For some, the prize is in the destination, but for Michelle Andres, 34, of East Gull Lake, the journey is where all of her dreams are coming true as a triathlon champion.
“When I was a senior in high school I told myself that I would run the Ironman championship in Kailu-Kona, Hawaii, and I’ve been working toward it ever since,” she said. “Personally, though, it’s more about the journey and the road that you travel on to reach the goal. The mountains and valleys of making it there, and who you are and who you become on this journey to get there is what’s important.
“We are all capable of so much more than we allow ourselves to even dream.”
And, what a journey it has been for the active mother of five boys. Growing up on a dairy farm as the youngest of 12 siblings, Andres was surrounded by hard work and physical activity, but made her debut as the first athlete in her family.
“My mom was very active growing up and I would always go on long bike rides with her, but it was just for our own enjoyment,” said Andres. “I was very lucky to be able to participate in the athletics that I did growing up.”
After a teacher in middle school suggested that Andres should join the cross country running team, she fell in love with running and participated in track and field and cross country at Brainerd High School, but her love of running started at a much earlier age.
“In elementary school, we had to run the mile and do different things and I noticed then that I was pretty fast,” Andres said.
After realizing her dream of competing in the 140-mile Ironman championship, Andres set her training to achieve that goal. She just needed to learn how to swim.
“I was terrified about putting my head under water,” she said. “I took a learn to swim class in high school where we weren’t even allowed to go in the deep end. By the end of the class I could swim a whole length and started the triathlon class.”
After graduating in 1995, Andres married high school sweetheart Lee Andres and took a breather from competing to raise a family, which now includes five sons, ages 13, 11-year-old triplets, and a 9-year-old.
“After my first-born, I thought I’d get back into running and he was just nine months old when I ran Grandma’s marathon in Duluth and I’ve just kept doing them since,” she said. “Running became my time and staying active has helped me to be a better mom. It helped me balance everything.”
After qualifying for the Boston Marathon after her first race as an adult, Andres recognized her potential and started putting in the hard work to realize her dreams.
“I remember seeing my husband at mile nine and he said I was going too fast,” said Andres. “I had a great race and I thought if I set my mind to do something, and I make that dream into smaller goals, I will achieve it.”
Setting small goals along the way doesn’t just help Andres work her way to her dreams, but it also helps her set an example for her sons as they work toward theirs.
“My boys are watching me and they have hopes and dreams and our actions speak to our kids about nutrition and having a healthy lifestyle,” she said. “The best way for me is to show them instead of telling them and setting a good example on working your butt off until you reach your goals.
“When I started out, I wasn’t winning or setting course records, but years and years of hard work and dedication eventually start to show results. I want them to know that it doesn’t just happen, it takes work.”
Andres does most of her competing for the love of the activity, but that doesn’t stop a little bit of healthy competition from sneaking into play.
“When I tow the line, I want to do the best that I can do on that day,” she said. “I’m totally not about beating anyone else but Ironman, Wis., is what I’ve been training for for a long time and it will be a competitive race because it’s not about a time as much as it is about what place that you come in. Deep inside of me, not only to be the first girl who finishes but I want to beat the boys too!”
The Ironman is the race that qualifies participants for the Ironman championships in Kona, Hawaii, and is a huge steppingstone on the journey to her dreams.
“I did the Ironman, Wis., in 2006 and all I wanted to do was cross the finish line,” said Andres. “The top three finishers are qualified for Kona and in 2008 I finished fourth. I decided that I’m just gonna really put it all on the line and I trained hard this last year for the race in September.”
With competitions all over the globe, Andres has racked up some amazing memories, but her greatest personal accomplishment to date was running in the Run for the Lakes half marathon in Nisswa this spring.
“The Nisswa half marathon was a super big deal to me,” said Andres. “For the Olympic 2016 trials, I need to be able to run a 2:45 marathon. When I crossed the line that day in Nisswa I knew that if I could run this pace for a full marathon, I would have a qualifying time and it made me see that I’m capable of doing that.”
For Andres, making her dreams come true didn’t just involve her hard work and sacrifice, but it also involved the support and sacrifices her family has made for her along the journey.
“My husband and kids are very supportive of me,” she said. “I feel so fortunate to be married and to have these five amazing boys. I really have to find a balance in not being so overwhelmed with my training and not taking family time away.”
Luckily, the family that plays, or runs together, stays together. Not only do the Andres’ spend time supporting each other in their sporting events, but they participate in them together as well.
“When I first started racing, they were all kids and they would do the kids races before and after and as they started getting older, they competed in 5K races with me in town,” she said.
Andres, who will be competing in Sunday’s Lakes Area Triathlon in Baxter, has made a relay team that includes all of her sons and a few siblings.
“Each of my sons will be competing in some leg of the relay, either running, swimming or biking,” she said. “It makes something so much more enjoyable when my kids want to participate with me.”
During the fall when Andres isn’t training as fiercely, she stays active by spending quality time with her family in the great outdoors.
“I love to hunt and fish and my schedule works out so that when my triathlon season ends, hunting season starts,” she said. “As a family, we really enjoy hunting and fishing together.”
Another of Andres’ pas-times is just as neat, but a little more sweet. She loves to cook and bake.
“I love being in my kitchen and when I get so consumed with training, and don’t want to get burned out, I take a complete break from training to regroup so I can continue pursuing my goals.”
Andres and her husband, Lee, who travel frequently together with their family, are celebrating their upcoming 15-year wedding anniversary by making a trip to Kailu-Kona, Hawaii, to get a taste of what her dreams hold when she finally reaches the Kona Ironman championship.
“My husband and I love to travel and we’re going to watch the championships in Kona this year,” she said. “The opportunity to train on the race course that you’re competing on, and the more you know about the course, helps me to be relaxed and prepared for a race, but we’re mainly going for entertainment.”
For Andres, who trains from 20-30 hours a week, the physical activity is more of a pleasure than a pain.
“My No. 1 passion is running,” she said. “We live in such a great area for doing triathlons. We have amazing roads for biking, and amazing places to swim and run.”
Andres receives advice and encouragement from many friends and supporters, but she knows her body best. She has always shied away from using a trainer to help her prepare for big races.
“For me, half of the enjoyment is coming up with my own training plan and being able to listen to my body,” she said. “I like to decide for myself what that run is going to be. I have a training log that I’ve always kept and from when I ran my first marathon to today.”
While running is generally considered an individual sport, Andres credits much of her success to her involvement with the Lakes Area Multisport (LAMS) group where athletes and runners of all skill levels can collaborate to make safe and enjoyable athletic experiences for all community members.
“It makes it easier to compete when you have so many friends involved for support and training tips,” said Andres. “I’m so grateful to everyone who supports me with their friendship and helps me stay motivated while I’m training and comes to cheer me on.”
For information on LAMS check out their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/lakesareamultisport. LAMS works to help athletes of all ages, types, and experience levels achieve their goals.