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From Dreams to IRONMAN in 4 Months: Interview with Emily Rourke

Smiling at the Finish Line!

Emily Rourke, this week’s featured Body Physics Endurance Coaching Athlete, did the unthinkable a few months ago by completing the IRONMAN Boulder after just 4 months of training with Coach Tom. What makes this accomplishment even more incredible is that this recent Economics and Psychology graduate of Notre Dame chose the 140.6 mile distance high up in the peaks of Colorado as her first Triathlon in years. And even more spectacular? Emily—who competed alongside her brother, Nathan—never trained at altitude or for longer than 5 hours at a time!

Emily, a former gymnast, grew up more focused on team activities than solo sports. She recalls that she didn’t begin running until college—she started because she wanted to explore new places but also to share a hobby with her dad and brother, both avid runners. She enjoyed it enough to run a marathon a few years back but that has been the extent of her previous training; she admits to having no history of biking or swimming. Somehow, however, she found herself participating in an Olympic distance Tri three years ago and enjoying the experience. Afterwards, Emily and her brother discussed doing an IRONMAN at some point but never committed to anything. It wasn’t until one day back in November of last year that Nathan offhandedly informed her that he was signed up for the full 140.6 mile race in Boulder, CO so she “just jumped right in with him!”

After they signed up, the siblings immediately started training on their own but, as Emily recalled, “we quickly found out that we didn’t know what we were doing.” By February, things didn’t look so good and the dream of becoming an IRONMAN seemed to be slipping away. Luckily, another athlete she met recommended contacting Coach Tom to see if he could help. Despite being very skeptical about having a coach, Emily quickly found out having one made all the difference.

“Tom’s help was CRUCIAL on my journey to completing the IRONMAN. He was not only experienced and knowledgeable but also accessible and responsive—even the texts about my smallest concerns were addressed as quickly as possible. He was also very hands-on and went out of his way to make sure I was ready, even going on bike rides with me. His presence and guidance were so meaningful to me.”

Emily was also surprised at how manageable her training was. The longest run she ever went on was 18 miles and her rides were never longer than 5hrs! She admitted to being concerned about not doing ENOUGH but pointed out that, while she didn’t train long, she trained “meaningfully.” Besides the Coach-guided workouts, Emily also attended bike workshops such as the summertime outdoor hill repeat sessions that included practicing vital bike handling skills as well as the winter endurance training classes, both run by Coach Tom. During the clinics, she not only learned important skills but also met fellow athletes with similar goals who inspired and supported her which helped her overcome some of her worries.

In addition to finding support in the other athletes, Emily recalled playing a mental game to get through each of her workouts, particularly swimming laps which was something she did not enjoy at all. As she put it, “I saw getting through each day of training as a win in and of itself.”

She used a similar technique of taking it one step at a time and celebrating each little win during the actual race: “While it was tough, I had this amazing feeling of getting each part done and that kept me going.” Emily also remembered the amazing support she received during the race—both from the spectators and the participants—including a random athlete who stopped to help her when her chain fell off at one point. But her favorite part? The camaraderie—and the costumed spectators—that made the race a lot more fun and kept her entertained and moving forward.

When asked about any tips for an aspiring IRONMAN, Emily urged the hopefuls to enjoy the entire process, including the day-to-day training! She also reminded everyone to take it easy and most definitely take those rest days—pushing oneself every day could lead to lasting injuries. Emily also pointed out that proper nutrition was absolutely vital. “It’s important to train like you will race, including how you will fuel, to really dial it in before the event. Daily nutrition also makes a huge difference so watch what you eat.” Laughing, Emily admitted to still craving GU occasionally.

So what’s next for this IRON(wo)MAN? True to her adventurous nature, Emily is off to South Africa to work in a rural village as a teacher for 6 months and everyone here at Body Physics wishes her the best of luck!


BP note: It seems that race officials and the city of Boulder have decided that, after 6 years, this year’s event was the last one at this distance. IRONMAN 70.3 will continue to be held at the location.


Written by: Marta Dolan

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