Now the Lake Ridge mother of three is set to compete in the Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, which begins, as all triathlons, with a 2.4 mile swimming race.
After the swim, competitors jump on bikes and ride them for 112 miles in the second leg of the competition and then complete a timed event by running the 26.2-mile marathon.
Housaman, 42, qualified for the world championship in July when she placed third in the 40- to 44-year age group in Lake Placid, N.Y. Her 11:42 Ironman race won her a spot in Hawaii.
She laughs when she recalls the race. She said her main goal in New York was just to finish.
“I was so shocked. I really was,” she said.
She had decided that if she felt good about her condition as the race progressed, she would shoot for a good time.
“I trained pretty hard,” she said.
More than 50,000 people compete annually for a chance to run in the Hawaiian championship, which is limited to 1,500 contestants, said a press release from the Ironman Triathlon World Championship.
Although Housaman said it was true that people never forget how to ride a bicycle, she admitted she wasn’t all that adept at it when she finally got her first top-of-the-line professional racing bike.
She said her previous biking experience was pretty much limited to the red-and-white bike with hard rubber tires, training wheels and handlebar streamers she had when she was a child in Manchester, England
She said it was hard to become accustomed to clipping her feet to the bike’s pedals with metal pins.
The pins, at the end of the pedal cranks, attach mechanically to special biking shoes to allow the bike rider to optimize power by pulling up with one leg while simultaneously pushing down with the opposite leg.
The difficulty is in learning to connect and disconnect from the bike, Housaman said.
“I was always falling over. I would practice on a grassy field, like a soccer field or something, so if I did fall, I wouldn’t get hurt,” she said.
Housaman said she decided to add weight training to her routine and joined a Lake Ridge gym where she met Karen Merrill, a personal trainer who would eventually become her friend.
“I was beginning to realize that when a woman reaches the age of forty, she’s got to start strength training,” Housaman said.
Her pursuit of a spot in the world championship began as she and Merrill became training partners.
“My girlfriend is a personal trainer over at Gold’s Gym. She actually qualified for Hawaii three times when she was in her twenties but for one reason or another she never went,” said Housaman, who left her job as a sales executive at Blue Cross/Blue Shield in Washington, D.C., to stay at home with her children, who are 16, 10 and 2 years old.
Merrill is as proud of Housaman as she would be if she herself was competing in Hawaii.
“The Hawaiian Ironman is a huge, huge event. It’s the Mecca of all Ironmen,” Merrill, 34, said.
“She’s ready. I think she’ll do great,” Merrill said of her friend.
Housaman and Merrill began training for the upcoming race last winter.
“About November of last year we started out in the weight room for a few months and then we started going outside putting in the miles and as the weather got warmer, we started going outside more and more,”
Housaman said the beginning of the training year begins with general conditioning and progresses from there.
“It’s all around conditioning and then it gets more sport specific later on in the year,” she said.
As the race day nears, triathletes increase their time in the water and on the road.
Merrill said a typical competitor will swim five to six hours per week, run six to 10 hours per week and bike 12 to 20 hours per week. On top of all that, they need to split another four to six hours a week between weight and flexibility training.
“It’s like having a full time job,” Merrill said.
“It’s difficult,” Housaman said, “It requires a lot of getting up a 5 a.m. and a lot of late hours. My husband and I swim on a masters swim program and we’re even training at eight-thirty … nine o’clock at night. It’s a long day trying to fit in work and everything else.”
Her husband, Jay Housaman, also runs triathlons.
The two split their training program between his job and watching the kids.
“It’s interesting. We both do these triathlons together. We started as runners together. Really it just keeps us fit and we enjoy life. It’s exciting,” Jay Housaman, 55, said.
Housaman said she attributes her success to age, wisdom and patience.
“I did this just to get healthy,” said the 5-foot-four-inch, 115-pound Housaman.
“But it becomes self absorbing after awhile, but then you’ve just got to … you know … look back and think, ‘Well you are doing this just to maintain your health,’ I’m never going to be an Olympian or anything like that.”
“Sometimes you just back off. Sometimes you can’t get out the door and you can’t worry about it,” Housaman said.
“I’ve never had an injury, so I’m pretty fortunate, but I do not overtrain. If I feel a twinge or something not quite right, I back off,” she said.
Housaman said if she can do it, anybody can. Her husband agrees.
“I think anybody who is of reasonably sound body can train to do this, but you have to be a little crazy too. It’s just a question of taking that first step and running that first mile. That’s the way we started,” said her husband who is self-employed.
Merrill said there are other benefits that can only be gained through running a triathlon.
“You’ll get to know yourself like you’ll never know yourself in any other way,” Merrill said.
Housaman said she feels ready for Hawaii. She and her husband will arrive there on Oct. 14 to prepare for the Oct. 19 race.
Their children will stay with her sister.
“I did a half marathon at Quantico today,” Housaman said Saturday. “Kind of a tune up before the race. It felt good! I got a second in my age group so I felt good about that.”
She said she will continue compete after Hawaii.
“I’ve already signed up for next year’s Lake Placid.”
Staff writer Keith Walker can be reached at (703) 878-8063.