This Woman, 70, Lookin' So Good, Is About To Be an IRONMAN

Gini Fellows, who’s competing in IRONMAN Florida on November 5, 2016, on Panama City Beach getting ready for a practice swim
Gini Fellows, who’s competing in IRONMAN Florida on November 5, 2016, on Panama City Beach getting ready for a practice swim in the Gulf of Mexico

Gini Fellows is a registered nurse who teaches health and wellness at the Biloxi, Mississippi, campus of Tulane University. She turned 70 in August while training for her first full IRONMAN in Panama City Beach, Florida, on November 5, 2016.

Gini’s been guest blogging her journey to IRONMAN Florida, which comprises a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run, on my website Be the Dog. You can track Gini (Bib # 1499) during the race on Saturday.

I checked in with Gini Thursday evening, and she seemed remarkably calm. Here’s an excerpt of our conversation.

Carolee Belkin Walker: So, wow, the race is on Saturday! How are you feeling?

Gini Fellows: Physically I feel great, and I know I’m prepared. I didn’t think I was nervous until last night so I thought, oh, you better go to bed. There’s a lot going on at the Ironman Village. We’ve had a Facebook group this past year so there is a get together.

CBW: How many people are doing the race?

GF: 3,000. I am the only woman in my age group. I’ll be first and last in my age group!

CBW: You don’t compete with the men, just the women, right?

GF: They were starting men first and then women but now they do a rolling start. They have people holding a placard with different times about 5 minutes apart and you put yourself in where you think you will finish. That way you are not competing with people swimming over you and around you.

CBW: How long do you think you will take for the swim?

GF: About 1 hour and 45 to 1 hour and 55 minutes. We’ve all been concerned that it will not be wet-suit legal.

CBW: The ocean temperature will be too warm?

GF: Yes. Right now the water temperature is 76.1 degrees and wet-suit legal is 76.2 degrees. There’s a cold front coming through tonight so I’m hoping it lowers it just one degree.

CBW: Do you prefer to swim in a wet suit?

GF: Normally, no. But this is a 2.4-mile swim in the ocean. I’d like that extra buoyancy and hopefully it will make me go a little bit faster.

CBW: You did a swim today?

GF: I did! This morning we did a short practice swim, and I made it though the breakers. There weren’t too many but I dove under them, which was exciting since I’ve been terrified of that. Everybody was concerned about jellyfish. I saw one or two. That’s another reason for wanting to wear a wet suit.

I brought a little bottle of vinegar in my T1 bag.

CBW: You put the vinegar on your skin after you’ve been stung by a jellyfish?

GF: Yes. Hopefully that will help. The alternative is not very favorable. Someone said, “Well, you gotta get somebody to pee on it for you.” I’m like, “ehh, no.”

CBW: What did you call it? Your T1 bag?

GF: Transition 1 between the swim and the bike. I’ve been trying to decide what to wear. Some people change clothes completely but I am going to wear my tri shorts and a sports bra and my wet suit.

CBW: So will you wear that outfit through all three events?

GF: I’ll put on a shirt – a tri top jersey – for the bike ride. Then I plan to change into some dry shorts and a different tri top at the second transition between the bike and the run.

CBW: I bet you spend way more money on athletic gear than you do on street clothes.

GF: Oh yes.

CBW: Have you discovered any favorites? Are there pieces that have made all the difference?

GF: Yes. I’ve been buying tri shorts from Coeur Athletics and they have a nice long piece that goes way down the inside of the leg so there’s less chafing. I run in Nike crops that taper. And I wear my FreshJunkie Racing bike jersey. I’ve got arm warmers because I don’t think I’ll be finished by 10 pm or 11. I’m hoping before 11.

CBW: How long do you think the bike will take?

GF: Between 7 and 7.5 hours. I have ridden 100 miles in 6 hours and 20 minutes but that’s just riding time. You have to factor in time at the aid stations. My plan is to stop midway. I’m carrying all my nutrition and water bottles and I have some Clif bars. And maybe I’ll stop one or two times to use the restroom and get extra nutrition. We have special needs bags for extra tubes, for example, in case I have a flat tire and need another one after I’ve changed the one on the bike ride.

CBW: And where is the special needs bag?

GF: The bags are left at mile 52 and at 13.1 on the run.

CBW: How long do you think the run will take?

GF: Probably between 5 and 5.5 hours. I hope.

CBW: Whew, what a day. So no regular food for, what, 17 hours? No pizza delivery midway?

GF: Hahahaha, yeah, no. I use electrolytes and carbohydrates and mix that up and drink it. I carry GUs and Clif bars. On the run they have Gatorade and after dark they have chicken broth. And then they have Coke. I bought a Coke for the first time just to make sure I could tolerate it. I haven’t had a real Coke since diet drinks came out so I don’t even know how long ago that was.

CBW: Me neither. Did you like it?

GF: Eh. It was like, “Oh, I haven’t had one of these in a long time. It tastes like syrup.”

CBW: Here’s a question for you. I started exercising vigorously about 2.5 years ago and people always ask me, “Ok, so now that you’re doing this and getting up at 5 am to exercise 6 days a week and you do races, blah blah blah, what difference has it made in your life, specifically?” Have you thought about that?

GF: I started out doing it as a way to be healthier and keep my weight down. I don’t think so much about keeping my weight down anymore, but I have a terrible family history of heart disease. For me it has made all the difference in the world. I’m up at 5:30 or 4 o’clock some mornings and I feel better. After I have exercised I feel physically and emotionally better. Mentally better.

I feel younger. And of course my friends are in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, and a couple are 50. My athletic friends keep me young.

CBW: Yeah. I know. Pat, your son, is with you as your coach, and he’s also competing. Who’s your support squad?

GF: My husband – he has really been good. I think he thought I was going to quit doing all this exercise after this but he realizes I’ve been doing it for 9 years now, and I’m not going to stop. Because I do feel better.

My daughter in law is here, 2 of my grandchildren, and in 1985-86 we had a Belgian young man come live with us as an exchange student, and he flew over just for the race.

The support I’ve been getting from friends and family from far away has been unbelievable.

CBW: How long will you recover after the race?

GF: My coach says no major exercise for 3 weeks. “You can walk the dog,” he said. I’m going to start bugging him on Sunday about what I can do.

I have an appointment with my cardiologist in 2 weeks so I’ll see what she has to say.

CBW: Thank you for taking time to speak with me.

GF: You’re welcome. I really appreciate your inviting me to do the blog. I never even considered writing down this journey, and it has been such an eye opener for me.

I know the theory of exercise and building up gradually. Now I’m swimming 4000 yards, I ran the longest I’ve ever run at 17 miles, and I’ve ridden my bike twice at 100 miles. It’s amazing what you can do if you put your mind to it. Writing and blogging have been helpful. Now I have a record of what I’ve done and I’m going to go back and look at where I was and where I am on Saturday.

CBW: I’ve enjoyed reading your blog posts and continue to be inspired by you. I’m looking forward to reading your race report!

Do you have IRONMAN stuff to do on Friday or will you be relaxing?

GF: I have a short 20-minute bike ride in the morning to check my brakes and gears.

Friday afternoon we’re having a birthday party for my 12-year-old grandson Ian. And we signed him up for the IRONMAN Kids 1 miler. I need to be in bed by 8:30-9 pm because I have to be up at 3:30 to eat breakfast. The race starts at 6:45.

CBW: I hope Ian has a good run! I’ll be talking to you after the race Sunday or Monday. Have a pleasant evening and thank you again. You got this!

GF: Thank you!

You can read Gini’s race report here. She’s on her way to IRONMAN Kona in October 2017!