North Van senior's triathlon life started with a letter to Hawaii

Dear Hawaii Ironman. Can I compete in you?

North Vancouver’s Cullen Goodyear didn’t really know what she was getting herself into when she wrote words to that effect way back in 1989.

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“In those days, the whole sport was very new. The science of exercise physiology was in its infancy and all the technology about swim technique, being aero on the bike, run efficiency, nutrition, etc., was either non-existent or just beginning to be studied,” recalls Goodyear.

But that didn’t stop Goodyear, who lived in Quebec at the time, and a group of sporty friends from aimlessly sending handwritten Ironman applications in the direction of the Big Island.

“I didn’t even know the address of where to send it,” says Goodyear. “I just sent it to Ironman in Hawaii!”

The responses started to trickle in for Goodyear’s fellow Ironman hopefuls. 

“They started to get handwritten refusals,” she says. “I didn’t get one, so I just figured my application had never arrived. Then in April, (I’d just turned 41) I get this, again, handwritten letter saying I had qualified!”

Goodyear was headed to her first Ironman world championship. She was, however, woefully underprepared for Hawaii.

“I didn’t have a real bike (mine still had a kid seat on back), or cycling shoes, not to mention anything else,” recalls Goodyear. “Plus I was dirt poor, a single parent to a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old.”

The sibling bond is stronger than the toughest Ironman, she learned. Goodyear’s sister gave her some money to buy a bike: “a six-speed chromoly steel framed thing, with heavy regular wheels.”

Her brother, meanwhile, bought her shoes.

“My friends and I had bake sales and garage sales so I could afford the flight,” says Goodyear.

She became hooked on the ultimate endurance test, coming back for Ironman in 1990. The following year Goodyear took a break to train, mentally. Looking to earn a post-secondary degree from McGill, she chose education with a major in physical education.

“So I studied exercise physiology, biomechanics, etc. – all secretly in my mind trying to learn how to do an Ironman, but also sort of realized it may never happen again,” recalls Goodyear.

The proof is in the pictures: she did conquer Ironman again – and again, and again.

Goodyear is currently on top of the world once more, having won her latest triathlon this past weekend in Hawaii. The 71-year-old was the only woman to finish in her age category.

“The race was good,” reports Goodyear. “Very hot and challenging – but beautiful.”

The race Goodyear just completed – nicknamed Honu, in honour of the Hawaiian green sea turtle – is a half-distance race called the Ironman 70.3 Hawai`i. Athletes cycle their way through black lava fields and green pastures, ancient, historic Hawaiian temples, and modern wind farms.

“I absolutely love the Big Island,” proclaims Goodyear. “And I love the heat. But here it isn’t only the heat that is the issue with racing and training, it is also the wind. I have raced and trained here when the winds are strong enough to blow people off their bikes!”

Goodyear has encountered other Ironman challenges in the past: She’s twice raced with a broken foot, but had to bail on the run both times. Also, one year at an aid station, a water bottle slipped out of Goodyear’s hand, ricocheted off the road and into her back wheel, breaking spokes.

Over a span of 30 years Goodyear, who lives near Harry Jerome rec centre, has perfected her Ironman training schedule.

“I swim and bike three times a week, and run four. I keep to this schedule, as then I can still have scheduled times for work,” says Goodyear, who has worked as a personal trainer and swim coach, on contract, at Hollyburn Country Club for the past 22 years.

A vegetarian since around 1994, Goodyear says she eats the same things all the time: huge salads filled with multiple-coloured veggies and fruits, nuts, seeds, nutritional yeast and raw sauerkraut. She also consumes a lot of bread, and indulges in beer/cider and coffee with cream.

“I do not change except the night prior to a race, I don’t have a big salad,” says Goodyear.

The senior usually competes in two Ironman races a year, along with a couple of 70.3 races. She has won Ironman world championships in her age group three times.

Goodyear has already qualified for this year’s Ironman 70.3 World Championships scheduled for September in Nice, France, but has decided not to go. 

“I have raced the Ironman in Nice three times in years past, and although it is beautiful, and I love it there, it is just too far and expensive for me to go all the way there this year,” she says.

She’s definitely got more racing in her though.

“I keep doing it because I love the challenge, and the whole process intrigues me,” she says. “I keep trying to learn how the body adapts and changes as we age. That is the appeal, and that has helped me become a world champion. I’m not biomechanically gifted at all, but I keep trying to become a better athlete.”

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