Sarah Tifft, 24, head lifeguard at Barnes Field House and a Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation employee, competed in her first Ironman competition on Nov. 18.
The ironman Arizona competition was held in Phoenix and consisted of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run. “I decided to do it because my dad inspired me; this was his fifth year doing it. He has always gotten me into sports, running and biking ever since I was 5, and I had seen him do it the last couple [of] years,” said Tifft.
The woman admitted she had been a smoker, and her dad discouraged her because of it. “So, two years ago I quit smoking and then after a year of it I said, ‘Ok, I am signing up for it, and I’m going to do it as a present to myself,’” she said.
Tifft, who started the competition at 7 a.m. along with more than 2,000 other competitors, 1,717 men and 642 women, finished at 11:12 p.m. alongside her father, Preston Tifft, who helped her through the competition. There were 12 women entered in Tifft’s 18-24 age group.
This was Tifft’s first Ironman; she has previously completed a sprint triathlon, which involves shorter distances, and the Bataan Death March in 2006. “It was really exciting. I jumped in on the swim and I have never done an open water swim so everyone was like, ‘Oh no no, you can’t do that, you have to practice sometime,’ but I just didn’t have time so I … just went in,” she said.
“It was a little nerve wracking because there are so many people kicking, but you can always tell when you’re not going the right way because a lot of people start hitting you with their arms and feet and you’re like ‘Why is everyone hitting me?’ then you look up out of the water and [realize] ‘I am going the wrong way,’” she added while describing the swim.
The best part of the competition for Tifft was her bike time. “I was really nervous about not making it for the bike time, and it was one of my best bike times for the race,” she said.
Her worst part was the last eight miles of the run.
“I was in a pretty good mood from the swim to the run and the run to the bike so that wasn’t so bad, but it was that last eight miles of the run I was like, ‘all right, I still have eight more miles.’
“I would do it again, even with those last eight miles,” Tifft stated. “Overall it was a great experience. I had good training; my dad was there to let me know about nutrition, [advising me to] always take a Hammer Gel [nutrition supplement] every hour and make sure you keep your fluids going,” she added.
The father-daughter duo followed a 12-week training program before the race. The program is for an advanced athlete; a person has to be able to do at least 60 miles on a bike, 1,000-meter swim and run about eight miles without stopping and be comfortable with it, Tifft explained. “After four weeks of the program you are allowed two rest days, but most weeks you only get one rest day. When four, eight and 12 weeks come, you get two rest days and you’re like, ‘Woohoo! Two rest days!’
“[It’s] definitely one of the greatest feelings in the world; it’s quite an accomplishment. Some people go for time and stuff like that, and I will when I do another one, but my first goal was, ‘I just want to finish this race, and I will be really excited if I do well on the bike,’ which I did. It feels like if I can train and I can do this, then … it sets me up for life. … If I can do this, anything I do I am like ‘this isn’t as tough as training for an Ironman,’” Tifft said with a chuckle.
“I am thankful that my dad was there to do it with me and help me. Without him, it probably wouldn’t have happened. And lucky I have a dad that was able to do that with me,” she said.
Tifft doesn’t plan to compete in another Ironman for three years but plans to join a cycling club and running club. She is currently applying for a physical therapy program at Northern Arizona University, which is 36 months long.