The 2022 IRONMAN World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, is for the world’s most elite athletes. Triathletes from around the world dream of racing on IRONMAN’s main stage, training and competing for years for a chance to qualify. From October 6-8, the athletes embarked on a 140.6-mile journey: a 2.4- mile ocean swim followed by a 112-mile bike ride with intense elevation, ending with a 26.2-mile full marathon. 

They didn’t have music or pacers – just 2,466 of the world’s most elite athletes embarking on the ultimate test of their mind, body, and spirit. 

Memphis’ own Lawrence Elliot, a 37-year-old triathlete, wife, and mom of two daughters, was one of the 2,466. 

Qualifying for the World’s Most Exclusive Triathlon 

Including the World Championship, which Lawrence and other IRONMAN athletes refer to as simply “Kona,” Lawrence has competed in four different IRONMAN races in four years, starting in 2019 in Chattanooga and ending there as well, where she qualified for Kona in 2021. 

While most people assume that qualifying for the World Championships is based on their finish time, Lawrence explained that it’s based on how you place in your age group. Because she’s in one of the larger age groups with only four slots for Kona, she never expected to qualify – and was shocked when she did. 

“My initial reaction was shock and fear, but I also immediately knew I would compete,” she explains. “There were a lot of questions running through my mind – Will I finish? Do I have what it takes to do this?” 

The Road to Kona 

Lawrence trained hard for Kona for about four months, dedicating up to 25 hours a week to swimming, biking, and running. 

She typically started her week with swimming, heading to the pool at her gym after work every Monday and getting in about 4000 yards, followed by a 35-minute strength training routine. Tuesdays included an hour of biking followed by a two-mile run. On Wednesdays, Lawrence would go on a longer run, typically about an hour, focusing on time rather than mileage to help take the pressure off and just think about her feet on the ground. 

“Kona is the ultimate test in patience.” 

Thursdays were a repeat of the hour-long bike ride and two-mile run combination, while Fridays, she would usually swim and run. She biked about 100 miles on Saturdays, and on Sundays, she would do her longest run, enjoying alone time and jamming out to Dr. Dre, Labyrinth, and Fletcher. 

While her training was very regimented, her diet wasn’t strict. She explains that she steered clear of meal planning and ensured she had plenty of carbs and protein. 

Lawrence knew that training for a race of this caliber would be intense and time-consuming, especially when balanced with a full-time job and a full-time role as a wife and mom. However, her family is very supportive and loves watching her compete. 

“I want to set a good example for my daughters,” she says. “Being a wife and mother doesn’t have to look like fitting into a typical gender role – you can still have big goals.” 

Navigating the Kona Course 

Being at Kona felt sacred to Lawrence. As the original IRONMAN, it’s steeped in tradition. 

The course is also harder than any other course Lawrence has competed on. 

The race kicked off with a rough ocean swim, followed by a bike ride with an elevation of over 5,500 feet. Lawrence said the six-mile climb on the bike portion was super challenging, with winds coming at her from multiple sides. With lava everywhere, the temperatures were very hot. She jokes that the Memphis humidity prepared her well for the heat. 

The 26.2-mile run started around the town, then down the Queen K, a stretch of highway that, while scenic, can be lonely. After that stretch of highway, the athletes went through the infamous Energy Lab, notorious for being the toughest part of the run portion with severely limited airflow. After making it through that difficult stretch, they still had five miles to go before their race was complete. 

“Kona is the ultimate test in patience – the training, the whole day,” she remarks when explaining the course challenges. “I’m not the most patient person, but I’ve been learning and continuing to learn and trust the process.” 

Crossing the Finish Line 

Heading back into town post-Energy Lab, Lawrence began to pick up the pace. But, the emotions hit her when she saw her coach, Jennifer Harrison. 

“I started crying because I was so in awe of what my body did. I spent so much time thinking I couldn’t do this, and when I realized I was going to finish, I was overcome with emotion.” 

Crossing the finish line was like an out-of-body experience for Lawrence. She even had to be carried by volunteers at one point due to physical and emotional exhaustion. 

Looking Toward the Future 

So what’s next for one of Memphis’ most impressive athletes? Lawrence wants to requalify for Kona and plans to focus on building up speed for her next IRONMAN season. 

She’s also excited to join the Tres Piñas team for 2023 – a high-energy, women-owned endurance apparel business with super unique kits designed by women and the most comfortable she’s raced in. 

By Lucy Modzelewski 

Photo by Tindall Stephens