. Most of all though, it's the sense of strength that transcends the physical effort.
"If I'm working so hard that everything is hurting, I tell myself, 'You can do anything for 20 more minutes,' " she said. But the real joy arises from the unpredictability, especially on race day. "I love that anything can happen -- it's always different. And that's the challenge. It couldn't be more different from the whole soccer-mom life."