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Williamsport graduate to compete in Ironman Triathlon

October 13, 2007|By ANDREW MASON

WILLIAMSPORT - Megan Knepper used to think the triathletes who competed in the Hawaii Ironman World Championships were insane.

"I remember watching it on TV 10 years ago, and I was like, 'Those people are crazy,'" said Knepper, a 2001 Williamsport High School graduate.

She'll find out just how crazy they are when she joins them today for the 30th annual edition of the race. It's 2.4 miles of swimming, followed by 112 miles of biking and 26.2 miles of running.

"This is the ultimate test," said Knepper, 24, of Fairfax, Va. "It's considered one of the toughest races on earth."

She qualified for the world championships by winning the women's 18-24 age group at the Eagleman Triathlon in Cambridge, Md., in June. That race ? one of 25 qualifiers worldwide ? was half the Ironman distance (1.2, 56, 13.1).

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Today will be her debut at the full length.

"I'm excited. I'm ready to go do it," Knepper said. "It's been long enough now thinking about it and training."

She trains up to 25 hours each week, logging as much as eight miles of swimming, 150 miles of biking and 30 miles of running.

"It's like a second job," said Knepper, who works full time as a strength and conditioning coach for more than 100 clients.

The long workouts are nothing new for her.

Knepper, a 2005 University of Maryland graduate, was an eight-time NCAA All-American swimmer for the Terps and a five-time Atlantic Coast Conference champion.

She didn't have time to play any varsity sports at Williamsport.

"They didn't have a swim team, so I traveled to D.C. every day to swim on a club team," Knepper said.

"Even as a kid in high school, that was 15 to 20 hours a week."

After college, she wasn't ready to stop competing.

"It was time for me to move on and do something different, and I found this," Knepper said.

She was the fourth overall female and first in her age group in her first race ? the 2005 Dewey Beach Sprint Triathlon. She has completed eight more triathlons and has been the overall female champion in five of them.

Knepper's strength, obviously, is in the water.

"All the races I've done so far, I've been the top swimmer," she said. "Hopefully, I'll be one of the top people out of the water in Hawaii as well. But the rest of it is a different story."

Her goal is to make a living as a triathlete. She currently is sponsored by Metabolix Nutrition, which helps cover some of her equipment and travel expenses.

Hawaii is the next step.

"My No. 1 goal is just to finish," Knepper said. "My next goal is to place high in my age group. I want to turn professional, and hopefully, this will be like a steppingstone in getting my name out there and getting more sponsors.

"This will take years of building. The top people are in their late 20s and early 30s, so I can keep doing better. I just have to put in the hours."

It will be hours and hours and hours today.

"I enjoy pushing myself past my limits," Knepper said. "That complete exhaustion feeling is a nice high."

Her opinion of Ironman triathletes hasn't changed much over the years.

"You have to be a little crazy," she said.

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