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The Indoor Ironman: 140.6 Miles of Lap Pool, Spin Bike And Treadmill

Photo of a woman in triathlon clothing jumping with a bridge in the background
Erika Lilley leaps in the air in front of Sacramento's Tower Bridge
(Courtesy Erika Lilley)
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LISTEN: The Indoor Ironman - 140.6 miles of lap pool, spin bike and treadmill

The bomb cyclone that dropped a record 5.44 inches of rain on Sacramento Sunday was bad news for some 3,500 athletes in town for the city’s first-ever full-distance Ironman triathlon.

The race was cancelled less than an hour before its 7 a.m start time because conditions were just too risky for athletes, race organizers, spectators and volunteers. The 2.4 mile river swim course was full of debris hazardous to the safety kayakers as well as swimmers. The 112-mile bike route was littered with downed tree limbs, and rain flooded the 26.2-mile marathon course.

Downtown Sacramento’s hotel bars and restaurants quickly filled with disappointed carbo-loaded athletes moping over second breakfasts, mimosas and beers.

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But Erika Lilley from Santa Barbara, a volleyball coach and private trainer, refused to take the day off. She was trained and ready to complete the race — and determined that the storm of the century would not deter her.

She felt “there’s nothing else my body’s ready to do today, but race.”

Lilley had an idea. She'd been doing some pre-race workouts at the 24-Hour Fitness gym next door to her hotel. So why not complete her Ironman race indoors using the gym’s lap pool, spin bike and treadmill?

Standing in the lobby with her swim, bike and run gear at the ready, she tried to recruit a few other athletes to join her. But most were still coping with the combined disappointment and relief of not having to race in stormy weather and were unwilling to take on an indoor Ironman.

She was just about to leave for the gym for a solo attempt when she found J.D. Rios, an athlete from Canada. He works with law enforcement on physical conditioning, and was as enthusiastic for an extreme workout as she was. He said he’d do it with her.

Erika Lilley and JD Rios swimming in an indoor lap pool
Erika Lilley and JD Rios swimming 2.4 miles in an indoor lap pool
(Courtesy Erika Lilley )

First was the swim. Since it was a 25-meter lap pool, they had to swim 152 laps to complete 2.4 miles. That’s a lot of flip turns.

Then they dried off and got on spin bikes to ride for 112 miles. It took 5 1/2 hours, equivalent to riding about 21 miles per hour, assuming the bike computers were accurate.

They actually wore their race numbers for the bike and run.

Erika Lilley and JD Rios on treadmills in a gym
JD Rios and Erika Lilly in the midst of their 26.2-mile treadmill run
(Erika Lilley)
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On Instagram, Lilley said it was “Kind of a bougey way to do an Ironman but when everybody else is laying in bed, being sad over the race being cancelled, we’re putting our fitness to work.”

After 26.2 miles on the treadmill, which took her 3 hours and 47 minutes, Lilley was finished. Her total time, including clothing changes, was 11 hours and 9 minutes. That’s only eight minutes slower than her best time at the Ironman distance.

During the workout, Lilley posted photos and videos for her 6-year-old daughter Samantha and husband Jeff at home. She said it was important for her daughter to see that she was determined to complete the distance even after the race was canceled.

It was Lilley's 15th full-distance Ironman. And it felt like it.

Monday, she said, she woke up “completely sore. My legs are trashed."

There was no finisher’s medal for Erika Lilley that day. She says that’s okay. To her, triathlon is a lifestyle — and about finishing what you start.