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Beating the pain, striving to gain: Algona woman goes the distance in triathlon
Fast? She is not.
Persistent? Oh, baby.
Stephanie Norton-Bredl concedes she's no "super athlete," just a goal-oriented "average girl," determined to finish whatever she starts.
Her latest mission? A grueling endurance test through shallow waters and over hilly terrain.
Despite stomach cramps and chronic pain in her feet, the 47-year-old Algona woman recently persevered to conquer Ironman Canada, a one-day adventure that took the massive field of athletes from a 2.4-mile swim in Alta Lake, to a 112-bike ride to a concluding 26.2-mile run through scenic Whistler.
Norton-Bredl navigated the challenging course in 15 hours, 9 minutes, a personal best.
She was no stranger there.
A year ago at Ironman Canada, Norton-Bredl struggled to cover the Penticton, British Columbia course in 16½ hours, missing the cutoff by 20 minutes, the midnight curfew and a medal for an official finish.
"I came to terms with it," she said. "It motivated me."
For Norton-Bredl, doing triathlons is a privilege – and to tame a three-headed marathon monster requires methodical, sometimes arduous preparation.
"My challenge isn't harder than anyone else's challenge," said Norton-Bredl, a wife, mother of three, and the health and wellbeing director at the Auburn Valley YMCA. "It's just committing to it, and that's the hard part."
To prepare for Ironman Canada, Norton-Bredl kept her old bike, her weathered wet suit — and invested in a coach.
"Stephanie is hard-working and tough. She pushed through pain in her feet she knew would require surgery after Ironman," said Alissa Anderson, a coach and personal trainer with Raise The Bar, an organization that manages a multi-sport team, provides training and produces events in the Puget Sound area.
Anderson drilled Norton-Bredl, and she promptly picked up the pace. Norton-Bredl became a better triathlete than she'd been in her late-30s.
"She got me to push myself outside my comfort zone," Norton-Bredl said.
Putting in the time, the many miles
Training peaked to the tune of five hours on the bike, three hours in the pool and short runs on trails during the week. Weekends meant a 100-mile bike ride and a 20-mile run. To cut the pounding on her feet, Norton-Bredl ran in the pool.
"She was willing to listen to me and trust me when I told her she needed to replace some of her running volume with extra cycling and some deep-water running in order to protect her feet for race day," Anderson said. "A lot of Type A Ironman athletes would have a hard time letting go of the need to log a lot of running miles ... and deep-water running can be drudgery."
When August arrived, Norton-Bredl was ready. Family, including her parents, and friends, including the Y's Tim Wright, Ashley Pak and Alvin Tze, who also competed, supported her.
And this time, she finished strong.
"It felt great," she said.
Endurance sports are Norton-Bredl's niche.
Growing up in the Seattle area and participating in sports at Decatur High School, she considered herself a "below-average" athlete. But what she lacked in skill she made up in effort.
"I can go all day, I can go for a long time. ... That's where my talent is," she said. "It's not in my speed, it's my ability to keep going. I've found that appeals to me because I feel more successful at it."
Norton-Bredl has completed seven marathons and her share of half-marathons, foot races and bike rides, short and long.
Despite the injuries and ailments, Norton-Bredl has stayed active.
On the mend
Soon, Norton-Bredl will undergo surgery to realign the bones in her left foot, which were damaged by a bus that ran over her left foot when she was a girl.
Surgery also will remove painful bunions on both feet.
In her lifetime, Norton-Bredl has dealt with a chronic stomach condition and overcome a broken pelvis she sustained in a cycling accident a few years ago.
Norton-Bredl plans to take some time off, heal and perhaps prepare for the next race. A triathlon in New Zealand is on her "bucket list."
Despite the injuries, Norton-Bredl can smile after her latest accomplishment. Considering its length and scope, it was no easy feat.
"I'm not a super athlete. I'm just an average girl," she said. "I think, honestly, a lot of people can do it. ... It just takes a lot of preparation.
"Not everybody is motivated to do it, and that's OK, too, because I kind of enjoy challenging myself in that way," she said. "But for some people, just running a 5K, just getting to the gym, is challenging enough."
PHOTO BELOW: Algona's Stephanie Norton-Bredl powers her way to the finish in the 112-mile bike segment of Ironman Canada. She went on to complete the full event in 15 hours, 9 minutes. Courtesy photo, Lloyd Norton