Lauren Clayton’s trip to Panama City in November was anything but a week of laying in the sun and enjoying life.
Clayton, 26, went to compete in Ironman Florida, an event that consisted of swimming 2.4 miles, cycling 112 miles and running 26.2 miles.
In her first full Ironman, she finished seventh in the 25-29 female age group and 35th overall, completing the race in 10 hours, 49 minutes and 14 seconds.
“I know I am getting a little bit of a late start, but most of the elite women don’t turn professional until they are in their 30s,” said Clayton, who graduated from Central in 2004. “I was very happy the way I competed against a lot of experienced athletes in Panama City, and it would be great to see how much I can improve. I am just getting out of the recovery stage from November, and I feel like it’s time to get started with full-time training again.
“I think it’s very important to give the mind and body time to heal. I have still been training, but just not like I would if I had a race coming up soon. A full Ironman is just grueling, and I could hardly eat or sleep for several days afterwards.”
Clayton credits her swimming background for being able to stand up to the rigors of the Ironman competitions.
“I swam for the Macon Waves and Swim Macon growing up, and the average person really doesn’t know what a swimmer goes through on a daily basis,” said Clayton, who had offers to swim in college but instead competed on the club team at Georgia. “Swimmers get pounded every day, and that has helped me so much with the pain that is involved in half- and full-Ironmans. Obviously swimming is my strongest part of the Ironman, and I am a decent cyclist, thanks mainly to my work with the Georgia Neurosurgical Institute cycling team. I need to improve my running. It is definitely my weakest part.”
Clayton is a veteran of six half-Ironmans. She will always remember her first few.
“I was basically doing them for fun and because I liked all three components,” Clayton said. “I had met Suni Heaton and Bill Causey, who are probably the two biggest names in Ironmans in Macon, and they said that I could be good and to keep working hard. That kind of motivated me and gave me directions.
“I remember the second half-Ironman I ever did was in Macon, and I had borrowed clothes from Suni because I didn’t even own any. That just an example of how helpful they have been.”
Making it to professional status will not be an easy climb. According to Clayton, she will have to finish within eight percent of the overall winner’s time in at least two ultra-distance events that include an elite field in a 12-month period.
“I know it will be difficult, but I know I can do it,” Clayton said. “It’s a very difficult financial grind also. I would like to do another Ironman in August, but we will have to see about the costs. The most important thing for me is to continue to work hard and improve. I am a much happier person when I am training and working towards a goal.”