Retired Snohomish teacher finishes Ironman SNOHOMISH - When most people near retirement, they think of ways to unwind and catch up on lost past times. Retired Snohomish High School teacher Harry Cornwell went a different direction and unknowingly began gearing up for the greatest physical challenge of his life.
Last November, Cornwell, 64, finished the Florida Ironman Triathlon. The Ironman is commonly known as an ultimate endurance test comprised of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run (a full marathon). Cornwell began the race at 7 a.m. and finished 16 hours and eight minutes later, just past 11 o’clock at night.
“I was just so glad it was over,” Cornwell said of crossing the finish line. By the time his head hit the pillow, it had been nearly 24 hours since he started preparing for the day of the race.
But the November feat didn’t come easy. Cornwell started a fitness regimen after retiring in 2006 modeled after a triathlete’s training but didn’t ever actually think he’d compete in one. After losing 55 pounds and finding himself enjoying the activities, he thought he just might like to do a triathlon — but he had only planned on doing a half Ironman at the most.
He applied for the Hawaii Ironman, somewhat on a lark, and was shocked to learn he was selected to compete from its lottery-style registration.
“I hadn’t planned on really doing the full distance, but all of a sudden I was planning on doing the whole thing,” Cornwell said. “When you get picked for that, you’re one of about 100 people in the world. You’re going to get the mega-ball before you win that thing.”
The news that he would compete in the daunting race came on tax day 2011. He had from that April to not only qualify for the Hawaii race, which meant completing an official half-Ironman in time (he did in Boise), but he also had to actually begin training for the full Ironman that coming October that he hadn’t really planned on ever participating in.
Cornwell, who grew up swimming in Hawaii and California, aced the 2.4-mile swim in time, but didn’t complete the bicycle portion fast enough and was disqualified from finishing the race.
“I wasn’t as prepared as I needed to be and mentally didn’t really know what I got myself into, which affected my ability to execute,” Cornwell said.
He wasn’t allowed back in the race to even start the running portion.
Instead, he reset his goals. He now had one year to train for another Ironman.
“I didn’t finish in Hawaii, but I can do this,” Cornwell said he told himself after the race. He wasted no time preparing for the next chance to finish.
He was mostly self-coached until that spring, when he hired personal trainer Mary Gandee from Blue Fire Fitness in Snohomish to help him.
“You have to give a lot of credit to Mary,” Cornwell said. “She was very precise with my plans and nutrition,” which helped tremendously.
Armed with notes written all over the back of his hands on what and when to eat during the 16-hour race, Cornwell set out on Nov. 3 to beat the Ironman. And beat it he did.
“People can do these things if they want to and if they prepare for them,” Cornwell said.
Florida won’t be his last Ironman, or his last physical challenge. He said he plans to continue racing as long as he enjoys it.