The starting line in a race
can be the most intimidating. Athletes nervously
stare down the gauntlet that they have
to run, or bike or swim through to get to the
finish line. The unknowns and the obstacles
that lie ahead, plus the actual distance of the
event, can seem overwhelming.
Joan Dean of Pinedale found herself at the
starting line for the Ironman 70.3-mile World
Championship on a late summer morning in
Nice, France. As the sun rose over the Mediterranean
on Sept. 7, Dean knew that a punishing
triathlon loomed ahead: a 1.2-mile swim
through the sea, a 56-mile bike race high into
the Maritime Alps and a 13.1-mile run.
There are no breaks between events.
“You come out of the water, put on your
bike helmet, shades and bike shoes and take
off,” said Dean. “Then, at the end of the bike
race, you throw off the helmet and shades and
put on your running shoes and go.”
The long bicycle course, switchbacking up
thousands of feet into the mountains, seemed
the most daunting to Dean. As veteran of
triathlons and long distance races, she knew
that the key is to play mental tricks on your
mind. Instead of thinking of the 56 grueling
miles that lay ahead, Dean took her mind back
home, picturing herself cycling up to Elkhart
Park above Fremont Lake, or Teton Pass
“You basically lie to yourself,” Dean said.
“You look at those switchbacks and say, ‘This
is just like riding up to Elkhart.’ You get in
the zone and try not to freak out. You tell
yourself, ‘This is just another race, another
Dean’s mental tricks, along with months of
hard-core training to get in top physical shape,
paid off. Dean won fifth place in at the world
championships. Her final time was six hours,
58 minutes and 10 seconds.
“You feel the energy of the race,” Dean
said. “Everyone is there because they want to
be there. The experience was awesome.”
The road to Nice
Dean’s interest in long distance events
came about later in her life. She started running
half marathons and worked her way up
to full marathons before trying a triathlon.
During winter months, Dean entered long
distance cross-country ski races.
Dean also participated in distance biking
events like the Greater Yellowstone Coalition’s
bike tour. The annual event takes
cyclists on a weeklong ride in the vicinity
of Yellowstone, up and down some gnarly
“Distance kind of grows on you,” she said.
“It’s a time to think and solve all the world’s
Dean also took inspiration from her daughter,
Casey Adams. Adams ran triathlons in
college and completed the full 140.6-mile
Ironman triathlon twice.
Dean decided to give the 70.3-mile Ironman
a try. Ironman hosts qualifying races around
the world and provides a list of approved
coaches. Dean picked out a coach who “was
not in his 20s” from Boulder, Colo.
The two “hit it off” and buckled down to
prepare for the 70.3-mile Ironman qualifier
hosted in St. George, Utah ,on May 4.
Training took up a large part of Dean’s
life for the next eight months. She trained six
days a week with two workouts per day.
“I cut out 2.5 to five hours out of my day
for training,” Dean said. “It does become a
lifestyle, and you have to sacrifice a lot to
make the time. It takes mental and spiritual
Dean entered the qualifying race in St.
George for fun, not with any thought of actually
qualifying. But when she finished the
race, she found herself in first place for her
age division. Without planning to do so, Dean
had just qualified to compete in the Ironman
70.3 World Championship in Nice.
“I was in shock for a moment,” she said. “I
had one hour to make the decision to compete
at the championships in France.”
Dean chose to take on the challenge.
At 7:35 a.m., as the morning sun lit up the
beaches around Nice, Dean and 2,200 other
women from around the globe waited at the
starting line to begin the first leg of the race,
a 1.2-mile swim in the sea. The racers started
five at a time to prevent congestion in the
water. This was Dean’s favorite leg of the
“The Mediterranean is incredible and the
sunrise was so beautiful,” she said. “The
water was not choppy. Swells pushed you
along and it felt like you were being rocked.
The water was warm – different than bodies
of water I swim in here (in Sublette County).”
As they climbed out of the sea onto the
beach, the racers put on their biking gear for
the next segment of the triathlon.
The cycling course followed the same
route used for the Tour de France. After the
first 5 or 6 miles along the beachfront promenade,
the athletes start the climb up into the
Maritime Alps that tower above the city. For
26 miles straight, the cyclists climbed 3,100
feet at an average grade of 6.6 percent, Dean
What goes up must come down. The Ironman
YouTube video calls the ride down “a
very technical descent that ... requires all attention
In other words, make sure your brakes
work well, Dean said. She shipped her bike,
like all of the rest of her equipment, by plane
before the race, and added that her trusty bike
she uses in Pinedale served her well in the
mountains of France.
The triathlon ended with a 13.1-mile run
between the city of Nice and the Mediterranean.
“It was warm, but there was a nice breeze
off the sea,” Dean said of the run.
Finally, the finish line was in sight. Fans
lined the street. Dean’s daughter, Casey
Adams, and her husband were at the end
with crowds of people cheering racers on.
Her husband Brent was there to put the medal
around her neck.
“My family and friends were so supportive,”
she said. “All through the race, I thought
about the people at home – all the swimmers
I know who need to swim the Mediterranean
and all the bikers who would like (riding) the
Alps. They were with me every step of the