Couple qualifies for Ironman championship

By Katherine Wartell

The odds of one person qualifying for the Ironman World Championships aren’t great. The world-famous championship triathlon has become increasingly popular thanks to coverage on sports networks like ESPN and its alluring location: Kailua, Hawaii.

Only about 2,000 people qualified for this year’s Ironman, earning a slot through one of three possible routes: placing highly enough in an official Ironman triathlon, being selected through the Ironman lottery program or winning a place through the charitable Ironman eBay auction. Most athletes qualify by placing top in their age groups in one of the 28 qualifying Ironman triathlons that take place around the world in the months leading up to the championship.

Ironman triathlons consist of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run, raced without a break and generally with a 17-hour time limit.

Athletes also can compete in one of the four half Ironman triathlons to qualify, which is how Trey Vernon, one of the owners of Manhattan Running Company, qualified.

But Trey is not the only Vernon who is leaving for Hawaii today to compete on Oct. 13 in the 2012 Ironman; Meg Vernon, Trey’s wife, qualified in a full Ironman in Louisville, Ky., in August.

The couple, who live in Junction City, have been putting in 12 to 15 hours of training each week since February to prepare for the championship.

Both placed second in their age groups during their qualifiers and have strong athletic backgrounds. Trey has been competing in triathlons for four years and ran cross country and track during college, while Meg was a swimmer.

Once she stopped swimming competitively, she said she felt like something was missing, so she started running and eventually got into sprint-distance triathlons.

After the two met, she said, they increased their training and race half-Ironman distances before deciding to go all in last year and complete their first full Ironman.

Neither qualified for the championship last year. Meg placed sixth, while Trey cramped during the run and had to walk half of the marathon.

The swim is the easiest event for both, while Trey said the biking is the most challenging, because participants have to remember that they still have a marathon ahead.

“You have to not push too hard,” he said.

Trey said the swim takes about an hour to an hour and a half, while the bike ride takes about 5 and a half hours.

To stay focused, Meg has inspirational sayings she will repeat when she hits low points. “On one of my water bottles I have written, ‘Accept nothing less than your very best in every moment,’” she said. “My coach told me, ‘The moment takes care of the minute, the minutes take care of the hours, and that’ll take care of your day.’”

Nutrition is important during the triathlon, and Trey said that once they are biking, they try to drink 20 ounces every 30 to 40 minutes and eat nutritious chews every half hour. Trey needs about 350 to 400 calories, while Meg intakes about 300 to 350 calories per chew. Trey said they will have to adjust to the humidity and heat in Hawaii and pack salt tabs.

The couple will train during the week leading up to the championship in Hawaii and return to Junction City the Wednesday after the competition.

For Trey, the reality of their accomplishment still hasn’t really set in, and, he said, it probably won’t until he’s on the island.

Trey and Meg will be married three years in April. For their honeymoon, Trey said, they ran the Boston marathon.

After the championship, the couple will take about a month off, Trey said. They’ve limited their outdoors activities to triathlon related exercises because they didn’t want to do anything that would conflict with training, but Trey said they’re excited to take up trail running.

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