77-year-old San Carlos woman continuing to conquer Ironman triathlons 

click to enlarge Harriet Anderson
  • courtesy photo
  • Harriet Anderson, a 77-year-old San Carlos woman, has completed 21 Ironman races.
Her body aching and her will breaking, Harriet Anderson was on the last quarter-mile through what had been nearly 17 hours of a wet and withering Hawaiian hell when she was told by her daughter Linda that she had to go faster.

“You’re so tired,” Anderson said, recalling last year’s grueling Ironman World Championship, the premier annual triathlon held in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. “I did not feel like going faster.”

Then Anderson remembered a woman. And that feeling of submitting before the finish line vanished.

“The year before, one woman came in four seconds after midnight. So it didn’t count,” Anderson said. “I felt so sorry for her. I did not want to be that woman.”

She wasn’t.

The memory of the random woman’s tears overwhelmed her exhaustion, and per her daughter’s orders, Anderson went faster. And finished 40 seconds before the clock struck midnight.

The then-76-year-old San Carlos woman — a retired school nurse, mother of two and grandmother of four — had completed her 21st Ironman, a race she has never failed to finish and which she admitted is the hardest thing she’s ever done.

And on Sunday, a year older, the 5-foot-6, 112-pound Anderson will look to conquer the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run once more.

“I’m really kind of amazed, because I wasn’t an athlete growing up at all,” Anderson said. “So I would never have thought that I would still be doing something like this. So each year I keep thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’m still doing this.’”

The claimant to 11 first-place Ironman age-group titles, Anderson will be the oldest American in the triathlon field this weekend — a field she has outlasted.

“For the last few years I’ve been the only one in my age group,” she said. “So the only thing I have to do is just finish.” But competing, let alone finishing, was something she nearly missed a year ago.

Seven weeks prior to last year’s triathlon, Anderson crashed her bike on a broken water main in Saratoga, breaking her collarbone and bruising her hip. Despite having physically healed, psychological scars still remain.

“I’m still really scared on the long bike ride,” she said. “That really scared me because I’ve ridden my bike for years, and haven’t had anything like that happen. So this year I’ve been very, very cautious.”

Even caution, however, couldn’t persuade Anderson to retire from the race she first started in 1989.

“The last two years, I said that was going to be the end,” Anderson said, recalling 2010, when 18 family members flocked to Kona believing that would be the last time they’d ever see her race. “I’m not going to say that anymore. Because I haven’t stayed by that prediction.”

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