When Gini Fellows started her first Ironman race early in the morning Nov. 5, she had one goal: Finish within the allotted 17 hours.
Fifteen hours, 50 minutes and 1 second later, she had done that and more. The 70-year-old had qualified for the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, in October 2017.
The 140.6-mile race in Panama City Beach, Florida — that’s a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run — was supposed to be a one-time bucket-list item. Now the Gulfport woman is set to start training for another 140.6 miles that promise to be hillier, windier and more competitive than the last.
Just as soon as her coach, son Patrick Fellows, gives her the go-ahead.
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“I was amazed, shocked,” she said. “It was just fun.”
“Fun” is not a word many people would use to describe the grueling race, one of the most intense feats in athletics for any age.
Gini Fellows — who has been active all her life and done half-marathons and several half-Ironmans but never the full marathon or the last leg of the Ironman — decided, “I think I’ll try it.”
Patrick Fellows is a race organizer. He is also a four-time Ironman finisher after Panama City Beach.
“I trust him completely,” Gini Fellows said. “If he says ride your bike for 2 hours and 10 minutes, I’ll ride for 2 hours and 11 minutes.”
To prepare, some of her longest workouts included a 4,000-yard swim three or four times, a couple bike rides of about 100 miles, and a 6-hour ride on a bike trainer. Her farthest run was 17 miles.
After she qualified for Kona, her son told her, “This will be hard.”
The wind and the hills will affect the bike portion most of all, Gini Fellows thinks, and she wants to improve her swim and bike legs.
“Then you just survive the run,” she said.
Still, she said she genuinely had fun during the race. Her family was there. An exchange student her family had hosted years ago, and whom they jokingly refer to as their “Belgian son,” flew in to watch and will likely also be in Kona. Children and grandchildren were there.
At one point during the run, she heard a trombone playing somewhere and made a mental note to tell her grandson Ian about it because he plays trombone.
When she turned a corner, she discovered the trombone player was Ian.
One last loop of the running course later, she saw the finish line.
“Coming down the chute to finish was the most amazing feeling,” she said.
The announcer yelled out, “Gini Fellows, you are an Ironman,” and Fellows said, “I forgot to cry.”
Patrick Fellows, who finished several hours before her, persuaded a race volunteer to give him his mother’s medal and he put it around her neck.
“If anybody says they can’t do something, they can,” she said. “Anyone can do anything they set their mind to.
“I hope I’m saying that in October.”