The Making Of Ironman Champion Hillary Biscay

  • By TJ Murphy
  • Published Aug 25, 2010
  • Updated Jun 19, 2012 at 12:20 PM UTC

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Ironman Wisconsin champion Hillary Biscay.

Born and raised in Palos Verdes Estates, Biscay’s parents had little need for establishing rules to rein in their energetic teenage daughter. “I was a strange and intense child,” Biscay explains. “I was serious about two things: school and swimming.” A competitive swimmer since the age of 8, Biscay orchestrated her life around two-per-day swim workouts and monomaniacal studying habits, the blinders rarely coming off. The aftereffects of her disciplined youth emerge when talking with the present-day Hillary. Bring up a movie reference in a casual conversation with Biscay, and she’ll wave you off. “Don’t use movie references with me,” she said once when the late Paul Newman’s name was brought up. “I don’t know anything about them.”

When she was 15, Biscay grew weary of her swim team program’s mediocrity. A team in Huntington Beach caught her eye—a serious team that turned out national-level swimmers. Problem was that it took at least an hour of motoring through traffic to get from her home to Huntington Beach, and an hour back to school. Two workouts a day meant two times the commute. Biscay’s parents: “Are you kidding? No way.” Not to be denied, Biscay opened negotiations with her grandparents, who lived in Long Beach. “What do you think about a plan where I stayed at your house during the school year? And you could drive me back and forth from school to swimming?”

The reply: “That would be wonderful, dear!”

“My parents had to get on the bandwagon,” Biscay says, “or I would have been living at my grandparents full time.”

And so driving duties were split between the ever-patient and supportive parents and grandparents, Hillary using the time in the car to study.

Biscay first went to the University of Michigan but was disillusioned when she noticed the coaching staff going easy on teammates who skipped workouts. The lack of dedication was unnerving to Biscay so she left. While doing a summer training stint, she happily found the USC coach, Mark Schubert, “a complete hard-ass,” and transferred. In 2000 she qualified for the U.S. Olympic trials in the 200 breaststroke. Inspired by Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” Biscay’s unyielding study habits were applied to an English program where she focused on African-American writers. She earned her Master’s and went on to a PhD program.

After the trials, Biscay says she knew she had gone as far as she would as a swimmer, but departing the sport would open a void. She decided running a marathon was a good idea. The day after her last swim race—August 30, 2000—was the day she started training for a marathon. The 30-minute run about killed her. “After a few weeks I could run 45 minutes,” she says. Her goal race was California International, a December marathon in Sacramento. Biscay finished in 3:49. Afterwards, Biscay thought it was time to do an ultramarathon. In January 2001, she clicked off the Catalina 50-miler in 12:29. Then she began training for her first Ironman.

“When she started she was so raw,” says Brent Lorenzen, who dated Biscay during the lead-up to Ironman Florida in 2001. “At that point Hillary had enjoyed an easy life. Everything was taken care of for her. She didn’t even know how to set an alarm clock.” Lorenzen was a triathlete doing some coaching on the side and the two trained for Florida together.

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TJ Murphy

TJ Murphy

T.J. Murphy is a 2:38 marathoner and five-time Ironman finisher. He is the former editorial director of Triathlete Magazine, Inside Triathlon and Competitor Magazine. His writing has also appeared in Outside Magazine and Runner’s World. He recently authored “Inside the Box: How Broke All The Rules, Stripped Down the Gym and Rebuilt My Broken Down Body.”

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