From the Sideline to the Finishline - Shanna Armstrong

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2003 Ultraman World Champion.


Shanna Armstrong stunned the world at the 2003 Ultraman World Championships with her winning time of 27 hours, 31 minutes. She had the second fastest overall time in the 19-year history of the event—a three-day, 320-mile race with a 6.2-mile swim, 261.4-mile bike, and a 52.4-mile double marathon run. In addition, Shanna has competed in more than 80 triathlons of all distances and bested racers in her age group more than 70 percent of the time.

But it’s not just Shanna’s ability to succeed at endurance events that makes her elite. Her refusal to quit, even though she was dead last in her first race is what made the difference. If she hadn’t conquered her fear and fatigue during her first triathlon success would still be elusive.

Six years ago, doing The Ultraman — a 6.2-mile swim, 271-mile bike, 52.4-mile run — seemed like insanity. I’d never done a triathlon, not even a sprint. I was just a little volunteer working a massage tent at the Buffalo Springs Lake triathlon.  I never thought I would ever be living the great lifestyle that I live today.   I hope that these stories inspire you beginners that you can follow your heart and accomplish the unthinkable.


The first time I experienced a triathlon I was in high school. And I was a volunteer not a competitor. A swimmer and a lifeguard, I volunteered to work the Buffalo Springs Lake Triathlon.


Triathletes Are Nutty


Sitting alone in that boat watching dozens of triathletes swimming in the lake I thought, “Boy, those folks are nuts!” It just seemed crazy what they were doing. But, secretly, I admired them. It was alluring this sport where you swim, bike and run. I left that race thinking I wanted to be involved in triathlons in some way. But never in a million years did I think I’d be a competitor. After Buffalo Springs, I volunteered as a lifeguard for triathlons for two more years.  

I left that race thinking I wanted to be involved in triathlons in some way. I never in a million years did I think I’d be a competitor.


I graduated and went to college on a swimming scholarship. An arm injury ended my swimming career and I came back to my home state of Texas to finish college.  Tired of being a broke student I become a massage therapist to earn money while still getting a degree.  Little did I know what doors that would open?  


Chance Meeting


Fresh out of massage school, I trolled the local race spots to recruit some business. I ended up in Lubbock, TX, to work at a popular triathlon there. It was a huge triathlon and the race directors were kind enough to send me paying customers — professional triathletes! My first professional massage ever was for Ironman Hall of Famer Scott Tinley, one of the top three winningest triathlete of all time.

I did not have a clue what a professional triathlete was, and even less of an inkling of who Scott Tinley was, but I was curious as to what it took to be a triathlete.

“How much training does a triathlon require,” I asked Tinley as I massaged him.

“Oh, about 30 to 40 hours a week,” he said, without a hint of hyperbole.

If I had any thoughts about being a triathlete they were crushed by Tinley’s comment. I knew I’d never have what it took to be a triathlete. (Scott will probably laugh when he hears that now!)


Never Say Never


Even though I was intimidated by Scott’s comments that didn’t keep me from volunteering for triathlons. I was at another race working the a massage tent when I met Mike and Marty Greer. They were the race directors of the Buffalo Sprint Tri. If it weren’t for them and their encouragement I would have never accomplished the things I have today. They loaned me my first bike and signed me up for my first triathlon and basically held my hand until I finished the race.

As an ex-swimmer I was fine on the first leg. But the bike and the run were pure hell for me.

In 1998, with the Greers’ encouragement I did my first triathlon.


The First Time


My first triathlon was a sprint — 500yd-swim, 12mile-bike, and 5k-run — in Midland, Texas. I was in no way prepared.

Though Marty Greer had taken me out on the bike a few times I was pretty much winging it at this triathlon. The only goal I had was to run the entire 5k.  Which is really laughable because my longest run up to that point had been about ½ mile for a total of 10 minutes.  I basically lied when I told Greer I had been running a lot. He wasn’t the one I was hurting, though, it was I.

The race was a snake swim in a pool. We started according to our swim times but since I didn’t give them one I started dead last. As an ex-swimmer I was fine on the first leg. But the bike and run were nothing but pure hell for me. 

I remained last the whole time and I remember feeling very lonely during the race.  The run was just plain awful! When I got off the bike and finally started running I had thoughts of quitting. This was really my first brick workout and I had no idea that my legs were going to feel the way they did.  My goal was to not walk but I bet walking would have been faster! The finish line was in a baseball field and when I had the ball park in sight I thought I was home free.  Marty ran out to check on me and I remember wondering “How on earth is she still running?” 

She warned me that the finish involved running around the diamond at the baseball park and that there was a crowd so I needed to look good. 

 “I can’t,” I screamed, bursting into tears.  

Well, I did but it was hard. My 5k time was 39 minutes and I laid in bed for three days acting like I had just done a marathon.  I was second in my age group but there were only two in it.


Just eight months after this race I did my first Half -Ironman in Panama City, Florida. I was one on the first 100 out of the water and finished 1312 overall and I bet I was dead last in my age group. But coming in last didn’t make me want to quit triathlons. Instead, I was inspired to work harder on my weakness – running and biking. 


Two years after my first sprint I did my first Ironman.  Since then I have now completed 9 Ironmans (Hawaii 3x) and the Ultraman.  This year I plan on IM Japan, Canada, Hawaii, and Florida.  Some will be slow and I hope some will be fast but either way I am having a good time and can’t seem to get it out of my system.  


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date: September 4, 2004

Team BT