“I’m 70 years old. I know I’ll age, but I don’t believe I have to get old.”
This was a quote from Cherie Gruenfeld in 2014. She had just entered a new age bracket: 70-74. The course record at the IRONMAN World Championship in that category was about to get obliterated. Her race that year set a new standard of what is possible at any age.
No one was even close to Cherie at the finish. She took first in an amazing time of 14:09:13. Cherie was 1:42 ahead of second place. That’s an hour and forty-two minutes, not a minute and forty-two seconds!
Her time would have even won the 65-69 women’s race. Now that’s groundbreaking! But what is even more impressive is her win the next year in 2015 where she had a down to the wire race for the championship.
People tend to think that the upper age group athletes just kind of get through the day doing the best they can, but not really racing. All you have to do is to talk with any one of those competitors to know that assumption is completely out of touch with reality!
In 2015 Cherie came into the race with a very different focus. In every one of her other 20 IRONMAN World Championship starts she knew there would likely be another. She commented:
“2015 was a special year for me. It was my 21st Ironman World Championship and I was prepared for it to be my last. In order to walk away from this event and be happy with that decision, I knew I needed to have a memorable race – one that left me feeling proud of my effort.”
Little did she know what that “memorable” part was going to entail!
Coming out of the water Cherie has a 3-minute lead. But by the end of the bike she then found herself at a deficit of about 9-minutes. Natalie Grabow was leading and she was not cratering on the marathon. This would be memorable indeed, but Cherie wanted to make that memory be one with her name at the top of the podium.
Cherie Gruenfeld was about to show the world that 70-74 doesn’t mean you just roll over and play dead.
She showed a persistence and resolve that pushed all numbers aside and revealed the heart of IRONMAN. It’s a 40 greatest moment in the sport because we all saw that competition strips away age. It is blind to background, nationality or belief. IRONMAN is about exposing the strength of the human spirit.
And strength she showed. Cherie painstakingly chinked away at Grabow’s lead. Eventually in the closing mile of the marathon she made what at this point has been the final pass of her IRONMAN experience. She summed it up this way:
“I’d never been “down to the wire” in an Ironman race before, but this time I was behind until mile 25. So, when I crossed the finish line in first, with a new course record, I had my memorable race which I was proud of and walked away happy with my Ironman career.”
While we are honoring Cherie for her racing accomplishments, she says that her greatest work in the world has been with the Exceeding Expectations Foundation that helps at-risk kids in Southern California move their lives in a positive direction using the sport of triathlon as the vehicle. For more information about this please visit Exceeding Expectations.
I am the Founder and CEO at Mark Allen Coaching. I am proud to have been voted in an ESPN global poll "The Greatest Endurance Athlete Of All Time." During my multi-sport career I won the Ironman Triathlon World Championship six time, the inaugural Triathlon World Championship at the Olympic Distance in Avignon, France, and at one point in my career I won 21 straight races across every derivation and distance. It was a great career, but that's all it would ever be unless I was able to share all of the experience and methodology we invented long before smart watches, power meters, and flashy uniforms. That's why I started Mark Allen Coaching, as a way to return to others at least the part of the gifts I received.