By DAVE PAXTON
Editor and Publisher
For a person who testifies she was too lazy to run track and field or cross country in high school, Sarah Scott Gustafson is making up for lost high school time. The 42-year-old mother of two, the daughter of Gary and Carol Scott of Albia, finished her first half ironman triathlon in Benson Harbor, Mich. On June 30.
The Ironman Steelhead 73 combines a 1.2 mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and half-marathon (12+ miles). Gustafson finished in six hours, 33 minutes, 37th out of 67 in her 40-44 age group. There were 492 women in the race (which was run with even more men).
A softball player and a member of the first “sharing” swim team with Ottumwa High School, she said she was never motivated to swim long distances in high school. “I started in the youth program at the Albia pool and I’m not sure we swam lengths much longer than 100 meters,” she said. “My coaches at Ottumwa High School encouraged me to swim longer distances, but I really wasn’t interested in swimming that far.”
She graduated from ACHS in 1995, started running after the birth of her son, 16 years ago and got serious about distance after the birth of her now 10-year-old daughter (a competitive swimmer). She started running half marathons and graduated to marathons. So far she has run eight marathons.
She and her family live in Lake St. Louis, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis, where she trains year around. “All of my running is done outside,” she said. “My daughter is in the pool almost every day throughout her season so I train the swimming part indoors in the colder months and then get outside and swim in Lake St. Louis by the first part of May. She puts her bicycle on a trainer in the basement during the winter and heads outside around the first of April.
Training for the half triathlon started in February of this year. She has kept in close contact with some Albia classmates, Chrissy Stringfellow for one, and when she returns home to visit her parents, runs with Stringfellow and Todd Ratliff, both former and present ACHS cross country coaches. Ratliff lives just down Highway from the Scotts. “Todd is great,” she said. “He is really encouraging and he and Chrissy and I do a lot of texting throughout the year about running.”
In fact, Ratliff ran a half triathalon before Gustafson. “His time and my time were only eight seconds apart after the swimming and biking,” she said “A lot of the best triathletes are not really all that strong of swimmers.”
Preparing for the swim was mentally daunting. “We were lining up for the swim, knowing that four swimmers would go into the water every five seconds,” she said. “I had a friend who told me to get a song in my head that was repetitious and just keep singing it. I help with the two-year-old pre-school at our church and so I sang ‘Jesus Loves Me’ over and over”...all the time ducking and dodging kicks and splashes that cause bruising and scratches. “I swam off course a lot of avoid the contact,” she said.
By the time she got to her bike and then ran the bike to its starting point, the crowd had started to thin somewhat. “There were still lots and lots of people until about mile 35 in the biking, then it spread out some,” she said. “In the athlete’s briefing they tell you not to draft and to stay six bike lengths behind the person ahead of you, which is pretty hard to do when there are that many people biking.”
The beginning of the half marathon after riding a bike 50+ miles is always the most difficult part of the event, but Gustafson said she felt like she was actually running pretty fast after averaging 18 miles per hour on her bike.”
She was satisfied with her finish, but like most avid runners and triathletes, there are challenges ahead. “I’d still like to qualify for the Boston Marathon (she needs to trim about 15 minutes off a qualifying marathon) and I’m planning to do the first Des Moines half triathlon next June,” she said. She’s already competed in the Des Moines Marathon.
She keeps in contact with their high school friends, Stringfellow, Amy Kaster and Halle Jass, who are all now avid middle-aged runners.