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Hall of Fame runner to compete in Ironman Florida Saturday


By Rob Schabert, Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Information

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- Dena Adams Fairley was a standout distance runner at Tennessee Tech in the mid 90s, and in 2009 she was inducted into the TTU Sports Hall of Fame.

Early Saturday morning, she will compete in the grueling Ironman Florida. It will be her second triathlon following her participation in the Louisville Triathlon in 2012.

A veteran distance runner, she was sidelined with a stress fracture in her foot in 2011. She searched for other ways to work out and stay in shape, and took the opportunity to learn how to swim and ride a bike.

"I rode a bike as a kid, but it's not really the same as cycling as an adult," she explains. "And, I could tread water but I really had to learn to swim."

She learned in the pool at the Sportsbarn in Chattanooga, not far from the home she shares with her husband, Troy, and sons Will (5) and Ty (3), in Ooltewah, Tenn. The couple met during an accounting class at Tennessee Tech, and were married in 1997, shortly after each received their master's degree.

"I'm at a stage where spending time with my boys is more important to me, so I train in the mornings and during lunch hour so my evenings are free to spend with my family. I must be very efficient with my time."

On Saturday, she will wear bib number 748, and compete with nearly 6,000 others in the Florida event, which is set in Panama City Beach.

Purely a distance runner throughout her career, she ran in the Boston Marathon in 2005 and 2006. Since having her two sons, she has not been back despite qualifying about a dozen times.

She plans to return to the Boston Marathon in April.

"With everything that happened last year, I really do want to return to Boston this year," she said. In the meantime, she will hit the course at the Ironman Florida where she will swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and run 26.2 miles.

"I'm still pretty slow because of my swimming," she admits.

One of Tennessee Tech's all-time most honored student-athletes during her career as a distance runner, Fairley also served two-plus years as head coach of the Golden Eagle men's and women's cross country teams, and women's track & field squad.

She showed a high level of commitment as a distance runner and harvested a long list of honors and awards. A three-time Academic All-America selection, she was also named the University's 1997 NCAA Woman of the Year and claimed all-OVC honors in both cross country and track.

After two years on the junior college level, she enrolled at Tech in the Spring of 1994 with no intention of competing in athletics. That plan changed at the urging of coach Ron Filipek, and she went on to set numerous school records, beginning with the 1994 track season.

In 1995, she ran the second-fastest 5K time in cross country history, and the following year established a new school standard with a run of 19:29. The record stood for three years, eventually being broken by one of Adams' recruits, Michelle Kline. Helping the team finish fifth and fourth in the OVC, Adams was named all-OVC on the cross country course as a senior and matched that honor with all-OVC selection in track & field in 1997.

In her final season of competition, she set the school records at 3,000 meters, 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters, and was among the best in the conference in every distance further than 1,500 meters.

She was chosen captain of both the cross country and track teams and was named Most Valuable and Most Dedicated on both squads. In 1996, she was selected as one of six OVC Scholar-Athletes. Tech picked her as winner of one President's Award in cross country and three consecutive President's Awards in track & field.

Adams Fairley accepted her bachelor's degree in accounting in 1995, and received her MBA in 1997. She returned to her alma mater as head coach in 1997 to take over the reins from her coach, Ron Filipek, upon his retirement.

Her classroom work earned her Academic All-America honors in track & field as both a junior and senior, and in cross country as a senior.

One of the most storied North American races, Ironman Florida began in November, 1999. It takes place in Panama City Beach, which is known for pristine beaches and moderate fall temperatures. Just as the summer season winds down, it's the perfect time of year to visit northwest Florida—and the event is as much a destination vacation as it is a race. 

The swim takes place in the Gulf of Mexico, where athletes will have a short beach run in between laps. Waters are typically in the mid 70’s, allowing triathletes to wear wetsuits. The two-loop swim course gives spectators a bird's eye view of the entire course.

After exiting the water, athletes are challenged by a fast, flat, one-loop bicycle course. The terrain pushes the body in ways that most athletes are not accustomed to: the absence of rolling hills or steep inclines forces consistent pacing. Winds are typically light in the morning, but become more challenging later in the day. With daylight savings time beginning the following day, early sunset reminds athletes that the bicycle cut-off is soon approaching. 

The two-loop run course, while flat, has many turns throughout the local neighborhoods. In the spectator-friendly area, thousands of residents and visitors emerge for fall get-togethers while supporting the competitors. The course also winds through St. Andrew’s State Park, a favorite among participants for its shaded areas and wildlife. After the second loop, athletes round the last corner for the the final quarter mile to the finish.

There are 50 qualifying slots for the IRONMAN World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

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