Paulson won first place not only in her 30- to 35-year-old age group but also in the amateur division.
Paulson has a family history of endurance. She grew up in Utah, watching her father run marathons. After her first 26.2-mile race at age 19, she was hooked.
Since then, she's run 38 marathons, countless half-marathons (many at sub-seven-minute-mile race pace) and has completed six Ironmans.
The last time I saw her, Paulson was an official 3-hour, 35-minute pacer for the 2014 Salt Lake City Marathon. I struggled to keep up as she effortlessly chatted and encouraged other runners the entire time, wearing her signature pink headband. Never mind she was four months pregnant. She’s become something of a legend in mothering circles, famously running nine miles to her fourth child’s scheduled cesarean section 10 months ago.
I caught up with Paulson after her Ironman win to talk about life as a mother and superstar athlete.
AM: Can you tell us what an Ironman is?
AP: An Ironman is a swim of 2.4 miles, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run.
Tell me how you do it.
You know, when you set your mind to something, it’s really amazing what your body can do.
What did winning your age division and the amateur division at the Coeur d’Alene triathlon mean?
Winning my age group qualified me for Kona, but because I also won the amateur division, it also qualified me to go pro if I want.
Is going pro something you’ll consider?
You know, I think I’m going to try going pro after Kona, which is something I never thought was possible.
What are the advantages of going pro?
You get an earlier start time, so you’re not hitting people in the water during the swim. You also have a chance at earning some money. It becomes your job, which is great because I consider it my playtime.
It looks like you’ve got huge support from your husband (Matt). Will he go to Kona with you?
Oh, he’ll definitely be there. I couldn’t do this without him. He is so much of my energy. I don’t know how people do this without the support of their spouse.
What kind of training will you do between now and October?
I took two simple weeks right after Coeur d’Alene. It’s been pretty mild training but enough to keep my base. Now I go into intense training for about eight weeks. The last two weeks (before Kona) will be more about recovery.
Do you ever sleep?
I sleep so much. I don’t do well without rest. I need at least eight hours a night, and if I don’t, I’ll take a nap. I got so lucky. My son is a dream baby and sleeps 10-12 hours a night. Sleep is definitely huge for recovery. If I don’t get enough sleep, my performance suffers. If my coach knows I didn’t sleep, he says, "Don’t even bother coming to the workout."
Speaking of naptime, how in the world do you balance motherhood, life and triathlon training?
Oh, it’s hard. I’m definitely not perfect at it. My husband helps me a lot, always reminding me about what comes first. My balance comes from him.
You have four kids?
Yes, twin 13-year-old girls, a 7-year-old girl and a 10-month-old boy.
What do your kids think of all of this?
One of my twins is really into it and says, "Mom, I’m going to do Kona with you someday," and the other thinks it’s cool but doesn’t want to get into it (triathlons), which is fine. I just want them to find something they love doing.
How many hours a week do you train?
Typically, it’s a 15-hour week, but that’s going to get bumped up to about 25. It’s a commitment. If it’s something you love, you’ll find the time for it, but it’s definitely not for everyone. When I was doing 10-15 hours a week, I was doing just fine. I just wanted to bump it up a little to see what I could do.
How important is it to have a coach?
You can definitely train and do fine without one, but I highly recommend it. I really love working with a team and a coach who keeps me in check with nutrition and workouts. Sometimes I’ll run a workout too fast and he’ll tell me I need to slow down because it's a slow day. It’s really good for me mentally and physically.
I love that you’re getting faster and stronger as you get older — and having more kids.
I’m a full believer that if you’re active during pregnancy, you actually come back stronger. During pregnancy, you have so much more blood flow and your lung capacity increases. If you can keep training, you can use that to your advantage. It’s worked every time for me. After each baby, I’ve seen myself get stronger. I really think the 30s and 40s are prime. So many people think you go downhill, but I see so many athletes in their mid-40s just getting better.
You’ve bounced back so quickly.
I’ve been really lucky. I ran a marathon three weeks and six weeks after my last baby — which sounds really bad when I say it out loud. I wouldn’t recommend it. I know not every woman can do that, but I healed so quickly that I was able to bounce back. Some people say mean things like I must be doing drugs because of my performances right after having a baby, but I’m a believer in being really active and eating well. I’ve had all C-sections, but I feel a lot better than when I was 19. Of course, there’s been a lot of time and work.
Do you ever get hurt?
It’s not something I advertise, but I do back out of races when I don’t feel good or I’m hurting. I know the risks, and it’s not worth it to me. I did back out of two marathons while pregnant, which was really hard. I typically heal fast because I take time off and listen to my body.
What does a typical day look like for you?
It really depends on sleep and the kids’ schedules. This morning I did speed work on the track and a long pool set. This afternoon during naptime, I’ll do another workout. I really try to work around the kids so I’m not getting babysitters all the time.
Your best friend, Kristi (Stocking), also qualified for Kona. What’s the significance of having a training buddy?
She’s my other half in training. We make it so fun. We call it our play group. If you don’t love it, then why do it, right? It can be so intense and hard, but she keeps me going.
Will you be competing against one another at Kona?
Yes, but we’re not competitive with each other. We’re just going to have an amazing race together. If she beats me, who better to beat me than my best friend, and vice versa?
What are your hopes and expectations for Kona?
I would really love to race a sub-10 (hour). That would be a PR (personal record) for me. In my head I think I’m capable of that. Kona is a really tough course and has all four toughness factors: It’s hot and humid, hilly and windy. You’ve got a lot of elements working against you. The heat of the black rocks of Hawaii penetrates up. It’s a really hard course to PR at, but I think I can do it if I push myself.
Do you really like pink and cupcakes as much as I think you do?
My love for both is seriously a problem. I love the pink. It’s kind of my signature color. I wore my team kit in Coeur d’Alene, and it’s blue, and I seriously didn’t know if I could race without my pink. ... And I’m just a huge fan of giving yourself some sweets after sweating.
You are a fantastic combination of feminism and strength.
I have had a lot of people underestimate me, especially when I wear pink and glitter up my numbers; it just makes me feel better. I had one guy tell me, "When you blew past me I just had to put my foot in my mouth. You don’t judge someone by the glitter or the pink."
How did you get into the triathlon world?
My dad signed me up for my first Ironman five years ago and said, "You’re going to get to Kona." He was shocked I didn’t get there my first, second, third time, but then I switched my thinking up and decided to go for it. My dad was there to give me a sweaty hug at the end of Coeur d’Alene. Hawaii, here we come!
Amy Makechnie is a writer from New Hampshire and is the author of maisymak.com.