Mandy Farrar’s day often begins at 4 a.m. with a decision. Should she do a bike ride along Route 201, braving the logging trucks, whose drivers aren’t expecting anyone on the road that early? Or, should she jump into her truck and drive three miles for a swim in a frigid pond?
Whichever she decides, it’s just the beginning of a long day of physical activity. Supervising timber harvesters in the woods around Caratunk, she will walk another 4 to 10 miles. When she gets home, she might hop on her exercise bike and ride while she watches a few hours of TV.
It’s all part of training for the Iron Man triathlon, which consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run (aka marathon). Farrar didn’t finish the first Iron Man she tried because she hadn’t trained as hard as she should have. So this time, she pulled out all the stops for the Lake Placid Tri on July 27, which she accomplished in about 15 hours – with a smile on her face.
“It’s like having two jobs, says Farrar, 39, who has finished five marathons and two triathlons since 2005. “I just like long distances. I’d rather go for 15 hours than for 40 minutes really hard.”
When she was in her 20s, Farrar probably didn’t feel the need for extreme challenges. She was a whitewater rafting guide on the Penobscot River for eight years. Before that, she was a ranger on the Allagash Waterway. Before that, in college, she played rugby.
But as she approached her 40s, and her job now consisted of a (long) walk in the woods, she decided to challenge herself to go beyond her limits.
“When the alarm goes off at 4 a.m., the only person I’m disappointing (if she doesn’t get up to exercise) is myself,” she says.
Training for a triathlon in a part of Maine where there can be snow on the ground and ice on the pond for a good six months takes some creativity and perseverance. The nearest pools are at the University of Maine at Farmington, 90 minutes away, and the Waterville YMCA, also more than an hour south. She’ll make the trek once a week in the winter, relying on cross-country skiing, running endless loops in town, and hours on her exercise bike to keep her in shape.
“My friends all think I’m crazy,” she says.
Because Iron Man training is such a solitary pursuit, Farrar started a blog (www.caratunkgirl.com) to chronicle her training adventures. It’s an engaging read that shows the entertaining, down-to-earth side of Farrar. In one post she’ll be talking about her encounter with a loon during a pre-dawn swim; in the next she’ll recount a hilarious conversation with her grandmother about vibrators (for her jaw and neck pain).
Through the blog, Farrar soon discovered that, while she might be the only extreme triathlete in her neck of the woods (so to speak), there’s a whole universe of people as excited about Iron Man triathlons as she is. Since she started the blog in 2009, she’s picked up more than 30 followers and five or six sponsors. At races, she’s had people say, “Are you Caratunk girl?
Farrar says the best part of triathlons is the day of the race, when you feel the camaraderie of people around you.
“I’ve had a guy in a sling next to me. I’ve raced with people who have survived cancer, people with only one leg, people who are blind,” she says. “There’s a lot of inspiration out there.”
As for the future, Farrar is looking to run a 50-mile race next year. She doesn’t see why she can’t keep doing extreme distances as long as she’s prepared and stays healthy. She’s lost 35 pounds in the past year by giving up sugar and grains, and she feels as though she has more energy now than she did two years ago.
“It’s given me so much confidence and strength to push myself farther than I ever thought I could go,” she says. “I want to be doing this for a long time.”