Ironman’s iron woman: Amber Ferreira
Amber Ferreira crosses the finish line after winning the Ironman Lake Placid triathlon.
Amber Ferreira runs alone out front during the marathon portion of the Ironman Lake Placid triathlon.
Amber Ferreira runs during the Ironman Lake Placid triathlon.
Amber Ferreira cools off with a splash of water during the Ironman Lake Placid Triathlon.
What most people can’t imagine doing once in a lifetime, Amber Ferreira is doing twice in 21 days.
Swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, then run a full marathon (26.2 miles), all in a little more than nine hours.
Then do it all again three weeks later.
Call her a little nuts; she won’t argue.
“I’d have told them it’s kind of a dumb idea,” Ferreira said with her ever-present giggle when asked what she’d have said if someone told her they were running two Ironman triathlons in less than a month.
“I don’t think it’s a great idea, but it’s sort of out of necessity.”
That necessity is qualifying for the Ironman World Championships on the Kona Coast of Hawaii. The 32-year-old from Concord placed third at Ironman Texas in May. She had a pair of top-six finishes in half-Ironmans. Then, on July 27 in front of her husband, Danny, and the rest of her family, she won Ironman Lake Placid in New York, a feat she thought would give her the necessary points to qualify for Kona, her ultimate goal for the year.
“It was definitely one of those dream races where everything fell into place,” Ferreira said.
Turns out, she’s just on the bubble to crack the top 35 of female pros and needs one more strong finish – she predicts it will take a top-six – to gain the necessary points to compete in Hawaii in October.
But running two Ironman triathlons in three weeks wasn’t what she had planned.
“If I had known, I would have made sure I went into the first Ironman super rested, had a perfect taper going into it, didn’t do anything extra, and then probably raced the first one maybe a bit more conservatively,” Ferreira said.
There was nothing conservative about her Lake Placid endeavor, however.
A swimmer in high school, Ferreira came out of the water in third place, about four minutes back of the leader. Then after about 20 miles in the saddle, she seized the lead, cycling through torrential downpours, then hot and windy conditions, then more downpours.
“I actually thrive in the rain, so I made up some good time on the bike,” she laughed.
She held the lead throughout the marathon – she was, after all, a collegiate runner at Northeastern University – to win in 9 hours, 31 minutes, 28 seconds, nearly seven minutes faster than her closest competitor.
“I was leading for eight hours of the race, which was probably the scariest eight hours of my life,” Ferreira said. “You kind of get attached to the win and you don’t want to give it up. … It was super nerve-racking. I definitely prefer the chase than to be chased.”
So now she’s chasing that qualifying spot at Kona. She competed there as an age-grouper in 2010, but returning as a pro has been a goal since she turned pro in 2011 – just two years after competing in her first Ironman, which she tackled after just a handful of sprint triathlons.
“When I moved to Concord (in 2007), the YMCA had this tri club, so I just joined and I picked up biking and totally fell in love with the three sports,” said Ferreira, who juggles her life as a professional athlete with her personal life and with her jobs as a physical therapist and coach/trainer as deftly as she slips out of a wetsuit and onto a bike.
“I love that sort of extreme endurance stuff. The first one, I had such a blast that I never really looked back. … Well, it’s not entirely a blast, but when you’re done, you’re like, ‘Oh, that was fun. Let’s do it again!’ ”
The next one will be Ironman Mont-Tremblant in Quebec a week from today. She’s been “sleeping a ton, eating a ton.” And instead of her normal 25-30 hours a week of training, she’s cut the volume in half to try to recover from Lake Placid while still staying sharp.
“Trying to keep all the systems firing, but at the same time not digging myself into a hole,” she said. “It’s a tricky balance, but I have a really good coach (Kurt Perham) who is guiding me.”
With a huge prize purse, Ferreira expects an ultra-competitive field, which includes Tine Deckers, the winner of Ironman France, and Sara Gross, who won Ironman Brazil just a week after finishing 18th at Texas, showing it’s not impossible to succeed at the daunting double.
“Sometimes it’s easier going into a race knowing that you’d just raced,” Ferreira said. “You just kind of take the pressure off your shoulders a little bit. I’m going to expect to feel a little tired, and expect to hurt a little more.
“… I’d trained as hard as I could (for Lake Placid), so there was a little bit of disappointment” after learning she was still a few points short of qualifying for Kona, despite the win. “But I just started to think of it as a positive, another opportunity to race and practice everything.
“So here we go.”
(Sandy Smith can be reached at 369-3339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)