By Lucy Modzelewski
Photo by Tindall Stephens
Susannah Herring, 45, decided to compete in a full IRONMAN on November 5, 2000. She had just crossed the finish line of the New York City Marathon (her first full marathon) and, feeling euphoric with a sense of pride and accomplishment, decided that day that she would one day conquer the behemoth of all triathlons: the IRONMAN.
Fast forward to today, Susannah has completed five full marathons, countless half marathons, a half IRONMAN, and practices yoga as the owner and operator of Hot Yoga Plus. She’s also accomplished the goal she set nearly 22 years ago by completing IRONMAN California in October.
However, the road to her long-sought achievement was anything but smooth.
An unexpected obstacle
Susannah was originally planning to participate in IRONMAN Lake Placid in July 2022. She signed up in June of 2021 and spent the year leading up to the race mentally and physically preparing.
She was in her final training block in June, putting in about 15 to 22 hours a week cycling, swimming, and running. Then, one day while on a bike ride on Southern Avenue, she hit a hole in the road and crashed, taking the brunt of the impact on her right forearm.
Initially, Susannah thought she would need a couple of stitches and would be good as new. However, what should have been a basic injury turned into a full-blown nightmare.
From training to hospitalization
Susannah’s wound became so badly infected that the infection entered her bloodstream, which meant that instead of stitches, she needed surgery. Doctors had to clean the wound down to the muscle and clean out all the infected tissue.
“I went from being in the best shape of my life to sitting in a hospital for eight days pumped full of antibiotics,” Susannah recalls.
Although she had momentary doubts about whether her IRONMAN dreams were meant to be, she knew deep down she would still find a way to achieve her goal.
Susannah credits her enduring positivity about her injury to 20 years of practicing yoga.
“I could have wallowed in disappointment and let it ruin my summer, but laying in that hospital bed, I decided to look at this situation as just a bump in the road.”
Getting back in the (bike) saddle
Susannah knew that her injury and resulting recovery would prevent her from competing in the IRONMAN Lake Placid, so she and her coach decided to try for the IRONMAN California three months later.
She started light training three weeks post-hospitalization and embarked on her first bike ride post-accident six weeks after being discharged from the hospital.
Although she was nervous about getting back on the bike, she knew she had no choice if she wanted to achieve her IRONMAN dreams.
“I texted my coach after my first bike ride back out on the streets and told him that, as it turns out, riding a bike is just like…riding a bike,” she laughs. “I just tried not to think about the magnitude of what I was doing too much.”
IRONMAN at last
Four months after her accident, Susannah arrived at IRONMAN California, in Sacramento. On October 23, she embarked on the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run.
When asked to describe the race in one word, Susannah said it was life-changing.
“To have a front-row seat to people doing really hard physical things and overcoming the odds is one of the most powerful things I’ve ever encountered in my life,” she says.
Although the road to her first IRONMAN was certainly not easy, Susannah feels that God gave her an amazing race day to make up for the difficulties leading up to it. Everything went her way, and when the going got tough, she read letters from her sister and friends that she received at her special needs stop to remind her who she was running for – her daughter, her mom, and her friend Liza.
What Susannah is most proud of, though, is her biking performance.
“The race was my first ride post-accident where I wasn’t afraid at all,” she explains. “I finally felt like, ‘this is my bike, and I’m in charge.’ I rode fearfully until the race, but that day I rode bravely.”
So, 21 years, 11 months, and 22 days after deciding she would cross the IRONMAN finish line, Susannah did just that, refusing to let injury or fear stop her.