Gagnon to Compete In Kona Ironman Triathlon

ELLSWORTH — Imagine swimming 2.4 miles in the open ocean, pedaling a bicycle 112 miles across barren lava fields and then running a 26.2-mile marathon.

All of that is in the immediate future for Ellsworth City Planner Michele Gagnon, who will head for Hawaii on Sunday to compete with 1,800 athletes from around the world in the 33rd Ford Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona on Hawaii’s Big Island.

Gagnon, who spent her childhood in Quebec City, might even then have considered herself a candidate for Ironman competition — had she known anything about it..

While she did a lot of skiing and spent plenty of time in outdoor activities, with the exception of a season of soccer in a city league, she was not involved at all in team sports or other organized athletics.

But she recalls that, even as a child, she dreamed of the Olympics and would push herself “as far as you can go.”

Her development as an ironman athlete was a gradual journey, not a sudden impulse.

After settling with her family in Ellsworth, Gagnon began running in part as a change to a healthier lifestyle.

Then she learned that one of her sisters had run in a 10-kilometer race and her competitive nature kicked in.

She signed up for a YMCA-sponsored 10K and when she ran, she was shocked to discover that people she didn’t even know turned out to support the runners.

“This was wonderful,” she said. “I loved it.”

Not long after that, she met fellow runner Amy Tunney while working out at the YMCA.

“The next thing you know, we started running together,” said Gagnon.

That led to training for and participation in a Prince Edward Island marathon and eventually the Boston Marathon.

Never mind that Gagnon says she really does not like running. “I hate running,” she declares. “It’s brutal. It’s demanding. But I love the feeling afterward. I like spending the energy. I’m a much better co-worker, mother, wife.”

The next step came three years ago with the discovery that another sister had entered a triathlon.

It wasn’t long before Gagnon expanded her training, then entering the local YMCA-sponsored triathlon, followed by another in Hope.

After a couple of half-ironman competitions in which she did “reasonably well,” Gagnon and some friends decided to volunteer at the 2011 Lake Placid Ironman in New York.

“If you volunteer, you can sign up to compete,” said Michele, and that’s exactly what she did, finishing with a combined time of 12 hours, 35 minutes and 44 seconds in the three events.

She went into the Lake Placid events after deciding that “I am going to take a different look at the race. I am not going to worry about the time because if I push too hard, I die.

“And I had a great time. As the miles were going by on the marathon, I was getting stronger and stronger and stronger. I enjoyed every single second and it worked.”

In fact, thanks to some disqualifications and dropouts in her age group (45-49), Gagnon ended up in the sixth spot and that proved good enough to qualify her for a trip to Kona.

Once she decided to go, she began building on her training for Lake Placid.

That regimen was 26 weeks, 10 workouts ranging from 10 to 22 hours a week.

“You build three weeks and you have one week off,” she said. “In my week, that’s three swims, three bikes, three runs and one bike-run workout. One day a week I take off.”

Two Bar Harbor friends, Britt Hulbert and Julie Hill-Warner, who also went to Lake Placid, have helped her in her training and “having that company and support is key,” said Gagnon.

Discipline in training is important, too, she noted. “If you tell me this is the plan, I stick to it week after week. There’s no shortcut to ironman.”

Gagnon noted that her 45-49 age group is one of the most competitive in the women’s division.

She predicted that the top women in her group will turn in combined times in the 10-hour range.

“If I finish in the middle of my age group, I’ll be in heaven,” she said.

What about withdrawal after all the anticipation, the training and the actual competition are over?

Gagnon doesn’t intend to just sit back and relax.

She’s says she’s ready for a little more quality family time, but she’s already looking ahead, too — perhaps to a 100-mile race, or a race across America, or maybe some adventure racing.

“I think the withdrawal is going to be taken care of by another goal.”

For more sports news, pick up a copy of The Ellsworth American.

Hugh Bowden

Hugh Bowden

Executive Editor
Hugh writes editorials, covers Hancock County sports and helps out where needed in The American's editorial department. When he's not on the sidelines, he enjoys playing jazz and tennis. [email protected]
Hugh Bowden

Latest posts by Hugh Bowden (see all)