Ironman 70.3: Paradise Valley residents prepare for world championships

From left, Dr. Dwight Lundell, Dr. Sharon Johnston and Mary Jorden will be competing in the Ironman 70.3 world competition in Australia. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

From left, Dr. Dwight Lundell, Dr. Sharon Johnston and Mary Jorden will be competing in the Ironman 70.3 world competition in Australia. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

Swimming. Cycling. Running.

Each sport is challenging on its own, but back-to-back-to-back requires dedication, persistence and most importantly: a positive attitude.

Three Paradise Valley residents, all over the age of 50, are preparing to travel across the world to Mooloolaba, Queensland, Australia to compete in the Ironman 70.3 World Championship on Sept. 4.

The Ironman 70.3, also known as a half Ironman, consists of a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride, and a 13.1-mile run. The Ironman 70.3 world championship competitions are in different locations each year, and athletes must qualify to compete. The full Ironman World Championship is in Hawaii every year.

Mary Jorden, Dr. Dwight Lundell and Dr. Sharon Johnston are all making the journey to compete for the title of Ironman 70.3 world champion.

“One of the attractive things about triathlon, as appose to other forms of racing, is everyone is pretty supportive of each other,” said Dr. Lundell during an Aug. 2 interview.

“Instead of elbowing you out of the way, and trying to smash you down, we all are suffering a little bit. Everybody is encouraging.”

The Ironman 70.3 championship race began in 2006. To qualify for the world championship, athletes must win their male or female age group. Ms. Jorden qualified at a race in Austria; Dr. Johnston qualified in Monterrey, Mexico; and Dr. Lundell qualified in Michigan.

More than 3,000 athletes from around the world will compete at the Ironman 70.3 world championships. Over 70 countries will be represented, and athletes range in age from 18-75-plus. There will be a total of 13 members from the TriScottsdale racing team competing in Australia.

Training for the event requires around 15 hours of physical exercise a week, said the three athletes.

Mary Jorden will be competing in her third Ironman 70.3 on Sept. 4. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

Mary Jorden will be competing in her third Ironman 70.3 on Sept. 4. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

“Some weeks it’s a little more, but about 15 hours,” said Ms. Jorden, who has only competed in two half Ironman’s so far.

For adults, finding several hours a week to dedicate to training for a major competition is not an easy task; it sometimes requires 4 a.m. bike-training sessions.

“I get to work at 6:30 a.m., so bike is really the only thing I can tolerate before work,” said Dr. Johnston, an anesthesiologist.

Dr. Lundell, a retired cardiologist says he didn’t start exercising regularly until after the age of 40.

“I had a very busy career and didn’t have time for this. I didn’t actively start exercising until after 40, and yet here I am,” he said.

In addition to competing in the half Ironman’s, Dr. Lundell and Dr. Johnston have competed in the full Ironman as well. Dr. Lundell has competed in the Hawaii competition five times, and made the top-5 spots in his age group twice.

“You’ve got to do it once,” said Dr. Johnston, when Ms. Jorden stated she was thinking about competing in the full Ironman sometime in the future.

The full Ironman — twice the length — is a completely different challenge.

“It’s torture,” said Dr. Johnston. “The swimming, you wouldn’t have a hard time with. The bike, by the time you get off the bike you can barely walk, let alone start a marathon. And then it’s just step after step.”

Somewhat of a new competitor, Ms. Jorden says she enjoys training for cycling and running more than swimming because she hadn’t competed in those sports before. However when competing, her strongest leg of the race is the swimming portion.

The Ironman 70.3 must be completed in about eight hours, depending on the course. A full Ironman can take about eight hours to finish, and must be completed within 17 hours. There is a cut-off time for each phase of the race.

The athletes burn about 500 calories an hour during the races.

“My first half, my goal was just to finish,” said Ms. Jorden.

To be able to keep competing when your brain is telling you to stop, is one of the hardest obstacles to overcome.

“Most of the competition is with ones self, and that’s why I think the sport is so supportive of each other and supportive of females coming in,” said Dr. Lundell. “One great thing about triathalon is it has been very welcoming to women.”

While racing, other competitors will be cheering you on, calling your name and number and giving support.

“On the course, people, like other athletes, will be saying ‘good job’ or ‘keep going,’ it’s really, really nice,” said Ms. Jorden.

Dr. Johnston previously was involved in cycling before conforming to a triathlete, and she says the atmosphere was completely different.

“It would always be like ‘Oh man, we dropped them they couldn’t hold with us,’” she said. “It’s not like that at all with triathlon. It was so supportive and like, a culture shock.”

During the 2015 Ironman World Championships, where Dr. Lundell and Dr. Johnston were both competing, they used the support of each other to finish the race.

Dr. Dwight Lundell and Dr. Sharon Johnston compete in Ironman races together. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

Dr. Dwight Lundell and Dr. Sharon Johnston compete in Ironman races together. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

“I wasn’t having a good day and neither was she. We were about half-way through the marathon when we came together, and we were both feeling pretty rotten so we said we’re going to finish this together,” said Dr. Lundell.

“We finished it together hand-in-hand. Every triathelte’s dream is the iconic finish line, coming down Ali’i Drive… so to do it with your sweetheart was a special moment for Sharon and I.”

Being able to see what you can do, is the biggest accomplishment said Ms. Jorden.

“I’ll get something from my coach, a workout, and a year ago I would have thought ‘I can’t do that,’ and now I know I can do it,” she said. “It’s interesting to see what you really can do when you work at it.”

Ms. Jorden only gave herself six months to train for her first half Ironman.

“I was kind of surprised that my coach was willing to take on someone my age who was talking about doing a half Ironman in six months,” she said.

The sport continues to grow, especially in the middle-age group and up, said the athletes.

“It’s actually a pretty expensive sport, so you’ve got to have a fair income to be able to do it the way we like to do it,” said Dr. Johnston. In 2016, Dr. Johnston and Dr. Lundell have already competed in four races around the world.

It is surprising to see the amount of women competing, said Dr. Johnston.

“I go to these races and there’s like 50 women in our age group, 55-59,” said Dr. Johnston. “Fifth women, coming from a generation who didn’t work out that much.”

The athlete’s club, TriScottsdale is ranked No. 1 in the world by Ironman for clubs of 300 of fewer members. One of the special events

TriScottsdale hosts is an annual Tri for the Cure race in Paradise Valley, where they have raised over $300,000 for cancer research.

News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be reached by e-mail at or follow her on Twitter at

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