Feature: By land, by sea, bicycle

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February 19, 2015

11:49 PM

A typical Monday for Emma Langley ’17 begins at 7 a.m.

At 7:30 a.m., she heads to the Campus Recreation Center to swim until 8:30 a.m. Then, since she also works as a lifeguard, she vacuums the pool for another hour. When she’s finished cleaning, she heads home to eat breakfast and get ready for class, which she attends from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. From 1 to 3 in the afternoon, she bikes. At 3:30 p.m., class again and, later on, a meeting with the cycling club finishes off the day.

Other days, Langley works running into the mix. For the triathlete, balancing training for races with the pursuit of a degree in kinesiology has been an exercise in discipline and time management — an exercise with which she did not always have to contend. Last semester, she ran three triathlons on two continents in the span of one month — a commitment only made feasible by sacrificing a semester on campus.

In her time off from school, Langley ran two world championship races in Canada and one in China during September and, at the last minute, tacked on a victory lap in North Carolina in October. In the last race — a half-Ironman that consists of a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile run for a total of 70.3 miles — Langley achieved her personal record, finishing in four hours and 38 minutes.

Now that Langley is back, she is training for a spring break race in Puerto Rico and working toward the same thing as every other student at the College of William and Mary: finding post-graduation employment. While other students are attending career fairs in business-casual ensembles, touting Cohen Career Center-approved resumes, Langley is hitting the pavement, or the pool, dressed in and armed with athletic attire and equipment. If the Puerto Rico race goes well, she will qualify for this year’s world championship. Langley eventually hopes to receive her pro card, allowing her to race professionally.

“When I graduate, right out of college I’m going to have to find a job to make some sort of extra income,” Langley said. “You don’t actually make that much money winning races, but you make money on top of that with sponsors and other sorts of obligations like that … but that’s the goal I’m focusing on — to get my pro card and to hopefully be good enough to have that be my full-time job eventually.”

In the last race — a half-Ironman that consists of a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile run for a total of 70.3 miles — Langley achieved her personal record, finishing in four hours and 38 minutes.

Langley plans on doing triathlons well into her future, but this is a recent development: not two years ago she was a high school varsity swimmer and a recreational runner. When she decided she would attend the College but knew she would not be swimming for the varsity team, her coach recommended she pick up biking and give triathlons a try.

Her first race was an Olympic-distance triathlon: a 0.9-mile swim, a 25-mile bike ride and a 6.2-mile run. In the same season — the summer between high school graduation and her freshman year — she completed several more Olympic races and a half-Ironman.

Even though she has always been an athlete, triathlon training helped her bring her fitness to a new level, which became a big part of why she latched onto it.

“Part of it was the fitness, because I got in great shape really fast,” Langley said.  “Another part was, one of the reasons I was so sick of swimming was the monotony of it: every single day, getting in the pool twice a day for two hours. It was too much. With triathlons, you’re doing three sports, so you mix it up so much, and it’s so much more fun. And you get more fitness by doing three different things rather than just the same thing over and over.”

Though biking was the sport she added last, she now considers it her strongest discipline. Performing well in her first races, as well as subsequent ones, and enjoying the challenges and variety of balancing three sports at once has kept her motivated to keep racing.

“When you’re good at it and you love it, it just makes it 10 times more fun,” Langley said.

As is the case with any challenge, though, “fun” isn’t always the word Langley would use to describe her experience. At last year’s race in China, she realized she was low on nourishment while she was biking — the second of the three events, following swimming. Every pedal stroke was a Herculean effort, and she still had 13.1 miles of running to do once she got off the bike.

“I consider myself to be a pretty mentally tough person, and that’s a big part of triathlon and endurance sports,” she said. “But to literally be at the point where no matter how hard your mind is telling you to keep going, your body physically will not let you — that is just — I don’t know the word to describe that. But I’d never felt that before, and yes, you’re breaking physically, but the fact that you’re still trying to tell yourself to push on and can’t is so mentally difficult too. It’s just an awful, awful feeling.”

Confronted with the possibility that, for the first time, her mental determination might not be enough to overcome her physical exhaustion, Langley only knew she had to keep pushing. She finished the race and won her age group. 

“Another part was, one of the reasons I was so sick of swimming was the monotony of it: every single day, getting in the pool twice a day for two hours. It was too much. With triathlons, you’re doing three sports, so you mix it up so much, and it’s so much more fun.”

“One of the biggest lessons the triathlon has taught me is — it sounds so cliche — but if you work hard, you’re going to succeed,” she said. “I didn’t just get on the bike or get in the water and I’m magically good. Even though I did well my first season, I put in so much training before that, too. And I feel like sometimes a lot of people don’t get that because they just think, like, ‘Oh, you’re talented.’ And yes, talent is a part of it, but hard work is always going to be the factor that gets you where you want.”

Though triathlons are an individual sport, Langley said training with friends keeps her motivated to continue pushing herself. Now, she practices with the club swimming team and the cycling club at the College. The triathlon club is smaller, but they also train together and will attend the collegiate championship in April. This year, Langley is sponsored by Perfect Fuel Chocolate Elite Team.

Her freshman roommate, Sara Taylor ’17, said Langley’s ability to balance her training with the rest of college life is inspiring.

“I can’t accurately describe how inspirational, hardworking, supportive, and simply fantastic she is,” Taylor said in an email. “Along with living a normal college life of ordering pizza at 2 a.m. and downing chocolate while watching Hulu, she will throw in a 100-mile bike ride or a half marathon.”

According to Langley, this ability to inspire and motivate others is another important part of what drives her.

“One thing that motivates me now is that people will come up to me and tell me that I inspire them to work harder, or just work out or go for a run,” Langley said. “That’s obviously a really good feeling, to know you’re impacting people in that way.”

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About Author

Sarah Caspari

Senior staff writer Sarah Caspari '15 is an English and Latin American studies major from Montvale, N.J. She was previously Chief Staff Writer, Variety Editor and Associate Variety Editor.