Defeating the iron giant

Annamarie Strehlow competes in Ironman World Championships


Submitted photo

Annamarie Strehlow, Class of ‘09, embarks on the final leg of the triathlon World Championships in Kona.

2.4 miles of swimming

112 miles of bike riding

26.22 miles of running

Amid terrain ranging from desolate lava fields to salty sea water, hundreds of athletes congregated from all around the world in the city of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii to go head to head in a competition deemed to be the ultimate test of strength, stamina and mental tenacity.

The Ironman is a long-distance triathlon made to challenge the most robust and skilled competitors, and on Oct. 6 through Oct. 8, 2022, the Ironman World Championship took center stage on Hawaii’s shores.

Among the athletes lacing up at the starting line that day, was Homestead alumna Annamarie Strehlow, Class of ‘09. Strehlow played soccer for the Highlanders in high school.

Strehlow completed her first triathlon in 2017 and gained an appreciation for the diversity of participants in the events.

Strehlow said, “I just fell in love with the sport and the community that surrounds the sport because you get to meet and know people of all different ages, backgrounds and all walks of life. So it’s just a great community to be a part of and I’ve been hooked ever since.”

Going into the Ironman World Championships years later, Strehlow had the experience and knowledge to foresee that it would be no easy feat.

“I expected it to be the hardest thing I’d ever do,” Strehlow said. “In addition to the distances across the disciplines, Kona has a reputation for its elements being very challenging. Historically, it’s known to be one of the most challenging endurance races out there.”

Strehlow trudges uphill during the bicycle leg of the race. (Submitted photo)

In preparation for the unforgiving nature of the race, she spent a great deal of time building both mental and physical durability. Strehlow said, “I knew it was going to be grueling and just knowing that and having the right mental fortitude and preparation really helped my success.”

With the first overhead stroke of swimmers in Kailua-Kona Bay marking the start of what would become a nearly ten-hour long race for Strehlow, she knew she was in it for the long haul.

“The day can turn quite quickly. Someone can have a really good race and then all of a sudden, whether it’s lack of nutrition or dehydration or some other component, it can really influence a person’s day quite poorly,” Strehlow said.

Facing the island’s strong winds and sweltering heat, fatigue took its greatest toll during miles 70 to 90 on the bike and miles 18 to 22 of the marathon.

“Those two points of the race are where I started to go into a dark place and then quickly had to divert the mindset and really think about being present, dialing in the small factors that actually play a big role,” Strehlow said.

Strehlow poses with her awards after the competition. (Submitted photo)

Finding value in existing in the moment brought her peace of mind during trying times. Strehlow said, “I definitely have the finish line in mind. But at the same time, I’m also trying to focus on being present, which is honestly the most challenging thing but also very important.”

After 9:42:17 of crossing 140.6 miles of unparalleled adversity, the race came to a close.

Out of the 1,167 women finishers in the category of non-professional athletes, Strehlow placed third and was the first American to complete the race. “I was incredibly proud to be able to execute the race that I did, and I was also just in shock that I was able to perform at that level,” Strehlow said.

Strehlow found value in the sport for both its remarkable challenge and its connection to her everyday life.

“I love the competition,” Strehlow said. “And I love that what I learned about myself in the journey leading up to the race is so applicable to my life.”

Succeeding an exemplary performance in Hawaii, Strehlow intends to make the transition to professional racing next season and to continue working on her craft as an athlete.