Kayla McCann has tackled numerous endurance events, including her first-ever Ironman triathlon in Lake Placid, New York. This month, she again will compete in one of the ultimate distance challenges at the World Ironman Championships in Hawaii.
The Hopkinton resident earned her spot in the championships by virtue of a third-place finish in her age group at Lake Placid.
“It was definitely an amazing experience,” McCann said. “It’s something I had been dreaming about since I started doing triathlons, so it was kind of like a dream come true.”
McCann said she was “on cloud nine” through 12 hours and eight minutes needed to complete the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run.
“It was hard, and the motions are so raw, it was just a whirlwind the entire time,” she said. “But then you cross the finish line and they say, ‘You are an ironman.’ It makes it all worth it.”
McCann took just over an hour to finish the swim, completed the bike ride in about 6 1/2 hours, and ran a 4:20 marathon. She said she is aiming for a sub-12-hour finish in Hawaii.
“My goal time in my mind is sub-12 hours, but it’s hard to know how my body is going to react to the environment in Hawaii as far as the heat,” she said. “I hear the crosswinds are really hard on the bike as well, because you are next to the ocean. I will see how it goes, but I am hoping I can have a stronger finish.”
McCann said she was happy with her finish in Lake Placid, and she was able to learn a great deal about everything from how to properly take in nutrition during the race and how the competition feels physically and mentally.
Her journey to the Ironman started as a young girl when her mother put her in swimming lessons. She competed for the Hopkinton High School varsity cross country and track teams and competed in her first-ever triathlon in eighth grade: a sprint triathlon in Ashland.
“Triathlons are great because you learn to be in the present moment,” McCann said. “It’s an all-day event, so if you think about it as a whole, you might get overwhelmed and think, ‘How am I going to do this?’ You have to get into the mentality of taking it step by step and keep moving forward until you hit the finish.”
McCann’s training typically consists of running three days per week, biking three days per week and swimming two days per week.
“It’s constant, every day it’s something, and sometimes it’s two disciplines each day,” she said.
In September, her training peaked ahead of the Oct. 15 worlds. She had to carve out at least five hours for her long bike rides and often combined disciplines, running for 16 miles after a 70-mile bike ride to practice for what it will be like on race day.
McCann has been training while also working as a nursing student at Northeastern University. She works full time in the emergency department at Massachusetts General Hospital, which means putting in three 12-hour shifts per week on top of her training.
McCann is planning to travel to Hawaii a few days before the race and take in the environment as best she can before competing. The scenery is expected to be breathtaking as the competitors ride through the mountains, and sometimes dolphins can be spotted during the swimming portion.
“It’s going to be tough, but I am going to try to take in the moment,” she said. “I don’t know when I am going to be able to do this again.”